Mark Lane: DeSantis book claims Midwestern virtues, not 'Florida man' status

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"I was geographically raised in Tampa Bay but culturally my upbringing reflected the working-class communities in western Pennsylvania and northeast Ohio – from weekly church attendance to the expectation that one would earn his keep. This made me God-fearing, hard-working and America-loving," Gov. Ron DeSantis says in his campaign-biography book, "The Courage to Be Free."

Despite brisk sales – No. 2 on The New York Times Combined Print and E-Book Nonfiction List in its second week – the Florida governor’s new book can be hard sledding for anyone not already a fan. ("All the culture war Mad Libs can't distract from the dull coldness at this book's core" – The New York Times. "A mirthless read," The Guardian. "Boldly grandiose, turgid, and remarkably unenlightening," Kirkus Reviews.)

But as a Floridaologist, the paragraph I just quoted from the first chapter rather stuck out for me from the 282 pages of stump-speech-ready prose.

Related:Raised in Tampa Bay area, Ron DeSantis mocked for writing about Midwest cultural 'upbringing'

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Copies of Gov. Ron DeSantis' campaign-bio book, "The Courage to be Free."
Copies of Gov. Ron DeSantis' campaign-bio book, "The Courage to be Free."

“I am a proud Florida native,” he declares. But only a few pages later, DeSantis, the first native Floridian elected as governor since Lawton Chiles was re-elected in 1994, hedges. He claims a virtuous Midwest identity rather than risk being associated with the wicked ways of the East Coast state where he was "geographically raised."

Message to Republican Iowa Caucus and midwestern primary voters: Don't mistake me for some Florida man. I'm one of you!

Lest we bristle at the notion that Floridians are not God-fearing, hard-working and America-loving – we are if it doesn't interfere with the weekend – it should be noted that dual regional identities are a common thing with Floridians.

Mark Lane
Mark Lane

We are a mobile people. Only a little more than a third of state residents – 36% – were born here. The majority of us were born elsewhere. About 10% of Floridians are from New York or New Jersey, which accounts for all those blue Yankees caps found in coastal towns from Flagler County southward. And 2.5% of Florida residents are from virtuous Ohio.

That even a native would identify more with the Buckeye state, evokes what former Gov. Bob Graham used to call the "Cincinnati factor." That is, people move to Florida from Cincinnati, regularly visit back home, root for the Reds, vote against taxes in their new home because they resent the level of taxation back in Ohio where they have an income tax, and when they die, have their remains shipped to Cincinnati for burial. Florida is an address, not a home. Geographical happenstance.

Graham believes that our lack of a common Florida identity makes it hard to find common purpose. It makes us prone to political division. Which is probably true, although I've always thought that political division is part of our state identity.

Many parts of the country have their identity all worked out. If you're a Hoosier, Bay Stater or from the deeper parts of the South, you have an identifiable accent, a stockpile of regional stereotypes, favorite jokes and oft-told anecdotes to work with. In Florida, we're still making all that up.

This leaves people from out-of-state confused. Their impression of Florida comes from Jimmy Buffett concerts, hazy spring break memories, tourism ads, lurid news stories about crime, drugs, dangerous animals and various combinations of the three.

This means even native politicos need to reassure Republican base voters they’re only mildly Florida-like. Which seems unfair. According to Pew Research Center, Floridians are only slightly less regular church attendees than Ohioans – 35% go weekly versus 38%. Hard-working? Well sure, Florida's economy is based on inviting vacationers, students and retirees to escape hard work, but we work hard to help others escape work. Patriotism is impossible to measure, though I think Florida can match anywhere else flag-by-flag except in places with homeowner associations.

Regardless, we still have this reputation out in the broader world. That our politics are stranger, our crime more outrageous, and the intersection of the two more frequent than would be altogether normal for a democratic republic. So why wouldn't someone running for president want to put a little daylight between himself and all that? Why wouldn't he explain that he's from Florida but is spiritually of Ohio?

And because of that same reputation, DeSantis might also want to ditch the slogan "Make America Florida." It's a promise likely to frighten the good people of Ohio and the Midwest.

Mark Lane is a News-Journal columnist. His email is

This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: Ron DeSantis book distances governor from Florida | Mark Lane