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From Gender Theory Guides to ‘Transition’ Questionnaires–Florida State Rep. Joe Harding on the Fight for Parental Rights in Education

On this episode of American Thought Leaders, we sit down with Florida state Rep. Joe Harding, who spearheaded Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Bill.

“As young as kindergarten, there were resource guides out there telling teachers, telling educators how to talk to children about their pronouns,” Harding says. “These guides were not being voted on in public meetings. These guys were being put forth with an agenda by activist groups.”

He shares the impetus for the bill, how the bill is now being enforced, and what it was like being at the center of a national firestorm. Since the passing of the Florida bill, many other states have followed in Florida’s footsteps and adopted similar legislation.

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Mr. Jekielek:

Representative Joe Harding, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.

Rep. Joe Harding:

Great to be here. Thank you for having me.

Mr. Jekielek:

So let’s just start by getting you to tell me a bit about yourself. Usually state representatives, you’re in the state legislature, but you also do something else. So what are you up to?

Rep. Harding:

Yes, it’s the difficult thing of being in the Florida legislature, but also I think what makes it so effective is that we are part-time legislators. So first and foremost, I’m a dad of four children. I’ve got a nine, a seven, a five and a three-year-old, so they keep us very busy. And then I’m also an entrepreneur. I have a business that I run. And so we’re very busy.

Mr. Jekielek:

So we’re going to talk today a bit about your work with Governor Ron DeSantis, but I’m going to jump right in and we’re going to talk about the Parental Rights in Education bill, because that was actually a bill that you sponsored. So tell me a little bit about the genesis of this.

Rep. Harding:

Well, what we saw during my first year in the legislature, I got elected in 2020, and at that time the Parental Bill of Rights was moving in the legislature in ’21 in our first session. This idea that parents are the ultimate deciders for their children, the ultimate decision makers for their children. Really just blew my mind that that was so controversial. And so we got through the legislative session in ’21, working a little bit on that bill. I sat on two committees that bill went through, so I got to hear a lot.

And then as I went back home to the district and started to talk to people and realize what was happening all over our state on this issue of sexualizing our children and some of the things going on with gender theory and different things that were being taught, and then how the school districts were getting around the Parental Bill of Rights that was just passed, what they were doing to manipulate that.

That really shocked me, because I saw it from the perspective, like I do everything that I try to do in the legislature, as a dad. And I’m looking, I’ve got a third grader, a fourth grader. I’ve got children this age. It was such a wake up call.

The first thing that really got me really motivated and knew we had to do something in the legislature was a story from Leon County where you had a 12 or 13-year-old girl who had had multiple meetings behind closed doors with people from the school district in Leon County, helping her change her name and change her pronoun. I just could not believe that that was happening in Florida’s schools. We can’t have an idea that a school district could have a closed door meeting with my child, not include me as the parent, and then when I asked the school district, in these examples of parents that we’ve had in Florida, when I asked the school district, “What are you meeting about? What’s happening? What decisions are being made?” and being told as a parent, “Sorry, but this has to do with something that you cannot be involved on,” and watching parents literally be shut out. And what it showed me was that it was so important that we do something now before it’s too late.

Mr. Jekielek:

You said you were concerned about some of the gender theory education. So what is it that you are concerned about?

Rep. Harding:

Well, what we’ve seen in Florida, and unlike many other states, just like we’ve seen in other states around the country, where third party groups, activist groups, are coming and they’re creating resource guides for school districts to use to teach certain subjects, all of them relating to gender and teaching sexuality. And one of the things that really surprised me that was as young as kindergarten, there were resource guides out there telling teachers, telling educators how to talk to children about their pronouns and how to have discussions about, “Well, can I use the pronoun that I use at school when I talk to your parents, or do I have to use a different name?” All these really confusing things to try to pull out of little children.

