The basic elements of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Martha’s Vineyard stunt are tough to defend. The Republican and his representatives used public resources to lure desperate migrants onto airplanes under false pretenses. The exploited victims of the governor’s scheme were then dropped off on a Massachusetts island — without local officials being notified. There are credible questions about whether the plot was legal.
But DeSantis’ scheme wasn’t just morally, legally and politically dubious; it was also expensive. The Tallahassee Democrat reported yesterday:
Florida has agreed to pay up to $1 million to two law firms to defend it following Gov. Ron DeSantis’ controversial decision last summer to relocate nearly 50 Venezuelan migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. So far, the state has paid nearly $112,000 to the firms Consovoy McCarthy and Campbell Conroy & O’Neil to represent DeSantis and other state officials in a class action lawsuit filed in Boston by attorneys representing the migrants.
Note, these costs are on top of the state contract for the flights themselves. The local newspaper added, “When combined, it represents a cost of around $35,000 for each migrant relocated through the program.”
That, of course, is the price tag so far.
There is a degree of irony to the circumstances: When the story first broke, the Florida governor’s spokesperson complained about those “incentivizing illegal immigration.”
But if we’re going to talk about incentives, think about the message DeSantis and his team are sending would-be migrants, weighing whether to make the trip: If you reach the United States, Ron DeSantis might spend tens of thousands of dollars on you, in addition to providing you with a free flight to a lovely coastal town in New England.
There’s also a larger context to consider. Circling back to our earlier coverage, DeSantis has picked all kinds of culture-war fights, covering everything from voting rights to book bans, abortion rights to protest rights, social media companies’ “deplatforming” policies to the utterly absurd “Stop WOKE Act.” The Miami Herald recently reported on the escalating financial costs associated with the Republican’s crusade.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ political strategy has won national attention for his ability to shrewdly select culture war issues and use a compliant Florida Legislature to advance them. But while the agenda has drawn more than 15 lawsuits, it has so far yielded few legal victories, and cost Florida taxpayers nearly $17 million in legal fees to date.
As evidenced by recent rulings on the “Stop WOKE Act,” the Republican and his lawyers aren’t exactly on a winning streak. Indeed, it’s quite likely the lawsuits targeting the Martha’s Vineyard fiasco will add to the governor’s collection of lawsuits.
What’s less clear is whether the ambitious Republican cares.
Bob Jarvis, a professor of law at Nova Southeastern University, noted that DeSantis almost certainly knows that many of his policies won’t withstand judicial scrutiny.
“He does not care if he wins or loses,” Jarvis told the Herald. “In fact, if he wins, he can say, ‘See, I was right.’ And, if he loses, it’s just as good as winning because then he can say, ‘There’s a liberal conspiracy and we have to get the libs out.’
“But when your goal is not to win or lose, and you have a blank check from the taxpayers, then really it’s all about: ‘Will this lawsuit generate headlines? And will this allow me to control the narrative?’” Jarvis added.
And by any fair measure, the Martha’s Vineyard stunt generated headlines and helped the governor’s political “narrative.”
In theory, Floridians should have a problem with this. After all, it’s their money, not his, which could be invested in priorities that actually benefit the state. But so long as his constituents shrug their shoulders, DeSantis will keep picking fights he expects to lose, basking in the adulation of Republicans at the national level who care far more about the governor’s willingness to push his crusade than his unfortunate win-loss record.