Cerabino: DeSantis: Proposed state license plate features warning to "out-of-state cars"

A President Trump supporter carries a Don't Tread On Me flag during a rally at the Capitol building in Lansing, Mich., Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.
A President Trump supporter carries a Don't Tread On Me flag during a rally at the Capitol building in Lansing, Mich., Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020.
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Editor's note: This column was originally published on Aug. 7, 2022.

It’s hard to keep up with Florida’s official enemies list.

Just when you think we’re running out, Gov. Ron DeSantis dreams up a new imaginary villain. It’s impressive.

Move over college professors, “woke” corporations, tech companies, trans kids, “corporate media” types, and racial injustice historians.

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There’s a new kid on the block: People coming to Florida in “out-of-state cars.”

New plate targets out-of-state tourists

Seriously. America’s tetchiest governor has a message for you.

“The free state of Florida has a new license plate for pre-order that benefits the Florida Veterans Foundation and sends a clear message to out-of-state cars, ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ or Florida,” DeSantis tweeted.

I didn’t know that “out-of-state” cars required a clear message — other than to be apprised that about 20 percent of Florida drivers don’t have auto insurance and the state is second in the nation when it comes to motorists killing pedestrians.

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The no-treading-allowed message seems odd. Isn’t that what tourists do? Eventually, they park their cars and then they literally tread on Florida until it’s time to go, leaving a trail of dollars in their wake.

I thought that was supposed to be a good thing.

Florida "Don't Tread on Me" proposed specialty license plate
Florida "Don't Tread on Me" proposed specialty license plate

The newly proposed state specialty license plate features a coiled rattlesnake that was first pictured in the Gadsden flag, an historical American flag waved as a protest against government tyranny.

These days, that Colonial-era relic has been co-opted as a popular symbol for U.S. Capitol insurrectionists, right-wing militia groups, QAnon crackpots and Koch-funded tax protesters.

It serves as a valuable tool for the rest of us to identify the chuckleheads in our midst. So, for that reason, I’m all in favor of giving people the option to put it on their state license plate.

(And good news: For one lucky “Don’t Tread on Me” motorist, the personalized licensed plate “DUM AZZ” is still available from the state.)

Florida's confusing "don't tread on me" message to tourists

It’s more than amusing to discover that “out-of-state” cars have somehow been added to Florida’s naughty list.

After all, aren’t those out-of-state cars filled with out-of-state tourists, whose presence in our state during the pandemic has been a point of pride to DeSantis, and apparently worth all the needless loss of life among Florida’s old and vulnerable residents.

Way to take one for the team, Florida grandmas!

The state is spending $50 million this year to promote out-of-state tourism through Visit Florida. DeSantis announced that during the peak winter tourist season this year, Florida welcomed 34.1 million domestic visitors.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis holds a press conference in West Palm Beach Thursday, January 6, 2022.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis holds a press conference in West Palm Beach Thursday, January 6, 2022.

“Economists originally projected that Florida tourism wouldn’t fully recover until 2024 but quarter after quarter, despite the Biden administration’s utter failure to manage inflation and the nation’s supply chain woes, Florida’s visitation numbers continue to break records and defy conventional wisdom,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement.

“Florida’s tourism industry begins 2022 with incredible strength, proving that freedom-first policies will always win, especially when combating the inept economic policies coming out of D.C.”

Oops, there was utter failure in that message to mention that the allegedly hampering federal government gave Florida $30 million in stimulus money that the state used to promote tourism this year.

It’s an understandable omission. That’s because the federal government is one of DeSantis’ cartoon villains.

I know. It’s confusing.

So many enemies, so little time. As for this new group, we like tourists, I guess, even though some of them apparently need to be warned that they better not “tread” on us while they’re here.

It’s a mixed message, at best.

At first, I couldn’t figure out why any self-respecting veterans group would even want the “Don’t Tread on Me” message on their license plate. It’s more of a cousin to the Confederate flag at this point.

Florida veterans have several license plate options

But maybe it’s because saluting veterans in Florida is a crowded landscape, with the state already offering eight different license plates that appeal to military veterans. There are individual specialty plates for all the branches of service — the Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard.

There’s also an American Legion specialty plate, another one that says “Support Our Troops” and a general one that says “Florida Salutes Veterans.”

The trick with getting a new specialty license plate is that you need to get enough pre-orders from motorists before they’re put into production.

So, in this case, 3,000 Florida drivers will have to pay for the new plate before it becomes viable. I suspect that the real audience for the “Don’t Tread on Me” license plate won’t be actual veterans, who already have better options.

The new plate will appeal to Florida’s prodigious supply of Meal Team Six commandos, and your average Florida hothead, who is angry, armed and looking for an excuse to act out.

So, if you’re an out-of-state visitor reading this, don’t be offended. This is just typical Florida stuff. It’s just DeSantis sowing division again.

You're just the latest target.

I recommend you make it a valuable learning opportunity: Consider it another gentle reminder that you’ve entered a state that’s mostly “free” of reason and brimming with silly, contrived belligerence.


Frank Cerabino is a columnist at the Palm BeachPost, part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach him at fcerabino@gannett.com. Help support our journalism. Subscribe today.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: DeSantis says "Don't Tread on Me" Florida tag warns out-of-state cars