Two years ago, I wrote an op-ed titled “Florida’s most vulnerable suffered one of the Legislature’s cruelest legislative sessions in history.”
As the 2022 legislative session unfolds, it is shocking to see just how extreme the legislature has become under Ron DeSantis since then.
Florida Republican lawmakers have ceased to be any sort of meaningful check on DeSantis’ political ambitions or agenda. During Rick Scott’s tenure, his administration clashed with a GOP-controlled legislature that refused to give up its independence and simply roll over for whatever Scott wanted to do.
Ron DeSantis began his term by trying to present a more moderate image, almost presenting himself as conciliatory in order to alleviate some of the tense dynamics that were leftover by the relationship between Scott and the legislature. That all went out the window with the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As public health measures became politicized, Republican lawmakers gave unfettered spending authority to DeSantis, who has spent billions in federal cash with little oversight. He has since pursued an extremist and partisan agenda focused on undermining fundamental public health policies and flirting with anti-vaccine messaging.
Fellow Republicans have said off the record that DeSantis is so thin-skinned that “if you cross him once, you are dead to him” and that there are real political consequences for challenging his demands. DeSantis has also become incredibly popular among the far-right press circuit and national Republican electorate due to his opposition to common-sense public health measures. This dynamic has led to a legislature that is full of politically craven lawmakers who often refuse to push back against anything proposed by DeSantis, no matter how unhinged it is.
Floridians are left with a legislature that acts as a mere rubber stamp to an extremist ideologue who is more focused on pleasing Republican primary voters in Iowa for a potential future run for president rather than governing Florida responsibly.
There are real challenges that Floridians are facing, but perhaps the most acute is an out-of-control housing market. Rent prices are spiking upwards of 20 to 30 percent across the state, and Florida home prices have risen more than any other state in the last six months. Renters are increasingly priced out of their homes as landlords increase rent prices on them with zero consumer protections.
What is the Republican legislature doing to help? Absolutely nothing.
Instead of calling a housing state of emergency as Democrats in the Florida House of Representatives have suggested, they are pushing legislation to prohibit conversations about racism, sexual orientation, and gender identity in schools, directly erasing students, their parents, and our collective history. Another bill would institute an extreme, fifteen-week abortion ban in Florida, disproportionately impacting low-income pregnant Floridians who would have to travel to North Carolina for an abortion. During a recent committee hearing, public comment on the bill was limited to an insulting mere thirty seconds; at another, college students from across the state were denied the right to testify altogether.
Florida Republicans have two bills in the state legislature to undermine the $15 an hour minimum wage that Floridians overwhelmingly approved in 2020. One establishes a sub-minimum wage of $4.25. The other bill would automatically cut paychecks for tens of thousands of public contract workers in the state currently making more than the state minimum wage. Another proposal that already passed the Senate would allow businesses to sue local taxpayers for damages if a local law impacts 15% of their profits or is deemed “arbitrary or unreasonable” by the courts. It’s meant to stop local governments from passing laws that raise the minimum wage, stop wage theft, prevent companies from polluting, etc.
There are proposals to force teachers to wear cameras in classrooms to monitor their lessons, another that would give anyone, regardless of whether they have kids or not, the ability to object to books they don’t like from being in school libraries. Another bill specifically targets immigrant youth, aiming to end decades-long programs with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement to resettle vulnerable kids with their parents or sponsors in Florida. The bill also, ironically, mandates local law enforcement to contract with federal programs.
These policies are pathetic. They target children that challenge the GOP’s outdated value system while also distracting Floridians from their literal pillaging of our tax dollars by their corporate donors. Republicans are happily legislating on behalf of corporate interests like Big Sugar’s Florida Crystals, and energy monopoly Florida Power and Light, at the expense of Floridians’ futures.
The GOP legislature is so blatantly sold out to their corporate donors that even after Florida Power and Light come under heavy scrutiny for pushing fake candidates in an election fraud scheme meant to give them further control of the legislative process, Republicans are still trying to pass a bill that would end energy freedom in Florida, restricting the ability of Floridians to install solar panels in their homes independent of utility control. They are so out of touch with the needs of struggling Floridians who are being priced out of their homes that they think a viable solution is a bill establishing a nonrefundable monthly fee instead of a one-time refundable security deposit.
Adding insult to injury, Ron DeSantis and his fellow Republicans plan to give $624 million of our tax dollars to a secret list of the most profitable corporations in the state after already giving $543 million in corporate giveaways and charging consumers $1 billion more in online sales taxes to giveaway to businesses– a bill he signed into law at midnight in an attempt to avoid public scrutiny.
Floridians are facing real issues, but our state legislature is choosing to focus on polarization and division by attacking marginalized communities and doubling down on tired, out-of-touch culture war issues. Republicans are attempting to distract the public from just how bought out the process has become and how little democratic input the public has as opposed to these corporate entities that flood the legislative process with millions of dollars to influence it.
On top of it all, we have a petty, authoritarian, self-centered governor who is happy to preside over the swamp if it means the accumulation of power for himself. Floridians should deliver him and his Republican colleagues a wake-up call in the upcoming midterm elections.
Thomas Kennedy is a Democratic National Committee member representing Florida. He tweets from @tomaskenn.
is a former reported opinion columnist and roving correspondent. He's an elected member of the Democratic National Committee from Florida and a fomer Director of Sunshine Agenda Inc. a government transparency nonprofit organization.