A friend reached out over the weekend.
“Are you going to write about the question you asked Ralph Massullo?”
Rep. Massullo was the guest speaker at Friday’s monthly Chamber of Commerce luncheon. He delivered a boilerplate speech about legislative session highlights, then took questions.
The first one was about insurance and Massullo easily handled that.
I had the second (and final, as it turned out) question.
And I wanted to know about Gov. Ron DeSantis’ feud with Disney.
Disney had announced the day before it was scrapping plans for a $1 billion campus in Florida that would have employed 2,000 people. The company blamed DeSantis.
“Is this just smoke? Is there something behind this?” I asked Massullo.
Massullo provided two answers. I’ll leave his initial comments for another day. But specific to the question, he said Disney “should not be in the business of telling government what to do.”
Did I hear that correctly? Did our state representative just tell a roomful of business leaders that their opinions don’t matter?
I checked the tape and it's exactly what he said.
“That’s a personal view of mine,” Massullo said.
Well, yikes. When the government starts telling businesses they need to keep their opinions to themselves, or else, it gets my attention.
Chamber president Josh Wooten didn’t hold back after hearing that answer. He said it certainly appears that DeSantis is punishing Disney for its views on the governor’s political agenda, and Massullo’s answer pretty much confirmed it.
“We’re not thrilled with the way the governor is handling that,” Wooten said. “As a business community, you all need to be concerned…”
When my local legislator says businesses shouldn’t tell the government what to do, a few things come to mind:
— Um, that’s MY business. I mean, telling the government what to do is my exact job description.
I write daily blogs with suggestions for the government. Then readers kick in and THEY tell the government what to do.
Just Wright Citrus is entirely wrapped up in giving advice to the government. Should the World Headquarters expect an early morning visit from guys in black T-shirts wearing reflective sunglasses, riding in a Suburban with yellow state plates?
— The idea of telling business owners or the public they shouldn’t participate in government is really absurd. I'm hearing this more and more. The government takes an attitude of, “We know what we’re doing. You just go enjoy life and we’ll handle all the heavy lifting. You don’t need the details.”
(Just so there's no misunderstanding: That is not my experience with Citrus County government. Commissioners are extremely open to the public's views, especially these days.)
I really can’t imagine anything crazier than muzzling free speech. Because that’s what we’re talking about.
The whole Disney controversy boils down to the company president saying something the governor didn’t like and the governor, showing all the leadership of a 4-year-old who got pushed off the playground swing, pitched a fit.
Wooten deserves credit for standing up to Massullo. We all like Ralph — I consider him a friend — and he has represented Citrus County well, but we simply should not allow statements like that to stand without some pushback.
— Businesses give campaign donations. Isn’t that a form of telling the government what to do? Massullo has had campaign contributions from numerous businesses in Citrus County and statewide, including Disney. He also said he owns stock in Disney.
Does he retaliate against businesses that contribute to opponents? Knowing Ralph Massullo, I seriously doubt it.
Yet, that is exactly the direction we’re headed. It’s bad enough that the political parties are constantly sniping at one another, now we’re having vendettas against businesses for speaking out?
And guess what happens when slapping down businesses gets old: We’re next. You can’t tell me that a governor who punishes a business for expressing its opinion wouldn’t do the same thing to an individual.
I can’t be clearer: This heavy-handed government is messing with our right to express views without repercussion.
Not overjoyed with the Free State of Florida? Better keep it under your hat.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.