THE VILLAGES — Each detail of Florida Gov. Rick Scott's first budget signing was painstakingly considered.
From the location — a conservative retirement community in Central Florida — to the mini-red "veto" Sharpie pens Scott handed out as keepsakes.
From the music that would announce Scott's arrival to the stage, to, it turns out, who could be there.
At the urging of Scott officials, Sumter County sheriff's deputies escorted a group of more than a dozen Democrats — mainly retirees who live in The Villages — from Thursday's event at the town square.
The $69 billion state budget signing ceremony was a "private event."
Staffers and Republican operatives searched the crowd of about 200 looking for people holding anti-Scott signs. They were noted and asked to leave. Those with pro-Scott signs were allowed to stay.
The Republican Party of Florida rented the town square for the ceremony, which gave party officials the right to say who stays and who goes, deputies said.
"We came here to say what we support," said Lawrence Shipley, 68, one of the Democrats removed from the event. Shipley is president of The Villages Democratic Club, which he says has about 275 members.
"We support the police," he said. "We support public education."
Shipley said the group did not intend to heckle or harass Scott, but it did not matter. Deputies moved them across the street.
"Signs that support the governor are allowed to stay, but signs that don't are told to leave?" asked Bud Webber, 73, of Orlando, who came to watch the budget signing but was not with the protesters. "Come on. That's ridiculous."
Republican Party of Florida chairman David Bitner defended the decision, saying the event was meant to celebrate the 2011-12 state budget.
"The people who protested against this budget are the people whose ox got gored," Bitner said.
Typically, state budgets have been signed in Tallahassee at a low-key ceremony with little pomp. Not this year.
Representatives from the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, Bitner and Republican legislators Alan Hays of Umatilla and Marlene O'Toole of nearby Lady Lake warmed up the crowd before Scott bounced onto the stage after 1 p.m.
He was surrounded by red, white and blue bunting as Elvis Presley's A Little Less Conversation blared from the speakers.
After remarks, Scott moved to a smaller stage where he sat at a wooden desk and formally signed the budget.
Charter school students were bused in to surround Scott for the signing and were handed homemade signs to wave. When Scott was finished, a man in a tea party T-shirt began encouraging the children to chant Scott's campaign slogan, "Let's get to work."
Scott then handed out tiny replica red Sharpie pens, symbolizing his decision to veto $615 million in spending.
The entire event was broadcast over the Internet by the Republican Party, and in many ways mirrored Scott's budget proposal unveiling in Eustis in February.
Thursday's crowd of mainly white retirees and tea party activists loved it.
Bob Levens of the Tri-County Tea Party, which includes Lake, Marion and Sumter counties, waved a sign that read "Florida Wins!" with three 7s to mimic a slot machine as well as Scott's seven-step campaign plan to create 700,000 jobs. Another sign used Superman's trademark "S" logo to describe Scott.
"I think he's done a great job," said Levens. "This state, now, and because of Rick Scott, is heading in the right direction."
Aaron Sharockman can be reached at [email protected]