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COLUMN

Happytown

Cover boy Rick Scott rolls into town in a Walmart shopping cart (we roll our eyes), the Republican machine rolls in the dirt of activist profiling and a bunch of trucker mustaches roll through the convention center. We're on a roll, here

Photo: Dave Plotkin, License: N/A

Dave Plotkin


It was the worst of times andit was the worst of times: School in Central Florida was about to start, the stock market was coughing up blood and nobody had enough money for looseleaf paper or reasonable class sizes, much less iPads or new school shoes.

Daddy Warbucks to the rescue! Gov. Rick Scott strode into the Walmart on Princeton Street in Orlando last week, pausing to clutch every calloused, blue-collar hand in sight for the TV cameras, before embarking on a very important mission: He was going to go shopping for school supplies to kick off Florida’s weekend-long back-to-school tax holiday. He was going to buy the whole damn store!

After a rousing “Welcome to Walmart!” greeting from the staff, Slim Shady (or Powder, by appearances) grabbed a cart and started filling it with packages of paper, pens and notebooks, which he’d later donate to Hope International, a nonprofit that partners with Walmart, Pepsi, the Orlando Magic and other corporate donors to hold the biggest annual back-to-school health fair/school supplies clinic in Central Florida.

As he was carefully shepherded through the displays of tax-free goodies, so as to avoid the Pink Slip Rick protesters who’ve become ubiquitous at the governor’s public dog-and-pony shows, he was heckled by an unexpected source: An actual public school teacher, named Janna Johnston, called out to the governor from the back of the crowd of onlookers, demanding to know why he’d cut education funding and put the futures of Florida’s young people on the line. “I teach in Pine Hills,” she later told us, where a lot of teachers buy school supplies themselves and struggle to keep up with slowly increasing class sizes. “I teach kindergarten, and we used to have 18 kids in a class. Now we have 21 kids in a class. … It’s like that experimentwhere they put all the rats in a cage and they keep putting one more in and one more in and see how long it takes for them to turn on each other. Buying a couple of packages of paper for a school is nice and all, but it’s not enough.”

Despite all her rat-cage rage, she failed to sway Scott’s signature bewilderment with her queries – none of which were acknowledged, much less answered – and she was advised by Walmart staff that heckling doesn’t solve anything (money does!). It might get you thrown out of the store, though, as two other Scott critics learned when they tried to confront the governor. Johnston was advised to find a more appropriate venue to vent her inconvenient truths. In other words, we want this to be a nice event for our poor, unloved governor; don’t ruin it for everybody with your annoying actuality.

Johnston promised to behave, so security at the Walmart let her stay, but the Pink Slip Rick folks weren’t going to miss an opportunity to face down the governor themselves, this time without doughnuts. Two members of the organization, wearing bright pink T-shirts with “Pink Slip Rick” emblazoned across the front, managed to shove actual pink slips in front of Scott. He politely declined both of them and managed to work his way through the checkout and the exit wearing an icy smile and without addressing the anyone’s concerns. Well, except for those of one trio of onlookers who probably caught him by surprise. When Scott’s handlers spotted a disabled woman in a wheelchair tubed into her oxygen tank, they recognized a sweet photo op and asked the threesome if they’d like to meet the governor. They were ushered up to Scott, and after shaking his hand, one of them mentioned having some problems with Medicare. Scott tried to tell them at first that their issue was a federal problem, not a state one. They quickly corrected him, letting him know it was the state they were dealing with, so Scott took their information. (So that he might spit his gum out in it later?). With that, it was time for the shopping spree to end.

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