My week at the RNC

By Joshua Santos |
Photos and Videos by Joshua Santos

With the DNC taking the spotlight this week, it’s easy to forget that just last week Tampa, FL hosted the safest national convention in the history of America.

Only two people were arrested for RNC related incidents according to the Tampa Bay Times, compared to Charlotte where in one incident alone ten immigration protesters where arrested for blocking an intersection.

Yet no one ever wonders about what happens around the convention, or how a city justifies spending nearly $200 million dollars for a four-day event. The following is a recap of my week at the RNC.


Hundreds of supporters, and near equal parts reporters, crowded a conference room in downtown Tampa’s Hyatt Regency for the first of a four part series hosted by former speaker of the house Newt Gingrich. The series aimed to educate delegates with the first session mainly focusing on economic growth.

Speakers tackled issues dealing with entitlement programs with fixed spending like Medicare and Social Security. Congressman Aaron Schock of Illinois, detailed the new Medicare plan underneath a Romney/Paul presidency by saying “we are going to attach a value to you as a senior, and then guess what, insurance companies have to compete for your business, you don’t like the service you are getting you can say you’re fired.”

Newt Gingrich laid low with his hosting duties. He took some time between speakers to take jabs at President Obama and what he called his economic slump all while comparing him to former President Jimmy Carter. “When your neighbor is unemployed, it’s a recession, when you’re unemployed it’s a depression, when Jimmy Carter is unemployed, it’s called a recovery,” said Gingrich who said that the only way to fix the problem with the economy was to fire Obama.

Controversial Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was under the weather but gave a lengthy speech on his accomplishments with his states economy, describing himself as more of a CEO. “We did something unusual, we actually talked about what we’re going to do to fix it” said Walker as he described tackling his states $3.6 billion deficit, “what shocked [people] was that we actually did what we said we were going to do.”

A variety of solutions proposed by both Governor Scott Walker and Governor Gary Herbert of Utah, centered on changes to Medicare and education for what they described as a more efficient way of governing for a healthier economy. Herbert especially sent out a call to all elected officials saying that “every elected official should be concentrating and focusing on what you can do to grow the economy.”

This session mainly focused on the economy with the next few sessions discussing more necessary policy changes Newt Gingrich would like to see implemented.


The Hispanic Leadership Network held a lunch for “center-right” leaders in the InterContinental hotel in Tampa. The “Red, White y Tu” panel was hosted by HLN executive director Jennifer Korn, the former Director of Hispanic and Women’s Affairs under President Bush.

The focus of the panel concerned education among the Latino community. One of the main speakers at the event, Former Governor Jeb Bush, talked about his accomplishments during his time in Tallahassee where he said that when he came into office “Hispanics were at the bottom of the pact…for eight years we tried to move the needle on improving the chances of young people being successful.”

After some policy changes that included expanding the school choice programs, an accountability system that rewarded improvements, a system that graded schools, and eliminating tenure, Bush was proud to announce that Florida’s Latino youth are now performing better than 21 other states.

The school grading system is one that New Mexico Governor, Susana Martinez, has been able to pass in her state, and one that she says has helped parents see how well their kids’ schools are doing. She went on to say “If you’re educating your children well you are preparing them for the work force, or for college…we wouldn’t have to spend so much money on remedial studies. Over 50% of students entering our colleges in [New Mexico] take remedial studies and it’s costing us a lot of money, so we’re saying put that back into K-12 so that they are ready for that college and ready for that job.” She says the policy has especially helped a school where 100% of the Latino student population qualified for the free lunch program.

Also joining them on stage was Nevada Governor, Brian Sandoval, who left his permanent position as a Federal District Judge to run for Governorship. “I was sitting on the federal bench, the state of Nevada led the country in unemployment, foreclosures, bankruptcy rates and drop out rates, so the question I got asked all the time was why would I leave a lifetime appointment to run for governor? But I saw it as a great opportunity particularly in education in following the pattern of what happened here in the state of Florida.”

Sandoval went on to praise Jeb Bush, who he credited as his mentor. One of the first things he worked on with his states legislature was eliminating teacher tenure. He is now hard at work to turn around his states economy by implementing accountable education policy, which he hopes will turn things around like it did for Jeb Bush during his tenure.

While the Governors talked about the importance of policy in turning around education, no questions were asked concerning illegal immigration.

Tuesday Afternoon

Dozens of police in riot gear stood between the Westboro Baptist Church and Occupy protesters in front of the Tampa Bay Times Forum Tuesday afternoon.