So really, it was those resource guides. The first one I saw was in Palm Beach County and then found out that just right close by to my district in Alachua County there was one. And throughout the state of Florida they started to come forward, Broward County, Miami-Dade, and so on. As our bill started to get in the news, we had more and more people reaching out and saying, “Our county has one just like this.” And that was probably the scariest part, because these guides were not being voted on in public meetings. These guides were being put forth with an agenda by activist groups and they’re directly teaching and instructing teachers how to instruct children and almost bypassing the typical role that you would have with approval process that would go through the state Board of Education. They figured out a way to bypass it with an activist agenda.

Mr. Jekielek:

You had this up close and personal seat to watch the development of this Parental Rights in Education bill from start to finish. So why don’t you trace that for me.

Rep. Harding:

Originally this bill was going to be targeting these guides that we talked about a little bit. That there was these transition guides and this idea that we’re teaching teachers how to teach sexuality to little children, and we’ve got to address this. But then it came to my attention that Leon County and in Martin County, there were these transition questionnaires that were being put forward and it was given to students. If you’ve got questions about your pronoun, here. And one of the things it said was, “Do you want your parents to be involved in helping you basically transition from in our school as a he to a she or however you want to do it?”

And so the original bill was about targeting this idea that I don’t want anybody in the school district having closed door meetings with my children. I don’t want them signing a document that the minor child is making decisions for themselves in school without the parents involved, and that’s where it originally started with. And then as I became aware of other issues where we had gender theory being taught in kindergarten and second grade classes in different school districts, we knew we had to address that. So we added that into the bill. So the bill got filed right at the deadline as we worked through the details of everything that needed to be in it.

And then the bill gets its first hearing in the education committee, and at that point is when the media narrative just took off. And I think it was really early on. I saw it. Actually, it didn’t go on my desk. It went on all my neighbors’ desks around me in the Capital. So if you’re not familiar with the Florida Capital, the way our offices are, the freshmen are in the tower, and I’m up on the 11th floor, and all my colleagues that are my freshman colleagues are getting these pamphlets dropped off at their desk that basically says, “Help us stop the Don’t Say Gay bill. This bill is targeting trans children.” All these are just rhetoric. And it was the first introduction to the many lies that the left was putting out. And it was by one of these organizations that’s frankly using these issues like this to make money on it.

But one of the things that I made a comment to one of my colleagues that sits on the … It was actually Rep. LaMarca out of Broward County. I made a comment to him that he was on the committee and I said, “They never came and talked to me. This Florida Equality Group never requested a meeting with me. And I’m hearing that they’ve met with 12 Republicans that are on this 18-member committee.” And it was my first glimpse into how dirty and how low these groups will go to spin up a narrative. And what they did was they purposely didn’t talk to me because they wanted me to be in the dark of what their tactics were. So I’d get in front of that committee and that committee just kind of went off the rails. It was all about hypotheticals and rhetoric and this is targeting gay children and all these different things that we’ve heard throughout. And no matter how many times you would give them an answer back to the bill, “This bill’s really simple, here’s what it says,” they would just keep spinning it up.

So in many ways we were losing the messaging war on this bill, not because our message was not good, but because we didn’t have the power of the media. The left at this point, I think it was the day after, maybe the day of the first committee, had Anderson Cooper, had Chasten Buttigieg on to talk about this bill. I mean, national figures immediately talking about this bill from the left’s perspective and almost nothing from our side.

And it was pretty early on, the governor got asked about the bill at a press conference and he made a comment something to the effect that, “We’ll go back and look into this bill.” And it was just a few days later he got asked about it again. From this point he had reviewed it. So he took that opportunity to really expose the media for using terms like Don’t Say Gay, because it was click bait and it sold well in social media and that’s why they use terms like that. But really he, on a national level, was able to expose so much of what their rhetoric was.

And then it made the left really double down. It was really at that point that it became a fever pitch. We had over 300 students from Dade Broward County come into the Capitol, and their tactics … I told this to one of my colleagues, I said that, “If parents have not woken up already to what’s happening in our schools, the footage of these children in our Capital is a wake up call.” And watching children cuss eff this and telling us that we’re bigoted and we’re all these things, really nasty and aggressive, and right behind them are educators from those school districts, Democrat lawmakers, dancing, supporting, going along with it as if this is okay for little 15, 16 … I’m sorry if I’m too old to call 15, 16 years old children, but they’re children. They are minors. And there they are in our Capital with adult lawmakers dancing and going along with it.

