Betsy Markey: Tea Party anger over her health-care vote didn't lead to threats, says advocate Lesley Hollywood

Representative Betsy Markey's "yes" vote on the landmark health-care bill this past weekend made her a marked woman, with both the Gun Owners of America and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin targeting her for defeat in November. And now, Markey's reportedly asked the Fort Collins Police Department to provide extra security at her home amid word that at least ten members of Congress have received threats against them.

Last night, Lesley Hollywood, director of the Northern Colorado Tea Party, put out a statement denouncing such threats and promising action in the unlikely event that those making them are found to have any affiliation with her organization; read it below. However, she also feels Tea Parties provide a positive outlet for those feeling frustrated by the bill's passage.

"I think this is going to drive people right into Tea Party groups," she says. "What you're going to see from here is leaders of these groups are going to funnel their anger and their energy and their passion right into the 2010 elections."

When asked her reaction to the health-care bill's passage by the U.S. House, Hollywood says, "I think it's scary, to be honest with you. The nonpartisanship of this was actually in opposition to the bill -- and it was very partisan the way they passed it. The majority of the American people opposed it, but they didn't listen.

"The bill is 2,700 pages long, and we have no idea what's inside of it -- and now, the IRS is going to have an inside window into all of our lives. That's very scary, too. I can't believe it when I really stop to think about it. It's frightening, and I'm very scared what they're going to try to push through next using the same tactics.

"It's just stunning to me that they wouldn't stop and take a look at the American people and what they want, and what reform they want to see versus going with their agenda."

Given these comments, it's no surprise that Hollywood fully supports the efforts of Colorado Attorney General John Suthers and a dozen colleagues across the country to stop implementation of the health-care law through the courts.

"When you hear that every American is going to be mandated to buy private health insurance or else you face jail time or a fine, well, it doesn't get more unconstitutional than that," she maintains. "At what point do we no longer claim our bodies as our right? So I definitely believe they're doing the right thing, and whatever I can do to rally the troops behind them, I'll do. Because there's a lot of people who feel the same way.

"You can mandate that people have car insurance, because if you don't want to deal with that, you don't have to own a car. The same with a home. But when they mandate your own body, you can't escape that. I can't imagine in any way, shape or form how that's constitutional, especially with the commerce clause. It's outrageous."

For Hollywood, membership numbers offer an indication that other folks in the community concur. On a good day, she says, ten people might sign up to the Northern Colorado Tea Party -- but after the Sunday evening passage of the bill, she woke up Monday morning to ten who'd contacted her overnight.

"This is getting people motivated to take an active role," she believes. "You're going to see the leadership of this movement, whether it be on the local, state or national level, harness that energy and put it into the right, productive places. And I think it'll be good for the people who are so angry to have someplace to take that anger and frustration and energy and put it to good use."

Of course, even before news of threats against representatives like Markey surfaced, the media reported incidents of racial and homophobic epithets being hurled at officials in Washington, D.C. who favored the measure. After seeing "some citizen videos online," Hollywood thinks some of these claims have been exaggerated -- and even if they actually took place, she objects to the assumption that Tea Party members were responsible.

"There are a lot of people who are upset about this health-care bill that aren't Tea Party people," she says. "And I think it's sad that an entire movement would be painted in this way because of the actions of one or two people."

Besides, she goes on, Tea Party opponents engage in the same kind of abuse.

"I've been called a racist I don't know how many times," she recalls. "I've been called horrible names like that with my baby in my arms. And the way I grew up, to be called a racist is absolutely terrible. It's not anything anybody would ever want to be. So I denounce that kind of thing -- but it's not reflective of the movement as a whole."

Indeed, Hollywood feels that "the bigger we get, the more the fringe members -- the people who aren't doing this for the right reasons -- fall by the wayside. Because we're not like they are, they're starting to drop off, and I think that's fantastic."

In the wake of the recent Colorado caucuses, many politicos argued that the Tea Parties didn't play as large a role as anticipated -- the implication being that such groups are better at making noise than actually impacting the system. Hollywood rejects that theory.

"It's important to remember that 2008 was a very unique year for a caucus. It was a presidential year with a very heated presidential debate -- and they pushed the date of the caucuses up to align with primaries from around the country. So the massive turnout was kind of a fluke. But if you compare the 2010 numbers to 2006, we had about two-and-a-half times the number of people out there as we did then, at least in this area. And it was grassroots people who made the difference."

Furthermore, she thinks the modest turnout at some precincts was actually an advantage for those Tea Party activists who showed up. "In my precinct, there were four of us there, and we all became delegates. The older guard GOP sat back and let the new ones become delegates, because they were happy to see fresh faces. So I think people are underestimating us, like they've done since the beginning. And that's fine."

Here's Hollywood's statement about the Markey security request:

Colorado's Tea Party Activist Groups Denounce Threats on Lawmakers

LOVELAND, Col. -- Northern Colorado Tea Party director, Lesley Hollywood, issued the following statement in response to allegations of threats on Democratic lawmakers.

Tea Party and similar groups across Colorado are saddened tonight to hear of threats made upon Democratic lawmakers in response to the passing their recent health insurance reform legislation, specifically 4th Congressional District Representative, Betsy Markey. Although it does not appear that these threats stemmed from those within Colorado's Tea Party movement, organizers and members alike are firmly denouncing any acts of intimidation or threat. Statewide, Tea Party leadership has encouraged disappointed members to get involved in the political process rather than dwell on the passage of the healthcare bill.

"Although many are frustrated by the passage of such controversial legislation, threats are absolutely not acceptable in any form, to any lawmaker, of any party," Hollywood said. "As a member of the Tea Party state leadership team, I can assure you that myself and my colleagues will take immediate action if any of these allegations are discovered to be connected to our organizations. At this time, our internal investigations have not revealed any correlation between the threats and the Tea Party. It is also important to understand that many of those oppose to the healthcare bill were not associated with the Tea Party movement. These threats are likely coming from rogue, outside sources."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts