A Ron DeSantis win for Florida governor: How will he govern? And what’s in store for Floridians?

Ron DeSantis
Ron DeSantis and family; credit: DeSantis campaign

It may not be official yet, but it looks like Florida has a new governor, Republican Ron DeSantis, based on the most recent tallies that included machine recounts in Florida’s tumultuous general election.

As of the state’s 3 p.m. deadline today, Democratic challenger Andrew Gillum hadn’t garnered enough votes to move on to a manual recount, cementing DeSantis’s lead and claiming a victory for the Harvard-trained lawyer, Navy veteran and U.S. Congressman who would become Florida’s 46th governor.

What fans and detractors should know:

DeSantis’s far-to-the-right ideology will help reshape the Florida Supreme Court for decades to come, and his platform on the campaign trail likely will serve as a springboard for conservative legislation in a friendly Republican Legislature.

DeSantis, 40, is expected to come to the governing table with an anti-government bent and an independent streak – as a U.S. House member he favored term limits and tax cuts, opposed a Congressional pay raise, and turned down both his Congressional pension and his healthcare subsidy. He was a founding member of the “Freedom Caucus,” a right-leaning faction in a conservative Republican House caucus.

DeSantis has flashed a bit of a temper,  which showed up in a gubernatorial debate, when he angrily blurted out the phrase “How the hell…” before a televised audience. And he’s been criticized for racially-charged comments and drawn attention for his past speaking appearances at events featuring white nationalists.

Despite his Ivy League pedigree, DeSantis touts a middle-class background and, financially speaking, he lagged well behind the other millionaires—and one billionaire — in the governor’s race.

The federal tax returns he released showed adjusted gross income of about $237,000, which included his wife Casey’s income as a television host. The couple has two small children — a daughter and son — and it’s been at least 50 years or so since toddlers lived in the Florida Governor’s Mansion, in the heart of Tallahassee.

So how will DeSantis govern as the new governor?

In some cases, he’ll likely follow in the footsteps of conservative predecessor Rick Scott, as well as President Donald Trump, who was pivotal in helping DeSantis win the August primary and stumping for the Republican nominee during the general election.

Like Scott and Trump, DeSantis is a foe of the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, and favors tough immigration measures, such as banning so-called sanctuary cities that essentially shelter illegal immigrants. (Florida doesn’t appear to have such sanctuary cities, but candidates still debate about them.)

DeSantis can also rely on former state House lawmaker Jeanette Nunez, of South Florida, who will serve as Florida’s Lieutenant Governor. Her experience in state government for the past eight years can help DeSantis maneuver the halls of Tallahassee’s Capitol, rather than the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C.

DeSantis’s campaign agenda includes signing “pro-life legislation into law,” defending Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms and defending “First Amendment speech rights against those in academia, media and politics who seek to silence conservatives.”

His campaign promises to protect Florida’s environment and bolster a health care system that he says must “adapt and evolve” fell flat in some quarters, with advocates questioning what it all means and if Floridians will be helped or hurt by the proposals.

A massive push to expand Medicaid for needy families, for example, is not likely to happen given DeSantis’s views, but he has said he wants to make sure people with pre-existing conditions can get access to affordable health care.

And on public education, DeSantis is likely to battle teacher unions over expanding voucher programs that use public money for kids to go to private schools and support more public charter schools run by private groups, rather than focusing on traditional public schools.

In one education area, DeSantis and Gillum found common ground — expanding career and technical education programs that prepare kids for the workforce and may not require a traditional college degree. And while political party fights on public education in Congress and in state legislatures have been common, career and technical education has generally become a bipartisan goal, and lawmakers in Florida are likely to go along with DeSantis’s career-tech ideas.

Overall, DeSantis’s plans for Florida differed wildly from the progressive platform of Democratic challenger Gillum, and in the end, more Florida voters chose DeSantis.

He was already ahead by more than 50,000 votes on election night, which led Gillum to initially concede. But the race got closer as more votes were counted.  On Saturday, when the first set of unofficial results were due, Gillum still lagged behind by 33,684 votes, of about 8.2-million votes cast, and a machine recount ensued.

DeSantis hung on to the lead for several days amid a barrage of election lawsuits and a voting process in turmoil in some counties around the state. But following a machine recount, finished by 3 p.m. Thursday, very little changed.

DeSantis had 4,075,445 votes compared to Gillum’s 4,041,762 votes, a difference of 33,683. That margin was wide enough that a manual recount was unnecessary.

In a one-paragraph statement late Thursday afternoon, Gillum continued the push for Florida to count all votes.

“There are tens of thousands of votes that have yet to be counted. We plan to do all we can to ensure that every voice is heard in this process,” he said. “Voters need to know that their decision to participate in this election, and every election, matters. It is not over until every legally casted vote is counted.”

Overseas ballots must be received by Friday, and official returns from all counties, including votes from manual recounts, are due no later than noon on Sunday. The Elections Canvassing Commission is scheduled to certify the results at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Whether those timelines will stick is unclear as a litany of election lawsuits are playing out in both state and federal courts.

But DeSantis already has a transition team set up to move into the governor’s role. It includes a roster of Tallahassee insiders, including former state lawmakers and several people who hail from the administration of former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Among DeSantis’s  first and most critical priorities: Selecting people to replace three retiring justices for the Florida Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled last month  that Florida’s new governor – and not outgoing Governor Rick Scott – has the right to appoint replacements for justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince.

DeSantis’s appointments will change the tenor of the court dramatically, because all three retiring justices are long-serving and liberal leaning. DeSantis will no doubt choose conservative justices who would impact pivotal issues, including abortion rights.

DeSantis said on the campaign trail that he would appoint justices to “uphold the Constitution and follow the law as it is written.”

That has been a theme for DeSantis.

In 2011, he published a little-noticed book that was a sort of conservative call to arms in the heyday of the Republican Tea Party movement. DeSantis called his book Dreams From Our Founding Fathers: First Principles in the age of Obama. 

In his campaign platform, DeSantis talked about what children need to know:

“To equip Florida students to be well-rounded citizens, Ron DeSantis will work with the Legislature to develop and pass policies that ensure a renewed emphasis on teaching America’s founding principles and ensure that the Constitution is put back into the classroom.”

 

 

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.
Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry has spent the past 18 years covering news and politics in the Sunshine State, most recently with FloridaPolitics.com. He worked for five years as the political editor of Creative Loafing in Tampa, and before that he was the assistant news director at WMNF radio, where he served as creator/anchor/producer of the hour-long WMNF Evening News. A San Francisco native, Mitch began his career at KPFA Radio in Berkeley in the 1990's.

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