Palm Beach County defies DeSantis, refuses to lower flags to honor Rush Limbaugh

Move comes amid backlash from Democrats opposed to directive
Flags outside the Palm Beach County Courthouse in downtown West Palm Beach on Feb. 24, 2021.jpg
Posted at 3:53 PM, Feb 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-24 22:59:03-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Palm Beach County defied Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday, refusing to lower its courthouse flags to half-staff in honor of the late conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.

The county's courthouse flags remained at full staff, ignoring DeSantis' Tuesday order directing its U.S. and Florida flags to be flown at half-staff.

DeSantis also ordered the town of Palm Beach and the state Capitol in Tallahassee to fly their flags at half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Wednesday. Those flags were lowered.

The governor shared a picture on Twitter showing the flags flying at half-staff above the Capitol, along with the words, "Rush. R.I.P."

Palm Beach County would only say it followed "normal protocols" on Wednesday, but Commissioner Melissa McKinlay posted a statement on Twitter saying that the lowering of flags "should be a unifying gesture during solemn occasions, such as in remembrance of the young lives lost during the Parkland High School massacre or first responder line of duty deaths."

She was referring to the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in nearby Parkland that left 17 dead.

"Although Rush Limbaugh was a significant public figure, he was also an incredibly divisive one who hurt many people with his words and actions," she continued.

McKinlay later spoke to WPTV's Matt Sczesny about the decision to keep the flags raised.

"The American flag shouldn't be used for purposes like this," she explained.

Officials in Palm Beach, the wealthy island enclave where Limbaugh lived for two decades, issued a statement saying its policy is to comply with governor's orders to lower the flags.

Flags at West Palm Beach's City Hall, which was not included in the governor's order, were at half-staff, but the mayor said that was under the direction of President Joe Biden in remembrance of the 500,000 victims of COVID-19 and not because of Limbaugh.

"I can't say whether he is racist, homophobic or misogynist, but he certainly sounded like one on the radio," Mayor Keith James said.

The governor's press office released this statement regarding Palm Beach County's decision:

"It is unfortunate that Palm Beach County would rather engage in petty politics than honor the death of one of their county's and state's most prominent residents and a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient."

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. DeSantis has said Limbaugh’s stature justified the honor.

Limbaugh, 70, died of lung cancer on Feb. 17. DeSantis called Limbaugh a legend during a news conference two days later and indicated he would direct flags to be flown at half-staff to honor him.

Rush Limbaugh, behind Palm Beach home backdrop on day of his death, Feb. 17, 2021
Palm Beach resident and conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh has died at the age of 70.

But many Democrats objected. Nikki Fried, Florida's agriculture commissioner and the only statewide Democratic officeholder, said Monday that she would not abide by the Republican governor's orders. She said she would notify all state officers she oversees to disregard the governor's order.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman posted on Twitter that his city would not honor hatred, racism, bigotry, homophobia or anything else Limbaugh has spewed over the years.

The governor's order does not apply to any of the offices controlled by Fried or the city of St. Petersburg.

A year ago, President Donald 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.

Limbaugh had for decades championed conservatism -- often stridently at the expense of liberals and Democrats.

"It wouldn't make a difference to me if Rush Limbaugh was a Republican or a Democrat," McKinlay said. "This isn't a political issue in my mind. This is whether his services and his contribution to our country is worthy of lowering a flag, and I don't deem it worthy."

Boynton Beach attorney Peter Feaman, who is the national committeeman for the Republican Party of Florida, said the governor's order should not just be ignored.

"It's a lawful order given by the governor of the state of Florida, and you want to talk about setting a bad precedent, that would set a bad precedent," he said.