Q&A: Former Republican Official Blames the Media for Stark Political Divisions in Florida

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March 19, 2024

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A quick scroll through your social media feed or half an hour spent watching the news is enough to make you think that our democracy is crumbling around us. Florida, in particular, has made national headlines as a sandbox for new and more extreme conservative policies and legislation. Florida has reliably been a purple swing state for decades. However, when Ron DeSantis was elected as governor in 2022, Florida made a hard turn to the right. 

Former Orange County commissioner Mildred Fernandez believes that the discourse we are seeing in Florida is nothing new. A volunteer with the Orange County Republican party, Fernandez says the media is sowing division among Floridians. In an interview with The Click she explains how she thinks we got to where we are now. She makes clear that her views are her own and not those of the Republican Party of Orange County. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

The Click: How did you become involved with the Republican Party? 

Fernandez: I am 78 years old and I come from a very conservative family in Puerto Rico. My mother raised me with very conservative values. I moved here 30 years ago, and I have always been very active in the Republican Party. 

Would you say that the GOP has changed since you became active? 

No, I won’t say that the [Republican] party has changed. I do believe the party has [always held] the same principles. It’s the media. The media has changed. And they push a liberal agenda. 

If you look at the news nationally, you see headlines about Florida, specifically around social issues. Why do you think this is happening in Florida? 

Florida is a very diverse state. Florida has grown in diversity. I have been here 30 years and [have] seen phenomenal growth. Yes, you’re going to have different issues, but you have the media saying, “Democrats are good, Republicans are bad, they’re hateful…” We [Republicans] create jobs, we create freedom, we’re going to teach you how to fish but we’re not going to fish for you. 

Last year we saw several groups who identified with white supremacist ideals gather across the state with signs supporting President Trump or Governor DeSantis. Why do you think these groups identify so closely with those candidates? 

We’re always going to have people that will think “extreme” but that has always existed. I do believe [that they] have been pushed to be like that because the media has forced them. That doesn’t worry me, I don’t pay attention to that. I used to work for the federal government. I was an investigator for discrimination. I was working in the [Equal Opportunity] office. I was in charge of organizing events in the area of Christmas. The Black community came into my office and said “We can’t do [an event] in Christmas… we will be killed by the Ku Klux Klan.” We put them in military buses and took them to the event. This has always existed. 

Do you think [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis should put space between him and extremists?

DeSantis is doing what he has to do. He believes in freedom. He’s a military guy. He was in the JAG [Judge Advocate General’s Corps] so that’s the way he conducts business. 

Do you think those holding banners with swastikas are extreme? 

You call it extreme. I don’t call them extreme. They have the right to protest. I believe in communicating.

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