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Did the tea party score Capitol office space?

Tea Party Network leaders are celebrating the grand opening of their self-described Tallahassee headquarters: Room 227 in the Senate Office Building, Florida Capitol.img00112-20111006-1135.jpg

Republican officials and volunteers trickled in the room Thursday to chat with volunteers and review hand-outs detailing the group's 2012 legislative agenda. Tea party volunteers said they want to make their presence known this year, and the room gives them a base for reacting to surprise amendments and unfavorable votes.

"Legislation can change like that," said Tea Party Network chairwoman Patricia Sullivan, snapping her fingers. "It's just a wise use of our volunteers' time."

But is it really theirs to keep? No, according to Senate President Mike Haridopolos.

Senators can request to reserve the conference room for constituents, and Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, asked that it be reserved for the group Thursday and Friday.

"Senator Evers made a request to reserve this room for a group of citizens as an informal meeting place, which is a common occurrence," said spokeswoman Lyndsey Cruley in a statement. "Additionally, this room has not been reserved beyond this week, as requests for room reservations are reviewed on a weekly basis."

Volunteers and tea-friendly lawmakers huddled in Evers' office for about an hour and took turns being interviewed over the phone by Tom Hayes-Morrison, host of a conservative radio talk show in Gainesville. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, promoted his bill that would repeal the Florida Renewable Fuel Standard Act, a "Charlie Crist-era" ethanol mandate, he said.

Sullivan said the group intends to use the space during interim committee weeks and session. She and other activists championed the open room as a big day for their cause, with volunteers representing tea party groups in Gainesville, the Villages and Sullivan's North Lake Tea Party, among other places.

They planned to sit in on committee meetings and meet with legislators about pet projects, including repealing Florida's septic tank inspection law.

"As we see folks in the halls, they seem to have a smile," Sullivan said, "but we'll see how it goes in committee meetings."

Photos by Katie Sanders.

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