While some states—primarily those under politically left-leaning administrations—continue to enforce strict mandates two years into the pandemic, others such as Florida have maintained relative autonomy in economic and social freedoms.
In an interview with The Epoch Times, conducted earlier this month by e-mail, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis discussed his state’s policies and his approach to keeping the state open to economic prosperity by the limitation of government-enforced COVID-19 mandates. He also talked about how America’s constitutional framework ensures that states have the power to protect individual rights.
The Epoch Times: Sir, we have now witnessed nearly two years of world crisis, in which governance has gone from proactive response to maintenance, and perhaps manipulation. What is the proper role of the national government in a biological crisis, and do you believe mandates—whether it be President Donald Trump’s “15 days to slow the spread” or President Joe Biden’s (now overturned) vaccine requirements for business—were necessary?
Gov. Ron DeSantis: In early 2020, we knew very little about COVID. Now, in the second year of the pandemic, we have empirical evidence and can use it to make data-driven policies. Lockdowns have not worked to contain the virus, and we will be learning more about the harmful side effects for years to come. Likewise, mask mandates have not been proven to affect the spread or prevalence of COVID. In Florida, we’ve ruled out lockdowns and restrictions, and masking is a personal choice, not a requirement. Parents have the right to choose whether their own kids wear masks to school or not.
No matter how we’d evaluate “15 days to slow the spread” in hindsight, this temporary measure should never have become “three jabs to keep your job.” No one should lose their livelihood because of these COVID jabs. In Florida, we’re making sure that people have a right to earn a living, people have a right to protections in their place of employment, and parents are able to direct the upbringing of their kids. And if you look at what we’re doing today, Florida is leading. The legislation passed in the special session earlier this month is the strongest law that has been enacted anywhere in the country in this regard.
The Biden vaccine mandates are egregious examples of unconstitutional federal overreach. We live in the United States of America. In our constitutional system, the states are the primary vehicles to protect people’s freedoms, their health, their safety, and their welfare. What Biden is doing is not constitutional. There has never been a federal vaccine mandate imposed on the general public. When I was in the military, they used to give me all kinds of stuff, but that’s much different than imposing it on civilians in society. It’s never been done before. The federal government doesn’t have the power to do it. There’s no federal police power; states have the police power. So that’s from a constitutional perspective.
In Florida, some local governments wanted to lock down businesses. They wanted to force mandates. They wanted to keep the kids locked out of school. I overruled them on that. The fact of the matter is, you don’t have the right to do wrong. I was elected to look out for the liberties of everyone in the state. If we had let them lock the kids out of school last year, we would have paid the piper on that for years and years in this state. If we had let them lock down businesses and restrict and do all that, we would have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. So we had to stand up for people’s liberties, their livelihoods, their right to work, to operate their businesses. And it was the right thing to do.
Biden admitted he doesn’t have the authority to enact national vaccine mandates. Even six months ago, Biden and [Dr. Anthony] Fauci were saying, “Of course, you never mandate.” So the question is, do we actually have a Constitution that constrains people like Biden? Or is it just when he loses patience, he can do whatever he wants? I’ll take the Constitution.
The Epoch Times: How did shutting down the country impact the economy, in your view? Have these measures led to inflation?
Mr. DeSantis: There’s no question that lockdowns harmed the economy immensely. Just think about all the people whose livelihoods depend on having an open economy. Fauci was railing about the restaurants, probably sometime around the end of summer 2020. And I’m just thinking to myself, “He wants all this closed—and I’m going to highlight what this means.” So I did an event at a steakhouse down in South Florida, and we had the owner there [saying], “Thanks, Governor DeSantis, for business,” but we also had the butcher there. He’d been there 24 years, and he said, “I won’t be able to feed my family if we’re not open.” I had the bartender there, too. I had the servers, I had all these people throughout the organization come through. And in a state like Florida, if we had done a California lockdown, it would have been devastating because we have a service-based economy: tourism, leisure, lodging, parks, restaurants. A lot of Floridians cannot do their jobs on Zoom.
So we were able to keep those afloat. In fact, in August of 2021, tourism in Florida did better than in August of 2019—pre-COVID. Hotel reservations, receipts in terms of revenue, restaurant reservations. So it just shows you that freedom works, and look, people vote with their feet.
The shutdowns have contributed to inflation, because Congress has passed multiple trillion-dollar spending bills. When the federal government prints money like this, it causes inflationary pressure and erodes the value of the dollar. More reckless spending and printing money will only make inflation worse. In recent history, different countries have experienced hyperinflation, and this is what causes that dangerous phenomenon.
The Epoch Times: We are seeing a rise in oil, heat, housing, and food prices. Historically, what has remedied this—and do you think the Biden administration is doing its part? What would you propose?
Mr. DeSantis: Inflation is something that I was talking about a while back. And the White House was saying that this wasn’t real inflation, that this would not happen. And now we’re seeing it’s real. This has been going on for many, many months. This Thanksgiving was the most expensive Thanksgiving that we’ve seen in quite some time. It’s over a 20 percent increase just from last year, for families throughout the country. And of all the things where you’re seeing with the inflationary pressures, probably none have pinched people as bad as these gas prices that have been going up. So we’ve got folks that are commuting, we’ve got families that have obligations, and that just eats into their budgets.
We’ve got job openings, we’ve got a lot of creating jobs, and that’s great. We’re doing our part here in Florida. But if the national economy has this inflation, even people that are earning more in income, if the inflation is outstripping your additional earnings, then you’re actually losing ground. Why the federal government would want to be printing trillions of dollars more in the midst of inflation, you’ll have to tell me how that makes sense. That’s not going to help.
So, the Biden Administration at first tried to deny that inflation was happening, then said it was transitory and would resolve quickly, and now, reckless federal spending and money printing–championed by Biden–is making inflation even worse. He cannot deny it anymore, but it doesn’t look like he has a plan to address it.
Though states obviously cannot control the money supply or federal spending, we do have an obligation to do what we can in Florida to push back against those pressures that we’re seeing come down out of Washington. We’re going to have a big, robust agenda in January for the legislative session. We want to see $1 billion of gas tax relief for Florida motorists and families. And that will be something that will make a difference. It’s clearly not going to eliminate all the inflation-related price increases, because gas prices have gone up so much due to the Biden administration’s policies, but the relief we’re fighting for will make a difference in Floridians’ pocketbooks. And I think we’re going to get a lot of good support for that.
The Epoch Times: Forecast for 2022, what do you see as the future for the economy under continued COVID measures, and do you anticipate a national “vaccine passport” or quarantines for unvaccinated as seen in Austria?
Mr. DeSantis: We don’t have lockdowns, restrictions, or COVID mandates in Florida, and we have ruled out those policies going forward. Vaccine passports are illegal in Florida.
Florida will continue to be America’s engine of growth and a beacon of opportunity for hardworking people from all over the country. But as long as the Biden administration continues to push these unscientific, irrational, job-killing policies, we will not see the kind of economic recovery that Americans want and deserve. If Biden and Fauci had their way, our country would become a biomedical security state. But fortunately, America’s constitutional framework ensures that states have the power to protect individual rights. Floridians do not have to worry about vaccine passports restricting their movement or draconian quarantines and lockdowns.