Protesters target Brown-Waite over comment

02/28/08 Seán Kinane
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U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite angered many last month when she referred to residents of Guam and Puerto Rico as “foreign citizens.” Her comments came in a press release regarding the tax rebates that Americans will receive under Congress’ economic stimulus package.

Today, nearly 100 people protested against Brown-Waite outside her Brooksville office.

A busload of more than 50 Puerto Ricans and their supporters from Orlando joined two-dozen Hernando County residents in a march down Brooksville’s Main Street to the steps of the Hernando County Courthouse. Hector Torres from Brooksville was in the group.

Guam and Puerto Rico are U.S. territories, so their residents are U.S. citizens, contrary to the statement made by Brown-Waite in her January press release. She said residents of those territories don’t pay federal income tax, so they should not receive the tax rebate. Before they got off the bus, out-of-town protesters sang the Puerto Rican national anthem.

Employees in Brown-Waite’s Brooksville office refused to comment, referring WMNF to the representative’s Washington, D.C. office. The Washington office did not return WMNF’s call by airtime.

Not everyone at the courthouse fully supported the protesters’ position. Kit Raymond was at the demonstration passing out flyers for a café across the street. She is from Brooksville and works with a group that feeds people who are hungry and said she is concerned about people who need the tax rebates to survive.

Before the rally, Brown-Waite released a statement defending her position and sending a message to the protesters, saying, in part, “…Democrats have once again chosen race-based hysteria.” She also added, “The American citizens who live and work in Puerto Rico do not pay federal income taxes to the United States Treasury. My constituents do not believe that Puerto Rico residents should receive tax rebate checks. That debate is moot, however, since the economic stimulus package has been signed into law. Puerto Rico citizens, just like Americans living in the fifty states, the District of Columbia and the other possessions, will receive checks courtesy of the federal taxpayer.”

Alan Grayson is a Democrat running for Congress in the Orlando area district currently occupied by right-wing Republican Ric Keller. Grayson said he came on the bus from Orlando because he wants to fight division in the country.

Newspaper accounts of the rally said 400 protesters were expected. After only a quarter of that number showed up, Brown-Waite sent out another press release calling on “Orange County Democrat [sic] Party leaders to reimburse Hernando County for the cost …” of security. Brown-Waite added, “…Given the anemic turnout at my office today, I can come to no other conclusion than Orange County Democrat leaders were misleading Hernando County law enforcement about the size of their ‘protest’ in efforts to generate press coverage of what now appears to be nothing more than a Democrat rally on government property today.” She was referring to Bill Robinson, the Chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party, who told WMNF that he informed Hernando security leaders Wednesday that a crowd of 400 was “overly optimistic.”

Photo credit: Seán Kinane/WMNF

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Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite

Democratic Party of Orange County

Rep. Ric Keller

Alan Grayson

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