Newsom attacks DeSantis for 'assault' on education and free speech in Florida

California governor says his position on student debt forgiveness might be unpopular within his party. "I'm not just for waiving all debt," he said. "I think you've got to work for it."

Updated: July 13, 2022 - 11:11pm

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California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom slammed the leadership of Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, arguing that the state's Parental Rights in Education law ("Don't Say Gay" law, to critics) is an example of "suppression of free speech" in America.

"Education is under assault in the United States of America," Newsom said in a speech Wednesday after accepting an award for state innovation from the Education Commission of the States. "And we have an obligation, moral and ethical obligation, to call out what's going on as it relates to the suppression of free speech."

Newsom condemned the banning of books from the public education curriculum as "suppressing speech," saying that over 40 books were banned in Florida.

He told the audience that Critical Race Theory is no longer the "meme" of the moment. 

"I tried to just understand what it is, of course, it has to be happening in California, but I'm the governor of California, I don't know what it is," Newsom said. "It must be occurring on the basis of how everybody's jumping over themselves to ban it. But the real meme of the moment seems to be no longer CRT, it seems to be something called Social-Emotional Learning."

DeSantis has been critical of Newsom's handling of the pandemic, particularly after he was spotted not wearing a mask while an indoor mask mandate was in place in the state. DeSantis criticized Newsom at a recent press conference.

"I can just tell you this, I was born and raised in this state, and until the last few years I rarely if ever saw a California license plate in the state of Florida," DeSantis said. "You now see a lot of them. I can tell you if you go to California you ain't seeing very many Florida license plates."

Newsom also said on Wednesday that he does not think the federal government should wipe away student debt without strings attached. 

"We believe in debt-free college," he said, "but here's our approach: We created something called College Corps. We asked for something in return. I know good people can disagree on this, and this may offend folks on my side of the aisle. I'm not just for waiving all debt. I think you've got to work for it, not just your education, but we created a framework — $10,000 stipend scholarships through our College Corps — but you've got to contribute 450 hours." 

In reaction to the award presented to Newsom, social media users noted that California is ranked toward the bottom compared to other states' K-12 public education systems. U.S. News and World Report ranks California as 40th in the country for public education. In a 2021 WalletHub study, California's public school system ranked 41 among the 50 states and Washington D.C. 

Newsom said his commentary about national issues should not be mistaken for an ambition for higher office.

"What I'm doing is just expressing my frustration, but also from a position of pride as the governor of the largest state in America that has a 97 and a half billion dollar surplus," he said. California "takes it 24/7 from, you know, windbag pundits, the right-wing media, and I just, I can't just sit back and take it anymore.

"In this environment, when you express yourself in a different way, everyone assigns or connects some ulterior motive or ambition, when in fact, there is no other ambition, except to express the frustration, anger and despair a lot of folks are feeling."

There has been speculation that Newsom would run for president should Biden not run for reelection, setting up a potential Democratic primary battle between him and Vice President Kamala Harris, a former California senator. Newsom told reporters on Wednesday that he supports Biden for reelection.

"Of course, yes, and I would support him in a nanosecond enthusiastically, passionately," Newsom said.