DeSantis and Abbott: America’s worst governors
Before we start, let’s define critical race theory (CRT) since this post deals with it and so much rightwing misinformation has been thrown about.
In the simplest, most basic terms, critical race theory is a framework for examing America’s history through the lens of racism. Proponents argue that racism has played a central role in America’s formation and successive history up to and including modern times. For (a very simplified) example, the practice of redlining led to a racial wealth gap that persists today, affecting crime rates and mass incarceration. Using CRT as a tool, scholars try to uncover systemic and institutional racism – like redlining – and fight for racial justice and equality.
The above “definition” is inadequate, however. As the American Bar Association points out, CRT is not a noun but a verb:
It cannot be confined to a static and narrow definition but is considered to be an evolving and malleable practice. It critiques how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers. CRT also recognizes that race intersects with other identities, including sexuality, gender identity, and others. CRT recognizes that racism is not a bygone relic of the past. Instead, it acknowledges that the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color continue to permeate the social fabric of this nation.
Core tenets, such as “CRT recognizes that racism is codified in law, embedded in structures, and woven into public policy,” can explain why the political right is seeking to make sure CRT doesn’t take hold in the national conscience. 80% of Republican voters are white. The Republican House caucus – 211 strong as of February – only had 9 non-white members.
Additionally, Republicans see culture war issues as the key to retaking control of the House and Senate in next year’s midterms. Creating hysteria over CRT, transgender athletes, and abortion are all part of the plan. The media has been complicit in this, using the right’s definitions and amplifying their messages on news broadcasts and interviews.
Further learning: “Critical Race Theory,” Purdue Online Writing Lab. “Critical Race and Ethnic Studies Guide,” University of Denver (with videos). “Creator Of Term ‘Critical Race Theory’ Kimberlé Crenshaw Explains What It Really Is,” MSNBC YouTube.
April 19: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed so-called “anti-mob” legislation redefining “rioting” to include anyone present during a “violent public disturbance involving an assembly of three or more persons,” therefore criminalizing peaceful protestors. The expansive House Bill 1 also shields an individual from liability for killing a demonstrator with their vehicle, grants the executive office the power to veto police budget reductions made by local governments, and criminalizes acts like pulling down a confederate flag, which it deems a “memorial.”
Speaking at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, DeSantis said:
”We are holding those who incite violence in our communities accountable, supporting our law enforcement officers who risk their lives every day to keep us safe and protecting Floridians from the chaos of mob violence. We’re also putting an end to the bullying and intimidation tactics of the radical left by criminalizing doxing and requiring restitution for damaging memorials and monuments by rioters.”
May 10: DeSantis signed Senate Bill 1884, expanding a long-existing state statute forbidding municipalities from regulating firearms and ammunition. Known as a gun preemption law, it holds that the state possesses the power the regulate all firearm-related policies. The new changes add “unwritten” local policies to the prohibitions and creates liability for municipalities even if they revert policies after a lawsuit.
May 24: Using the suspension of former President Donald Trump from online platforms as a rallying cry, DeSantis signed legislation limiting the ability of social media companies to moderate content. Senate Bill 7072 prohibits the suspension of political candidates before elections and allows lawsuits if a tech company is found to have acted in an “unfair” manner against any users.
DeSantis: “If Big Tech censors enforce rules inconsistently, to discriminate in favor of the dominant Silicon Valley ideology, they will now be held accountable.”
Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nuñez: “What we’ve been seeing across the U.S. is an effort to silence, intimidate, and wipe out dissenting voices by the leftist media and big corporations.”
May 24:** DeSantis opted Florida out of emergency federal unemployment benefits, claiming the move would incentivize people to return to the workforce. The program, enacted to ease pandemic-related financial issues, provided supplemental payments of $300 a week to unemployed workers and extended benefits to gig workers and the self-employed. Florida has one of the lowest unemployment benefits in the nation: $275 a week for only up to 12 weeks.
June 1: DeSantis signed the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” banning transgender girls from competing on girls sports teams at public schools. Senate Bill 1028 states that the “designation of separate sex-specific athletic teams or sports is necessary to maintain fairness for women’s athletic opportunities.” To this end, it directs athletic teams to check the “biological sex on the student’s official birth certificate” to ensure that the law is being followed.
Speaking at the Trinity Christian Academy, DeSantis said: “In Florida, girls are going to play girls sports and boys are going to play boys sports
June 3: DeSantis vetoed $900,000 in funding for programs that serve the LGBTQ+ community in Florida, including a $150,000 initiative dedicated to mental health and counseling services for survivors of the Pulse nightclub shooting.
June 10: The Florida State Board of Education, most of whom were appointed by DeSantis, unanimously approved a ban on teaching critical race theory following a push from the governor.
The amendment states topics must be “factual and objective,” and specifically prohibits “the teaching of Critical Race Theory, meaning the theory that racism is not merely the product of prejudice, but that racism is embedded in American society and its legal systems in order to uphold the supremacy of white persons.”
The amendment also bans material from the 1619 Project, a Pulitzer Prize-winning initiative by The New York Times that reframed American history around the date of August 1619, when the first slave ship arrived on America’s shores.
