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Hilltown Archives The Altamont Enterprise, February 25, 2010
At first gathering, Hilltown Homefront Patriots rail against
By Melissa Hale-Spencer
EAST BERNE Two people pitched their candidacy for public office Saturday at the inaugural meeting of the Hilltown Homefront Patriots, which drew two score to the East Berne firehouse.
“We’ve become a government state…That needs to stop…They’re taxing us out of our houses and our farms,” said Deborah Busch as she announced she would run for a seat in the State Assembly’s 104th District, currently held by Democrat John McEneny.
Busch ran for Albany County coroner last November on the Republican line, stressing her background as a registered nurse with a master’s of science degree in nursing. She was beaten by the Democratic incumbent, Paul Marra, a funeral director from Cohoes, who won a sixth term. Busch’s mother, Karin Busch, a Republican, served on the Democrat-dominated Knox Town Board.
Deborah Busch told the gathering on Saturday that there were many farms in the Hilltowns when she was growing up. “We were proud of that,” she said. For the first time, she said, her father isn’t haying his farm. “We can’t sell our hay because no one is raising animals here,” said Busch.
“Where is Mr. Breslin? Where is Mr. McEneny? Where is Mr. Gordon?” she asked, referring to the state senator, state assemblyman, and county legislator for the Hilltowns. “Did anyone protect our agriculture?”
“We need to take the dairy out of Congress and give it back to the state,” said Busch. “We need to cut property taxes. We need officials with guts….Too many people died for the rights of the United States…Our legislators need to be held accountable.”
Busch said she would seek Republican endorsement as well as endorsement from the Conservative and Independence parties.
“Debbie’s one of us but she’s got a rough road,” said Joseph Sullivan, a frequent candidate in Albany elections. He said that Conservative Party endorsement “goes the way of the major party” and the plan is to “squeeze” Richard Stack, chairman of Albany County’s Conservative Party, to endorse Busch.
“Running on one party line is like a bird flying on one wing,” said Sullivan. “We’ll seek Liberty Party endorsement.” He urged the crowd to “get some candidates who are really patriots” and to “petition for the Liberty Party…With 50,000 votes, the Liberty Party becomes bona fide,” said Sullivan.
Sullivan also said that food stamps are used as currency in the drug trade and that the needy, instead, should get staples from farmers.
“When the next terror attack comes, it will be a simultaneous attack,” he said. “You’ll need food, water, guns, and ammunition…Our immigration policy stinks. We’ve let ’em all in. The home front is now the front line. It’s going to be chaos in the city. You have to protect yourself up here.”
“Only answer to you”
Patrick Ziegler of Burnt Hills also asked for support in his run against Congressman Scott Murphy, a Democrat, in the 20th District. (Murphy won his seat in a special election last March after Kirsten Gillibrand was named to the Senate.)
Addressing the crowd on Saturday, after hearing negative mention of “lawyers in suits” and the strength of a “flannel shirt patrol,” Zeigler, who was wearing dress slacks and a sweater, began by apologizing for his attire, saying he’d rather be wearing jeans but he had to rush to another engagement afterward and “people expect this.”
Ziegler is part of the New York Liberty Council, which describes itself as “a grassroots coalition…uniting to bring about positive, Constitution-minded change to our state and federal government.”
“We started vetting potential candidates…to get on board with good Republicans, real Conservatives,” Ziegler said. When none could be found, Ziegler said, he stepped up
Banking enough money to take a month’s leave from his work as an insurance-company representative, Ziegler said his strategy is to go for the Conservative line. “We’re going to make it look like we already have the endorsement and put up signs,” he said.
“The two-party system keeps people out of politics,” Ziegler said.
He also said, “The federal government has 17 powers enumerated in the Constitution, and that’s all they should be doing. The rest should be state or local….The power should be in rooms like this…People like us need to go to Washington and push the power back to the people.”
He concluded, “Look at the difference one man made Scott Brown.” Brown recently won the Massachusetts Senate seat that had been held for decades by Ted Kennedy, ending the Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority, thereby jeopardizing passage of President Barack Obama’s health-care reform.
