DeSantis vows to ‘stand our ground’ against ‘woke’ in launching second term

Speech made no mention of high housing costs or specific presidential ambitions

By: - January 3, 2023 4:33 pm

Gov. Ron DeSantis, First Lady Casey DeSantis, and their three children make their entrance at the governor’s second inaugural ceremony on Jan. 3, 2023. Credit: Danielle J. Brown

Gov. Ron DeSantis took his oath of office for a second time on Tuesday and delivered a pugnacious speech painting him as a champion of “freedom” and constitutional principles and vowing to vanquish a “woke” federal government, education unions, and “technocratic elites.”

Coming off a near-20-point reelection victory in November, the governor vowed to “stand our ground” in defense of low taxes, parental rights in education, “law and order,” and more — although Democrats, independents, and overall progressives in Florida would likely beg to differ.

“We have articulated a vision for a free and prosperous state. We have, through persistence and hard work, executed on that vision. We have produced favorable results and now we are here today because the people of Florida have validated our efforts in record fashion,” DeSantis told an enthusiastic audience arrayed under sunny skies in bleachers erected on the lawn in front of Florida’s Old Historic Capitol.

“In captaining the ship of state, we choose to navigate the boisterous sea of liberty rather than cower in the calm docks of despotism,” he said.

“We face attacks. We take hits. But we weather the storm. We stand our ground. And we do what’s right. As the Book of Psalms reminds us, ‘I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.’ We have refused to use polls and to put our finger in the wind. Leaders do not follow; they lead.”

The governor said nothing about major challenges facing everyday Floridians, however, including high rents, mortgage rates, and homeowner insurance costs. Florida Democrats took note of that omission.

‘Desperate chase for the MAGA base’

“This is probably the first Florida governor to give an inaugural speech not speaking to the people of our great state and the challenges we all face, but directed at GOP primary voters and billionaire donors,” Fentrice Driskell of Hillsborough County, the Democratic leader in the Florida House, said in a written statement.

Hundreds were in attendance at the second inauguration of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in front of the Old Capitol Building on Jan. 3, 2023. Credit: Danielle J. Brown

“Any time he wants to distract from his own failed record, he creates a new fake ‘woke’ boogeyman to battle but doesn’t really address real issues Floridians are struggling with like housing affordability and health care that doesn’t bankrupt families. We’ve had two special sessions to address the property insurance crisis and nothing has been done to actually give relief to Floridians who can no longer afford to live in Florida,” she added.

“In his desperate chase for the MAGA base, Ron DeSantis is setting the tone for his second term by vowing to sign an even more extreme abortion ban, bailing out special interests while raising costs on Floridians, and promising to go after health care providers. As the 2024 GOP primary shapes up, it’s clear Republicans will race to out-MAGA each other, and DeSantis is no different,” the DNC War Room, an arm of the Democratic National Committee, said in a written statement.

DeSantis didn’t mention abortion in his speech but he has signaled willingness to “sign great life legislation,” whatever that means. The governor has been cautious about what he says about abortion restrictions. A law bearing DeSantis’ signature bans abortions past 15 weeks’ gestation without exception for rape or incest.

Also unmentioned was the possibility of a presidential bid by the governor, who led Donald Trump — his estranged political mentor — by 52% to 38% among likely GOP primary voters, according to a recent poll by The Wall Street Journal.

Ceremonial pomp

Also taking their oaths of office were Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, and newly elected Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson. All are Republicans (with Simpson replacing Nikki Fried, the former Democratic Agriculture commissioner). So is Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, who also took her oath for the new term.

Dignitaries in attendance included former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush and members of the Florida Supreme Court — but only members of the court’s conservative wing. Accompanying DeSantis were First Lady Casey DeSantis and the couple’s three small children. Casey wore a pale green sheath dress that extended to calf length and included a matching cape. She wore white high heels and white evening gloves.

The governor himself wore a navy blue suit with a light blue tie and his signature black cowboy boots.

DeSantis merchandise was on sale outside his second inaugural ceremony. Credit: Danielle Brown

The pomp surrounding the occasion included a 19-gun salute and a flyover by Florida National Guard fighter jets. An overflow crowd of some hundreds watched on a screen from a street corner outside of the event, cheering and clapping as DeSantis touted Florida as the “free state.”

A vendor outside the event flogged DeSantis merchandise such as shirts, hats, and buttons.  One tee featured a snarling alligator against a state flag with the message, “Don’t Tread on Florida.” A button displayed a smiling DeSantis wearing sunglasses and read, “Luv My Gov.”

In his speech, which ran a little over 16 minutes, DeSantis argued that four years ago he promised conservative government, low taxes, education reforms, end “judicial activism,” protection of natural resources, “law and order,” to rebuild communities damaged by hurricanes. “And we delivered,” he said.

“From the Space Coast to the Sun Coast, from St. Johns to St. Lucie, from the streets of Hialeah to the speedway in Daytona, from the Okeechobee all the way up to Micanopy, freedom lives here in our great Sunshine State of Florida,” he said.

