Tax Day served as a rallying day and a measuring date for the grassroots Tea Party in Mississippi. In its first year, Tea Party members packed town hall meetings; hosted health care forums; assisted in putting two initiatives on the ballot; debated on talk radio; dialogued in newspapers; marched on Washington; registered voters; and rallied across the state.

It is hard to say exactly what the "Tea Party" has done because the term refers more to an idea than to one organization. Various groups (Tea Party, Tea Party Patriots, Tea Party Rangers, 9-12 Project, and others) share a similar lower taxes, smaller government, "Don't Tread on Me" message. Last week, these various groups rallied on Thursday (Tax Day) and Saturday across the state in Biloxi, Columbus, Greenwood, Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Hernando, Laurel, Jackson, Oxford and Starkville.

In Jackson, a Thursday of rally of "We the People" from Byram and a contingent of 9-12 Project supporters took to the State Capitol Steps numbering several dozen. Then Saturday, the Central Mississippi Tea Party sponsored an event of a couple of thousand activists from the Jackson-metro area and across the state.

The event started Saturday morning at the Mississippi Fair Grounds and featured political speeches from Republicans, Democrats, independents, and third-party candidates. When I drove up the sound system was blasting "Paradise City" by Guns N Roses and then moved into "Bullet And A Target" by Citizen Cope as activists and candidates milled about sporting political shirts, signs, and flags. Messages like, "Repeal the Hill then the Bill" and stickers that read "Flip This House 2010" made evident the crowd's focus on November's elections.

State Representative Alex Monsour (R-Vicksburg), whose efforts to fight Obamacare on a state level has made him a hero of sorts to the Tea Party movement, gave the keynote speech on the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution before the group marched the several blocks up to the State Capitol Building.

A few hundred folks were already at the Capitol and while they waited for the marchers to arrive, the organizers opened the mic up to anyone to speak about their own passions drawing an 83-year-old woman to climb the steps to speak about her fears of where the country is heading, and a 16-year-old girl from Tupelo taking the mic to deliver a pro-life message.

The program at the Capitol included speeches on limited government, free markets, the Constitution, fiscal responsibility, and getting involved.

Mike Odom, a member of the Mississippi Tea Party's communication team, told me their three core values are "Fiscal Responsibility, Constitutionally-Limited Government, and Free Markets." The speeches echoed that sentiment and does a New York Times / CBS News national survey of tea party supporters. The survey found the most important issue facing our country today for Tea Party supporters are the economy (23 percent), jobs (22 percent), and politicians/government (13 percent). Religious values garnered 3 percent; moral values took 2 percent; and abortion, immigration, and education all came in at 1 percent each. That is not to suggest these supporters believe those values are unimportant, but it does indicate this movement is not a rebirth of the "Moral Majority" or the "Christian Coalition."

The anti-debt, anti-tax, anti-spend movement could be more similar to the Ross Perot movement in early 1990s that cobbled together a coalition of conservative leaning voters into the Reform Party. But the Reform Party's identity was forever tied to its leaders: Ross Perot who left the party in tatters twice, Jesse Ventura who used and then rejected the Reform Party in his Minnesota gubernatorial campaign, Pat Buchanan who captured the Reform Party and ultimately provided its final spiral into irrelevance.

The Tea Party focuses on issues rather than personalities. Certainly some individuals appeal more than others, but there is an independence which suggests members would ill receive someone else choosing who they should support.

The Tea Party is also not a debating society; it is about action. Members are focused on voter registration, voter education, and organizing on a precinct level to turn out conservative voters. In the past year, the Central Mississippi Tea Party has grown from 300 web site members to more than 2100 and nearly 1700 Facebook fans. Those who identify themselves with the Tea Party greatly exceed those numbers.

Democrats hoping the Tea Party will split Republicans will be disappointed. They have no desire to create a third party and do not intend on fielding "Tea Party" candidates on the ballot. Meanwhile, Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Brad White praises their work and Gov. Haley Barbour defends their activism.

What will the Tea Party accomplish in year two? We shall see after November. But that they will continue to be a voice in Mississippi over the next twelve months is as certain as death and taxes.

Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. You can reach him at