DeSantis adds conservative flair to ‘State of the State’ address as he kicks off Legislature
In a State of the State address, Gov. Ron DeSantis touted his pandemic policies and laid out a conservative legislative agenda in the run-up to his re-election campaign. policies he wants state lawmakers to pass in the run-up to his reelection campaign next year.
“I see, in many parts of our country, a sad state of affairs: schools closed, businesses shuttered and lives destroyed,” DeSantis said in a 30-minute “State of the State” speech to a packed Florida House chamber.
Gov. Ron DeSantis opened up Florida’s legislative session Tuesday with a full-throated defense of his pandemic response and an outline of conservative
“While so many other states kept locking people down, Florida lifted people up.”
DeSantis, who in last year’s speech focused on immigration priorities and creating a statewide minimum teacher salary of $47,500, described a different legislative agenda on Tuesday, one marked by optimism and echoes of a campaign rally.
He urged lawmakers to prioritize voting law changes that could add new hurdles to vote by mail, and laws that crack down on “violent mobs” and that would clamp down on “the oligarchs in Silicon Valley.”
“Florida is dedicated to free and fair elections; we cannot allow Big Tech to interfere in our elections by putting a thumb on the scale for political candidates favored by Silicon Valley,” DeSantis said, reiterating his desire to penalize social media companies whose algorithms are perceived to favor one candidate over another.
DESANTIS’ POLITICAL MOMENTUM
DeSantis has passed the midpoint in his four-year term and is positioning himself for reelection in 2022 — or what many say could be higher political aspirations. In recent days, the governor has had reason to feel optimistic.
He finished first in a CPAC straw poll that showed a Trump-less field of potential 2024 GOP presidential candidates. DeSantis also holds a comfortable lead over potential Democratic 2022 gubernatorial challengers, according to a new Mason Dixon Polling & Strategy poll released Tuesday.
In his speech, DeSantis repeatedly touted his policies during the pandemic and credited his approach to what he views as a rosy outlook in Florida.
“Our nation and our state have endured a tumultuous year. Floridians have responded in ways that would make our founders proud,” he said. “Because of those efforts, the sun is rising here in Florida — and the Sunshine State will soon reach new horizons.”
The governor’s budget proposal for the 2021-22 fiscal year — which is advisory only — is a $96.6 billion outline that is $4.3 billion more than the budget Florida lawmakers passed last year. The growth was made possible by the infusion of billions of federal cash into education, healthcare, vaccinations and testing — and better-than-expected state tax revenue.
A new $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package pending before the U.S. Senate could give Florida state and local government $16 billion in one-time aid, more than enough to erase the state’s estimated $2 billion budget shortfall. How that will play a role in the upcoming state budget remains to be negotiated.
“The bottom line is that we saved Florida’s economy, and as a result our budget outlook is positive,” DeSantis said. “The priorities we’ve championed — from water resources to education to infrastructure — can still be honored. Let us get it done.”
Some Republican lawmakers, however, have already warned of potential budget cuts in education and other government programs. House Speaker Chris Sprowls, for instance, has warned school districts that if student enrollment numbers don’t rebound after the pandemic, their funding could be impacted.
DeSantis, however, said he rejects reductions in K-12 education funding and called on lawmakers to continue investing in teacher pay.
HOUSE, SENATE LEADERS ADDRESS THEIR CHAMBERS
In his speech, DeSantis said he looks forward to working with Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, and Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor.
“I know you guys will be great partners for progress, being from Pasco and Pinellas and me being a Pinellas County kid growing up, I think the Tampa Bay area should be well represented in this next go-round,” DeSantis said.
Simpson and Sprowls also delivered remarks to their respective chambers on Tuesday, and laid out their legislative agendas. Both highlighted legislation that would shield businesses from COVID-19-lawsuits, a priority that DeSantis said he supports.
In the Senate, Simpson said he also wants to expand school choice programs, improve the state’s unemployment system and tackle a voter-approved constitutional amendment that raised the minimum hourly wage from $8.65 to $15 by September 2026.
“Just because they gave us the time doesn’t mean we ought to take it,” Simpson said. “I would like this year’s budget to provide increases to our lowest paid workers. It’s one more way to honor these blue collar workers who are laboring every day to provide for their families.”
Simpson added that there will be a “tremendous amount of work” in the wake of the pandemic that would allow the state to be better prepared for future health crises, prevent shutdowns and improve the unemployment system.
In the House, Sprowls said he wants to advance measures that would prepare the state for sea level rise, overhaul the state’s workforce development system and fight racial disparities in healthcare.
In his speech, Sprowls struck a more combative tone than Simpson. He urged House members to protect Floridians from the “intolerance created by the rising Woke agenda,” and reiterated a call for fresh conservative ideas.
“Will we be brave or boring? Will we hide inside our safe spaces where we are right and everyone else is wrong, or will we climb to find higher, common ground? Will we spend our days chasing praise on Twitter, or will we actually change policy to improve the lives of Floridians?”
Sprowls asked members. “Those choices rest entirely with each of us.”
DEMOCRATS PUSH BACK
Democrats responded by blasting DeSantis’ priorities.
Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, called them “insensitive and tonedeaf.” House Minority Co-leader Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, said the GOP bills “worry us.”
“Instead of immediately trying to pass something that directly helps the people of Florida, we see political distractions,” DuBose said. “These simply should not be a priority right now.”
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide elected Democrat, said she agreed with the governor that schools should be open and commended him for “getting that right,” but she said his handling of it was confusing and flawed.
