In Michigan, DeSantis describes his enemies: The ‘legacy’ media and the ‘woke’ left

‘We treat them as political actors, similar to how we’d treat a Democratic operative,’ the likely ‘24 GOP presidential contender says of news outlets

Apr 10, 2023 at 9:34 am
click to enlarge Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. - Shutterstock
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had a long list of people, groups, and ideas he took issue with during a visit to Hillsdale College in southern Michigan Thursday night.

The Republican went after the “woke” left; the concept of “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” which he liked to deem “division, exclusion, and indoctrination”; a public education system he views as promoting a Democratic agenda; and conversations around gender and systemic racism — but it may be the “legacy media” that he attacked more than anyone.

“We don’t talk to the media,” DeSantis told the audience at Hillsdale College, a small Christian school that’s deeply entrenched in right-wing politics. “We’ve had no leaks in the media for over four years, and they get very upset about that.”

A likely Republican candidate in the 2024 presidential race — one whom the Hillsdale College community apparently favors over former President Donald Trump, according to a poll by the school newspaper — DeSantis spent Thursday traversing Michigan, a prominent swing state that backed President Joe Biden in the 2020 election and landed a Democratic trifecta in November’s election.

After a double-digit reelection win, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the newly Democratic-controlled House and Senate have championed progressive policies dramatically different from those backed by Florida’s governor, including legislation protecting abortion rights, repealing Right to Work, and curbing gun violence.

“As Democrats return reproductive freedom back to Michiganders, one thing is clear: We will not stand for MAGA extremists like Ron DeSantis trying to impose his far-right agenda on our state,” Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist said during a Wednesday press conference also attended by state Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) and Dr. Amy Marcotte, an OB-GYN.

While DeSantis did not mention abortion at any point during his public events in Michigan on Thursday, which included being a guest speaker at a Midland County GOP fundraising breakfast, he has long supported restrictions on abortion and is now pushing for a six-week abortion ban alongside Republican lawmakers who hold supermajorities in Florida’s House and Senate.

“Today, I think of my patients here in Michigan, and I’m relieved they can come to me and to my clinic for the care they need because of leaders like Gov. Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Gilchrist,” Marcotte said. “I’m also thinking of the countless patients in Florida who don’t know where to turn as they watch Republicans in power further chip away at their ability to access reproductive care.”

Barbara Zdravecky, the former president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said during a Wednesday press conference led by Progress Michigan, a nonprofit that advocates for progressive policy in the state, that “reproductive freedom in our state is under attack.

“After passing an abortion ban last year that included no exceptions for rape, incest, or human trafficking, he is now poised to sign a near-total abortion ban this year that will be more restrictive than what they have in Texas,” Zdravecky said of DeSantis.

“Michigan, you rejected Gov. DeSantis’s failed agenda last fall when you rejected extremism,” Zdravecky continued. “Now, you must make your voices heard again. Trust me, you cannot afford what Gov. DeSantis is selling.”

During DeSantis’s speech and subsequent conversation with Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn Thursday evening, the Florida governor said he pays little attention to the media but listed extensive examples of news outlets’ criticism of the governor.

“If I see the New York Times, I just ignore it. I mean, I just don’t care,” DeSantis told Arnn, who was tapped by Trump to chair the ex-president’s 1776 Commission, a group that promoted education about the United States’ “inspiring” and “unifying” founding and which landed vehement criticism from historians across the country.

The governor named policies and actions he’s championed that have come under fire in the media, including pushing the Florida Supreme Court to the right; attacking gender-affirming care for transgender people; rejecting an Advanced Placement American Studies course; legislation barring local government from defunding police in the wake of a police officer murdering George Floyd; and axing board members at a public liberal arts school, the New College of Florida, and replacing them with conservatives like Christopher Rufo, a far-right activist who is largely credited with launching the conservative panic over critical race theory.

To DeSantis, the “legacy media” — a term he never defined but which seemed to mean any news outlet that has written or aired any criticism of the governor who secured a resounding win in November 2022 — amounts to political operatives.

“I think what you’ve seen, particularly in more recent years, is people going into legacy media with an agenda,” DeSantis told Arnn. “…They use Trump as a justification to say, ‘We can’t just be fair; we’ve got to hold him accountable.

“Now they’re trying to exercise power,” DeSantis continued. “These are people who could not get elected to anything; no one would vote for them.”

DeSantis noted that he has “press conferences, and anyone can come and ask me questions.

“But we treat them as political actors, similar to how we’d treat a Democratic operative,” the governor said. “They don’t like to be treated that way, but why would we give them the satisfaction of acting like they’re some type of referee of the process? Because they’re not.”

For DeSantis, “legacy media” is representative of left-wing values, and that is intolerable to him as he recreates Florida in the image he wants to see for the country: “a place where woke goes to die.”

