OLYMPIA - A large crowd gathered Saturday morning at the state Capitol in support of Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, a day after people at a much smaller rally took him to task for taking legal action against recently passed federal health care legislation.
The rally on the steps of the Legislative Building began about 11 a.m., although a large crowd had arrived before then, with many carrying the current U.S. flag as well as the nation’s old “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. Others carried signs that read “Repeal the bill,” “Give me liberty not debt,” and “No gangster government.”
Crowd estimates varied; a sergeant with the State Patrol said 850 people were there, while some supporters pegged the crowd at 2,000 and others as high as 4,000. After the pledge of allegiance and a moment of prayer, McKenna stepped up to the microphone about 11:15 a.m. and addressed the crowd for about 15 minutes.
“My name is Rob McKenna, and I represent you,” he said to loud cheers and applause. McKenna has been mentioned as a potential GOP candidate for governor in 2012.
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The federal health care law signed last week by President Barack Obama requires people to buy health insurance starting in 2014, and McKenna says it’s unconstitutional to require people to buy a commercial product.
McKenna also questions the constitutionality of requiring states to expand their Medicaid programs to accept more enrollees at what he predicts will be a high cost for state taxpayers.
During his speech Saturday, McKenna emphasized individual rights and freedoms.
“These are your steps, your building and your government,” he told the audience, which had gathered across from the Temple of Justice.
He said the lawsuit is about individual rights and that the federal government can’t “force us to go out and buy what they tell us to buy.”
McKenna was followed by Republican state Sens. Mike Carrell and Val Stevens, and Republican state Rep. Tom Campbell. Other speakers included conservative talk-radio hosts Kirby Wilbur and David Boze. Two right-of-center groups, Americans for Prosperity and We the People of Vancouver, helped organize the event. We the People was gathering signatures for a petition in support of McKenna.
Dave Reese, 57, of Seattle said he attended because he thinks the health care legislation is unconstitutional and worries about how it could affect an already slow economy.
“At a time when we’re in recession, it could plunge us into deeper holes than we can foresee right now,” he said.
Julie Sipes, 33, along with her husband and two children, drove 53 miles to Olympia from Maple Valley to support McKenna.
“My freedom is being taken away by this bill,” she said. “They (the federal government) are going to force us to pay for something we don’t want.”
Sipes said her husband is a dentist who covers the cost of his employees’ health insurance premiums. That could change if their taxes are higher under the new legislation, she said.
“We’re worried everyone will have to start paying premiums,” Sipes said.
The rally lasted more than 90 minutes, with the crowd beginning to thin out about 12:30 p.m. There were no anti-McKenna demonstrators.