Even though most of the 250 Republicans who attended Saturday's Lincoln Day dinner drank coffee with their dessert, it was clear the event was all about the Tea Party.
Speakers at the annual fundraising event at Vancouver's Heath
man Lodge called for the party faithful to stand up to government, defend freedom and protect gun rights. Auction items included ammunition and an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
While U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler highlighted her efforts working within the halls of government, former gubernatorial candidate Shahram Hadian warned of growing tyranny and militia darling Richard Mack argued for local sovereignty.
The range of passions among the event's speakers evidences an internal struggle within the local Republican party, now led by Tea Party and gun-rights activists who have nudged aside more moderate Republicans.
Divisions within the party came up first in the opening prayer, which called for party members to bridge their differences.
Dixie Kolditz, a Cathlamet businesswoman who ran unsuccessfully to represent the 19th District in the state Legislature, also alluded to internal rifts. She asked those who call themselves conservative Republicans to raise their hands. Most did. Then she asked the same of those who consider themselves to be moderate. A few hands shot up.
"There are so many sets within our party," Kolditz said. "That's why we can't sell our message -- because we are divided."
But most at Saturday's event seemed to agree the citizens, not the government, should be in charge.
"The people are the bosses and government agencies work as servants -- not the other way around," Herrera Beutler said.
The 3rd District representative said she is working to hold government in line on important issues like the Columbia River Crossing project.
"I had Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in front of me, and we are being told by him and many others that we have to accept this project as it is," Herrera Beutler said. "I don't take my marching orders from secretaries in D.C. I take my orders from people here."
Other speakers took an even harder line.
"We're living under a lawless, unconstitutional and, in my opinion, at times criminal government," Hadian said.
Keynote speaker Richard Mack, a hero of the anti-government Patriot movement, took the podium after The Columbian's deadline, but talked with a reporter earlier in the evening.
"We are sovereign, and the federal government is not our boss," Mack said.
A former county sheriff from Arizona, Mack made his name as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the federal government over the Brady Bill, a gun-control law. The Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional the law's requirement that local law enforcement jurisdictions perform background checks. Most local agencies continued to do so voluntarily.
Mack argues that the county sheriff is the highest law-enforcement authority, a position advocated by the Posse Comitatus movement in the 1970s and '80s, according to the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights in Seattle. It said the controversial movement has been linked to white supremacist and anti-Semitic views.
Mack was a popular speaker among supporters of the militia movement in the 1990s. The Tea Party has revived his career.
"His ideas haven't changed," said Devin Burghart, vice president of the human-rights institute. "His acceptability has."
Mack said has never been a part of any militia group.
"I have nothing against them. But I do have a lot of disdain for Washington, D.C., politicians, though," Mack said. "As Ronald Reagan said, I can't help who supports me."
Mack added that he is not a gun fanatic.
"I don't even hunt," he said. "The gun to me is a symbol of freedom. I am a fanatic about freedom."