Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Image via the Florida Phoenix)
[This article was updated at 3:22 p.m., Friday, March 31, 2023, to correct the spelling of former Education Secretary Eric Hagerty’s name]
Advocates and lawmakers warned against the spread of the far-right ideology embraced by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his followers ahead of a speaking appearance by DeSantis near Harrisburg on Saturday.
DeSantis, who has said he has been considering a run for president in 2024, is set to speak at the conservative Pennsylvania Leadership Conference at the Penn Harris Hotel in Camp Hill, Cumberland County.
He is favored by some conservatives as a Republican contender for the presidential nomination.
Democratic state lawmakers from Florida and Pennsylvania decried DeSantis’ policies that have targeted voting rights, abortion access, immigrants, and grade school curricula on racism, sexual orientation and gender identity.
Florida state Rep. Anna V. Eskamani, D-Orange, said that as DeSantis has pursued his agenda, the state faces a deepening housing crisis, skyrocketing rents, soaring utility costs and attacks on consumer rights.
“We do not want this type of demagogue in the White House,” Eskamani said, during a press call organized by DeSantis Watch. “We don’t want to see others be inspired by Gov. Ron DeSantis to mimic his behavior.”
DeSantis Watch is a project of the Florida Communications and Research Hub dedicated to highlighting and opposing DeSantis’ policies.
Among those espousing DeSantis’ ideology is Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, for whom DeSantis campaigned during Mastriano’s unsuccessful run for governor in 2022.
Noting Mastriano said he wants to make Pennsylvania the “Florida of the north,” Pennsylvania state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, said both Mastriano’s and DeSantis’ politics boil down to a list of people to hate, things to ban and a marginalized group to blame.
“You do that because you don’t have serious solutions to address the things that people are actually worried about,” Kenyatta said.
Kenyatta said DeSantis’ record on crucial programs such as Medicare and Social Security and his opposition to gun safety laws would make Pennsylvania and the nation less secure.
“We cannot trust carnival barkers like Ron DeSantis and Doug Mastriano to ever be focused on the things that we are focused on as legislators – on the concerns that our families and communities have,” Kenyatta said. “We deserve better than these people.”
Former Pennsylvania Education Secretary Eric Hagerty, who served under Gov. Tom Wolf, said he has grave concerns about the trend toward the injection of politics into schools, which he said Pennsylvania cannot afford to follow. He said it would be at odds with what school communities and educators in Pennsylvania need.
“I can tell you one thing, every single one of them has in common, no matter what party they might belong to,” Hagerty said. “None of them became a teacher or chose to work in schools because they cared about politics or pursuing a political agenda, as some politicians have falsely claimed.”
Hagerty said it’s normal and healthy to engage in political discourse over how to pay for public education or improving graduation rates.
“When politicians like Ron DeSantis and others try to do things like ban books, or tell schools what classes they can or can’t offer, or which words teachers can or can’t say, it’s not just an unnecessary distraction to those meaningful discussions we need to be having it’s an affront to the hard working decent people from all walks of life, who make our schools function,” he said.
Florida state Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Broward, said that as a former educator, DeSantis’ attacks on the state’s schools is hurtful.
“Our children’s freedom to learn is under attack by a governor who is bullying and is forcing his extreme right wing politics into our classrooms, indoctrinating the minds of our children by trying to whitewash history,” Jones said.
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