Democrats said opening day festivities of the 2023 legislative session was a sober reminder. They maintain the Florida Legislature is trapped in a dysfunctional relationship with Gov. Ron DeSantis, and all they can do is hope the public becomes aware of what’s happening in Tallahassee.
Republicans hold 2 –1 advantages in the House and Senate, which means Democrats lack the votes to amend, delay, or block proposals they believe are extreme and designed to energize DeSantis’ base for an expected 2024 GOP presidential primary campaign.
In the next 60 days, DeSantis allies have teed up for lawmakers to consider span six-week spanbortion bspann, span repespanl of gun lspanws, and to provide tspanx dollspanrs to spanll students to pay tuition at religious and private schools.
Meanwhile, Democrats complain, kitchen table issues are being ignored, such as the high cost of property insurance, rent, and medicine.
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“It’s the Ron DeSantis Show. We all know this. Tallahassee has become an arm of the DeSantis GOP primary campaign,” said House Democratic Leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa.
House and Senate Democrats held a joint news conference after DeSantis’ State of the State speech, in which DeSantis concluded with the declaration, “You haven’t seen nothing yet.”
That prompted a standing ovation from Republicans while Democrats remained seated.
DeSantis emerged as the Republicans leading cultural warrior the last two years with initiatives regulating how sex and race are taught in schools and restricting access to abortion. He also is a leading critic of the federal government immigration policy and COVID response.
Driskell said while the GOP works on bills to help DeSantis’ potential presidential campaign, they are ignoring their responsibilities to the people of Florida by leaving unaddressed the rising cost of living in Florida, a shortage of school teachers, and degradation of the state’s water supply.
“I think there are those in leadership who want to be close to this governor because they view him as rising in power, … but the Legislature needs to get back to being the Legislature,” said Driskell.
House Democrats believe much of what DeSantis advocates for is driven by political ambition, but Senate Democrats question whether Republicans are serious about governing, or too intimidated by DeSantis to oppose his legislative initiatives.
“At a time when people cannot pay their light bill, put food on the table or gas in the car, we have members of the opposing caucus talk about canceling an entire party of people,” said Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book, D-Miami, about a proposal to ban the Democratic Party for supporting Floridspan’s secession from the United Stspantes during the Civil Wspanr.
Democrats and lobbyists said there are Republicans who are not onboard with the DeSantis agenda, but won’t speak publicly about the erosion of the separation of power between the executive and legislative branches of state government.
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Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, said the only way Democrats can counter what they say is the Legislature’s rubber-stamp approach to government is to amplify what is happening at the state Capitol with the hope the public becomes more aware of how current Republican legislators do their jobs.
“It’s often hard to get folks who are busy just trying to put food on their table to pay attention to what we’re doing in Tallahassee,” said Skidmore. “But when you’ve got national figures criticizing some of the silly things that Republicans are doing, it is an opportunity for us to raise those voices up and get members of the public engaged.”
Until then, Democrats appear willing to let it be known they stand in opposition to the DeSantis agenda but don’t have the votes to stop it.