“I mean, we had three separate orders that went back and forth on opening the schools, and there was a lack of resources that were given to the schools to make them safe,” Fried said. “And the fact that he has been so bullish on all of this, that he feels that was his way or the highway. It’s not a collaboration.
“He’s not listening to people, and he’s making decisions that are just based on what is next in his political career,” she added.
FBI Director Christopher Wray bluntly labeled the January riot at the U.S. Capitol as “domestic terrorism” Tuesday and warned of a rapidly growing threat of homegrown violent extremism that law enforcement is scrambling to confront through thousands of investigations.
Wray also defended to lawmakers his own agency’s handling of an intelligence report that warned of the prospect for violence on
Jan. 6. And he firmly rejected false claims advanced by some Republicans that anti-Trump groups had organized the deadly riot that began when a mob stormed the building as Congress was gathering to certify results of the presidential election.
Wray’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, his first before Congress since the insurrection, was one in a series of hearings centered on the lawenforcement response to the Capitol insurrection. Lawmakers pressed him not only about possible intelligence and communication failures ahead of the riot but also about the threat of violence from white supremacists, militias and other extremists that the FBI says it is prioritizing with the same urgency as the menace of international terrorism organizations.
“Jan. 6 was not an isolated event. The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now and it’s not going away anytime soon,” Wray told lawmakers. “At the FBI, we’ve been sounding the alarm on it for a number of years now.”
The violence at the Capitol made clear that a lawenforcement agency that remade itself after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to deal with international terrorism is now laboring to address homegrown violence by white Americans. President Joe Biden’s administration has tasked his nationalintelligence director to work with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to assess the threat. And in applying the domesticterrorism label to conduct inside the Capitol, Wray sought to make clear to senators that he was cleareyed about the scope and urgency of the problem.
Vernon Jordan — who rose from humble beginnings in the segregated South to become a champion of civil rights before reinventing himself as a Washington insider and corporate influencer — has died. He was 85.
His death was confirmed in a statement to The New York Times by his daughter, Vickee Jordan. She also released a statement to CBS News, saying, “My father passed away last night around 10p surrounded by loved ones his wife and daughter by his side.”
A cause of death was not released.
In a Tuesday statement, former President Bill Clinton, for whom Jordan was an adviser, remembered him as someone who “never gave up on his friends or his country.”
Jordan “brought his big brain and strong heart to everything and everybody he touched. And he made them better,” Clinton and his wife Hillary said in the statement.
Jordan’s friendship with Bill Clinton took them both to the White House. Jordan was an unofficial aide to Clinton, drawing him into controversy during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
After serving as field secretary for the Georgia NAACP and executive director of the United Negro College Fund, Jordan headed the National Urban League, becoming the face of Black America’s modern struggle for jobs and justice for more than a decade. He was nearly killed by a racist’s bullet in 1980 before transitioning to business and politics.
Former President Barack Obama said that “like so many others, Michelle and I benefited from Vernon Jordan’s wise counsel and warm friendship — and deeply admired his tireless fight for civil rights.”
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday on Twitter that “Jordan’s leadership took our nation closer to its Founding promise: all are created equal.”
Jordan’s death comes months after the deaths of two other civil-rights icons:
U.S. Rep. John Lewis and C.T. Vivian.
After growing up in the Jim Crow South in Atlanta and living much of his life in a segregated America, Jordan took a strategic view of race issues.
“My view on all this business about race is never to get angry, no, but to get even,” Jordan told The New York Times in 2000. “You don’t take it out in anger; you take it out in achievement.”
Jordan was the first lawyer to head the Urban League, which had traditionally been led by social workers. Under his leadership, the Urban League added 17 more chapters and its budget swelled to more than $100 million. The organization also broadened its focus to include voter-registration drives and conflict resolution between Black people and law enforcement.
He resigned from the Urban League in 1982 to become a partner at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld.
Jordan was a key campaign adviser to Clinton during his first presidential campaign and co-chaired Clinton’s transition team.
His friendship with Clinton, which began in the 1970s, evolved into a partnership and political alliance. He met Clinton as a young politician in Arkansas, and the two connected over their Southern roots and poor upbringings.
Although Jordan held held no official role in the Clinton White House, he was highly influential and had such labels as the
“first friend.” He approached Colin Powell about becoming Secretary of State and encouraged Clinton to approve the NAFTA agreement in
1993. Jordan also secured a job at Revlon for Lewinsky, a White House intern whose sexual encounters with the president spawned a scandal.
In 1961 in an iconic photograph, Jordan — an imposing 6 feet, 4 inches — holds at bay the white mob that tried to block Black student CharlayneHunter from starting her first day of classes at the University of Georgia.
In May 1980, his highprofile position as president of the National Urban League landed him in the crosshairs of a racist in
Fort Wayne, Indiana. Jordan was shot with a hunter’s rifle outside his hotel after returning from dinner.
Jordan had five surgeries and was visited by President Jimmy Carter during his three-month recovery in the hospital.
“I’m not afraid and I won’t quit,” Jordan told Ebony magazine after the shooting.
Joseph Paul Franklin, an avowed white supremacist who targeted Black people and Jews in a cross-country killing spree from 1977 to 1980, admitted to shooting Jordan. He was never prosecuted in Jordan’s case but was put to death in 2013 for a slaying in Missouri.
Jordan’s first wife, Shirley, died in 1985. He married Ann Dibble Cook in 1986.
[VERNON JORDAN] BROUGHT HIS BIG BRAIN AND STRONG HEART TO EVERYTHING AND EVERYBODY HE TOUCHED. AND HE MADE THEM BETTER.
Former President Bill Clinton and