The last time most Americans heard of Ron DeSantis, the former GOP congressman had edged past Mayor Andrew Gillum (D., Tallahassee) in their rough-and-tumble wrestling match for Florida’s governorship. After contested recounts in Broward and Palm Beach Counties, DeSantis, 40, prevailed over Gillum, 39, by a margin more svelte than Palm Beach — 49.6 percent to 49.2 percent. Among 8.1 million ballots cast, just 32,463 votes divided victor from vanquished.
Since his January 8 inauguration, DeSantis has done far more than rearrange the gubernatorial furniture. Indeed, he has led a burst of pro-market, limited-government reforms that are making Florida even greater.
• Most significantly, DeSantis replaced three Florida supreme court justices who were required to retire at age 75. His appointees — Barbara Lagoa, Robert J. Luck, and Carlos Muñiz — have shifted the court’s composition from four liberals and three conservatives to one liberal and six conservatives. This jump to the right should keep the Sunshine State’s top tribunal safe for constitutionalism.
• DeSantis pioneered Florida Deregathon — a one-day summit in which agency heads targeted red tape, especially in occupational licensing. While eye surgeons and airline pilots should certify their competence, why do nail polishers and boxing timekeepers need Tallahassee’s permission to work? Florida’s 1,200-hour training requirement for new barbers, for instance, stymies competition by boosting costs and headaches for new entrants.
DeSantis summoned the chiefs of 23 professional-licensing boards to Orlando to “discuss, debate, identify and recommend substantive regulations that can be targeted for immediate elimination,” as his letter told these officials. “I see this event as a first step toward creating a regulatory climate as welcoming as the Florida sunshine.”
• DeSantis signed an executive order instructing the commissioner of education to “eliminate Common Core (Florida Standards) and ensure we return to the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic” and “equip high school graduates with sufficient knowledge of America’s civics, particularly the principles reflected in the United States Constitution, so as to be capable of discharging the responsibilities associated with American citizenship.” DeSantis also supports legislation to expand school vouchers.
• DeSantis demands accountability. He accepted the resignation of Broward County elections director Brenda Snipes and Susan Bucher, her Palm Beach County counterpart, for their spectacular incompetence, if not corruption. DeSantis called Bucher’s operation “the Keystone Kops of election administration.”
He also sacked Broward County sheriff Scott Israel for totally bungling the deadly Parkland mass shooting in February 2018, then exacerbating that toxic failure with a deluge of finger-pointing and a drought of self-criticism.
• DeSantis replaced the entire South Florida Water Management District with appointees not beholden to the heavily subsidized sugar industry — a notorious polluter whose fertilizer, pesticides, and other agrochemicals befoul Florida’s waterways. DeSantis was one of only three members of Florida’s 27-member U.S. House delegation who voted last May to curb the disastrous sugar program. DeSantis’s appointees should make Big Sugar clean up its bitter harvest.
• DeSantis’s tax proposal is modest, but it steers levies the right way: down. His budget cuts taxes $335 million: $289.7 million in property-tax reductions; a three-day, $39.5 million back-to-school sales-tax holiday; and a one-week, $5.8 million disaster-preparedness sales-tax holiday before hurricane season.
• As the Panhandle recovers from last October’s Category Four Hurricane Michael, DeSantis asked President Donald J. Trump to give Florida’s cities and counties extra time to seek full federal reimbursement for debris removal and emergency relief. Trump extended that application period from five to 45 days.
“That’s real money that’s going to take the burden off these communities,” DeSantis said. “He heard. He listened, and you can’t ask for anything more from a president. I couldn’t be happier.”
While DeSantis’ pleas likely boosted federal outlays, they could be justified on the basis of subsidiarity, general welfare, and assistance for those unable to help themselves after the devastation of unforeseen emergencies.
• DeSantis posthumously pardoned the Groveland Four. These black men allegedly raped a 17-year-old white girl in 1949. They then endured mob violence, an unfair trial, cold-blooded police shootings, and what DeSantis called an overall “miscarriage of justice.” Democrats Reubin Askew, Bob Graham, and Lawton Chiles were among the Florida governors of both parties who could have pardoned the Groveland Four, but didn’t.
DeSantis’s achievements have impressed observers for their speed and content. State Senate President Bill Galvano (R., Bradenton) said in January that DeSantis “did more in the last week than I’ve seen some people do in a year.”
“Governor DeSantis is exactly who he said he would be: a principled leader who is prioritizing kids, jobs, the environment, and constitutional principles,” says Tarren Bragdon, CEO of the Naples-based Foundation for Government Accountability and a member of DeSantis’s Health and Welfare Transition Team. As Bragdon told me: “He’s popular and effective as a result of this bold leadership.”
The high-energy DeSantis has widened his 49.6 percent win into 64 percent job approval in a February 15–17 Public Opinion Research survey, Among 800 likely voters, just 24 percent disapprove of his performance. (Margin of error: +/− 3.5 percent.)
“DeSantis’ high marks, along with a net approval of 30 points, would place him among the most popular governors in America,” according to the study, sponsored by U.S. Term Limits. DeSantis earned thumbs up from 40 percent of blacks, 46 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of independents, 62 percent of Hispanics, 68 percent of whites, and 85 percent of Republicans.
“Governor DeSantis is off to a decisive start. And that decisiveness is around substantive issues that matter,” says Peter Schweizer, president of the private-sector Government Accountability Institute in Tallahassee. Schweizer told me: “He also is proving to be unpredictable, in the best sense of that word. It’s very early, but this lays the foundation for a presidential campaign in 2024.”
— Michael Malarkey furnished research for this opinion piece.