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Faces of the Tea Party - Unretired into activism

Dick Mechling could have gone on enjoying retirement with his wife, Mickey, in their cozy ranch-style home in St. Joseph County, Ind. Like a ride on their horses — Ebby and Motion, the Tennessee Walkers they raise on their 10 acres south of South Bend — that would have been the smoothest option.

But when we met Dick, he was emerging from a training session for poll workers in South Bend. He is getting ready to be a judge at the voting place in the Nov. 2 elections — a first for him, at 68. In another first, he and Mickey have been working the phone banks in the run-up to the election, helping to get the vote out for some of the local conservative candidates.

Their activism is fueled, supported and guided by membership in the local Tea Party organization, St. Joe County Tea Party Patriots. But what first prompted their renewed interest in politics was Sarah Palin’s appearance on the scene in the last election.

“That got a lot of people’s attention” Dick says. In policy terms, Dick and Mickey liked Palin’s message about small, efficient government, he says. Beyond that was something deeper that just struck a chord: “Here is somebody who thinks more like we do than some of the people who have been in office,” he says. “She just seems like plain folks ... regular people.”

Dick and Mickey, who met in college and married soon after, worked hard and raised two daughters and horses at their home of 35 years. He worked for many years as a buyer for local pharmaceutical companies, and she was a teacher.

With the kids grown up and Palin’s appearance the scene, something shifted: “We got more interested in politics, thinking: ‘You know, maybe there is hope. ... Maybe there is someone out there who can make a difference.'”

After the McCain-Palin ticket failed to take the White House in 2008, Dick and Mickey were a bit depressed — they felt that Palin had taken a beating.

“The thing that has us energized again is Jackie Walorski’s bid for Congress,” Dick says.
They met the conservative Republican at a gun-rights gathering in southern Indiana. Walorski was holding them around the state after the 2008 election of Barack Obama.

Walorski is strongly backed by the Tea Party in a fierce battle for the congressional seat of Democrat Joe Donnelly. Donnelly, once supported by conservatives, is now reviled by them because of his vote in favor of health care legislation pushed by Obama — a betrayal of earlier promises, they say.

Dick and Mickey are heading out for a week in the hilly south of Indiana, where they will camp and ride their horses. But once they get back home, they will return to their other retirement plan — political activism.

“I see the Tea Party as an educational thing,” says Dick. “I think we have lost sight of what the government’s role, according to the Constitution, in our lives should be. ... If people are informed, I think people will rise to the occasion.”

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