In the name of protecting Floridians from what he has continuously derided as “petty tyranny,” Gov. Ron DeSantis recently vowed to fine any city, county, or private entity that requires their employees to be vaccinated — a clear violation of Florida’s “home rule” laws.
DeSantis has a strange way of protecting Floridians from this supposed tyranny as he uses the power of his office to an unprecedented degree, ironically implementing what amounts to — hold your breath — mandating that mandates cannot, in fact, mandate masks or vaccines.
It is clear that this is an ideologically driven battle done to get attention for a prospective 2024 run for president, inspired by his buddy, conspiracy theorist and disgraced former steak salesman Donald Trump.
The unprecedented power grab emanating from the Governor’s Mansion includes using emergency pandemic powers to prevent school boards from mandating that children wear masks and fining cities who require their workers to get vaccinated. This attempt to remove power from elected school boards and county and city commissions goes directly against what home rule is meant to do.
The Fight for Home Rule
In Florida, local governments rule themselves under a principle known as home rule. As such, these governments can levy their own taxes independently of the state; not every state has this principle.
The basic idea of home rule is that localities can implement any laws they deem appropriate for their constituents, within reason, as long as they do not directly conflict with any currently implemented state legislation.
“Home rule is very important to [Weston],” Weston City Commissioner Byron Jaffe told the Florida Political Review. He added that since local government officials “interact a lot more with the residents” and don’t have statewide responsibilities, the state government should stay out of local issues.
Jaffe went on to make the point that, in addition to DeSantis’s over-extensions, “A lot of these home rule issues are coming from the Florida House and Senate legislators,” an oft-overlooked fact. According to the commissioner, the state legislature and governor are attempting to chisel cracks in the foundation of home rule with ideologically driven bills that threaten localities to fall in line.
To rectify the wrongs of the recent past, he sees a few options.
“You have to get people elected who have your point of view,” he says, noting that “a lot of these [anti-home rule laws] get challenged in court” even though it’s very hard to determine if a law or executive order will be ruled constitutional or not.
Since 1973, home rule has actually been in the Florida Constitution, but DeSantis has appointed many judges he knows will deliver rulings favorable to him, making it far easier to win cases driven on ideological grounds rather than on legal merit, which DeSantis knows he does not have.
It seems our mask-wrangling, press-tangling, freedom fighter of a governor only cares about freedom when it suits his needs.
What this Fight Really Means
It is important to take into consideration why DeSantis is pushing these measures ahead and why state leaders are not only doing the same but also pouring gasoline on this raging COVID-19 fire.
It is no secret that DeSantis has presidential ambitions for 2024, and he seemingly thinks scoring political points at the expense of Floridians’ lives will help him.
Though recent polls show that his approval ratings are dropping in Florida, he is playing the political long game. DeSantis is betting that the American people, famous for their fleeting political memory, will forget this fiasco, instead remembering DeSantis as a crusader for people’s freedom to do whatever they want.
However, Florida Democrats, still reeling from the humiliating defeats they saw in 2018 and 2020, are betting that stopping DeSantis in his tracks in 2022 will remove him as Public Health Threat Number One; gubernatorial contenders Rep. Charlie Christ, D-Florida, and State Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, D-Florida, frequently do their best to call attention to DeSantis’s intentional mismanagement of the pandemic.
Rather than protect the people, the Republicans choose to prove that the supposed ‘big tent’ of the Republican Party is a circus tent.
From having no conscience to leaving immunocompromised children to die of COVID-19 rather than having them wear masks, the depravity of the DeSantis administration knows no bounds.
However, there is a (small) bright side. Many extensions of local government, most importantly school boards, are standing up to DeSantis and state Republicans. Now, most Floridian school children go to schools where masks are mandated. The courts are demonstrating that DeSantis and his cronies are not fool-proof, and school board members just received their first reimbursements from the federal government as Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has made it clear he is firmly on the side of science, teachers and students.
DeSantis may be trying to make a political point, but it is impossible to hide from the nation that people are dying. However, he is up for reelection in 2022, and his efforts to get rid of home rule may result in Floridians ousting the only real tyrant – DeSantis himself.
Check out other recent articles from Florida Political Review here.
Featured Image: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis gestures during a speech at the 2021 Student Action Summit in Tampa, Florida. Unmodified photo by Gage Skidmore used under a Creative Commons License. (https://bit.ly/3lEqtmD)