Living in Florida has become more of a nightmare with each passing year. Putting aside the inconvenience of living within a state controlled by fascists hellbent on destroying our rights, our education, and our democracy, there’s also the economic impact. Our state now has the highest inflation, the second-highest rent, energy monopolies, and insurance premiums that have tripled since Gov. Ron DeSantis took office. In other words, very few people are happy with the way things are going here.
We’ve had GOP control for the entirety of the new millennium, but only since the DeSantis era have things gone from bad to worse. We literally have people fleeing our authoritarian state as LGBTQ+ people are now second-class citizens whom doctors are no longer required to treat. The bullying at school isn’t from other students, but parents and Moms for Liberty. Nazis openly march in the streets, and their talking points are now in our educational standards. It’s really bad here.
Yet while Florida focuses on passing laws to hurt marginalized communities and take away our rights and freedoms, another state is saving them. Minnesota has proven to be the anti-Florida: Their citizens demanded Democrats to deliver positive outcomes for them, and they have not disappointed.
RELATED STORY: Will Democrats ever learn their lesson in Florida?
In a monumental political bombshell last year, Minnesota Democrats achieved their ultimate goal: seizing control of both the state legislature and the governor’s office, giving them unprecedented authority to pass progressive legislation. They have wasted no time in pursuing their agenda during their four-month-long legislative session.
With their newfound power, Minnesota Democrats have made substantial strides in tackling some of the most pressing issues that Republicans had blocked from being fixed. They expanded paid family leave for working families and made the state a haven for transgender youth. In regions where gender-affirming and medical treatments for transgender youth have faced limitations, they promised to establish legal safeguards and essential support to vulnerable individuals. They immediately protected abortion rights, moved toward legalizing marijuana for adult use, and took decisive action to impose sensible restrictions on access to firearms.
But their ambitions didn’t end there: They restored voting rights to formerly incarcerated felons, made school breakfast and lunch free for all students in kindergarten through 12th grade, set a 100% carbon-free standard to be met by utility companies by 2040, protected the rights of unionized workers, and were able to increase the taxes on corporations and high-investment earners.
U.S. Democratic Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota believes these changes make people’s lives better:
“These [policies] are things that have a direct and clear impact on improving people’s lives, and that’s what Minnesotans are looking for. They’re looking for evidence—just as voters are nationally—that the government that they elect can deliver results for them.”
Yet while the Democratic-led majority in Minnesota has made life better for all citizens, the Republican-led majorities in other states are in competition to see who can pass the most draconian laws to hurt their citizens. Attacks on health care, pregnant people, women, minorities, and professions like librarians and teachers seem to be nonstop. This has definitely had an impact on quality of life. Let me count the ways.
Scholaroo puts out an extensive study each year that ranks the states where it’s best to be a teacher. The data set considers a variety of topics across 41 relevant metrics and five key dimensions: career accessibility, salary and compensation, work benefits, work environment, and student performance.
Washington tops the list. They have high salaries and their teachers are not constantly under attack. You can see a map of the categories and metrics by state if you wish, but otherwise, here’s how it all shook out:
- New York
The state that’s dead last? Florida. DeSantis’ war on academic freedom, complete with book bans, extends from higher education down to kindergarten. According to the Florida Education Association, the number of teacher vacancies in January 2023, totaling 5,294, has seen a substantial increase compared to five years ago when there were only 1,492 vacancies.
This rise in vacancies coincides with DeSantis’ initial election as governor, indicating a correlation between his policies and the current shortage of educators in the state. The Orlando Sentinel noticed the brain drain with our college professors as well, with a record number leaving for other states.
46. North Carolina
49. West Virginia
Texas is number 45, but it wants to compete with Florida to be dead last. Not to be outdone, Texas is converting libraries into “discipline spaces.” The Texas governor has also banned diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. Potential students see the writing on the wall. Experts are reporting that a record number of graduating seniors are refusing to even consider going to school in a place like Texas.
A large number of University of Texas graduates are planning on leaving the state since they can’t have bodily autonomy, even if it comes at a significant cost, like nursing license transfers. Some students don’t have the means to leave Texas as of yet, but as freshman Madison Fail told The Daily Texan, “I’m absolutely moving out of the state as soon as possible.”
Business conventions are dropping the Sunshine State. The Orange County Convention Center had at least half a dozen cancellations due to our hateful environment. Meanwhile, The Sun Sentinel reported, “Broward County has lost more than a half-dozen conventions as their organizers cite the divisive political climate as their reason to stay out of Florida.” Here in Central Florida, we depend on tourism. If people stop coming, a significant share of jobs and state revenue will be lost.
