Sheriff’s deputies removed a number of Floridians from a public square Thursday because they held signs in opposition to Governor Rick Scott and his policies.
The individuals removed were part of a large crowd at The Villages, a huge retirement community in Sumter County, in Central Florida. Scott was there to announce record-setting budget vetoes — $615 million worth.
The Republican Party of Florida had rented the square for the event. Roughly 200 people showed up for Scott’s announcement, including some schoolchildren bussed in and given signs.
How many people were removed is not clear. The Associated Press reported that “Sumter County sheriff’s deputies escorted about two dozen protesters, some holding signs saying ‘Pink Slip Rick,’ from the town square.”
St. Petersburg Times reporter Aaron Sharockman, who gave the most details in a separate story on the incident, said it was more than a dozen. He described them as Democrats and said most were residents of the retirement community.
“Staffers and Republican operatives searched the crowd of about 200 looking for people holding anti-Scott signs,” the St. Petersburg Times reported. “They were noted and asked to leave. Those with pro-Scott signs were allowed to stay.”
Lane Wright, press secretary to the governor, told Politic365 in an e-mail Friday that Scott did not order the removal of the individuals — “absolutely not.”
“Governor Scott did not have these individuals removed,” Wright said. “This was a public event. It was brought to our attention that the local authorities had removed some. We don’t know first-hand who was removed or why.”
Sumter County deputies told the St. Petersburg Times that because the Republican Party of Florida rented the square for the governor’s announcement, the party could decide if some people had to leave.
The newspaper reported that the citizens were removed “at the urging of Scott officials.”
The Governor’s Office insisted it had no role. “We are only seeing what you’re seeing in the news reports,” said Wright, Scott’s press secretary. “It’s disappointing to know that anyone who made the effort to be at such an important event wasn’t allowed in.”
Regardless of who gave the orders, those removed were unhappy. “We came here to say what we support,” Lawrence Shipley, president of The Villages Democratic Club, told the St. Petersburg Times. He said he and others in his group were not there to harass Scott.
Bud Webber of Orlando, who was at the event, took note that it wasn’t holding signs that got people removed — it was what the signs said. “Signs that support the governor are allowed to stay,” he said, “but signs that don’t are told to leave? Come on. That’s ridiculous.”
“I think it’s morally wrong what the governor is doing,” John Hickey, a resident of The Villages, told the Associated Press after watching deputies remove the individuals. “He says he is fighting for education, yet in my county they are talking about having to cut back to four days a week in the schools.”
According to the St. Petersburg Times, David Bitner, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, defended the decision to remove people from the square. He said the event was a celebration. “The people who protested against this budget are the people whose ox got gored,” Bitner said.
The Republican Party of Florida did not respond to Politic365’s e-mail inquiry seeking comment on the party’s role in the incident.
Typically, Florida governors announce their vetoes and sign the state budgets in the Capitol, in Tallahassee. Scott, however, chose to create an event at The Villages for his budget-signing and veto announcement because it is a heavily Republican community and a stronghold of the Tea Party. Scott is a Tea Party supporter.