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UA Young Democrat banned from forum

CASSIE TOMLIN/Arizona Daily Wildcat
A 13-year-old girl was arrested yesterday at the Tucson Convention Center after she threw an egg at President Bush's motorcade. The girl and her aunt were protesting the president's speech on Social Security reform. The aunt was cited with disorderly conduct and released.
By Cassie Tomlin
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, March 22, 2005
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A UA student was banned from attending President Bush's Social Security forum at the Tucson Convention Center yesterday.

UA Young Democrat Steven Gerner, a political science and pre-pharmacy sophomore, said he and three other Young Democrats had been waiting in line with their tickets for about 40 minutes when a staff member approached him and asked to read his T-shirt.

Gerner was the only one of the four wearing a UAYD T-shirt, which read, "Don't be a smart (image of a donkey, the Democratic Party symbol). UA Young Democrats."

Gerner said the staffer, who refused to provide his name, asked for Gerner's ticket and crumpled it up.

The staffer walked away, returned in 20 minutes, and told Gerner his name had been added to a list banning him from entering the convention center for the speech.

"I was certainly shocked," Gerner said. "Everyone should have access to this information."

Gerner said he obtained a free ticket to the speech from the office of Congressman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz. The ticket had his name printed on it.

"I really wanted a chance to hear the Bush side of the Social Security debate," Gerner said. "Unfortunately, I won't hear all the facts now, first-person."

Kate Calhoun, TCC sales and marketing manager, said the venue's staff did not control entrance to the event, but said the Secret Service was taking tickets and exercising "no discrimination whatsoever."

"The venue does not issue or check or take tickets," Calhoun said. "It's coming straight from the White House - we rent them our space and don't get involved. It was a smooth operation from start to finish, and I did not see anyone denied entry."

Jonathan Cherry, Secret Service spokesman, said the Secret Service was not taking tickets at the event.

"The host committee controls who gets in and who gets out," Cherry said. "Secret Service agents are not ticket takers."

Tony Cani, president of Young Democrats of Arizona, said Gerner's dismissal was not at all surprising but a disappointment.

"If this would have been paid for by the Bush-Cheney campaign and they discriminated entrance, it would have been unethical, undemocratic and wrong, but they would have had the right," Cani said. "The distinction is that this was paid for with taxpayers' dollars - some of the money even comes out of Social Security."

Cani said the tax-payer-funded public forum was supposed to be about sharing ideas and helping people learn, not blocking specific people from attending.

"It's not very democratic, and this is the type of action that dissuades young people from being interested in politics," Cani said.

Gerner said after he was refused entry, he proceeded to Armory Park to attend a rally with other Democrats and then to the protest on the west side of the TCC.

When the president's motorcade passed down South Granada Avenue on the way into the TCC, about 1,000 protesters lined the streets.

Gerner said the protest was important in order to express dissenting voices, although he does not expect the president to take notice.

"Protests don't get policies changed," Gerner said.

Protesters once again lined the west side of South Granada Avenue when the president's motorcade escorted him out of the TCC.

A 13-year-old girl was arrested after she threw an egg at the motorcade. Three police officers, after observing the girl's aunt whisper something in her ear and then seeing the girl launch the egg, rushed the two and dragged them across the street, where they were both handcuffed.

It is unknown whether the egg hit the motorcade or not, reports stated.

The girl's aunt was cited for disorderly conduct and released.

More than 40 people were banned from the president's Feb. 3 Social Security speech in North Dakota, according to The Washington Post.

The Post reported that the names of a liberal radio producer, several university professors and a deputy democratic campaign manager were on a list supplied to workers at two ticket distribution sites, which the White House said might have come from volunteers but did not come from the White House.

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