DeSantis celebrates end of anti-LGBTQ+ legislative session

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Photo by Gage Skidmore, from Flickr)

TALLAHASSEE | On the day he took office, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed to pursue an agenda that would heal the state’s political divisions.

In an op-ed, he pledged to prioritize environmental protection, the economy, education. He highlighted the “diverse, bipartisan group of qualified individuals” he hired for his administration.

“It is time for our state to come together,” he declared in the January 2019 piece.

On May 5, more than four years later, DeSantis concluded a legislative session that establishes him as perhaps the most aggressive and accomplished conservative governor in the nation’s bitter culture wars — just as he prepares to enter the 2024 presidential contest as a top rival to former President Donald Trump.

Intensifying his hard-right shift that began during the pandemic, the 44-year-old Republican governor in recent weeks has pushed the limits of divisive cultural battles over abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, sex education, guns, immigration and diversity. And in most cases, backed by Republican supermajorities in Florida’s Legislature, he won.

DeSantis in recent weeks signed a law to ban abortion at six weeks of pregnancy and another to allow people to carry concealed guns without a permit. He expanded what critics call his “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law that now blocks classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity for all grades.

He will also sign a law banning diversity, equity and inclusion programs in state colleges, along with other bills targeting drag shows. The legislature also passed a bill that prevents students and teachers from being required to use pronouns that don’t correspond to someone’s gender identity, as well as legislation which would force Floridians to use bathrooms in schools, prisons, detention centers and government buildings based on sex assigned at birth.

“This bill criminalizes transgender people for using the restroom that aligns with how they live their lives every day,” quality Florida Public Policy Director Jon Harris Maurer said in a statement. “This bill opens the door to abuse, mistreatment and dehumanization. Our state government should be focused on solving pressing issues, not terrorizing people who are simply trying to use the restroom and exist in public.”

DeSantis has also used the power of his office to seize partial control of Disney World, one of his state’s largest employers, which spoke out against the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law.

“The immense damage that Governor DeSantis is inflicting is deep and structural and will outlast his political career in Florida,” Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith said May 5. “He has waged all-out war on freedom, imposing government control over what we read, what entertainment our families enjoy, what we do with our own bodies, where we use the restroom, what we study in college, and what health care we can access for ourselves and our children.

“Long after his already-flagging presidential campaign is over, this state will be feeling the consequences of his extremism,” she continued. “Shame on this governor and his cronies in the legislature, who saw fit to rubber stamp his dangerous agenda in the hopes of bolstering his career ambitions.”

As the 2024 presidential contest heats up, DeSantis has been celebrating those legislative victories.

“When I became governor, the first day, sat in the office, I kind of just looked around and I thought to myself, ’I don’t know what SOB is going to succeed me in this office, but they ain’t going to have much to do because we’re getting all the meat off the bone,” he said during a news conference May 4.

DeSantis’ unapologetic conservative shift, an evolution years in the making, positions him well among GOP presidential primary voters, who tend to be fiercely partisan. But it has sparked concerns among others, including donors, GOP officials and even some moderate Democrats, who initially welcomed DeSantis’ approach but now fear that his crusade to champion conservative culture may alienate as many people as it attracts.

As 2024 has grown closer, however, DeSantis has done as much or more than any other Republican governor in America to use the levers of government to lean into cultural fights. Along the way, he embraced a new catchphrase: “Florida is where woke comes to die.”

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