In Rush Limbaugh's home state, a flap over lowering flags

By The Canadian Press

Published 2:53 PST, Mon February 22, 2021

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — In life, the conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh was a divisive figure, who proudly waved the flag of conservatism and wallowed in the controversies he helped ignite. In death, those controversies follow him as partisans in his home state of Florida debate over whether to lower the state flag in his honour.

Gov. Ron DeSantis called Limbaugh a “legend” and ordered flags to be flown at half-staff as a show of respect after the longtime broadcaster who was 70 when he died Wednesday of cancer.

But Democrats, who have long been on the receiving end of Limbaugh's harangues, objected.

Nikki Fried, Florida's Agriculture Commissioner and the only statewide Democratic officeholder and who is considering a bid for governor, said Monday that she would not abide by the Republican governor's orders.

“Lowering to half-staff the flag of the United States of America is a sacred honour that pays respect to fallen heroes and patriots,” she said in a statement, in which she said she would notify all state officer under her purview to disregard the governor's order.

Fried oversees about two dozen agricultural law enforcement inspection stations, more than three dozen state forests and nine regional licensing offices — all of which fly the flags of the United States and Florida.

“My concern is that the governor is bending over backwards to honour a radio host who has consistently made racist, polarizing and conspiracy comments,” Fried said in an interview Monday afternoon.

“It is really inappropriate,” she said of the flag lowering, “and the governor is playing politics with this American treasure, which is our flag.”

A year ago, President Donald Trump awarded Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour, during his final State of the Union address.

The day before, Limbaugh had announced that he was battling advanced lung cancer.

Limbaugh had for decades championed conservativism — often stridently at the expense of liberals and Democrats.

The governor’s office did not immediately elaborate on the state’s protocols for lowering flags after promising to do so Monday afternoon. Flags are typically lowered to honour prominent government officials, as well as law enforcement officers and members of the military killed in the line of duty. However, the governor also has the authority to lower the flags to commemorate tragedies, most recently the third anniversary of the Parkland high school shootings that took the lives of 17 students and staff members.

DeSantis on Monday ordered flags to fly at half-staff to pay tribute to Pinellas County Sheriff's Deputy Michael Magli, who died last week after being struck by a vehicle while on duty.

DeSantis said Limbaugh's stature justified the honour.

“When there’s things of this magnitude, once the date of interment for Rush is announced, we’re going to be lowering the flags to half-staff,” DeSantis said at a Friday news conference in Palm Beach County.

“Not much needs to be said,” the governor said. “He was an absolute legend. He was a friend of mine, and just a great person.”

Fried said she would not move to punish any of her managers who might follow her “strong guidance” and instead decide to comply with the governor's order.

“If somebody chooses to lower the flag, there are no penalties,” she said.

– Bobby Caina Calvan, The Associated Press

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