It’s shaping up to be another ugly era in Florida.
Call this the first chapter of the “Ron DeSantis Without Trump in the Big House” saga.
The nation has clearly spoken with its votes —more than 78 million, the most ever cast for a U.S. presidential candidate.
But then, here’s Florida, home to the defeated president. In Florida, 51% of residents who voted, 5,658,847 out of a population close to 22 million, gave Trump the state win — and packed the Florida Legislature with Republicans.
His idol dethroned and emboldened by the solid majority wins in the House and Senate, Gov. DeSantis is taking steps to fashion a fascist, gun-happier Florida.
Crackdown on protesters
He’s proposing legislation that would treat civil rights protesters getting out of hand at demonstrations without permits or participating in demonstrations that turn violent like hardened criminals.
Most of Florida’s demonstrations have been peaceful. But DeSantis wants to make it hard for arrested protesters to get bail. And when they do get it, he wants “a rebuttable presumption on bail,” which means the law would require the court to presume that what’s on the arrest report is true until proven otherwise.
That’s usually reserved for dangerous criminals accused of murder, sexual assault, rape and all sorts of other serious felonies.
So how does a citizen who wants to exercise his or her right to free speech know ahead of time when a demonstration is going to turn violent?
The American Civil Liberties Union is going to have to move its headquarters from New York City to Florida.
Public harassment a crime
DeSantis also wants to make “harassing people in public” a criminal offense. So, no more yelling at people inside a restaurant or a store over politics.
He didn’t think that one through very well as most of the viral moments caught on video are about Trump supporters harassing people for things like speaking Spanish and wearing a mask.
But, more likely, DeSantis is looking to put on the books a law to be able to arrest truth telling Miami rights advocate Thomas Kennedy, who has interrupted DeSantis press conferences to call him out on his mishandling of the coronavirus.
“Shame on you,” the Florida director of United We Dream told DeSantis. “You are an embarrassment … We’re getting record breaking cases every day, and you are doing nothing.”
“You should resign!”
DeSantis doesn’t want people heckling him for the terrible job he’s doing. He doesn’t want “law and order.” He wants to stifle free speech. But his threats and erosion of home rule are OK.
The governor is also threatening cities and counties with any intention to “defund the police” — whatever that means beyond the world of hashtags — with withholding of state grant and aid funding.
Expanding stand your ground
But most telling of all is DeSantis’ call for an expansion of the troublesome and controversial Stand Your Ground Law to allow business owners to shoot looters or anyone involved in “criminal mischief.”
He calls it “anti-mob” legislation, but it’s an endorsement of vigilantes and of murder for a minor criminal offense.
It’s as if Florida, which let George Zimmerman get away with murdering a Black teen, didn’t already have enough vigilantes and wannabe vigilantes. But these are criminals the GOP likes because the ones we often hear about are Trump supporters.
In DeSantis World, they, instead of their victims, need to be protected. What’s next?
Banning the books Republicans aren’t fond of, sending writers to the slammer. No, it’s not preposterous. The GOP already campaigns fiercely to oust newspaper writers from their jobs.
No new civility
Sad to say, we were hoping this election would mark a new era of national civility. But there’s not going to be any moderation to the political discourse from Florida’s Republican leadership.
Rather than persuade people to wear masks to thwart the new surge of a virus that has killed more than 17,000 Floridians and infected more than 863,000, DeSantis is throwing a match onto all sorts of fires.
At a time of national reckoning on the sins of our past, DeSantis is trying to make things more comfortable for white people scared of Black and Latino people.
His intention to arm the population more than it already is — and to threaten, deter and disenfranchise free speech — should alarm everyone, no matter the party affiliation.
He’s not the governor of all Floridians. He’s an operative of Trump’s Republican Party with no mind of his own.
Up for reelection in 2022, DeSantis doesn’t think he has anything to fear from Florida voters.
Like his one-term president mentor, DeSantis has stacked Florida’s courts with ultra -conservatives, hoping they’ll see America’s constitutional freedoms his way — the fascist’s way.
Fabiola Santiago is a columnist for the Miami Herald.