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Fear and Loathing in Tampa: Your Gonzo Guide to the Republican National Convention

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You'd think the stink from the largest Medicare fraud case in history would stick to Scott, but in 2010, he ran for governor, dropping more than $75 million of his fortune to recast himself — like Romney — as an entrepreneur. He won by just 1 percent over Democrat Alex Sink (a candidate so bland she's best remembered today as the great-granddaughter of a Siamese twin circus performer).

Scott's two years in office have been a nightmare of GOP talking points turned reality. First, he pushed through a law requiring drug tests for welfare applicants, saying it was "unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction." Instead, taxpayers have subsidized $200,000 worth of tests, much of them conducted by a company owned by Scott's wife. Capitalism! (Oh, and so far, only 2 percent of the tests have come back positive.) Never mind the fact that the law is likely a violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches.

Scott didn't stop there. He also required drug tests of every state employee (because society falls apart if the dudes at the DMV smoke a joint once in a while) and signed a truly bizarre law banning doctors from discussing gun ownership with their patients. He let local governments steamroll the Everglades and then rejected a $2.4 billion high-speed rail system between Orlando and Tampa (which was to be paid entirely by the feds and private businesses). Why? Because trains are communist, you pinko.

Scott's biggest priority in office, though, has echoed his Republican overlords' national plans: Suppress poor and minority voters. Last summer, he signed a law slashing early voting from 14 days to eight and outlawing voting on the Sunday before the election — coincidentally, the day that black churchgoers usually drive en masse to vote for Democrats. The law made it more difficult for liberal-leaning students to update their addresses to get ballots, and it threatened voter registration groups with fines. Even the Boy Scouts of America took offense.

And Scott targeted Hispanics by ordering a purge of "potentially ineligible" voters from the rolls. It turned out that hundreds were perfectly legit citizens — including one guy who had survived combat in World War II.

You might think you're safe from this insanity in your East Village apartment or Los Angeles rancho, but the Republicans' Frankenstein-like experimentation in Florida is already beginning to spread. The most infamously insane idea to go viral is the Stand Your Ground law, at the heart of neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman's defense for fatally shooting unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin.

Normally, to claim self-defense, someone is required to retreat from a threat before opening fire. But in 2005, Florida put the onus on prosecutors to show shooters' lives were not in danger. Soon the legislation quickly spread to 24 other states.

In Florida, Stand Your Ground has been used by drug dealers to escape murder charges, invoked by one guy after shooting a bear, and cited by a jogger who beat a Jack Russell terrier. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the law is unevenly enforced to favor whites over blacks and Hispanics. And researchers at Texas A&M University recently found it has actually increased homicides across the nation.

Sadly, Stand Your Ground isn't the only scourge Florida has unleashed upon the States. Decades of deregulation have made it the epicenter of the country's foreclosure crisis. That same blind faith in business has also turned it into a veritable Scam-istan, ruled by Ponzi schemers such as retiree-bilking Bernie Madoff, cricket-crazy R. Allen Stanford, golden-toilet-owning attorney Scott Rothstein, bogus University of Miami booster Nevin Shapiro, and dozens of others.

Meanwhile, poor residents have borne the brunt of steep budget cuts. Programs for mental health, substance abuse, and the homeless have been slashed. So when "Miami Zombie" Rudy Eugene ate the face off of indigent Ronald Poppo a few months ago, Floridians weren't nearly as surprised as the rest of the nation.

Hunter Thompson would be similarly unfazed: "Civilization ends at the waterline," he once wrote. "Beyond that, we all enter the food chain, and not always right at the top."

Oversized pink vaginas. Black Bloc anarchists. The bright-orange spurt of pepper spray into a crowd. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has Technicolor nightmares of what could go wrong at the RNC. The moderate Democrat didn't ask for his city to host the event. But if anything goes awry, it will be endlessly looped on television and YouTube, and he'll be blamed.

"Other than the Olympics, this will be the most-watched television event in the world this year," he says. "So yeah, hosting a convention in the middle of hurricane season in this economic and political environment leads to a little gray hair."

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Michael E. Miller

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