Pritzker-DeSantis rivalry comes to the suburbs, as Florida governor slated to visit Elmhurst Monday

A visit by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to address Illinois law enforcement Monday originally was billed as an exclusive event at an undisclosed location in Elmhurst.

Now the speech is spiraling into a major culture clash with counterprotests planned and Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker throwing pointed barbs at the likely Republican presidential candidate.

“He does not represent the values of the people of Illinois,” Pritzker said of DeSantis Friday in Chicago. “In fact, he's the antithesis to that. He's demonstrated that he's homophobic, that's he's got tendencies that provoke racism. He's somebody who doesn't mix well with the values of the people of Illinois.”

DeSantis drew fire in 2022 for signing a bill that prohibits instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity for kindergarten through third-graders. “In Florida we stand up for the rights of parents,” DeSantis said at the time. Opponents have dubbed it the “Don't Say Gay Bill.”

The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 touted the visit last week on its website. stating “Gov. Ron DeSantis would appreciate your support at an event on Monday, Feb. 20 to Back the Blue! This event is open to law enforcement members only.”

On Aug. 8, 2022, Lodge 7 endorsed Republican Sen. Darren Bailey over Pritzker in the gubernatorial election.

“We thought (Aurora Mayor) Richard Irvin had the best chance to beat Pritzker,” Lodge 7 President John Catanzara said, referring to Bailey's primary opponent. “Darren Bailey proved us all wrong.”

In a video last week, Catanzara said the lodge was just promoting the event, not hosting it.

One issue for the police unions is the SAFE-T Act, supported by Pritkzer. It calls for an end to cash bail, expands body camera use and revises use-of-force standards, among other changes that its supporters contend will level the playing field for minorities charged with crimes.

Illinois FOP State Lodge President Chris Southwood said in a statement Saturday: “Why wouldn't we want to hear from a governor who staunchly supports law enforcement? We already know what one sounds like who doesn't, and he resides in Illinois' Executive Mansion.”

LGBTQ advocates like Equality Illinois are planning a protest at DeSantis' appearance Monday.

Lodge 7 has kept the location of DeSantis' visit under wraps. However, the event is expected to take place at the Knights of Columbus hall in Elmhurst, and families of police are now reportedly welcome.

Ken Mejia-Beal, chairman of the Democratic Party of DuPage County, criticized DeSantis, saying he “has no place in Illinois and quite frankly no place in modern-day America.”

“I am proud to be an Illinoisan for many reasons, but the biggest reasons revolve around our rights to freedom and expression,” Mejia-Beal said. “Our state embodies the freedoms that stand as beacons to others in the Midwest that they will be safe here.”

Pritzker, also considered a possible presidential candidate in 2024, has clashed with DeSantis before.

They are polar opposites on most issues. Pritzker has fought to expand abortion services and rights in Illinois following the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade in June; DeSantis signed a bill banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy in 2022.

They also have differed on masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, immigration and African American studies curriculum.

The Florida governor's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is scheduled to visit Elmhurst on Monday to speak with members of Chicago Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7. Associated Press file photo
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