The Brian Mudd Show

The Brian Mudd Show

There are two sides to stories and one side to facts. That's Brian's mantra and what drives him to get beyond the headlines.Full Bio


Q&A of the Day – How Does Florida Rank for Individual Liberties?

Q&A of the Day – How Does Florida Rank for Individual Liberties? 

Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods.     


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Today’s Entry: Brian, I’d like to get your perspective on an issue that’s often come up when discussing public policy with my left-leaning friends. A regular refrain has been that Governor DeSantis, and the GOP controlled legislature generally (that’s viewed as doing what he wants them to do), don’t actually govern as limited government conservatives. They hold out examples like the increased use of preemption laws to govern from the state level rather than allowing local governments that are most directly accountable to people (in addition to the culture war mandates like the handling of Disney, LGBT issues, etc.). What are your thoughts about that critique and how valid in your view is that argument?  

Bottom Line: First, it sounds like you have thoughtful and intellectual friends on the other side of the ideological isle. It’s terrific that you can have reasoned discussions about public policy with them. In today’s hyper-partisan and polarized political environment that’s increasingly rare. So, what about this line of thinking? Is the “Free State of Florida” really as free as the reputation implies or is there a heavy-handed government that undercuts the narrative with public policy? Let’s look at Florida’s public policy from the perspective of individual liberty.  

Over the years I’ve often said that many of the best laws are the laws that aren’t passed. Somewhat jokingly you might hear me say that I’d rather pay Congress to do nothing than to pass new laws because they often lead to more debt spending, higher inflation and higher taxes. However, conceptually, from a limited government perspective there’s one type of law that’s better than no new laws... Laws that put an end to poor public policy. I’d like to start there regarding the points made about Governor DeSantis and the state of Florida using preemption policies to inhibit certain public policy decisions at the local level. Preemption policies can cut two ways – they can either provide more liberty or less based upon what the policy is.  

The preemption topic has long been a hot button in South Florida, due to the TriCounty being the largest population center and the bluest section of the state. To the extent that preemption laws have had an impact, it has been most pronounced in South Florida historically with local governments that have most often been ideologically opposed to the Republican control of the state since Jeb Bush became governor in the late 90’s. One of the leading arguments by the left, what’s highlighted in today’s note, that preemption policies aren’t conservative because they’re heavy handed government intervention at the local level entirely misses the point. In determining whether public policy is consistent with “limited government” principles, the key is in determining what the impact is on individual liberty, not what the impact is on local governments. 

Progressives inherently view the world through the realm of governance. Conservatives inherently view the world through the perspective of the citizenry. You’ll not find progressives that are fans of preemption policies because every layer of government presents an opportunity to further progressive policies. The easiest example of this within the DeSantis administration is the pandemic policy preemption. We had local governments throughout the state, however most prominently in South Florida, that closed access to public beaches, issued stay at home orders, regulated which businesses were to be considered essential and which ones weren’t and what their business hours could be. We had local governments that issued mask mandates and that wanted to keep remote learning models in place, instead of reopening schools etc. Yes, Governor DeSantis’ executive orders put an end to those mandates, which was soon thereafter codified into law, was a massive example of preemption – however the policy was to expressly to protect the liberty and personal rights of Floridians by limiting the impact local governments could have on the lives of its citizens. That’s consistently been the theme with the use of preemption laws under DeSantis – use of preemption policies to provide more freedom to Floridians. This is even on display with the recently signed HOA legislation that takes effect July 1st. Yes, there are many new regulations that HOAs must adhere to, and yes, the policy has the effect of providing more liberties to Floridians who live in communities governed by HOAs. But rather than laundry listing examples let’s go to the scorecard.  

The CATO Institute provides an ongoing analysis of economic and personal freedom by state. The study is entitled: Freedom in The 50 States. It measures the economic and personal freedom of citizens of each state by analyzing the impact of public policies at the state and local level. Which states might you think would allow its citizens the least amount of economic and personal freedom? If you said California, Hawaii and New York you’d be correct. Stereotypes often do exist for a reason. Now, what are the top three states? Here’s a look: 

  1. New Hampshire  
  2. Florida  
  3. South Dakota 

New Hampshire might not be the first thought that comes to mind when you think about limited government, however New Hampshire has had a long history of excellent leadership at the state level, most recently having been led by Chris Sununu, son of John who was also a terrific governor for the state in the 80’s. Otherwise stereotypes once again exist for a reason. If you asked most conservatives, the question about the three “freest” states in the union there‘s a good chance they’ll come up with Florida and South Dakota – home of Kristi Noem. But there’s also an example of a state that doesn’t necessarily live up to its stereotype and it’s the one Florida is most commonly compared to – Texas.  

Texas is freer than most states as it ranks 17th, however it’s far from being a national leader. And much of that has to do with heavy-handed public policy in the state’s ultra progressive larger cities – a la Austin, Houston, San Antonio and increasingly Dallas. This contrast is as good of an example of as any to illustrate the impact of Florida’s public policy. As recently as 2004 Florida ranked 17th in the economic and freedom index. By the end of Jeb Bush’s time as governor Florida had moved up to 6th. Perhaps unsurprisingly under the governance of Florida’s favorite political chameleon, Charlie Crist, Florida slid backwards to #8. Under the governance of Rick Scott Florida advanced to #2 and that’s where we’ve been ever since. As always there are two sides to stories and one side to facts. It’s a fact that Governor DeSantis’ polices have had the net effect of keeping Florida the second freest state in the country.  

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