That was a wake up call, I believe, to really what took on a fever pitch all across the country from conservatives, and not just conservatives, from centrists. I believe the majority of Americans realize that what is happening in our schools, targeting our children, trying to indoctrinate our children, enough is enough. It was really an unbelievable time to really, I believe, start to reverse the course that we’ve seen happen for way too long in our school system.

Mr. Jekielek:

Lay out what’s in the bill.

Rep. Harding:

The bill does really three fundamental things. It says that parents should be the decision makers. Any decision that’s made in the school district that has a physical or emotional or mental impact on the student’s well being must involve the parent. It’s pretty straightforward. That could have to do with issues that have nothing to do with their sexuality. Could have to do with the way their grades are reported. Could have to do with which coursework they’re taking. But if that has a long-term impact on the student, engage the parent. Pretty straightforward.

Then we said that in kindergarten through third grade, because there was a gap in our state standards where we did not address this, gender ideology and sexual orientation shouldn’t be taught in kindergarten through third grade. So that was the second.

But the third piece was probably what really is the motivator behind the left being so fired up, because we said there has to be an enforcement piece. Because just like we saw with lockdowns, just like we saw through the time of COVID in our school districts that chose to not follow the governor’s executive orders, chose to not follow the rules the legislature put out, we said there has to be an enforcement piece. We said that if a school district is withholding information from you about your child, like in the case of Leon County where you had a 12 or 13 … I think she was 12 when it started … 12-year-old child having closed door meetings with the school district and school officials and blocking out the parent. And then the parent goes, “What was in that meeting? Could I see? What did she sign? I’d like to have that.” And the school district goes, “Oh, no, no, that’s confidential.”

Well, so our bill directly goes at that and says, “No, you can’t withhold. You can’t have a private meeting with my child and close the door and then tell me that I have no right to that information.”

Mr. Jekielek:

What is the accountability? What can happen?

Rep. Harding:

So in our first piece of legislation, our main focus was a course of action. So the parents should have an ability to be able to sue the school. The school will go to a judge and get a judge to issue that the parents can … It’s the rightful information for them to know what’s happening. The only caveat being that if there’s threat or possibility of abuse or abandonment or neglect, which is currently already accounted for in our Florida state statute. But we doubled down on that in our bill and just said that if a parent is an abusive parent, obviously there may be some closed door meetings to try to protect that child.

Ultimately where we landed, which I think is really such a great point, was that we have what’s called a course of action and a cause of action. The course of action is for the parents that can afford to go hire an attorney to go after the school. But not every parent can afford an attorney. So we came up with a cause of action and we have a 70-day and a 30-day period. So they can go to the school district and request information relating to a private closed door meeting that the school may have had with their child, and the school has seven days to provide that. If they choose to not provide that, then it gets escalated and the Department of Education, our state Board of Education gets involved. They have 30 days to do something with it. So what we wanted to do is we didn’t want parents that didn’t have the ability or didn’t know where to go to hire an attorney to be able to have another way to hold the school districts accountable.

Probably the thing that we heard the most that often makes me almost laugh out loud is that what they would say is, “Well, aren’t you forcing taxpayer dollars to be spent on attorneys defending school districts?” But what they don’t acknowledge is simply that if school districts don’t want to be sued for having closed door meetings with children, stop doing it.

Mr. Jekielek:

Something just struck me. Someone that’s a huge advocate of let’s say gender ideology, they might view it as abusive that a parent doesn’t allow their child to be encouraged to change their pronouns or change their gender or whatnot. Have you considered this in the bill?

