Florida’s master of controversy, Gov. Ron DeSantis, created yet another shocking controversy on Dec. 2 when he announced he wanted to reestablish the Florida State Guard. This is a civilian-military force last used during World War II when the Florida National Guard was overseas fighting.
DeSantis’s decision to resurrect an obsolete paramilitary force answerable only to him bodes ill for Florida’s future, especially given DeSantis’s record of hyperpartisanship and hostility to the Biden administration’s successful policies.
DeSantis’s announcement notably came after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III rejected a request from Oklahoma Governor, Kevin Stitt, to exempt the Oklahoma National Guard from a federal vaccine mandate.
This mandate was implemented on all federal service members including the National Guard, which is under dual state and federal control. This has occasionally led to a battle over who really runs the Guard, the very problem Florida will inevitably face.
It is a distinct possibility that the Florida State Guard would gradually take the place of the Florida National Guard, which DeSantis may simply shunt to the sidelines as he increases his own power.
Biden and Austin would not have any say in what DeSantis does or does not do with the Florida State Guard. This includes not being able to mandate vaccines. In fact, DeSantis may make a point of not mandating the Florida State Guard to be vaccinated.
In a statement provided exclusively to the Florida Political Review, Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, pointed out “there are so many other ways to spend $3.5 million” rather than handing DeSantis the power “to resurrect an outdated and unnecessary militia.” She also criticized DeSantis for “trying to appeal to a hyper-conservative base” by attempting to bring back the Florida State Guard.
Eskamani also acknowledged that it’s very likely DeSantis will receive approval from the Republican legislature in Tallahassee. She also warned that DeSantis could use this new militia “to target people protesting [DeSantis] or protesting causes that he doesn’t support.”
This is indeed a terrifying prospect.
Florida will not be the first state to have a State Guard. In fact, 22 other states and territories have their own State Guards. However, none of them have been created in such a partisan and divisive political climate as presently exists, following an insurrection and extreme democratic backsliding.
Now, Congress could theoretically pass a law allowing the federal government to federalize a state or territory guard. This is currently not permitted but has been ruled a legal possibility by the Supreme Court. However, the extreme partisan gridlock we have witnessed in Washington D.C. is unlikely to permit such a bill to pass.
This is especially true when one considers the bloody sausage-making that resulted in a compromise National Defense Authorization Act of 2021 being passed (although, so far only in the House) that left almost all involved unhappy. Even popular bipartisan measures — making women eligible for the draft, creating an office to address extremist service members, removing sexual assault cases from the military chain of command, and more — were removed from the bill or greatly watered down.
Returning to what the Florida State Guard could become, it is worth noting that DeSantis sent the Florida National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border. The announced purpose of this mission was to deal with an unusually high influx of migrants that Fox News and the rest of the conservative media labeled a ‘crisis.’
However, this may really be an exercise in symbolism. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and DeSantis gave each other support from one far-right governor to another.
For DeSantis, who claims to be all about cutting down on big government and reducing spending, restoring the Florida State Guard continues a long string of hypocrisy.
Earlier this year, Florida passed a purported ‘anti-riot’ bill meant to criminalize free speech even in peaceful protests. Before a court struck down that law, DeSantis had already criticized peaceful (for the most part) Black Lives Matter protests. Simultaneously, DeSantis, a master of doublespeak, declined to enforce the law when a group of anti-Castro Cuban protestors — a group that votes heavily Republican — blocked a major state highway in Miami-Dade County.
DeSantis has repeatedly shown he will stop at nothing in his quest to be the number one fixture on conservative media and top contender for the 2024 Republican presidential primaries — this effort will likely boost him even further in those standings.
However, Eskamani made clear that though DeSantis may win in the short term, “It doesn’t mean his long-term efforts will be successful.”
To those Floridians who are similarly outraged by this blatantly partisan move, Eskamani recommends for them to “contact their state lawmakers” and make it clear that DeSantis’s idea is not supported by the people. She also assured concerned Floridians that legislators from across the state will be expressing their opposition to DeSantis’s scheme once the 2022 legislative session begins.
Right now, though, the odds favor DeSantis in this new development. Though the long term may very well turn out differently, he is likely to be handed yet another easy victory by his allies who dominate the Florida Legislature.
At this point, however, Eskamani’s guidance is prescient. The most we as constituents can do is contact our elected officials and express our discontent with DeSantis and this latest edition of his ever-growing circus of controversies.
Make sure to contact your representative and senator in Tallahassee. The 2022 legislative session is already upon us, and we only have one chance to ensure DeSantis’s harmful, militaristic actions don’t take place.
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Featured image: Ron DeSantis attends the 2021 Goldwater Dinner in Scottsdale, Arizona. Unmodified photo by Gage Skidmore and used under a Creative Commons license (https://bit.ly/3lEqtmD).