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Opinion: Travelers are Right to Steer Clear of Florida

In war, there are casualties. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “war on woke” is no exception.

 

(CNN) — Editor’s note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” Follow him on Threads at www.threads.net/@deanobeidallah.

In war, there are casualties. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “war on woke” is no exception.

DeSantis, who is vowing that if elected president, he’ll make America more like Florida, has championed a wave of extremist legislation in his state. He has targeted the LGBTQ community, restricted academic freedom and banned diversity and equity programs, among other measures.

Some worry that his policies could lead travelers to take their vacations elsewhere and compel some college students to apply out of state in their quest for a quality education.

They could also exacerbate the stampede of educators fleeing the classroom in Florida at a time when the state is already facing the biggest teacher shortage in its history.

According to the Florida Education Association, when DeSantis first took office in January 2019, Florida had 2,217 teacher vacancies. As of January 2023, that number has since more than doubled to 5,294 vacancies in a state where teacher pay ranks among the lowest in the country.

But a hollowed-out school workforce is but one of the negative impacts of DeSantis’ ill-advised policies. As CNN reported on Sunday, Florida businesses are taking it on the chin as well.

His anti-“woke” message is prompting organizations and corporations to cancel conventions and other events that are an essential part of Florida’s vital hospitality economy. The NAACP issued a travel advisory in May warning that the Sunshine State has come to be seen as “openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals” under DeSantis.

Its statement was followed by similar warnings from the League of United Latin American Citizens and Equality Florida, a gay rights advocacy group, advising about extreme policies that travelers from some communities might view as hostile.

It appears that a number of organizations are heeding the admonition. Organizers of the Global Surgical Conference and Expo — which expected to draw around 7,000 people — moved its 2027 event from Orlando to Philadelphia. Orlando tourism officials told The Wall Street Journal that the group cited concerns over policies promoted by DeSantis.

The American Educational Research Association pulled its 15,000-person meeting in Orlando after the passage of the DeSantis-championed Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, which bars transgender female athletes from participating in women’s sports teams. Tony Pals, spokesperson for the group, in an email to CNN, explained that the organization would not hold a conference or event in a state such as Florida that has enacted anti-trans laws.

Meanwhile, organizers of a “Game of Thrones” fan convention recently scuttled the event that was supposed to be held in Orlando after hearing from attendees that they did not want to go to an event in Florida. The list goes on and on.

As CNN reported Sunday, Stacy Ritter, president and CEO of the Visit Lauderdale tourism marketing agency, noted that 10 events and conventions were canceled by organizations “citing recently enacted laws, policies and travel advisories.”

In real dollars, that means thanks to DeSantis’ “war on woke,” there has been a loss of an estimated $20 million in revenue for the state and counting. That’s millions of fewer dollars spent in the state’s hotels, local restaurants and small businesses.

Despite this real impact, DeSantis’ press secretary dismissed CNN’s story, calling it “nothing more than a media-driven stunt.” The spokesman added, “Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, Florida’s economy is booming.” Apparently, DeSantis’ “war on woke” includes denying reality.

Organizations and corporations steering clear of Florida are doing the right thing. If you’re planning to take your vacation somewhere other than the Sunshine State this year, you are, too.

If you reject DeSantis’ right-wing war on everything he doesn’t approve of, don’t spend your money in Florida while those policies are on the books. Remember that in the past, boycotts have caused enough economic pain they have led to changes in government policies.

Keep in mind the corporate and professional sports boycott that targeted Arizona in the 1990s for refusing to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a holiday. Remember too, a similar boycott of North Carolina that was carried out, defeating the GOP-championed “Bathroom Bill.”

The consequences for North Carolina meant millions in estimated lost revenue, especially after the 2017 NBA All-Star Game and NCAA championships were moved from the state. In both Arizona and North Carolina, the GOP government officials ultimately reversed offensive and controversial policies at issue. The hope is professional organizations follow that same playbook now when it comes to Florida.

The irony is that DeSantis appears determined to double down on his crusade against “wokeism” at the very time that voters seem to be tiring of the issue.

The New York Times reported that a national poll it conducted with Siena College found that when presented with two hypothetical Republican contenders, only 24% of national Republican voters opted for “a candidate who focuses on defeating radical ‘woke’ ideology in our schools, media and culture” over “a candidate who focuses on restoring law and order in our streets and at the border.”

So all of the governor’s bluster about waging a “war on woke” may be for naught — at least as far as voters are concerned.

DeSantis repeatedly has declared that “Florida is where woke goes to die.” In reality, Florida is a state that organizations are avoiding, teachers are fleeing, and some tourists are actively avoiding. The only question is, how many more have to suffer in his state before DeSantis ends his war to move America backward.

The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

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