Gov. Ron DeSantis traveled to the Florida Panhandle on Friday to dispense $23 million in infrastructure grants but spent the bulk of his time complaining about the Biden administration and culture war sore spots.
During his 35-minute event in Port St. Joe, for example, the governor spent about seven minutes discussing the grants and handing out checks; the rest was politics.
Later, in Apalachicola, he spent about the same amount of time in total but just four minutes dispensing grants.
The grants include $700,000 for downtown restoration including new water line in Port St. Joe; $652,000 for improvements to prevent sewage overflows in Apalachicola; $1 million to improve two fire stations and wastewater drainage in Panama City; and $1.1 million to improve a senior center and a drainage project in Holmes County.
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“There’s never been a governor that’s been in the Panhandle communities more than me and we’re proud about that,” DeSantis claimed.
The rest was the standard stump speech DeSantis has devised since announcing for reelection in October: President Joe Biden’s energy policy; inflation; the “defund the police” movement; and immigration policy included.
DeSantis is up for reelection in November; his potential Democratic challengers include U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor now a Democrat; Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried; and state Sen. Annette Taddeo of Miami-Dade.
Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Marcus Dixon commented on the appearances in an email to the Phoenix.
“If Ron DeSantis spent even an ounce of his time addressing real issues instead of playing politics and chasing his national ambitions Floridians wouldn’t be suffering from some of the highest housing and health care costs in the entire country,” Dixon said. “DeSantis would be better served thanking President Biden and Democrats for creating 8 million new jobs.”
Friday’s discourse reflected a new development: the Biden administration decision to end Title 42, a public-health policy enacted by the Trump administration which allowed exclusion of asylum seekers as a way to limit transmission of COVID.
“That is a dereliction of duty. That is wrong to not defend our own country’s borders,” DeSantis said.
He defended the “Don’t Say Gay” law he recently signed to sharply limit instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in public classrooms. Critics complain the law will marginalize disfavored minorities.
“We want to make sure our young kids are focused on the core things — learning to read, learning to write, math, science, all these different things that are so important,” he said.
“We want education not indoctrination in the state of Florida,” he said.
“And I don’t really care what the media says about that. I don’t care what very left-wing activists say about that. I do not care what big companies say about that. We are standing strong and we will not back down from that.
State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who hails from the Panhandle, and Department of Economic Opportunity chief Dane Eagle were on hand and praised the governor, too.
In Port St. Joe, DeSantis commented on politics north of the state line, in Georgia, apparently because visitors from that state were among the crowd.
“If Stacey Abrams is elected governor of Georgia, I just want to be honest, that will be a cold war between Florida and Georgia at that point,” he said. “I mean, I can’t have Castro to my South and Abrams to my north. That’d be a disaster.”
–Michael Moline, Florida Phoenix