[This post has been updated with an account of the Tea Party activists' meetings with legislators.]

The official crowd estimates from  yesterday's competing rallies at the State Capitol in Olympia are in.

The liberals rallying for tax increases to fund state programs like health care and senior care brought out 5,500 people. The conservatives, the Tea Party activists, who were rallying for smaller government, brought out 2,500-3,000 people.

The liberals win.

However, I was assigned to cover the Tea Party rally.

While the nationwide movement is all over the map—health care reform, the Federal Reserve, the 10th Amendment— the Olympia brand concentrated on voter approved I-960, which state Senate Democrats voted to suspend last week in a precursor to raising taxes.

The rally was chalk full of homemade signs with slogans ranging from, “Taxes are my money not yours!” to the clever play on Obama’s “Hope” poster—“Nope.” After a few rallying cries, the group went on to meet with multiple legislators, (which generally meant multiple staffers,) to discuss I-960.

According to Representative Dennis Flannigan’s (D-27) staffer Brad Forbes, the capital was ready for this. As soon as the I-960 suspension began to gain speed, the capital began to be hit by “hostile” and “hateful” messages, claims Forbes. “We started getting phone calls and emails that included the ‘f’ word and things that are actually really rare in political correspondence, I’ve actually read the phrase, ‘how dare you’ more times in the last week than I have in my entire life,” says Forbes. Because of this “intensity in the session,” many staffers were preparing for bitter, if not angry, meetings yesterday.

One staffer described a meeting with a self-described Tea Party protestor who simply refused to accept the fact that suspending initiatives did indeed come under the rights of the legislature, and were not a violation of her rights as a citizen. “She wasn’t going to be confused with the facts,” says the staffer who chooses to remain anonymous. [The legislature is allowed to amend initiatives two years after they pass.]

Forbes had a deadlocked meeting with a protestor around the I-960 debate as well. “I gave two examples of two other initiatives [raising teachers pay and reducing class  size] that [Republican] Dino Rossi had asked to be suspended. It went right by him. His issue had everything to do with I-960 and precedent was nothing he took into account.”

This lack of “ability to communicate” stems from a larger problem of fiscal ideology, says Tea Party protestor Angela Petsche. “Increase upon increase has happened with our taxes and the government just doesn’t understand, this isn’t how we’re going to solve our problems,” says Petsche.

Forbes agrees, at least on the point of not seeing eye-to-eye, “It was larger philosophical differences that may or may not have been based on any state policy that exists.”
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