A Matter Of Rights

Arundel Mechanic Helps Mobilize Opposition To Health Care Overhaul

August 16, 2009|By Jonathan Pitts | Jonathan Pitts,jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

He stands at his table by the side of the road, puffing a cigarette as the traffic whizzes by in the steamy heat.

Passengers honk horns, waving fists through rolled-down windows Monday. The hundreds lining the streets wave signs: "Obama = Socialist," "Have You Read the Bill?" and "Health Care Reform Now." The messages stake out dueling viewpoints in a political tussle that's coming to a head this summer: the debate over the Democrat-backed House bill that aims to make huge changes in America's health-care system.

In an hour, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin will begin a town hall meeting on the matter. As Aaron Jones, 27, of Arnold hands out fliers, serene in a Guinness cap and three days' growth of beard, he looks as much like an unemployed car mechanic as one of the state's more successful grass-roots organizers.

In fact, he's both.

Last month, Jones left his job at a car-service shop to make time for his newer mission: leading the Anne Arundel branch of the "tea party" movement, the nationwide crusade that has given thousands of right-of-center Americans a forum for questioning what they see as a rapid expansion of federal powers.

Jones organized the Tax Day Tea Party in Annapolis on April 15, a rally that drew more than 3,500 in a driving rain. He and J.P. Weber of Annapolis ran another event in July, and they're in the final planning stages for a third, The Tenth Amendment Rally, scheduled to take place in downtown Annapolis from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday.

Jones expects at least 500 people and hopes for as many as 3,000.

"We'll be very clear about how this health care plan violates the Constitution. It blatantly defies the Bill of Rights," he says. "People need to know why and what recourse they have."

Taking the political lead is new to Jones, a lanky former sprinter who grew up in Anne Arundel County. But his views feel as old as the American Revolution or the Civil War.

Born in Baltimore to a Republican father and Democratic mother, he had two early interests: history and how things work.

"I was the kid who took everything apart and tried to figure out how to put it back together," says Jones, whose mother, Lynn, recalls him building model trains, disassembling radios and creating Lego theme parks that filled the living room.

A love of classic cars got him under the hood, where he learned enough to land jobs as a mechanic while a student at Broadneck High and throughout college. (He's a 2007 Salisbury University grad).

But it was history that lit Jones' eyes up. He still recalls the middle-school teacher who spoke of a U.S. president who, to Jones' great displeasure, once acted in a less-than-kindly way toward the Old Line State.

"When Maryland was thinking of seceding from the Union [in 1861], Lincoln threw the entire Maryland legislature in jail," he says, eyes flashing as though it happened yesterday. "Then he declared martial law on Baltimore and Annapolis. I don't know how you can be a Marylander and trust [federal] government after that."

With his longish, stringy hair and yearning look, you can almost see him as a Confederate soldier on a long encampmpent - which he is several weekends a year, as a Civil War re-enactor, always playing a Confederate part.

"Carrying that period rifle and pack, wearing the heavy uniform, being out there in the gunfire - you learn what those soldiers felt," he says.

The experiences anchored his views: Like the 1860s Rebels, he's a hard-core advocate of states' rights.

"I sympathize with the Southern cause," he says.

"States' rights are much closer to the founders' vision of our country" than an overweening federal government, he says.

Jones, whose first political experience consisted of footwork for the failed gubernatorial campaign of Speer Lancaster, a Libertarian candidate in 2002, didn't get into the game for real until last March. He learned on the Internet that like-minded people were trying to scare up "tea party" protests on Tax Day.

Do it yourself

When he found none was planned in Maryland, a volunteer for the Tax Day Tea Party organization, an online clearinghouse, asked if he'd like to change that.

He said yes. "That's the kind of thing where, if you don't do it yourself, it might not happen," Jones says.

He contacted Americans For Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group that has branches in 24 states but was just opening one in Maryland. State director Dave Schwartz made Jones the first Anne Arundel County chair - a highfalutin' title for a guy who works up to 12 hours a day for free, lives with his parents and is still seeking a paying job.

Schwartz gave his charge the phone numbers of a few grass-roots organizers, and the volunteer got to work. People called people, talk radio plumped the event, and the Annapolis tea party became the biggest of its kind held in Maryland.

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