The Florida governor's first term was characterized by attacks on LGBTQ rights, support from extremists, and partisan redistricting.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis won reelection on Tuesday over his Democratic challenger, Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist, by a nearly 20-point margin. In his victory speech, DeSantis highlighted his accomplishments while bashing the “radical left” and President Joe Biden.
“We reject woke ideology. We fight the woke in the Legislature, we fight the woke in the schools, we fight the woke in the corporations. We will never, ever surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die,” he said in the speech.
Asked what DeSantis' reelection would mean for Florida, Christian Ziegler, vice chairman of the state GOP, told the American Independent Foundation, “A big win means a big mandate, and I would expect to see a very conservative agenda pushed here in the State of Florida, which is no different than what he has been doing over the last four years.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, DeSantis declined to issue stay-at-home orders and encouraged businesses and schools to stay open. “We are not in Florida going to allow any media-driven hysteria to do anything to infringe people's individual freedoms when it comes to any type of COVID variants,” he declared in November 2021, according to NPR.
Like many Republican governors and politicians during the pandemic, DeSantis used public health to push his agenda and profile. He didn’t stop there, and eventually pushed policies focused on restricting civil rights. During his first term, the Florida Department of Education banned several books in public schools, including math textbooks that DeSantis claimed contained elements of “critical race theory,” an academic approach to the study of race that Republicans regularly ascribe to any teaching of America's racial history and diversity.
In the spring of 2022, DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education bill, otherwise known as “Don’t Say Gay,” into law. It prohibits educational instruction related to sexual orientation or gender identity in schools for children from kindergarten through the third grade. The legislation received criticism from the Walt Disney Co., leading the governor and state Republicans to pass a law revoking the company’s special tax status in Florida.
At the same time, DeSantis interjected in Florida’s redistricting. He rejected maps drawn up by the Republican legislature and replaced them with alternatives created by his own office. The maps eliminated two majority-Black congressional districts, which gave Republicans an advantage in midterms.
DeSantis signed a ban on abortion 15 weeks after conception, without exceptions for victims of rape, incest or human trafficking. He vetoed a bill that included gun safety measures, even following the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 18 people dead. He has refused to enact substantial climate change policy — in one of the states most affected by it — although he has expressed support for “mitigation” of the results of climate change; he voiced opposition to federal spending spending on pandemic recovery and natural disasters while taking credit for funds used by the state for these purposes.
In September, DeSantis helped transport dozens of asylum-seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, as a political statement on the Biden administration's immigration policies.
DeSantis’ actions in office have encouraged neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists. Neo-Nazi groups marched outside of a Turning Point conference held in Tampa earlier this year, waving banners with swastikas on them and flags emblazoned with the words “DeSantis Country.” Hate groups such as the Proud Boys have shown up outside school board meetings in Florida to intimidate people supporting LGBTQ students and teachers.
One political scientist employed at Florida State University declined to comment about DeSantis to the American Independent Foundation, “I would not feel comfortable commenting on the political process given the politicization of universities in Florida.”
Some political observers believe DeSantis’ reelection is just a stepping stone to a run for president. During the runup to the midterms, DeSantis traveled across the country to campaign for GOP candidates that included Lee Zeldin, who ran unsuccessfully for governor of New York against Democratic incumbent Kathy Hochul), and Doug Mastriano, who lost the gubernatorial election in Pennsylvania to Democrat Josh Shapiro.
Following his gubernatorial campaign, DeSantis still has $90 million in campaign funds on hand. At least one Republican megadonor, billionaire Ken Griffin, has said he is ready to back him financially in a presidential run. DeSantis has not yet announced any presidential bid, although he did not rule it out when asked about it during a gubernatorial debate with Crist. DeSantis stayed mute after Crist asked him whether he would serve a full term if reelected. Finally he said, “The only worn-out old donkey I’m looking to put out to pasture is Charlie Crist.”
One large obstacle to the nation’s highest office will be former President Donald Trump, who has taken credit for the rise of DeSantis through his endorsement for his first gubernatorial term. Trump has recently soured on the governor, calling him "Ron DeSanctimonious," and this week the Daily Beast reported that a Trump lawyer said: "DeSantis is DeSantis because of Trump. He needs to stay in Florida."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.