JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Florida’s governor, who typically has high approval ratings, has come under attack over his calls last week to tighten voting rules despite a very successful election with little indication of any irregularities, ordering flags lowered to half staff to honor the late conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who he called “an absolute legend” and “a great person,” and place a new state-run vaccination clinic in a high-income neighborhood.
Announced at a news conference in West Palm Beach that felt more like a political rally, DeSantis called for restricting the mass-mailing of ballots -- something Florida has never done -- banning ballot collection boxes anywhere other than each county’s Supervisor of Election’s Office -- something most counties did successfully last November due to overwhelming demand -- tighten the signature verification process and limit volunteer groups from helping residents collect ballots.
After announcing his election proposals, DeSantis called on the state’s former Republican Party chairman to make remarks that attacked how other states ran their elections last fall.
On Limbaugh, DeSantis said he would announce the dates to lower the flags once the date of Limbaugh’s internment was announced. Limbaugh, 70, a Palm Beach resident, died of lung cancer.
The governor said the honor is “what we do when there’s things of this magnitude,” but the move doesn’t seem to fit the state’s flag protocol, which calls for flags to be flown at half-staff “in the event of the death of a present or former official of the Florida State government or the death of a member of the Armed Forces from Florida who dies while serving on active duty.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Miami) called the governor’s decision “an embarrassment to Florida.” Florida Senate Democratic leader Gary Farmer also criticized DeSantis’ flag order, calling it “a partisan political tool to salute a man who served no other interests than his own and did his best to deeply divide a country along political fault lines.”
Does DeSantis deserve the pushback on these issues? News4Jax political analyst Rick Mullaney, who is the director of Jacksonville University’s Public Policy Institute, joined Bruce Hamilton on The Morning Show on Monday to answer that question.
“There’s no doubt that Rush Limbaugh was a pioneer but he was also was a very polarizing figure,” Mullaney said. “(It’s) Ron DeSantis speaking to his political base. Remember, there is a governor’s race next year and some people are speculating about Ron DeSantis running (for president) in 2024.”
As to DeSantis’ proposed voting restrictions, Mullaney said the changes the governor is calling for aren’t that different from the laws already on the books in Florida.
“Florida already requires that you request the ballot and it goes only to the person requesting it. I think the governor wants to codify that -- put it in statute,” Mullany said. “Florida really was the model on election night in 2020. The results were reported early, they were counted early, and the system was refined over time. There’s sort of a tension between access and security. The effort here is to have both.”
Eliza Sweren-Becker, of the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights Election Council, said DeSantis proposals are “unfortunately consistent with a rash of policies that have been offered to restrict voter access,” adding that some of the governor’s proposals appear to be based on the “faulty premise” and disproven lies about the 2020 election and voter fraud.
“One of the lessons of 2020 is that we need reform, and that reform begins at the federal level. The 1887 Electoral Counting Act, for example, that was the basis of many Republicans seeking to overturn the electoral vote on Jan. 6 and, by the way, the basis for many Democrats doing that in the past,” Mullaney said. “You want to move forward in several fronts. You want public confidence in the outcome. I think we can do both -- we can increase access; we can create access.”
Recently, former Gov Charlie Crist accused DeSantis of turning his back on communities with higher COVID infections and death rates. He and others pounced last week when the governor announced a vaccination in a high-income neighborhood of Manatee County. Crist called for the Department of Justice to investigate.
“Welcome to the governor’s race of 2022 because former Gov. Crist has announced he’s running for governor,” Mullaney said. “The piece here to keep in mind is whether Gov. DeSantis was doing this because of age and seniors in those communities or whether it was, in fact, inequitable. That remains to be seen. Like I said, welcome to politics.”