Republican Party’s Fourth of July booth stirs controversy

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, July 8, 2014


A dunking booth sponsored by the Polk County Republican Party at the Columbus Fourth of July festival last Friday brought some residents to the board of commissioner meeting on Monday, July 7 calling it a disgrace.
Residents said the booth included pictures of President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and participants could throw a ball to dunk a person sitting in the booth. Republicans were also selling t-shirts that brought controversy to Monday’s meeting.
Margaret Parker stood during citizen comments wearing a t-shirt sold at the festival that was green with an assault rifle and the words, “liberals suck” written on the gun.
Parker said the republicans probably think she is one of the liberals.
“I don’t deserve this shirt,” Parker said. “This is not the type of message that brings people together. It is hurtful, quite frankly.”
Parker said the shirt sends the message that violence is okay and asked Republicans to apologize to the people of Polk County.
Debbie Arceneaux said some people like the shirts and some don’t like it. She said thank God we have the first amendment right.
“A lot of this is tongue and cheek,” Arceneaux said.
Gary Poague asked commissioners to take a stand and strongly oppose the shirt in the absolute strongest terms and get the Republican Party to get all the shirts that were sold and buy them back and burn them.
Poague said if commissioners will aggressively try to get all the shirts and put this to bed he promises never to come up to the podium at commissioner meetings to speak again. If not, he said, he will go to the national press.
Mary Neal Jones said Polk’s Republican Party staged a shameful display at its booth during the July 4 celebration.
“When will the haters here don their KKK masked robes and raise their swastika flags, as they are doing in parts of our country?” Jones said.
Jones asked commissioners to look at what’s playing out in the world with killing and destruction circumventing the rule of law.
“That is not America,” she said. “That is sick.”
Terry Catalano said she decided to come to the commissioner meeting after hearing of the events at a celebration with families and children. She said she came to speak after hearing the Republican Party had a game throwing balls at Obama and Clinton.
“What are we teaching our children,” Catalano asked.
She said these were adults running the booth and it is an “absolute disgrace.” Catalano also said she can’t believe the t-shirts were made and allowed to be sold in Polk County.
Commissioner chair Ted Owens said he is not going to say he condones things like the shirt but also said the audience needs to be reminded that one reason political parties can’t have a booth at the Green Creek Heritage festival is because Democrats had signs against two candidates years ago. He said it comes from both sides and both sides need to stop it.
Some in the audience yelled out “that’s not true,” regarding Owens comments about the Green Creek festival, with others yelling, “Yes it is.”
Democrats said after the meeting that they decided not to display the signs prior to the festival so they were never displayed.
Commissioner Michael Gage, who was not present at Monday’s meeting and commissioner Tom Pack responded to an email from the Bulletin following the meeting.
Pack said he did not attend the July 4th celebration and he was not in on the planning nor the setup of what the Republican Party had at the festival.
“I did know they were going to have a dunking booth but no details about it,” Pack said.
He also said during the meeting was the first he heard about any of the perceived issues.
Gage said the Town of Columbus runs the 4th of July event and they set the guidelines.
“The town runs a first class event, which has many rules that all vendors must follow, such as buying a permitted space to set up a tent, to when it can be set up and taken down,” said Gage. “The Columbus Police Department enforces the law, and they would have taken action if one was broken. The true issue here is one of Freedom of Speech; it is every American’s right to be heard. Even though I may not like something that is said or written, it is my responsibility as an American to respect that persons’ right to do so. God Bless America.”


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