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Ron DeSantis’ policies target Black and LGBTQ Floridians – but hurt everyone

Florida and the country deserve better than this.
Collage of Ron DeSantis' face and arm
Leila Register / NBC News; Getty Images

The first GOP primary debate features 8 candidates — and one Trump-sized elephant in the room. Are any of the hopefuls fit to be president? Read this installment of MSNBC’s 2024 profile series and find out.

At every turn, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has shown he is dead-set on inflicting harm on the state’s Black and LGBTQ+ communities. As a member of both communities, I have felt the increased threats to my own personal safety and my fundamental right to exist since DeSantis became governor. It is distressing (but no surprise) that in response to the state’s open hostility, reputable organizations such as the NAACP have issued travel advisories and large conferences are relocating.

Try as DeSantis might to distract from and disguise his disastrous record, Floridians know what’s what.

Everyone ought to be able to visit our state and go about their business safely and securely, but that’s no longer the case thanks to DeSantis. It’s deeply distressing that the governor cares more about his flailing campaign for president than he cares about actually doing the job he was elected to do and delivering for his constituents. His dangerous agenda not only hurts people in our communities but also harms our state’s economy, particularly tourism and local small businesses. When we have major employers pulling development and events out of the state in response to DeSantis’ embrace of right-wing authoritarianism, that hurts all of us (my own fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, dropped its national convention in Orlando due to this administration's “harmful, racist and insensitive” policies).

To cite just a few examples, DeSantis signed his latest “Don’t Say Gay” expansion bills into law on International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, which aims to increase awareness of violence, discrimination and repression against LGBTQ communities. Last year, DeSantis championed the (currently blocked) “Stop WOKE Act,” which would effectively ban any efforts to teach the truth about systemic racism and racial injustices in this country.

After the murder of George Floyd and the acceleration of the racial justice movement here and nationwide, the governor and his allies embraced state-sanctioned violence, jamming through legislation that criminalizes protests (HB 1, 2021). DeSantis’ decision to criminalize Floridians who exercise their First Amendment right to protest was undoubtedly a major inflection point that contributed to the toxicity and division we see today. From that moment, DeSantis leaned into his “war” against millions of people he has a responsibility to serve. 

For months now, I’ve had friends from across the country ask me, “Has DeSantis always been this way?”

Truthfully, yes. From his time as a backbencher in Congress to present-day presidential candidate in one of the most right-wing Republican primaries of recent memory, DeSantis has drawn headlines for all the wrong reasons. Try as he might to distract from and disguise his disastrous record, Floridians know what’s what.  

When in Congress, Ron DeSantis championed cuts to Medicare and Social Security, despite the fact that our state has the country’s highest percentage of older adults. During his 2018 run for governor, DeSantis got the nomination — and eventually the governorship — due in large part to Donald Trump’s late endorsement in a hotly contested primary. DeSantis and his team saw how his base responded to Trump’s incendiary rhetoric and embraced it wholeheartedly.

There is no question that DeSantis poses an existential threat for Black and LGBTQ+ Americans.

His presidential campaign has touted his leadership as a Covid rebel, even though more than 87,000 Floridians have died and countless small businesses were permanently shuttered on DeSantis’ watch. If national pundits have pointed to his rejection of public health guidance during the pandemic as “leadership,” the reality on the ground presents a different narrative. 

Fast-forward to the last few weeks, when he’s sent insulting, disrespectful letter to the vice president of the United States on Office of the Governor letterhead and has removed another duly-elected public official from office. These heavy-handed tactics and blatant waste of taxpayer dollars are just the latest demonstrations of Ron DeSantis’ misplaced priorities.

Extreme MAGA Republicans want people to believe Florida is thriving, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. How can we say it’s prospering when we’re battling a teacher shortage while ranked 48th in the country for teacher pay? How are we thriving when politicians are indoctrinating students and suppressing African American history in the classroom? How are we prospering when we reject science, particularly in the face of future public health crises and leprosy (yes, leprosy!) cases are on the rise? How can we build a strong, healthy economy when Florida has failed to build adequate child care infrastructure? Are we thriving when leaders are working tirelessly to suppress millions of voters’ voices?

By nearly every metric, we do not want the nation to look like DeSantis’ Florida. Rather than solving problems and working to improve people’s lives, DeSantis bullies, picks fights and empowers white nationalists in an attempt to out-MAGA Donald Trump.

There is no question that DeSantis poses an existential threat for Black and LGBTQ+ Americans. Our country — and Florida — deserves leadership focused on improving the economic mobility and quality of life for all. We deserve better than DeSantis’ dangerous agenda.

Read the rest of our GOP profile series here: