Republican presidential hopeful and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wants America to look like Florida. Apparently, he wants America to lose doctors, teachers, and immigrant laborers, then sink underwater.
Rarely are a party’s policy consequences so stark. Nevertheless, DeSantis has adopted the most extreme expressions of core conservative ideology in order to burnish his credentials ahead of his presidential run. As a result, Florida has become the case study in what happens when conservatism runs amok.
Conservative policies chase doctors away
We’ve written about the health care system challenges faced by states like Idaho, which are enacting fresh new abortion bans. Florida is no different.
The state has a particular need for doctors given its, uh, aged population. Those demographics were already putting Florida 18,000 doctors in the hole by 2035, according to a study by the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida and the Florida Hospital Association.
What that study couldn’t foresee was DeSantis’ war on his state’s health care providers further exacerbating that shortage. One doctor in Tampa packed up immediately after Florida passed a six-week abortion ban. “We have two other partners right now who have left Florida. We’re in the process of leaving Florida,” said Dr. Rachel Rapkin. She and her husband are both OB/GYNs. "I see a lot of the recruitment activity taking place, trying to recruit new OB/GYNs, specifically to Florida, and people are saying 'I would never go there.'” Indeed, the stats are clear: New doctors are avoiding states with restrictive abortion laws, with the Association of American Medical Colleges finding a 10.5% drop in residency applicants in such states.
“We already have maternity deserts -- places in the state where there are no OB providers,” Rapkin said. “Absolutely that’s going to get worse.”
But it’s not just abortion bans driving doctors away. The state’s ban on gender-affirming health care for minors is also having an impact.
“Our primary service line is gender affirming treatment, but we’re a community healthcare clinic that does primary care as well,” said Joseph Knoll, CEO of Spektrum Health, a central Florida clinic specializing in medical and mental health services for the LGBTQ+ community, to the nonprofit news site Coda. While the ban might be narrow, the fact that his clinic also provides primary care services means that shutting it down stifles broader health care access. “Gender affirming treatment represents somewhere between 50% and 60% of our services. Obviously, our biggest concern is the care of people that need to access our services, but we have to be realistic. We don’t have room in our budget to have half of our revenue gone.”
Despite the desperate need for medical professionals, the ban is driving doctors out. “For [his trans staffers] to stay in the state of Florida, they have to accept the lack of access to health care while working at a healthcare organization,” Knoll told Coda. “I mean, it’s nonsense.”
Conservative policies chase workers away
With a 3% unemployment rate, which is below the national average, Florida businesses are facing extreme difficulties finding workers. So what better way for the state’s Republicans to make things worse than by chasing away immigrant workers?
DeSantis signed restrictive new anti-immigrant legislation on May 10, blaming it on “Biden’s border crisis.” NPR provided an overview of the law:
Among its provisions, the strict new state legislation limits social services for undocumented immigrants, allocates millions more tax dollars to expand DeSantis' migrant relocation program, invalidates driver's licenses issued to undocumented people by other states, and requires hospitals that get Medicaid dollars to ask for a patient's immigration status.
But the most worrisome measures — for businesses and undocumented immigrants alike — are the host of penalties for those [businesses] who violate new employment mandates.
It turns out that DeSantis’ anti-business actions extend beyond the Walt Disney Company and into all sectors of Florida’s economy. The state of Florida is now actively punishing businesses that hire undocumented workers.
The Farmworkers Association of Florida isn’t happy. “The Farmworkers Association of Florida, a grassroots nonprofit that advocates for social and environmental justice with farmworkers, estimates that there are about 300,000 farm workers in Florida who live in the state illegally, making up about 60% of the state’s farm workers,” reports the Pensacola News Journal. It is quite obvious that Florida’s agriculture industry simply cannot function without those workers. The same goes for other industries, like construction and hospitality.
You may have seen this viral video of a town hall meeting of Florida Republicans responding to angry constituents on their loss of workers.
“I’m a farmer, and the farmers are mad as hell,” says a conservative farmer. “We are losing employees, they are already starting to move to Georgia and other states.” Of course, he thinks Donald Trump was “the best president in my lifetime” and hedges with “I love my governor, he’s the greatest governor.” No one will ever accuse conservatives of being the brightest people, as evidenced by the response from the Republicans on stage.
Don’t worry, they claim, no one is actually coming for your immigrant workers! Except that’s not what the legislation says, and those workers aren’t going to play DeSantis Roulette with their lives.
Meanwhile, Georgia—which is facing its own worker shortage—will be happy to scoop up the workers.
