Florida Republican lawmakers like to say they stand up for freedom, parental rights, the voice of those marginalized by “woke” liberalism. But behind the curtain, their actions smack of something else — hypocrisy, opportunism, and a cynical belief that Floridians will buy whatever they sell. Three reports from the past week highlight the bubble in Tallahassee and the two-sided nature of some Republican priorities.
Take Governor Ron DeSantis’ escalating war against The Walt Disney Co. Last week, the governor called for a new era in Florida where Disney no longer enjoys outsized political influence. To illustrate his point, DeSantis singled out a special exclusion lawmakers approved for Disney in a 2021 bill that sought to crack down on “Big Tech” social media companies. DeSantis blasted the exclusion, which the house sponsor said was intended to help Disney.
“At the 11th hour, when the Legislature was doing this, Disney asked them to put in an exclusion for theme parks,” DeSantis complained at a press conference Thursday. “I’m like, ‘This is ridiculous.’ Honestly, it was embarrassing.” So much so, the governor said, that he considered vetoing the legislation.
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Still, DeSantis’ own staff helped draft the exclusion. As Emily L. Mahoney of the Tampa Bay Times reported, emails between staff working for the governor’s office and the House show that DeSantis’ legislative affairs director was in communication with Disney to propose a bill drafted by the society. The emails were first reported by the Seeking Rents newsletter, which shared them with The Times. Asked to comment, the DeSantis spokesperson was uncharacteristically tight-lipped. House and Senate spokespersons had nothing to say.
DeSantis escalated his public fight with Disney after the company suspended all political contributions in the state following a messy dispute with DeSantis over House Bill 1557, which critics dubbed the “Don’t don’t say gay”. DeSantis insists that legislation is needed to prevent public schools from teaching inappropriate lessons about sexual orientation and gender identity to young students.
If young students need protection, why are the approximately 340,000 children attending charter schools in Florida apparently unaffected by the law? The measure applies to the state law relating to the powers of district school boards, a section from which charter schools are exempt. Senate sponsor Republican Ocala Sen. Dennis Baxley said he has no intention of applying the law to charters, the private alternatives to traditional public schools, which are publicly funded and enjoy broad Republican support. The same goes for HB 1467, a measure refining how schools select books, which DeSantis signed into law on March 25. Unlike other special exceptions that charter schools enjoy, these exceptions have nothing to do with the smaller size and niche role that distinguishes most charters. traditional public schools. So if young children deserve protection and parents deserve more control, why are charter school students excluded?
The developments come as public colleges and universities in Florida began releasing voluntary surveys of students and employees this week to gauge their political leanings and the political climate on their campuses. The schools are required to conduct the investigations under the state’s “intellectual diversity” law passed last year by the Legislative Assembly and signed into law by DeSantis. Republicans said the measure was necessary because too many people on college campuses feel the need to self-censor. Employees will be asked if they incorporate their views into their teachings, while students will be asked to what extent they believe that “my professors or instructors use class time to express their own social or political beliefs.”
Although Republicans defend this as an exercise in free speech, the decision sparked a predictable blowback. The president of the United Faculty of Florida has called for a boycott of polls, which critics say could be used to identify and target faculty members. On the contrary, the law is doomed to failure; many will refuse to participate, leaving the survey of little practical value. A measure that advocates say is aimed at expanding academic freedom will only render campus discourse more underground, creating a chilling effect that has no place in an academic environment.
These laws are not intended to address corporate abuse, protect children, or unleash speech on campuses. They aim to prevent large, influential employers from challenging Republican talking points on social and cultural issues. It’s about painting traditional public schools more as breeding grounds for public contempt. And they aim to align university professors with the powers that be in Tallahassee. And Florida is weaker because of it.
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