Commentary

DeSantis and his confederates in FL’s GOP Legislature: They don’t care about bettering the state

May 7, 2021 7:00 am

The Florida Capitol. Credit: Michael Moline

Every year, I think the Florida Legislature can’t get any worse.

Every year, I’m wrong.

Let’s start with the hypocrisy. Republicans used to embrace local government, piously insisting that government closest to the people is best, and that “Tallahassee” doesn’t know what St. Pete, Palatka, or Palm Beach need.

But now that city and county commissions occasionally try to, say, restrict single-use plastic containers to fight the tons of litter choking beaches and waterways, or commit to clean energy by phasing out fossil fuels, or even regulate guns in city limits, the legislators and the governor are making sure it won’t happen.

Last November, the citizens of Key West voted to ban large cruise ships from their ecologically fragile island. It wasn’t even close: More than 60 percent were in favor of telling the party boats to go pollute somewhere else.

But Republicans have now pre-empted the will of the people by tacking an amendment on an unrelated transportation bill outlawing interference in “maritime commerce.”

Funny coincidence: The billionaire owner of the Key West Pier and Margaritaville Resort and Marina has donated nearly $1 million to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s political action committee.

And speaking of pandering, developers can now pass the costs of raping and pillaging the land on to you and me in the form of higher taxes.

Republican Rep. Brett Thomas Hage of Central Florida was not happy about Sumter County’s plan to raise impact fees in The Villages — that vile, ant hill of a white folks “retirement community” in Central Florida — from $972 per house to $1,701.

That’s still a lot less than nearby counties such as Osceola charge, but Rep. Hage was having none of it. He co-sponsored HB 337 which, among other things, retroactively revokes impact fees dating from Jan. 1, 2021.

In addition, it would all but stop counties raising the impact fees they need to pay for roads, wastewater treatment, schools, fire departments, and all the other infrastructure and services they need unless they can muster a two-thirds vote in the county commission. When newcomers don’t pay for the costs they inflict, the rest of us are left holding the bag.

Did I mention that Rep. Hage also draws a six-figure salary from The Villages as vice president for “residential development”?

Of course, the bill passed. Nobody made much a fuss over that little conflict-of-interest thingy, and a number of Democrats — proving that under the right circumstances they, too, are willing to prostitute themselves to developers — also voted for it.

The governor is expected to sign it. The Destroy Key West bill, too, and the bill that would stop cities and counties making their own decisions on energy in an attempt to, you know, save the damn planet.

I mean, why wouldn’t he sign these bills? Power-grabbing is his métier; autocracy his jam.

He’s practicing to be Donald Trump Part Deux.

DeSantis has declared the COVID emergency over, overriding all local pandemic restrictions — even though Florida’s averaging nearly 5,000 new cases of coronavirus per day and has managed to fully vaccinate only about 31 percent of residents, slightly lower than the national average.

Yet, weirdly, Florida remains under a state of emergency, which nets us a bunch of federal dollars and allows DeSantis all kinds of powers.

Confused? Don’t bother your pretty little heads about that old ’rona or state government or anything else. This is Florida! Go to Disney! Go to the beach while it’s still there!

From the voter suppression bill  — which isn’t even subtle — to the racist anti-protest bill, to the rank array of preemption bills to a “Right to Farm” bill that is really about Big Sugar’s right to burn cane without worrying about annoying lawsuits, none of what DeSantis and his legislative enablers have done in the 2021 session is about governing according to the will of the people of Florida. (Many of those bills have quickly been signed into law.)

It’s about power.

Remember when DeSantis was running for governor in 2018 and declared himself Big Sugar’s foe? He called his Republican opponent “sugar’s errand boy.”

Well, look who’s cuddling up to Big Sugar now.

Cane-burning can cause immediate respiratory distress and long-term health problems to people 20 miles away. Nevertheless, the governor just signed a bill saying that, unless you live within half a mile, you can’t sue over your shredded lungs.

DeSantis isn’t only running for reelection next year, he’s running for president. That takes a lot of money. Big Sugar has a lot of money.

DeSantis and his confederates in Florida’s Republican Legislature are only interested in pleasing the deep-pocketed hegemons who enable them to hang onto power. They don’t care about bettering the state; they don’t care about the health of their constituents: they don’t care about the health of Florida’s environment; they don’t care about the poor.

The Orlando Sentinel reported that during House budget negotiations, a Democratic representative wondered why the Republicans in charge were making Florida school districts jump through unnecessary hoops to get a piece of President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan. That federal money is supposed to go directly to schools, yet the districts were being ordered to apply for state grants.

Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, a very rich former gambling executive, replied, “Because we can.”

And that, Florida voters, sums up Republican rule. They do stuff because they can. Not because it’s good for us, but because it’s good for them.

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Diane Roberts
Diane Roberts

Diane Roberts is an 8th-generation Floridian, born and bred in Tallahassee, which probably explains her unhealthy fascination with Florida politics. Educated at Florida State University and Oxford University in England, she has been writing for newspapers since 1983, when she began producing columns on the legislature for the Florida Flambeau. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Times of London, the Guardian, the Washington Post, the Oxford American, and Flamingo. She has been a member of the Editorial Board of the St. Petersburg Times–back when that was the Tampa Bay Times’s name–and a long-time columnist for the paper in both its iterations. She was a commentator on NPR for 22 years and continues to contribute radio essays and opinion pieces to the BBC. Roberts is also the author of four books, most recently Dream State, an historical memoir of her Florida family, and Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She lives in Tallahassee, except for the times she runs off to Great Britain, desperate for a different government to satirize.

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