During his speech at Hillsdale, DeSantis pointed out that various news outlets questioned his use of $12 million in state funds to fly asylum seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.

“Our legacy media doesn’t care … about the lawlessness; they only seem to care when 50 illegal aliens showed up at beautiful Martha’s Vineyard,” DeSantis said, using a disparaging term for immigrants. “They got really upset about that because it was puncturing their little cocoon.

“These are people, these leftist elites, they want to impose their vision on society but they don’t want to have to suffer the consequences of that,” he continued.

Following DeSantis using taxpayer dollars for the flights in June that left 48 asylum seekers from Central America scared and confused after being lured onto planes with the promise of work, local organizations and community members provided around-the-clock support for the individuals, according to various reports. The migrants have since filed a lawsuit against DeSantis.

The governor also cited complaints that “the media says, ‘Florida wants to ban books; they don’t want access to books.’”

DeSantis is referring to backlash over Florida’s House Bill 1467, which he signed last March and which allows parents to hold greater control over what books public school libraries can provide. Touted as a way for parents to be more involved in their children’s education, critics have said it has resulted in the widespread removal of material involving race and LGBTQ+ issues — something right-wing activists and politicians have been increasingly pushing for across the country, including in Michigan.

Books that have been banned in Florida include, And Tango Makes Three, a picture book about two male penguins raising a chick, and Stella Brings the Family, a picture book about a girl with two fathers, among dozens of other books that include LGBTQ+ themes, protagonists of color, and conversations around race and racism.

In a state where DeSantis and other Republican leaders are pushing legislation to ban majors or minors in “Critical Race Theory, Gender Studies, or Intersectionality,” according to the bill’s language, books that have been banned in Florida include The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood — a 1985 novel that revolves around women who are raped and forced to give birth to children for the male ruling class — and Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, which follows a Black female protagonist as she grows up after the Great Depression.

Amid many other contentious changes to education under DeSantis, including going after tenure protections for college professors, the Republican on Thursday focused on his intended transformation of the New College of Florida, a public school that has had a reputation as a haven for LGBTQ+ students in a state increasingly hostile to them.

With the goal of becoming a “little Hillsdale,” which has helped to launch charter schools in Florida and across the country and has been named as one of the worst schools in the country for LGBTQ+ students, DeSantis axed six of New College’s board trustees and replaced them with conservative ones who “got rid of the [New College] president and hired a conservative president,” DeSantis said.

“It now has a mission of being a classical liberal arts college,” the governor added. “So we’re going to be like a little Hillsdale down in Florida. Can you imagine how good that would be?”

For some Michigan Republicans, including 18 state GOP lawmakers who sent a letter to DeSantis in January asking him to run for president, the melding of Michigan and Florida is a worthy concept. More specifically, a Michigan that emulates Floridian politics under DeSantis is one state Republicans want to see.

“We go into the lion’s den of Lansing nearly every week, to a Lansing dominated by far-left Lansing Democrats who are rushing through damaging ultra liberal policies that are setting our state behind,” Rep. Bill G. Schuette (R-Midland) said while introducing DeSantis at the Midland County GOP breakfast.

“… We could use some sunshine state mojo right here in the state of Michigan,” continued Schuette, whose father, GOP former Attorney General Bill Schuette, lost to Whitmer by roughly 10 points in the 2018 gubernatorial race.

Some Florida residents cautioned Michiganders against that.

Sophia Brown, a senior at the New College of Florida and editor of its school newspaper, The Catalyst, told the Advance on Thursday that the changes DeSantis is pushing at her school are “concerning” and amount to a “politicization of our administration.” Under the new trustees, New College’s top diversity officer, Yoleidy Rosario-Herndanez, was fired in March following the trustees’ vote to eliminate the school’s Office of Outreach and Inclusive Excellence.

“Our one transgender staff member was fired without cause in early March; it’s very alarming,” Brown said.

The New College of Florida did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Brown said New College has always “welcomed a lot of marginalized students,” but is concerned the new administration aims to change that in a state Brown described as increasingly antagonistic to a wide range of people and groups, including journalists.

“For people my age, it’s incredibly easy to feel disillusioned with this state,” Brown said. “As someone who wants to continue in journalism, it’s hard for me to see a future in which I’m able to keep doing that and keep my own job security. It’s journalists in Florida too being threatened by these changes.”

Despite the new president and trustees, Brown said students are “determined to not let these things change student culture.

“They can try to curate the incoming class as much as they want” but “there’s still a sense of hope” that the school will remain as it has been: a place where all are welcome and supported, Brown said.

Still, the New College senior said she’s worried.

“DeSantis is not going to stop with Florida,” Brown said. “This can easily spread to other states. It’s important to call out the things we know are not right, that are threatening educational freedom.

“It could be your school next.”

Originally published by Michigan Advance. It is republished with permission.

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