Protester holds up signs as riot gear police attempt to keep things orderly.

The Westboro church refused to answer questions saying they were taking a vow of silence.

As riot gear police escorted Westboro away from the Forum, Occupy protesters followed the church and police officers away from the freedom of speech zone near the convention center.


The LBGT community was very much present during the GOP convention. Tucked away on the 41st floor of an office building, overlooking all of downtown Tampa, the Log Cabin Republicans and Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry held a casual breakfast and panel to discuss moving the conservative party forward.

While the freedom to marry is limited to six states in America, the latest CNN polls show 54% of Americans support the freedom to marry. “The so called Defense of Marriage Act has been found unconstitutional six times now, and five times by Republican appointed Federal judges,” said the panel host, as he paused for an applause break, “In order for us to win nationwide our cause for freedom must be a bi-partisan cause.”

He then went on to introduce Margaret Hoover, an activist for individual freedom and fiscal conservatism, as well as the great granddaughter of U.S. President Herbert Hoover. While married to a man, she has spent years fighting for gay rights, “there is a growing number of us…I think this is beginning of many conventions where we’ll have a growing presence and influence…There are a lot of republicans who are taking really courageous stands on this issue.”

Many of the speakers commented on going off script while speaking about this issue, which they hope to see, fixed.

“There is a lot of gay groups here showing force of the Republican Party,” said Sarah Longwell, Vice President of Berman and Company, as she pulled out an issue of the Tampa Tribune that is being distributed throughout the convention with an ad co-sponsored by the Log Cabin Republicans and the Young Conservatives for the Freedom to Marry. “Let’s force this conversation…we can’t leave it up to the courts, we can’t leave it up to Democrats, we conservatives have to talk to people within our party, have a direct dialogue like this and make the case, and that’s how it’s going to happen.”

A few of the speakers channeled Dick Cheney, saying one of the core things about the movement is, “Freedom is freedom, is freedom, and as conservatives who just got through spending the last three years fighting a galling attempt to institute somebody else’s freedom of choice on our own,” said Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty. He felt the same way about the issue as Margaret Hoover, who believes this is about freedom of liberty, “We can’t just sort of sit there on the sidelines, this issue is sentimentally important because it does get at the core of who we are as a movement.”

Director of Government Affairs for CM-Innovators, Ashton-Theodore Randle, was one of the many republicans in attendance. A member of the Log Cabin Republicans for a few years, he says, “I got involved obviously because of personal issues and being gay and black republican.”

Randle was at the event with his straight delegate friend, executive director of the DC Republican Committee, Nicholas A. Jeffress, who said “It’s the natural conservative position to allow freedom for all.” This is a position that many of the speakers took and only time will tell whether Romney and Ryan will follow suit.

Wednesday Afternoon

Unlike the past protests that have gathered in downtown Tampa since the start of the convention, today marked the first theatrical marching protest the GOP convention has seen. A federation of labor unions marched towards the Freedom of Speech zone near the Tampa Bay Times Forum, while performing skits based on Romney’s America along the way.

Josh Anijar, communications director of Florida AFL-CIO, described the theatrical protest as “what would change for working families, what would be the conditions on voting, on education, on having a living wage and a fair wage.” Anijar led the protest by megaphone, informing everyone when to stop to view the next skit.

The skits gave the march a rehearsed feel and a nice break from walking. At some points the marchers seemed unsure of what to yell about. For the size of the group, it took a great deal of asking to get the crowd involved. Many of the reporters swarmed the theatrical spectacle, which was hard to see and hear at points.

Yet, the crowd kept moving and eventually made it to the Freedom of Speech zone. They had a large banner with the second Bill of Rights, which they proceeded to read out loud to the crowd. They then gave marchers a chance to sign their names.


For the final day of the convention, protesters who where staying in a makeshift town called “Romneyville”, located behind an army surplus store, held a press conference.

Most of the protesters had already left town and where on the way to Charlotte. Even though many expected visitors did not show, Reverend Bruce Wright says the protest had a positive effect on the movement.

With the large amount of media present, the low turnout let more voices be covered and heard. “Poverty is almost like a cuss word to Republicans and Democrats,” says Wright as he spoke about social economic issues. “They don’t talk about what happens to the middle class when they’re shrinking, they end up in the ranks of the poor.”

Thursday Afternoon

The movie Occupy Unmasked was screened with a Q&A following the film.

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