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Republican or Democrat? Florida and Michigan show voters which side has a heart.

By looking at Democrat-led states and Republican-led states, the differences couldn't be more stark, like contrasting open arms with a barbed-wire fence.

Rex Huppke USA TODAY

As Americans march toward the 2024 presidential election and into a dust cloud of news and punditry, let’s think more broadly about what matters most: priorities.

What do our two main political parties value? What issues are they focused on, and how do those issues align with each individual voter’s view of how the world should be?

By looking at Democrat-led states and Republican-led states, the differences couldn’t be more stark, like contrasting open arms with a barbed-wire fence.

What's the difference between the right and the left? Look no farther than Florida, Michigan.

Consider this, from an NBC News report in March previewing the 2023 legislative session overseen by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his Republican-controlled legislature: “Expect a number of bills that will be red meat for the majority's Republican base. Among them are major proposals to expand gun rights, further restrict diversity efforts at public universities and expand the ability to sue media outlets for defamation.”

And then this, from an Associated Press story in August discussing the issues Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is directing her Democratic-led legislature to take on in the remainder of this year: “Paid family and medical leave, a 100% clean energy standard and codifying protections ensured by the Affordable Care Act.”

How about a headline from 2021: “Fla. becomes latest state to enact restrictive voting law as DeSantis signs bill on Fox News."

And this one from July: “Michigan governor signs legislation expanding voting rights.”

Florida and Michigan are laboratories for Republican and Democratic priorities

In each state, one party has the governor’s office and a legislative majority. And in each state, the priorities reflect radically different world views, giving voters nationwide two-party-specific laboratories to look at and ask: Which world do I want to live in?

DeSantis’ GOP presidential primary run has put a spotlight on Florida, the state he proudly trumpets as “where woke goes to die.”

DeSantis' Florida bans abortion, opens up gun access, bans DEI

Here are some of his key accomplishments, reflecting the MAGA-centric priorities he has embraced:

  • A six-week abortion ban.

  • A law allowing Floridians to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.

  • A law banning transgender girls from playing on girls' sports teams in high school. DeSantis signed the bill at a private Christian school and said: “In Florida, girls are going to play girls sports and boys are going to play boys sports.” According to the Orlando Sentinel, since 2013, only 11 transgender children have tried to play high school sports in Florida, and only two were transgender girls.

  • A law defunding diversity, equity and inclusion programs at state colleges and universities.

  • A ban on teaching the College Board's Advanced Placement African American Studies course in public schools.

  • A law prohibiting classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in all grades.

  • A $10 million budget allotment that allows the state to round up migrants and fly or bus them to any other part of the country.

Whitmer's Michigan tightens gun laws, codifies abortion rights, protects LGBTQ residents

And here are some of Whitmer’s accomplishments in Michigan:

  • A law requiring universal background checks on gun purchases and safe-storage requirements for gun owners.

  • Expanded absentee and early voting rights, including requiring at least one secure absentee ballot drop box in each Michigan municipality.

  • A law expanding a state civil rights act to include legal protections that cover sexual orientation and gender identity.

  • Support for the eventually successful ballot measure enshrining abortion rights into the state constitution followed by an executive order instructing state officials to “ensure that reproductive freedom is secured to all Michiganders.”

  • A law expanding the state’s earned income tax credit, which helps lower-income earners, from 6% of the federal credit to 30%, boosting the average savings from $150 to more than $700.

  • Made Michigan the seventh state to provide free breakfast and lunch to all public school students.

  • Launched the “MI Healthy Climate” plan to address environmental issues, requiring Michigan to switch to fully carbon-free energy sources by 2035 and do away with coal-fired power plants by 2030.

Don't listen to what a political party says, watch what its lawmakers do

There are, of course, myriad other issues these two governors have tackled, and there are endless ways – from weather to activities to tax structures to employment opportunities – one can parse which state any individual would find preferable.

But these things each governor presents as accomplishments reflect many of the priorities of each political party. And I daresay the differences matter.

You have one side sharply restricting abortion access and voting rights, expanding gun access and denouncing diversity, equity and inclusion vs. another side expanding abortion access and voting rights, tightening gun control and embracing diversity while expanding the legal rights of marginalized groups.

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