The illusion of freedom in DeSantis’ Florida

Governor Ron DeSantis has created the facade of freedom, but is this really so? Illustration by Kaitlyn Tran/The Daily Campus.

Where does one begin when trying to describe Florida? Most would describe the state as a wild combination of Disney parks, bad drivers and a strange creature called Florida Man who can never escape the limelight. But if you ask Governor Ron DeSantis, he would call it “the free state of Florida” and “the freest state in the country.” Since he took office in 2019, DeSantis has pushed this narrative about the great freedoms the people in Florida have and has made it his entire political brand, even going so far as to call the state budget “the Framework for Freedom budget.” But this notion of increased freedom in Florida could not be further from the truth. DeSantis has misled the public with this vague message of freedom in order to work behind closed doors with the Florida Legislature to propose and pass numerous policies that restrict freedoms of Floridians instead of expanding them. 

One of the latest targets in DeSantis’ crusades is freedom of the press and the rights of journalists. He’s always had a rocky relationship with the press and he often launches attacks against the media at any chance he gets. But the recently drafted House Bill 991 from the legislature takes his fight much further, as the bill aims to make it easier for public officials to sue journalists for what they view as malice. Essentially, journalists would be more vulnerable to face lawsuits for articles that criticize public officials, even if there are no falsehoods in the story or there wasn’t malicious intent behind its publication. At first glance, the push to pass this bill comes off as an attempt by the ego-driven DeSantis to give him the power to punish those who criticize him. As a result, news media in Florida would likely end up being ridiculously biased towards DeSantis. But the real intent of DeSantis here is to set up a national legal battle to attempt to overturn New York Times v. Sullivan, the landmark 1964 Supreme Court case that protects the right for journalists to criticize public officials. If this case was overturned, journalists across the country would be subjected to lawsuits constantly just for offering some justified criticism. This could lead journalists to be more cautious about what they publish and could be the death of opinion writing and political commentary in America. In other words, “The Stark Tank” would be done for. 

Abortion rights are another issue that DeSantis has taken aim at. After Roe v. Wade was overturned by the formerly respected Supreme Court in June, 2022, Florida almost immediately adopted a 15-week abortion ban. Despite the legal battles around this ban, DeSantis is now pushing for the state to adopt a six-week ban on abortion, similar to the Texas Heartbeat Act. A six-week ban would have the same effect as a total abortion ban, as most women don’t even know that they’re pregnant before six weeks. The ban would lead to an increase in unsafe abortions and deaths of women resulting from these abortions. By trying to solve the right side’s perceived problem of “the sin of abortion,” a six-week ban would only make things much worse. DeSantis’ push for this ban is made more maddening given that DeSantis won a majority of female voters in his landslide reelection bid last fall. If a six-week ban gets implemented in Florida this year, it would be a slap in the face to every single woman who voted for him.  

If it wasn’t bad enough that DeSantis has sought to reduce the rights of journalists and women, he has also led the charge on controversial legislation that restricts voting rights in the state. In the aftermath of the 2020 election — an election that he refused to say was legitimate — DeSantis signed a law in May, 2021 that implemented new restrictions on mail-in voting, including less ballot drop-off locations and more requirements to register to vote. What doesn’t make sense about the legislation is that Florida has one of the most secure and efficient ballot processing systems in the country, so there was no need for these changes to be made. These restrictions will likely lead to a decrease in voter turnout in the state and undermine citizens’ faith in the democratic process. Florida’s voting laws aren’t going to improve anytime soon either, as Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd is now pushing for further voting restrictions to suppress Floridian voters.  

Given these restrictive policies, it appears that the “free state of Florida” isn’t so free after all. DeSantis and the legislature have continuously passed policies that do more to limit the rights and freedoms of Floridians than to expand these rights. Floridians and DeSantis supporters can deny it all they want, but Florida isn’t free.  


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