Welcome to Florida. Please go away

Tourists with certain political leanings have been told they should 'think twice' before visiting the Sunshine State

A supporter of former US president Donald Trump outside Trump National Doral resort in Florida, on June 12. AFP
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Florida, whose top industry is tourism, is taking a novel approach to advertising itself to the outside world: Please don't come.

Rick Scott, one of Florida's two senators, last week issued a “travel warning” to socialists, communists and anyone who believes in “big government”, telling them to stay away from the Sunshine State.

“Think twice if you are thinking about taking a vacation or moving to Florida,” he said in a video posted on Twitter.

“We actually don’t believe in socialism. Some people in our state lived under it, and we know people lived under socialism – it’s not good. It’s not good for anybody.”

Mr Scott, a Republican, may not believe in big government, but plenty of his constituents would appear to. Nearly one quarter of Florida's 21.7 million residents receive social security benefits, most of them retirees drawing pensions. Even more are enrolled with Medicare, a big government federal health insurance programme for older people like Mr Scott, who is 70.

Florida is home to millions of Cubans and Venezuelans who fled brutal socialist autocracies, and Republicans like to compare “radical” Democrat policies, such as universal health care, to those extremes. Mr Scott's language was reminiscent of the dark days of America's “Red Scare” in the 1950s, when Joseph McCarthy, a Republican senator, led a Cold War witch hunt looking for communist operatives working for the US government or in Hollywood.

Assuming that Mr Scott won't be checking inbound tourists for communist manifestos, Che Guevara T-shirts or Cuban cigars (which remain banned in the US), or that he doesn't really want to strip himself and a quarter of his state of their socialist benefits, the senator's remarks were probably meant as a satirical response to the growing backlash Florida faces as its elected officials plunge ever deeper into America's culture war.

Last month, several civil rights groups advised black, Latino and LGBTQ Americans not to travel to Florida, after Governor Ron DeSantis signed new laws that critics say are creating a hostile climate in the state.

Those travel advisories came in direct response to Mr DeSantis's “aggressive attempts to erase black history and to restrict diversity, equity and inclusion programmes in Florida schools”, said the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), established more than 100 years ago.

Along with Florida's Republican-majority statehouse, Mr DeSantis has pushed multiple measures that ban state colleges from having programmes on diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as those discussing critical race theory (CRT). The theory was developed in the 1970s and 1980s by scholars seeking to show that racial bias remains embedded in US institutions and systems. Conservatives in several states have sought to restrict the teaching of CRT and tried, without much success, to make it a rallying cry in last year's midterm elections.

Mr DeSantis also passed the “Stop Woke Act” that restricts some race-based conversations and analysis in schools and businesses. Essentially, the law attempts to outlaw conversations that would make anyone feel “guilt, discomfort or anguish” on account of their race. Critics say the law, which has been successfully challenged in federal court, is intended to curtail discussion of America's racist past and how the legacy of slavery continues to impact millions of black people today.

Florida, along with other Republican states like Texas and Missouri, also has been at the forefront of a national movement to ban schoolbooks deemed objectionable by conservatives.

It is ironic, then, that in his video message Mr Scott also said: “We are the free state of Florida” and “We like freedom, liberty, capitalism, things like that.”

If policing discourse like this doesn't amount to big government interference, I am not sure what does.

Florida is a wonderful state to visit: endless beaches, bath-warm waters, incredible wildlife and dizzyingly diverse cities.

For Mr Scott to politicise tourism itself is just daft.

Published: July 03, 2023, 7:00 AM
Updated: July 05, 2023, 1:40 PM