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Al Berkowitz of Bemidji tells a Bemidji Tea Party Town Hall on Monday night about a bankrupt Social Security system. Pioneer Photo/Brad Swenson

Bemidji Tea Party talks Social Security, unions

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News Bemidji,Minnesota 56619
Bemidji Pioneer
Bemidji Tea Party talks Social Security, unions
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Public unions should be abolished and Social Security privatized, attendees decided Monday night at a Bemidji Tea Party Town Hall.

The group of about 70 people became the most impassioned over the issue of public unions, wanting to rally support for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his effort to do away with collective bargaining.


"Every one of those teachers who haven't gone to work and taught our kids, should be fired," said Kath Molitor of teacher protesters at the Wisconsin State Capitol. "Fire the bunch, stand with Scott Walker."

The Bemidji Tea Party, sponsored by the Beltrami County Republicans, held a 90-minute forum at Beltrami Electric in which 12 tea party questions were posed by Ken Cobb, the Beltrami GOP chairman. Each topic was allowed 12 minutes, and each speaker 90 seconds.

It got off to a rough start, with several people questioning the process, preferring just to talk about their issues. But Cobb said he wanted to run an orderly forum with focus, and allowing input from everyone.

The going was slow, until the fourth question, when the group was asked to comment on whether the tea party should "take on" the public-sector unions.

"Unions were very necessary in its day," Molitor said. "It took the poor people, it gave them jobs and protected them. But that was 50 years ago. We no longer need unions to tell us how we're going to live, what we're going to do and who's going to be our president."

Al Killian, who said he held a union job in state government, said that unions "are much too powerful." He paid dues and the union "supported a party I totally disagreed with."

With Minnesota not being a right to work state, workers don't have an option to opt out of union membership in a union shop.

"The bottom line is the states are broke, and they're broken primarily because of sweetheart contracts which have been given to the public employee unions over the years," said Al Berkowitz. "It's not a question of taking them on, but doing what is right by the American taxpayer. Let's go for it."

Berkowitz also responded to a question asking tea partiers what policy should guide Social Security and Medicare.

"Seventy years after its inception, Social Security has become perhaps the biggest Ponzi scheme in the history of this country," he said, predicting that entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare will become the big issues of the next election.

Baby boomers who now are entering retirement have paid the most into the system, yet now that they are retiring, there isn't enough money and they are asked to retire later, he said.

Keith Pommerening said that over a lifetime he made $1 million, and figures that $125,000 when to Social Security. That sum would at least be doubled if invested in the private sector.

"It is a Ponzi scheme," he said. "I can't see how they expect us in good faith to believe that there's going to be money there, especially for our kids and grandkids."

Social Security is another form of revenue for the federal government, said Robert Hoyum of Saum. "As far as any promises, they've never been kept."

And Medicare, he said, has lost four times as much each year as private insurance companies have made in profit. "And we want our government to take over our health care system?"

They didn't spend much time on a question of abolishing the federal income tax, agreeing that some sort of national sales tax should replace it.

Among other questions, the tea partiers were asked if the Tea Party Movement should be organized nationally -- no, keep it at a grass-roots level -- and should the tea party take on cultural and moral issues -- six speakers said yes and two said no.

"That's where we lose a lot of our morals, right there in colleges with the professors," said one man who didn't identify himself, referring to sex education lectures at the college level.

Most agreed that moral values need to be taught by parents, and reinforced by schools. One man suggested that the reason for the Tea Party Movement and a constitutional government be taught in the schools.

"If we don't start today teaching our children right from wrong, good, strong biblical principles, our country's going to hell in a handbag," Molitor said.

Judy Killian said she plans to learn the curriculum and read the textbooks of her grandchildren's elementary classes. "I'm going to know what these teachers are teaching my grandkids, and I will speak up."

"Somehow, we've got to reach the young people about how serious everything is," said one man. "They won't watch (Glenn) Beck; they won't listen to Rush (Limbaugh). And they won't listen to us ..."

The group agreed to hold more Tea Party Town Halls, and noted the next event is the April 15 Tax Day rally at the Lake Bemidji waterfront.