TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in Tampa, with event signage reading “Government of Laws, Not Woke CEOs.” The event was held at Harpoon Harry’s Crab House. The governor’s staff told those attending the event the news conference was focused on environmental, social, and corporate governance.
DeSantis introduced a number of public officials, as well as a speaker from Brevard County’s chapter of Moms for Liberty. He began the event discussing President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 diagnosis and referencing the number of booster shots the president has taken.
The governor used the diagnosis to discuss how the infections were still possible, and that mandating vaccinations on the military, federal contractors, or businesses was an example of “treating people horribly.” DeSantis said he hoped the president would reverse the policy, instead of making people “choose between a job they need and a shot they don’t.” He also said the military’s “massive recruiting problem” could be fixed by hiring back those who had not been vaccinated for COVID-19 and discharged from service.
“It’s wrong to be doing that, to be marginalizing all these folks,” DeSantis said. “And quite frankly, some of the mandates, I think there’s a lot of factors for why recruiting is so poor in the military. I think some of the stuff we’re going to talk about today, woke ideology, is playing a role, I think that’s some of it.”
DeSantis said the mandates were for exercising power, and not based on science. Then he switched to the topic for the event, “imposing woke ideology on the economy,” which DeSantis said was becoming “very prevalent in the upper echelons of our society.” He said it was being done by the biggest economic actors in the nation, from Wall Street fund managers to big tech companies.
“What you’ve seen is a rise of something called ESG, Environment Social Governance,” DeSantis said. “Where they will grade different companies based on how they’re performing on those metrics and even using that when they’re managing pension funds.”
DeSantis mentioned retired teachers and law enforcement officers relying on those funds, and how the other criteria was being used “instead of what’s the best investment” and described companies as “flexing their muscles” in ways that are more politically oriented.
“It raises the question of who governs society,” DeSantis asked. “Do we govern ourselves through our Constitution or through our elections, or do we have these masters of the universe occupying these commanding heights of society, are they able to use their economic power to impose policies on the country that they could not do so at the ballot box? That’s really what you’re seeing with all of this. And for every master of the universe who’s prattling on about no emissions and all of this stuff, I don’t see many of them giving up their private jets.”
He said those at the top were just making working class Americans fulfill, rather than themselves. DeSantis mentioned gasoline as one example, saying that the “woke capital and ESG movement” would rather the U.S. be dependent on foreign states than independent when it comes to energy.
“If they ran on that policy, they would have a hard time winning a lot of elections on that policy because that’s not what most Americans want to see, they want to see affordable energy. They see how much it impacts their family’s budget and the economy,” DeSantis said. He said it was also a sign of collusion that targeted different parts of the economy, such as the gun industry, referring to “stakeholder capitalism.”
“Think about these woke companies, think about what they did two years ago,” DeSantis said. “Massive amounts of investment to BLM. Now what did the BLM leaders do with that? They bought mansions with that money. Have you seen some of the mansions these people are living in? That was a total fraud, and a lot of these companies pumped a lot of money into that.”
DeSantis said the state would be taking administrative actions, and working with the legislature to make statutory reforms, to put the people of Florida first.
“We’re going to do what’s in their best interests, not whatever the delusions of some wealthy, woke CEO wants to do,” DeSantis said. “That means a number of things. One, we’re going to prohibit the State Board of Administration fund managers, which is the State Board of Administration is the state entity that manages the state of Florida’s pension funds…we want to make sure they are not using political factors when investing the state’s money. We want them to invest the state’s money for the best interests of the beneficiaries of those funds, which is again the people that are retired cops and teachers and other public employees. We also are going to require SBA fund managers to only consider maximizing the return on investment on behalf of Florida’s retirees. I think that’s what people want to see, they want to see a good pension system.”
DeSantis said the state would also be taking steps against Wall Street banks, credit card companies, and money transmitters such as PayPal from “discriminating against customers for their political or social beliefs.” DeSantis said they were using things “like social credit scores to marginalize people they don’t like.”
He said the politicization of the economy benefits the largest companies and disadvantages small and medium sized businesses, saying it was not empowering “the little guy” and instead “crushing” them.
DeSantis also decried banks and other financial services who would not work with immigration enforcement contractors, saying they were using their economic power to “try to have open border policies.” He said Wall Street banks were cutting off credit to companies like the GEO Group, which he said was due to “activists who want to abolish police, abolish ICE, and were giving them blowback” for providing those services. DeSantis said people didn’t, in fact, want to abolish law enforcement or Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, or prisons.
