Here’s the latest cynical ploy Florida’s GOP lawmakers have come up with to explain their short-sighted and irresponsible battle with the cruise industry over vaccine passports: We were only trying to protect minorities.
That’s what the House sponsor the measure, Republican Rep. Tom Leek of Ormond Beach, told the Miami Herald last week as he tried to justify the state ban that has thrown the cruising industry into limbo.
Leek explained that he and other House Republicans think that requiring vaccinations would be unfair to minority populations because a higher percentage of white people have been vaccinated than Black or Hispanic people. Therefore, he said, requiring vaccines of people who get on board ships amounts to discrimination.
Really? That’s why?
Funny, that’s not what Gov. Ron DeSantis has been saying for weeks now. He’s said Florida’s law, which bans companies from requiring vaccines for service, is a matter of personal liberty — despite the fact medical experts have made clear that being vaccinated is the best way to prevent infection. But the governor has cast himself as the tough guy standing up for the little people by enforcing the law on big corporations.
So which is it? Personal liberty? Or a sudden interest in fighting discrimination against Black and brown people? (Of course, these are the same legislators who made it harder for Black and brown people to vote.)
It’s neither, of course.
This is about politics. DeSantis is running for re-election with his eye on the 2024 presidential race. He’s also benefited immensely from former President Trump’s patronage, so he’s playing to the base that wants to see him battling “The Man.” (Never mind that DeSantis is, actually, The Man.)
So he continues to follow Trump’s playbook, gambling with the health and welfare of anyone who gets on those ships in order to fight for some strange, distorted idea of a Right to Cruise. That, despite the fact that cruise lines are private companies that should be able to set their own health policies. Ever heard of “no shirt, no shoes, no service?”
It all amounts to a breathtaking stance for the governor of a state with at least 37,265 COVID deaths on his watch. But humility is not this governor’s strength.
Business should be, though. The cruise industry is hugely important to the state. It employs about 600,000 South Floridians directly and indirectly. It contributes $9 billion to the state’s economy, according to Andria Muniz-Amador, director of public affairs for PortMiami, in a Washington Post article.
Now, after 15 months that put thousands of Florida jobs on hold and cost the industry billions of dollars, cruise companies don’t want to risk another catastrophic round of infections. Neither should DeSantis. The last thing we need in this state — or in the world, because these ships go all over — is another infected cruise boat trying to find a port.
The industry reportedly has continued to look for ways to work around the ban, but Republicans don’t seem to care. They’ve made their political calculations. Whether it’s personal liberty or a newfound desire to protect the needs of unvaccinated minorities who want to cruise — or need their cruise-related jobs — the excuse doesn’t much matter. This is politics, and safety be damned.