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He doesn’t want you to vote, doesn’t want you to protest, and doesn’t even want you to disagree with him. I’m not describing the leader of a communist country, I’m talking about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Since taking office, he has clearly expressed his motivations, becoming more authoritarian day by day. Using the power of his office, the governor has eroded the freedom and rights of his constituents and Sunshine State businesses, rewarded his wealthy donors and undermined the media.
DeSantis took every opportunity to remove the voting rights. From his efforts to stop the implementation of Amendment 4, to his opposition to major changes to the leniency rules – the governor’s actions have prevented hundreds of thousands of Floridians from regaining their right to vote.
Under the guise of fighting voter fraud (Florida’s only voter fraud in 2020 was from Republican agents), DeSantis prioritized legislation by adding barriers to postal voting and initially sought to ban ballot boxes. It comes after a record number of Floridians voted by mail in 2020, and more Democrats than Republicans voted this way.
From actions by Nicolás Maduro to undermine Venezuela’s electoral process and suppress votes, to actions by Daniel Ortega to intimidate and confuse voters in Nicaragua, tactics to limit the vote are widespread in South American regimes . Eliminating voters is a slippery slope that only ends in injustice.
DeSantis also works to silence dissenting voices. Its top legislative priority, House Bill 1, clamps down on free speech and criminalizes protests – a clear violation of constitutionally guaranteed First Amendment rights. Under the new law, even if you protest peacefully, if others turn violent, you could be jailed alongside them. This movement to silence, intimidate and imprison opposing voices frighteningly resembles Fidel Castro’s actions to imprison critics of his regime.
Businesses are also not immune to governor attacks. Many companies, especially those that rely on large group events, want to protect their customers by requiring COVID-19 vaccines. But the governor issued an executive order banning the practice and urged the legislature to ban it. At the same time, he used his authority to provide his political donors with exclusive access to COVID-19 vaccines while frontline workers and teachers lined up. And he did so by adding more than $ 14 million to his re-election fund since January.
As the only Democratic official in the entire state, I am the only voice in the cabinet opposing DeSantis actions. But instead of a debate on the facts, he responded with attempts to increase his power and limit the authority of my office. Criticism from the media is not welcome either. Almost systematically, DeSantis attacks their coverage, ignores their questions, and refuses to disclose data and information that should be available to the public.
We have seen the same actions to consolidate power and silence the media in countries like Cuba and Nicaragua, where Castro oversaw a rewrite of the constitution and where Maduro has consistently silenced and undermined the independent press.
And while the governor condemns the leaders of these countries, his actions speak louder than his words. DeSantis has withdrawn from the authoritarian manual – suppressing votes and opponents, attacking the media, and cracking down on constitutional rights.
Under DeSantis’ “regime”, if you do not support him or his party, he wants to prevent you from voting. If you don’t agree with him, he will use his authority to silence you. And if you dare to protest and speak up, be prepared to find yourself behind bars.
Nikki fried is Florida Commissioner of Agriculture.