OPINION: Ron DeSantis Is an Authoritarian

May 19, 2021
11:39 AM

Gov. Ron DeSantis, of Florida, on Saturday, May 8, 2021, in Juno Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Ron DeSantis increasingly acts like an authoritarian rather than a governor elected by a razor-thin margin of about 30,000 votes.

We are seeing the end of a legislative session that can only be described as a direct assault on Floridians. Republicans in the state legislature passed bills that bully trans kids that want to play sports, criminalize protesting, suppress the right to vote, raised sales taxes for consumers, and blocked raising unemployment benefits for those who are still struggling through the pandemic.

While doing nothing to better the lives of Floridians, DeSantis and his acolytes were busy trying to distract the public by passing a silly and likely unconstitutional bill going after social media companies for “deplatforming” candidates running statewide in the state.

DeSantis recently made headlines by hosting a rally to sign his voter suppression bill in Palm Beach. He blocked all media from covering the event and gave an exclusive to Fox and Friends, which is notoriously conservative and supportive of Trump and his allies.

This is a disservice to the broader public which deserves an opportunity to watch their representatives without being forced to watch media with an ideological leaning they might not necessarily agree with. It’s also a direct attack on journalists who are trying to provide critical analysis and reeks of cowardice by DeSantis, who is clearly trying to hide from any sort of criticism or even questioning.

The media is not the only target of DeSantis’ attacks. I have been a critic of Ron DeSantis for years. In July 2020, I made national news when I confronted him on what I consider to be a disastrous handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with him misleading the public on the impact of the virus. I continue to believe DeSantis is an incredibly destructive force for Florida in many ways.

Last month, I went to the Port of Miami where a press event by DeSantis was taking place related to CDC guidelines affecting the cruise ship industry. As I parked my vehicle, I was detained by several Miami-Dade police officers who refused to tell me the reason, told me I was not allowed to take pictures, and later trespassed me from the port without telling me why. When I asked one of the officers what it was that I did to be removed from a public space, he remarked that the port was indeed public but “not for you”.

I want to highlight that I never actually attempted to go inside the DeSantis event. I later found out through a public records request of the police report, that Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement had shared my personal and vehicle information with Miami-Dade County Police and had described me as a “known agitator”. While I have certainly been vocal in the past in regards to my political views, I have always been peaceful and my actions are always in the spirit of civic engagement and the right to free speech protected under the first amendment.

It’s also worth highlighting that my detention and expulsion from this event could be violations of Florida’s Sunshine Law and Florida Statute (F.S.) 286, the Public Meetings Act. Sunshine Law assures open government in Florida and requires any collegial public body of the executive branch of state government” be open and noticed to the public, which appears to be violated by having both Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley moody meeting to influence and attack the Centers for Disease Control’s public health policy decision to regulate the cruise industry due to Covid-19 concerns.

It is disturbing that Ron DeSantis thinks he can use Florida law enforcement agencies as his personal force to intimidate critics. I was detained in a public space, without having committed a crime or offense, simply because I was described as an agitator and there was a possibility that I might do something annoying to the governor in the future. That’s behavior typical of authoritarian systems.

We are currently suing to acquire more public records related to the incident and we will not stop until we expose all the ways in which DeSantis continues to corrupt our democratic process.


Thomas Kennedy is an elected Democratic National Committee member representing Florida. Twitter: @tomaskenn.