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¡Eso! Hugo Chávez Would Have Felt At Home In Florida, Where Home Rule Is Under Attack

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis at the Polk County Sheriff's office this week announcing proposed legislation that would defund cities that "defund" police.
The Florida Channel
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at the Polk County Sheriff's office this week announcing proposed legislation that would defund cities that "defund" police.

COMMENTARY Gov. Ron DeSantis' new police bill is the state's latest assault on local government — and more imitation of socialist Venezuela

Florida politics is rife with absurdist hypocrisies. How else do you sell Obamacare as diabolical “socialism” to Cuban voters in Hialeah – home to the nation’s largest Obamacare enrollment?

But here’s one of the top (or low) paradoxes of this election cycle. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is hoping to boost President Trump’s right-wing re-election prospects by pushing legislation reminiscent of a left-wing creep Trump accuses Joe Biden of channeling: Venezuela’s late socialist dictator Hugo Chávez.

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DeSantis this week proposed yanking state funding from any Florida municipality that “defunds” police. On one level he’s simply slapping paint on the law-and-order platform Trump and the Republicans are running on. A big part of that project is convincing White suburbanites that Black Lives Matter is picking their door locks with the help of commie-snowflake cities that want to abolish police forces.

But on another, more constitutionally serious level, the (take a breath here) Combating Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act DeSantis is calling for is troublesomely hypocritical. It is Florida’s latest emulation of Venezuela’s blatant elimination of the (supposedly) sacred GOP values of home rule and limited government.

READ MORE: Aló Presidente! Trump's Rants as Sophomoric, Hateful — and Effective — as Hugo Chávez's

In fact, were Chávez still alive he’d give a hearty ¡Eso! to Florida Republicans who are busy dismantling local governance by big-footing city councils and county commissions. He’d feel especially vindicated knowing conservative leaders in the state that harbors most of the folks who fled his leftist catastrophe have adopted his high-handed M.O.

The DeSantis bill, by withholding state funding to any local government that reduces or even tweaks its police budget, is a de facto state usurpation of local rule, since few if any Florida municipalities could afford to defy it. It follows several other moves in the past decade to pre-empt local decisions and ordinances that Florida’s GOP-dominated legislature and governor’s mansion disapprove of.

Were Chavez still alive he'd feel especially vindicated knowing conservative leaders in the state that harbors most of the folks who fled his socialist catastrophe are busy dismantling local governance.

A town wants to regulate assault weapons after a mass shooting? Sorry, Florida’s pre-emption law bans local firearms measures. Miami Beach wants to soften its skyrocketing living costs and raise the local minimum wage to $13.31 an hour? Tough: Florida pre-emption statute won’t let a city lift it above $8.10. You want to keep bio-waste from being dumped in public spaces? Mandate affordable housing? Prevent local cops – with 10th Amendment backing – from having to pull federal immigration duty? Tallahassee’s flipping you the bird, Mayor Doe.

Just as Chávez flipped it time and again at state and local governments he deemed disloyal to his socialist revolution. You could say Chávez, who died in 2013 after ruling for 14 years, was the 21st century’s pre-emption pioneer.


If the Venezuelan opposition had the effrontery to get a candidate elected mayor of Caracas, Chávez would simply have his lapdog National Assembly strip the offending upstart of his powers and impose a federal overseer as the capital’s real boss. If a rival won the governorship of an important oil-producing state like Zulia, Chávez would declare him an enemy of law and order (sound familiar?) and effectively pre-empt his ability to govern in any meaningful way.

Even Chávez’s fondness for trashing unfavorable referendum results has echoes here in Florida. When el comandante lost a 2007 constitutional reform plebiscite that would have handed him unlimited presidential re-election, he just bullied through another, more rigged referendum a couple years later. How many times has that sort of referendum-reversal happened in Florida after voters greenlighted bullet train development, environmental spending or restoring felons’ voter rights?

Venezuela's late socialist leader Hugo Chavez in 2012.
Ariana Cubillos
Venezuela's late socialist leader Hugo Chavez in 2012.

Chávez’s socialist successor, President Nicolás Maduro, has taken pre-emption to even dizzier heights – creating a whole new, rubber-stamp federal legislature a few years ago after the opposition won a majority of National Assembly seats in 2015.

No one of course is suggesting DeSantis and the Florida GOP are the sort of tyrannical human rights abusers Maduro and the Chavistas are. But that’s not the point. As Amherst College political scientist Javier Corrales, the author of “Fixing Democracy” and a strong critic of the Chávez-Maduro regime, reminded me this week, “All democratic backsliding around the world involves some kind of undermining of local governance.”

Which is why, in a GOP campaign designed to demonize socialism, co-opting the script of one of socialism’s top villains is a hypocrisy that ought to turn heads – even in Hialeah.

Tim Padgett is the Americas Editor for WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida. Contact Tim at tpadgett@wlrnnews.org
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