Democrats’ State of the State rebuttals challenge Gov. DeSantis’ ‘free state’ message

Dem Caucus
'Republicans have been running the show for 20 years, and where has it gotten us? Out-of-touch politics focused on culture wars instead of real issues facing real Floridians.'

Florida’s Democratic senators and minority House leadership challenged the vision set in Gov. Ron DeSantis State of the State speech that freedom for Floridians has been bolstered under his administration. Democrats also highlighted their legislative priorities for the 2022 Session.

In his Tuesday address, DeSantis lauded his administration and his party’s opposition to mask mandates, vaccine passports and school closures, labeling Florida “the freest state in the United States.” However, Democratic leaders argued their party presents a better vision for a freer Florida in two public statements aired after his speech.

The first, a video led by Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book, included brief statements from all 15 Democratic senators.

“Republicans have been running the show for 20 years, and where has it gotten us? Out-of-touch politics focused on culture wars instead of real issues facing real Floridians,” Book said.

After her introduction, senators chimed in to oppose the idea that Republicans have boosted freedom in the state.

“Twenty-one million Floridians deserve strong leadership that promotes freedom and fairness. The GOP agenda takes it away from them,” Sen. Jason Pizzo said.

“Right now, the power seems to rest with the select few, those who support an agenda that flies in the very face of our nation’s core beliefs of equality and liberty — beliefs we’ve fiercely defended for 200 years,” Sen. Darryl Rouson said.

In the second video, House Democratic Leader Evan Jenne said the Democratic caucus’s goal is to protect Floridians’ freedom to be healthy, prosperous and safe. He said they would achieve those goals through targeting Medicaid expansion, a home insurance price decrease, criminal justice reform and other policy issues.

He also acknowledged the Floridians who died because of COVID-19.

We mourn the loss of 60,000 Floridians to the COVID-19 pandemic. That somber fact should guide our focus here in Tallahassee,” he said

Jenne attacked previous legislation that has taken decision-making away from local elected officials, like the ban on school board-level student mask mandates.

“We don’t need to continue taking more and more control away from our local elected officials. You don’t need Tallahassee telling you what to do, and neither do they,” he said.

House and Senate Democrats also released a list of 24 bills that are a priority this Session. The list includes SB 374, which prohibits gay and transgender panic legal defenses and HB 199, a prohibition on assault weapons and large capacity magazines.


In a press conference after the State of the State speech, Book, Jenne and other Democratic leaders discussed what issues and bills would be the center of their caucus’s focus in 2022.

Both leaders said opposing SB 146, which bans abortions after 15 weeks, and its House version would be one of the top priorities for Democratic legislators.

“We will fight tooth and nail over that bill,” Jenne said. “There are days on the House floor and the Senate where we all get along. There are other days where it is going to be a problem and people are going to be very upset by the end of that individual day. When that bill hits the floor, it’ll be one of the latter.”

Sen. Pizzo, the Democrats’ Senate policy chair, said he was hopeful for cooperation across the aisle but cautious about how DeSantis’ influence could alter that process

“We should agree on 85% of stuff. And if we can agree on 85% of stuff, we can get a lot done,” he said. “Unfortunately for our colleagues across the aisle, they’re beholden to whatever the whim, the wishes are of the Governor. And very often we don’t get to focus on what’s concrete.”

He also criticized the Governor for bragging about budget reserves in his speech.

“He talked about how Florida is free, how we’re open and bragging about a $15 billion reserve, and 15-year-olds are killing 15-year-olds and 9,000 kids in Miami-Dade County K-12 are homeless,” Pizzo said. “Don’t brag about $15 billion in reserves when you have kids who don’t know where they’re sleeping tonight or where they’re eating.”

Despite their opposition to DeSantis’ messaging and influence, Democrats lack the numbers to push back using force. Book said that although her caucus is smaller, its members will continue to fight fiercely for the legislation they want to pass.

“I can’t change numbers. And I can’t make us bigger than we are today. But I can make sure that we bring reason — smart, strategic arguments — to the floor, and bring people over,” she said.

Tristan Wood

Tristan Wood graduated from the University of Florida in 2021 with a degree in Journalism. A South Florida native, he has a passion for political and accountability reporting. He previously reported for Fresh Take Florida, a news service that covers the Florida Legislature and state political stories operating out of UF’s College of Journalism and Communications. You can reach Tristan at [email protected], or on Twitter @TristanDWood


  • Tinesely

    January 11, 2022 at 4:30 pm

    Ok Dems, present us with a solid platform, as well as candidates who are not drug abusing felons. Until then, drive north as far as you can on I-95 and cry into your milk.