“Imagine a half-dozen or a dozen of us that only answer to you,” concluded Ziegler.
The patriot movement started a half-century ago when the John Bridge Society formed to oppose Communism, and has gained momentum in the last year as tea parties have formed to protest federal stimulus spending and increasing national debt. The loosely defined movement centers on preserving individual liberties, which tea party and patriot members feel are being jeopardized by elected officials and bureaucrats in the federal and state governments.
“We had the Anti-Rent Wars here in the 1800s,” said Daniel Smith, one of the local group’s organizers. He was referring to Helderberg farmers who refused to pay feudal rent to the patroon. “People pushed back. We need to push back now,” he said, advocating the formation of “the flannel shirt patrol.”
Smith, who said he works in a factory and has a large family, got involved in the movement through listening to talk radio. The cause that snagged him was the statewide restriction on burning brush; he’s concerned that environmentalists will force legislation prohibiting the burning of wood for heat.
“I heat with wood,” he told the crowd on Saturday. “I split it, I cut it, I break my back but it saves me money. I’m worried they’ll forbid it.”
He read to the group from prepared notes, beginning, “My job is to rile people up. I have a big mouth. I have a lot of passion.”
He went on, “The founders gave us a democracy…The founders did not mean for us to sit back and have officials put restrictions on us…We’ve been sitting on our duffs, complaining to talk radio…We need to stand up and march, and vote to get people elected….We can vote these vermin,” he said as the crowd laughed.
Smith paused, “I’m sorry, we can vote these people out. We’ve had the whip applied to our back.”
He went on, “The tea party is you and me normal people.” He bristled at some of the labels he said had been applied to those in the movement, such as “unwashed masses” and assertions that they were bankrolled by Republicans.
When Smith went to a rally in Washington, D.C., he said, he didn’t see “a bunch of lawyers in suits”; he saw people wearing flannel. As far as GOP backing, he said, “I drove a piece-of-crap van there…I’m not getting my check from the Republican Party.”
Smith pulled dog tags from beneath his T-shirt to show the crowd. They had belonged to his grandfather, who was wounded by shrapnel in World War I and was “never the same” afterwards, and to his father, who was a prisoner of war in World War II.
“Our freedoms are under attack,” said Smith.
He went on, “It’s not the rich and poor anymore; it’s the government and us.”
He said he grew up dirt poor, with holes in the walls of his home, wearing second-hand clothes. His kids, however, are growing up in a country where there is “welfare for people with flat-screen TVs,” Smith said. “We’ve become sheep; we’ve lost our will….We need to hold both parties accountable.”
Democrats are honest about taking freedoms away, he said. “Republicans are a bunch of hypocrites…We don’t have time to create a third party. We have to take over the Republican Party.”
He concluded by quoting Thomas Jefferson: “That government is best which governs least because its people discipline themselves.”
Tom Cavanaugh, another organizer of Saturday’s meeting, drew applause when he said, “There’s one simple message: We’ve had enough.”
He also told the crowd, “You do make a difference. You do count. You can change things…They’re afraid of us…The silent majority, the sleeping giant is never going back to sleep again.”
Cavanaugh wore a bandana colored like an American flag. He said, as a Vietnam veteran, he wears the bandana to salute those who are fighting now, and that he’s fighting on the home front so that they have a country to come back to.
Cavanaugh wore a red, white, and blue sweatshirt, too, emblazoned with Scott Brown’s name. A later speaker said that a lot of out-of-state tea-party volunteers campaigned by cell phone and Internet in Massachusetts to “take back Congress.”
“It’s called the perfect storm…Even the Democrats are scared,” said Cavanaugh.
Local leaders speak
“I’ve been doing this tea party thing for four years,” said Jost Nickelsberg who served one four-year term as Rensselaerville’s supervisor, running on the Republican line; he did not seek re-election last November.
“We decided to take the town back….We now have the town back,” he told the gathering. “Today, we’re probably 1,000 strong…You have to do it in each town.”