“It lives in the courage of those who patrol the streets and who keep our communities safe. It lives in the industry of those who work long hours to earn a living and raise their families. It lives in the dedication of those who teach our children. It lives in the determination of those who raise our food. It lives in the wisdom of our senior citizens. It lives in the dreams of the historic number of families who have moved from states across this country because they saw Florida as the land of liberty and the land of sanity.”

‘No. 1?’

The governor touted Florida as No. 1 in areas, including the fastest growing state, new business formations, tourism, “parental involvement” in education, “freedom,” and public higher education, although the data weren’t clear on those areas.

Actually, Idaho is the fastest growing state, according to the latest World Population Review numbers, at 2.12%. Florida ranked No. 7, at 1.12%. U.S. News & World Report did give Florida its top ranking for the state’s higher education system, based on various data points such as low tuition and fees at in-state, four-year public universities. The top accolade for “parental involvement” came from the conservative Center for Education Reform.

Bryan Griffin, press secretary for DeSantis, told the Phoenix by email, “We typically accompany any ‘#1’ announcement with an accompanying press release with citations, etc. “If you scroll back through our press releases on you should find one for each of these items.”

Second-term program

DeSantis sketched a second-term program in vague terms. He wants “record tax relief, particularly for Florida families who are grappling with inflation,” he said.

“We must ensure school systems are responsive to parents and to students, not partisan interest groups,” he added.

Gov. Ron DeSantis gives his second inaugural speech in front of Florida’s Old Historic Capitol on Jan. 3, 2023. Credit: Danielle J. Brown.

“And we must ensure that our institutions of higher learning are focused on academic excellence and the pursuit of truth, not the imposition of trendy ideology,” he continued.

That said, educators may disagree with DeSantis’ remarks in that arena.

“Florida must always be a great place to raise a family. We will enact more family-friendly policies to make it easier to raise children and we will defend our children against those who seek to rob them of their innocence,” DeSantis added, drawing one of a number of standing ovations.

“We will always remain a law-and-order state. We will always support law enforcement and we will always reject soft-on-crime policies that put our communities at risk.”

Finally, reprising a line from his 2019 inaugural address, DeSantis promised to preserve the environment. “We will leave Florida to God better than we found it,” he said. (However, Florida’s natural waters continue to suffer under the burden of overdevelopment.)

DeSantis contrasted his policies to those in states with high taxes and spending, undue deference to teacher unions, and that have “imposed medical authoritarianism in the guise of pandemic mandates and restrictions that lack a scientific basis.”

“This bizarre but prevalent ideology that permeates these policy measures purports to act in the name of justice for the marginalized, but it frowns upon American institutions. It rejects merit and achievement, and it advocates identity essentialism,” he said.

“We reject this woke ideology. We seek normalcy, not philosophical lunacy. We will not allow reality, facts, and truth become optional. We will never surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die.”

While the governor did not comment specifically on his presidential aspirations, DeSantis also took square aim at the Biden administration.

“Florida’s success has been made more difficult by the floundering federal establishment in Washington, D.C.,” DeSantis said, which he blamed for inflation, COVID restrictions, the immigration and narcotic crises, and an energy policy that has “crippled our nation’s domestic production, causing energy to cost more for our citizens and eroding our nation’s energy security and, in the process, our national security.”

The “sprawling, unaccountable, and out-of-touch bureaucracy” doesn’t “act on behalf of us but instead looms over us and imposed its will on us,” the governor continued.

“The results of this have been predictably dismal. It has causes many to be pessimistic about the country’s future; some even say that failure is inevitable,” he said.

“Florida is proof positive that we the people are not destined for failure. Decline is a choice; success is obtainable; and freedom is worth fighting for.”

‘Jet setters’

DeSantis also singled out as villains “jet setters in Davos and corporations wielding public power.”

“But fight we must. We embrace our founding creed that our rights are not granted by the courtesy of the state but are endowed by the hand of the Almighty. We reject the idea that self-government can be subcontracted out to technocratic elites who reduce human beings to mere data points. We insist on the restoration of time-tested constitutional principles so that government of, by, and for the people shall not perish from this Earth.”

Along those lines, DeSantis argued that under his leadership the state has embraced the examples of Abraham Lincoln, as well as the nation’s founders, Ronald Reagan, and “the boys who stormed the beached of Normandy to liberate a continent and preserve freedom for the world.”

The governor who led the crusade against critical race theory in the classroom even invoked Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech, in which, he said, King “that the Declaration of Independence said what it meant and meant what it says: All men are created equal.”

King also said, “The concept of supremacy is so imbedded in the white society that it will take many years for color to cease to be a judgmental factor.” But DeSantis didn’t note that.

“It is our responsibility here in Florida to carry this torch. We do not run from this responsibility, we welcome it,” DeSantis said.

“We will be on our guard. We will stand firm in the faith. We will be courageous. We will be strong. And we thank God and are proud to be citizens of the great, free state of Florida.”

Phoenix reporters Issac Morgan and Danielle Brown contributed to this report.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.