Rep. Harding:

Right, we did. That’s a great point. So we actually ultimately put in some conforming language in our final education bill in the legislature that putting in some review mechanisms, because that was our concern was abuse could be a term that my parents are Republican and you could have a activist person in the school say, “Well, Republican parents, it’s abusive that they make your child go to church,” for instance. It’s abusive that they make you whatever it may be. It could obviously be used in any way you want if you look at it from an activist point of view. 

So what we did do is we put it to where the school district has to have regular meetings and has to continually keep the principal and the superintendent, the decision makers in the school, involved. If they’re choosing to intentionally withhold information from a parent because of a concern of abuse, they have to continue regularly to keep revisiting that. And our goal, and I think this is an area we’re going to have to address further in the legislator as we see this implemented. I think that that term abuse is unfortunately misused. We look at abuse as abusing your child physically, mentally, not in terms of political issues. And unfortunately, the left will take political issues and call them abuse, and that’s simply not true. So we did put in some things in protection of that in our overall education package, but I think we’re going to have to revisit that further in the future.

Mr. Jekielek:

And so at what point does Disney get involved here?

Rep. Harding:

Yes, so Disney, I think the first time, we’re in our last week of sessions. So if you’re not familiar with the Florida legislature, how it works, we have 60-day session and it moves really quickly. And then those last week or two is when most of the either really controversial bills or really big bills that have a lot of different moving pieces move. The first time Disney publicly active in this bill was after our bill had actually already passed. It had passed in both chambers, and they were getting involved with the intent, I believe, to lobby the governor and try to make the governor back down, which clearly they didn’t know who the governor of Florida was, because backing down is not in his DNA, thankfully.

But they started pushing actually after. And I’ve been asked about this before. Disney never was involved, at least with me and my bill. They never lobbied for or against the bill. They were not involved. They came in late mostly because they were getting pressure from activist groups that have gotten embedded within Disney. And there’s footage of closed door meetings, if you will, with Disney that’s gotten leaked out, really showing the underbelly of what they truly believe, which is shocking, I believe, to most Americans, some of the things that their producers.

Mr. Jekielek:

What would be an example?

Rep. Harding:

Well, this idea that they want 50 percent of characters in children’s movies to portray an LGBTQ person. I think 50 percent of children are not LGBTQ. And I think this idea that they’re trying to make this mainstream clearly has an agenda that they are trying to insert that’s just really out of line, I believe, with what the majority of Americans believe in and see. But what they did was Disney tried to get involved late, I believe, to pressure the governor to get the governor to back down. Clearly that didn’t happen. But I think what Disney misjudged was that the amount of energy that was behind this bill already, and they were very late to it.

And I think what they learned the hard way is that you can never satisfy this progressive idea that there’s always some new thing that we’ve got to go with. And what I mean by that is the groups that they were trying to appease by coming out with a public statement and saying that we’re going to work … I think their first statement was something to the effect of, “We don’t agree with the bill and we’re going to try to work to see what we could do to help make it better.” Something big, whatever it was. But that wasn’t enough. What the left wanted to hear is, “No, we want to hear that you’re going to go out on record and you’re going to help us beat them.” And then Disney came out with a statement that says that, “We’re going to work to make sure that this bill, House Bill 1557, my bill, gets repealed.

Well, in order to get repealed, you’d have to put the minority in the majority, which meant that was a direct threat at our Republican majority in the Florida legislature was, “We’re going to work to unseat you and try to replace you with progressive, out of line, far left replacements.” And that is what their statement, I truly think that is what really energized the right and the conservative movement and the governor. No, you’re not going to get involved and then replace our majority. We’ve made all these great decisions for Florida. Conservatism has worked in so many ways in Florida. So what you’re saying is you’re going to throw all that away, all the success that Disney frankly has had over the years, we’re going to throw all that away because we have an activist group that wants us to further a political agenda.

