Tears and hyperbole at the intersection of dueling rallies
A main artery through the Capital city, Monroe Street on Tuesday served as a line of demarcation between the liberals protesting Gov. Rick Scott's budget cuts and conservatives rallying to support less spending.
But between the progressives shouting into megaphones on the east side of the street and tea partiers waving U.S. flags the size of small vehicles to the west, Tim Curtis and Dana Humphrey actually had a little debate.
The pair -- from opposite Florida coasts, opposite sides of the political spectrum and, at least today, opposite sides of the street -- quarreled for at least 30 minutes over teacher pay, tax cuts, the federal deficit and Scott's level of involvement in the $1.7 billion in Medicare fraud committed by his former hospital company.
At one point Humphrey, 47, of New Smyrna Beach, broke into tears talking about her husband's work as a school teacher and how public schools don't have the money they need now. "They're trying to do too much," she said of the Scott's plan to abolish teacher tenure, cut teacher benefits and cut spending on public schools.
But Curtis, 54, who runs a shipping and packing store in Tampa, said employers were "being taxed out of business." He said the state had to lift as much burden as possible off job creators. "I'm keenly aware and very sensitive of taking care of people who pay the bills," Curtis said.
Both agreed that the state was headed down the wrong path, but disagreed on the problem. Curtis said a smaller budget will mean less wasteful spending. Humphrey said the state needed to collect more taxes to spend on education.
Both said their solutions would bring the state more jobs.
"I'm sorry I made you cry," Curtis said. "I'm sorry," Humphrey replied. "I get a little emotional sometimes."
More from the competing protests this morning:
*Mark Grosenbaugh, 52, of Tampa, attended the tea party rally to "support fiscal conservatives." He said lawmakers had tough choices this year, but cuts to state worker benefits were a must.
"That's the risk they took," Grosenbaugh said. "There are some real perks working for the government. But we are in desperate economic times."
*Kim Cameron of Pinellas County, who declined to give her age, held a sign reading, "Green is the new red." She acknowledged that the sign compared environmentalists to communists, but said she doesn't really mean it. The owner of a landscaping business, she is upset about local officials who want to restrict growth. "I'm going for a shock-and-awe effect," she said of her sign. "People don't ask questions if you don't get their attention.
*Tea party organizer Billy Tucker of Jacksonville was supposed to MC the rally, but went to the hospital this morning after falling ill, said Robin Stublen, a Punta Gorda activist who took over for Tucker.
*Here is the list of scheduled list of speakers at the tea party rally: Lloyd Wheeler (dressed as Ben Franklin); 13-year-old Tara Warlack; Bill Landes, Florida Minuteman; state Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart; Debbie Besseliverie, East Orlando Tea Party; Karen Jaroch, Tampa 912 Project; Bob McClure, James Madison Institute; Jason Hoyt, Central Florida Tea Party; Apryl Marie Fogel, Americans for Prosperity; Kathy Gibson, East Orlando Tea Party; Marianne Moran, Tea Party in Action; Ron McNeil, author; Nan Swify, Freedomworks; Jon Baeza, Campaign for Liberty; Senate President Mike Haridopolos.
Meanwhile, across the street...
*Randy Gray, 47, of Tallahassee, held a "No Oligarchy" sign. He was stunned that state lawmakers planning to cut state worker benefits but still attended the pre-session party thrown last night by the Associated Industries of Florida. Many AIF members are would benefit from an unemployment tax cut that Republicans are expected to approve this year.
"This is going to be the final nail in the coffin of the middle class," Gray said.
*Billie Jo Owens, 63, of Tallahassee, held a sign reading "Stop the War on the Middle Class." She said the state should attract businesses by making public school education a top priority.
"This is no fault of the middle class, but we're being asked to carry the burden," she said of the state's $4 billion budget shortfall.
*Jan Flake, 70, Tallahassee, offered this: "The tea party people are being led like blind sheep over a cliff," the former teacher said.
*The morning "Awake the State" rally was organized by Florida African-American Caribean Empowerment, a new voter-turnout group (and yes, a 501(c)4) that is active in 10 counties, including Pinellas, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Orange. "With these cuts to education, we couldn't just stand by and do nothing," said Jelani Downing, north area political director.
--All photos by Michael C. Bender