As Putin’s military forces shelled the largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine, Republicans in the Florida House of Representatives cowered from taking a vote to divest from Russian assets.
The Florida House of Representatives recently passed a resolution condemning the invasion of Ukraine and expressing “solidarity with the Ukrainian people”. Democratic State Representative Andrew Learned wanted to put some action behind those words and proposed amending a bill to prohibit the State Board of Administration from investing Florida Retirement assets in any company doing business with Russia’s government.
When given an opportunity to address the nearly $300 million worth of state investments in Russian companies, the Republican-controlled chamber ruled the amendment out of order on a technicality and avoided taking a stance.
The State Board of Education is controlled by Governor Ron DeSantis along with his fellow Republican cabinet members, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis. DeSantis is usually pretty outspoken but he has not offered any comments on divesting from Russian assets and his usually combative spokesperson, Christina Pushaw, referred inquiries to the Board of Administration.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, the most significant Russian assets that the Board of Administration holds include energy giant Rosneft, oil producer Lukoil, the country’s largest lender Sberbank, and mining company Norilsk Nickel. The valuation of those companies has crashed due to harsh sanctions imposed on the Russian economy and its oligarchs.
Russian assets have been a high-risk investment for years. The State of Kentucky’s Teachers Retirement System is also a shareholder for Sberbank and the top three institutional holders are all from Kentucky. The Teachers’ Retirement System says they sold their stake for a $3.2 million loss on February 23, 2022, but it remains baffling why the state is invested so heavily in the Russian bank.
It’s worth noting that Ron DeSantis has previously supported divesting from companies for political reasons. In July 2021, he wrote a letter to the Board of Administration urging them to divest from Ben & Jerry’s due to their decision to end sales of its ice cream in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. DeSantis also called for the same to be done to Unilever, a company that also owns Ben & Jerry’s.
Republican State Representative Randy Fine, who recently led the charge to strip $200 million from twelve school districts that instituted mask requirements, has also been outspoken on his support for divesting from companies due to political reasons. In the aftermath of the January 6th riots, Fine sent a letter to DeSantis demanding that Florida divest from tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, and Google due to Trump’s social media accounts being suspended.
Fine was so set on having Florida divest front these companies, he introduced legislation that would “forbid any state or local government from conducting any business with these companies, effective July 1st of this year. No Facebook, Twitter, or Google advertising by Florida governments; no use of any Amazon services by any Florida government; no purchases of Apple or Android devices by any government agency.”
A letter from Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried had previously called on DeSantis to sell Florida’s investments in Russian-owned companies as a consequence of their invasion of Ukraine. Despite the violence in Ukraine, DeSantis refused to do so, responding through his spokesperson that the letter lacked “necessary clarity”.
It appears that when it comes to divesting Florida’s assets, Ron DeSantis and his fellow Republicans will prioritize whatever will score cheap points with their base. Given the opportunity to take action and truly stand with Ukrainians fighting for their sovereignty against Putin’s aggression, they failed the test.
Thomas Kennedy is an elected Democratic National Committee member representing Florida. He tweets from @tomaskenn.