1. Florida Politics

'Trump train' of supporters as well as demonstrators will greet president at two Tampa stops

Supporters started gathering before sunrise at the Florida State Fairgrounds ahead of President Donald Trump's visit later in the night.
Supporters started gathering before sunrise at the Florida State Fairgrounds ahead of President Donald Trump's visit later in the night.

TAMPA — Penny Atwell Jones is at the controls of a Trump train, ready to leave the station.

Destination: the Florida State Fairgrounds.

The Clearwater retiree created her pro-Trump group in 2016 and has seen Trump on each of the previous times he came to Tampa. But his arrival Tuesday will mark his first public visit as president, and Jones can't miss it. She plans to stay in a hotel room across the street from the fairgrounds on Monday night for easy access.

"I want to be there to acknowledge him, to show the love and support for everything he's doing," said Jones, 75, who ordered another 100 of her custom-designed "Penny's Trump Train" T-shirts for the occasion. "This man is doing an incredible job."

Trump supporters, critics and others who seek to send him a message when he arrives in Tampa on Tuesday were firming up plans a day ahead of his visit.

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Air Force One is expected to land at Tampa International Airport about 5 p.m. and Trump's motorcade will go directly to Tampa Bay Technical High School for a roundtable discussion on career and technical education. Officials have declined to release the motorcade route, so exactly when and where traffic will be most snarled is still unclear.

In a conference call with reporters Monday, administration officials billed the event as a celebration of the recent reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. First passed in 2006, the updated version of the act governs more than $1 billion in grants to states for career and technical education programs.

Trump will sign the bill Tuesday and offer remarks at Tampa Bay Tech flanked by workers who have benefitted from such programs and company leaders who have pledged to create more than 100,000 workforce development jobs, officials said.

"It's conveniently-timed because the president's really focused on workforce development," said Brian Jack, deputy White House political director in the Office of Political Affairs.

One or more Hillsborough County School Board members are scheduled to attend the event, according to Tanya Arja, a spokeswoman with the district.

The Tampa Bay Tech event is not open to the public, but it's still expected to draw a crowd.

Current and former students at Tampa Bay Technical High plan to demonstrate starting at 3 p.m. at the school campus, 6410 Orient Road.

"This is not an anti-Trump protest, but an event where people can gather to speak up about what they believe deserves change," said Parisa Akbarpour, 18, an organizer of the event and a Sickles High School graduate.

The demonstration is being organized by Akbarpour and Tampa Bay Tech student Mia Eastman under the name "Move Together" and is supported by NextGen Florida, a progressive activist group that aims to mobilize young voters. It's open to the public.

"The mission of Move Together is to highlight the growing necessity of having President Trump's support of the students that embody this school," organizers wrote on the event page. "If he's going to endorse the educational message we live, then he must at the very least engage in healthy dialogue about improving the quality of life for the communities we stand for."

Akbarpour said the demonstration is a broad call for young people and community members to talk about issues they feel are important. Those include gun violence, immigration policies, police brutality and environmental issues.

"The rally is not meant to give out any certain stance on an issue, but bring people together who have concerns about a bunch of issues," Akbarpour said. "It's a respectful place where people can go to let their voices be heard. Everyone will be welcome."

After the Tampa Bay Tech event — the exact time was still unclear Monday — Trump's motorcade will head a couple of miles due south to the fairgrounds, near the junction of U.S. 301 and Interstate 4, where a rally is set to begin at 7 p.m. in the Expo Hall. Depending on the configuration, the cavernous 88,000-square foot building can hold nearly 12,000 people, according to the Florida State Fair's web \site. Doors open at 4 p.m.

Kris and Wendy Hager of Parrish will be there.

The two have met with Trump as a candidate and again after he was elected and spoke at campaign events. Kris Hager, who used to own a Sarasota metal fabrication business, said he and his wife became Trump supporters in 2016, but not for ideological reasons.

"The reason I support Trump is because of how much he did for Gold Star families," Kris Hager said, speaking of those who have lost a loved one to military service. The couple's son, Army Staff Sgt. Joshua Hager, was 30 when he was killed in Iraq in 2007.

But Tuesday's rally will be a first for the couple. They have received media credentials and will attend for a radio show they are working on called Freedom's Voice. When it launches, the show will be aimed at military, veterans, families and supporters.

Hager, who has conducted dozens of interviews for previous radio shows, including several with Ron DeSantis, Trump's pick for the Florida's governor's race, said he will cover the rally from the perspective of a Gold Star parent.

"My motivation has been, and will always remain, what happens to the next family who gets the call," Hager said.

Demonstrators are expected to gather in a grassy parking lot in what state fair officials call a First Amendment Activities Zone, said Christine Hanna, founder of progressive activist group Indivisible Action Tampa Bay. The group is a branch of the National Indivisible organization, and members from other like-minded groups are expected to show up, Hanna said.

Contact Tony Marrero at or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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