Florida’s image has taken a beating. Ron DeSantis walks into a minefield to try and fix it.

Editors note: Kartik Krishnaiyer has apologized for the original belligerent tone of this piece and for his attacks on the GOP while trying to make a larger point about Florida’s image and historical problems the state has faced. The offensive content has been removed and this piece reworked and cleared with our attorney. Thank you again for your patronage of this site and we as Floridians are all hoping Governor-Elect DeSantis is successful.  We hope this piece provides at least a small part of the road map for his tenure.

The professional progressive left has spent months trying to paint a picture of now Governor-Elect Ron DeSantis as a right wing Trump-bot. However, DeSantis, from the vantage point of many regular voters hasn’t behaved any differently than a conventional conservative Republican in the Trump era. That’s why he won the election. He finds himself in a tough position though as Florida has become the punching bag for the national media, elites in the north and leftist elements nationally. 

However, given the polarized nature of this state’s citizens coming off the Rick Scott era and the constant drumbeat of negativity coming from New York and Los Angeles-based media, it’s important DeSantis establishes a moral authority as Governor – something he’s unlikely to do if questions persist about his being a Trump-bot or his independence. 

Even more importantly, the continued national media campaign against Florida is something DeSantis MUST counter. CNN, MSNBC and even FOX News have spent 12 days mocking Florida while counting has been actually slower in the elite hamlets of New York and California.  It took California’s Orange County ten days in some key Congressional races to ascertain a victor, while every close Congressional race in Florida had a declared winner by the next morning. 

The new Governor has a lot of work to do. Florida has lagged behind our neighbors and similar sized states in attracting Fortune 500 relocation’s skilled workers and tech jobs. But DeSantis and his party need to work to fix Florida’s image first. The national media has had a field day attacking Governor Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and the Florida Legislature at various turns. The media elites have helped craft an image of Florida that is taking a toll on our ability to attract business and tourists. While much of this owes itself to the irresponsible governance of our leaders, for some reason Florida gets picked on more than Alabama or Mississippi these days. 

Maybe it’s the ponzi schemers like Scott Rothstein that called Florida home? Or George Zimmerman? Or Cesar Sayoc? Casey Anthony? Whatever the case DeSantis whose own campaign pushed buttons which made many Floridians and national elites uncomfortable must now pick up the pieces and reassemble the wreckage. 

Our state was fortunate that we didn’t go the way of Alabama or Mississippi thanks in large part to a single Gubernatorial Election in 1954 when LeRoy Collins defeated Charley Johns in the Democratic Primary Runoff.  Had Johns, not Collins won that runoff it’s very likely Florida goes through the sort of racial strife our neighbors did, our population growth stagnates and our economy never emerges in the 1970’s as the envy of the Sun Belt. The reality is before the election of Dan McCarty in 1952 (McCarty died months later and Johns an out-and-out racist became Governor) Florida was as racially polarized and violent as any other southern state. But it can be argued Florida’s image, once sunny and bright has been trashed and now we’re seen as just a more densely populated version of  Mississippi, Idaho or Alabama. 

Governor-Elect DeSantis knowing this situation needs to pivot quickly. Let’s first review how he was elected to understand where his hands might be tied. 

Congressman Ron DeSantis is now Florida’s Governor-Elect for four reasons:

1- Appeals to white working class voters. On this DeSantis isn’t much different than every conservative Republican candidate that’s run statewide in Florida recently. In 2016, we extensively chronicled Marco Rubio’s use of code to promote himself both for President and US Senate.  DeSantis picked up some of the themes that have made Rubio the most popular elected Republican in the state, but unlike Florida’s Junior Senator, Congressman DeSantis’ clumsiness in trying to push certain buttons hurt him in a way most GOPers, particularly Rubio haven’t been.

2- Andrew Gillum’s ethics scandals which contrary to spin from progressive groups (who pushed him through the primary on a largely otherwise unwilling party, where 2/3 of the primary voters cast ballots for other candidates) are deadly serious and did put doubt in just enough minds about how he’d govern. I heard about Gillum’s FBI investigation and even details from New York Times articles that did not come up in anti-Gillum ads from more voters, divorced from daily politics than I expected

3- The Republicans have a built-in advantage in Florida in terms of knowing how to turn out voters on Election Day. 

4- Despite Gillum’s charge to the right on foreign affairs, leftist leaders in Latin America may have cost him the race. The ability of the GOP and DeSantis to use the term “socialism” to strike fear into political refugees from Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela I am sure we will see in post-election data KILLED Gillum in Miami-Dade County. 

