Thursday night’s Republican Party of Florida Statesman’s dinner in Orlando was not only an occasion for the party to raise money and celebrate their dominance in state politics, but the event showed an early sneak preview of a group of likely 2026 candidates looking to succeed Ron DeSantis as Florida’s next governor.
Lt. Gov. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez and the three members of the Cabinet — Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson — gave remarks in front of more than 800 Florida Republicans who attended the annual event at the Rosen Centre Hotel.
“Florida is not only the freedom state, but it’s also the blueprint for the rest of this country,” Nuñez declared early on in her speech.
She boasted about the state leading the nation when it came to issues like parental rights, and then dug deep into the cultural wars that have made the state a cauldron of controversy when it comes to public education.
“We fought for education, not indoctrination,” she said. “We don’t believe that people can just randomly pick their pronouns, God picks your pronouns. End of story.”
The Florida GOP-controlled Legislature has passed a series of anti-transgender laws over the past three legislative sessions, and Nuñez reveled in recounting where the GOP-led Legislature and top-ranking officials stand on that issue.
“We educate our kids, and teach them their ABCs, not their LGBT’s,” she declared, dismissing the term gender-affirming care for “gender destroying care,” and adding “that is something that we can never stand for here in the state of Florida.”
Next up on the dais was Chief Financial Officer Patronis, who was gave the longest (over 16 minutes) and most politically explicit speech among the Cabinet officers.
He began by talking about “this virus that invaded our country from a communist nation, from outside of our border.”
Not COVID. No, he was talking about the “Woke Virus.”
While Gov. Ron DeSantis has championed that Florida is the place where “woke goes to die,” Patronis seized on the issue Thursday night. Speaking of major brands like Budweiser and Target that were deleteriously affected by consumer boycotts for their stances on Pride issues, the CFO declared “they learned the hard way, if you go woke, you go broke.”
He then complained of “the weaponization of the Department of Justice” in the various legal cases regarding former President Donald Trump. “Our tax dollars are being used to start a witch hunt for and against President Trump just because he’s a political opponent of Joe Biden,” he said.
And then for the kicker, Patronis said that he wanted to “defund the IRS,” referring to the $80 million allotted to the federal agency through last year’s Inflation Reduction Act.
“They’re hiring an army of agents, and they’re going to come after the state of Florida,” he declared, though there is no record that that will be the case. He then said that those agents would “examine every single transaction” that individuals make, and that “we have got to stop this politically motivated political process from attacking law abiding Americans, law abiding Floridians.”
His answer? Patronis said the state needed to create a trust fund to help people defend themselves if they are targeted by such “politically motivated IRS agents,” generating a large cheer from the crowd. He also said he wanted to create penalties for those that targets Floridians in such an unethical and illegal manner.
Following that was Agriculture Commissioner Simpson, who was just elected a year ago, succeeding the only previous Democrat on the Cabinet, Nikki Fried.
Unlike the other speakers, Simpson kept his comments short – less than five minutes. He spoke about the ten years he served in the Florida Senate (the last two as Senate President, and touted the state’s fiscal health.
Simpson said that the state government over the past decade had cut taxes by more than $10 million, and reduced its debt in that by more than $14 million.
And he boasted about two bills that his office worked with legislative leaders on during the 2023 legislative session: a bill (SB 214) that designed to prevent credit-card companies from tracking firearm and ammunition purchases, and a controversial law banning seven foreign nations – with an emphasis on some Chinese citizens – from purchasing agriculture land around military bases or other “critical infrastructure,” which generated a warm round of applause.
That law (SB 264) is being challenged in federal court that as being unconstitutional, though a federal judge last month refused an attempt by four Chinese citizens a real estate brokerage company to block its immediate implementation.
The last speaker of the night was Attorney General Moody, who talked about Florida as the sort of utopian state that everyone — not just those on the political right, want to flock to right now.
She claimed that residents from blue states like California, New York and Illinois were all fleeing areas with “mob thefts, open air drug markets and cartels running” their states. She didn’t provide more information on the issue.
She gave praise to the Republicans in the audience who took a chance on her and DeSantis in 2018, and said that while there’s a whole lot of “nonsense” going on in the rest of the nation, GOP officials have helped make the Sunshine State “the flagship of our nation.”
“We lead in so many areas that benefit not just this state, but the rest of our nation.”
And she boasted about how the DeSantis administration has fought back against the Biden administration and the federal government on a number of fronts.
“When the nation was faced with mandatory vaccines and forced masks on public transportation, who stood up and fought back?” she asked, with crowd knowing the answer.
In a sense, it was a call for Florida exceptionalism.
“A flagship leads is often the first, it is the fastest, it the best armed check,” she said. “Check. Check. And check.”
The night also featured speeches by Senator Rick Scott (you can read more about his appearance here), former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines, who has become an activist opposing the inclusion of transgender athletes in women’s sports, and conservative writer and talk-show host Ben Shapiro, who gave the keynote address.
The state’s two top Republicans – Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, were not in attendance. The governor was in New York City fundraising. Those two men and the rest of the GOP presidential field are expected to appear at the Florida Freedom Summit at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Kissimmee on Saturday, November 4.
They may all be in Florida before that as well. At the end of the evening, Republican Party of Florida Chair Christian Ziegler announced that the third GOP presidential debate, rumored to be taking place in Alabama, will now take place in Miami. A date was not announced.