A Republican Governor for Florida: Ron DeSantis wins

Ron DeSantis
Ron DeSantis. U.S. Congress photo

Update: The numbers of votes in this race continue to change as elections officials continue their tallies. Please look back at the main Florida Phoenix website for the latest stories – and vote totals – in this race. 

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis’s narrow victory over Democrat Andrew Gillum Tuesday night is a boon to supporters of President Donald Trump, whose right-wing rhetoric and policies are transforming America.

DeSantis rose above the crowded field of Republican governor hopefuls due to his frequent appearances on Fox News and enthusiastic public support by Trump. The president attacked DeSantis’s opponent, Democrat Andrew Gillum, who had hoped to be Florida’s first African-American governor. Trump appeared three times at Florida campaign events for DeSantis and called Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee, a “thief.” The Republicans attacked Gillum in a flood of negative TV ads.

“I’d like to thank our president for standing by me when it wasn’t necessarily the smart thing to do,” DeSantis said Tuesday night. “Mr. President, I think you’re going to get tired of me calling you asking for things for Florida. I think we’ll have a great partnership.”

DeSantis praised outgoing Florida Gov. Rick Scott for doing a “great job,” and vowed to work for all Floridians – even those who opposed him during the campaign.

“We need to build a Florida that’s cleaner, safer, and stronger,” DeSantis said.

Emeritus professor of government Darryl Paulson at the University of South Florida at St. Petersburg said during the run-up to Tuesday’s election that “Everything changed with the Trump endorsement of DeSantis, along with the backing of DeSantis by the conservative establishment.”

During the campaign, DeSantis made headlines for making comments about Gillum that were criticized as racially insensitive, and he was called out for speaking at events featuring white nationalists and for his membership in a racist Facebook group – which he later condemned.

An attorney from the Jacksonville area, he was elected to Congress in 2012, shortly after the Tea Party wave of libertarian, right-wing populists and conservative activists swept 63 House Republicans into Congress, heralding a far-right lurch for the GOP.

DeSantis attended Harvard and Yale and served a prosecutor, defense attorney, an international law attorney and a Judge Advocate General’s Corps Officer in the U.S. Navy. He wrote a book criticizing the policies of Barack Obama.

He is anti-abortion, pro gun-rights, and campaigned with a hard line towards immigration. On his campaign website he also promises to “defend First Amendment speech rights against those in academia, media and politics who seek to silence conservatives.” He also pledges to oppose tax increases.

In Congress he was adamantly opposed to the Affordable Care Act, and he agrees with outgoing Gov. Rick Scott that Florida should not expand Medicaid to provide health insurance to more needy Floridians. On his campaign website, however, he vows to “protect access to patients with pre-existing conditions” – a key (and popular) provision now in the Affordable Care Act.

When it comes to Florida schools, he says he’ll direct more money to classrooms and will emphasize career and technical education.

On environmental matters, he calls himself a “Teddy Roosevelt Republican,” and promises to protect Florida’s “water quality and quantity” and continue efforts to restore the Everglades – but he also says Florida should “be on the short list of every major new (manufacturing) plant being considered anywhere in this hemisphere.” He says environmental protection will be a “top priority.”

DeSantis picked Miami state Rep. Jeannette Nunez to serve as his lieutenant-governor, the first time in Florida history that a Cuban-American woman will hold that position. Born and raised in Miami, the 46-year-old Nunez has represented parts of Miami-Dade County in the Florida House since 2010.

On his website, DeSantis mentions one of his goals as Florida governor: “Appoint constitutional conservatives to the Florida Supreme Court.”

Because three state justices are retiring, DeSantis will be able to change the court’s makeup for decades to come. Outgoing Gov. Scott – who beat longtime Florida Democrat Bill Nelson Tuesday for the U.S. Senate Tuesday – has a list prepared already of 59 conservative applicants hoping to get appointed to the Florida Supreme Court.

Julie Hauserman
Julie Hauserman has been writing about Florida for more than 30 years. She is a former Capitol bureau reporter for the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times, and reported for The Stuart News and the Tallahassee Democrat. She was a national commentator for National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday and The Splendid Table . She has won many awards, including two nominations for the Pulitzer Prize. Her work is featured in several Florida anthologies, including The Wild Heart of Florida , The Book of the Everglades , and Between Two Rivers . Her new book is Drawn to The Deep, a University Press of Florida biography of Florida cave diver and National Geographic explorer Wes Skiles.

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