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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Honey, Mitt's going to drop by
A normal family has 20 minutes in the campaign spotlight.
By JENNIFER LIBERTO, Times Staff Writer
Published January 27, 2008
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney visited with Lenny and Marcy Guenette and three of their four children, all of whom were a little starstruck to have a presidential contender on their couch for 20 minutes.
[Photo by Jennifer Liberto]
LAND O'LAKES - The phone call that turned the Guenette family's weekend inside out for 23 hours came at 2 p.m. Friday: the Mitt Romney campaign was looking for a "normal, average" family.
Marcy Guenette paused. She liked Romney. Planned to vote for him. But she didn't know what to say.
"I wasn't joking," said the caller, Rachel Burgin, who works for a Romney supporter, state Rep. Trey Traviesa, R-Tampa, and knows the Guenettes through Fellowship Baptist Church in Thonotosassa. The campaign wanted to make the Guenettes' three-bedroom house a campaign stop, because it was on route from Lutz to Lakeland, meaning all the traveling national media would also be there.
Marcy Guenette took a deep breath and said, "Sure, what time will he be here?"
They canceled T-ball practice, gymnastics, a soccer game and dinner with the pastor and his wife. They sterilized the house, better than in-laws-are-coming-over clean. Mopped the kitchen floor, twice.
The best interview location would be the children's game room, since it was big enough to fit the crowd of media and closest to the front door, which meant moving two sofas clear across the house and trying to tuck away a children's tool bench, an air hockey table and plastic bins full of toys.
Marcy Guenette, 34, ran to the Citrus Park mall late Friday night to find a better shirtfor national television (a black scoop neck, Dillard's). Lenny Guenette, 39, obsessed about the best questions to ask. They counseled Mary-Kate, 10, Spencer, 9, Karey-Anne, 7, and Connor, 5, about good manners and best behavior.
"I told them it's a real neat opportunity," said Marcy Guenette, who works part time for a lawyer. A swirling stomach kept her from sleeping much Friday night. "If he becomes president, they'll always remember when he was in our house."
And right before it started, they caged Samson, the 110-pound black lab, and set down thin black tape to designate how far the media should stand back from the couches.
While future presidents drop into living rooms in Iowa and New Hampshire, for such a quiet neighborhood, it was like Gasparilla had rolled in. Cars, vans and a bus jammed the streets, lining the houses for blocks. Neighbors, most of whom had been warned, wandered into the Guenettes' yard, armed with digital cameras.
Then the media tromped in, two dozen peopleloaded with cameras, microphones, backpacks and computers - New York Times, New York Daily News, the Daily Telegraph of London, Associated Press, Reuters, NBC, CBS, ABC. The front door was kept wide open for better light.
Romney entered, warmly shook hands and then plopped down next to Spencer, their lithe, blond son who sat incredibly still, eyes darting between his parents and the crowd of cameras that swallowed up the entryway. Romney immediately kidded them about having a fifth child, since he has five sons.
They talked about the cost of health care and college, the economy and the housing bust. They talked for 20 minutes, longer than Romney spoke earlier in the day at a Lutz rally or in Pensacola on Friday.
Lenny Guenette asked about "something I don't hear much about on the campaign." He wanted to know Romney's plan for beefing up domestic oil production, because "$3 a gallon is too much." Guenette commutes 60 miles a day to his job with Jabil Circuit in St. Petersburg.
Romney agreed and talked about the need for alternative energy production, like nuclear power and liquid coal.
Later, Lenny Guenette went over his questions in his head, especially the conversation on domestic fuels.
"I didn't quite come off as firm as I wanted to, but you know, it's intimidating," he said.
After the interview, both Guenettes said they were struck by how personable Romney was.
"You feel like they're just some different kind of person when they're in the spotlight on TV, but he really just seems like a normal, average guy," Marcy Guenette said.