Lt. Gov. Nunez Links Anti-Abortion Message to ‘Free Florida’ Signs

The Florida Department of Transportation announced this week that language proclaiming the “Free State of Florida” has been placed on all welcome signs for motorists entering and departing the Sunshine State.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has invoked that phrase for years now, since he made Florida one of the first states in the country to open its economy after the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020. In his 2022 State of the State address, the governor proclaimed Florida “the freest state in the United States,” and in his 2021 State of the State address he said, “The Florida sun now serves as a beacon of light to those who yearn for freedom.”

DeSantis’ newly formed political committee campaigning against the proposed state constitutional amendments on adult recreational cannabis and abortion rights is named the Florida Freedom Fund.

Not everyone feels that Florida is so free — particularly when it comes to reproductive rights, since the state now bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

Speaking in Tampa at the Veterans Memorial Park and Museum on Wednesday to celebrate the DeSantis’ administration policies regarding veterans, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez was asked by the Phoenix about the belief expressed by critics that Florida is free to some but not all.

“We continue to stand by ‘the Free State of Florida,’” she replied. “We believe that we provide freedom, freedom to right to life, of course for those babies. We continue to stand by freedom of opportunity, that’s something that the governor has prided himself on, and I think the proof is in the pudding when we see how many people are moving to Florida vis-á-vis other states.”

florida phoenixThe state has seen explosive growth in recent years. Florida was the fastest-growing state in the country in 2022, according to the U.S. Census, and virtually tied with South Carolina in that category last year.

The Florida Department of Transportation has not yet reported how much the signs have cost taxpayers. Another reporter referenced that Nuñez had posed in front of one of the new welcome signs and asked her to explain to taxpayers why the state was paying for them.

Nuñez responded that every state has such signs and that “we want everyone to know that coming into the state that this is the free state of Florida.”

“We will never back away from that,” she added. “We’ve made sure to pride ourselves on providing so many opportunities for Floridians. Floridians themselves are loving the signs, so I’m sure you’ll see a lot more people posting pictures in front of that sign.”

Controversial policies

In addition to advocates for reproductive rights, people have raised objections to a number of controversial policies passed in recent years on the “freedom” front, such as removing books from public classrooms and, most recently, a ban on the sale, manufacture, or distribution of cultivated meat, on pain of up to 60 days in jail.

DeSantis’ signing of that bill into law triggered GOOD Meat, one of only two companies in the United States that have been cleared by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to produce such lab-grown meat, to issue a response.

“In a state that purportedly prides itself on being a land of freedom and individual liberty, its government is now telling consumers what meat they can or cannot purchase,” the company said on its website. “This bill sends a terrible message to the investors, scientists, and entrepreneurs that have built America’s global leadership in alternative proteins.”

Florida Department of Transportation Jared Purdue announced in May that as “Floridians prepare for Freedom Summer,” the state’s bridges would be illuminated in red, white, and blue colors from Memorial Day through Labor Day. That meant that bridges in places like Jacksonville, St. Petersburg, and Miami would not be lit up in rainbow colors for Pride Month, celebrated in June.

“It’s one of the least free things,” Todd Delmay, executive director of the LGBTQ advocacy group SAVE, told WPLG Local 10 in Miami last month. “Clearly, there’s a very petty motive here to take away these very obvious symbols of an LGBTQ community that’s been under attack,” he said.

The Florida Department of Transportation did not immediately respond to our request for comment.

–Miotch Perry, Florida Phoenix

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