Can DeSantis pivot to a position where he is able to appear more moderate and palatable to the people Florida need to attract to do business? 

At issue in the national media has been the Governor-Elect’s almost annual speeches in front of conservative white identity groups. But it must be noted the white nationalist movement has become largely intertwined with the right of the Republican Party here in Florida (and has been supported abroad by lobbyists and officials associated with the Democratic Party, who are driven by hatred of Russia more than any other single guiding ideological principle when it comes to foreign affairs these days).  So it is possible and perhaps even logical to assume that DeSantis was simply stumping for votes and recognition the way any smart Republican politician would in this the era identity politics on the left and right.

But the perception of DeSantis has been established. For a state badly in need of new investment, the relocation of young well-educated talent (like DeSantis himself) and a continued flow of tourist dollars from abroad, that  perception of this state could be very damaging for Florida – and DeSantis following his campaign for Governor shares that perception. 

Should DeSantis not be able to turn the screws and fix Florida’s image that’s being projected at home and abroad, he could be the unfortunate man in a position to preside over the end of this state’s era of relevance globally.

Exactly 100 years ago this state was a backwater which was mocked AND avoided by outsiders. in 1918, Florida was governed by arguably the most racist Governor in the state’s history, a Governor who succeeded two other nearly equally racist leaders.  But Florida was then a backwater and remained a backwater largely thanks to the racist thinking of its leaders. When Florida emerged under Collins and Reubin Askew as the envy of our region, it did so largely because we had put the sort racial strife and violence that characterized our neighbors firmly in the rear view mirror. 

In 1916, Sidney Catts was elected Governor of Florida after being denied the Democratic nomination in a recount. Catts secured the nomination of the Prohibition Party and was elected – making him the only Governor between the end of Reconstruction and the 1960’s not to be the Democratic nominee. Catts talked extensively about political & bureaucratic reform and married that rhetoric with overt racism. He came to office just years after a former Governor, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward has suggested deporting the state’s African-Americans. Catts predecessor Park Trammel had not prosecuted a single lynching while Attorney General and privately encouraged Florida’s industries not to hire African-Americans. This began an exodus of African-American workers from the state to the industrial north that continued during Catts term, intensifying after two infamous racially charged acts in 1920. 

The same day Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat who had screened the pro- Ku Klux Klan film “Birth of a Nation” at the White House and seemingly had endorsed it’s skewed version of history was reelected as President. In 1912, Wilson had won because the GOP was split between conservatives under William Howard Taft and liberals/progressives under Teddy Roosevelt. Again this time Wilson, also seen as a progressive eked out a win thanks to sweeping the south where African-Americans had been disenfranchised. The very same day Catts was elected Governor of Florida.

Taking office a month later, Catts dedicated himself to pushing a racist and anti-catholic agenda. During Catts’ tenure as Governor, Florida became the United States’ per capita leader in lynchings. 

Here is an excerpt from Catts inauguration speech, which reads like something that President Trump might deliver today except with more cloaked coded language:

“Your triumph is no less in this good hour in beautiful Florida, for you have withstood the onslaughts of the county and state political rings, the corporations, the railroads, the fierce opposition of the press and organization of the negro voters of this state  against you and the power of the Roman Catholic hierarchy against you. Yet over all of these the common people of Florida, the everyday cracker people have triumphed.”

Catts showed no sympathy for the plight of Florida’s African-Americans and even wrote this back to the NAACAP after a series of lynching in 1919:

“Your Race is always harping on the disgrace it brings to the state by a concourse of white people taking revenge for the dishonoring of a white woman, when if you would . . . [teach] your people not to kill our white officers and disgrace our white women, you would keep down a thousand times greater disgrace.”

Catts words helped the Ku Klux Klan recruit and the violent terrorist organization reached its most powerful stage in Florida during the early 1920’s. Toward the end of Catts tenure, a series of lynchings took place in Macclenney and the Ocoee Massacre when two African-Americans attempted to vote occurred. These two incidents created a major economic backlash deterring new investment and hastening an even quicker exodus of African-American labor from the state. It also forced those pushing land speculation in south Florida to distance themselves from the leadership of the state. 

Catts had actually moderated his racial stands in 1920  (unlike Broward and Trammel ) in order to try and keep African-American workers from leaving the state as they had begun in mass during Trammel’s term as Governor. But the rhetoric of his first three years in office led directly to racial violence.  This era of racism and terror in Florida culminated with the Rosewood Massacre of 1923. 

