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HELENA — Nationally syndicated radio host Roger Hedgecock took his show to the Montana Tea Party state convention Friday in Helena, firing up a crowd of about 100 with warnings of big government, big deficits, federal health care reform, immigration and voter fraud.

Hedgecock, the former mayor of San Diego who has served as a substitute host for Rush Limbaugh, met local Tea Party members enthusiastic about victories in the 2010 election and their growing influence. He broadcast his radio show for three hours in front of a live audience at the conference at the Red Lion Colonial Hotel.

He will give the conference's keynote address at a dinner event Saturday night.

Hedgecock told the crowd that Tea Party victories in 2010 were just the start in the battle to roll back “this big leviathan nanny state.”

He said government is immorally saddling future generations with debt and meddling with commerce to the point of telling restaurants how much salt they can put in their food. He spoke against city inspectors who can enter private property without a search warrant. And he talked about the tiny delta smelt, the federal protection of which, he said, has devastated the farming economy of Southern California. Liberals, he said, chose the smelt over farmers.

He compared the 2010 electoral victory to that of 1946, which succeeded a period characterized by ration cards and government takeover of industry in World War II. That 1946 group came to power and oversaw “a complete dismantling of socialism,” and said the same could be accomplished now “if we could get some backbone into this group,” he said.

That 1946 class reduced the federal budget deficit 47 percent in two years, even as naysayers warned of unemployment among returning service members. Instead, he said, America prospered in the 1950s.

“If the government would just get out of the way, all those jobs would be created by entrepreneurs,” he said.

Former state Rep. Ed Butcher, R-Winifred, echoed concern about voter fraud, claiming in separate session that President Barack Obama's “ACORN crowd” nearly cost Rep. Derek Skees, R-Whitefish, his election last fall.

“Every Indian voted at least once, all the college students voted at least twice,” he said, to laughs from the audience. “You had an unbelievable operation going.”

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Two Republican candidates for governor, Corey Stapleton and Ken Miller (by telephone from Kalispell), spoke briefly on Hedgecock's show. Nummerdor said the involvement of Stapleton and Miller in the Tea Party event shows the increasing acceptance of the movement. The Big Sky Tea Party has already interviewed a Republican gubernatorial candidate and former U.S. Rep. Rick Hill, and has plans to interview both Stapleton and Miller. The group is prohibited from explicitly endorsing candidates, but will provide information about them, he said.

He said 24 Tea Party groups from around the state are represented at the event.

Butcher said the principles of the Tea Party movement are gaining steam. And thanks to members' grass-roots outreach efforts, “all of a sudden, it's not a handful of right-wing wackos that are out there.”

But he warned the activists against complacency.

“You don't need the country club Republicans calling the shots, because they want to play nice in the sandbox, they don't want to make waves,” he said.

“Boo” Crane, a rancher from Broadus, is attending the gathering as a member of the Powder River Patriots. Asked about legislative priorities, he said he opposed the proposal to make oil-rich counties in Eastern Montana share more tax revenue with schools across the state. If the state starts moving around that money, he said, it should spread money from all the resources, including timber and tourism.

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