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Democrats to pump up protest against Brown-Waite

BROOKSVILLE — There was certainly no apology or retraction, and the response from U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite was much more defiant than her political rivals expected.

Thus, several Democratic leaders from the Orlando area are planning to make their displeasure with the Brooksville Republican known on her own turf. "We ought to take the fight to her a bit," said Bill Robinson, chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party, "ratchet up the heat."

About 400 protesters are expected to descend on Brooksville today, pushing yet again for an apology from Brown-Waite after she referred to residents of Puerto Rico and Guam last month as "foreign citizens who do not pay taxes."

Those remarks came during her explanation for why she "reluctantly" voted for President Bush's $168-billion economic stimulus package, saying the plan gives tax breaks to those who don't pay federal income taxes, such as current residents of Puerto Rico and Guam.

"Americans want an economic stimulus for Dunnellon, Brooksville and Clermont, not for San Juan or Hagatna," Brown-Waite said in a news release.

Residents of Puerto Rico were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917. Likewise for residents of Guam in 1950. They pay Social Security taxes and other federal levies, though not federal income taxes.

The resulting hubbub over Brown-Waite's comments spurred Robinson and other Democrats in Orange County to come up with a response that would resonate with potential voters during a pivotal election season.

"This is doing something other than asking people for votes," Robinson said Wednesday.

Six or seven buses from Orlando are expected to arrive in the parking lot of Brooksville City Hall about 11:30 a.m., organizers say.

The protesters will then march to the Hernando County Courthouse, where they plan to rally for nearly three hours within earshot of Brown-Waite's Brooksville office. Another smaller group will march outside Brown-Waite's Washington, D.C., office around the same time, but organizers were not sure how many people were planning to show up.

Brooksville police Chief George Turner said he has assigned 10 officers to the event and could call upon the Florida Highway Patrol and Hernando County Sheriff's Office to provide assistance if the crowd is larger than expected.

"The people have told me their group is a peaceful group and is not for anything other than informational gathering," Turner said. "My main concern is traffic and crowd control. We just want to make sure they get in and out safely."

Brown-Waite spokesman Charlie Keller said Wednesday he wasn't sure if the representative would be in Brooksville today. "That is still up in the air," Keller said. "We don't know the congresswoman's schedule."

Keller added that Brown-Waite planned to issue a statement in response to the protest. He declined further comment.

Several weeks ago, Keller told the Times in an interview that Brown-Waite knows residents of Puerto Rico and Guam are U.S. citizens, and acknowledged the false characterization. "The wording foreign was really a way to designate" those who don't pay federal income taxes, Keller said then. "Territorial would have been a better word."

But Keller said Brown-Waite would not consider retracting her statement or issue an apology. Had she done that, some local Democratic leaders say, there would have been no protest or further outcry.

"That's all she had to do," said Jose Fernandez, president of the Orange County chapter of the Democratic Hispanic Caucus of Florida. "But she woke up the sleeping giant. She messed with the wrong people."

In many ways, Robinson said, Brown-Waite's comments could prove particularly hurtful to her party at the worst possible time.

"From an election year standpoint, you'd think the Republicans would need to get her to be quiet," Robinson said. "This kind of press doesn't help her or the Republican Party."

Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or

(352) 754-6120.

Democrats to pump up protest against Brown-Waite 02/27/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 9:01am]
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