Nickelsberg’s term was marked by divisiveness on the bipartisan board. The Democratic majority on the five-member town board held in the last election with a Democratic councilwoman elected supervisor. However, the incumbent Democratic highway superintendent, who had been frequently at odds with Nickelsberg, was ousted.
Nickelsberg implied there were dangers for those who followed him. Referring to the other Republican on the town board, he said, “If we had to go home with Bob Lansing because his wife worried about him getting run off the road, we’d do that.”
Looking at Travis Stevens in the crowd, Nickelsberg said, “I told Stevens I’d back him if he got rid of his job,” a reference to the wastefulness of county government. Stevens, a Republican, had made an unsuccessful run for Albany County legislator, against Democratic incumbent Alexander Gordon. Last November, Stevens won a seat on the Knox Town Board.
Nickelsberg, who worked on Wall Street, said of the tea party, “We will win. We are the country. We’re ministers, we’re farmers, we’re police…We are the owners. We tell them what we want….We’ve been used to listening to orders for so long…This is our country and we’re going to take it back.”
“How about taxing cow flatulence?” chimed in Cavanaugh, a reference to environmentalists’ concerns about the greenhouse gases created by raising cattle. “We’ve got to throw ’em out!”
John Milner, whose family has farmed in the Helderbergs for many generations, now serves on the Westerlo Town Board; he was elected on the Republican line in a town where Democrats outnumber Republicans by nearly 3 to 1.
Milner said he learned about the tea party through e-mails his sister-in-law in South Dakota sent to him.
“The Liberal Party has so many leeches that can vote…it’s kind of hard to beat things,” said Milner.
In the 1950s, Milner said, there used to be 500 dairy farms in the Hilltowns; now just a half-dozen are left. As a result, he said, “You don’t have no small businesses up here anymore.”
The government, Milner said, is backing factory farms. “Those poor cows never see daylight or green pastures…They just drain those cows out until they die,” he said.
Milner also said of the 1950s, “There were no heavy-set school kids in those days. They all had to work…Instead of keeping factories in this country, they’re all in China.”
He got involved in politics, Milner said, because, when he was serving on the town’s planning board, its chairman, Leonard Laub, was ousted.
Calling Laub “one of the smartest guys I ever met,” Milner said Laub wouldn’t accept any money for his work on the planning board and therefore saw no need to sign Civil Service papers, which the town board said was required.
“Here this man is working for nothing and they kick him off and then they say they want to hire him as a consultant,” concluded Milner, shaking his head.
The last speaker in the two-hour session was Tom Chandler, who works as a landscaper for the town of Guilderland. Chandler said he was drawn to the tea party by friends who knew he had spent the last 20 years arguing for Second Amendment rights as civil rights. “The old dictionaries talk about civil rights as the Bill of Rights,” said Chandler.
“I’m here out of respect and obligation to…the first responders, the veterans of ’09, everyday people who got together to restore the employee-client relationship with our representatives,” Chandler told the crowd. “People labeled them racists, bigots, sell-outs.”
Chandler, an African American, said he had endured those labels himself.
“God bless every one of them,” Chandler went on. “It takes incredible courage….We cannot forget why we came together...Half the people in the country don’t know what we stand for.”
Chandler went on, “If the media had done the job they were supposed to do, nobody would be unclear on who we are.”
Chandler explained the essence of the movement this way: “To get our representatives to see us as their employers.”
He also said, “We all deserve to burn in hell if we don’t do it on our watch.”
As boxes of pizza were delivered to a table at the front of the hall, and listeners were restless to get up from their chairs and eat, Colin Abele, a resident of Berne who had launched a write-in campaign for town board last November, spoke out.
Describing himself as having leftist views, Abele said, “Your candidates are going to have to learn the art of compromise…It does no good to demonize…Nobody on this earth is either right 100 percent of the time or wrong 100 percent of the time.”
“Amen,” said Cavanaugh. “Let’s eat pizza.”