1 of 8 | Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo
Feb. 24 (UPI) -- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis praised his state as a place of "freedom" in a speech Thursday for the Conservative Political Action Conference, which runs through Sunday, and will feature former President Donald Trump on Saturday.
The conference is taking place in Orlando, Fla., for the second straight year.
DeSantis began his speech on Day 1 of the conference by saying that lots of people criticize Florida for its anti-lockdown stance amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but people like to visit for the "freedom," WESH 2 reported.
He added that he set an "all-time record" in 2021 for domestic tourism.
"We refused to let this state descend into some type of Faucian dystopia where people's freedoms are curtailed and their livelihoods are destroyed," DeSantis said. "We protected people's rights, we protected people's jobs, and made sure every kid in the state of Florida had an opportunity to go to school in person. ... Freedom has prevailed in the Sunshine State."
"Had Florida had not led the way, this country could look like Canada or Australia," he added.
Since the pandemic began, Florida has had over 5.7 million COVID-19 cases and 68,955 deaths, according to The New York Times. Nationwide, the state has the 11th highest number of cases per 100,000, and the 18th highest number of deaths per 100,000.
DeSantis also criticized critical race theory during his speech.
"We are not going to teach our children to hate themselves and hate each other," the governor said, as the crowd applauded.
Critical race theory was developed by legal scholars to address systemic racism and the law and was taught in law schools. It was banned in public school classrooms last summer, but all Central Florida school districts told WESH 2 News they didn't teach it anyway.
Other speakers slated for Thursday include North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson; Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.; Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas; and Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo.
On Friday, speakers include Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla.; and former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Trump is slated to speak at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, is scheduled to address the event's Ronald Reagan dinner on Saturday. Gabbard ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020.
Former Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., who formally resigned Congress last month to head Trump's new media company, is also on the schedule for Saturday.
Along with speeches, the event will include several panel discussions.
Among the panels is one by American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp, titled, "Awake not Woke," another including Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, R-Ga., "They Can't Shut Us Up!," and "The Truth about January 6th: A conversation with Julie Kelly."
On Sunday, results of a straw poll for president in 2024 will be announced.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla. on Saturday. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo