To fight environmentalist sabotage, conservatives need their own set of business principles.
Florida Versus Davos
The American way needs defending against a corrupt ruling class.
The following is a transcript of remarks originally given in Miami at the National Conservatism Conference in September 2022.
Thank you. Welcome to America and the Free State of Florida. Proud to be a refuge of sanity in a world gone mad, we’re holding down the fort.
It’s wonderful to be here. Thank you for hosting this in the great state of Florida. We’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish. It’s said that our federalist system creates laboratories of democracy where different states can approach things in different ways. But I don’t think we’ve ever seen such sharp contrast between different governing philosophies as we have in the last few years. It brings to mind a debate that three of our founding fathers actually had over what was the world’s oldest profession. The debate was between Benjamin Rush, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin.
Benjamin Rush was a doctor. So Rush said, the world’s oldest profession is the physician, because Eve was cut out of Adam’s rib—so it had to be the physician. And Jefferson, as you know, designed Monticello among other things, so he said, no, the world’s oldest profession is the architect, because it was the architect who brought order out of all the chaos in the universe. And Franklin said, that’s wrong. The world’s oldest profession is the politician: who do you think created the chaos in the first place?
And the reality is, as much as we’re proud of the great things we’ve done in Florida, you’ve had other folks, leftist politicians that have driven people away from their cities, away from their states. In fact, the last few years have witnessed a great American exodus from states and localities governed by leftist politicians. States and localities that are failing on core matters of concern for everyday Americans. These Americans have fled to states like Florida. And we’ve really served as the promised land for record numbers of people.
Over the last few years, the statistics are startling. Since COVID, more adjusted gross income has moved into the state of Florida than has ever moved into any one state over a similar time period in American history. In fact, since COVID, the next closest state to Florida in terms of receiving adjusted gross income was the state of Texas, which is not too shabby. But Florida has seen almost four times as much adjusted gross income moving to Florida as has moved into Texas. What are the states that are hemorrhaging wealth? California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey—you know the list.
Florida has also led the nation in net in-migration since COVID. Who has lost people? Same cast of characters. California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois. California had never lost people in the history of its statehood, up until the last couple of years, and yet you’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people flee. I can tell you, I was born and raised in the state of Florida, and I don’t ever remember seeing a California license plate growing up. Suddenly we start seeing all these California license plates showing up in Florida. Honestly, the Floridians were a little bit spooked about this, particularly my supporters, because—who are these people from California? And how are they going to vote? That was kind of the big thing. But here is why the migration has been so telling: It has had a political character to it. It’s not just, “well, I’m going to continue to believe that this is a good way to govern on the Left Coast or in New York, but I’m just going to come to Florida to get the taxes”—because we’ve always had lower taxes. That’s not anything new. There’s a whole host of other factors that attracted people to states like Florida.
And so people will ask me, are they going to move from those deep blue states, vote like everyone votes there, and then change Florida for the worse? And here’s what’s happened. When I got elected governor in 2018 there were close to 300,000 more registered Democrats in the state of Florida than Republicans. Prior to my becoming governor, we had never had more registered Republicans than Democrats in the history of the state of Florida. Today, the latest numbers are, we now have 271,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats.
And we have registration open until the early part of October. We very well could end up going into this November’s election with 300,000 more registered Republicans than registered Democrats. And so that’s a huge sea change, five to six hundred thousand net registrations. And I think that a lot of it had to do with a certain blueprint we had here in the state of Florida. As was mentioned, part of what we’ve done is just exercise a little common sense: just because the media and the elites are saying to do something, that does not mean it’s the right thing to do. And we stood and kept our bearings about us. We also try to ground what we’re doing in core American principles. The founding principles of this country are enduring—they may apply differently at different times, when we are faced with different challenges. But those are the principles that we continue to rely on in the state of Florida. We are not afraid to buck the discredited ruling class and elites in our country. We did it during COVID, of course. But we’ve done it time and time again, across the board. And then finally, when you’re standing for what’s right, you don’t get very far—given all the things that are going on in our country—unless you’re willing to show a little backbone. Unless you’re willing to stand your ground when it gets hot in the kitchen. And we have done that time and time again.
Staring Down the Elite
When COVID hit, I had never experienced a pandemic. Probably most people here had never done that. And so I started to do research and consume data, because we were being told what to do by the White House task force, or this health bureaucrat or that. But did any of that actually make any sense? Was any of it justifiable?
I look back at Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address. Most people remember it for his warnings about the dangers of the military industrial complex, and I think those were very smart observations. But if you read that inaugural address, he talked about this new phenomenon of the federal government funding so much scientific research. And he said, when those two things are intermingled like that, there’s a danger: public policy itself could be held captive by what he called the “scientific-technological elite.” And he rejected that as something that was acceptable. He said, A statesman’s job is not to subcontract out your leadership to a very narrow-minded elite. The job of the statesman is to harmonize all the different competing interests that are in society, weighing different values, and then coming up with the proper policy. And so my view was, we had to choose freedom over Fauci-ism in the state of Florida.
We had to make sure that our policies weren’t excluding all these important values, just because people with a very narrow-minded view, with some credentials by their name, were telling us that those values didn’t matter. And a great example is when we were dealing with the schools, and whether schools should be open. The fact of the matter is, from a perspective of evidence and data, this was not a very difficult decision. But it was a very difficult political decision. Just in terms of the blowback that we got: we were opposed by almost every major health bureaucrat that would go on T.V., or that was on the White House task force, or in different state capitals. But the reality was, we had seen this go fine in other parts of the world. And we were following observed experience. And we put that ahead of what some intellectual elite thought should happen.
And I said at the time, if we don’t have kids in school, you’re going to see massive problems that are going to go for years and years and years. And I was the one that was being attacked, time and time again. I did think though, that once we had the kids in school, the school year was going, the sky didn’t fall, I thought all these other states would be forced to open their schools. In reality, you had places that locked them out for over a year, sometimes even more. And so we followed the data, we looked at the big picture, and our state is much better off for having done that.
And I can tell you, if you look at the test scores that we’ve seen, we’ve actually had students with lower incomes gain over the last two years. You can’t say that about California and a lot of these other places. But all of that came just from being willing to look at the data independently, being willing to set out a vision of what was important to our state, and then executing. Going on that, we rejected the elites. And we were right.
They’re now trying to rewrite history, acting like they wanted kids in school all along. And we shouldn’t let them get away with that. But we should also point out, not only were they wrong about schools: the elites were wrong about lockdowns, they were wrong about epidemiological models and the hospitalization models. They were wrong about forced masking. They were wrong when they rejected the importance or even the existence of natural immunity. They were wrong about the efficacy of the mRNA vaccines. And they were wrong when I said that COVID was seasonal. Now they admit it. But they didn’t when it was obvious that that was the case. So in almost every major significant issue, these elites who would show up on cable news or wherever, they were wrong. They got it wrong time and time again.
And so we also served in Florida as a roadblock to what I think would have taken hold in this country, if it weren’t for our leadership. And that’s a biomedical security state. If you look at what they were trying to do, forcing a vax and passports and all these different things, this country would look a lot different right now, if people like me hadn’t stood up and said, not on my watch. You’re not doing that here.
We were one of the first. We were one of the first, if not the first state, to stand up. And this was early in 2021. We were among the first to say, our schools cannot compel students to do a COVID shot. So we got that off the board very early, before it was even available. Because we saw what they were up to. We saw what was coming down the pike. We were one of the first to ban so-called vaccine passports, the idea that you have to show proof of a COVID shot to be able to participate in society. And there were some conservatives that said, “yeah, well, government shouldn’t do a vaccine passport. But if a private business wants to do it, what’s wrong with that?” Well, I’ll tell you what wrong. What’s wrong with that is an individual has a right to participate in society. And we’re not just going to sit idly by if you’re trying to circumscribe people’s freedoms. And that’s true if it’s government; it’s also true if it’s big business.
And here’s another thing with Florida: if we hadn’t said that, I do think most businesses probably wouldn’t have wanted to do a passport. But if even one did it, what would people say? Florida has passports? Well, guess what, because we didn’t have vaccine passports, 2021 marked the best year for domestic tourism in the history of the state of Florida. Those tourists wouldn’t have come if they had to cough up medical papers, not in those numbers. And if you look at all foreign tourism in 2021 for the entire United States, almost 45% of it was to this state right here, the state of Florida. Of course it was. If you’re going to travel internationally, you want to go and have a good time, enjoy yourself, make your own decisions. You don’t want them haranguing you about wearing a mask or haranguing you about coughing up a vax pass to go get a cheeseburger somewhere. So we were right on that both from a freedom perspective, and from an overall social good perspective.
We also were one of the first states to provide protection for all employees in Florida—not just government employees—against employer-imposed COVID shot mandates. Our view is very simple. No Floridian should have to choose between a job that they need and a shot they do not want. And that’s the same if you’re a police officer in a municipality, or if you work for the state government, or if you work for the biggest corporations in the state of Florida. We apply that across the board. And we saved tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process. And so yes, I think that when you look at where people are moving, and why they want to move, they wanted to live in a place that was rational, that was not doing all these ridiculous things that they would do in these other states.
Remember, Fauci used to criticize us because we had restaurants open. And what they said was, you can’t eat inside a restaurant, it’s so dangerous. And my view on that is well, no one’s forcing you to do it. If you don’t want to do it, that’s fine. But don’t impose that on everybody else. Nevertheless, what they said is you have to eat outdoors. Okay, so fine, Chicago, some of these places, you can set out tables on the sidewalk, even close off the street—probably works okay, until it starts to get cold. People don’t want to eat outside when it’s 40 degrees. And so what would they do? They would do “outdoor dining” by building an enclosure around the tables that are outside the restaurant, with worse circulation and ventilation than just being in the doggone restaurant. But it was “safe” because it was “outdoors.”
So I think people just saw this and they realized how bizarre it was. And they realized that it had no connection to evidence-based medicine. And so they wanted to go back. We would have people, particularly during 2021, they would be in other parts of the country, wanting to meet for business. So instead of meeting in their city for business, they would all separately fly down to the state of Florida, they’d eat and be able to live like normal human beings, do whatever business they needed to do, then they’d all get up and fly right back to where they all came from. And that was something that was commonplace for us.
I do think people have also noticed the distinction between how states are governed. I’ve had people move from California to New York. And what they’ll tell me is, man, things are just so much easier here. I got my driver’s license easier, the roads are better, all these other things. Here’s an interesting comparison. The state of Florida has 3 million more people than the state of New York, which is our closest competitor in terms of population. And yet New York’s budget is over twice the size of the budget of the state of Florida. But do we have worse roads than them? No. Do we have worse services? No. And we have higher-performing K-12 schools, and the number-one ranked public higher education system in the country. And we do all of that, with no income tax, and the second-lowest per capita tax burden in the country.
We also, with our most recent fiscal year that ended on July 1, had a $102 billion top-line budget. And that yielded a $22 billion surplus, the largest in the history of the state of Florida. And again, with no income tax, that’s purely from expanding the economic pie and economic activity. If you look at our economy, we have more people employed today than we did prior to COVID. That is not true for most of these lockdown states. Our labor force has expanded, and our unemployment rate is lower than it was prior to COVID. By almost every economic indicator, we’ve exceeded the national average month after month after month for close to two years. And obviously people are benefiting as a result of that.
Teaching the Truth
We also have a very strong approach to education, which I know a lot of people appreciate once they get to learn more about it. We have more choice in our K-12 system than any state in the country thus far. I know Arizona recently did something and it seems like that’s exciting. So we’ll see how that shakes out. But our choice is not limited to just private scholarships. It also includes charter schools. But then, because we’ve embraced choice, the school districts have also had to embrace choice within their individual districts. So we have a total number of students in Florida in choice programs totaling 1.3 million students, right here in Miami-Dade County. This is the highest-performing urban school district in the country. And 70% of the students in Miami-Dade go to a school other than the public school. When I was growing up in Florida, you grew up in the town, you went to that school. Now we have choice. Options abound: nearly 250,000 students are on private scholarships in the state of Florida. A lot of it is geared toward low-income students, but actually up to 85% of our families qualify for private scholarships. We also have 363,000 students in charter schools, which are public schools, but they’re not run by the school district and, more importantly, not influenced by the teachers unions.
Those schools are able to offer parents innovative means of education. For example we have Hillsdale College, which has classical academies throughout the state of Florida. Here in Miami-Dade, you can go to a charter school that may have a certain affinity with this particular trade or a particular sector of the economy. It’s really demand-driven. And it’s worked. In the most recent K-12 achievement rankings for Education Week, we ranked number three in the country for K-12 achievement. The most recent year that we did have the state-by-state control for demographics, we ranked number one in the country in fourth grade reading and fourth grade math. So choice works, high standards work. And we’ll continue to do that and put points on the board.
We also have been proud of our higher education system, partially because we have had a freeze on tuition since I’ve been governor. So if you’re an in-state student and you want to go to a state university, the average tuition is about $6,300. You cannot match that anywhere else in the country. We also have scholarships for high-performing students, which will take care of all of that, or most of it, depending on the level of scholarship you get. And yes, we want to make sure that these are universities dedicated to excellence. And so we recently signed legislation that in the state of Florida, all of our State University’s tenured professors must undergo review every five years, and can be let go if they are not doing the job.
One of the main drivers of people wanting to come to the state of Florida is public safety. You saw safety erode in many communities throughout this country. And people knew that with me as governor, this is a law and order state. We are not going to let the inmates run the asylum here; we are not going to release criminals back onto the street. We’re not going to defy law enforcement. And we’re going to make sure that if we have some of these elected district attorneys, if they put themselves above the law and don’t enforce the law, we will take action. In fact, recently, we had somebody over in Tampa who had said he wasn’t going to enforce certain laws. So I removed him from his post, and we have somebody new in there.
But they slashed funding for law enforcement across the country. And that makes you short-handed: you can’t have enough people on the street. But it also just sends a message to the people that wear the uniform: you don’t have any support. I wouldn’t want to get involved in some thicket if I know I’m not going to get any support from the people that I’m out there working for. So that’s had a huge impact on crime going up.
They also do things like eliminate cash bail, and put criminals back on the street. I mean, when COVID hit, they were telling me, governor, you gonna release criminals from prison? I’m like, hell no. Why would I do that? Many governors were doing it, though. And so you have a lot of soft-on-crime policies. And yes, these prosecutors funded by people like George Soros go into office with their mission being that they are going to “reform” the criminal justice system. You cannot do that as a prosecutor: it is an executive position. “Reform” would require legislative action. So what they’re doing is, through non-enforcement, they are trying to reimagine what the justice system is. Nobody voted for those changes in the legislature. They’re just taking it upon themselves to do it.
So in San Francisco, they said, If you steal anything less than $1,000, you’re fine. No prosecution. Voilà: you have people getting mugged on the street. Because they’re not going to prosecute these crimes. It has caused those societies to decay. It is not fun walking down the street. People do not feel safe. And it saps the entire vitality from those communities.
The fact that even San Francisco would have recalled Chesa Boudin should tell you that this has gone totally off the rails. But if you compare the Defund the Police people and the Soros prosecutors, the Soros prosecutors may have done more damage than even the ones that were slashing police budgets. And so we don’t do that in the state of Florida.
And when they had rioting going on in Minneapolis and all these other places two summers ago, I immediately called out the National Guard in Florida. I had state law enforcement agencies deployed to all potential hotspots. We were not going to let the state of Florida burn to the ground like they were letting these other places burn to the ground. And I can tell you, they have not recovered as a result of this. We also understood that this is something, unfortunately, that we’re likely to see more of in the future. So after all that happened, we work with the legislature to pass legislation that does two things: one, it prevents local governments from defunding law enforcement, and two, it tells people who are engaged in rioting, looting mob violence, that if you do that in the state of Florida, don’t expect the Portland treatment where you get your mug shot taken, slapped on the wrist, and put right back on the street. Not in Florida. If you’re engaging in mob violence, you’re not getting a slap on the wrist. You’re getting the inside of a jail cell, and we’re gonna hold you accountable. And I have to brag a little bit: our anti-riot legislation was recently criticized by the United Nations. So I wear that as a badge of honor.
Border Integrity, Election Integrity
We see the rule of law breaking down in cities across the country. But we also see the rule of law breaking down at the southern border between the United States and Mexico. And that is a choice that this administration has made. Joe Biden came into office and reversed President Trump’s border policies, knowing full well what the results would be. And you know the results: you have massive numbers of illegal aliens pouring across the border, record sex trafficking, record human trafficking, record drug trafficking. The fentanyl that China is making to poison our society is getting into this country through the southern border. And now the leading cause of death for people 18 to 45 is overdose from fentanyl. So it’s been a policy disaster. But it’s also been a constitutional disaster. Joe Biden took an oath to take care that the laws of this country are faithfully executed, and he is violating his oath of office.
We’ll see what happens in November. But I feel good that the Republicans are going to take the majorities in the Congress. And if they do use the power that you have, you’ve got to hold Biden accountable on the border. I’m sick of the press releases, I’m sick of the interviews: actually take some action. In Florida, we’ve taken action. We’re not a border state, people will say, but all this affects everybody. So since I’ve been governor, we have banned sanctuary cities in the state of Florida, we’ve made sure to sue the Biden administration on his catch-and-release policies. And we’re actually in a good spot in that case. And I’ve got $12 million in the most recent budget that we’ve got available now this summer, so that if Biden is busing illegal aliens into Florida, I’m going to reroute the buses to Delaware and other states.
But you know what happened when I announced that that’s what we wanted to do? I haven’t had any buses come. Because, and to his credit, the governor of Texas is busing to New York City, to Washington, D.C., to Chicago, their sanctuary jurisdictions. They used that to virtue signal against Donald Trump, but now that they’re actually being called upon to be true sanctuary jurisdictions, they don’t like that very much. And so I think it’s been very effective. That’s part of the reason we wanted to do our program. Because these are intentional policies, and the people that support those policies should live with the consequences of those policies.
And here’s the thing: when you look at what’s happened at the border, we focus on the criminal aliens, drugs, all that’s very important. But just the sheer number of people overwhelms communities. And this idea of mass immigration, whether it’s illegal immigration or whether it’s just mass immigration through the legal process, like the diversity lottery or chain migration, is not conducive to assimilating people into American society.
We’ve had a variety of different immigration policies throughout our country’s history. We’ve had periods where we had high immigration levels when we had success, but we’ve also had periods where we had great success with immigration levels being very low, such as the decades after World War II. So the issue is, is how does immigration serve the people of the United States and the national interests? We’re not globalists who believe that foreigners have a right to come into our country whenever they want to.
Because I got elected in a close election, we had a couple of counties that three days after the election, all of a sudden were dumping more votes. I was like, wait a minute, how does that work? You go from this margin to that margin, and so people didn’t have confidence in it. So I got into office in January 2019. I said, one generation of botched elections is enough. We are going to make some changes. So one of the first things we did was accept the resignation of Brenda Snipes as elections supervisor in Broward. We removed the Palm Beach supervisor. And when COVID hit, we didn’t change any rules, like many of these other states did—those were not constitutional changes. We said, here’s the rules, we’re gonna vote and make it transparent. And a couple of days after the 2020 election, people were actually saying, why can’t these other states do it like Florida does? They didn’t use to say that about Florida. And so we were happy that we did much better.
But I also understood that that we had a lot of work to do, because I saw some of the things that were going on in the rest of the country. So since the 2020 election, we have made ballot harvesting a third-degree felony in the state of Florida. We have banned any mass mailing of ballots. We have absentees that people can request, but we’re not going to send millions of ballots into the ether not knowing where the hell they’re going. Just as we’ve always had voter ID when you go in to vote in person, we now say if you’re requesting an absentee ballot, you need to show voter ID for that absentee request, because we want to make sure the ballots are going to the person who claims that they’re requesting it.
We also banned Zuckerbucks in the state of Florida. What they did with Zuckerbucks, a lot of people didn’t think anything like that would happen. Because normally when someone puts a lot of money into an election, they’re trying to sway votes, persuade, maybe do turnout operations. And what Zuckerberg’s group said is, you know, why would we bother with that, let’s just take over the actual election offices ourselves. We’ll flood them with millions of dollars, we’ll bring in our operatives, and then we’ll run the election with the purpose of helping our partisan interest. And that’s what they did. It was corrupt as hell, and the state of Florida said if you do that here, you’re going to jail for it. So we’re not going to put up with it.
But you can have all the best election laws in the world and if they’re not enforced, and people aren’t held accountable, then what good does it do? And so we created what became operative in July of this year: the first ever statewide Election Integrity and Voter Fraud Unit in state government, which has the ability to investigate and bring cases against people that violate the election laws. So within a month of it being stood up and having funding, they brought 20 charges against 20 different people who voted illegally in the 2020 election. These are people that have been convicted of sex offenses and homicide, at which point you are not allowed to vote. Those are illegal votes. And so we have the capacity now that if someone’s ballot harvesting, if somebody’s voting twice, if you have an illegal alien voting, you had better believe that that we’re going to be on top of that.
And so I think we have the most secure elections in the country. Our model is one that other states can emulate, particularly the way we track voter turnout. If you come on election day, and you start looking at counties, they will have real-time counts of the voters that are turning out by registration. They don’t tell you how they voted until the polls close. But when those polls close, we know how many votes have been cast in an election. So once you have that number, it becomes much, much more difficult for any funny business to occur. And so I’m very proud that we’ve been able to do that and do it well.
One of the things I’m proudest of in the state of Florida is here we have drawn a line in the sand. And we have said that the purpose of our school system is to educate kids, not to indoctrinate kids. We have done things like ban the use of critical race theory in our K-12 schools. We’re not going to teach kids to hate each other or to hate our country with your tax dollars. That is inappropriate.
We also, though, recognize that CRT is seeping into the corporate sector. And so we passed a bill—it’s being challenged in court but we’ll eventually win—that says employees have a right to opt out of this type of discriminatory training if some big corporation is trying to impose that on you. You do not have to self-flagellate just to keep your job. They can’t force you to affirm beliefs that you don’t have. And so it’s just a basic way to protect the workplace and to protect people’s individual conscience. And yes, we’re against CRT, we’re against distorting American history.
But what are we for? In Florida, we’ve launched an initiative to get American civics back in our schools in a really major way. We need to be teaching kids what it means to be an American. We need to teach them about the founding principles of our country. Why the Constitution is structured the way it is, why our Bill of Rights is what it is. We need to teach them that in the American system, our rights come from God, not from the government. We need to teach them how all of those philosophies and values have animated the key moments in American history, from the Civil War to World War II, the civil rights movement to victory in the Cold War. Because we have an obligation to produce people who are going to be able to discharge the duties of being an American citizen. And you don’t do that by graduating people who are listless vessels: you’ve got to give them a proper foundation so that they can make sense of the world around them.
And part of what doing that means is yes, we talk about American history, we talk about American civics. But we also compare that to other systems of government. And so I’ve signed legislation in Florida designating every November 7 to be a day where we remember as a state, but also teach kids in school, about the victims of Communist regimes. They need to know about the body count. In the 20th century, at the hands of Marxist-Leninist regimes, over 100 million people perished as the result of Communist dictatorships. And it’s important because this philosophy is still here, it’s still making waves. And these issues are perennial. So we’re proud of doing that. And we’re proud of really standing strong for that.
And we also—and you may have heard of this skirmish; we had to get into it with not just the media, but also some big corporations about the idea that in Florida, parents should be able to send their kid to elementary school without having woke gender ideology shoved down their throat. We need to teach them how to read and write and add and subtract focus on academics. Don’t try to impose ideology on young and vulnerable kids. And most people think that that’s common sense.
Some people on the Left didn’t like it, obviously, and their megaphones in the corporate media didn’t like it. And look, the Left, you know, they’re smart about some of these things. They know if you run for election in Florida, saying we need to teach first graders that even though they were born a boy, they may really be a girl, that is not going to go over very well with parents. And I can tell you, my parents are old enough, they don’t even understand how that possibly could be a thing. And so it strikes a lot of people as very weird. And so they know that’s a losing issue. They know they will lose elections on that. So they say, look, if we can get our leftism instituted through corporate pressure, well, then that may be a way that we can succeed at fighting these fights. And so they went to pressure a lot of different companies, including one that’s got a pretty big footprint here that you may have heard of. And at the end of the day, people were saying, well, if a company like Disney gets involved, they’re just so powerful, there’s no way that this bill is going to be able to make it. The governor is not going to be able to sign it and yadda yadda. And all I said was here I stand, I’m not going anywhere, I’m not backing down, we are going to absolutely do what’s right.
And so we signed the legislation into law. And honestly, I thought that was the end of it, because you can virtue signal, and then we’ll do what we’ve got to do, then you move on. But you know, Disney made the mistake of saying, our company is committed to seeing parents’ rights repealed in the state of Florida. And I’m just thinking to myself, this is something that a lot of parents are concerned about, obviously. We think this is in the best interest of our students. And here, you’re saying you’re going to try to rip this bill out using your corporate power. And maybe they have a right to do that. I don’t know if that’s consistent with their fiduciary duty to their shareholders. But put that aside, first amendment right, fine. You can say what you want and be an activist. But you don’t have the right to force me or my citizens to subsidize your activism.
And the fact of the matter is Disney, since the 1960s, has gotten more subsidies from the state of Florida than any company in our state’s history. And I would be willing to bet their arrangement was unlike anything in the entire United States of America. They have had their own government that they control in Central Florida. They are exempt from major laws that other businesses, their competitors, have to follow, and they’ve gotten massive tax breaks. And so our view was okay, if you’re going to commit yourself to wanting gender ideology in elementary school, we don’t think that’s in the best interest of our state. Those are not values that we share, and we are not going to hold you up on a pedestal any longer. So we took action and as a result, Disney is no longer going to have its own government. They are going to live under the same laws as everybody else, and they are going to pay their fair share of taxes in the state of Florida.
And so it was odd that this would even be something that needed to be fought. I’ll tell you, we’ve also had other fights in the state of Florida actually. Two years ago, we signed legislation protecting women’s sports from having men compete. We want to have integrity, we want to have fairness to the process. And we want to make sure that we’re doing it right. And you see this swim meet in the NCAA, where you have someone competing on the men’s team for three years, and then switches to the women’s team, and then wins the national championship—give me a break. That is a farce. And the NCAA is acting asking us to basically be a part of a lie. And we’re not going to do that. We are going to make sure that girls and women have opportunities.
We’re also now having to fight this thing where they’re actually taking minors, and they’re performing very irreversible invasive sex change operations on people that can’t even consent to get a tattoo. So you’re seeing double mastectomies performed on teenage girls. You have boys that are facing all kinds of really, really difficult stuff. And this is not based on science. This is not based on medical evidence. This is based on ideology. And so our Board of Medicine has instituted a proposed rule that will go into effect and will basically say, licensed practitioners cannot be performing sex change operations on minors in the state of Florida.
The True Virus
And the question is, the question is why? Why would this be happening? That’s what people will ask me, because sometimes they don’t believe it’s happening. Then when they see the evidence, it really is a jolt to say, wow, why is this happening? I think it’s happening because of the woke mind virus. I think this is ideology run amok. I think you’re seeing it all across a variety of institutions, which I think is one of the reasons why the moment we have right now is more challenging than maybe some moments that we had in the past. Because I think when Reagan came on the scene, for example, it was really big government that was to blame and big government that needed to be reeled in. Yes, we still need to do that. Don’t get me wrong. But you now have a woke mind virus that has infected all these other institutions.
I mean, just look at corporate America. Most corporations, some of these big corporations are now exercising quasi-public power, in terms of using their economic power to change policy in this country. You just saw what the credit card companies are going to try to do with the firearms. You’ve seen big Wall Street banks collude to deny financing to companies who may be involved in combating illegal immigration, or firearms, or things that they don’t like. You look at the movement for ESG. And all ESG is, is an attempt to use corporate and economic power to impose an ideological agenda on society—an agenda that could not win at the ballot box.
And so these Masters of the Universe, not content to line their pockets, not content to make huge profits, want to use their power to change society. They are not accountable to any electorate the last time I checked, and there’s really no way for the private sector to reel them in at this point either, though maybe that will happen. So what we’ve done in Florida is say, we’re going to fight back against this. We’ve instructed our state pension system not to do any ESG. They should be using their pension system to get the best results for the shareholders. And if solar companies are a good investment, then of course they can do it. But they are not excluded from doing other investments that fail the ideological litmus test.
Where’s all this coming from? Places like Davos. I look at these people at the World Economic Forum, and I’m like, they just view us as a bunch of peasants. I can tell you, things like the World Economic Forum are dead on arrival in the state of Florida. We’re not going to allow any of that. But I think the lesson for people on the Right is, I think there was a generation of people for whom kind of the muscle memory was, if it’s private, just defer to it. If it’s a corporation, let them do what they want to do. Because as you know, look, we don’t want to micromanage different things in the economy. I’m not a central planner. I certainly don’t want to be doing that. But corporatism is not the same as free enterprise. And I think too many Republicans have viewed limited government to basically mean, whatever is best for corporate America is how we want to do the economy.
And my view is, is, you know, obviously, free enterprise is the best economic system. But that is a means to an end: it’s a means to having a good fulfilling life and a prosperous society. It’s not an end in and of itself. And we need to make sure that we have that firmly in mind. The United States is a nation that has an economy, not the other way around. And our economy should be geared toward helping our own people.
