Back to reality in Florida, DeSantis better drop the culture wars and get to work | Opinion

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

It’s time for Ron DeSantis to go back to his real job, the one Floridians reelected him to do just months before he announced his presidential bid.

DeSantis tried to sell his accomplishments in Florida to Republican primary voters in other parts of the country. He had a litany of signature laws he pushed through the Legislature, but most of them required more state control over private businesses like Disney or public school classrooms or women’s reproductive rights — all in the name of fighting some made-up threat to American values.

The past two years have been full of posturing and fabricated cultural outrage to pace with whatever issues right-wing Twitter-sphere and Fox News amped up.

After dropping out of the GOP race on Sunday, DeSantis is no longer under pressure to make a name for himself. It’s time for him to quit performative politics and heavy-handed government interference and seriously address issues for the people who actually did elect him. We’re talking about things like rising property and auto insurance rates and housing prices.

Home prices and rental costs in South Florida have skyrocketed like never before in recent years. Unlike California or New York, Florida has had a reputation for being affordable. That’s slipping away, despite lawmakers’ unusual effort last year to address the issue with sweeping legislation called the Live Local Act.

The 2024 legislative session that began this month already has some DeSantis-esque bills, such as one that would ban government employees and contractors from using gender pronouns that don’t correspond with their biological sex. But the Republican primary showed that, while culture-war issues might be popular among conservatives, they failed to move the needle for the governor. Voters are more outraged over inflation than “critical race theory” and they aren’t going to abandon Donald Trump because DeSantis barred transgender teens from getting gender-affirming care.

There is at least one sign that Republicans are trying to rein in some of their excesses of the last two years. The GOP-controlled House has advanced a bill to curb frivolous book challenges by allowing schools to charge some people a $100 fees if they submit more than five objections.

Egged on by the governor, lawmakers previously made it easier for parents and activists to challenge schools books, creating a logistical mess for school districts. The Escambia County School District in the Panhandle pulled for review 1,600 titles from its libraries, including Webster’s Dictionary for Students, to ensure the books follow a new state law that restricts topics related to sex. Other districts have banned classics by authors like Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison.

The new legislation won’t stop districts from making knee-jerk decisions to remove books from shelves out of fear of running afoul of the law’s vague new requirements. But it might keep in check groups like Moms for Liberty that have ridden the “parental rights” movement into book-ban frenzy.

The movement picked up steam during the pandemic, when many parents were angered by school closures and teachings to which they objected. DeSantis capitalized on that when he vowed to remove leftist “woke” indoctrination from schools.

Now, though, there are no pandemic restrictions left for DeSantis to fight against. And even he realized that there was little interest in the dangers of “woke” culture, which he mentioned less and less as his presidential bid waned.

DeSantis will have to find new signature issues, though we doubt he’ll suddenly have a change of heart and focus only on addressing problems that don’t drive the conservative media and the social media world, like transgender women using bathrooms designated for women. He needs to remain relevant if he wants to run again in 2028.

As governor of the nation’s third largest state — where hurricanes and sea-level rise are an existential threat, where residents are leaving the state because they can no longer afford another homeowners’ insurance premium hike — DeSantis has a lot of work left in the next three years of his term.

So, drop the “woke,” governor, and get to work.