More and more in Florida, DeSantis governs from an autocrat’s playbook | Opinion

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He doesn’t want you to vote, doesn’t want you to protest and doesn’t even want you to disagree with him. I’m not describing the leader of a communist country, I’m talking about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Since taking office, he’s made his motives clear, becoming more authoritarian by the day. Using his office’s power, the governor has eroded the liberty and rights of his constituents and businesses in the Sunshine State, rewarded his wealthy donors and undermined the media.

DeSantis has taken every opportunity to suppress voting rights. From his efforts to stop Amendment 4’s implementation, to his opposition to major changes to clemency rules — the governor’s actions have blocked hundreds of thousands of Floridians from regaining their right to vote.

Under the guise of fighting election fraud, (Florida’s only election fraud in 2020 came from Republican operatives) DeSantis prioritized legislation adding hurdles to vote-by-mail and originally sought to ban ballot drop boxes. This comes after a record number of Floridians voted by mail in 2020, and more Democrats than Republicans voted that way.

From Nicolás Maduro’s actions to undermine Venezuela’s electoral process and suppress votes, to Daniel Ortega’s moves to intimidate and confuse voters in Nicaragua, tactics to limit voting has been widespread in South American regimes. Voter suppression is a slippery slope that ends only with injustice.

DeSantis is also working to silence dissenting voices. His top legislative priority, House Bill 1, clamps down on freedom of speech and criminalizes protests — a clear infringement on our First Amendment rights, guaranteed by the Constitution. Under the new law, even if you’re peacefully protesting, if others became violent, you could be jailed alongside them. This move to silence, intimidate and imprison opposing voices bears a chilling resemblance to Fidel Castro’s actions to jail critics of his regime.

Businesses aren’t free from the governor’s attacks, either. Many companies, especially those that rely on large group events, want to protect customers by requiring COVID-19 vaccines. But the governor issued an executive order banning the practice and urged the Legislature to outlaw it. At the same time, he’s used his authority to provide his political donors with exclusive access to COVID-19 vaccines while frontline workers and teachers waited in line. And he’s done this while adding more than $14 million to his reelection fund since January.

As the lone Democratic statewide official, I’m the only voice on the cabinet in opposition to DeSantis’ actions. But instead of a debate on the facts, he’s responded with attempts to increase his power and limit the authority of my office. Media criticism isn’t welcome, either. Almost systematically, DeSantis attacks their coverage, ignores their questions, and refuses to release data and information which should be publicly available.

We’ve seen the same actions to consolidate power and silence media in countries like Cuba and Nicaragua, where Castro oversaw a rewrite of the constitution and Maduro has consistently silenced and undermined the independent press.

And while the governor condemns the leaders of these countries, his actions speak louder than his words. DeSantis has been pulling from the authoritarian playbook — suppressing votes and opponents, attacking the media and clamping down on constitutional rights.

Under DeSantis’ “regime,” if you don’t support him or his party, he wants to stop you from voting. If you disagree with him, he’ll use his authority to silence you. And if you dare protest and speak out, be prepared to end up behind bars.

Nikki Fried is Florida’s commissioner of agriculture.

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