So you see, what’s been done over the last generation, the late ’90s, they said, we need to give China most-favored-nation trade status, put them into the World Trade Organization. That has not worked out the way they said it would. It has made some people in the United States rich, and it’s made a lot of people a lot worse off. It’s certainly made China much more powerful and much more dominant, to the extent that we’re dependent on them for key things involving our own economy. So that’s not the best for economics. It’s certainly not the best in terms of geopolitics. And it’s not the best in terms of when we have security issues, as in COVID. Almost everything we needed was in China. And so we need to understand that, and we need to do a better job with that.
And I would say the same thing when you talk about “private” meaning “off-limits.” There are some people that criticize us in Florida, because we’ve taken action to stand up to big tech companies. They say, you know what, it’s private, let them do what they want to do. First of all, they cannot be viewed as private entities given that we know without a shadow of a doubt they are doing the regime’s bidding when it comes to censorship decisions. They’re having meetings with the White House: “who do you censor? Who do you kick off the platform?” All these other things. The minute you’re doing the government’s bidding, you’re essentially an arm of the state. And not only are you not “private,” you have to abide by the First Amendment. And I think that they have gone down that road, but even if they weren’t formally colluding with the government, they are de facto the enforcement arm of regime narratives. They are trying to enforce an orthodoxy on this country.
That’s why they all have Terms of Service. Those terms will be imposed radically differently based on your underlying viewpoint. And so what we said in the State of Florida is okay, these are big monopolies basically. And people say it’s a free market, anyone can start their own thing. But what happens when you try to start your own thing? Amazon will kneecap you. They will all come and kneecap you. So that’s not exactly working out the way people said.
So we said, as these are big monopolies, they have a lot of power, they have more power over our society than the monopolies of the early 20th century ever did, because they control the Digital Public Square, where the majority of political speech now takes place. So what we said is, okay, you can set your own rules, you know, you’re getting liability protection from the federal government, because you say, you’re not a publisher. So okay, you’re not a publisher, you can set certain rules. But if you’re discriminating on the basis of viewpoint when you’re enacting those rules, you’re committing a fraud on the consumer. Because when they signed up, you told them it was an open platform. You’re taking their data, you’re making a fortune off that. So we’re gonna give that aggrieved Florida citizen the right to sue big tech to be able to have their rights restored.
And we’re caught up in the courts, Texas is caught up in the courts, it’s going to go to the United States Supreme Court. But the question is, are we able to act from the state level, or maybe even the federal level eventually, to prevent our citizens from getting crushed by these major monopolies? So when people say like, “oh, you’re using government in the private sector,” what I’m doing is using government to give space to the individual citizen to be able to participate in society, to be able to speak his or her mind. And I think that’s an absolutely appropriate use of government power. And so we’re gonna continue to do that. And I think we’re gonna get a good result eventually at the Supreme Court. I don’t think it’s gonna happen this year, maybe next year and a half. But to sit back and just do nothing while Silicon Valley oligarchs are imposing an orthodoxy on this country, which views all of us as second-class citizens? No, thank you. I’m not signing up for that.
The Greatest Monuments
Another difference between Reagan’s era and today is, Reagan was famous for saying: the most terrifying words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” And what he was identifying was 100% accurate. You had great-society central planners that thought they could socially engineer our economy and our way of life and make decisions for us better than we could make them for ourselves. And so that led to massive excess, it led to lots of unintended consequences. And Reagan was basically identifying that as something that was holding our economy back and holding our freedom back. He was 100% right.
But I think the difference between then and now is, government is bigger and more powerful. But these agencies, particularly in law enforcement and national security, have been weaponized, so that they really represent the enforcement arm of one particular faction of society against the rest of us. And you do not have equal zeal with which they wield their power. People talk about the deep state like it’s some conspiracy. It’s not a conspiracy. What we have right now is the logical result of having an absence of constitutional accountability in the administrative state. And basically what human nature will do, of course, power is going to accumulate there. The founding fathers would have told us this if we had told them what was going on. So that’s the logical outgrowth of Congress abdicating its responsibility to hold the bureaucracy accountable for decades. It’s a logical result of Congress empowering the bureaucracy and letting them do a lot of the heavy legislating. And so that’s what we have. It’s not anything that really should surprise anybody.
And you have one faction that is controlling all of these agencies, and you can see it in their political donations. You can see it in their activities. That’s why you have things like, when you had the terrorist attack at Fort Hood in 2009, federal law enforcement said it was workplace violence. When you had, at our congressional baseball practice—I was on the congressional baseball team, and we had a crazy Bernie Sanders supporter, a radical leftist, try to shoot Republican members of Congress. He actually shot Steve Scalise and some staffers. And the FBI said that that was suicide by cop, even though we had all the evidence that this was politically motivated.