  • Ron Ogden

    January 11, 2022 at 4:49 pm

    ““Republicans have been running the show for 20 years, and where has it gotten us?” It has gotten us a prosperous, vital state of champions in business and sports, a growing state, a popular state, a place where people want to be, a state that is a hub of technical education and modern technological achievement, a state where the government keeps its hands out of your pockets, a state that is the bridge between the two hemispheres, the tourist mecca of the world, a state of exotic and attractive wildlife, a state where whinny little beggers are not always trying dump their problems on some anonymous bureaucracy, and state that is always looking forward. That’s enough. And, by the way, there was not ONE DAMN Democrat that had anything substantive at all to do with it. Period. But you know they are looking to CASH IN.

  • Impeach Biden

    January 11, 2022 at 5:20 pm

    What a bunch of hogwash. Thank God DeSantis is our Governor and not the drug and male prostitute addicted Gillum. Keep Florida Red. People are flooding here from all those Blue states escaping Covid shutdown, open schools, and economic opportunity.

    • Impeach Biden

      January 11, 2022 at 5:25 pm

      coming to open schools and economic opportunity.

  • Sheila C

    January 11, 2022 at 7:08 pm

    I thank God everyday for our great state of Florida electing our wonderful Governor. He fights for freedom for all Americans.
    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the difference in Conservative versus liberal states. One can only imagine what shape Florida would be in if the last Governors race would of went the other way.
    Liberals destroy the American dream of freedom that for hundreds of years people have come to America for.
    Democrats/ liberals are turning our country into a third world country. I say stand for freedom. Fight tooth & nail to protect America!

  • tom palmer

    January 11, 2022 at 7:38 pm

    What have GOP politicians brought us? Weak environmental regulations. Half-assed health directives. Whiny political leadership.

  • ScienceBLVR

    January 11, 2022 at 8:48 pm

    Yeah..a free state Florida? Hardly. Free to get sick and die from a Covid? Yeah, ok, two educators I know died as DeSantis fought his constituents who begged for masks in schools. Free Florida? Not for women who want to make their own health care decisions. Free Florida? To be an authoritarian state? I guess so, DeSantis gets state and local control over schools, private business, and no surprise…voting rights. He can only retain power if we let him take our freedoms. Let’s make Florida great again and elect people who support an agenda that serves the populace! Vote blue,

    • Charlotte Greenbarg

      January 12, 2022 at 9:39 am

      What would Democrats know about “freedom?” It does not mean freedom to lie, which is what Democrats are very adept at.\!

    • Uranidiot

      January 12, 2022 at 11:24 am

      I think you are confused with the federal policies in play right now. Not to be flippant, but with all due respect, people die every day due to a multitude of illness, accidents etc. To blame policies for the deaths of some is just ignorant and irresponsible. Using your logic, the current President and the Democratic party is responsible for over 600,000 deaths. Doesn’t sound all the great for your alternative now does it

  • squid king

    January 16, 2022 at 2:45 am

    here in California libtards have been destroying our state for 30 years!high taxes,homeless drug addicts on sidewalks parks and beaches,high housing costs,failing public schools,high crime with $0 bail and $5 gallon gas..uhaul ran out of trucks bcus folks are headingto red states.its a joke

  • Tristan O'Tier

    January 16, 2022 at 3:35 pm

    It’s ridiculous to frame a speech around such abstract concepts as “freedom,” as if there was one set definition. But I’ll tell you what the governor’s idea of it is: the freedom to screw your fellow human being. This is above all about deregulation, so it’s coded to the business class that donates piles of cash and is the actual power in Florida. Thus some people will get more freedom to pave over an already overdeveloped state.

    But it’s also geared to the moronic many, who think they have the “freedom” to go around unmasked and spew their rancid covid breath in others’ faces, unfortunate folk who would die of covid just to “own the libs.”

    But all that aside, I don’t see how you can claim “freedom” as your mantle while initiating a campaign against critical race theory, which is not taught in Florida schools. Instead of invoking “freedom” in these ridiculously hushed tones, how about “stupidity”? Under this governor and his kowtowing party, you have the freedom to be stupid. Now you want to have a law that directs teachers to teach only one version of American history. Of course, the governor doesn’t give a hoot in a handbasket about is actually taught, he just sees a chance to appeal to the yahoos who never heard of an Indian massacre or an anti-black riot they’d want to sully the oh-so-white pages of their false history books, even it’s all true.

    So now go ahead and call me a libtard as much as you want. I’ve got your number and so do so many million Floridians who are sickened by how you grovel before your dear leader and caudillo. One blessed day, you will again be in the minority, where until you get an education, you deserve to remain.

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