They got used, unfortunately. I truly believe that. But unfortunately, Disney is no longer the company that Walt Disney founded. It’s gone. It’s now a California based company with California values, and it doesn’t align with Florida. And Disney’s gotten special privilege in Florida for way too long. It needed it to be looked at before. Absolutely should have been looked at much sooner. But I think at the end of the day, what the governor was able to do was expose that here we are giving special privileges to a company that’s directly targeting the values and the things that we are pushing forward in Florida. If we ignore that, then why are we up there? I’ve asked that question before. If we’re going to run for office to go along to get along, it’s not worth it to me. It’s not worth the time away. It’s not worth missing the T-ball games and school and family and church and business and all these things that you miss doing this. It’s not worth it if you’re not going to fight for what you believe in.

What is the fixation with our children? That was really the question that I kept asking. I still ask myself what is this fixation really about?

Mr. Jekielek:

Well, so what have you come to so far in pursuing that question?

Rep. Harding:

I think that really what it is is a breakdown in what we see as the fundamental role of families—having parents involved. I think what we’ve tried, what has happened unfortunately in our society is this continued reliance on government and on experts. And so what we have activist groups that have gotten into our school district saying is, “Parents, you’re not qualified to have a discussion with your child about their pronouns or whatever new thing that we’ve created, because you’re just not in with it. You’re not current. You’re not cool. You wouldn’t know how to talk to your kids.” 

So I truly believe that it’s a breakdown in understanding of what the role of the family is, and you cannot replace parents with government. And I think that’s what we’ve seen an effort to do that and replace them with a bureaucracy and a bunch of experts. And at the end of the day, the parent knows the child best. No expert that sits in a corner office in the school district office knows the child as well as the parent at home.

Mr. Jekielek:

Have you spoken with anyone who believes this? Have you had a conversation or an informed debate? I’d love to understand this.

Rep. Harding:

When I’ve talked to my colleagues that serve in the legislature, many of them that were Democrat members very vocally opposed this bill. As I think back through some of those memories and some of those discussions, almost all of them, with the exception of a couple, off the record agree with most of what we’re doing. On the record, they put on a front that this is all filled with hate and this is about targeting certain children and all these different things. But off the record, more times than not, regardless if they’re a same sex family, regardless if they’re raising their children and they’re married to a man or a woman or they’re a man married to a man, even in those situations, so many of them agree that as parents, regardless if it’s two dads or two moms, I just want to be involved in what’s happening with my children. They’re my kids and I want to be involved and I want to know and I want to be the one leading that instruction.

I think of one particular case right before the second committee hearing on the Parental Rights in Education bill. I had a colleague of mine, a democrat colleague, call me on the phone and say, “Hey, I just want you to know, I’ve obviously got to vote against your bill today. But as a parent, I agree with almost everything in the bill. I have a couple questions, but I pretty much agree with everything in the bill.” So it just shows you that it’s not real. And that wasn’t the only time. I had that multiple times where democrat colleagues would come to me and say, “I actually agree with this. I can’t believe this is even controversial, but obviously I got to be against it.” So even some of the biggest opponents off the record for the most part agree. There are a few that will look at it from a perspective that they have to believe what they are saying because they just need that to go on.

I think back to this summer, I did a little bit of traveling and I was at a conference for other legislators throughout the country, and I ran into a legislator from Minnesota. And this legislator figured out who I was and what bill I had sponsored and just came at me in a really aggressive way, that I was bigoted and that all these different things that she said. And what was interesting to me was when I actually challenged her a little bit, said, “Have you read the bill? Do you know the bill that you’re calling the Don’t Say Gay bill, do you know what it actually is about?” And her response to that was, “I would never read that thing.” It’s like, “Well, how do you as a lawmaker who’s out there influencing what people think believe that the best answer is, ‘Why I would never read it because it’s filled with hate,’ and that’s your response? Then how can you actually be someone that’s part of the decision making for your state? That’s really alarming.”

Mr. Jekielek:

There’s at least one democratic legislator that was on your side with this bill, Representative Bush.

Rep. Harding:

Right.

Mr. Jekielek:

And kind of paid a price for this, too.

