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Tampa Gears Up for GOP Convention

The City of Tampa is gearing up for the Republican National Convention, which takes place in that town August 27th-30th. The convention is expected to attract thousands of delegates, reporters, security personnel and attention seekers.

Back in 2008, St. Paul, Minnesota had the honor of hosting the Republican National Convention where then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney was a featured speaker.

“We need change all right.  Change from a liberal Washington to a conservative Washington," Romney told the crowd back then. Now, in 2012, Romney has claimed the GOP nomination and will be the main attraction in Tampa. He'll have lots of opening acts though. This year's speaker line-up contains prominent Republicans like Texas Republican U.S. Senate nominee Ted Cruz, Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. 

But Florida won't be overshowed on its home turf. Some high-powered Florida Republicans will be at the podium as well, namely Attorney General Pam Bondi, former Governor Jeb Bush and current Florida Governor Rick Scott.

“You know, we’re doing the right things here.  We’re reducing taxes, we’re reducing regulation, our agencies are trying to work with businesses to get more jobs here.  I’m very comfortable that if we do the right thing here, we can be a model for what’s happening in America and hopefully the federal government will come along and do the same thing," Scott told reporters when his name was announced as a featured speaker.

Governor Scott says his speech will be consistent with his day-to-day message that things in Florida have gotten steadily better since he took office.  That will contrast with Governor Romney’s message that things everywhere else in the country have gotten worse since President Obama took office. 

And area officials and businesses are hoping the Convention will make things even better for the local economy:

“It (the convention) gives us the opportunity to really deliver a message that we’ve been hammering for quite awhile and that is, this is Tampa Bay’s time to shine.  This is the time that we can go out there and tell a new compelling story about why this place – this special place on the west coast of Florida – is America’s new west coast and we know we’re going to be successful with all the marketing initiatives we have firing up,"said  Kelly Miller who heads Tampa Bay and Company, the area’s tourism marketing agency.

But not all of the projected 50,000 or so people attending the convention may be content to behave themselves and spend money.  A small army of law enforcement people are ramping up their “just in case” preparations for the event.  Special traffic and crowd control units will be in place.  Some police water craft are being fitted out as gunboats.  And it’s not only Tampa Bay area agencies that are involved.  Captain Paul Sutton is with the Sarasota Police Department.

“They’ve looked at past conventions and seen the type of protests that have occurred at those.  They’ve tried to look at the good things that have been done at those conventions and areas where they had room for improvement and learning from those past experiences they prepared for this one.”   

Sutton says he’ll have several officers on the scene. “Our support will include fifteen sworn officers.  Of those, three are sergeants, three will be from Bomb, two are from Marine Patrol and the other ten are part of an emergency response team in coordination with the sheriff’s department.”    

Major Kevin Kenney is with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, and he says, “The majority of our personnel will be assisting the event with crowd control efforts.  As I mentioned, our mobile field force will be integrated with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and the Tampa Police Department.”

Officers may have good reason to believe they’ll be kept busy during the convention.  A number of “Occupy” type groups are expected to show up to protest Republican policies.  It’s also likely there will be other demonstrators who support Republican policies.  And if that wasn’t worrisome enough for law enforcement, there’s the fact that Governor Rick Scott turned down Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s request that the area around the convention center be considered a “gun-free zone”.   But where some see the potential for problems, others see the possibility for profit.  Especially the adult-business industry, where one enterprising strip club is getting in on the campaign action with a Sara Palin-esque exotic dancer.

Some convention goers might call that “an entrepreneurial exercise in keeping with free market principles.” 

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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