Florida House Democrats say Gov. DeSantis wants to feed base instead of work on problems

·3 min read

On the eve of the 2022 session of the Florida Legislature, House Democrats Monday launched a preemptive strike on Gov. Ron DeSantis and the ruling Republican Party’s agenda, calling for lawmakers to focus on the everyday needs of Floridians.

DeSantis, who is up for reelection in November and is considered a potential presidential candidate in 2024, has proposed bills that incoming House Democratic Leader Ramon Alexander of Tallahassee said appeal more to conservatives nationwide than it does to "moving the needle to put food on the table" in Florida.

"That's our focus. That's our priority. That's the clear distinction to what we stand for while they bring forth distractions like Critical Race Theory," Alexander said about the differences between the two agendas.

He held an online press conference, joined by House Democratic Caucus Policy Chair Fentrice Driskell of Tampa. The 60-day regular legislative session begins Tuesday.

Leon lawmakers' 2022 session agenda: Work, new jobs, aid to North Florida counties

More: 10 things Gov. Ron DeSantis wants in 2022 Florida legislative session

Rep. Ramon Alexander reviews materials from the Appropriations Committee in his office Monday, Feb. 22, 2021.
Rep. Ramon Alexander reviews materials from the Appropriations Committee in his office Monday, Feb. 22, 2021.

DeSantis wants lawmakers to prohibit undocumented immigrants from being in Florida, create an agency to investigate voter fraud, and ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in public schools or worker training.

CRT holds that American institutions are systemically racist despite the removal of structural barriers with the Voting Rights and Civil Rights acts of the 1960s.

Detractors say it divides society by defining people as oppressors and oppressed based on race, and that it teaches white people to believe they are inherently racist.

It is not taught in Florida's public schools but DeSantis wants to enable parents and workers to sue school districts and employers if the theory ever is taught in classes or training sessions.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announces his proposed state budget for 2022-23 at the Capitol on Dec. 9, 2021.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announces his proposed state budget for 2022-23 at the Capitol on Dec. 9, 2021.

"They want to tear at the fabric of our society and our culture," DeSantis said when he announced the Stop WOKE Act. “They want to delegitimize the founding of the country and the Constitution."

Added Driskell: “Our caucus is very concerned about the governor's recent pivot to making teachers some sort of boogeyman in his crusade to become the presidential nominee.”

DeSantis “recently said something to the effect that they want these kids to hate this country. And that is incredibly offensive,” continued Driskell, whose parents were schoolteachers.

Driskell and Alexander said Democrats will push for lawmakers to address work-place safety issues, the cost of childcare and crises in affordable housing and water quality.

Rep. Fentrice Driskell, is the Policy Chair for the House Democratic Caucus
Rep. Fentrice Driskell, is the Policy Chair for the House Democratic Caucus

Democrats are a near super-minority in the Florida House; they hold 45 of the chamber’s 120 seats, or 37.5%

Because the session runs only two months each year, Alexander said, the GOP majority can use hot-button cultural issues to run out the clock and leave other priorities unaddressed.

“That's exactly why culture wars work. They utilize it as a tool to distract from the bigger issue that impact people every single day. We have to push back on that, but it is utter chaos and confusion,” Alexander said.

DeSantis’ office dismissed Democratic criticism as political. Spokesperson Christina Pushaw pointed to how the state economy has rebounded from the pandemic as evidence DeSantis' policies are working.

She added that DeSantis promoted legislation last session to protect workers against vaccine mandates and is pushing the Stop WOKE Act this year to provide further protections.

And, Pushaw went on, Florida last year led all states in net migration: “House Democrats should consider why so many Americans are voting with their feet,” she said.

James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at jcall@tallahassee.com. Follow on him Twitter: @CallTallahassee

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This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: DeSantis too focused on 'culture war' issues, Fla. House Democrats say