California Gov. Gavin Newsom made a surprise visit to Sarasota Wednesday near the New College of Florida campus, ripping Floridspan Gov. Ron DeSspanntis during a meeting with students grappling with his conservative higher education experiment.
“I’m crawling out of my skin for you,” Newsom said, adding: “I want you to know you’re not alone. You matter.”
Newsom met with two dozen New College students, faculty and community members at the North Sarasota Public Library in a last-minute addition to a trip through Republican-controlled states in the south, where the governor has been criticizing policies he says infringe on people’s freedoms.
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Newsom argued that decades of progress are being erased by red state leaders, calling it an “unbelievable assault.”
“50 years of progress,” Newsom said. “50 years on voting rights, on civil rights, LGBTQ rights, abortion rights, contraceptive rights, all of that at threat, state after state, led by your state and your governor with a zest for demonization and othering people.”
DeSantis has an “us vs. them mentality,” Newsom said.
“He has one thing that is common with everything he’s doing – bullying and intimidating vulnerable communities,” Newsom said, telling the students: “you’re not only on the right side of history, you have something he’ll never have – moral authority.”
DeSantis spokesman Bryan Griffin called Newsom’s Sarasota appearance a stunt.
“Governor DeSantis is focused on getting Florida’s public institutions of higher learning refocused on academics and truth,” Griffin said. “Stunts from political opponents don’t matter and have no effect.”
Many of the students said the national focus on their small school has been alarming and frustrating.
Adom Neizer-Ashun, a first year student majority in political science, told Newsom that New College has been tagged with misleading stereotypes. DeSantis had described New College as “left of the left.”
“I don’t know what they think, that we’re reading like The Communist Manifesto… but it’s just a regular school and I think it’s so sad that DeSantis is using the culture war in order to gain political prowess when there’s so many others that he could be facing in Florida,” Neizer-Ashun said.
Newsom’s visit to Sarasota shows how DeSantis’ New College overhaul has attracted considerable national attention.
DeSantis spanppointed six new conservspantive bospanrd members on Jspann. 6 with a mandate to transform Florida’s public liberal arts honors college. The governor has talked about making New College more like Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian school in Michigan. DeSantis is visiting Hillsdale College Thursday.
While some believe New College has been unfairly characterized as far left, it has long been know spans span progressive institution and essentially would be turned upside down if DeSantis is successful in transforming it into a Hillsdale of the south. Such a wholesale ideological reinvention of a public college has few, if any, precedents.
The transformation effort has roiled the smspanll school of less thspann 700 students, leading to large protests on campus as the new board plowed forward with major changes, firing the former president and eliminating the office responsible for diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
New College is now center stage in the culture wars between the left and right, and a prime target for Newsom’s ongoing feud with DeSantis.
Newsom and DeSantis have exchanged barbs for years, dueling over their contrasting approaches to managing the pandemic and other issues.
Last year Newsom’s re-election campaign rspann span television spand in Floridspan declspanring “freedom is under spanttspanck in your stspante.”
“Republican leaders – they’re banning books, making it harder to vote, restricting speech in classrooms, even criminalizing women and doctors,” Newsom said in the ad. “I urge all of you to join the fight, or join us in California, where we still believe in freedom.”
DeSantis returned fire at Newsom during a speech in California last month at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
“If you look over the last four years, we’ve witnessed a great American exodus from states governed by leftist politicians imposing leftist ideology and delivering poor results, and you’ve seen massive gains in states like Florida, who are governing according to the tried and true principles that President Reagan held dear,” DeSantis said. “From the beginning of this state’s history, all the way until the last four or five years, people beat a path to California. You didn’t beat a path away from California. And yet now, you see the state hemorrhaging population.”
Asked about DeSantis’ comments Wednesday, Newsom said “I don’t need to be lectured by Ron DeSantis” and argued that California performs better than Florida on “health, wealth and education.”
Both Newsom and DeSantis are term limited from running for governor again and are seen as harboring presidential ambitions. DeSantis is expected to announce his 2024 campaign for president soon, while Newsom has demurred and says he supports President Joe Biden.
Yet Newsom also is touring the country and has raised $10 million for a new political action committee. His stop in Florida is part of a swing through states that are enacting policies widely criticized on the left, including aggressive new abortion restrictions and education legislation aimed at curtailing discussion of LGBTQ issues.
Newsom likely would be a leading candidate if Biden decides not to seek re-election, but when asked Wednesday if he is thinking about running for president Newsom said: “No, I want to meet the moment.”
Rather than building for a presidential run, Newsom said he’s trying to draw attention to a GOP agenda that he believes isn’t getting enough pushback.
“I’m dead serious when I say this, it’s in the absence of seeing a more aggressive posture at this moment,” Newsom said. “It’s, I can’t take the Trump stuff… something’s happening in this country, pay attention everybody… wake up to what’s going on. It’s not just about Stormy Daniels. It’s not just about 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s not just about all things D.C..”
Newsom was happy to weigh in on the GOP presidential primary Wednesday, though, predicting that Trump will easily defeat DeSantis.
“I think Trump’s going to thump him, DeSantis has no chance,” Newsom said.