TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida House took the unusual step of denouncing democratic socialism Tuesday with the sponsor of a non-binding resolution invoking the name of the country’s most prominent champion of the ideology, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, in calling it a threat to American democracy.
Though the resolution has little legal significance, Democrats disavowed the bill as political theater in a state where the specter of socialism and communism has become a potent political talking point, particularly among Florida’s sizable Hispanic electorate with relatives who have fled political turmoil of Cuba, Venezuela and other Latin American countries.
“Democratic Socialism is really no different from socialism itself,” said the bill’s Republican sponsor, Rep. Tom Fabricio.
During debate, Fabricio contended that the politics of social democrats espoused by politicians like Sanders was wrongheaded and dangerous for American democracy and capitalism.
“Democratic socialism is a slippery slope that does lead to socialism in many nations, and people have died looking to obtain individual liberties that we enjoy here today,” he said.
Sanders’ office could not immediately be reached for comment.
Republican office seekers have sought to gain the edge at the ballot box by tying Democrats to socialism, particularly among Cuban Americans and other Latino voters in South Florida. Many of those voters hail from countries still plunged into political turmoil.
The resolution does not ban any political party or prevent political candidates, like Sanders, who identify as a democratic socialist from holding public office or seeking it.
Nevertheless, Democrats have bristled at being described as socialists.
“Social democracy is not socialism, and democratic socialism is not socialism — if it was, there wouldn’t be the modifier. It implies that there is an element of democracy,” said Rep. Geller. “If this is just some kind of theatrical stunt, OK, pass it over us.”
And the Republican-led House, along party lines, did exactly that in a lopsided 79-36 vote.
“Are you at all concerned that we are setting a terrible precedent here by cherry picking political parties for condemnation and candidates — as you mentioned, sitting U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who by the way, almost was the nominee for the Democratic Party in previous elections,” Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith asked the bill sponsor.
“No, I do not believe we are setting a dangerous precedent,” Fabricio replied.
Democrats have introduced proposals to condemn the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Republican former President Donald Trump. But those measures have not advanced, including efforts Tuesday to add language to the resolution decrying fascism and other ideologies.
“We have a very real problem here that needs to be addressed, and it’s not Democratic Socialism,” Smith said. “It is important for us to call out the fascist, right wing, neo-Nazi white supremacist movement that is happening in this state and across the nation,” Smith said.