Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, exploring a 2024 bid for the White House, came to west suburban Elmhurst on Monday as part of a tour attacking Democrats for enacting “woke” policies that encourage crime and weaken law enforcement as he recruited police officers to move to the Sunshine State.
“As they are defunding police and attacking police in these other jurisdictions, the state of Florida has shown them that we got your back and we support what you’re doing,” DeSantis told about 200 people in a half-hour speech promoted by the Chicago Federation of Labor at a Knights of Columbus hall.
While taking jabs at major cities headed by Democrats, DeSantis promoted laws Florida has passed that support law enforcement, including signing bonuses for new officers and those who transfer from other states, as well as scholarships for family members. His appearance followed visits earlier in the day to New York City and suburban Philadelphia.
While DeSantis made mention of Illinois’ high taxes, COVID-19 restrictions, critical race theory and school choice, most of his talk centered on the event’s theme of “Back the Blue.” He touted bringing in the National Guard and prosecuting protesters during the demonstration in response to the murder of George Floyd. He also recounted stories of speaking with new Floridians, saying they had moved from Democratic-run cities because of what they contended was a broken law enforcement system.
“As you see massive increases in crime in places like Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Florida has a 50-year low in our crime rate,” DeSantis said.
“You’re not going to have a good economy if the streets aren’t safe, you’re not going to have good education if people don’t feel safe.” DeSantis said. “None of it works unless you have the foundation of public safety.”
Statistics compiled by the Major Cities Chiefs Association and released this month show murders and aggravated assaults declined in Chicago in 2022 compared to 2021 while numbers for rape and robbery increased. Murders and aggravated assaults increased in Jacksonville and Orlando and murder and robbery statistics increased in Tampa. While murders declined in Miami, numbers for rape, robbery and aggravated assault increased, the statistics showed.
DeSantis was introduced at the event by U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood of Peoria.
Former Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis of Taylorville, who served with DeSantis in the U.S. House, said the Florida governor’s trip was to “remind a lot of police officers that there are places in this country where their work can be appreciated.”
Though Republicans focused on crime in last November’s general election in Illinois with little success, Davis blamed it on GOP governor candidate Darren Bailey, calling him a “terrible candidate and a terrible messenger” against Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
“You’ve got a sitting (Illinois) governor, who’s obviously been mentioned as a prospective presidential candidate, which gets him and many others extra attention. And when you’re looking at the success of what Ron’s done in Florida, he’s actually enacted the most pro-law enforcement policy package in the nation,” said Davis, now a managing director at Cozen O’Connor Public Strategies, who has offered to be a surrogate if DeSantis makes a presidential run.
“This really shows the difference between what Gov. Pritzker is doing here in Illinois, what Mayor (Lori) Lightfoot is doing in the city of Chicago, versus what Ron DeSantis is doing: To try and attract more cops into his state versus attacking police officers when they’re doing their job,” he said.
[ Mayoral contender Paul Vallas disappointed in police union over ‘right-wing extremist’ Ron DeSantis’ speech in Elmhurst ]
Pritzker, speculated as a potential 2024 Democratic presidential candidate if President Joe Biden does not run, has been a frequent critic of DeSantis. Pritzker has called DeSantis the “antithesis” of the values represented by Illinois residents.
Lightfoot, at an unrelated appearance, said the Florida governor “stands for everything that Chicagoans have never accepted and won’t accept now.”
With his trip coming eight days before the Chicago mayoral election, DeSantis’ visit also became fodder for other candidates in the mayoral contest.
U.S. Rep. Jesús “Chuy” García contended the visit was an effort by FOP President John Catanzara to stir up momentum for the union’s endorsed mayoral candidate, Paul Vallas. Vallas had tried to distance himself from the FOP’s promotion of the DeSantis event, referring to the Florida governor as a “right-wing extremist.”
In addition to Pritzker’s public criticism of DeSantis, the Illinois governor’s animus goes even deeper.
Citadel billionaire CEO Ken Griffin, who moved from Chicago to Florida after spending $50 million on an unsuccessful GOP candidate to take on Pritzker, is one of DeSantis’ top financial supporters. Griffin, who blamed Pritzker for city crime outbreaks, has given DeSantis $5 million and also has given the Florida Republican Party another $5 million, state campaign finance records show.
At the same time, former one-term Illinois Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who Pritzker defeated in 2018, has moved to Florida and has given DeSantis nearly $1 million, records show.
Progressive groups opposing the event were also out in full force. Jax West, the leader of a group called Team BluePage managed a group of 10 with loudspeakers who held signs that said, “Say Gay Three Times and Ron will Go Away.”
“He is such a hateful person,” West said about DeSantis’ policies opposing gay and historic race history in schools. “He really wants people to attack and hate other people due to who they love, what color they are.”
With DeSantis gaining national attention on his trip focused on law enforcement, the man who is the major obstacle to the Florida governor’s GOP presidential nomination chances, former President Donald Trump, released an anti-crime plan Monday that included a vow, if elected, to direct the Justice Department to “open civil rights investigations into radical leftist prosecutor’s offices,” including Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.
“We will go after the radical Marxist prosecutors who are abolishing cash bail, refusing to charge crimes and surrendering our cities to violent criminals. They have surrendered like never before,” Trump said in a video.
Trump also promised to sign “a record investment in hiring, retention and training for police officers nationwide” that includes liability protections and to give violent crime victims and business owners the right to sue local officials “for harm and suffering” caused by criminal justice reform laws such as cashless bail.
DeSantis spent several minutes shaming Chicago for following New York in eliminating cash bail for nonviolent offenders.
“There used to be, you could be a Democrat or Republican and still want law and order,” DeSantis said. “Just because you’re running in this Democratic primary, you don’t have to elect the craziest person in the primary.”
DeSantis ended his event by inviting everyone to Florida and giving the state a new nickname, “Where woke goes to die.”