DeSantis extols Sunshine state’s many successes

Gov. Ron DeSantis was at the Brownwood Hotel and Spa on Wednesday for a town hall event sponsored by the Republican Party of Florida.

Florida’s success in treating COVID-19 is keeping people out of hospitals — that’s one of many strengths uplifting the state, Gov. Ron DeSantis told Villagers during a town hall Wednesday at Brownwood Hotel and Spa. The state continues to overcome economic, educational, social and health challenges, in some cases leading the nation and setting examples for others to follow, he said during the session with first lady Casey DeSantis taking part at his side. More than 40,000 antibody treatments have been given out since DeSantis and state officials opened 21 sites across Florida, including one at Barnstorm Theater at Brownwood Paddock Square on Aug. 26, which has averaged about 230 treatments a day, according to a spokesman for the contractor running the site.

Since the 21 state-sponsored sites opened, hospital admissions for COVID-19 already have dropped 21% statewide, DeSantis said, with the potential to save tens of thousands of lives now that it has the public’s attention. Other states are starting to follow Florida’s model, he said.

“As we started to see this summer wave, people were getting admitted to hospitals and almost none of them even knew about this treatment,” he said. “And a lot of those people would not have been admitted to a hospital throughout the whole year in the United States, I think, if this had been a front-burner thing.”

DeSantis covered numerous current topics on the national and global scene during the town hall sponsored by the Republican Party of Florida, many of those issues hitting home in Florida. That includes illegal immigration at the southern U.S. border with Mexico, which often leads to a burden on Florida and other states, he said, including criminals who don’t return to Texas for assigned court dates.

In spite of ongoing political and pandemic-related hurdles, successes abound in the Sunshine State, he told a nearly full ballroom of Villagers, citing Florida’s thriving economy, the quality education its schools are delivering, the benefits that state mental-health initiatives are providing.

Open Economy Delivers

DeSantis said fears of recession haven’t overtaken Florida simply because the economy was opened and people were able to get to work. Residents have told him they would be on the streets or businesses would have been shuttered if not for this approach, he said.

“We made the decision that you can’t just keep locking people down. You’ve got to lift them up,” DeSantis said. “We had people who their jobs were at stake, their livelihoods were at stake, the small businesses were at stake. So we really wanted to protect people’s rights to work, run a business, earn a living.”

Tourism has benefited greatly, even as people are not flying as often as they once did.

“I tell you, if you went to the panhandle of Florida, you’d see Texas plates, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, like they all descended there and it was a record summer,” he said. “Now you see Miami is absolutely booming.”

Unemployment is lower than other major states as well, as much as 50% lower he said, compared to “some of the strict lockdown states like New York or California.”

Florida’s increase in adjusted gross income during 2020 stands as the largest for a state in U.S. history, he said.

“This is something that has a real impact on people’s lives,” he said. “Just from a health perspective, locking people out of a job they don’t have health insurance anymore, what are they going to do to put food on the table, the anxiety that causes, what does that do to their mental health. So there’s all these things.”

Mental Health Resource Boost

First lady Casey DeSantis has championed improvements in mental health offerings for Floridians, working quite a bit in schools to inspire resilience in children who she said tend to call themselves “damaged goods,” and instead enable personal growth for those children.

“We’ve tried to change the narrative and the way people talk about it to resiliency, empowering people to make decisions for themselves. Empowering people to overcome challenges. It’s taking a negative and putting it into a positive,” she said.

Volunteering plays a part, as well as encouraging students to look out for one another and treat others the way they would want to be treated — even as simply as inviting someone who’s alone at lunch to come sit with a group.

“It really is about being positive, character development in the form of teaching kids problem-solving skills and critical-thinking skills,” she said, “because all of those are good foundations and they go toward emotional well-being.”

All Schools Benefit From Choice

DeSantis said his state’s long-term policy of school choice is pushing standards higher throughout the education system, not just for the 200,000 on private scholarships or 50,000 on special-needs scholarships.

“If a charter school is doing something, parents in the district say, ‘Wait a minute, if they’re offering this program, why aren’t you?’” he said. “If kids are on scholarship to private schools, (district officials) are saying, ‘Why are we losing these kids?’ So it’s created I think a healthy competition.”

Influence from teacher unions can at times shift priorities out of line, DeSantis told the town-hall crowd, while charter schools’ influence can play a critical role: “That’s important because you know the school districts, and some do better than others, but by and large they are bureaucracies, they are controlled or at least influenced by unions and they don’t always have the child’s interests at heart,” DeSantis said. “Sometimes it’s the special interests.”

The Villages Charter School has received 17 consecutive A grades from the state Department of Education. Florida’s charter school program is the largest in the country, DeSantis said, and Hope scholarships are providing parents with personal choices to decide how their children will be educated based on the child’s own conditions, he said.

Specialty Editor Bill Zimmerman can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5284, or bill.zimmerman@thevillagesmedia.com.