Conservative policies drive teachers away
DeSantis’ war on education is certainly thinning out ideological critics, but at a high cost of, you know, losing teachers.
On May 12, New College of Florida's visiting professor Erik Wallenberg learned the school's administration opted not to renew his contract, leaving the school without a United States history teacher ...
"They have no U.S. historians in the department, and they need someone to teach U.S. history," Wallenberg tells New Times. "They asked if I would come back, and I said I would definitely be interested, so they said, 'Great, we'll send over the offer letter to the provost's office,' and then the head of the social sciences division told me that it was being held up by interim president Richard Corcoran."
Wallenberg’s big crime? Aside from being a vocal opponent of DeSantis’ “anti-woke” hysteria, it was most likely that, as the Miami New Times reported, “On April 20, Wallenberg had Black historian and outspoken DeSantis critic Marvin Dunn speak to his class for a lecture about Black history in the state and threats to educational freedom.”
DeSantis’ war on academic freedom, complete with book bans, extends from higher education down to kindergarten. “The Florida Education Association, which counts teacher vacancies posted on Florida school district websites, said the January 2023 vacancies — a total of 5,294 — represented a steep rise from five years ago when 1,492 openings were counted,” reported the Orlando Sentinel. What happened five years ago? DeSantis was first elected.
Vanity Fair reported on the growing brain drain among Florida schoolteachers:
“For the first time, I’ve actually started talking to my investment guy about retirement,” Michael Woods, a teacher who has spent decades working in exceptional-student education for public schools in South Florida, tells me. “I’m a 30-year veteran who showed up every day, hardly calls in sick, but now I don’t want to be a teacher in Florida.” Most troubling to Woods—a gay man who teaches science and biology courses—is the ballooning list of laws that police classroom material, discriminate against LGBTQ+ educators and students, and restrict sex education. “They’re all so vague,” he says of DeSantis’s new laws. “Even things that used to be easy like human reproduction [for ninth graders], I now have to check with my co-teacher and ask, ‘Is this okay? Are we still allowed to teach this?’”
DeSantis’ Department of Education claims that teacher shortage is “a myth.” But unable to ignore the crisis, DeSantis implemented a ridiculous proposal to close the gap by hiring military veterans without appropriate academic qualifications (what could go wrong?). Thankfully it has been unsuccessful: Only 10 vets took advantage of the opportunity.
Conservative policies will put Florida underwater
Florida is mostly a sea-level state. That is a problem as sea levels continue to rise as a result of the climate crisis.
“Some 2.4 million people and 1.3 million homes, nearly half the risk nationwide, sit within 4 feet of the local high tide line. Sea level rise is more than doubling the risk of a storm surge at this level in South Florida by 2030. For the hundreds of thousands of Floridians holding 30-year mortgages, that date is not far off in the future,” reported the Miami Herald. “The world’s oceans are already rising, thanks to global warming. Global average sea level has gone up about 8 inches since 1880. In South Florida, taxpayers are already paying the price for climate change as salt water pushes through porous bedrock into coastal drinking-water supplies, and rivers and canals choked by heavy rains have a harder time draining into the ocean. A recent Florida Atlantic University study estimated that just 6 more inches of sea level rise — very plausible within two decades — would cripple about half of South Florida’s flood control capacity.”
It’s getting so bad that Miami experiences flooding without any other impetus than the tides. And forget building a sea wall to keep out the rising sea: The city sits on porous limestone, and the flooding bubbles up from the ground. “The whole region—indeed, most of the state—consists of limestone that was laid down over the millions of years Florida sat at the bottom of a shallow sea,” reported The New Yorker. “The limestone is filled with holes, and the holes are, for the most part, filled with water.”
This interactive map-calculator from the University of Florida (uh-oh) shows how much of Florida could be underwater by 2050:
That spells serious trouble for the Tampa and Jacksonville areas, and up the coast from North Miami to Fort Lauderdale. Where do people live? Jacksonville, Tampa, and Miami are the first, second, and third most populous cities in the state.
It is certainly ironic that the state most impacted by the rising oceans elects the people most hostile to reversing the impact of climate change.
I’m not even going to get into how Republican efforts to erode Social Security and Medicare would affect Florida’s large senior populations. Those seniors themselves, by voting Republican, don’t seem to care. Certainly, none of these real-world consequences of conservative ideology should get in the way of running for president of a nihilist, brain-dead Republican Party.
The upshot is a governor who doesn’t even know how to pronounce his last name would rather drive thousands of jobs back to California than admit his policies are breaking his state.
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