5 min read

Week of February 19, 2023

A stylized image of Ron DeSantis peering through a stack of books
Octavio Jones / Getty; The Atlantic from The Forgotten Ron DeSantis Book by David Waldstreicher

This Week in Florida was dominated by Ron DeSantis, again.

A Nieman Journalism Lab report notes that DeSantis is weaponizing partisan media and weakening independent sources of news. “[T]he DeSantis administration was directly involved in recent legislation that allowed cities, counties, and towns to stop publishing legal notices in local newspapers. Attorneys for the governor are arguing in courts that DeSantis does not always need to comply with Florida’s public-records laws. And DeSantis hinted last week that he wants to make it easier to sue news organizations for libel and defamation— an idea the governor has been quietly working on for at least a year.”

The director of a government watchdog group was quoted in the piece, “This is what state-run media looks like,” Barfield said. “Russia, China, and Venezuela use it as a tool to control the message. The strategy has far-reaching and negative implications for freedom of the press and democracy. History is full of painful lessons when the government interferes with and manipulates a free and independent press.”

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In a separate piece entitled “Better than Trump? DeSantis media strategy floods zone with news,” the Miami Herald adds to this picture. “Florida’s governor,” they report, “has been on a news-making binge since the year began, an almost daily barrage of policy roll-outs, public appearances and political jabs.” Media Matters is cited in the piece noting, “The lesson Ron DeSantis has learned from Trump’s 2016 race is, if you create a lot of news on your own terms, you reduce the amount of coverage of aspects of your political persona that is less favorable to you. You have more control over the stories the media is telling if you are creating those stories.”

Last year’s publicity stunt at the expense of asylum seekers and Florida taxpayers that sent migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard was likely illegal so the Florida legislature wrote a new law during a special session making it legal. This week a judge dismissed a lawsuit that would have exposed the illegality of misuse of taxpayer dollars, because it was now legal under the new law, written to protect the governor from his actions.

The Herald notes, “Whether you’re urging him on or screaming at the top of our lungs, you’re likely overlooking how much power DeSantis has concentrated in his own hands.” In a list of “manufactured crises” that DeSantis is using to gaslight Floridians and the nation is one The Herald thinks is real: the Border Crisis.

The Border Crisis is hitting Florida. Over the last 70 years three major waves of Cuban immigration have fundamentally shifted the history of Florida and the nation. Ada Ferrer’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Cuba: An American History, presents an excellent overview of this as does Monika Gosin’s, The Racial Politics of Division. Over the last several months Florida has seen previous records for immigration from Cuba and Haiti broken. While the Florida state legislature is giving DeSantis the authority and the funding to move refugees for political points, DeSantis has issued an executive order (Florida’s constitution does not have a mechanism for executive orders) to handle the massive influx of migrants from Cuba (and Haiti). In an order to, well, execute the executive order, Florida Highway Patrol has set up a “base camp,” in the Florida keys. Still, emboldened, “Now, [that] we have super majorities in the Legislature,” DeSantis is now pushing to revamp the discriminatory immigration polices he himself signed into law, pushing for, among other things, prohibiting issuing identification cards to migrants. In a state with a major suspended license problem and worst-in-the-nation uninsured driver problem, this political tactic has significant real-world consequences on all visitors to and residents of Florida.

A twenty-year veteran at a Christian college in Florida has been threatened with termination for teaching the same racial justice course he has taught for years allegedly for “indoctrinating students.” Coincidentally, the Dean and the President of the college didn’t have time to meet with him for long when informing him of this because they had to prepare for a campus visit by Governor Ron DeSantis. Protests of DeSantis’ education policies broke out in state universities across Florida, led by both students and faculty.

The Atlantic reported this week that Ron DeSantis wrote a book, apparently to attack Barack Obama in 2011 and “as his own book suggests, it is DeSantis himself who ignores certain facts, is prone to identity-driven circular logic, and dismisses what Black voices, past and present, have to teach.” If you only follow one link this week, make this piece.

An Orlando based journalist was gunned down, along with a nine-year old child, at the scene of a murder this week. Meanwhile, state legislators are considering eliminating the need for a permit to conceal carry a gun. Ironically, this bill is infuriating pro-gun and anti-gun advocates in Florida. It isn’t for Floridians, who experience violent crime at higher rate than many states, rather it is a branding message for his personal political aspirations for the White House.

Qasim Rashid, Esq Replying to  @RonDeSantisFL NY vs FL Crime Rate per 100K ppl  Rape •NY: 32 •FL: 38  Murder •NY: 4.7 •FL: 7.8  Burglary •NY: 257 •FL: 720  Compared to New York, Florida has a 19% higher rape rate, 66% higher murder rate, & 280% higher burglary rate—but please tell us more about wokeness & law & order🤔

Politico has a story this week about a town that was taken over by far-right Christian nationalists in Western Michigan. One of the first items of business of the new council members was to change the town’s motto from “Where You Belong,” to “Where Freedom Rings.” DeSantis uses “freedom” and “Florida Freedom” ubiquitously in his speeches and campaign materials. And, what is freedom in Florida? Florida is considered a restricted abortion state—a woman can get an abortion in Florida if two doctors agree her unborn baby will die shortly after birth—but when doctors fear the governor this functionally negates even that limited freedom.

Finally, if you still think Trump is going to be the nominee, and not someone like DeSantis, the Washington Post ran a story with six authors in the by-line that seriously questions that. “More than 150 interviews in pivotal electoral states show the former president maintains a bond with his GOP voters, but faces rising interest in a new standard bearer.” Most of those interviewed see Ron DeSantis, “the Florida guy,” as a way to both support Trump and give the GOP the best shot of continuing Trump’s legacy. They are by no means committed to DeSantis, to be clear, but right now, the MAGA crowd is looking for a nominee that can win and they are open to Ron DeSantis—or someone else—if Trump can’t be the man.

GMC SUV with both Trump and DeSantis bumper stickers.
Trump and DeSantis are more compatible than probably Trump thinks. Photo by Philip Cardella