By Jessie Seigel / Washington, D.C.
Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis is earning unflattering new nicknames as fast as social media can spin them out. He’s been dubbed ‘Governor DeSatan,” “Governor DuhSantis” and even “Governor Death Sentence.” The snarkiness is hardly surprising. Many of his constituents are unhappy that DeSantis continues to sacrifice Florida’s citizens to his ambitions. If Covid-19 and its variants had a vote, DeSantis would be their man.
In August, when Florida—together with Texas—accounted for one-third of all new Covid cases in the entire country, DeSantis responded to President Biden’s efforts to save people from hospitalization and death from that dread disease with belligerence: “If you’re coming after the rights of parents in Florida? I’m standing in your way. If you’re trying to deny kids a proper in-person education, I’m gonna stand in your way and stand up for the kids in Florida. If you’re trying to restrict people and impose mandates and ruin their jobs and livelihood, if you are trying to lock people down, I am standing in your way. I am standing for the people of Florida.”
This followed DeSantis’ action in May, 2021, when he signed legislation prohibiting businesses, schools, cruise ships and government entities from requiring proof of vaccination. He wasn’t done. In July and August, he banned public schools from implementing mask mandates.
Now, DeSantis is trying to deprive schools of funding if they require vaccines or masks despite his ban, even further abusing his power and putting children’s health and lives at even greater risk—not to mention the lives and livelihoods of teachers and other school staff.
As President Biden has begun instituting stronger federal measures to stem the virus’s spread, Governor DeSantis is upping his ante too.
The Biden Administration is now requiring federal contractors to get their employees vaccinated by December 8. In addition, OSHA is creating a rule requiring private companies that employ 100 or more people to have their workers either vaccinated or tested weekly. Furthermore, facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding will be required to have their employees vaccinated. There are thousands of such employees in Florida.
In response, DeSantis has announced that he plans to convene a special session of Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature in November to consider developing state laws deliberately opposing federal requirements. These include proposals: (1) making it illegal for government to mandate the vaccine for government employees; (2) making businesses liable for any medical harm resulting from mandatory vaccination; (3) changing the 2021 law protecting businesses from coronavirus-related liability to remove those protections if a business makes employee vaccination mandatory; and (4) permitting parents to collect attorney’s fees if they win a lawsuit against a school district for enacting coronavirus restrictions.
It is likely that the Republicans in the Florida legislature will dutifully follow where DeSantis leads, as they have done in the past. There are not enough Democrats in the Florida legislature to counter these proposals.
In support of DeSantis, Florida’s Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo has even outlandishly claimed that though the vaccines may reduce the likelihood of transmission, they don’t prevent transmission. On October 21, Ladapo: declared: “I’ve heard some leaders say things like, ‘We’ll create safe workplaces by mandating these vaccines.’ Well, they’re really decoupled, because the infections can still happen whether people are vaccinated or not.”
This, of course, is a ridiculous argument against vaccination since federal data from the CDC determined as far back as August, that the unvaccinated were six times more likely to contract Covid, and about 11 times more likely to die from it than those who are vaccinated.
As Derek Cummings, a professor and infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, has stated: “There are things that help us in most cases, but we don’t dismiss them because they don’t help us in every case.”
Very logical. But of course, logic has nothing to do with DeSantis’ consistently virulent opposition.
While DeSantis claims he is focused on running for re-election as governor in 2022, his actions strongly suggest he’s really treating the coming 2022 Florida election for governor as a stepping-stone to a run for president in 2024—and the health of Florida citizens be damned. The Republican primary is not until August 23, 2022, and DeSantis’ only potential opponent so far appears to be Republican Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.
Democratic U.S. Representative Charlie Crist, a former one-term Republican governor of Florida, is currently the favored potential candidate to run for governor against DeSantis in 2022. Crist recently tweeted; “We all know why Ron is pulling this stunt [the special session] — so he can show his loyalty to Trump. It’s disgusting, it’s wrong, and I vehemently oppose it.”
Nikki Fried, another of DeSantis’ potential Democratic opponents in the governor’s race, has pointed out that DeSantis didn’t call the special session to address any of Florida’s true recent crises, like pandemic-related unemployment, the summer Covid-19 surge in hospitalizations, or the Surfside building collapse that killed 100 people.
Furthermore, rather than traveling around Florida, addressing the kinds of issues raised by Fried and Crist, DeSantis is busy running around the nation, fundraising by courting Trumpian extremists. Over the summer, he held fundraisers in Wisconsin, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada and California, and more recently, was in western New York for a $5,000-a-plate fundraiser. The funds appear to go into the coffers of and be dispensed by a political action committee.
