Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Ron DeSantis: Good or Bad for Liberty?

A live discussion about how libertarians should think about the country’s most controversial governor. —– No governor is more cheered and hated right now than Florida Republican Ron DeSantis, currently in the news for flying around 50 Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard. The 44-year-old Navy veteran and double-Ivy-Leaguer also headlined the third National Conservatism Conference, where he emphasized that the state should punish and reward businesses and individuals based on political positions.

Controversially, DeSantis has yanked longstanding tax breaks for Walt Disney Corporation after the company criticized his stance on gay rights, signed legislation that would limit social media platforms’ ability to moderate content and users (the law has been blocked by a federal court), banned mask mandates in public schools, and issued an executive order prohibiting businesses from requiring proof of vaccination from customers. He’s also pushed cities such as Gainesville to abandon zoning reform aimed at creating more diverse, multi-family housing. If such top-down edicts seem at odds with traditional conservative support for local decision making and support for business interests, DeSantis has also gotten high marks for mostly keeping K-12 schools open during the pandemic and overseeing a boom in people moving to Florida to escape lockdowns elsewhere.

When COVID death rates are adjusted for the age of residents, Florida’s rate (275 per 100,000) draws close to California’s (267 per 100,000), while both are below the national average (302 per 100,000).  He’s a strong supporter of gun rights and signed a $1.2 billion tax break package this spring, promising even more cuts if he gets reelected in November. Despite increased levels of spending each year of his governorship, the state is currently sitting on a $22 billion budget surplus. So how should libertarians think about Ron DeSantis? Is he “a retaliatory culture warrior” and the leading indicator of an “authoritarian convergence” of the right and left? Or is he a successful large-state governor, the future of the Republican party, and, quite possibly, the next president of the United States? How should libertarians think about his mix of bullying and bravura that is turning the Sunshine State from a joke to one of the hottest destinations in the country?

Nick Gillespie leads a conversation about DeSantis and Florida with two recent blue-state refugees: Reason Senior Producer Zach Weissmueller, who pulled up stakes in California, and New York Post columnist Karol Markowicz, who hightailed it out of New York.

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