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“Governing by Distraction”: Florida Union Leader Says Ron DeSantis Is No Friend of Workers

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Ron DeSantis officially launched his presidential campaign Wednesday, pitting the Florida governor against his former ally Donald Trump and at least five other Republicans in a fight for their party’s 2024 nomination. His formal announcement came in a Twitter audio stream hosted by the company’s billionaire owner, Elon Musk, and was beset by technical problems. As governor of Florida, DeSantis has signed a slew of bills targeting reproductive rights, immigrant rights, the transgender community, and diversity programs in schools. He has also recently signed legislation to weaken the power of public sector unions. For more, we speak with Alphonso Mayfield, president of SEIU Florida Public Services Union. “People are hurting. … And instead of dealing with those issues directly, he’s punching down and focusing on the most marginalized aspects of our community and the people who are actually working and trying to create a better life for their families and their communities,” says Mayfield.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has officially launched his presidential campaign. DeSantis made the announcement on a Twitter audio stream hosted by Twitter’s billionaire owner Elon Musk, but major technical glitches disrupted the event. DeSantis later appeared on Fox News.

GOV. RON DESANTIS: The woke mind virus is basically a form of cultural Marxism. At the end of the day, it’s an attack on the truth. And because it’s a war on truth, I think we have no choice but to wage a war on woke. So, how does that work for a president? Some of it may be the bully pulpit, being willing to tell the truth and not being deluded by ideology, which we see in many aspects of our society.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: The 2024 Republican primaries will pit DeSantis against his former ally Donald Trump and at least five other Republicans, including Senator Tim Scott and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.

As governor of Florida, DeSantis has passed a slew of bills targeting reproductive rights, immigrant rights, the transgender community, and diversity programs in schools. He’s also recently signed legislation to weaken the power of public sector unions.

To talk more about Ron DeSantis, we’re joined by Alphonso Mayfield. He’s the president of SEIU Florida Public Services Union.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Alphonso Mayfield. If you could begin by responding to the announcement by Ron DeSantis?

ALPHONSO MAYFIELD: I think it’s just a use of words, that he didn’t really say anything. I think a lot of his governing strategy has been to throw out firebrand cultural issues because he does not have actual policy-based solutions to the ills of what are happening to the people of Florida.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And could you explain, Alphonso, what exactly is happening to the people of Florida? What are the issues that they’re confronting?

ALPHONSO MAYFIELD: Skyrocketing rent, skyrocketing home prices. Our schools are, to some extent, falling apart because of years of lack of funding and a move to privatize public education, which he pushed for last cycle. Skyrocketing energy prices. He has approved and pushed for multiple increases, or the allowing of multiple increases of energy prices over the last few years.

So, people are hurting. The cost of inflation is not keeping up with people’s wages. And instead of dealing with those issues directly, he’s punching down and focusing on the most marginalized aspects of our community and the people who are actually working and trying to create a better life for their families and their communities.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, to go to that, earlier this month, as we said in our introduction, DeSantis signed legislation aimed at weakening public sector unions. Could you explain what that legislation entails, and also why unions representing police, firefighters and corrections officers were exempt from the bill?

ALPHONSO MAYFIELD: So, I’ll start with the latter first. I think that it was done for two reasons. The exemption was to divide workers, and it was also for him to cater to a core part of his base, which are people who are in more conservative aspects of the labor movement, and he did not want to appear publicly that he was attacking fire and police. His reasons for doing it, you look at who’s funding his campaign or who’s giving him campaign contributions, I think that’s fairly obvious.

But what the attack essentially does was it basically tries to put up significant barriers between workers and their ability to be able to have a union. It puts their contracts at risk by saying that there has to be a 60% threshold for membership for them to be able to keep their contracts. And it adds a bunch of, you know, crazy auditing requirements to prove that people who say that they’re members of the union are a member of the unions, and also a 40-page membership card.

It’s doing what far-right conservatives complain about all the time: abusing the power of the state and using, what he said, the bully pulpit of regulation to be able to try to interfere with people’s daily life. It’s actually doing that. It’s an attempt to soften and flat-out stifle the voice of workers. But it’s not going to work. Our members, other members of labor are committed to making sure that that doesn’t happen.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Alphonso, could you elaborate: Who are the workers that are principally impacted or will be principally impacted by these policies?

ALPHONSO MAYFIELD: That’s a great question. So, it’s all workers who work in the public sector, with an exemption for fire and police. So, I know that there was a narrative push that this was just about teachers, which was also still horrible, but this would affect everyone who is a public employee in Florida, on the state level, on the local level, so everyone from school teachers, bus drivers, custodians, adjunct professors, sanitation workers. If you — code enforcement — if you work in the public sector, you would be impacted by the passing of this law.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And so, could you give us, overall, Alphonso, a record of what his tenure has been like as governor, and what you fear the impact on workers across the country would be in the event that he’s elected president?

ALPHONSO MAYFIELD: It has been governing by distraction. It’s been governing by punching down, not having solutions to actual problems, and using jargon and catchphrases as a distraction. It has been focusing on workers, people of color, immigrants and the LGBTQ community and saying, “Look at these people. They are the reason for all the problems,” while actually passing bills and pushing for the passage of bills that are making the lives of Floridians worse. You will be hard-pressed to find anyone — right, left, center — that would say that Floridians are better off than they were when he took office. And he knows that.

And so, if he becomes president, you’re also looking at someone who would have the temerity and the ability to use the full power of the state to silence vast swaths of voices on both sides of the aisle, because it’s all about power and control.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And finally, Alphonso, do you think Florida is still a swing state? Can Democrats not win a statewide race there?

ALPHONSO MAYFIELD: Florida is absolutely a swing state. And I want to dispel some myths about the last cycle in Florida. Florida suffered a 90% drop of investment in campaigns over the election in '18. What that means is that the national party, national apparatuses, other donors basically said, “We're not going to put money in Florida,” in part because of saving the House and other factors. So, when you have someone on one side that’s spending presidential-level money — and still did not get the level of turnout that they did in ’18 — and one side does not have the resources, this is what happens.

I think that there’s a reckoning that’s coming within our democracy. A friend of mine, Eric Brakken, talks a lot — and he stole this quote, but I’m going to give him credit for it — that to keep the democracy, we have to win in the Midwest. But he also talks about how the Confederacy has always undermined the democracy. We have to be able to do both. We can’t cede half the country and think that we’re going to keep a functioning democracy. Every race where resources were plentiful and existed, we won or were competitive. If we want to be competitive in Florida, we have to invest. But all the indicators show Florida is still a swing state.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Thank you so much, Alphonso Mayfield, president of SEIU Florida Public Services Union.

Coming up, we go to Kyiv to look at the war in Ukraine.

[break]

NERMEEN SHAIKH: “We Don’t Need Another Hero” by the Queen of Rock 'n' Roll, Tina Turner, who died Wednesday at the age of 83.

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