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DeSantis tells first responders: “We are gonna stand for the men and women who are serving us”

Governor Ron DeSantis

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

Governor Ron DeSantis gave a press conference this morning in support of City of Gainesville workers who are fighting the City’s mandate that all employees must be vaccinated (the deadline for the first dose has since been extended to October 1). Over 200 employees have sued the City over the mandate.

Appearing with employees from the City of Gainesville and Orange County, along with Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, Congresswoman Kat Cammack, State Senator Keith Perry, and State Representatives Chuck Clemons and Chuck Brannan, DeSantis received an enthusiastic welcome from the overflowing crowd of City workers, mostly first responders and their families, at an event venue in Newberry. 

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DeSantis began his remarks by saying that he was at the University of Florida earlier this morning to celebrate UF’s new ranking as the #5 public university in the nation, then continued, “We’re here today to make it very clear that we are gonna stand for the men and women who are serving us, we’re gonna protect Florida jobs, we are not gonna let people be fired.” DeSantis pointed out that the people objecting to the mandate have worked “the whole time, while a lot of these politicians are on Zoom and not going out or doing anything, these folks were there protecting us, day in and day out… These first responders, in particular, have been exposed to all kinds of—many of them have already had COVID, ok, let’s just be honest. They’ve had COVID, they’ve recovered, and the ones that have recovered have very strong immunity… Fortunately, the State of Florida passed a law this most recent legislative session, SB 2006, that… prevented private businesses from requiring proof of vaccination… but that also applied to government agencies, so if a government agency in the state of Florida forces a vaccine as a condition to employment, that violates Florida law… You will face a $5,000 fine for every single violation… that’s millions and millions of dollars potentially in fines [for the City of Gainesville].”

DeSantis continued, “You go back six months, everyone admitted it would be wrong to fire someone over this, but nobody was saying that this was something that should be coerced. Everyone agreed, from Fauci on down, that this is something that should be provided, but it should ultimately be someone’s individual choice to make, in consultation with their physician.”

Darris Friend, City of Gainesville

Darris Friend is a City of Gainesville employee who is eligible to retire in a year and a half but has decided to sue the City of Gainesville. He said, “It’s not about the vaccine, it’s about mandatory vaccination. No one should tell you what to put in your body.” 

Christine Damm, City of Gainesville

Christine Damm has worked for the City of Gainesville for 10 years and is a veteran of the Marine Corps. She said, “I do not believe it is anyone’s business if the citizen next to you is or is not vaccinated. The majority of the citizens of the City of Gainesville do not support this mandate. The majority of the City employees do not support this mandate. My body, my choice, my business. Every person I know who has applied for a religious or medical exemption has had it denied by the City… Floridians have the right to autonomy of their bodies under the Florida constitution… If you need help, the employees of the City of Gainesville will come help you, as they always have… We just want to do our jobs… I will not comply.”

Jonathan Cicio, Gainesville Fire Rescue

Lieutenant Jonathan Cicio is a search and rescue specialist and paramedic with Gainesville Fire Rescue and also a father to 10 children, 5 biological children and 5 foster children. He and his wife are in the process of adopting 4 siblings that they have fostered. He’s been with the City for 16 years, and he said, “the Commission has been proud and very happy to put us out there as the face of their good works. I would like to take a minute to talk about doing the right thing… for frontline workers like us, and our law enforcement friends and our GRU friends, the right thing for us was to continue to be out there and be answering calls for help, alleviating pain and suffering, keep our neighborhoods and our streets safe, and our friends at GRU to keep the utilities on… We have four commissioners that sat behind a Zoom screen… and now they’re telling us about it. We know. We’ve been there… hundreds of us have had COVID and recovered and gained natural antibodies. Many of us have immunity by exposure, and many have gotten the vaccine. We are not anti-vaccine; we are anti-mandate.”

Cicio said he had just built a new house to accommodate his expanding family, and they had just moved into it the same week that the City Commission voted for the mandate. “We feel betrayed and used. We were heroes and selfless not long ago; now we’re selfish… Friends, do not be fooled into thinking you’re the problem… for wanting to make your own health choices. That’s your choice, and you’re not the problem.”

DeSantis added, “These mandates, this is not about science — because if it was about science, you would recognize the infection-conferred immunity that people like Jonathan [have]. Israel did a study: they said it was much, much more protective than the Pfizer vaccine. Cleveland Clinic did a study, same thing. Every single credible study always shows that [natural immunity] provides good protection, so that’s just the reality. So I don’t support mandates at all, but if you’re doing a mandate based off this, if you were really following science, you would acknowledge this natural immunity. And instead they ignore it. And for somebody who already has protection to take a medical treatment.. it’s really about using government power, control, to mandate, much more than it is about the underlying medical issues that are involved. And I think that is the perfect example of why, if you do not acknowledge that — you are not following science.”

Maria Bernard, Orange County

Maria Bernard has been a firefighter/paramedic for Orange County for 17 years, and she and her firefighter husband are both subject to Orange County’s vaccine mandate; both have recovered from COVID. Bernard pointed out the cost to both the County and the citizens of losing potentially hundreds of trained public safety workers: “It would take years to replace. Who would be answering 911 calls in response to the sick and the injured? Losing potentially hundreds of firefighters will directly affect the safety of our citizens and our community. But this mandate does not stop; it won’t be just the unvaccinated that are affected. Soon the vaccinated will require boosters, and mandates will have to be revisited, possibly every 3-6 months, and firefighters and Orange County employees will possibly be faced with termination once again. Once we give up our rights to choose, where will it end?” 

Bernard quoted the Orange County mayor from a recent televised press conference: “‘The goal the government has, sometimes, is to protect individuals, even from themselves.’ This quote really stuck with me. Here I am, a firefighter and a paramedic of 17 years, treating patients and making life-saving decisions for them, being trusted with that responsibility, yet this statement implies that I must be incompetent because I need the government to protect me from myself. If someone in this audience was to collapse right now, I would hope you would all have faith in knowing that any one of us firefighters that are sitting here next to you would immediately act, without knowing if you are vaccinated or unvaccinated… We know how to weight the risks versus the benefits for ourselves and do not need the overreach of government that is being imposed.”

DeSantis pointed out that two FDA officials recently resigned because “Biden’s administration came out and said we’re gonna do boosters on a specific day, but it had not been studied by the FDA… Can you imagine if Trump had unilaterally set a date for FDA, without their having underlying data–the corporate press would have a meltdown. It would be wall-to-wall hysteria about him perverting science and not following experts or whatever.” 

DeSantis also brought up President Biden’s vaccine mandate, implemented through OSHA: “This is not constitutional, what he’s doing; everyone in his administration for nine months said they don’t have the ability to do this, that they shouldn’t be mandated, and that includes—Fauci has said that in the past… So they’re issuing this mandate for private-sector employees, but also for federal employees, but they’re exempting the post office! They’re exempting members of Congress and members of Congress’ staffs! So how does that work, can someone explain the science to me behind exempting… first of all, I don’t think the post office should be forced, either, but if you’re gonna do a mandate and you say you’re following science and you exempt a major part of the federal workforce, and you exempt Congress… When I was in Congress, I actually proposed a 28th amendment, that Congress shouldn’t make any law that doesn’t apply to them… This is all political, it’s all about using government, and it’s wrong.”

DeSantis said the hospital shortages have not been about beds but about staff: “Well, how is this gonna help that problem? You’re gonna fire all these nurses who have been treating COVID patients, who have been working all this time? And again, many of them have likely already had COVID and recovered and do have natural immunity… You would absolutely see key things in our society disrupted [by the Biden vaccine mandate]… We’re fighting back against the Biden mandate as well, and we’re working through different things that we’re gonna be doing in the state of Florida, but suffice it to say, nobody should lose their job over this issue.”

