Illinois Gov. Pritzker unloads on DeSantis in blistering speech in Tampa
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis visits 2019 Miami Open at the Hard Rock Stadium in 2019. (Leonard Zhukovsky /

Illinois’ Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivered a blistering speech in Tampa Saturday equating Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis with former president Donald Trump and condemning him for doing more to “protect” Floridians from LGBTQ children and immigrants than from white nationalism and gun violence.

As keynote speaker at the Florida Democratic Party’s annual leadership conference, Pritzker urged Democrats to call out white nationalism and gun violence as domestic terrorism and to campaign against Republican candidates — including DeSantis — who do not.

“This pattern is a clear domestic terrorism threat,” Pritzker said. “He is happy to pick on LGBTQ kids and immigrants, but God forbid he calls out what the FBI refers to as our most pressing security threat: the rise of white extremism.

“Ditch cautious rhetoric and even more cautious electoral strategy, and start speaking honestly … about the dangers democracy is facing from the MAGA Republican party,” Pritzker said, prompting a standing ovation from the audience, estimated at 2,000 at the sold-out event.

Pritzker, governor of the state where a gunman murdered seven people and wounded scores more on July 4 at a parade in Highland Park, on the North Shore of Chicago, said it is true that preventing violence crime requires investments in intervention programs, mental health, and law enforcement, but he said those are not enough.

“Make no mistake, dealing with crime also involves getting guns off the streets. Ultimately, we need a federal assault weapons ban,” the governor said, also calling for national attention to “an epidemic of young men enamored with white nationalism” killing people en masse with assault weapons.”

Pritzker said the national Republican Party is “obsessed” with MAGA politics and weakening support for Democrats by ginning up fury and fear over problems that pale in comparison with gun violence and loss of abortion rights.

“Here is where the Republican game plan is the most audacious: They want to distract you into believing that gay marriage, black history, Disney World and library books are more of a threat to our children than AR-15s,” Pritzker said, and the audience rose to its feet in applause. “Don’t tell us that a 10-year-old is too young to learn about the history of slavery but not too young to run active-shooter drills when she learns how to play dead.”

Citing the U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down abortion rights in place for nearly 50 years under Roe v. Wade, Pritzker called the Republican Party hypocritical for seeking that outcome in the name of “pro-life.”

“No part of the Republican agenda is about life. Give me one example of the Republican Party showing up for life in this country,” Pritzker said, arguing that it is the Democratic Party that supports life by expanding health care, supporting reproductive freedom, supporting humane immigration policies, and promoting diversity in American society.

“Get ready, because the next thing on their to-do list is a nationwide abortion ban,” Pritzker said.

To stop the “GOP insanity” of the MAGA agenda, he said, Democrats such as he, Stacey Abrams of Georgia, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and President Joe Biden should stand firm for Democratic principles and elect more Democrats, especially to the U.S. Senate and the presidency.

U.S. Rep. Val Demings spoke Saturday at the FL Democratic Party’s annual Leadership Blue weekend. Demings is challenging U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio for the Senate seat in 2022. Credit: FL Democratic Party.

“Floridians, you can stop national Republicans in their tracks if you elect Val Demings to the U.S. Senate,” Pritzker said, and the room burst into cheers, sign-waving and noise-making.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Demings, an Orlando Democrat challenging Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, also delivered a rousing speech, citing Trump’s “big lie” about election fraud to attack voting rights, the Supreme Court’s anti-abortion ruling after Trump appointed three conservatives to the bench, and Rubio’s record of opposing abortion rights and gun-violence prevention.

“Ours is the only party fighting for the Constitution, rule of law, and our democracy,” Demings said, brandishing a fist.

Demings, former police chief in Orlando, was on the House Democratic team that impeached President Trump in 2019 for using his role as U.S. president to pressure the president of Ukraine for political favors. (The Republican-led Senate did not concur in the impeachment). She said those are “tough jobs” that she chose to do and of which she is proud.

Demings said she and other Democrats face formidable odds and that the stakes are high.

“We’re not going back. We’re not shutting up. We’re going to fight,” she said.

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