Will Tampa Show America What Democracy Looks Like?
May 29, 2012
By Brendan Conley, staff writer – May 29, 2012
In August, Tampa will be a hot spot in more ways than one. This year, the Republican Party holds its national convention in the Florida city that has been a flashpoint for both the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement. Twelve years ago, Florida was ground zero for the most contested Presidential election in modern history. This summer, Republicans hope for a unifying event that will propel Mitt Romney on to a victory against President Obama in November. But they will face critics from within and without, some raising their hands on the convention floor, some raising their fists in the streets outside. It will all come to a head in Tampa, in August. The temperature will be 90 degrees.
The Convention Juggernaut
The Republican National Convention will take place over several days beginning August 27, 2012, and will occupy more than 1 million square feet of space in the Tampa Bay Times Forum and the Tampa Convention Center. A total of 2,286 delegates and 2,125 alternate delegates will be charged with selecting a presidential and vice presidential candidate at this, the party’s 40th Presidential nominating convention. More than 15,000 members of the media are expected to be awarded credentials, more than were awarded for Tampa’s three Super Bowls combined. A total of 16,000 hotel rooms have been booked for delegates, media representatives, guests and sponsors. 
More than 50,000 people are expected to visit the Tampa Bay Area because of the convention, providing a desperately needed boost to the area’s economy. Local businesses like hotels and restaurants are expected to cash in, and some less traditional enterprises may flourish as well. With so many hotel rooms booked and so many well-to-do visitors flooding in, some local homeowners are planning to leave town for the week, renting out their own homes to visitors.  In addition, Tampa’s notorious strip clubs are gearing up for a big week. At least two clubs are planning renovations, including private entry doors for discreet visitors. Dancers are expected to travel from out of state to work during the convention. 
Mitt Romney will be the Republican Party’s nominee for president. He has yet to pick a vice presidential candidate for the ticket. Although modern party conventions no longer feature the contentious battles of the past with multiple candidates vying for the spot, Romney and his supporters will still face criticism from members of the party who doubt his conservative credentials.
Romney’s Conservative Critics
Romney faces opposition from within the party by supporters of his recent opponents, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, both of whom are perceived by many to have a more legitimate claim to the mantle of conservatism. Though their views are quite different on several issues, they each represent a segment of the Republican Party that is not satisfied with Romney as a candidate.
A former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum was the most culturally conservative of the Republican candidates, proudly trumpeting his positions against gay marriage, abortion and even birth control. Santorum has also said that he does not believe the separation of church and state should be absolute.  In 2003, Santorum became the object of ridicule for his comparison of gay sex to bestiality and pedophilia. Writer Dan Savage led a campaign that resulted in Santorum’s last name becoming synonymous with a sexually explicit term, which continues to be one of Google’s top search results for “Santorum.”  The Senator won several Southern primaries due to the support of Tea Party activists and Evangelical Christians, who favored his steadfast conservatism over Romney’s perceived flip-flopping on social issues. After Santorum officially suspended his campaign, his less-than-ringing endorsement of Romney may affect how much his voice and the voices of his supporters are heard at the convention. 
Ron Paul, the Republican Party’s libertarian curmudgeon, on the other hand, is still in the race, though the campaign now acknowledges that the goal is to influence the Party, not win the nomination. Paul, the 15-year veteran Representative of Texas’ 14th congressional district, is also perceived as steadfast and consistent in his views, although his views do not always mesh with those of mainstream Republican voters. On the one hand, Paul may be the most fiscally and constitutionally conservative member of Congress in modern history, consistently refusing to vote for any measure not explicitly authorized by the Constitution and vowing to eliminate whole federal departments if elected President. On the other hand, Paul supports ending all foreign military intervention and decriminalizing drugs, which are not common Republican talking points.  Paul’s supporters are particularly activist in nature, and intend to make their presence known at the convention. They are organizing a three-day festival of music and activism at the Florida State Fairgrounds prior to the convention. 
Street Protests Planned
Democracy takes place not only in legislative halls, convention centers, and voting booths, but also in the streets. In recent years, Tampa has seen local Tea Party activists shut down a congressional town hall meeting led by U.S. Representative Kathy Castor to protest what they call Obamacare,  and Occupy Wall Street protesters engage in a months-long 24-hours-per-day protest against economic inequality in a downtown park. 
The Republican National Convention is the nation’s premier gathering for conservatives. But liberals, union workers, students and anarchists plan on crashing the party. More than 50 groups from around the country have signed on to bring students, anti-war activists, immigrants, feminists and others to Tampa to protest the Republican agenda. [11, 12] Ever since the riotous protests outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the United States has had a tradition of protesters descending on the major party conventions to air a variety of grievances. Tampa officials say they welcome peaceful protest, but many are concerned about the possibility of violence.
Pickets Signs and Guns
Tampa City Council has struggled with how to deal with an expected 15,000 protesters. The city has created an Event Zone encompassing a large part of the downtown area. In the Zone, certain weapons will be prohibited, and rules will be in effect to limit the size of protests. There will be a designated protest area available 24 hours per day, with no permit necessary, near the convention site, and a designated parade route. However, inside the Event Zone, groups of 50 or more must apply for a permit to gather, and marches are limited to 90 minutes. This rankles free speech advocates who say the rules will be, and should be, violated. 
Americans expect to be able to exercise their First Amendment rights, and protesters will surely take advantage of the right to free speech. Thanks to Republican Governor Rick Scott, they will be able to exercise their Second Amendment rights as well. Yes: concealed, permitted weapons will be allowed outside the convention center. Although the Secret Service will enforce a strict ban on firearms inside the site of the convention, Florida law applies outside. Recently, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat, requested that Republican Governor Rick Scott issue an executive order banning concealed firearms within a certain perimeter around the convention center. Scott denied the request within hours, claiming that it would be a violation of citizens’ Second Amendment rights.  The situation raises particular concerns given the recent attention to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. As seen to tragic effect in the Trayvon Martin case, when an armed Florida citizen feels threatened with great bodily harm, he need not retreat, but may stand his ground and defend himself with a firearm.  In a bizarre twist, the Tampa ordinance prohibits a number of objects that could be used as weapons, including toy water guns, but actual concealed, permitted firearms will be allowed. 
Republican leaders continue to promote the national convention as a unifying event, one that will bring the party together under their candidate, Mitt Romney, who they hope will defeat President Obama in November. The convention, meant to be a stepping stone to victory, may prove to be more of an obstacle than they expect.