TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) - Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried plans to defy Gov. Ron DeSantis who will order flags to be flown at half staff at state buildings to honor the conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh.
"The guy was an absolute legend," DeSantis explained. "He was a friend of mine and just a great person."
Which is a matter of debate. While there's no question that Limbaugh is an icon for many conservatives, and laid the groundwork for the rise of President Donald Trump, he was also a voice of intolerance on matters of race, gender, and ethnicity.
That mixed legacy for Limbaugh has led some in the state to question whether Limbaugh is the sort of person who should be honored with flags being lowered to half-staff.
Fried is leading that charge.
"The American flag should not be used and cannot be used as a political prop by Governor DeSantis," she said on CNN's "New Day" Tuesday morning. "But what he is doing is bending over backwards to honor a radio host who spent his entire career talking hate speech and talking bigotry and division and conspiracy theories. And lowering our flag should be a symbol of unity not division, raising our standards, not lowering our standards."
There is, of course, politics in this. Fried is the only statewide elected Democrat in Florida and, of late, has been making lots of noise about challenging DeSantis in 2022. Last week, Fried stoked that speculation with the release of a video -- produced by her political consultant -- that lambasted DeSantis for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in the state.
"So let me say this to all Floridians: You're loved. We feel your hurt. Florida can and will do better. As the Biden administration puts science first and we turn the corner on this pandemic, I promise, I will continue to fight for you and hold the governor accountable," Fried said in the video.
Asked directly by CNN's John Berman Tuesday about her plans for 2022, Fried said this: "We're certainly looking into it, but again it's becoming clearer every single day that we need to make sure that Governor DeSantis is a one-term governor and that we end this hatred in our state in 2022."
Putting the obvious political motivations aside, the debate over whether Limbaugh is eligible to be honored with flags lowered to half-staff is actually quite interesting.
Here's the relevant piece of Florida law about flag-lowering:
"The Governor shall adopt a protocol on flag display. The protocol must provide guidelines for the proper display of the state flag and for the lowering of the state flag to half-staff on appropriate occasions, such as on holidays and upon the death of high-ranking state officials, uniformed law enforcement and fire service personnel, and prominent citizens."
DeSantis is focusing on only the first part of that guidance -- that he sets "protocol on flag display." As the Tallahassee Democrat notes, the flag protocol from the governor's office, which was last updated in 2012 (before DeSantis was governor), doesn't mention prominent citizens, but does say that "approval for displaying the flags at half-staff ... resides with the Governor."
Fried -- and mayors in several cities in Florida -- put more emphasis on the second half of the statute, which says that flags can be ordered lowered "upon the death of high-ranking state officials, uniformed law enforcement and fire service personnel, and prominent citizens."
"We have a state protocol that dictates when to lower the flag and that's to honor a fallen hero, servicemen, people who served our country and served our state," Fried said on CNN. "And it's very clear what the flag protocol is. And the governor is using this as a political prop and not something that should be taken for granted."
What the fight comes down to is whether Limbaugh, who lived in Florida, was a "prominent citizen" -- and in whose eyes. Of course, since there is no stipulated penalty or punishment for any government official -- like Fried -- who refuses to comply with flag-lowering order, she is free to ignore DeSantis' decision.
(©2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company, contributed to this report.)
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