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Naked Power Grabs and Not Working Together

know your facts Jul 19, 2023
map of Florida

Easing His Way Into More Authority

In June 2022, Governor Ron DeSantis announced the re-establishment of the Florida State Guard, which he touted as an emergency-focused civilian volunteer force. The need in a natural disaster-prone state was obvious. The Florida National Guard has one of the most understaffed national guards in the nation and the second worst resident to guardsman ratio of the 54 states and territories - approximately 1,750 Floridians to every one guardsman.

The website slogan is “when disaster calls, we answer.”

“Working hand-in-hand with the Florida National Guard and other disaster-focused agencies, the Florida State Guard provides a rapid response by Floridians for Floridians. In a state that battles hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes and more every year, we are prepared for whatever mother nature may bring.”

The Switch

Training started last month and already people have quit because the training is more militaristic and less disaster focused. Camouflaged uniforms replaced khakis and polos. Volunteers who were told facial hair was not a problem were ordered to shave once they arrived.

A disabled retired Marine Corps Captain who joined and then left the program reported physical violence to the local sheriff’s office. He claimed Florida National Guard instructors forcibly shoved him into a van and drove him off the base after he questioned the program and its leadership.

In a statement, Major General John D. Haas, Florida’s adjutant general overseeing the Florida National Guard, said the State Guard is a “military organization” that will be used not just for emergencies but for “aiding law enforcement with riots and illegal immigration.”

“We are aware that some trainees who were removed are dissatisfied,” Haas said. “This is to be expected with any course that demands rigor and discipline.”

Both leadership and the vision has changed since the program’s inception a year ago. Brian Newhouse, a retired 20-year Navy veteran tapped to lead one of the State Guard’s three divisions, was escorted off base for complaining about training on Sundays after being promised that trainees would have Sundays off. He said the program “got hijacked and turned into something that we were trying to stay away from: a militia.”

The Power Grab

Unlike the National Guard, State Guard members answer only to the governor. In 2022, stipulations stated that members could only be called up in an emergency and couldn’t operate outside the state. Those requirements were dropped this year.

State lawmakers and the governor also increased their ask from 400 members and $10 million to 1,500 members and an extra $89 million to buy boats, planes, and helicopters. They wanted a specialized unit within the guard to have police powers and the ability to carry weapons. And in addition to being activated during emergencies within Florida, members could be sent to any state to “protect and defend the people of Florida from threats to public safety.”

In what scenario does a state need to send armed State Guard members to another state in the name public safety for their own state? Other volunteer state guards do not have the power to carry weapons or make arrests.

According to former leaders and participants with decades of military experience, volunteers were given almost no written training materials, and not tested on what they learned. And there were no medical or physical assessments to determine recruits’ fitness levels before beginning a demanding obstacle course and drill.

The PR

It really bothers me that they are using a young Black woman to promote this program. I’m happy for everything she was able to accomplish and her personal success. And Ron DeSantis has proven time and again that what he wants is power and unquestioned authority, and he will use whoever is convenient to get to the next step.

Not Working Together

Directly from the National Governors Association website:

“Founded in 1908, the National Governors Association is the voice of the leaders of 55 states, territories, and commonwealths. Our nation’s Governors are dedicated to leading bipartisan solutions that improve citizens’ lives through state government. Through NGA, Governors identify priority issues and deal with matters of public policy and governance at the state, national and global levels.”

The National Governors Association supports state governors in four ways:

Work in the States—NGA staff provide services, such as management and technical assistance to governors, their senior executive staff, and trusted advisors.

Share between States—The Center for Best Practices works with state policy leaders and other experts to research, develop, and implement innovative solutions to public policy challenges.

Advocate for the States—NGA’s Government Relations advocates for bipartisan policy priorities of governors to federal agencies, Congress, and the White House

Support Public/Private Partnerships—NGA Partners work with stakeholders to promote information sharing and support bipartisan state solutions to the challenges facing state government.

Notice how many times they say bipartisan?

For the first time in NGA history, one party just did not show up for the annual summer conference. Of the 26 current Republican governors in the United States, only three attended - Kevin Stitt (OK), Eric Holcomb (IN), and Spencer Cox (UT). One of them left after the first night. Spencer Cox had to stay because his term as chair began after the event. The Politico article didn’t name the other two.

Governors used to gather twice a year at the NGA, in winter and summer, to work together to influence Washington. Under 45’s leadership, Republican governors often sequestered themselves at the event to avoid answering questions about him from the media.

“Since 2018, there’s been a turnover in states that has left both fewer Republican governors and fewer Republican governors of the sort who want to discuss best practices…with their Democratic counterparts.” They are gravitating to regional and party-affiliated groups instead.

Cox said his goal is for governors to “set an example of how to disagree better.” He’s got his work cut out for him. He said, “Over the next year my goal is to create counter-programming to the ’24 election.”

He's been depicted by other Republicans as “woke” because he promotes diversity, believes facts, and will go against his party line – like when he vetoed a ban on trans children in school sports, knowing his party would override his decision.

While DeSantis’ maneuvers to create his own personal army through the State Guard is scary and not getting enough attention in the national media, the breakdown of the National Governors Association is just as worrying. The media hypes division. It downplays people who show up and do the work. It downplays success stories that help regular people. But most of the time, there are people who are doing the work anyway. Knowing that 23 republican governors chose not to share space with their colleagues for just a few days is more than disappointing. It shows a lack of good faith, a lack of interest in finding solutions, and a lack of respect for the people they serve and the country.

What Can We Do?

  1. Know who your governor is and what they stand for. How do they vote? How do they talk about their constituents? What impact are their decisions having on you and people you care about?
  2. If your governor didn’t attend the conference, call them and ask why. This story isn't getting much traction and they probably think people didn't notice. Let them know you noticed.
  3. While there's no app for governors like the 5 calls app for Congress, pay attention to what your governor is doing and take 5 minutes once a week or once a month to tell them what you think.

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