It’s been dubbed a “culture war” by state and national media outlets, and a “radical,” “reckless” or “divisive” agenda by political opponents. But no matter which side of the political aisle one might be on, there’s no denying the agenda proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis and later delivered by Florida’s Republican lawmakers, led by Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, is one of the most deeply conservative agendas in recent memory.
That’s not to say Jeb Bush didn’t start the ball rolling more than 20 years ago as limited-government conservative. After all, with the help of Republican lawmakers, he shrank the state workforce by more than 10 percent during his two terms in office, slashed taxes, and even killed off a Democrat-led high speed rail boondoggle, all while Democrats shrieked that he was destroying the state. Nor does it take anything away from Rick Scott’s own conservative bona fides for his laser-focus on job creation after the economic crash, leading the state’s economic recovery and putting his own stamp on state government during his eight years in Tallahassee. And yes, Democrats and the media shrieked then, too.
But the DeSantis agenda, gift-wrapped and delivered with a bow by Simpson, Sprowls and Republican state lawmakers over the last two years, is unmatched in terms of sheer Republican audacity. And of course, Democrats and their media allies have been shrieking louder than ever.
From bucking the Biden-led federal government and leading the nation out of the COVID-19 hysteria that threatened to paralyze the economy, to fighting tooth-and-nail for parental rights in schools while simultaneously passing one of the most pro-life agendas in the nation, Florida’s Republican leadership team just kept plowing ahead. They also protected churches from forced closure during state or national emergencies, and they protected businesses from local ordinances that threatened their bottom line.
Ironically, Republicans used to promise the moon during election cycles but generally found it politically necessary to pull at least some of their punches once they got to Tallahassee. Republicans have a reputation for taking the warnings to heart that being “too conservative” would lead to electoral disaster if they governed as if they had a conservative mandate.
Sprowls himself highlighted that behavior in his speech to Republicans on the opening day of session this past January.
“Politics encourages us to talk big and act small,” Sprowls said then. “It pushes us inside our comfort zones and builds walls to keep us from noticing that the world around us has changed. It asks the converted to preach only to the faithful.”
With DeSantis in the governor’s mansion, Simpson leading the Senate, and Sprowls at the helm of the House, the threat of backlash that used to ward Republicans from the path suddenly seemed to spur the three leaders forward, and their fellow Republican lawmakers were more than happy to follow.
“We have the power to make this state a better, safer, more prosperous place for all Floridians,” Sprowls said. “The only question that remains is, to make that happen, what are you willing to risk?”
It turns out, Republicans in Tallahassee were willing to risk their political careers by governing as though they have a mandate from voters to deliver the agenda they campaigned on. And the risk, so far at least, appears to have paid off. Public polling suggests that voters don’t mind the newfound backbone. Republicans appear poised to steamroll Democrats at virtually every level, from local races, to statewide contests, to federal races come November, despite the dire warnings from Democrats that implementing their agenda would, as usual, blow up in Republican faces.
While DeSantis set the tone with an aggressive agenda, forged under a national spotlight, Simpson and Sprowls have understood the mission from the beginning. That’s because, unlike media narratives to the contrary, both genuinely share the governor’s conservative ideology and have been committed to seeing those priorities through long before DeSantis moved into the governor’s mansion.
The similarities between the worldviews of Simpson, Sprowls and DeSantis seems to have emboldened all three. DeSantis’s focus on parents and families was a perfect fit for Simpson, who has worked over his time in the legislature to reform Florida’s foster care system and promote adoption, often sharing his personal story of being adopted.
Sprowls, too, has worked on policies to promote fatherhood. All three men are deeply pro-life, so when SCOTUS signaled a potential appetite for revisiting Roe v. Wade at most, or at least a willingness to hear the Mississippi abortion restriction case, Simpson wasted no time declaring that decades-long GOP efforts to curtail abortions would see one of its climactic achievements this year in the Florida Legislature.
This week, DeSantis signed into law a ban on all late term abortions in the Sunshine State, and amid that backdrop, a circuit court judge also tossed out a legal challenge to the state’s mandatory 24-hour waiting period for abortions.
While DeSantis gets the lion’s share of attention for holding the media accountable for pushing false narratives, neither Sprowls nor Simpson shy away from that, either. Simpson even called out Mary Ellen Klas and the Miami Herald after evidence emerged that Klas had attempted to interfere with the state redistricting process by coaching a Democrat lawmaker on how to create a record needed by a potential legal witness in the inevitable challenge to whatever maps Republicans ultimately approve.
From taking on the so-called “woke” agenda, the virtue-signalers, calling out 60 Minutes for its false portrayal of DeSantis’s COVID-19 policy, standing up to the “defund the police” crowd, tougher immigration policies, and of course, rejecting the Hollywood extremism that manages to seep into classrooms, neither DeSantis, Simpson nor Sprowls strayed from their beliefs, and instead governed as though they had a conservative mandate.