Fentrice Driskell leads Democrats in the Florida House. Credit: FL House
Gov. Ron DeSantis has bent the Florida Legislature to his will, forcing through restrictions on abortion, education, immigration, and LGBTQ+ rights, but the 2023 regular session will go down as a failure for him, the top Democrat in the state House said Monday.
That’s when judged against the governor’s ambitions when the session opened March 7, to elevate his national profile and smooth his path to the Republican nomination for president, state Rep. Fentrice Driskell said during a Zoom call with reporters as the Legislature winds down this week.
“He has failed to capitalize on his election win to raise his profile nationally and he’s doing worse in the polls than when he started. His culture wars did not win him support nationally. And that’s really the only thing that he cares about — not our insurance crisis, skyrocketing rents, unaffordable health insurance, or any other problem real Florida families struggle with every day,” Driskell said.
People are noticing all the drama and the mistakes, and it seems like they don’t want what we have here in Florida.
– Fentrice Driskell, FL House Dem leader
“And that’s why I say no matter how many bills he pushed through the Florida Legislature, this session’s been a failure for him. All he has do is show a list of unpopular new laws — the abortion ban, the book ban, permitless carry, attacking LGBTQ Floridians, and a big, big fight with Disney, who is now suing him for government retaliation.
“Meanwhile, he’s got a seemingly endless stream of negative stories because of his lack of interpersonal skills or at least criticisms over that; Trump keeps attacking him; Disney outmaneuvered him; his culture-war fights are unpopular; donors are abandoning him; and scandals like his surgeon general manipulating COVID vaccine data.”
In the past, legislative leaders have been more protective of their institutional prerogatives as a separate branch of the government, even with leaders of the same party. Under DeSantis, though, Republican supermajorities in the House and Senate have aimed to please the governor, giving him a ban on abortion after six weeks’ gestation, before most people realize they are pregnant.
The new law will take effect only if the Florida Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of the state’s existing 15-week ban. DeSantis signed the law on April 13.
He’s also persuaded them expanded the rights of conservatives — not just parents but anyone — to challenge books in school classrooms and libraries for subject matter they deem offensive, including LGBTQ+-related material. He’s won legislation restricting drag performances anywhere a child might see. Legislation restricting transgender people’s use of public bathrooms and changing facilities is still pending.
One of the most sweeping legislative attacks on undocumented immigrants in the country has passed the state House and is pending in the House.
None of it appears to be helping his national profile. A recent Fox News presidential preference poll placed him a 21 percent among Republicans, compared to 53 percent for Donald Trump. In February, DeSantis’ GOP support reached 28 percent.
“It seems like people are starting to pay attention and they believe that DeSantis is not the GOP solution to the Trump problem,” Driskell said.
“He’s a less charismatic but more calculating variation of Trump. People are noticing all the drama and the mistakes, and it seems like they don’t want what we have here in Florida. And that means that all of this — the total control he exerted on the Legislature — was for nothing because it was the only measure of success I believe he truly cares about.”
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