Sheriff's deputies escort protester Lawrence Shipley out of the town square prior to Gov. Rick Scott's bill-signing rally on Thursday, May 26.
THE VILLAGES, Florida -- About a dozen Democratic Party activists protesting Gov. Rick Scott's budget policies were peacefully but firmly ejected from the governor's budget-signing ceremony Thursday as Tea Party activists applauded.
A few minutes before the governor's scheduled arrival, several elderly people wearing blue T-shirts inscribed "Vote Democratic" began to take seats in the sweltering town square where the Scott staff had carefully staged a speech and bill-signing for TV cameras. Scott, who announced his budget plans at a Tea Party rally in Eustis Feb. 6, returned to his political roots for the signing ceremony.
There were scores of hand-lettered signs supporting Scott, along with American flags and lapel-stickers on the chests of many spectators, showing support for the conservative Republican's position on cutting state spending.
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The protestors brought signs of their own, deliberately worded to be "positive," voicing support for education, state employee and police salaries and benefits, environmental protection and other issues being cut in the budget.
Deputies from the Sumter County Sheriff's Office ordered them to leave the town square. A small roped off areas for pickets was designated across a small street from the big rally, out of sight of TV cameras.
Reporters and camera crews surrounded the protestors and police anyway.
"They told us this was a public event, but I guess not if you're wearing a blue shirt," said Bill Calhoun, who held a small sign that said "Pink Slip Rick."
"We do not call this protesting," said Diane Davisson, "all our signs are positive, with messages we want the governor to see."
As they left the square, several of the anti-Scott pickets said they were residents of The Villages and the square belongs to them. They said the pro-Scott spectators -- many of whom applauded and called out their support for removal of the others -- were also carrying hand-made signs.
Police said the square had been rented privately for the rally and bill signing, and that people with shirts or signs could be selected for seats in the audience.
Bill Cotterell, Florida Capital Bureau