Area faithful, protesters take part in events


Published: Thursday, January 20, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 20, 2005 at 1:43 a.m.
A group of Alachua County's Republican faithful plan to bundle up this morning for a chilly day of events in Washington, D.C., celebrating the swearing-in of President Bush for a second term.
But they'll be joined in the capital city - perhaps blocks from the prime-ticketed areas reserved for Bush backers - by an even larger host of protesters from their home county, one of the few "blue" counties in the "red" state of Florida.
The noontime ceremony at the U.S. Capitol is expected to draw more than 240,000 spectators, including former Alachua County Commissioner Chuck Clemons, whose current job as state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's rural development program came by presidential appointment.
Clemons, whose wife, Jane, is accompanying him, said witnessing the ceremony likely will rival those special places he's seen during his life such as the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon.
"What a great thing to be at the center of democracy," said Clemons, who was appointed to his current post by Bush in July 2001. "I'm being corny, but you read about these things and never get to see them firsthand."
Mingling among the throngs of people gathered for the oath of office and the inauguration parade will be other Alachua County notables, including Micanopy City Commissioner Remzey Samarrai and Wenda Lewis, vice president of Gainesville-based Lewis Oil Co., the company founded by her father.
Samarrai's business keeps him in Washington most of the time. He's a presidential appointee to the State Department in the Office of Nuclear Affairs in the Bureau of Verification and Compliance.
Samarrai jump-started his inauguration celebration on Tuesday night with the Republican Party of Florida Ball.
Before being interrupted by Marine One, the president's helicopter, flying overhead, Samarrai explained: "Each state that Bush carried gets a ball if they want one."
Tonight, there will be dozens of formal balls, such as the Liberty Ball the Clemonses will be attending. Samarrai and Lewis have tickets for the Presidential Inauguration Ball.
University of Florida junior Haley Marshburn and her roommate Hallie Holcomb, a Santa Fe Community College student, have tickets for the Entertainment Ball, which supports children's funds.
Marshburn spent the better part of her Tuesday having alterations done to a black strapless ball gown she bought on eBay for $150 and picking up last-minute items for the trip.
"The hardest thing was finding closed-toed shoes to cover my feet," said Marshburn, 22.
The two young women got involved in the presidential campaign last year and, on a lark, decided to head to Washington.
They'll be heading to breakfast with U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Ocala, who's hosting the event for free to Republicans in his district.
Stearns distributed about 120 tickets to residents in his North Florida District, of which about one-third claim Gainesville and Alachua County as their home.
Alachua County's Republican Executive Committee is hosting an inauguration party of its own tonight at the Meadowbrook Golf Course Clubhouse to honor campaigners and volunteers for their hard work, said Stafford Jones, chairman of the committee.
As celebrations get into gear, thousands of others, including about 18 from Gainesville, plan to stage a counter inauguration.
Ian Richard, a UF senior studying political science and history, said the group's not sure where it'll end up or even if the protesters will be allowed anywhere near the swearing-in ceremony or the parade.
"We're trying to show our lack of support," Richard said.
This will be his second major protest in the capital. Two years ago, just before the outbreak of war with Iraq, Richard said he joined an anti-war march, but one that didn't get anywhere near the president.
"They had a prescribed route that was lined with police. There were snipers on the roof and everything," Richard said. "We marched basically around the White House - but it was a big loop."
Around Gainesville, anti-war protesters are lodging a "Silent March" of their own beginning today.
A group of residents plans to roll out a lengthy scroll of paper with photos and information about some of those killed in Iraq. The commemoration will be unveiled over four hours beginning today at 3 p.m. on the south side of the West Side Recreation Center at NW 8th Avenue at NW 34th Street.
Janine Young Sikes can be reached at (352) 337-0327 or sikesj@gvillesun.com.

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