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody

DeSantis introduced Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, who has filed an amicus brief in support of the employees who are seeking legal protection against the mandate from the City of Gainesville. Moody said, “This is not about whether or not someone should strongly consider the vaccine… This is about, very simply, how much power do our government officials have, when we have never given them that power to do something like this? We’ve seen a lot of recent examples where politicians across our country thought they had a lot more power than they actually did, locking people in their homes, keeping them from participating in religious ceremonies… Unacceptable. They did not have the power. Courts agreed with that. And now you have City officials saying they’re gonna fire employees if they don’t take a vaccine. It is unlawful, it is directly contradicting Florida law… When COVID first hit, noone was vaccinated. They’re rushing in, trying to help people, putting their lives on the line. It is unconscionable that we would trust these folks to throw themselves in front of a bullet for the safety of other people, but we won’t trust them to make a decision for their own safety! Unconscionable!… We’re facing a shortage in recruitment and retention of law enforcement… This does not help and will not help!… If this goes through and first responders are fired, it will dangerously affect the staffing of law enforcement, which will directly affect the safety of Florida communities. And thank you for being here today and saying ‘Absolutely not!’”

She continued, “Mr. Friend, on behalf of you and the over 200 employees of Gainesville that have filed suit, you now have the Attorney General of the State of Florida in your corner.”

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who is also the Fire Marshall of the state, reminded the crowd that first responders work on holidays when others are taking time to be with their families. “I got my vaccine, but I ain’t gonna support no damn mandate! These mandates are the same people who brought us Obamacare… this is nothing more than big government healthcare, part 2.0… Do we think that a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., know what’s better for us than our own doctor does? It’s ridiculous… We can’t afford for them to be wrong on this issue.”

Congresswoman Kat Cammack

Congresswoman Kat Cammack, whose husband is a firefighter, said, “I watched all last year as our… first responder family responded day in, day out, not asking ‘Do you have COVID?’, not asking ‘Are you vaccinated?’, but just doing their jobs… But now some small-minded people, with even smaller hearts, want to tear us apart. They want to tell us that we’re not good enough to serve the very community that we have laid so much on the line for. And to that, I say ‘Hell, no.’… I have absolutely had enough. This isn’t anti-vaccine; we stand here today as anti-mandate…

“I don’t know where in the constitution the government’s powers over one’s personal health decisions can be found; maybe that’s because there is no such power… The government has zero authority to mandate a vaccine for you. If you want a vaccine, we have made sure that it is readily available in your community; our governor and his incredible team, our legislators, have fought for the monoclonal antibody sites everywhere across this state. But if you don’t want the vaccine, because that is a discussion between you and your doctor, we are going to fight for your right to make your own decisions.

“To that end, I will use my power as a member of Congress to ensure that any locality that infringes upon an individual’s personal medical choices will no longer receive federal funding. And to the private small businesses now pressed with another unconstitutional mandate directed at your employees, I will be introducing legislation to dismantle the authority given to OSHA and other federal agencies, being used to enforce Biden’s unconstitutional order. And finally, my team is working right now to ensure that HIPAA regulations are tightened, that your medical/health records are your business, not the government’s, and damn sure not some city commissioner’s business… To all those on the front lines that continue to answer the call: Thank you. Do not quit. We will fight. And Go Gators!”

DeSantis concluded by saying the mandates “are causing a lot of people to dig in their heels… So we just believe that we have to protect people’s jobs, that casting people aside over this issue is fundamentally wrong; these are people that have served this whole time, they’ve served us in a variety of capacities… so we’re gonna be helping out here with the government issue, with our authority that we have, but also with the Biden mandate. It’s beyond just a mandate. What they’ve been doing throughout all of COVID, they go back and find some statute from decades ago, they find some obscure regulation, then they take that as a pretext to be able to do ridiculous, unforeseen expansions of government power… They did an eviction moratorium through CDC. Congress never legislated that.

“And now you’re looking back at some obscure OSHA rule that’s involving toxic substances in the workplace, and you’re acting like that would be pretext to potentially throw millions of Americans out of work over a respiratory virus… [Biden] is so dismissive of anyone who disagrees with him, hear how he talks about governors as if they should just be cast aside, out of the way, but I know that the founding fathers created a system—we’re the United States of America, and they created a system where the president doesn’t get to just boss people around… Governors like me are designed to be on the front lines of pushing back when the federal government, particularly a president, is over-reaching, and so we’re doing that… For him to be so dismissive… shows the arrogance of him and also shows how out of touch he is with the people of this country. These jobs matter. These livelihoods matter. Their families matter. And they shouldn’t be coerced out of a job through government power.”

The governor did not take any questions.

Sign asks governor for help against mayor and school board
Nicole Winningham and Michelle Kelley display “Fire wives against mandates” signs
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