by David Silverberg
The Florida being shaped by the proto-presidential campaign of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and a state legislature whose members are competing with each other every day to be more radical, more extreme, and more totalitarian is shaping up as no place for young people—meaning anyone under the age of 65.
Nor is it going to attract young families in the future. This is going to have serious long-term consequences.
Perhaps the new state motto should be: “Unless you’re gray, stay away.”
Why? Let us count the ways.
No state for women
Women of child-bearing age will not have legal access to abortion after six weeks of pregnancy under anti-abortion bills (House Bill (HB) 7 and Senate Bill (SB) 300) now making their ways through the legislature.
The prohibition looks likely to pass and be signed into law.
Currently, Florida prohibits abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. In the immediate wake of the Republicans’ resounding election in 2022, there was considerable agitation for a complete abortion ban. DeSantis, although ostensibly “pro-life,” never endorsed that more extreme option.
Asked about the abortion bills at a Feb. 1 press conference, he replied: “I urge the Legislature to work, produce good stuff, and we will sign.”
As the anti-abortion bills demonstrate, though, the legislature has been far less restrained.
Unmentioned in anti-abortion propaganda is that access to sanctioned, legal abortions is a safe option for all pregnancies in the event of medical complications. Removing that option is a blow against women of an age to be planning families.
No state for education
The governor and legislature are waging an all-out assault on public education, which is being equated with “woke” indoctrination. They are creating a state whose public schooling option is completely unattractive—even repulsive—to parents and families who seek to put school-age children in quality public schools.
Instead they are advancing expensive private schooling to as great an extent as possible. Even with tax vouchers being promoted by Florida House Speaker Rep. Paul Renner (R-19-Flagler County), private and charter schools are expensive and out of reach for many parents. HB 1 and SB 202 would provide all parents—regardless of income—tax vouchers worth an estimated $8,000 per student to go to non-public schools.
While the state estimated that the overall cost of the program would be $210 million in the first year, the Florida Policy Institute, a state-focused think tank, argued the real cost would be $4 billion.
“If the state does not increase revenue to cover the costs of students already in private education, then the reallocation of state aid to vouchers will leave school districts with significantly less revenue to fund their remaining public school students,” it argued in a paper on the program’s impact.
Sadaf Knight, the Institute’s head, put the consequences starkly: “Florida public schools cannot afford to have their budgets decimated after years of under-investment.”
In addition to the financial blows to public schools, legislators are attempting to control the content of public education in Florida. Bills HB 999 and SB 266 require schools to eliminate majors or minors in critical race theory and gender studies. They also prohibit schools from using diversity, equity or inclusion criteria in spending or hiring decisions.
Legislators are even trying to regulate speech among students. HB 1069 will prohibit “instruction in acquired immune deficiency syndrome, sexually transmitted diseases, or health education” before the sixth grade—and would even prohibit students younger than the sixth grade from discussing their menstrual periods.
To emphasize: this bill not only regulates curricula, it prohibits girls from discussing menstrual cycles in conversations among themselves.
These restrictions come on top of legislation already passed and signed into law. The 2022 Stop WOKE (Wrong to Our Kids and Employees) Act, places limits on the way race is taught, and the Parental Rights in Education Act, nicknamed the “Don’t say gay” law, prohibits discussion of sexuality in the earliest grades.
“Following woke indoctrination in our schools, that is a road to ruin for this country,” DeSantis said in a press conference last year. “And we’re not going to let it happen in Florida.” (Enforcement of The Stop WOKE Act has been stopped by court injunction based on arguments against its free speech infringements.)
The suspicion and hostility toward teachers among Florida legislators found expression last year when Rep. Bob Rommel (R-81-Naples and Collier County) argued that teachers were so dangerous to children that they should be monitored in the classroom by video at all times and introduced a bill to that effect. (The bill never went anywhere and died in the last session.)
Additionally, there is a proposal in the legislature to politicize school board races by making them partisan. In the past, education was considered above party politics and candidates were always unaffiliated. However, under House Joint Resolution 31 by Rep. Spencer Roach (R-79-Ft. Myers) and its companion Senate Joint Resolution 94, candidates would have to be party affiliated. A likely impact of this is that education will be politicized as well, so students would receive partisan, one-sided instruction, particularly in history.
On top of this are local book bans, where DeSantified school boards and MAGA activists attempt to banish discomforting ideas.
These measures are not going unnoticed in the rest of the country’s higher education institutions. As a result of them, administrators and admissions officers may view Florida’s secondary school graduates as inadequately educated and not ready for real universities. The graduates may face steep admission obstacles when they apply to college.
