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Faces of the Tea Party - Vintner and constitutionalist

It’s a bit surprising to find a winery in central Indiana, sandwiched between corn fields and patches of hardwood trees. But there it is - down the road from Monticello, Ind., and up the road from the even-tinier town of Buffalo, tucked amid a field of grapevines sits a modest home and a barn-like structure housing Evangeline Orchard’s wine-making operations. Lined up in barrels in the storage area are at least 10 varieties including blackberry, raspberry, pumpkin and, yes, tomato.

Evangeline is the latest undertaking of Lenn “Curley” Gapinski - testimony to the Indiana native’s determination to make it on his own, and figure things out on his own, including his political philosophy.

“The sun rose and set over FDR, according to my father,” he says.

But with age, the 58-year-old Gapinski has moved far from the Democratic loyalties of his family. He is staunch advocate of low taxes - maybe a 10 percent flat tax - and a free market with minimal government intervention. He proudly flies the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag next to the Stars and Stripes over his orchard. “I consider myself a patriot today,” he says.

After high school, Gapinski went off to work as a millwright at Bethlehem Steel, quickly advanced to supervisor and then moved into a mechanical engineering position on the strength of self-taught skills. He remained for 35 years, but lost his pension and health insurance as the company changed hands before retiring in 2007.

He started thinking about the Constitution back at Bethlehem Steel, where he used to talk politics at lunch with an older worker - a conservative.

It was during the Carter administration - a time of gas lines, price and wage freezes, and the coworker maintained that the government was moving into all sorts of areas that were not allowed by the Constitution.

“A light came on,” says Gapinski. “I thought, ‘Hey we can’t depend on the government for everything'... I found that although I was raised a liberal, the conservative movement made more sense to me.”

After his retirement, Gapinski and his wife, Cheryl, put their savings into this small vineyard, and he dedicated himself to two things -- growing grapes and studying the nation’s founding.

Now, dressed as George Washington - right down to the powdered wig - he teaches classes on the U.S. Constitution to Tea Party groups.

In his view, the country began going off the constitutional rails by 1913, when legislators passed the 16th amendment allowing Congress to levy an income tax.

“That (amendment) gave lawmakers the opportunity to tax whatever they wanted, and they have taken advantage of it,” says Gapinski.

Gapinski says TEA stand for Taxed Enough Already (though others in the movement dispute this), and he believes the core issue of the Tea Party is taxes.

In pursuit of that, he would like to see the Tea Party remain at arm’s length from both major parties.

“The Republican Party would love to have the Tea Party as an extension of the Republican Party,” says Gapinski. “But the Republican Party has not been true to its conservative values. We need to hold (them) accountable.”

Although Gapinski agrees with the anti-abortion position of conservative Christians, he says, “This is a personal issue, not a Tea Party issue.”

On the other hand, Gapinski’s faith and his political views are inseparable.

Speaking to church congregations around the area, Gapinski likes to show a video called “Our Godly American Heritage,” produced by David Barton, which argues that the founding fathers never intended to keep religion out of government, but wanted to prevent any one denomination of Christianity from prevailing over others.

Gapinski believes that the way the “separation of church and state” is implemented wrongly because it tries to rid public institutions of religion.

“There has been a lot of misinformation on our heritage in the last century, especially since the 1960s,” says Gapinski. “I want to show the deep relationship the founding fathers had with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

In his personal life, Gapinski’s faith will guide his vote this Nov. 2.

“The night before elections, my wife and I will get down on our knees and pray. We will open our Bibles randomly to see if there are messages (God) wants us to hear,” he says. “And we will go on the Internet to do a last round of research in case there is anyone we are unsure of.”

Then, he and Cheryl will go to vote at 6:30 in the morning when the polls open.

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