He said using backdoor efforts through companies instead of at the ballot box to “kneecap” businesses was not going to happen. Mentioning PayPal again, DeSantis said the company had “cut off people that they disagree with,” such as a political group who may suddenly get cut off from their accounts. He mentioned the GoFundMe freeze of accounts for the Canadian Trucker protests over vaccine mandates as well.
“All of a sudden they freeze the accounts, just because they had a political disagreement over vaccine mandates,” DeSantis said. “This is something that’s I think, very fundamental about who we are as a society, and do we want our society to be governed by some of the most economically elite interests in our society. I think our economy is going to be much better off if everything is not politicized.”
DeSantis said things used to be run differently. He said businesses didn’t have to take positions on every “little political thing” and that now there was a political overtone to everything, adding that “there were a lot of economic problems under Biden with what he’s done since he’s come in,” saying that two consecutive quarters with negative gross domestic product growth was a recession, and that now media companies were redefining a recession to help the president.
“There’s a lot of problems with the economy as it is, you know, do you really want to go down this road, where every single thing is being politicized. It’s really hard to run an organization if you have activist employees kind of pushing you,” DeSantis said. “I think the thing with the woke capital is really two things main reasons why you’ve seen it. You do have employees, not a majority, think they’re entitled to have their employer that emote the same political values as they do. They think that that’s very important. They don’t even want businesses being neutral. They view that as not acceptable. So they have to toe the line of what the loudest, most active employees want. The problem is that then the inmates are running the asylum.”
DeSantis said most employees, the “silent majority” may not want that, and “weren’t asking for this,” with company positions contrary to employee desires. He said that in addition to making money, some companies wanted to exercise power over “the rest of us,” and said it was a power play by people who were not appealing enough to be elected, and are using companies to do policy instead.
After the gathered speakers told the crowd of their experiences, DeSantis returned to the podium to talk more about ESG funds performing poorly. He said the state would start with administrative changes to handle what he called “woke corporations” and financial institutions, but that action among multiple “like-minded states” would be needed to make change. DeSantis said the states should use their retirement funds as voting power for corporate management to “be a check against some of the excesses we’ve seen.”
According to a policy notice handed out at the event, Florida will be focusing on blocking ESG investors from “prioritizing woke corporate ideals and non-financial factors as part of their investing process.” The document lists “Americans who fill up their gas tanks, Second Amendment supporters, Soon to be retirees, Conservative Americans, Americans with strong held religious beliefs, and Victims of the Biden Border Crisis” as “victims of ESG.”
DeSantis said Florida would pursue legislation to enact some of these goals, but that other states like Texas and Arizona, among others, should as well. Afterward, DeSantis took some questions.
During the question and answer session, DeSantis was asked about a drag queen event where children were reportedly seen putting dollar bills into the underwear of drag queens at “sexually explicit drag shows” hosted at a bar. He said the investigation of the event location “even had a kids menu” on site. He said it was “totally unacceptable.”
“A week or two later, there was video of a place that had similar stuff and it was identified as being in Florida. So we said ‘wait a minute’ having kids involved in this is wrong,” DeSantis said. “That is not consistent with our laws and policy in the state of Florida. And it is a disturbing trend in our society to try to sexualize these young people. That is not the way look out for our children. You protect children, you do not expose them to things that are inappropriate.”
He said the video was identified as taking place in Miami and the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation began an investigation and sent agents to the location, where they found minors at the events and the menus with sections for kids. DeSantis said the state began the process to take away the bar’s liquor license and the business made changes to avoid it.
“We take the wellbeing of children very seriously,” DeSantis said. “We want to make sure we have a state with communities where kids can be kids.” He referenced “battling” Disney and the Parental Rights in Education law passed from the 2022 legislative session, saying that it was a challenging time for parents.
“I think parents, particularly at this time in society’s history, should be able to have their kids go to kindergarten, watch cartoons, just be kids, without having some agenda shoved down their throats all the time,” DeSantis said. “That’s what we’re fighting for.”
He said it used to be that people would have different views of what they wanted to be as adults, but “the kids are off limits,” and promised to use legislative action, if necessary, that “kids can be kids” in Florida.