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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference in Miami

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference in Miami on Tuesday.

Rebecca Blackwell

Florida Gov. DeSantis will be in Peoria this week — and how he’ll play depends entirely on which party you ask

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis plans to hit Illinois on Friday for a sold-out keynote address in Peoria — with Republicans eager to hear about the potential presidential candidate’s “conservative record of success” and Democrats denouncing “the cruelty he peddles for political gain.”

Organizers of the Peoria and Tazewell County Lincoln Day Dinner — one of the state’s largest GOP gatherings — say DeSantis will “speak on his successful Florida Blueprint,” as Republicans in the state “fight the radical Progressive Left’s Marxist agenda here in Illinois.”

DeSantis’ visit is a boost for some of the state’s Republicans, who last year saw major electoral losses stemming from a party splintered between its conservative and more moderate wings.

But Illinois Democrats are certainly not rolling out the welcome mat for the conservative firebrand who has signed legislation this year that has further emboldened his political agenda.

Those include the Heartbeat Protection Act, which prohibits doctors from performing abortions after six weeks in most cases — and a bill that authorized concealed carry without a permit, which takes effect on July 1.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who has railed on DeSantis’ policies for years and is viewed politically as the antithesis of the Florida governor, said in a statement to the Sun-Times, “In Illinois, we reject the cruelty he peddles for political gain.”

“DeSantis’ views are not what we call freedom in Illinois. His appearance at the Illinois GOP Lincoln Dinner this week is in direct opposition to everything Abraham Lincoln stood for.

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton smiles while Gov. J.B. Pritzker claps during a pro-abortion rights rally in the Loop

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton smiles while Gov. J.B. Pritzker claps during a pro-abortion rights rally in the Loop on May 7, 2022.

Pat Nabong

“In his second inaugural address, President Lincoln called upon Americans to act with malice towards none and charity for all,” Pritzker said. “Governor DeSantis has made a political career out of inciting malice against anyone who looks or believes differently than he does and eschewing charity for those most in need.”

And Democratic Party of Illinois Chair Lisa Hernandez told the Sun-Times, “Hate and extremism will never go unchallenged in Illinois, and Ron DeSantis’ policies are not welcome here.”

DeSantis last visited Illinois in February, giving a speech before a crowd of Chicago Fraternal Order of Police members in Elmhurst that caused a stir in the Chicago mayoral race. The union had endorsed Paul Vallas, who in turn denounced DeSantis’ visit.

DeSantis, who is expected to announce his presidential run soon, is also likely to sign a trio of bills passed by the Republican-majority Florida General Assembly that will affect the state’s transgender community, including a bill that will prohibit transgender children from receiving gender-affirming treatments.

Another bill restricts teachers, faculty and students from using the pronouns of their choice in public schools — and another prohibits transgender people from using a bathroom that matches their gender identity while in government buildings.

The Democrat-led Illinois General Assembly is going in the opposite direction, as the state seeks to counteract anti-LGBTQ legislation passed in surrounding Republican-led states.

Pritzker plans to sign a measure that would help affirm LGBTQ youth in the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services system by replacing words such as“mother” with “person who gives birth” and “he or she” to “minor.” Another measure awaiting Pritzker’s signature would require state agencies to track employees who identify as non-binary or gender non-conforming.

While DeSantis last year signed a bill that gave parents and county residents the ability to select and remove school library books, Illinois lawmakers last week passed a measure that would allow Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias to only authorize grant funding to libraries that adhere to the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights.

Alexi Giannoulias declares victory in the race for Illinois secretary of state at his election party at the Sheraton Grand Chicago Riverwalk in November.

Alexi Giannoulias declares victory in the race for Illinois secretary of state at his election party at the Sheraton Grand Chicago Riverwalk in November.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere

That document argues that reading materials should not be removed because of “partisan or personal disapproval.”

The Illinois bill is viewed as the nation’s first legislation to prevent book bans.

GOP organizers of the Peoria event say 1,150 are expected to attend the sold-out dinner at the Peoria Civic Center Ballroom, which has already raised $250,000. Other speakers include Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lisa Holder White and U.S Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill.

“The enthusiasm around this year’s dinner is incredible,” Tazewell County GOP Chairman Jim Rule said in an email to the Sun-Times “Governor DeSantis is one of the strongest Republican voices in our country and our record-breaking response this year is a testament to his conservative record of success.”

In announcing DeSantis as the annual event’s speaker, LaHood called the Florida governor “one of the preeminent conservative voices in our country, fighting back against the radical left.” LaHood, who served as the co-chair in Illinois for former President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, has been a vocal ally of Trump. LaHood was also endorsed by Trump last year.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley launched her own presidential campaign in February. And Sen. Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, has also formed a presidential exploratory committee. Trump announced last November that he’d seek another presidential run.

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