Appearing on the grounds of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom denounced what he called a retrograde conservative attempt to reshape education in the United States — including at progressive institutions like the New College of Florida. .
Newsom, a Democrat, met more than a dozen students and faculty at a library near the New College campus in Sarasota as part of a tour of Republican-run states – aimed at boosting his fellow Democrats and to criticize what he said were GOP efforts to ban abortion, trample on LGBTQ+ rights, weaken civil and voting rights, and marginalize people of color.
“I can’t believe what you’re dealing with. It’s just an amazing assault,” Newsom said. “It’s common with everything he does, bullying and intimidating vulnerable communities. Weakness, Ron DeSantis, weakness disguised as strength on every level.
Newsom frequently criticized DeSantis, even using unspent campaign money for a Florida TV ad that urged people to move to California “where we still believe in freedom.” DeSantis once joked that Newsom’s “neatly styled hair gel is interfering with his brain function.”
Newsom is also mentioned as a potential future Democratic presidential nominee, a campaign DeSantis is widely expected to launch on the GOP side for 2024 in the coming months. Newsom has said he will not run for president in 2024, when President Joe Biden will seek re-election. His term as governor ends in 2026, so he could run for president in 2028.
Asked to comment on Wednesday’s visit, DeSantis spokesman Bryan Griffin said in an email that the Florida governor is “focused on refocusing Florida’s public institutions of higher education on scholars and truth”. The stunts of political opponents do not matter and have no effect.
The overhaul of New College, a liberal arts school with about 700 students, began when DeSantis appointed a conservative majority to its board. The board replaced the school’s president with a DeSantis ally, former House GOP Chairman Richard Corcoran, and abolished his small office focused on diversity, equity and inclusion programs. Further changes are expected.
It’s part of a larger effort led by DeSantis and a GOP-compliant majority legislature to reshape education at various levels, including scrapping DEI college programs, encouraging private school attendance, offering vouchers funded by taxpayers regardless of income, by restricting and banning the books. , and limit discussion of LGBTQ+ topics in class. DeSantis lumps all of these issues and others into a category he has called “woke” that needs to be eliminated in what he calls “the Free State of Florida.”
This week, Newsom and his family also visited a black church in Mississippi, met with Democrats in Arkansas and toured a museum about the history of slavery in Alabama. The tour is part of Newsom’s goal to reshape the message of the Democratic Party, which he says has been too soft on Republicans in recent years.
“There is one word: freedom. No coercion. Academic freedom,” Newsom said. “I’m just trying to wake people up.”
New College students and faculty who attended the meeting spoke of the fear and anxiety many feel about the Conservative changes. Mitzi Escalante, a second-year sociology and psychology student, said the students did not expect to be part of a fierce political debate that would directly affect them.
“It’s like we’re a pawn,” Escalante said. “I just don’t think education is something we should militarize. It’s like a personal attack.
Walter Gilbert, former Sarasota NAACP branch chief, urged students to continue to protest and raise their voices as administrators try to push through more changes.
“Sometimes you have to go out and hold a protest sign,” Gilbert said, noting how long it took black people in once-isolated Sarasota to gain access to local beaches. “You have to do it.”
Associated Press writer Adam Beam contributed from Sacramento, Calif.