Before a packed room of Republican donors and supporters in Sarasota, Gov. Ron DeSantis lambasted teachers unions, slammed godless liberals and boasted Florida was the freest state in the nation.
He also talked a lot about President Joe Biden.
“He loves to criticize Florida. He loves to criticize me,” DeSantis said of the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. “We are going to fight Biden on every single thing he’s doing that’s violating the Constitution, we’re not going to lay down and take it.”
After a series of official announcements in Southwest Florida, the Governor ended Friday at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota, where he picked up the Statesman of the Year award from the Sarasota GOP.
DeSantis pilloried Biden throughout the evening, first over the troops lost in Kabul during a highly criticized withdrawal from Afghanistan. But he also attacked vaccine mandates, inflation rates, and the integrity of the election that put Biden in the White House.
“Let me tell you this. If he spent less time attacking Florida and more time doing his job, you’d probably have 13 servicemembers that would still be alive today,” DeSantis continued.
Supporters, including members of the Florida Cabinet, praised DeSantis’ leadership through the pandemic.
“They say politicians are always looking to their next election,” said Attorney General Ashley Moody. “Statesmen are always looking to protect the next generation.”
DeSantis had thoughts on the next election as well, and perhaps the one after that.
He lamented the struggle with school boards across the state. Sarasota is one of several Republican-leaning counties with a Democratic majority on the nonpartisan school board, and it has been one of the boards at odds with DeSantis over mask requirements in schools.
DeSantis praised one of those school board members fighting mandates, giving Sarasota County School Board member Bridget Ziegler a shout out from the podium. But he also pivoted his criticism of other members to an attack on the Biden administration and Attorney General Merrick Garland.
“Most of these are union-controlled school board members that are doing a lot of these dumb things,” DeSantis said. “And so Merrick Garland knows that, so what they’re doing, they’re threatening with the FBI to intimidate you. They don’t want you speaking out. They want to squelch dissent.”
On the COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps one of the Governor’s biggest challenges in his political career so far, DeSantis focused his address on the state’s monoclonal antibody treatment sites.
“We saw people with delta going to hospital, no one was getting treatment,” DeSantis said. “It should not have required us to do anything as Governor, it should’ve been what the medical system was doing, but we saw a deficiency, we mobilized 25 sites and since we did that in mid-August our hospital admissions are down 85%.”
DeSantis’ handling of the pandemic was met with criticism after Florida reported a record numbers of hospitalizations and health care systems were strained across the state. Florida has so far recorded 56,667 COVID-19 deaths, with more than 18,000 of those deaths occurring in the last three months alone.
During the most recent surge, Democratic critics slammed the Governor for his strident push against COVID-19 public health mandates, which earned him credit among Republican supporters.
DeSantis also went after Democratic efforts to standardize federal election laws, and defended Florida’s own ramping up of restrictions. He called into question the steps other states took in the election in 2020, while not this state went to Donald Trump.
“When I became Governor, nobody was even talking about election integrity. Very few people,” he said. “And what did I have in my first month, I have one of the first things I did as Governor, I accepted the resignation of Brenda Snipes. I suspended a supervisor in Palm Beach County. And I said one generation of bad elections is enough.”
Snipes, an embattled Broward County Supervisor of Elections, resigned after a legal fight with former Gov. Rick Scott and a recount for both DeSantis’ election in 2018 and Scott’s election as U.S. Senator. DeSantis suspended Palm Beach County Supervisor Susan Bucher amid criticism over the same election.
But most of DeSantis’ remarks turned to 2020 when many states expanded drop box and mail-in voting options. He took particularly issue with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and wife Priscilla Chan contributing millions, including in Florida, to help elections officials run a successful election amid the pandemic.
“Zuckerberg from Facebook spent $420 million in quote nonprofits. And what they would do, they would go into these key areas, places like Wisconsin and Atlanta and all these places. And they would give huge amounts of money to these local election offices,” DeSantis said. “But what they would do is basically commandeer the office, they bring in a bunch of partisan operatives, and then they would administer it in a partisan way to try to help defeat Trump. And so that had a huge impact on this election. And it was dirty. It was underhanded and in the state of Florida it is now illegal.”
He pivoted back to criticizing Biden, saying his worst failures were at the border.
“The reason why I would say that’s the most egregious is because he inherited a border that was working,” he said. “You had to remain in Mexico policy, illegal migration was very, very minor when Donald Trump left office and what did Joe Biden do? Stop construction of the wall, repealed the remain in Mexico policy, and basically sent a signal anywhere in the world ‘Just come across that border, and you are home free.’”