Rep. Harding:

Yes, what we saw was there was one Democrat House member who was willing to go on record and vote in support of my bill outside of the handful of other ones that would tell me privately, “I wish I could support it.” But he actually did support my bill and ultimately was beat in a primary by a very progressive, far left liberal. I think that that is what we’re seeing across Florida is there is no longer a Democrat Party that’s not … The Democrat Party across the country, really, but especially in the state of Florida has become so far left and liberal. It’s a bubble. And so you’ve got to be an activist. You’ve got to be as far left. There is no room for independent thinkers and they don’t believe in that. And so he paid the price ultimately for stepping out against his own party.

Mr. Jekielek:

Of course, as we know, the Parental Rights in Education bill was signed into law. What has been the impact of that so far, both in Florida and beyond?

Rep. Harding:

Well, it’s first we’re watching it closely to see how it’s implemented, because that’s really the biggest thing that we see in Florida is we can pass really bold and great legislation, but we have to make sure that it’s being implemented correctly. And if it’s not, there may be an opportunity for us to go back and readdress something that maybe needs to be tweaked, but also to hold those school districts accountable that are not complying.

What we’re seeing is we’re seeing school districts that are absolutely trying to navigate around it. We’ve seen some of that. But I will point to some of the positives. We saw Miami-Dade County that had a sex education program that was considered very progressive and just really shocking. They had 12, 14-year-old children and they had profiles of these children in the textbooks in the sex ed program. And it’s just unbelievable talking about 14-year-old children as being all these different types of genders and just really confusing to be teaching to children. And so because of this bill and because of the outrage of many of the parents in the school district, that sex ed program was actually repealed, is now being revisited. And that’s one of the largest school districts in Florida in Miami-Dade. So I see a lot of hope that we are making some real progress.

And I would also point to the school board races that happen all over our state. We’ve never had a governor get involved in the number of school board races like he did. But he did that because he saw that many of the issues that we faced in the lockdown that we’re facing with this gender theory issue is coming from liberal and out of touch school boards that are not in touch with their voters. And I think because they’re nonpartisan races, they can get away with a lot, and the voters don’t realize who they have sitting on these boards. And I think that we brought a lot of awareness to the importance of those school board races because of this bill. I think over 90 percent, 85 or 90 percent of the governor’s endorsed candidates won their races in school board races all over the state.

So we are seeing a tremendous impact of it. And I think that there’s plenty of work to be done. I think that it’s showing areas that we need to work, but it’s showing areas as well. And it’s done something that I think the left could have never imagined with their false representation of what the bill did and with their false representation of the name of the bill. They exposed and they gave us a national stage to expose what was actually happening in our schools. And I think parents are watching. They’re more involved now than they’ve ever been, and I think that’s a really good thing.

Mr. Jekielek:

And are you getting any inquiries from outside of Florida about this legislation? I’ve heard of some things developing.

Rep. Harding:

Yes, we see similar legislation moving in a lot of states. In Pennsylvania. I think Ohio had something similar, and I know Virginia’s doing some things. I think that Florida leads. I think we saw this with COVID. We’re seeing this now with education. I think we’ve empowered parents in an unbelievable way in Florida. And I think that it’s extremely neat to see other states follow the lead of Florida.

Mr. Jekielek:

So when you got sworn in in November of 2020, you were stepping right into the middle of serious debate about COVID policy and Governor DeSantis taking a very different direction as well as, of course, all the agencies. And so what was that like?

Rep. Harding:

Well, it was really shocking, and if you’re going to choose a time to serve in politics, I obviously picked one hectic time to run. We had COVID. We had lockdowns and all these different things that our country was facing. So we spoke out against a lot of that. But it was really when it got personal, when you had people in your district calling you and saying, “I’m going to get fired from my job for the city of Gainesville that I’ve worked for, been loyal, saved lives. I’ve never done anything but give the best service to our taxpayers, but I’m going to be fired because of one decision I’m making, that I’m choosing to not get vaccinated.” And I had an opportunity to talk about that a little bit and his story on the House floor during our special session. And I think that was really, I doubled down any efforts I was doing and I was really just in awe watching the governor day after day beat the drum that Florida cannot follow the other states.