Eventually Florida became so violent, that the economy basically collapsed between 1926 and World War II. The Great Depression played a part but Florida’s politics were controlled by small county politicians from the Panhandle who unlike their counterparts in other southern states generally opposed the New Deal and were hesitant to allow any expansion of federal authority in the state.  The unwillingness to market Florida the way for example Tennessee and Alabama were with their New Deal support led to the state becoming even more backwards relative to the rest of the south in the 1930’s. Only World War II pulled Florida out of this lengthy depression and got the state’s growth kick-started. 

But even after World War II, Florida’s image suffered. Collins election as Governor was the turning point and came at a critical time. Immediately prior to his winning of the Democratic nomination in 1954, the state was falling back into a rut that threatened its growth and tourism industry. 

One of the darkest episodes in Florida’s history, the murder of NAACP leader Harry T. Moore. In 1951 when Moore was murdered in Mims, local Democrats in Lake, Orange and Brevard County were not only segregationists but were sympathetic to hoodlums in the Ku Klux Klan. Even worse yet was the infamous Willis V. McCall, the Lake County Sheriff who was in the 1950s the best known local enforcement officer in the state, more powerful than Governors in some ways and a close ally of Klan. McCall was national figure of some stature, and cast a very negative image on Florida, a state that was even more dependent on tourism at that point in time. It was so bad that many leftists in the north would avoid Florida citrus products, one of the first underground boycotts, before the age of activism really began in earnest a decade later. 

DeSantis isn’t McCall, Johns or Broward (All Democrats by the way) by any stretch of the imagination-  he isn’t even close. But the standards today are different thanks to the national media’s obsession with Florda. Given the tenor of discussions on CNN and MSNBC, the types of articles written about politics and race in The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic and other publications, he has to clean up the state’s image and perhaps his own to a certain extent.   

It’s important if DeSantis wants to be an effective Governor for our state, and growing our economy that he comes out and refutes these claims as soon as possible – otherwise his moral authority and that of the state will be undermined. You can be rest assured, CNN and MSNBC are ready to pounce on anything Florida-related so DeSantis better be ready and willing to roll up his sleeves and work. 

8 comments

  1. Racist, not racist: next time make up your mind before you write your article.

    Like

    1. It’s not about me. It’s about how the perception impacts the state. I am laying out the case here that it very well might. That’s my concern. Public policy that impacts all of our state’s citizens is my concern not attacking individuals. Gillum and his allies already did plenty of that. I don’t need to pile on. Now need to look at the consequences of what they claimed.

      Like

  2. The questions about DeSantis’s view on racial matters have come entirely from the left, as you say, and not from the normal voters who perceive him as a normal Republican.

    If the picture of DeSantis as a racist has been made by the professional progressive left, and if that picture they have painted has caused harm to the state of Florida, then the burden of repairing DeSantis’s image and the mitigation of the harm they have caused falls squarely on the progressive left and not on DeSantis, does it not?

    Would you say your article furthers the perception of DeSantis as a racist? In this context I would have preferred to see a full-throated refutation of those claims and a denunciation of the vilifying of one’s political opponents rather than the half-hearted defense of he might not be a racist after all, although we can’t really be sure.

    Like

    1. I don’t disagree. The progressive left groups and Gillum must come forward with evidence or apologize and say it was just politics. It’s the damage to the state that is of concern now. Gillum has a track record of not telling the truth about certain things. However, DeSantis has the ball in his court. His action can marginalize these folks claims as well. So let’s see how this plays out.

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    2. I’ve also added a note in reflection of your comment that most of the money paining DeSantis as a racist came from out of state and particularly Steyer and Soros. If they’re conducting an anti-Florida campaign, they should be called out.

      Like

  3. Anonymous · · Reply

    Kartik

    This is a very educational piece on history.

    But you and I both know RDS will continue race baiting and the left will continue playing victim.

    Like you I believe this hurts the state.

    Go tell the SWAG group to STFU and I will tell my side to stop race baitiing.

    Like

  4. DeSantis isn’t a racist.

    But neither was George Wallace.

    Racial rhetoric causes violence.

    This is an important piece. Best you’ve written for my tastes.

    Like

  5. Democratic Gal · · Reply

    Maybe now you’ll realize your obsession with Hamilton tickets and “allegations” against Gillum were ridiculous. I understand why you think the allegations were serious. They would be if they were true. But what it is is Tallahassee white pols with fbi help pushing things off on Andrew. Racism 101. Blame the poor self made black guy for corruption.

    This blog is very good by the way. These are serious concerns racist Ron must answer!

    Like

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