While DeSantis attacks Disney, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is hitting banks and investment firms that choose to not put money into gun manufacturers. They are being denied public contracts. Despite the sorry state of the energy grid in Texas, green energy investments are frowned upon by the right. Although green energy companies are fast-growing, they won’t stay in toxic places. There’re plenty of blue states with good tax policies where they can operate and be appreciated.
CNBC’s America’s Top States for Business study has always ranked Texas in the top five. This year, it dropped. The reasons cited include the ongoing power grid issues, rising crime, poor health care, and a rollback of DEI.
Unsurprisingly, physicians are leaving en masse from Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, and Florida because the abortion bans have hindered their ability to practice medicine and provide care. Many of them are worried about being sued by politically ambitious right-wing attorneys general.
The Association of American Medical Colleges has also observed a decline in residency applicants in states with restrictive abortion laws, with a significant drop of 10.5%. This indicates that new doctors are actively avoiding states where their ability to provide comprehensive reproductive health care may be limited. A survey of 2,000 current and future physicians in February saw that 76% of respondents wouldn’t even bother to apply in a state with an abortion ban like the one we have now. The decline of OB/GYN residency applications is twice as high in abortion ban states. That means less prenatal care, cancer screenings, and pap smears.
Not only are doctors not coming, the ones already in red states are fleeing. Doctors have fled places like Idaho, a state so anti-abortion they passed a law that punishes their own citizens for going to another state to seek an abortion. Larger states might be able to absorb some of the impact, but these small rural states are devastated. Not to mention more demand in larger states will impact their health systems as well. Idaho now has about 86 primary care doctors per 100,000 patients, and that number continues to decline. Some hospitals have decided to stop delivering babies altogether because of the lawsuits. Just think about that: Can you imagine going to a hospital to be told they don’t deliver babies there?
A recent survey conducted by the Idaho Coalition for Safe Reproductive Health Care revealed that out of 117 OB-GYNs, 75 were contemplating leaving the state, with the majority of them specifically citing Idaho’s restrictive abortion laws as their reason for considering the move.
A state suffering from poor health care, poor business prospects, and poor education is not enough to get rural voters to vote blue. Otherwise, Alabama and Mississippi would have turned blue decades ago. GOP leaders in Texas and Florida need to be careful because of what happened to California.
It’s fair to say that the modern GOP was born in Orange County, California, which was one of the most powerful GOP strongholds in the nation that molded and gave rise to Nixon and Reagan. California itself was a reliably red state up until the 1990s. In fact, from 1952 through 1988, with the exception of snubbing Barry Goldwater over Lyndon Johnson, California was a dependable get for the red column.
Today? Orange County is blue, like the rest of the state. Actually, California is deep, deep blue. Joe Biden won 64% of the presidential vote in 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom won 62% of the vote for governor in 2018, and the Republican Party claims only 24% of registered voters. What the hell happened?
Prop 187 was Republican Gov. Pete Wilson’s big plan to win his second term. Essentially, it eliminated all public benefits for undocumented immigrants, even in lifesaving cases. Anyone believed to be undocumented (read: brown) would have been denied health care, education, and other services. It was a very hateful bill for the sole reason of appealing to racists. In the short term, sadly, sometimes those ploys work by motivating a certain kind of voter. This was the case in 1994.
Wilson won his second term, and Republicans that year claimed half of the statewide offices and control of the assembly. Then something amazing happened: The Latino population was seething, and they came out in droves to punish the state GOP. A flood of new registrations occurred, and a large portion of the Republican registrations in that population switched to voting Democratic. Latinos make up the largest ethnic group in the state, and even though they don’t vote anywhere close to non-Hispanic white voters, it was enough to shift the entire political landscape of the state.
The California GOP responded by doing what they always do: doubling down. More hate, more guns, more abortion restrictions, more attacks on LGBTQ+, more racism, and more cruelty toward immigrants. They just can’t help themselves. Now California is a deep blue state that turns darker blue each passing year. Bottom line: California is lost to the GOP, at least for the rest of my lifetime and possibly forever.
Arizona is another state where years of cruel immigration policies have shifted the dynamic. That state was also under complete GOP domination at the time, and passed a racist law that required police officers to demand the papers of people suspected of being in the country illegally. Latinos in Arizona were constantly harassed despite having legal status.
The law was a complete disaster. Workers fled, the state lost billions in boycotts, and eventually, the law was gutted in a court settlement with the National Immigration Law Center. Arizona has since moved from a reliable GOP stronghold to a swing state.
