Call It a Tea Party, Serve Beer: On Tax Day, Getting Populist at the Ballpark

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Heading west on I-30 from downtown last night, you'd have passed two stretches of stalled traffic -- the first, along the access road just across the Trinity, made up of the grumbling masses in line for the Dallas Main Post Office, waiting to get their tax returns postmarked on April 15.

Farther west down the road, another slowdown, and again the cause for delay was tax-related. Stretching back from QuikTrip park, out the packed parking lots and up the interstate for two miles, a string of headlights reaching back with a people-will-most-definitely-come look, heading to place that became, at least for last night, the field of fiscal conservative dreams, where more than 20 Tea Party groups from around Dallas and Fort Worth marked their second Tax Day with one mega-rally for the region.

Last year's Tax Day events, especially the gathering outside Dallas City Hall, were full of fire and a new sense of energy: fresh slogans, raw anger and surprised onlookers wondering what to make of it all. Last night's Lone Star Tea Party wasn't so rough around the edges: On the stage in centerfield, speakers took the mic and stayed on topic, while individual groups passed out fliers and signed up new members across from the stadium snack windows. Birthers and conspiracy nuts had taken their party somewhere else, but if any turned up to make trouble, there was this obvious answer, in the words of a college student, Fernando Trevino, who took the stage: "Those crazy people in the crowd are usually some spineless liberal trying to make us look bad."

Rationality thus established, the night's speakers talked about the formidable force the Tea Party would unleash on Election Day, along with specific issues like health care, immigration and toll roads. The crowd, packing the outfield grass and spilling into the stadium seats mostly listened politely, and without the yelling anarchists it was all pretty polite. The "Don't tax me, bro," sign in the crowd felt as dated as the viral video it riffed on, and it wouldn't have been right to get too nasty with all the kids and dogs running around in right field. (Our slide show from the event can be found here; "Fire the News Media," indeed.)

Still, even if the thrill is gone from the fringes, the Tea Partiers' mainstream turned out in force, with what AirHogs vice-president Andrew Seaborn told the crowd was "officially the largest audience we've ever had at QuikTrip Park." To talk politics and wave some flags, they even outdrew the Dallas Desire.

​"How many of you were out at city hall a year ago?" WBAP radio host Mark Davis, the night's emcee, asked the crowd. "One year ago, this whole Tea Party movement had hope for success. Tonight, we know it's successful."

Around 8 p.m. that crowd, full of signs and flags, thinned out as a quick, heavy downpour sent the colors running for cover -- what radio host Mike Gallagher called "God's way of blessing this event tonight." Some went right on to the exits, but many stuck it out till the rally wrapped around 10 p.m., just shy of the three-hour mark.

Souvenirs ranged from the $1,000 dinner at the Fairmont with Sarah Palin to a $2 foam brick "to throw at your TV," the brick-seller told us. Bottled beers were $8.50 and framed copies of the Constitution were 10 percent off for a pair. A beer vendor in the crowd tried to capitalize on the mood: "Give your money to me, not the government," he shouted.

Terri Hall from San Antonio's Texas Toll Party took the stage to address public-private partnerships in toll road building, calling out Governor Rick Perry for supporting the "prolific private toll taxation," that would come from toll road construction at the DFW Connector, North Tarrant Expressway and tolling along the LBJ Freeway.

Dr. Delwin Williams, a Fort Worth psychiatrist, took the stage in a white lab coat to decry death panels and "this separation of church and state garbage."

In a crowd full of forty- and fifty-somethings in wearable American flags and T-shirts with patriotic slogans, Jessica Gavit, 25, and Rob Lau, 27, stood out, looking more hipster than Tea Partier. Lau said he'd come "to get the vibe of what this crowd's all about," and both said they were impressed by what they saw. "It could be the beginning of something bigger," Lau said. "I don't know that I'll ever carry a sign, that's not really my style," Gavit said, but she's gotten interested in the Tea Party over the past year because she worries government-run health care will keep innovative treatments out of reach.

Carlos Rickman said he'd been at the Dallas Tea Party rally at City Hall a year ago, and "was hoping for a bigger crowd" last night. He brought his three sons out to Grand Prairie, along with flags of the U.S. Marine Corps and the Gonzales "come and take it" cannon.

"At points it felt like a good vibe," he said, but blamed the rain for keeping the mood subdued. "Last year, because it was a new experience and everyone was shocked at what was coming town the pike, there was a real energy." Rickman said. 

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