Want to pay a visit to Marco Rubio's office? Hope ya don't mind getting ticketed

click to enlarge Activists gathered outside Rubio's office on Monday, as they do nearly every day, it seems, nowadays.
Activists gathered outside Rubio's office on Monday, as they do nearly every day, it seems, nowadays.

Not that he's ever there, but Rubio's Tampa satellite office, just west of Kennedy and Westshore, sure has been a hub of activity of late.

Constituents who have for weeks been trying to get his attention on a number of impending votes via postcards, phone calls and emails have been showing up at his office en masse to voice their concerns on a number of issues, namely President Donald Trump's cabinet nominees and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

Sometimes 80 people show up, sometimes 20 people do. But they're showing up a few days a week, at least, to state, for the record, their opposition to the likes of Betsy DeVos and Rex Tillserson, both of whom Rubio voted to confirm.

But now, they have to make sure they don't stray too far from the sidewalk along busy Kennedy Boulevard, lest they get rebuked by law enforcement.

On Wednesday morning, activists hoping to send a message to Rubio were stymied by law enforcement officials who warned them not to approach the office — or be ticketed for trespass.

The activists had hoped to share their concerns about the impending repeal of the Affordable Care Act, something Rubio was very likely to support, given his vocal opposition to the measure. But as they attempted to communicate face-to-face with staffers at the satellite office (given that Rubio himself is never there, for various reasons), security personnel warned them to stay outside of the private building that houses the office, and on the sidewalk that lines the building along Kennedy Boulevard.

"We're not really sure why, I mean, [Rubio's office is] public property, they're a public official. So we're unable to meet with our own elected official," said Tim Heberlein, director of political operations with the group Organize Florida, in a video he posted on Facebook.

The group was trying to deliver a report pointing to the possible perils of repealing the ACA as well as petitions calling on the senator to reconsider. Some, he said, even had appointments at 10 a.m. to meet with staff, but were told to leave.

Behind Heberlein, activists and security officers stood around.

"They're threatening to have us trespassed," he said. "So this is what Trump's America s like right now, and this is... how [Rubio] treats his constituents."

It wasn't the first time such an interaction took place outside Rubio's Tampa office.

A Facebook Live video posted Tuesday shows a protester who had made her way beyond a barricade that separated the public sidewalk from the private office building property. She told police that while the building that houses Rubio's office may be private, taxpayers are paying for Rubio's staff to rent space there.

And on Friday, two protesters were cited for trespassing ejected from the premises and banned from the site for a year after sitting in the hallway outside his office.

This time, they were there to voice their concerns about controversial Trump aide Steve Bannon's influence on the White House.

Melissa Gallagher had organized that visit after several fruitless attempts to get in touch with Rubio’s Tampa and DC offices.

"You try calling and nobody answers. You get sent to voicemail and it’s full. You keep trying every hour and it’s the same thing,” Gallagher told CL.

Gallagher created an event on Facebook calling for other frustrated constituents to visit Rubio’s office during business hours on Friday. When visitors arrived Friday morning they were greeted not by a staffer, but by a piece of paper taped to the door. It read: “Out of Office. We will return at 3:30pm.”

So the activists came back to Rubio’s office shortly after 3:00 p.m., Gallagher said, and police were setting up barricades outside the building. Inside she saw an office staffer she recognized talking to police and security guards in the lobby.

Gallagher said she approached the staffer, who told her to book an appointment via email. Gallagher explained that her emails to Rubio’s office are bounced back regularly. The staffer "shrugged her arms and walked away with the police.”

Video taken that afternoon and provided to CL by Michael Anderson, who shot the video, shows protester Clareann Despain seated near the office door as two Tampa police officers were asking her to leave the premises. (The video is linked here; the following exchange takes place between 4:30 and 26:00.)

"You came up here to ask [the staffer] a question," one officer said. "She answered you to the best of her ability. You no longer have any business here. So we are asking you to come downstairs. We’ll finish the conversation downstairs and I’ll provide you with all the information... This is not going to be a discussion.”

Despain and Anderson went back and forth with the officers for several moments before agreeing to leave the building.

Shortly after they went outside, as they stood near the entrance to the building, a third officer came up to them and, after a brief exchange, issued the two activists warning against returning to the property for 365 days.*

Gallagher said she found Friday's turn of events disturbing.

“That’s a very scary, escalated response for people who just want to talk to their representative’s office,” she said.

The following Monday, though, activists gathered along the public sidewalk outside his office to implore him to vote against Betsy DeVos as education secretary (pleas he ignored). There did not seem to be any problems with security or law enforcement then, and a small group of people was able to meet with a member of his staff.

CL reached out to Rubio’s Tampa and Washington offices for comment on his and his staff's accessibility, and got this reply:

“Our Tampa office is a small regional office that covers multiple counties in the Tampa Bay area. When our staff attends meetings throughout the region, we display a sign to let constituents know when they will be back, as well as contact information to reach them.”

*An earlier version of this post indicated that the two were issued trespass citations. They were not, and CL regrets the error.

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