Editorial Roundup: Florida

South Florida Sun Sentinel. July 19, 2022.

Editorial: Trump’s grip weakens, but that’s bad news for Florida

Ron DeSantis was Ron who? — a back-bencher in Congress with little hope of political stardom — when Donald Trump enthusiastically endorsed him more than four years ago.

One Trump tweet changed Florida history

Now, as the ex-president sees DeSantis emerge as his biggest rival, Trump must have buyer’s remorse. You can practically hear the dishware breaking at Mar-a-Lago.

The recent (and welcome news) that Trump’s grip is weakening with Republican voters also positions DeSantis as his strongest potential rival for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination. That’s bad news for the country.

According to a New York Times/Siena College poll, nearly half of Republican primary voters don’t want Trump to run again. Florida’s governor was their second choice at 25%, the only rival with more than 10% support and the favorite among younger Republicans, those with college degrees and those who claimed to have voted for President Biden, not Trump.

A University of New Hampshire poll found Trump and DeSantis statistically tied in that first-primary state. DeSantis continues to play coy, but his intentions are obvious. He’s raising money out in Utah this week. He recently hosted a select, very private gathering of other Republican governors in Fort Lauderdale, the sort of thing that would-be presidents do.

Some in the national media tout DeSantis as a wholesome and intelligent alternative to Trump. Others are alarmed.

No less dangerous

“Just because DeSantis is smarter than Trump doesn’t mean that he is any less dangerous. In fact, he might be an even bigger threat for that very reason,” wrote columnist Max Boot in The Washington Post.

That’s right. Anyone who admires DeSantis from afar should come to Florida with eyes wide open. After winning by just 32,463 votes, he has governed with total contempt toward the 4 million people who didn’t vote for him.

He’s as authoritarian as Trump, just as disdainful of democracy, no less polarizing and openly hostile to scientific evidence that doesn’t conform to his narrow agenda.

Although DeSantis didn’t endorse Trump’s Big Lie of a stolen election, he is not willing to refute it and he still won’t say whether Biden was fairly elected. He has scorned the House committee’s brilliant investigation into Trump’s attempted coup.

Bully in the mansion

DeSantis is a bully. No Florida governor has been as ruthless or effective in dominating his state, owning the legislature and trampling dissent.

The governor who boasts of empowering parents mocked school kids in his presence for wearing masks to protect themselves against the coronavirus, as their parents had told them. Calibrating his political appeal to voters who put selfishness over social responsibility, DeSantis appointed a quack physician to run the health department. The quack refused to order vaccines for children under age 5 and intends to deny gender dysphoria treatment to young people who depend on Medicaid.

DeSantis and his drones in the Legislature ruthlessly put down school boards and local governments that sought to save lives with masks, vaccines and social distancing requirements.

It’s terrifying to contemplate DeSantis in the Oval Office when the next pandemic inevitably comes along.

When Nazis picketed at Orlando, he was silent. Exploiting society’s vulnerability to cultural warfare, DeSantis has prohibited schools, colleges and even private businesses from dealing honestly with racism and its ugly history. His law labeled “don’t say gay” by critics openly caters to homophobia, chilling sex education in schools and putting students at risk of being outed to their parents.

For Disney World’s mild opposition, DeSantis got the Legislature to repeal its taxing district, putting the company at risk and threatening to bankrupt two counties that might inherit Disney’s debts. He carried his culture warfare into the selection of public school textbooks. A new civics training course for teachers maintains that the Founders did not intend to separate church and state, which is grossly false.

A ruthless gerrymander

When the Legislature tried to honor the Fair Districts amendments to Florida’s Constitution, DeSantis demanded, and got, a ruthless Congressional gerrymander calculated to replace two Black Democrats with white Republicans.

He signed a 15-week abortion ban that openly flouts Florida’s constitutional right to privacy, secure in the belief that a Supreme Court turned flagrantly reactionary by his appointees will be just as contemptuous of the Constitution. He has boasted of packing the appellate bench with fellow ideologues from the Federalist Society.

He spends $120,000 a year of our tax dollars on a press secretary whose principal duty seems to be slandering his opponents. Anyone opposing his anti-gay bill, she said, was probably a “groomer” — a sexual predator.

DeSantis notwithstanding, governors make credible presidential nominees because they have far more opportunities for hands-on accomplishments than do members of Congress.

The present Republican Party has no shortage of qualified governors or ex-governors to nominate: Larry Hogan of Maryland, Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Chris Christie of New Jersey all won election or re-election in blue states by governing from the center, not from the dark extremes.

The party’s post-Trump future rightfully belongs to people like them — not to the intentionally divisive, polarizing and humorless DeSantis.

Voters in America’s 49 other states, take note.

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Miami Herald. July 15, 2022.

Editorial: Though $3 million for UF civics program is a mystery, its tie to DeSantis’ Christian agenda isn’t

There’s a mystery surrounding the state budget’s allocation of $3 million to a new civics program at the University of Florida. The university didn’t ask for the funding. The Republican lawmaker who requested the money told the Miami Herald he did so on behalf of an organization he doesn’t “know really much about.”

But it strains credulity that no one really knows why and how the money ended up in the state budget — especially when it involves civics education, a focal point of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ push to force a conservative Christian point of view about the nation’s founding in public education.

That UF is opening a new academic center focused on civics courses itself isn’t the problem. The Hamilton Center for Classic and Civics Education’s mission will be to educate university students in the “principles, ideals and institutions of the American political order,” and the “foundations of responsible leadership and informed citizenship.” Understanding our nation’s history — all of it — and values is crucial for a healthy democracy.

It’s the secrecy behind this initiative that should bother taxpayers. Very little is known about the Council on Public University Reform, which requested the funding. But what was reported in a Herald story this week raises the question of whether this is yet another way for Florida Republicans to funnel tax dollars to conservative Christian groups.

The Council has existed for less than a year since its incorporation in Delaware. It has no website, virtually no information about it online and no working phone, the Herald reported. Yet it’s influential enough to get $3 million into Florida’s state budget and survive DeSantis’ veto pen (DeSantis vetoed less money for things like contraceptives for low-income women). How did the Council enlist lobbying powerhouse Ballard Partners and a former DeSantis chief of staff to represent its interests at the state Capitol?

What a head-scratcher — or is it?

It turns out that the man representing the Council on Public University Reform, Joshua Holdenried, has a long history of working with religious and conservative groups. He’s currently pursuing a master’s degree at a private religious school in Michigan called Hillsdale College. The small school has an outsized influence in conservative circles and reshaping public education through a network of charter schools. It was one of the organizations Florida partnered with to train high school teachers on a new civics curriculum, which rattled some educators for whitewashing slavery and proclaiming that the Founding Fathers didn’t want a separation between church and state. Hillsdale also has ties to Florida’s rejection of dozens of math textbooks because they included references deemed to be critical race theory and other “prohibited topics” (two book reviewers were affiliated with the college).

No matter how taxpayers ended up footing those $3 million, there’s no mystery of what the bigger picture is: a concerted effort to use public education for ideological wars.

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