This is not an easy time to be a political progressive in Florida.
Though the Republican Party held the governorship and the legislature since the ‘90s, the Sunshine State was thought by many to be a “purple” state. After all, Florida gave its electoral votes to Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and returned Bill Nelson to the U.S. Senate in 2006 and 2012.
This perception changed in recent years, as Rick Scott defeated Nelson in 2018 and Donald Trump carried our state in 2016 and 2020. Republican governor succeeded Republican governor and the GOP increased its hold on the Legislature. The GOP now holds 32 seats in the State Senate (to 16 Democrats) and 78 seats in the State House (to 42 Dems). Florida, once purple, is now as red as a tomato, and as conservative as Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, or Oklahoma. Even Texas seems more likely to turn purple in the near future.
Most of Florida’s move to the right can be attributed to the influence and followers of Donald Trump, now a Florida resident. Thanks to the Trumpy crowd, Florida’s GOP governors went from mild conservatives like Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist to right-wing radicals like Scott and Ron DeSantis, the incumbent.
DeSantis served several terms in the U.S. Congress, representing Daytona Beach, where he worked alongside fellow Trumper Matt Gaetz of Pensacola. DeSantis credited his narrow victory against Andrew Gillum of Tallahassee in 2018 to support from the master of Mar-a-Lago. Though DeSantis’s victory was slight, he went on to govern as if he had won a mandate. In this he was aided and abetted by a supportive state legislature and an increasingly conservative state Supreme Court.
Even the COVID-19 pandemic, which proved brutal to other politicians, was used by this Trumpiest of governors to his political advantage.
Like other Republican governors and state legislators, the Trumpy crowd in charge of the Sunshine State used their power to propagate the lie that Joe Biden “stole” the election and to pass legislation dictated from Mar-a-Lago. Under DeSantis’s direction, our GOP Legislature passed a brutal “law and order” bill designed to discourage Black Lives Matter and other progressive protestors.
They also voted to punish BigTech, which banned Trump from his Twitter account, tightened voting laws, to discourage African Americans and others who might vote for Democrats and, in the first explicitly anti-LGBT move in decades, passed a bill that would ban trans girls from competing in high school or college sports.
Tallahassee’s Trumpian majority also voted to restrict the power of city and county governments which might have Democratic majorities. Through it all, DeSantis and the GOP legislators dealt with their Democratic opponents by ignoring them completely, which in Florida they can do with impunity.
Ron DeSantis’s popularity among the GOP is based in part on his ability to espouse Trumpian policies without Trump’s craziness. To his credit, DeSantis does not go on Twitter every morning and send out crazy, nutty, kooky messages.
On the other hand, DeSantis knows better than to directly oppose the master of Mar-a-Lago, who is very popular with his base and who still intends to reclaim his throne in 2024. Right now, the governor’s plan seems to be re-elected in 2022 and then to run for president (if Trump does not run again) or vice-president, as Trump’s running mate, in 2024. In either case, DeSantis hopes to continue to carry the Trumpian torch.
Jesse Monteagudo is a freelance writer and journalist. He has been an active member of South Florida's LGBT community for more than four decades and has served in various community organizations.