Anti-woke politics might be great for rallying GOP voters, but it also makes for lousy governance.
Take Florida, please. Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday signed a bill that revokes a special tax district which essentially gave Disney governing powers on its theme park land at Orlando. Whatever you think about that longstanding arrangement — or corporate power in general — the new law was plainly an act of revenge, a thuggish (and probably unconstitutional) bit of Republican retaliation for Disney's belated opposition to the controversial "Don't Say Gay" law approved just a few weeks earlier by the state's GOP-led legislature.
So much for the First Amendment rights of businesses.
"You're a corporation based in Burbank, California, and you're gonna marshal your economic might to attack the parents of my state," DeSantis said before signing the anti-Disney law. "We view that as a provocation, and we're going to fight back against that."
Here's the not-so-funny part: The state government's commitment to "fighting back" probably means hurting Florida taxpayers. It's a complicated story, but the gist of it is that revoking Disney's tax district essentially puts area residents on the hook for more than $1 billion in bonds the company used to pay for things like water service and new roads on its land. Local homeowners could see their taxes jump by 20 percent as a result.
Or maybe not. The new law undoing Disney's tax district doesn't actually take effect until June 2023, and observers think the company and the state might work out some kind of accommodation by then. The whole incident might end up as little more than a showy, performative in-kind contribution from the Florida Legislature to DeSantis' incipient 2024 presidential campaign.
Still, a question is raised. Can states and their citizens thrive when their Republican leaders are dedicated to little more than owning the libs, Donald Trump-style?
Maybe not. Florida isn't the only example. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this month locked up his state's border with Mexico with "secondary inspection" of trucks entering the country — ostensibly to halt the flow of drugs and migrants, but probably also to try to embarrass President Biden on immigration. (Abbott also bused unwanted migrants to the steps of the U.S. Capitol, an obvious stunt.) The inspections halted traffic, bogged down the flow of goods in an economy still facing pandemic-era supply chain snarls, and reportedly cost Texas more than $4 billion in economic activity. Also: No migrants or drugs were found. The whole thing was a bust.
Abbott got to make his point, theatrically. The people of Texas paid for it.
Anti-woke, anti-Democratic governance has dominated the agendas of Republican-led state governments in recent months. Several have come up with bills that let parents sue teachers and schools for teaching "critical race theory" or — like Florida — mentioning anything related to gender identity in the classroom, for stocking books on those topics in school libraries, or for any reason at all. Texas and Florida have also taken steps to limit tenure protections for "Marxist" professors at public universities — however many of those are left.
Public universities aren't just places where students party for four years before moving on to real life — they're engines of research and economic growth for their states. One 2019 report suggested that technology created at the University of Florida alone generated $2.4 billion and 10,000 jobs for the state's economy. And K-12 schools are important for making citizens, but also workers: They're where most Americans learn the basic skills they'll use in their offices, factories, and other workplaces over the course of their lifetimes. Will teachers and professors want to work in red states if they have to constantly be worried about lawsuits and job security? And what would it mean for those states' economies if they don't? Will corporations want to do business in states where government leaders will bully them for having bad politics?
Not so long ago, Republicans used the culture wars to distract voters away from their unpopular economic agenda of making the rich richer at just about everybody else's expense. These days, the culture wars seem to be the entire point. But it's not clear that the GOP's anti-woke governing agenda will actually make red states better places for their residents to live and prosper. And it's not clear that Republican politicians like Ron DeSantis actually care.