The photo of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) dining happily with her beau outdoors in South Beach just before the New Year confirmed what Floridians already knew: Florida had emerged as an international symbol of sanity and liberty. “Welcome to Florida, AOC!” Team DeSantis tweeted. “We hope you’re enjoying a taste of freedom here in the Sunshine State thanks to @RonDeSantisFL’s leadership.”
In his State of the State address on Tuesday, Gov. DeSantis reiterated the theme. “Together,” he said, “we have made Florida the freest state in these United States. While so many around the country have consigned the people’s rights to the graveyard, Florida has stood as freedom’s vanguard.”
The Florida gubernatorial election of 2018 may well prove to have more impact on the history of the nation than the 2020 presidential election.
There was nothing inevitable about Florida’s emergence as a vanguard of freedom. A photo out of South Beach in the COVID-panicked month of March 2020 reminded Floridians of the bullet they had dodged just a year earlier. There, in a Miami Beach hotel room, lay popular Florida Democrat Andrew Gillum — on the VP short list for every White presidential candidate — naked and incoherent among a sea of meth bags. Gillum’s “date,” a White male stripper in even worse shape, lay nearby. The charming “family man” had a lot of ’splainin’ to do.
People forget that out of more than eight million votes cast in the 2018 governor’s race, Gillum came within 33,000 votes of beating DeSantis. It was that close. Had Gillum won, he would have had no compunction about turning Florida into California — or worse. That Florida would have become just another lockdown state is a given. No Democratic governor has bucked that expectation, but it was not Gillum’s COVID response that Floridians had cause to fear.
Gillum is a new wave race man of the CRT school. A charming demagogue, Gillum rose to prominence on the back of shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old who famously died 10 years ago next month at the hands of neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. The media did not shy from pointing out Gillum’s callous ascent to power. “Last night Andrew Gillum became the first African-American candidate to win the Democratic Party nomination for Florida governor,” observed the Bloomberg CityLab in August 2018, “and it’s not out of the question to say that he can thank Trayvon Martin for that.”
An obscure Tallahassee city commissioner in July 2013, Gillum convened a town hall meeting within days of Zimmerman’s well-deserved acquittal in the hope of transforming the fears of angry Black Floridians into votes. At about that same time, a youthful group known as the “Dream Defenders” launched a sit-in at the Florida state capitol building in Tallahassee that turned into a month-long occupation.
Gillum supported the occupation from the beginning. He had some experience in this regard. In 2000, as president of Florida A&M’s student government, Gillum helped lead an assault by thousands of black students on Gov. Jeb Bush’s office to protest a reversal of affirmative action policies. Attacking state and federal buildings used to be a thing on the left.
The Dream Defenders had used Martin’s death as a rallying point well before the trial. Like Gillum, they misrepresented the facts of the case at every turn and would have been pleased to send the innocent Zimmerman to prison for the rest of his life. This is the way hard Left now rolls — “sentence first, verdict afterwards.”
Gillum was elected mayor of Tallahassee in 2014 at the age of 35. He promptly declared Tallahassee a “sanctuary city” and fought to expand its gun laws. In 2017, he entered the race for the open gubernatorial seat and flanked his primary opponents to the left. “I believe we can win by leaning into our values and not running away from them,” he told a group of Tampa progressives and stayed on message throughout that campaign.
Part of that message involved slandering DeSantis as a racist. This Gillum did more brazenly than any candidate at that level had done in recent memory. “First of all, he’s got neo-Nazis helping him out in the state,” said Gillum during a televised debate. “He has spoken at racist conferences. He’s accepted a contribution and would not return it from someone who referred to the former president of the United States as a Muslim n-i-g-g-e-r.” Gillum then moved in for his killer punch line, “Now, I’m not calling Mr. Desantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.”
To prove his progressive credentials before the primary, Gillum made a tactical move that likely cost him the general election. He signed the Dream Defenders’ “Freedom Pledge.” He was not the only Democrat to sign it, but he was one of the few who was genuinely sympathetic to its message. The pledge began, “I stand with the people in declaring a new vision for the state of Florida, a vision focused on freedom for all, rather than gluttony for a few. I pledge my support to the Freedom Papers.”
The group’s manifesto, the “Freedom Papers,” contained the usual Marxist mumbo-jumbo, but it went a step further in its denunciation of the police. “Police were never meant to serve you and me,” its authors wrote. “They started as slave catchers hired by wealthy plantation owners.” Indeed, the Dream Defenders were keen on defunding the police even before defunding was cool. “Police and prisons have no place in ‘justice,’ ” they argued. “Police and prisons aren’t just racist but they work to enforce the separations of rich and poor.” Florida police took exception. They almost universally supported DeSantis. That support paid off. In his State of the State speech, DeSantis described law enforcement as a “noble calling,” one that he promised not to defund, but to fund more generously. (READ MORE: Florida: The Emerging Super State)
The Florida gubernatorial election of 2018 may well prove to have more impact on the history of the nation than the 2020 presidential election. Unlike Gillum, who used “freedom” as a code word for its very opposite, DeSantis has modeled freedom to the world. With no income tax and the lowest per capita tax burden in America, Florida is leading the nation in almost every relevant economic category. “Freedom works,” said DeSantis. “Our economy is the envy of the nation.”
DeSantis gets it. More than any governor in recent memory, he understands the power of “freedom” to liberate and inspire. “Florida,” he said, “has become the escape hatch for those chafing under authoritarian, arbitrary and seemingly never-ending mandates and restrictions.” And yes, those doing the chafing and escaping include even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Jack Cashill’s latest book, Barack Obama’s Promised Land: Deplorables Need Not Apply, is now on sale. See www.cashill.com for more information.