The first day of the 2021 Legislative Session is finally here, and with it came several tantalizing quotes that would satisfy even the most politically savvy insiders.
Much of the attention fell on Governor Ron DeSantis‘s State of the State address, in which he laid out his agenda that included cracking down on violent mobs and protecting Floridians from Big Tech and COVID-19 lawsuits. Tuesday’s gathering at the State Capitol saw many Republicans come to his defense, with GOP leaders doubling down on their commitment to fight for Republican issues and defend conservative policies.
The rainy day also brought out the Governor’s biggest detractors, who saw an opportunity to rain down criticisms directed at the priorities he outlined during his speech.
With this year’s gathering proving to already be a contentious legislative cycle, here are the juiciest quotes from the opening of the 60-day session.
“We suffer. We learn. We improve. We are resilient. We are going to learn from this pandemic. We are going to get better prepared. We are going to prevent shutdowns. We are going to improve our unemployment system. I appreciate the hard work of the select committee. It is an ongoing mission, and we will make significant progress this session.”
Senate President Wilton Simpson kicked-off the session extending his hand to the opposite side of the political aisle. The entrepreneur challenged his chamber to work alongside each other to find solutions to the pandemic and subsequent issues plaguing the unemployment website.
“Whether it’s contained in a newspaper article written by a reporter too self-righteous to be self-aware or told to you from an outside lobbyist pretending to be an insider, all this commentary has the same reductive agenda. They want to reframe Session as being about only the subset of issues that they care about, or, worse, they want to turn everything into a make-believe boxing match between the House and the Senate or the Legislature and the Governor.”
House Speaker Chris Sprowls spoke briefly, but made sure he took shots at media outlets for depicting the legislative process as a “sporting event.” He also put the crosshairs on lobbyists for their self-gratifying and pleasure-seeking behavior.
“Friends, legislators, Floridians, lend me your ears: We will not let anybody close your schools, we will not let anybody take your jobs and we will not let anybody close your businesses!”
Following a cacophony of claps and cheers, the Governor wasted little time in getting to the meat of his address. DeSantis pointed to the impact that lockdowns had on everyday Floridians, noting the toll it took on business owners and families across the state. He then shifted his attention to how Florida handled the pandemic and made it clear to lawmakers: Florida would not let the virus control lives or livelihoods moving forward.
“We’ve long been known as the Sunshine State, but given the unprecedented lockdowns we’ve witnessed in other states, I think the Florida sun now serves as a beacon of light to those who yearn to live in freedom.”
This quote perfectly encapsulates DeSantis’s yearlong tug-of-war with critics who lambasted him for reopening Florida’s economy during the pandemic. While the peanut gallery continues to chide the Governor, his handling of the pandemic has helped Florida — the state with the third-highest population — overcome obstacles that other states (like New York) have succumbed to.
“To paraphrase an old Merle Haggard song, ‘when you mess with the men and women in law enforcement, you’re walking on the fightin’ side of me’.”
An ardent defender of police officers, DeSantis is not one to mince words regarding his position on the pillars of the community. DeSantis has openly defended the police, becoming more vocal following their treatment during last summer’s uncontrolled protests that turned chaotic. A part of DeSantis’s three-tiered agenda, HB 1 would deter criminal rioting and throw the book at bad actors who loot and destroy businesses.
“The priorities we’re seeing from our state leaders so far worry us. Instead of immediately trying to pass something that directly helps the people of Florida, we see political distractions.”
Democratic State Representative Bobby Dubose presented his party’s response to DeSantis’s address. Unlike his counterpart in the Senate, the House Minority Leader delivered a more tamed response to objectives laid out by the Governor. He set his sights on bills spearheaded by GOP officials, calling them “divisive.”
“In an unprecedented time, with over 30,000 dead from the coronavirus, roughly 2,000,000 infected, and a damaged economy still in survival mode, our Republican governor has made the dissolution of your First Amendment rights his top priority, and protecting violence and inciting hate speech his second.”
Democratic State Senator Gary Farmer also responded to the Governor’s State of the State address. The leader of the Senate Democratic Caucus issued a scathing rebuke to DeSantis’s legislation, attempting to pin the fallout from the virus on DeSantis. He also called DeSantis’s legislative goals “insensitive” and “tone-deaf.”
“The Governor is already looking forward to 2024. His eyes are already on what is next for his political future and has not kept his eyes on Florida and where we need to go.”
Following DeSantis’s address, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried established her pulpit, fielding questions from reporters outside the legislative chambers. Tackling questions involving everything from caps on medical marijuana to DeSantis’s robust docket, the former marijuana lobbyist took a shot at the Governor’s leadership during the pandemic. Never the one to shy away from playing politics, Fried threw out this gem when asked by DeSantis’s recent speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) over the weekend.
The quote makes for a good sound bite but packs no punch given her excessive use of Twitter to deride DeSantis on a daily basis. Not to mention, Fried, herself, is eyeing another office (potentially a bid against DeSantis in 2022). She even used the platform to release a prepared video mere minutes after DeSantis’s address.
I know you’re getting mixed messages from @GovRonDeSantis, but our economy is entirely dependent on our health.
Keep masking up. Get vaccinated. And soon we’ll rebuild Florida’s economy to work for everyone. pic.twitter.com/aEr91hHG8L
— Nikki Fried (@nikkifried) March 2, 2021
Photo credit: Florida House Photography