Nate Monroe: Hey, Ron DeSantis, please leave Jacksonville out of your deranged games

Nate Monroe
Florida Times-Union
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

COMMENTARY | Ron DeSantis was once, not so long ago, a peculiar and obscure congressman from North Florida; not quite as north as Jacksonville, mind you  —  his district didn’t stretch this far  —  but he was born here, and he represented the region. Yet he almost seemed to go out of his way to be unhelpful to local officials looking for a little advocacy in the nation's Capitol.

For perspective: Ted Yoho, a former congressman and veterinarian from the rural south who served with DeSantis  —  now he, we heard from. He, like DeSantis, didn’t represent the city specifically, but he was from North Florida, a Republican, and he’d chip in for the region when it counted. Jacksonville politicians knew they could pick up the phone and call him to help carry some water up in Washington, D.C.

But DeSantis? He wasn’t on anyone’s call list. Why bother? He wouldn’t help. He wouldn’t return calls. He wasn’t around. He was the icy man with the little headphones jammed in his ears, occupied in his own world. He wasn’t, in a word, interested

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So it’s been rather fascinating, these past few months, to see DeSantis retreat to Jacksonville in his times of need, when he’s desperate for friendly venues for his bizarre news conferences and bill signings. He can’t quite seem to quit the city he never seemed to care much about, a city in which, it's worth noting, a majority of voters backed his opponent in the governor's race and, last year, President Joe Biden.

It's safe to say, less than two weeks into June, Jacksonville has already reached its monthly quota for DeSantian controversy.

He stopped here to sign his anti-transgender-athlete legislation June 1 (the first day of Pride month). Earlier this week, his transportation department officials canceled a Pride display on the Acosta Bridge (and were then forced to reverse course after massive public backlash).

Critical Race Theory vote a staggeringly hollow controversy

And finally, Jacksonville hosted the State Board of Education on Thursday for its highly anticipated vote to purportedly abolish Critical Race Theory — a term no one on the state board of education understands — from the public school curriculum — even though it was never part of the curriculum — in response to the 1619 Project — an award-winning journalism project some of the board members acknowledged out loud Thursday they had never read.

It is, even in the performative era of government in which we find ourselves, a staggeringly hollow controversy. And there was no better champion for it than DeSantis' unqualified, churlish and enthusiastically performative education commissioner, Richard Corcoran, a man who built his early political career on a rigid belief in small government until he then took a six-figure job in state government when his own gubernatorial campaign flamed out.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.

Critical Race Theory is a complex academic concept that politicians hoping to exploit racial resentments have turned into a catch-all term for essentially all evil in the world. The only real through line is a vague concern children will be taught the extent to which Black Americans have suffered through subjugation and violence and the ways in which that legacy is still relevant today in the realms of government, criminal justice, real estate and so on. This really isn't controversial, or some high-stakes battle over high concepts: It's plain reality versus people who wish to ignore it.

Tellingly, the original rule change Corcoran dreamed up didn't even mention Critical Race Theory, until a board member at the last minute decided — in light of the fact it was the entire reason they had gathered — that perhaps they ought to at least throw the darned term in there. And DeSantis' own office, gloating in the press release after the fact, could barely find any examples of the alleged evil of Critical Race Theory in Florida classrooms. As has often been the case, DeSantis' true interests lie elsewhere.

The only real satisfaction to be had at the board meeting was witnessing protesters temporarily force the board to take a five-minute break. It was as if Jacksonville's immune response recognized the foreign invaders.

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Gov. DeSantis, Jacksonville has changed since you were born here

Hey, Ronnie? Jacksonville has changed a bit in the 42 years since you were born here. It’s not the conservative bulwark you remember, or perhaps hope it still is. It’s a growing, increasingly diverse, and, for Florida, young city  —  not exactly the decrepit, blinding-white Villages that welcomes you with open arms.

So, please, when you have some new piece of barbaric legislation to sign, some new group of marginalized people you feel the need to punch down on, some new front in the culture war to open, can you leave us out? Cut us a break? Buzz off?

Not that we expect you will. You never have listened, after all.

Nate Monroe's City column appears every Thursday and Sunday.