Joe Henderson: It’s showtime for the 2022 Legislative Session
Senate President Wilton Simpson speaks during opening day of the 2021 Legislative session, Tuesday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

Between COVID-19, election campaigns and security, critical race theory, and abortion rights, what a show it will be.

The giant campaign rally known as the Legislative Session begins Tuesday in Tallahassee, the capital of what Gov. Ron DeSantis calls the Free State of Florida.

Whether you believe DeSantis is America’s Governor or an abomination, you’ve got to admit his political instinct for knowing what connects with supporters is uncanny. While Democrats struggled to find their voice against DeSantis, the Governor scored big by keeping it simple. And when he does screw up, nothing seems to stick.

Yeah, we’re all sick — figuratively, of course — of masks, COVID-19 variations and other restrictions of the last two years.

DeSantis, however, turned virus fatigue into a campaign turbo booster. With a stroke of his pen, the man who rebels against edicts from Washington usurped the power of mayors in Florida to enact safety measures recommended by doctors.

Oh, what do those pointy-headed medical “experts” know anyway, right?

After that, it was a jailbreak for the Governor’s supporters. He gave them the green light to rebel against any restriction they didn’t believe was necessary.

You don’t want a vaccination? No problem.

If you don’t want to wear a mask, don’t.

Personally, I think he got lucky. As we know, Florida is one of the top hot spots for the omicron variant of COVID-19. In the last week of December, infection rates broke state records four times in seven days. Medical experts say that number will keep climbing here and throughout the country.

However, more than 74% of Floridians have received at least one vaccine dose, and 63% of the population is fully vaccinated. The virus can infect vaccinated people, but often with less severe symptoms. Everyone else chose to play Russian roulette with a deadly bug.

Either way, infection rates don’t register with people as much as body counts do.

We’ve all seen reports of people waiting in long lines for tests, and that’s never good. And it turns out Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried correctly nailed the Florida Department of Health — and DeSantis — after about 1 million testing kits expired while sitting in a warehouse.

DeSantis, naturally, blamed President Joe Biden.

Anyway, the Session promises to be part victory lap and part campaign rally for Republicans. They’ve shaped the laws in this state for more than 20 years, so why stop now? They will be especially active in an election year where they passed voting restrictions in the name of (cough) security.

DeSantis also wants $6 million to create an election security force. Maybe they should be headquartered in The Villages. That seems to be the only spot in Florida where voter fraud is an issue. Four people from there face charges related to illegal voting.

We also can expect to hear about critical race theory on the legislative floors. It’s not taught in Florida schools, but it makes a great soundbite.

Abortion rights obviously will be a huge topic, and we can probably expect some restrictions to pass. It almost certainly won’t be as bizarre as the Texas law — well, maybe. That’s the one that outlaws abortions once the fetal heartbeat begins, usually at about six weeks.

I don’t think we’ll see bounty hunters stalking anyone getting an abortion or assisting in the process. We’ll see something pass, though, as pro-birth Republicans celebrate. Whether that galvanizes enough women to tip the statewide elections in November remains to be seen.

That might be the only thing that could slow the DeSantis juggernaut. As we know, though, elections often swing primarily on pocketbook issues, and Florida’s economy is in pretty good shape.

Florida Tax Watch predicts the state’s workforce will grow by about 379,500 additional jobs, reducing the state’s unemployment rate to 3.5%.

There are other important issues, especially redistricting and education. We can expect Republicans to have their way with those things, too.

But DeSantis scored big with his proposal to replace the end-of-year Florida Statewide Assessment test. Teachers have had issues with the Governor, but they will love this. They hate that test, and they’re not wrong.

His proposal should pass easily with support from both sides of the aisle.

The Governor will also get a lot of positive press for that move. In an election year, that will suck a lot of the air from his Democratic opponents. And isn’t that the point?

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.


  • Alex

    January 11, 2022 at 7:52 am

    DeDumbass was on Faux screeching about how Biden and Fauci are “hostile” to alternative covid treatments.

    No DeDumbass, they know a vaccine is better, like most americans who “voted” to get vaccinated.

    They think you and your anti-science cult are stupid, and they’re correct.

    • Alex

      January 11, 2022 at 7:56 am

      Republicans are children.

      “Waaaaahhhhhh I don’t want to, I don’t want to, you can’t make me, so there!!!”

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