'Absurdity incarnated': How Florida has gone off the rails
PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - MARCH 21: Justin Nezarez (C) shows his support for former President Donald Trump near his Mar-a-Lago home on March 21, 2023 in Palm Beach, Florida. Trump said on a social media post that he expects to be arrested in connection with an investigation into a hush-money scheme involving adult film actress Stormy Daniels and called on his supporters to protest any such move. However, it is unclear if he will be arrested or not. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Writing for the Orlando Sentinel on Thursday, columnist Scott Maxwell blasted the direction of Republican leadership in Florida.

"We make headlines for alligator attacks, radioactive sinkholes and bricks of cocaine that fall from the sky. Heck, if a guy’s strolling naked down the street in Key West, nobody calls the cops. They call it a parade," said Maxwell. But now, GOP leadership from Gov. Ron DeSantis on down are taking the Sunshine State "from quirky to full-on nuts."

Maxwell named a litany of stories humiliating the state, from a school principal in Tallahassee being forced to resign for showing students the "pornographic" Statue of David, to another school in St. Petersburg being forced to pull a civil rights documentary about Ruby Bridges, to GOP lawmakers threatening to pull all funding from St. Petersburg over contributions to an abortion-rights group.

Perhaps most absurd, argued Maxwell, is that DeSantis is now considering naming state Rep. Randy Fine the president of Florida Atlantic University — a man who, in Maxwell's words, is "absurdity incarnated."

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"The Brevard County Republican called a school board member he disliked a 'whore' and got into a spat with the Special Olympics after the nonprofit group didn’t invite him to a party at a local Chick-fil-A," wrote Maxwell. "He once threatened to show President Joe Biden 'why the Second Amendment was written' and boasted on Facebook that, if anyone asked him for his pronouns, he’d reply: 'You / Are / A / Fu&$ng / Moron/.' (Just the kind of scholarly debate tactics you’d crave from a university leader.) Fine once called for shutting down the state’s largest university, the University of Central Florida. And he accused local school employees of 'child abuse' — only to have cops determine Fine was wrong, that the photos he cited as evidence had been staged and that the stepfather who’d first reported the 'abuse' had lied to officers. (Fine never apologized. In fact, he doubled down.)"

All of this, Maxwell said, is making him reconsider his long-held position, as an independent voter, that extremism doesn't define the Republican Party.

"I still disagree with my far-left friends and readers who believe there are no sensible and decent conservatives out there. I know there are. Some are my friends," wrote Maxwell. "But unless more of them start speaking up and saying: 'I’m tired of my state looking like an absurdist, rights-trampling joke,' we’re going to keep seeing more of it. Absurdity will continue to be our new norm."