Standing before a backdrop featuring a huge U.S. flag and a line of Florida National Guard troops in at-ease pose, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday that he wants to revive a state guard he can run without interference from the federal government.
State law drafted during World War II already authorizes this Florida State Guard — it was created to replace Florida National Guard troops called up by the federal government to fight abroad but disbanded after the war ended.
All that’s needed is $3.5 million that DeSantis said he’ll ask the state Legislature to approve during its regular session, which convenes in January.
The governor, who held hands with his son Mason at the event, described what he has in mind as a “civilian volunteer force that will have the ability to assist the National Guard in state-specific emergencies.”
The state, he said, needs to “be able to use support in ways that are not encumbered by the federal government or don’t require the federal government.”
The proposal was fully in keeping with DeSantis’ ongoing sparring with President Joe Biden over border policies, the response to Covid, even a suggestion that the FBI investigate threats of violence to school board members trying to enforce mandatory masking by schoolchildren.
DeSantis again attacked Biden’s efforts to mandate vaccines in the workplace, adding criticism of a recent Biden administration proposal to require Covid testing for passengers returning to the United States from abroad in light of the omicron variant, plus other mitigation strategies.
“We’re going to look to see … if the state of Florida can potentially do something to seek some relief on this,” the governor said.
“He [Biden] basically sold the public a bill of goods, said that he would shut it [Covid] down. He’s not shutting it down. So, what they’re doing now, I think, it’s not going to have any impact on mitigating Covid. It’s more theater.”
The Florida State Guard already has a logo, featured during the governor’s news conference, displaying an alligator with its jaws agape and the words: “Let us alone.”
The image is strikingly similar to signs DeSantis aides distributed during a rally-style October news conference in which he announced plans for a special session of the Legislature to oppose the Biden administration’s mask and vaccine mandates. These also featured a gator and the words: “Don’t Tread on Florida.”
Press secretary Christina Pushaw explained via email that the “Let us alone” motto embellished a flag that flew over the inauguration of Florida’s first governor, William Dunn Moseley, in 1845. According to the Florida Historical Society, however, the Legislature never formally adopted that flag because the Senate objected to inclusion of the motto.
DeSantis said the unit would comprise up to 200 members who will respond to hurricanes and other state emergencies.
More than 25,000 Florida Guard members have served abroad since Sept. 11, 2001, including more than 1,500 serving in war zones right now and on the U.S.-Mexico border, said Maj. Gen. James Eifert, the Guard’s commander.
The federal government helps pay for the National Guard and is allowed to call upon it to meet national emergencies, including wars.
“We want to be able to have a quick response capability — and reestablishing the Florida State Guard will allow civilians from all over the state to be trained in the best emergency-response techniques and have the ability to mobilize very, very quickly,” DeSantis said.
He noted that Florida’s National Guard is small for a state of our size — about 12,000 members covering 65,758 square miles and a population of 22 million people. That’s the second-smallest in the country, according to USA Today Network-Florida report about bipartisan efforts to persuade Congress to boost its strength.
DeSantis said his total ask from the Legislature for the next fiscal year for the National Guard will amount to $100 million, including $87.5 million to expand a readiness center in Miramar and construct three new armories to accommodate 1,500 personnel.
He wants money for what he called a “counter-drug” program to fill “an unfortunate void left by the Biden administration’s open-border agenda.”
The plan includes financial support for Guard members seeking higher education and for scholarships for children and spouses of deceased and disabled veterans.
–Michael Moline, Florida Phoenix