June 22: DeSantis signed House Bill 233, requiring Florida colleges and universities to conduct a yearly survey “of the intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” of students, faculty, and staff. The legislation does not specify what will be done with the survey results, but DeSantis suggested the state could cut the budgets of institutions that are found to be “indoctrinating” students. The implicit threat being: Express views the governor doesn’t like and you may be punished.
“It used to be thought that a university campus was a place where you’d be exposed to a lot of different ideas,” DeSantis said during a bill signing ceremony. “Unfortunately, now the norm is, these are more intellectually repressive environments. You have orthodoxies that are promoted, and other viewpoints are shunned or even suppressed.”
June 22: Another bill signed by DeSantis, House Bill 5, mandates teaching that some ideas should be shunned – specifically, socialism and communism. The bulk of the measure focuses on ensuring civics education is included in K-12 curriculum, which should be laudable. However, it includes language like the “Portraits in Patriotism Act,” requiring “first-person accounts of victims of other nations’ governing philosophies”.
DeSantis presented the following endorsement of HB5 on his website:
“Educating people on the crimes of communism is the cornerstone of VOC’s mission,” said Ambassador Andrew Bremberg, President and CEO of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. “This education is especially crucial for America’s youth during their formative years, so we applaud Florida for ensuring their students will receive this education. VOC’s most recent poll on US Attitudes Toward Socialism, Communism and Collectivism further proves the necessity of student education on communism, as only 63% of Gen Z and Millennials believe the Declaration of Independence better “guarantees freedom and equality” over the Communist Manifesto and 40% of Americans today have a favorable view of socialism.”
May 17: Abbott opted Texas out of emergency federal unemployment benefits, claiming the “economy is booming and employers are hiring in communities throughout the state.” The program, enacted to ease pandemic-related financial issues, provided supplemental payments of $300 a week to unemployed workers and extended benefits to gig workers and the self-employed. Abbott later defended his decision by arguing that workers would rather receive unemployment than take a job:
“The biggest challenge that I hear from employers is that Texas is open 100%, employers are trying to hire, however, restaurants and stores and other types of businesses aren’t able to open up as much as they want to because they cannot gain access to the employees they need to open up,” he said.
May 19: Abbott signed one of the most extreme anti-abortion bills in the country, banning the procedure once a heartbeat is detected. A fetal heartbeat can be detected at about six weeks of pregnancy, before some women even know they’re pregnant. Worse yet, Senate Bill 8 does not contain an exception for rape or incest.
“Our creator endowed us with the right to life and yet millions of children lose their right to life every year because of abortion,” Abbott said.
June 1: Billed as “Back the Blue” legislation, Abbott signed a bill into law that prevents cities from cutting police budgets. House Bill 1900 gives the governor the power to appropriate the sales taxes of any city that is found to have cut police funding. Since the civil rights protests of 2020, only Austin’s City Council voted to reduce their police department budget.
June 15: Abbott signed legislation that bans the teaching of critical race theory and material from the 1619 project, a New York Times Magazine initiative that “aims to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” House Bill 3979 does not explicitly mention CRT or define it, instead including provisions prohibiting curriculum on “slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to, the authentic founding principles of the United States.”
June 15: Abbott signed legislation imposing a statewide ban on homeless individuals camping in a public space. House Bill 1925 gives police officers the ability to ticket violators with a fine of up to $500.
June 16: Abbott signed House Bill 4492, a $2.5 billion bailout of the state’s electricity companies following the devastating winter storm in February. The funds will be raised by imposing a fee that is passed on to customers, raising their electricity bills by “at least a few dollars each month for possibly the next two decades,” according to the Texas Tribune.
June 17: Accompanied by NRA President Wayne LaPierre, Abbott signed legislation creating Constitutional Carry in the state of Texas. House Bill 1927 allows people 21 years or older to carry a handgun in public without a permit. Previously, the law required licenses to carry handguns – a process involving 4-6 hours of training, a written exam, a shooting proficiency test, and the submission of fingerprints.
“Politicians from the federal level to the local level have threatened to take guns from law-abiding citizens — but we will not let that happen in Texas,” said Governor Abbott. “Texas will always be the leader in defending the Second Amendment, which is why we built a barrier around gun rights this session.”
June 21: Abbott vetoed a bipartisan bill that expanded violations and punishments for cruelty to dogs. He also:
canceled two criminal justice reform bills prioritized by House Speaker Dade Phelan (R), a bill requiring schools to teach high school and middle school students about child abuse prevention and domestic violence, another one expanding rural broadband access, and legislation offering reduced penalties for criminal trespassing, arguing it would hurt tools to arrest homeless people and immigrants at the border.
June 22: In response to state Democrats walking out of the legislative session last month to prevent the passage of a restrictive voting bill, Gov. Abbott called a special session to start July 8. It is expected that the Republican-controlled legislature will take up not only the voter suppression measure, but also go farther to limit critical race theory. Abbott told supporters on a campaign call that “more must be done” in addition to House Bill 3979, adding, “I’m putting it back on the Texas special session agenda to make sure we do more.”