Several advocacy groups for working class Floridians, veterans, immigrants, and the environment rallied Thursday at Tampa's Lykes Gaslight Park to protest Republican candidate for governor Ron DeSantis' conservative policies.
But top of mind were his recent remarks on Fox News blasting Tallahassee Mayor and Democrat Andrew Gillum’s liberal policies. He told the anchor voters shouldn't "monkey this up" by choosing his opponent – a black man.
Democrats pounced, calling DeSantis’ comments racist. Jerry Green, Outreach Director for VoteVets.org who is also black, agrees.
“To hear him slur an African American was sad, because we know what that means," Green said. “When we hear that term [monkey this up], when we hear that term 'articulate,' when we hear what he had to say, those are code words, those are dog whistles. We know what they are. We know what they mean."
The DeSantis campaign clarified that his comments were directed at Gillum's policies, not the candidate himself.
Gov. Rick Scott also defended DeSantis after an unrelated press conference in Tampa on Thursday.
DeSantis could have chosen his words better, Scott said, but he doesn’t believe the Republican candidate meant anything racist by the comment.
“I don't think it was very artful, but I know he didn't mean any ill will,” Scott said. “Ron cares about the state. But he could have said it better.”
Gov. Scott declined to reveal who he voted for in the primary but said he will support DeSantis in the general election.
Critics of DeSantis aren’t just concerned with his choice of words, but his policies, which they say are out of the same playbook President Donald Trump uses.
Stephanie Garza, Regional Director with For Our Future Florida, which organized Thursday’s rally, said the general election is an opportunity to chart a fresh course – especially when it comes to working families, funding public education, social justice, and the environment.
“We know that DeSantis is gonna continue, essentially, and be a third term for Gov. Rick Scott and we know he's not going to be a champion on those four issues we care most about that affect working families,” Garza said.
David White, with Indivisible Action Tampa Bay, said he supports Gillum because he's an “unapologetic progressive.”
“We've run candidates that are milquetoast, or bland, or centrist, or trying to be gentle and persuade this mythical, middle-of-the-road voter to come to their side,” White said. “Andrew says 'No, this is what I believe in and I'm going to say it.'"
White said DeSantis is not a good choice for Florida governor because the state has had single party rule for over two decades.
For Our Future Florida organizers were also handing out petitions asking Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and conservative lawmakers in Tallahassee to increase public school funding.