Of course, they can remain within the Florida university system, which will be shackled by political restrictions, ideological constraints and muzzled professors. That, in turn, raises the question whether graduates will be prepared for a diverse, competitive, technologically advanced world and whether a Florida education will be an employment asset outside the state.
As a result of all this political intrusion, Florida is emerging as a warped educational wasteland for primary school students and state university graduates—not an attractive prospect for young parents trying to raise school-age children.
No state for health
Florida’s surgeon general, Dr. Joseph Ladapo, continues to stubbornly defend his anti-COVID vaccination stance in the face of an overwhelming scientific consensus but in keeping with DeSantis’ political priorities.
Ladapo, who is up for Florida Senate confirmation this year, has urged men between the ages of 18 and 39 not to get vaccinated.
On March 10, Drs. Robert Califf, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sent what amounted to a public cease-and-desist letter to Ladapo.
“The claim that the increase of VAERS [Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System] reports of life-threatening conditions reported from Florida and elsewhere represents an increase of risk caused by the COVID-19 vaccines is incorrect, misleading and could be harmful to the American public,” they wrote.
Ladapo fired back from Florida at a press conference called to mark the third year of the COVID pandemic. “The media, they work overtime to rewrite reality, to make people believe that what is happening isn’t actually happening. These vaccines have a terrible safety profile. At this point in the pandemic, I’m not sure anyone should be taking them, and that is the honest truth,” he said.
In keeping with his anti-vaxx efforts, in November 2021 DeSantis signed legislation prohibiting private employer mask mandates, or proofs of vaccination by private companies, government agencies, school districts and educational institutions, under penalty of fines.
In January, DeSantis called for legislation to make the bans permanent. In Lee County his initiative was endorsed by a resolution of the local Republican Party.
In DeSantis’ Florida public health practices are being built on wishful thinking and political convenience. People just starting families and parents and men in general between the ages of 18 and 39 must be aware than any efforts by institutions like schools or employers to protect the health and wellbeing of themselves or their children will be punished by the state.
No state for tolerance
DeSantis’ cultural crusade in Florida is ostensibly driven by his battle against a “woke mob,” evoking a counter-image of the MAGA mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
However, what is really emerging in Florida is an intolerant, discriminatory regime that will not accept anything other than its legislated norms, which go beyond traditional, legally-sanctioned behavior.
When it comes to LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and questioning) individuals the governor and legislature are clearly out to put as many restrictions as possible on them and their community.
HB 1423 would allow the state to fine or suspend the licenses of businesses that admit children to “adult live performances” depicting or simulating “nudity, sexual conduct, sexual excitement, specific sexual activities,” and more.
SB 1320 is an amendment to the Stop WOKE Act that forbids teachers from asking children their preferred pronouns and forbids teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity before the eighth grade.
SB 254 allows courts to stop gender-reassigning care for patients under 18 years of age.
HB 1421 restricts gender-reassigning therapies and surgeries and prohibits birth gender from being changed on a birth certificate.
No state for safety
Florida has suffered from repeated mass shootings. In June 2016 there was the massacre at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando when 50 people were killed, including the shooter. In February 2018, 17 students and teachers were killed and 17 injured at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
That mass shooting gave rise to bipartisan efforts to control gun purchases, which passed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act.
Since then Florida politicians have been attempting to roll back those protections and make gun ownership easier and more ubiquitous. In the current legislative session SB 150 and HB 543 would allow permitless concealed carrying of weapons, or “constitutional carry” as its advocates prefer to call it.
DeSantis endorsed permitless carrying last year, saying in December: “Basically, this was something that I’ve always supported. The last two years, it was not necessarily a priority for the legislative leadership… and it’ll be something that will be done in the regular session. That puts us in line with the majority of states that have done that… so we’ll get that done.”
Permitless carrying has legislative support and the endorsement of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, although it doesn’t go as far as open carrying—being allowed to openly display weapons in public—as some advocates prefer.
But regardless of the terms of any gun displays, any young parent will have to worry that in Florida they and their children will be in an environment saturated in guns, whether openly brandished or legally concealed.
No state for innovation
DeSantis’ war with the Disney Corp., is well known and has been extensively covered. When Disney management formally took issue with the Anti-WOKE Act, DeSantis retaliated by stripping Disney World in Orlando of its special tax and governance status and leading a public crusade against the corporation.
DeSantis and the current legislature are also pursuing a variety of measures against corporations that make efforts to adhere to responsible environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices.
