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In death, Rush Limbaugh continues to divide amid Florida flag flap

Rush Limbaugh on Capitol Hill in 2020
Rush Limbaugh on Capitol Hill during President Trump’s State of the Union address in February 2020.
(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

In life, radio host Rush Limbaugh was a divisive figure who proudly waved the flag of conservatism and wallowed in the uproars he helped ignite. Controversy now follows him even after his death as officials in his home state of Florida debate whether to lower flags in his honor.

Republican 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, 70, died Wednesday of cancer.

But Democrats, who were long on the receiving end of Limbaugh’s harangues, objected.

Nikki Fried, Florida’s agriculture commissioner and the only statewide Democratic officeholder, said Monday that she would not abide by DeSantis’ orders. Fried is considering a bid for governor.

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“Lowering to half-staff the flag of the United States of America is a sacred honor that pays respect to fallen heroes and patriots,” she said in a statement. She said she would notify all state officers under her oversight to disregard the DeSantis’ 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 U.S. and Florida.

How does a country react to the death of a man who spent much of his life leveraging and exacerbating political, social and cultural divisions? Right along party lines.

“My concern is that the governor is bending over backwards to honor a radio host who has consistently made racist, polarizing and conspiracy comments,” Fried said in an interview with the Associated Press on Monday afternoon. “It is really inappropriate, and the governor is playing politics with this American treasure, which is our flag.”

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A year ago, President Trump awarded Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, during his final State of the Union address. The day before, Limbaugh had announced that he was battling advanced lung cancer.

Fried was not the only elected official to bemoan DeSantis’ order.

“Not lowering flags for Rush,” the mayor of St. Petersburg, Rick Kriseman, tweeted Monday. “In St. Pete we don’t honor hatred, racism, bigotry, homophobia, or anything else he has spewed over the years. We are, however, honoring the life of Deputy Michael Magli of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.”

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Earlier in the day, DeSantis had ordered flags to fly at half-staff to pay tribute to Magli, who died last week after being struck by a vehicle while on duty in Pinellas County, home to St. Petersburg, in the state’s Tampa Bay region.

The governor’s office declined to elaborate on the state’s protocols for lowering flags.

Flags are typically lowered to honor 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 said Limbaugh’s stature justified the honor.

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“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 news conference Friday 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 disregard her “strong guidance” and instead comply with the governor’s order.

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


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