It is impossible to believe that all this effort at national fundraising and exposure is directed solely at a second run for governor in Florida. However, if DeSantis actually plans to use the funds for a national campaign, Florida law might stand in his way. According to the Florida Division of Elections Political Committee Handbook, “a Florida political committee must use its funds solely for Florida political activities, i.e., depositing contributions and making expenditures, which by definition in Florida law, are for the purpose of influencing only Florida elections.”
Ben Wilcox, president of Integrity Florida, a political watchdog organization, has said that Florida law would not allow DeSantis to transfer any funds he has raised to a political action committee for national office. On the other hand, if DeSantis is using Trump as his model, Florida legal requirements may not stop him.
Reactions in Florida
Support or opposition among Florida politicians is as one would expect. The Republicans hypocritically support what they call individual liberty, while they ignore societal public health and the individual’s right to live. Democrats show their social concern by decrying DeSantis’ cynical determination to sacrifice the lives of Floridians to his larger political ambitions.
Democratic State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith tweeted that DeSantis “is more than happy to trade the lives of Floridians for GOP votes in Iowa and campaign contributions in Utah.” Added Smith, “Now he’s calling a special session to PUNISH schools, hospitals and businesses even further for the crime of protecting our communities from Covid-19. More Floridians will die as a result.”
Democratic State Representative Joy Goff-Marcil wrote “This is an attack on Florida’s private business and local leaders who’ve taken steps to protect Floridians. I’m determined to fight against this in the Legislature to protect the freedom businesses have to safeguard our residents.”
What Floridian voter reaction to DeSantis’ sabotage of Covid mandates will be remains to seen. DeSantis won his 2018 run for governor by only 0.4 percent. And according to The Hill, as of September 2020, of Florida’s 13.5 million registered voters, Democrats accounted for 36.8 percent, Republicans for 35.2 percent, unaffiliated with 26.9 percent and minority parties 1.1 percent. The Hill speculated that to win reelection as governor, DeSantis needs to appeal to a “wide swath of voters,” but instead is “pandering to his GOP base”—which might do in his chances.
If Floridians have any sanity or sense of self-preservation, one would expect DeSantis’ current policies to result in his loss of the 2022 election by a far greater percentage than 0.4 percent. But then again, if people were moved as much by reason and true self-interest as they seem to be by the manipulative stirring up of unreasoned anger and prejudice, none of the current crop of hate-mongering politicians would be in office.
DeSantis’ Chances in a Presidential Run
Since Florida is one of the important swing states for presidential elections, a loss of DeSantis’ 2022 reelection bid for governor could scuttle his political viability for a 2024 presidential nomination. Even if he does manage to get re-elected, his chances may depend on what former President Donald Trump decides to do.
On October 25, Florida Politics reported a University of New Hampshire survey finding that DeSantis currently has higher favorable ratings with potential 2024 GOP primary voters than Trump. DeSantis is at +62 net favorability. Trump came in at +54.
And a national survey of 463 likely voters by McLaughlin & Associates showed the Florida Governor was the choice of 24 percent of those surveyed between Oct. 14 and Oct. 18, while Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., was preferred by 18 percent, and former Vice President Mike Pence was in third place, with 14 percent. But according to Florida Politics, in a survey with the senior Donald Trump included, the former president was preferred by 53 percent of those surveyed and DeSantis was the choice of just 10 percent. Florida Politics interpretation: DeSantis has a chance at the nomination—if the former President does not run.
Naturally, Trump has sounded off, telling Yahoo Finance, “If I faced him, I’d beat him like I would beat everyone else…I think most people would drop out; I think he would drop out.”
Polls are only snapshots in time, and there is more than a year before the 2022 Florida election, more than three years before the 2024 presidential election. There’s no knowing what events will intervene between now and those elections or what effect they may have on voters. But whether the Republican presidential candidate in 2024 is DeSantis or Trump, or someone else, he is likely to be only one of an army of sociopathic demagogues using fair means or foul—mostly foul—to obtain and hold power nationally and within the 50 states. It is incumbent on every one of us to expose not only the cynical lies, tactics, and strategies of these many demagogues, but find some effective way to bring voters to their senses and to the polls—and make sure their votes are counted once they get there.
Political columnist Jessie Seigel had a long career as a government attorney in which she honed her analytic skills. She has also twice received an Artist’s Fellowship from the Washington, D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities for her fiction, and has been a finalist for a number of literary awards. In addition, Seigel is an associate editor at the Potomac Review, a reviewer for The Washington Independent Review of Books, and a dabbler in political cartoons at Daily Kos. Of this balance in her work between the analytic and the imaginative, Seigel jokes, “I guess my right and left brains are well-balanced.” More on and from Seigel can be found at The Adventurous Writer, https://www.jessieseigel.com.