Mr. Jekielek:

What was it like as a legislator at that time? Or is it difficult? You describe this very polarized atmosphere in the legislature. Can you just give me-

Rep. Harding:

Well, I think the biggest thing, I always just got shocked. I don’t know why more people don’t talk about this publicly. I always would get blown away when the Democrat reps would come into committee and they would be wearing two or three masks and they wouldn’t sit near you and they’re looking at you like you have a third eye because you’re not wearing a mask. But I’m like, “I saw you last night at a bar in Tallahassee and you didn’t have a mask anywhere near you, but all of a sudden here we’re on camera, so you’re going to wear a mask.” I was always just blown away by the theater.

And I think probably the thing that really caught me off guard was one of my Democrat colleagues actually created their own pin and they were wearing their vaccine card on their jacket showing everybody, “I got vaccinated and here’s my badge.” What are we doing? I mean, what is this? It just shocked me. It was a crazy time. And there were so many times I’m like am I the only one seeing how ridiculous this is? And it still is a pretty bizarre time watching the theater that the left put on.

Mr. Jekielek:

Why do you think this was happening?

Rep. Harding:

Well, because if you go back to what do we fundamentally believe? What do I believe as a conservative and what does the Democratic Party believe as the progressive left? What do they believe? And what I believe is that individuals should make decisions for themselves. That government is of the people, for the people, and we should have a government as small as possible. Government’s here for public safety. Government’s here for a couple fundamental roles, but they’re not here to be decision makers for everything in your life. They’re not here to be your only protector. They’re not here for all those things.

The Democrats truly believe that government is everything. And what they do is they use people who have different needs, whether it’s playing on low income or minorities and telling them, “Well, the evil Republicans are coming after your job or they’re coming after your food stamps,” or whatever it is. Because the Democrats truly believe that the more we expand government, the bigger our services are for people, the better. 

But as conservatives, we think well, let’s get government out of the way so your own entrepreneurship, your own moxie, making the best of the American dream is what is ultimately your path to success. And the Democrats believe your best path to success is a government program. So when you saw Democrats fall into this idea that government has to save us, government has to issue vaccine mandates, mask ordinances, all these things, it’s because they truly believe that at the end of the day, government has to be the one to protect people.

What I think is shocking was that they would sell that publicly, and even in their own mind, they wanted to have the freedom to not wear a mask. And you would see that from liberal leaders from New York and California and wherever else they would come from. They’d come vacation in Florida during lockdown. It was this idea, “Well, we want to control and we want our citizens to believe government is the answer to every problem, but yet I don’t want to live under that control. So I’m going to go to Florida where I can be free.” And it’s kind of the interesting thing that we can catch, I think, a lot of liberals in, which is this idea that, “We want it for everybody else, but not for me personally. I don’t want to be told what I can and can’t do.” So I think it’s really that fundamental, the lockdowns were such a big part of the Democratic Party because they truly believe that government is the ultimate answer to every issue.

Mr. Jekielek:

So what’s next for you?

Rep. Harding:

Well, what we’re going to continue to do as long as we’re fortunate to be in the Florida legislature is to continue, I keep using the word, but we’re going to continue to empower parents in Florida. I truly believe that all of the issues, and I say all of the issues that we face in our school districts, whether it’s attendance issues, whether it’s grade issues, all the issues that we are challenged with in our school system is because of government trying to replace parents. It’s because of a fundamental breakdown in our family unit as a country, as a whole. We’ve got to continue to advance school choice policy to empower parents on choosing where they want to send their children to school. At the same time, as long as we have public schools in this state, we’ve got to continue to hold them accountable, because it’s a large part of our budget every year goes through funding our schools, and we’ve got to as legislators control what is happening in those schools and make sure that it’s a good environment for our parents and for our children.

Mr. Jekielek:

Well, Representative Joe Harding, it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show.

Rep. Harding:

Thanks for having me on.

Mr. Jekielek:

Thank you all for joining Representative Joe Harding and me on this episode of American Thought Leaders. I’m your host, Jan Jekielek.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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