While Gov. Ron DeSantis has touted a law called the Parents’ Bill of Rights, he didn’t take into consideration Wednesday that he could be imposing on parent rights when he aggressively told masked students they they didn’t have to wear them.
“You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please, take them off,” DeSantis said at a Tampa press conference. “Honestly, it’s not doing anything. And we’ve got to stop with this COVID theater,” he told the students.
“So, if you want to wear it — fine. But this is, this is ridiculous, ” he told the students.
The governor scoffed, prior to starting the press conference. Some students removed their masks, but not all. With COVID cases declining dramatically, mask wearing also has decreased in Florida and elsewhere. [Florida this week is expected to exceed 70,000 deaths from Covid since the pandemic began two years ago. The governor’s claim about masks’ ineffectiveness are factually disproven by numerous studies.]
However, DeSantis’ behavior Wednesday toward the students appears to conflict with his freedom philosophy.
A video of the exchange was posted to Twitter by Evan Donovan of WFLA after the press conference, and quickly received condemnation from DeSantis critics.
The video of DeSantis’ behavior and the follow-up reactions serve as a reminder that the 2022 gubernatorial elections are right around the corner and campaign season is ramping up, along with the political scrutiny and public attention that comes with it.
NEW: @GovRonDeSantis annoyed with USF students—
"You do not have to wear those masks. Please take them off. Honestly, it's not doing anything. We've gotta stop with this Covid theater. So if you wanna wear it, fine, but this is ridiculous."https://t.co/7j1Pb2hV53 @WFLA pic.twitter.com/ZIOyTHLOh3
— Evan Donovan (@EvanDonovan) March 2, 2022
The three main contenders for the Democratic nominee weighed in on the video.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, sent out a written statement:
“I can’t believe a grown man would bully high school students like that. He’s clearly unhinged. The governor talks a lot about freedom, but only if he gets his way. That’s not freedom, that’s dictatorial and unacceptable. This clip shows you who he really is. And it’s everything I’m not. Floridians deserve something new and someone new — someone who doesn’t bully high school students.”
Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor of Florida and a Democrat in Congress, tweeted in response:
“Young people in our state deserve to be treated with respect, not dunked on by a heartless, egotistical governor with a political agenda.”
State Sen. Annette Taddeo, who represents part of Miami-Dade County, called it “a new low even for this governor” on twitter, and invoked DeSantis’ common talking point about protecting a parents’ right to direct the upbringing of their child.
“Students should never be berated for their personal choice to wear a mask. Maybe it’s the parents’ choice? Aren’t we all about “parental rights”? It’s clear the governor has put aside individual choice and freedom,” Taddeo tweeted.
Back at the conference, DeSantis capped his press conference with a 5-minute commentary on President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address from the previous evening, which you can read here.
“The striking thing is we have a lot of problems in this country, and that’s something you obviously have to deal with, but it’s striking that so many of these problems by Biden and his administration since he’s become president,” DeSantis said.
While DeSantis says he is currently focused on running for Florida governor this year, many of his press conferences and campaign events focus on the Biden administration.
He is also seen as a potential contender for the 2024 presidential election, though there have not been formal announcements.
DeSantis took jabs at current gas prices.
“People are chafing at the pump because you’ve had 40-50 percent increase in the price of gas — Well why is that? It’s because they shut down the Keystone pipeline. No oil from ANWR (Artic National Wildlife Refuge). Nothing from federal lands, so consequently, you’re importing more from countries like Russia.”
–Danielle J. Brown, Florida Phoenix