Former Congressman Dick Armey visits local conservatives

The tables formed a horseshoe and were jammed with people on every side. A spillover crowd squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder along the walls of the room. In the pockets of space in between, people kneeled.

Some wore buttons: "Dump Dodd!" was a popular one.

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey was the draw at Circle Diner on Wednesday night. Sitting front-and-center, the former nine-term U.S. Congressman from northern Texas and chairman of the conservative grassroots group FreedomWorks, was dressed in a dark suit and bright yellow tie, with white cowboy hat beside him.

Nearly 100 people packed inside the small party room in the back of the diner. Together, they represented some 15 conservative movements from all over Connecticut and portions of New York.

In addition to listening to Armey's political insights and posing questions, they engaged in a spirited exchange of tactics for badgering liberal politicians and holding conservative ones accountable to the small-government, low-spending cause that many vocally espoused.

Some of the organizations included Tea Party Patriots, and Right Principles. There were many unaffiliated people present as well.

The event was organized by Fairfield resident Bob MacGuffie, who last year banded with four like-minded friends to create the group "Right Principles: Unapologetically American."

Earlier in the day, Armey appeared on the Fox News program FOX & Friends.

"We invited him to come up and give us a view of the big picture, what grassroots groups are doing in other states," said MacGuffie. "We presented him with an overview of the Connecticut electorate and asked how FreedomWorks can help us here in Connecticut with campaigns."

"It was like having Cal Ripken come out to teach you how to field ground balls," said Sean Murphy, founder of

Murphy, a Norwalk native who lives in Woodbury, climbed out of coffin a few weeks ago in Stamford dressed as "FrankenDodd" to protest Pres. Barack Obama's trip to the city.

Wednesday's event was initially planned as a closed-doors meet-up of just a dozen or so grassroots organizers. But FreedomWorks posted the event on its Web site, prompting an outpouring of interest from people all over the region, said Murphy. As a result, it was open to everyone.

Jimmy Tsilfides, a manager of Circle Diner, was surprised by the number of people. "I was expecting 30 people," he said afterwards. "I realized it was much bigger when I pulled into the parking lot at 6:45 and couldn't find a parking space out front."

Charles Meyrick was one town resident unaffiliated with grassroots groups who attended. He heard about the meet-up through a friend in Shelton, he said.

Afterwards, he said he was most impressed with Armey's openness on religious matters and his referencing three conservative economists -- Friedrich von Hayek, Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises -- as foundations to his political perspectives.

According to FreedomWorks' Web site, the organization seeks to recruit, educate, train and mobilize "hundreds of thousands of volunteer activists to fight for less government, lower taxes, and more freedom."

Armey has been touring the country, delivering talks, answering questions and trying to bring new people into the fold. He seemed to have some success with that Wednesday night.

"I didn't recognize 80 percent of the people here," said Murphy afterwards. "It shows the ideas are resonating with more and more people. It shows there's enthusiasm in the grassroots movement."

As the evening came to a close, Armey urged those on hand to stand for conservative principles that transcend both the current era and contested issues. He championed a smaller federal government and increased fiscal restraint.

Someone asked how this country could deal with its federal debt.

"Sell Alaska!" someone quipped.

"No, no," Armey said back. "How about Massachusetts?"

Many laughed.

"The thing is, America's the most beautiful horse in the race," he said. "But it's carrying a 500-pound glutton behind it."