South Jordan • The rest of the country may not be feeling warm and fuzzy about Utah Sen. Mike Lee, but it turns out hundreds of people in his home state made it clear, “We like Mike.”
At a Saturday rally, Utahns from across the valley waved American flags, pumped home-made signs and cheered and chanted to show their support for Lee.
The Republican senator has taken a beating in recent weeks, not just from Democrats but members of his party for leading the fight — along with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas — that forced a 16-day partial government shut down.
“I’ve read polls that said some people in Utah don’t like Mike Lee,” organizer Amelia Powers told the crowd gathered at Riverfront West Park in South Jordan. “But I’m lucky to be from a place that has a senator like Mike Lee. He has represented Utah well.”
Powers and a friend organized the rally in less than a week with the help of Facebook and Twitter. It attracted everyone from families with young children to senior citizens and veterans.
Numerous speakers praised Lee for having the “courage” to stand up to the old-guard in Washington, D.C., and for “protecting the U.S. Constitution.”
When Lee finally made it on stage at about 11:50 a.m., organizers had already planned to give the senator a 10-minute standing ovation to best the eight-minute ovation that Cruz received a few weeks ago in his home state.
During the applause, Lee thanked his supporters saying, “It’s great to be back in America!” and “I think they can hear us in Washington!”
At the 10-minute mark, Lee said, “I just heard from Ted Cruz in Texas and he says ‘Utah wins.’ ”
Chants followed of “Freedom! Freedom!”
Among supporters, Lee didn’t have to defend his opposition to any federal budget bill that funded the Affordable Care Act.
“It was exactly what I promised to do,” Lee told the crowd, which included Utah County politician Mia Love and state Republican party chair James Evans. “I’m just keeping my promise to voters in Utah.”
That kind of “courage” is what brought Dave Christensen, a Vietnam veteran from Taylorsville waving an American flag, to the rally.
“He stands up for the Constitution and doesn’t compromise his core values,” he said. “He doesn’t give in to the corruption that is Washington, D.C.”
It’s also one of the reasons Mike Brown of Bountiful attended.
“He’s standing up for what is right,” Brown told the crowd. “He’s doing what he promised to do. Unfortunately when party and popularity are more important than principles, society suffers.”
For many people, the rally was also a way to voice their disapproval for Sen. Orrin Hatch’s voting record during the shutdown.
Bob Capel of Alpine, who came with his mother and his daughter, proudly waved a sign reading, “Lee Strong — Hatch Not So Much.”
“I blame all of the politicians in Washington for the shut down, not just tea party or Democrats and Republicans,” he said.
There were about two dozen Democrats who protested against Lee at the rally.
Their presence angered at least one Lee supporter. Elaine Centini, of North Salt Lake, got in a shouting match with Melissa Walker for chanting and carrying a “Shut Down Mike Lee” poster.
“It’s disrespectful,” Centini told The Tribune afterward. “I wouldn’t have crashed their party.”
Walker said she simply came as a concerned mother,
“Senator Lee is not representing all his constituents,” she said. “He cost our government $30 million because of the shutdown.”
Financial experts estimate that the shutdown cost the nation $24 billion and Utah’s tourist industry another $30 million.
“Mike Lee doesn’t speak for Utah,” added Utah Democratic Party Chair Jim Dabakis, in news release. “Democrats, Republicans, Independents, progressives and genuine conservatives join hands in being appalled by the freshman senator’s grenade-throwing governing tactics.”
Dabakis said even Saturday’s hastily organized rally filled with the most vocal tea party members, “can’t redeem him, or undo the damage that has been done.”