By Jesse Marx
By Chris Parker
By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
"Mayor Buckhorn can shove his authoritarian zones up his ass," says a masked protester in one video. "When protest becomes illegal, there is no other option left but to fight."
Buckhorn says demonstrators have nothing to fear: "I've been very clear from the get-go that if you're coming here to protest, you're welcome. But if you step out of line and if you're coming here to cause mayhem, we are going to deal with you."
The mayor is a cheery man with bright, beady eyes dropped like blueberries onto a doughy face. In true American fashion, he'll be happy if he can survive August with maximum profit and minimum scandal.
"I'm agnostic until the convention is over. For me, it's not about red-state, blue-state. It's about green," Buckhorn admits, estimating the convention will bring Tampa more than $175 million.
Bipartisan bonhomie goes only so far, though. The Secret Service prohibits guns within the convention center, but in a state with more than a million concealed-weapons permits, Tampa will be swimming in sidearms. When Buckhorn asked the governor to ban concealed weapons temporarily in town during the convention, Scott scoffed.
"I'm not an anti-gun kind of guy. I've got guns. Up until probably six months ago, I had a concealed-weapons permit," Buckhorn boasts. "But to interject guns into a potentially combustible environment to me is absurd."
He says Scott's snarky response was probably written by the NRA. "He has his opinions about the Second Amendment and he isn't going to let the safety of the public or our police officers get in the way of it."
Scott's decision isn't popular in left-leaning Tampa, but it has gone down well in nearby, rabidly Republican Hillsborough County.
"Who's more likely to have a gun: a pinko commie liberal or a god-fearing Republican?" reasons Joseph Wendt, a Romney supporter in the area. "If you're a bunch of liberal activists going to protest a conservative event where people are legally allowed to carry guns, you better behave."
Buckhorn's stance hasn't exactly endeared him to progressives plotting to protest the convention, either. They decry his plan to put them in three "clean zones" located several blocks from the Times Forum. And they fear retaliation from the 4,000 heavily armed police officers — paid for by a $50 million Homeland Security grant — who will cordon off downtown.
"We're not going to do anything illegal," says Corey Uhl, head of Students for a Democratic Society at the University of South Florida. "But with the recent frameups of NATO protesters in Chicago, you never know what the government will do."
Others are arguably already breaking the law. A group called the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign rented the land behind an Army surplus store near the Forum. They spread mulch on the parking lot, set up a portable toilet, erected Pepto-Bismol-pink tents, and called it "Romneyville." Local officials say the tents violate zoning laws, but protesters say they'll handcuff themselves to fences rather than leave.
"Republicans can't ignore us," says Bruce Wright, one of the campaign's organizers. "This is the future of the United States if things don't change."
Buckhorn's office has tried to contain the craziness by barring protesters from bringing props such as puppets and masks. But he will have his hands full with Code Pink's vagina costumes.
The outfits were inspired by an incident last year when a Democratic state rep joked that the only way for a Florida woman to avoid Republicans' invasive reproductive regulations was to "incorporate her uterus." Republicans scolded him for using the word on the House floor.
"These stupid old-boy white men want to legislate our vaginas," says Anita Stewart, a home health-care practitioner with a grandmotherly air. "They came out of a vagina and spend the rest of their lives trying to crawl back up in one, but they don't want to hear the word.
"We're not in the 17th century anymore," Stewart says. "Vagina!"
Governor!" The shout spun Rick Scott away from his budget presentation and toward the press pool. "You benefit from hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars every year," asked a reporter he didn't recognize. "So would you be willing to pee into this cup to prove to Florida taxpayers that you're not on drugs, that you're not using that money for drugs?"
"I've done it plenty of times," Scott stuttered.
"Would you pass this forward to the governor?" the reporter said, handing another journalist an empty plastic piss cup.
Sadly, Scott didn't take a leak. But the governor had been punked. Two months later, the stunt aired on an episode of The Daily Show, lambasting Scott for his welfare drug testing.
It was the most visible victory yet for a native son bent on airing his home state's unparalleled craziness. "When I first came to Florida as a boy, I said to myself: One day I'm going to ask the governor of this state to give me a urine sample in the middle of a press conference," says Aasif Mandvi, the comedian-cum-satirist. "Finally my dream came true, and I can cross it off my bucket list."
The Daily Show host Jon Stewart insists the program is "fake news," yet its skits surgically expose political hypocrisy better than any 60 Minutes piece. Florida is a favorite target, and Mandvi, who grew up in Tampa, is the perfect gonzo guide.