Dems silenced at Ryan's rally

Democrats say The Villages, a Republican-dominated retirement community, is trying to silence them

Published August 17, 2012 10:54PM (EDT)

Newly minted vice presidential pick Paul Ryan will campaign in The Villages tomorrow, but don’t expect to see a Democratic counter rally at Florida's largest retirement community, thanks to what liberals there say is active persecution from the community’s right-wing ownership. The Villages has become a must-visit destination for Republican politicians, because, as a GOP official told Salon last month, “The road to Washington goes through Tallahassee -- you have to win Florida -- and the road to Tallahassee goes through the Villages.” With 60,000 registered voters, it’s no wonder Mitt Romney has already visited four times and Ryan is making it his first stop in the key swing state of Florida, where his Medicare plan will undoubtedly be a major issue.

At events like Ryan’s, which is expected to draw thousands of party loyalists, it’s typical for the opposition party to arrange a counter rally near the site. But Democrats in The Villages tell Salon that they’ve been denied a venue and were warned not to wear to “offensive shirts” if they attend the Ryan rally. The local Democratic club, with authorization and financing from the Democratic party, tried to book a venue where they could hold their own rally with speakers, but Joseph Flynn, a former director of the club who headed up the effort to find a space, said he was stonewalled by the community’s management. When he tried to rent one of the community’s many event spaces, he received no response. "These venues are always available on a Saturday in the middle of the day," he said. When he contacted a different official, who was helping to organize the Ryan event, to ask if there would be space set aside for demonstrators, he didn’t hear back until 5:30 Friday night, just over 12 hours before the rally. She told Flynn to ask the Republican National Committee, but it was too late.

She added that “anyone with an offensive shirt or apparel would not be allowed to pass the gate entrance.” When he asked what would be considered offensive, she said it was up to the Secret Service. "Well, the Secret Service isn't in the job of defining offensive shirts,” Flynn quipped. When Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott held a highly choreographed budget signing at The Villages last year, people wearing “liberal-looking pins and buttons” were removed from the crowd by the sheriff’s deputies at the behest of Republican operatives.

Now, just hours before the rally, the Democrats have nowhere to assemble, though they plan to hold a press conference with several other groups tomorrow morning. "We made every attempt to get a venue,” Flynn said, explaining that it would be in the best interest of the management for Democrats to have their own “positive rally.” He said they expected extra turnout because MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow did a segment on the community last night. "What we're trying to prevent is a situation where The Villages is embarrassed by a situation that gets out of hand. When you pack a bunch of Republicans and Democrats in a fenced-in area together, who can’t see eye-to-eye, it has a potential to get ugly,” Flynn said.

He said the lack of accommodations was "absolutely politically motivated. 100 percent." He lamented, “If you’re a Democrat, The Villages personnel, flat out, they will not talk to you. About anything.”

By Alex Seitz-Wald

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Florida Medicare Paul Ryan Seniors