“By applying arbitrary ESG financial metrics that serve no one except the companies that created them, elites are circumventing the ballot box to implement a radical ideological agenda,” DeSantis announced in January in an effort to “protect” companies and consumers from these practices.
Companies seeking to promote a culture of social and environmental responsibility in Florida will face penalties and state retaliation. Given that these are some of the most innovative, entrepreneurial and forward-thinking companies in the country, with predominantly young workforces, these restrictions and penalties will likely keep them from entering Florida, which is otherwise billing itself as a business-friendly state.
No state for immigrants
Florida was once one of the most welcoming states in the country for immigrants, whether seeking opportunity and prosperity or refugees fleeing oppression in Cuba, Haiti or elsewhere. Indeed, Florida has historically actively sought new residents to build its population and economy.
Florida’s openness made Miami in particular a cosmopolitan, internationally-oriented city and America’s gateway to South America.
Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant racism and rhetoric represented the backlash against traditional American openness and acceptance and it spread it throughout the state. He brought that prejudice with him when he retired to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. DeSantis apparently shares Trump’s hatred of immigrants and foreigners and made his own attitude explicit with his September 2022 stunt of deliberately flying 50 Venezuelan asylum-seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.
To continue the practice of migrant transport, this year SB 6-B appropriated $10 million to continue state-sponsored transportation of migrants, known as the Unauthorized Alien Transport Program. The bill was passed by the House and Senate and signed into law by DeSantis on Feb. 15.
Immigrants and migrants, both documented and undocumented, were instrumental in building the Florida economy, agriculture and industry. Many of Florida’s newcomers, whatever their national origins, are young, vigorous and entrepreneurial. The current anti-immigrant legislative wave in the legislature—even if directed only against undocumented migrants and asylum-seekers—will serve to dry up that youthful wellspring of talent and energy.
Analysis: The new-old Florida
The bills discussed here are precisely that—bills, not laws. They are proposals amidst the avalanche of ideas that are offered in a legislative session. Few, in fact, will make it all the way to the governor’s desk and be signed into law.
Nonetheless, the state emerging from these proposals and ideas is one that is extremely reactionary, oppressive and sclerotic. It is hostile to new ideas, innovation, science, creativity and enterprise. If all the legislation is enacted it will result in an intellectual and entrepreneurial wasteland repulsive to anyone not of retirement age—and many seniors as well.
All this is the result of the governor and legislature playing to the biases of an aging, white, MAGA base and overlooking—indeed, seeking to repress—the qualities and values and people that once made Florida great.
Politically, in Florida there are currently no checks or balances on this course of governing and legislating. The supermajority Republican legislature is completely subservient to DeSantis—when its legislative politicians are not pursuing their own extreme agendas. Now, in the judicial branch, Florida Supreme Court Justice Ricky Polston announced his retirement on Monday, March 20, which will give DeSantis another justice to appoint, the fifth of the seven that sit on the court.
The DeSantis lock on power is so complete that one politician, Sen. Blaise Ingoglia (R-11-Citrus, Hernando and Sumter counties) is seeking to effectively outlaw the Democratic Party (SB 1248) and make Florida a one-party state along the lines of North Korea.
None of this bodes well for young people considering migrating to, launching careers in or starting families in Florida. In addition to the factors above there they also face the extremely high price of insurance and the lack of decent housing in the low-to-middle “affordable” starting range that favors young families. Less-than-affluent families cannot expect to put their children in a public school system that will give them an effective, modern education all the way up to college. And every Floridian is at physical risk from a delusional public health establishment and a surfeit of guns in the hands of all kinds of people in all kinds of mental states.
Culturally, DeSantis’ Florida is proving hostile to any norms and mores that have evolved since 1900—indeed, since the discovery of vaccines—lumping them together as “woke.” And, as DeSantis accurately said, he is making his state the place “where woke goes to die.” He is waging a cultural war whose victory will leave Florida boundless and bare, where the lone and level sands stretch far away.
This is the model that DeSantis hopes to ride to the presidency in 2024. Fortunately, while it may play well with an elderly MAGA core in The Villages, it is not likely to be the kind of regime the rest of the country will accept in 2024. And it is certainly out of touch with everyone from millennials to Generation Y, to Generation Z.
There is a comfort, however: old generations die off and imposition of the most extreme biases of Florida’s MAGA baby boomers cannot last. After all, as DeSantis himself has said, “Florida is God’s waiting room.”
But waiting for that to happen will take 40 years of wandering in a sun-blasted, dystopian, DeSantian desert—unless Floridians decide to make a change themselves and do it sooner rather than later.
Special to Big Mouth Media from The Paradise Progressive. Originally published on March 23, 2023.