Now let’s do Florida and Texas.
People keep telling me my state is hopeless. I live here and I damn sure know it seems that way. Democrats don’t have one statewide office. What we do have is immigrants. Lots of them. More than 1 in 5 Florida residents is an immigrant, according to the American Immigration Council and the Migration Policy Institute. DeSantis just signed SB 1718, which took effect July 1. Businesses now face a $10,000 fine for every undocumented employee, and the state could revoke their business license.
Floridians who shelter, support, and provide transportation to undocumented immigrants, including those who have overstayed their visa or who have lived in Florida for decades and have U.S.-born children, are now criminals. Even an 18-year-old American citizen who drives his undocumented mother in a car will be charged with a felony if caught.
The law bars immigrants who were part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program from practicing law in Florida, increases penalties for anyone who brings undocumented immigrants into the state, and mandates that hospitals collect immigration status. The bill also gives millions in taxpayer funds so DeSantis can pull more immigration stunts that fly undocumented immigrants to places like Martha’s Vineyard under false pretenses.
According to Rep. Susan Valdes, this bill will not only harm undocumented immigrants, but will kill them: Hospitals must investigate a patient’s immigration status. An ER exception was offered as an amendment, but the GOP killed that as well.
Florida’s economy is heavily reliant on agriculture, tourism, construction, and hospitality. Many of the workers are immigrants, and not all are documented. This is well known. The impact on our economy and our inflation rate has been horrible:
The new law is, of course, needlessly cruel. But as we all know, cruelty is the point.
Florida lawmakers are now telling farmers and industry they can try to exploit some of the law’s “loopholes.” It was just something to feed their white supremacist base:
GOP Rep. Rick Roth, a third generation farmer, told NPR on Tuesday that state Senate Bill 1718, which goes into effect on July 1, was designed to “scare migrants.” But he admitted that he and his colleagues were unprepared for the destabilization it would cause among the state’s more established immigrant communities.
Roth and a handful of other Republicans, including state representatives Alina Garcia and Juan Fernandez-Barquin, are scrambling to allay fears of job losses or deportation, which they say are already driving workers out of the state.
Not to be outdone, Texas has actually instituted cruelty as official policy:
[Texas law enforcement officials] have fortified the riverbanks with additional concertina wire, denied water to some migrants, shouted at others to return to Mexico and, in some cases, deliberately failed to alert federal Border Patrol agents who might assist arriving groups in coming ashore and making asylum claims, the review found.
The El Paso County Commissioners’ Court last month unanimously authorized County Judge Ricardo Samaniego to send a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott opposing the state’s policies and practices “of cruelty” toward migrants. This has outraged many people, including Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro:
We’ve seen what they’re doing. There was a pregnant woman that got caught up in the wire and miscarried. There was a 4-year-old girl who was about to pass out. And instead of bringing her in, DPS troopers pushed her back into the water per the directives of DPS leadership. And so Greg Abbott’s policies are barbaric and inhumane. And this is in the context of the fact that migration border crossings have decreased by 70% since Title 42 ended in the last few months.
Even though the Department of Justice has demanded that Abbott remove the buoy system with razor wire on the Rio Grande south of Eagle Pass, he has refused—even as dead bodies have been found.
I’d say the GOP doesn’t learn, but reality is they just can’t give up their hate. It’s like smoking. They know it’s deadly, but it feels too good to quit. The Republican legislatures never want to help those who actually need help, only those who can help them. Their residents pay the price, but are told to blame Democrats somehow for their suffering.
There’s so many other issues we could discuss, like the Republican lawmakers’ attacks on the environment, voting, worker’s rights, and affordable housing, but in the interest of keeping this article to a reasonable length, you’ll find that the conservatives are on the wrong side of all of those issues as well.
The ones I feel really bad for are those who can’t leave due to lack of resources or familial obligations. Even if you manage to live in a blue oasis in a red state, red legislatures still impose their right-wing beliefs. For example, in Tennessee, they abolished community oversight boards after Nashville voted overwhelmingly to create one to curb the spike in violent shootings of Black men by police officers. In Austin and Dallas, the state legislature blocked the city from mandating sick leave and even water breaks for construction workers.
Here in Florida, our right-wing government imposes its will on everyone. They have managed to turn my fun and open-minded state that was, at one time, known for its beautiful beaches, warm climate, and diverse attractions into a totalitarian hellhole. We are now known for school shootings, white nationalist indoctrination, crap wages, and a complete embrace of fascism. I hate the cold, but Minnesota is looking better every day.