Central Florida’s Tri-County Tea Party organized a rally for Governor Scott’s signing of a controversial state budget today in the massive retirement community known as The Villages. It seemed like a nice day for a drive so I thought I’d head south to attend the rally, talk to some tea partiers and listen to the speeches.
Scott, whose public approval ratings are sinking in the polls, had chosen to move the signing from Tallahassee to the tea party stronghold, and in particular, this make-believe world in the middle of the state.
The Villages is a surreal place. It’s like a sprawling residential Disney with faux old bridges and buildings; an idyllic center of insulated white privilege. The Orlando Sentinel describes it thus:
Even the history here has a make-believe comfortable feel. A historical marker outside a grand old porticoed building identifies it as the former Grand Hotel, dating its history to 1855. But an employee of the real estate office there whispers, “Don’t believe everything you read. This was a vacant field seven years ago.”
The retirees tool around in golf carts and gather in the Town Square replica at four o’clock each afternoon for dancing and two-for-one cocktails. As I sat under a tree waiting for the festivities to begin, I struck up a conversation with the mom of the 14-year-old who was there to sing the national anthem. A Scott supporter, she compared the setting to the carefully constructed world in the movie The Truman Show. “He lived his whole life in that world,” she said (probably not realizing what she was saying), “and then you find out it’s not real.”
While Scott’s budget has been criticized for eviscerating public education, the bandstand (in a direct line of sight from the television cameras and behind the spot where the governor would sign the bill) was festooned with a banner that read, “Less Waste More Education.” At the very last minute two school buses pulled up and the bandstand was filled with students from The Villages Charter School. The governor’s staffers handed the students signs that read, “No to Earmarks” and “Thank You Governor Scott” that were designed to appear handmade.
When the mayor of The Villages opened the ceremony and welcomed everyone saying, “the signing of the budget is an exercise in representative democracy and we’re happy to have it right here in The Villages,” he apparently didn’t know that about twenty members of the Villages Democratic Party wearing T-shirts that read, “vote Democratic” had been forced to leave the event. One of the sherriff’s deputies officially charged with escorting them out of the Town Square told me that the signing was a private event, that the Square had been “leased” and that the “protesters” (they weren’t really protesting) would have to go to the “protest area,” which was behind the bandstand and across the street.
The many Floridians that will be hurt by Scott’s budget were excluded from the event. A representative of the Guardian at Litem program told me, “We were one of the few programs that didn’t get cut.” But the folks from Kid Central, a nonprofit that coordinates care for children in child protective services that Scott’s budget drastically cut, were forced out-of-site, across the street into the “protest zone.”
But the tea party turnout for the event was not impressive, even though some Scott supporters seemed to believe that God’s hand was at work. But with all the empty seats, Scott would have looked better letting those “protesters” fill the empty seats.