By Kathy Antoniotti
Beacon Journal staff writer
It was billed in a full-page newspaper advertisement as a public rally for U.S. jobs. ''Free lunch.''
Register to attend on the Web or ''just show up.''
Speakers at the Canton Memorial Civic Center railed against an attack on U.S. jobs and against taxes on the oil and gas industry.
China was singled out several times as a jobs snatcher.
After the Sept. 7 event was covered by local media came dozens of e-mails, phone calls and a tirade on MSNBC.
Attendees told the Akron Beacon Journal that while speakers lamented the loss of U.S. jobs, they distributed T-shirts made in Mexico and Honduras.
And the goodie bag that contained the shirts was made in China.
Many, if not most, of the 400 participants were delivered in motor coaches from local oil and gas industry companies. One oil and gas industry employee who did not want to be identified for fear of discipline at work said he and co-workers had no choice but to attend.
While the advertisement said the rally was sponsored by the Buckeye Energy Forum, similar rallies were held in Texas, New Mexico and Illinois, and a common sponsor of all of them was the American Petroleum Institute.
MSNBC cable news network commentator Rachel Maddow spent several minutes of her Sept. 9 program focusing on the Beacon Journal story and suggesting that the Rally for Jobs movement is sponsored by wealthy contributors with conservative and libertarian viewpoints who want to influence Congress and elections.
While Maddow's suggestions regarding who was behind the rally could not be confirmed, there was no question the rally site was selected because of important congressional races in the area.
''Our view is if you increase taxes on energy, you increase taxes on everyone,'' said Terry Fleming, executive director of the Ohio Petroleum Council based in Columbus and one of the rally organizers.
''That's what this was all about, and the reason it was done so early is because we wanted to catch the congressmen before they went back from summer recess,'' he said this week.
At the rally, with repeated chants of ''We will remember in November,'' the speakers linked their message on taxes to the upcoming elections and the impact they could have on President Barack Obama's clean-energy initiatives.
Canton is the scene of one of the most contentious congressional races in the country, with Democrat John Boccieri of Alliance defending his hold on a traditionally Republican seat against Jim Renacci of Wadsworth.
''Actually, there are about five congressional districts outside of Canton, and that was the other reason, plus Canton has been hit particularly hard by the recession,'' Fleming said.
He cited Democrats Boccieri of Alliance, Betty Sutton of Copley, Tim Ryan of Niles, Charlie Wilson of St. Clairsville, and Zack Space of Dover as the members of Congress at whom the rally was aimed.
Fleming said the origin of the T-shirts is a ''legitimate question at a save-our-jobs rally. The rally basically, though, was directed at the proposed energy taxes that the president is proposing.''
He said he ''didn't have a clue'' as to where the shirts were made — he didn't order them.
American Petroleum Institute spokesman Bill Bush also said he did not know where the items were made, but even if they were made in foreign countries, that fact had nothing to do with the message the speakers were imparting at the rally.
''I don't think it takes away from the idea that jobs are very important at this point — that we're concerned about creating jobs in this country. The energy industry has had a big role in creating jobs and have a large role in creating jobs in this country,'' Bush said Wednesday.
As for the people who arrived last week by bus, those folks were reluctant to say much about where or why everyone got on the bus. Three people standing in line before the doors opened said they came from Marathon Oil's Canton refinery, but referred further questions to Gretchen Plewak of Marathon's human resource department.
''I think its important to support the industry,'' said Plewak, as she handed out free T-shirts and urged employees to pull them on over their clothes.
But one man who contacted the Beacon Journal following the event said he attended only because he had ''no choice in the matter.''
''Most of the attendees were there because they were required to,'' he said.
Of the four motor coaches that brought participants to the center, three held employees from Standard Jig Boring Service and its owner, Ariel Corp., he said.
Both companies are oil and gas industry suppliers.
''The company advised us that anyone not interested in attending should contact the head of human resources . . . Everyone understood what that meant,'' he said.
Bush, who attended the rally, said he never heard anything that suggested that people were forced to attend.
''They were asked if they wanted to go and they made a decision if they wanted to go or wouldn't go. If it was mandatory, I would have expected everybody to go and I don't think that was the case,'' he said.
Speakers at the event included Karen Wright, president and chief executive of Ariel Corp., who was vehement that any new taxes on the oil and gas industry will cost ''good paying American jobs.''
Another was Rebecca Heimlich, Ohio director of Americans for Prosperity, a limited-government advocacy group founded by oil industry executive David Koch, who ran as the Libertarian vice presidential candidate in 1980. The Washington Post recently reported that the organization is targeting several congressional races for political activity.
Representing the oil industry were Mike Carey, president of the Ohio Coal Association and Rhonda Reda from the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program.
Others included Deborah Owens, a free-enterprise advocate and associate professor of marketing at the University of Akron; Tom Jackson of the Ohio Grocers Association; Pam Haley of the Ohio Farm Bureau; Army veteran Sgt. Dennis Bartow; and Army veteran and state Rep. Seth Morgan, R-Huber Heights.
Morgan was the Ohio Tea Party's choice in the Republican primary for state auditor earlier this year.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.