And then when parents were going to school boards recently, to complain about some of the policies, they were categorized as domestic terrorists. Now that is outrageous, from our perspective. But it is very understandable. From their perspective, this is how they see the world. And that’s very, very dangerous. But that’s where we are. So I think the challenge that we face is, so many of these institutions have been captured by a failed, ossified ruling class. If you want to have an American revival, yes, it requires electing good people, having good policy. But it also requires a recognition that it is not just in the electoral realm. It’s also in the administrative realm. And it’s also more and more increasingly, in the corporate and technological realm. I think that the Left is playing for keeps. When Brandon gave his speech the other day, you know, yelling in front of the blood red thing? To me, I thought it was, of course, outrageous. But it was really just him verbalizing what they have been trying to do for the last many years. I mean, imagine if they had elected maybe two more U.S. senators in 2020. What was their agenda? They wanted to pack the U.S. Supreme Court; they want to abolish the electoral college. They wanted to make Washington, D.C. a state so they get to elect radical Left Democrat senators for life. And they wanted to federalize fraudulent ballot practices, like ballot harvesting, and have no voter I.D. anywhere in the country.
And so you ask yourself, gee, is that an agenda that the typical American family is sitting over the dinner table thinking, oh, man, if only we could make D.C. a state, my life would be so much better? Of course not. That is an agenda that is trying to render the conservative half of the country second-class citizens. And all Biden did was verbalize what their actions have always been telling us. Their view of unity is that they’re in power, and we don’t matter. And then you have unity, because there’s no one else in the government, and no one else in society who could wield effective power to check you, or to stop you. And so they’re playing for keeps.
This is not an easy fight, because they have so much support across the commanding heights of society. It requires that yes, we use common sense, yes, we understand the issues and be correct on those. But more and more, it requires that we do so by demonstrating courage under fire. Because if you stand up for what’s right, you are going to get attacked by the corporate press, you may get censored by big tech, you will get smeared by the opposition. And it’s not just guys like me, who are the governor of a big state. If a parent goes to a school board meeting, and they speak out, how are they going to be treated by the media? They’re going to be attacked by the media. You’re running for a local office? How are you going to be treated? If you’re in a particular industry or business that the elites don’t like, you will be disfavored.
And so leadership is not cost-free. At any level right now, you are going to have to stand and bear the costs. And I think that the frustrating thing sometimes with some of the Republicans is, you know, they say great things during the campaign season, they will say that they’re going to hit on all these issues. And then the minute it gets tough, the minute that kitchen starts to get a little hot, the minute the klieg lights start to get really, really bright, well, then they kind of just scurry around to safety, because you know, they don’t want to necessarily be the person taking all the arrows. Well, if you’re not willing to take the arrows, you’re not going to get anything done. You got to be willing to stand and you got to be willing to fight.
And I think it’s important that we’re willing to do that and willing to sacrifice. And I’ll just leave you with this anecdote. One of the things that motivates me—because when I was doing a lot of this stuff during COVID, I mean, I was getting hammered, not just here in Florida but nationally, internationally, in the leftist media, you name it. And I had people that you know, they really wanted to see me do this or that. And I said, no, I’m not going to do that. Why? Because my job is to look out for the jobs and the freedom of the people that I represent. It’s not to try to protect my own job. I’ve got to be willing to stand there, do the right thing, and let the political chips fall where they may.
And so our view was, I should be the one taking the arrows. I should be the one having to deal with this. And I am basically the protector of the state’s freedom and opportunity. And part of the reason I think that is because, yes, we want to do well for ourselves, our kids, our grandkids. You know, you’ve had a lot of people since this country’s inception, that have given it all so that we could be here with a fighting chance to have a free society. I used to go when I was in Congress, fly to D.C. from Florida. And there was one route that you could take on the way to Reagan Airport where you went parallel to the National Mall going into Washington, D.C., and you’d see out the left side of the plane, the Lincoln mall. And you’re pretty low. I mean, these are really panoramic shots—Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson, MLK, Washington Monument, the National, the reflecting pool, the whole mall, and then a really majestic view of the Capitol building right up there on Capitol Hill. And you’re like man, that really evokes principles that make our country unique. The tourists would be gawking. When they’d look out the window, they thought it was the coolest thing. And it was neat.
But I’ll tell you, after I did that trip enough, what I came to realize were the best monuments, were not out the left side of the plane. If you looked on the right side of the plane, you looked over the Potomac River, you’d look into northern Virginia, and you saw monuments that were much smaller, very nondescript, orderly, arranged across what seemed to be rolling hills and a place called Arlington National Cemetery. And it just occurred to me that you can have the best principles in the world, you can have the best ideals, heck, you can even have the best politicians in the world. But those ideals aren’t going to amount to very much if you don’t have people who throughout history have been able to stand up, put on that uniform, and be willing to risk it all and indeed, in many cases, give it all so that we could have a free society.
So yes, we fight because we want a better life for us, our kids and grandkids. But we also fight because we owe a debt of gratitude for those who have come before us. And we need to do justice to their sacrifice. And we would not be doing that if we were running away from the fight before us. God bless you all. Thank you so much.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.