Democrats say they’ve come up with a way to reverse their fortunes and rack up victories in next year’s elections: highlight policies implemented by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature.
On Thursday, in West Palm Beach, they emphasized education policies, keying off the first day of school in Palm Beach County.
“We have made our schools a war zone,” state Democratic Chair Nikki Fried said. “Indoctrination is what is happening from the Republican Party. They are indoctrinating our kids with far-right propaganda and revisionist history.”
“The attack on public education by our Republican politicians who are attacking our students and our teachers is scary, and it’s dangerous,” said U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach. “They promote propaganda that’s distorting science and history and gender and our children are being denied the truth.”
And state Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, excoriated the state Board of Education’s controversial Black history standards that include a required instruction on “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
DeSantis defended the standard — something that leading conservative, Black elected officials denounced, and the governor responded by accusing the Black Republicans of carrying water for Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris.
“To teach anybody that there were skills that were taught that could benefit people who were enslaved is the most disingenuous thing that our government has started to do,” Powell said.
The Democratic effort to stoke voter outrage over what Fried called “MAGA extremism” echoes what Democrats did leading up to the 2022 midterm elections.
It didn’t work. The state’s voters gave DeSantis a resounding 19-point reelection victory, reduced Democratic numbers so much in the state House and Senate that they’re essentially powerless to affect the outcome of legislation, and increased the number of Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation.
Nine months later, Fried and state Sen. Lori Berman, of Palm Beach County, said there are differences.
DeSantis and Republicans who control the Legislature implemented even more extreme policies in this year’s legislative session and the impacts of this year’s laws and measures passed in recent years are being felt by people.
They have a long list, including a law prohibiting almost all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy, a ban on abortions after six weeks (that hasn’t yet gone into effect), eliminating the permit requirement for people carrying concealed weapons, and cracking down on employment of undocumented workers, which is affecting the agriculture, tourism and construction industries.
All together, the Democrats said, voters have reached a critical mass of disgust at what they said is Republican overreach, and will respond by punishing Republicans in 2024.
Fried said Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee went along with what DeSantis wanted because they thought the governor would be elected president, and they wanted to ride what they believed would be a DeSantis wave.
Now, DeSantis’ candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination is troubled, and voters will hold his enablers accountable at the polls in Florida, Fried said.
Fried, Frankel, Berman Powell and Greenacres Mayor Joel Flores made their pitch before a group of about three dozen Democratic activists gathered at the Urban League of Palm Beach County offices in West Palm Beach.
Fried is traveling the state trying to energize party activists to work in communities now — not waiting until the election season.
Top priorities are registering voters and getting people to renew their vote by mail requests, all of which expired after the midterm elections and have to be renewed or people won’t receive mail ballots next year.
“We are here to take back Palm Beach County,” Fried said, declaring that the county is Democratic blue.
Palm Beach County is essential territory for Democrats. It was long one of the state’s Democratic strongholds, providing votes that could offset more Republican areas of the state, and putting it in the running for statewide victories.
It wasn’t blue in 2022. Turnout among Democrats in Palm Beach County, and the rest of the state, plunged compared to the 2018 midterm elections.
The numbers tell part of the story: Though Democrats were far ahead in voter registration in Palm Beach County going into the midterms — 40% Democratic, 29% Republican and 31% no party affiliation/independent and third-party voters — DeSantis won the county, with 51.2% of the vote.
Fried, who unsuccessfully sought her party’s nomination to run against DeSantis last year, said his presidential candidacy has taken the governor away from Florida — returning only for what she portrayed as political moves aimed at increasing his standing among Republican primary voters in other states.
She excoriated DeSantis for his appearance in Tallahassee on Wednesday — in a break from campaigning for president in Iowa — in which he suspended the Democratic state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties.
“He flies into town and what does he do? He fires a duly elected Black female state attorney because he doesn’t agree with how she handles her caseload,” Fried said, depicting it as part of “the attack on democracy, the attack on voting rights.”
DeSantis said he suspended State Attorney Monique Worrell because she has been “clearly and fundamentally derelict” in her duty.
His executive order said her office had a pattern or practice to avoid minimum mandatory sentences for gun crimes, drug trafficking offenses and allowed juveniles to avoid serious charges or incarceration altogether. He also accused her office of limiting charges for child pornography.
A representative for the Florida Republican Party didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.
Information from Sun Sentinel archives was used in this report.
Anthony Man can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @browardpolitics and on Post.news/@browardpolitics