Gas Can Man cheered gas tax opponents at Wednesday’s legislative hearing.
Making his grand entrance before the hearing, Gas Can Man strode in the room carrying a sign reading, “Haslam’s a Pain In My Gas.” Clearly the rock star of the event, he was photographed and videorecorded by admiring fans. Some even wore t-shirts bearing his likeness. He was surrounded by shouts of “Tank the Tax!”
The packed hearing room was filled mostly with people there on behalf of the conservative group Americans For Prosperity, which opposes the tax. Having arrived early, they were able to grab a seat. People who couldn’t find a seat were sent to an overflow area outside the room where they could watch the proceedings on a TV screen.
Among those who came from across the state was Chelsea Houk, who lives in Knoxville with her husband Zachary. The 26-year-old grew up in a family in which politics was rarely discussed to keep the peace. But now she finds that approach a misguided quest that doesn’t do anything to keep change at bay. “It provides a false sense of security,” she said. A farmhand who works with show horses, Houk these days finds herself taking steps into the world of political activism. She said she doesn’t understand why there needs to be a tax to fund road improvements when the state has a budget surplus.
John Witte, who lives in a rural community in the Smoky Mountains, came with his wife. The Wittes, both in their 40s, make long commutes for work and see their gas bills going up higher than tax proponents suggest. Witte said lowering the sales tax on groceries won’t do any good because higher gas prices for those hauling products to stores would be passed on to consumers. He compared the promise of a lower sales tax on groceries to the red cape waved by a bullfighter. “It’s a crock,” he said.
Billie Jeanne Peattie, a 72-year-old retiree from Jefferson County, came to the hearing with her daughter and was happy to be among like-minded tax opponents. “I’m pleased with the participation,” she said.
Before the hearing, Andrew Ogles, the Tennessee director for Americans For Prosperity, asked the crowd to show decorum and respect for state leaders with whom they disagreed. Apart from their exuberance for the Gas Can Man, the crowd was a quiet bunch Wednesday morning and maintained an atmosphere of calm during the hearing.
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Ed. note: Stay tuned for more on this developing story