Gov. Ron DeSantis takes the reins

Photo by Mitch Perry

Gov. Ron DeSantis distinguished himself from his predecessor Rick Scott by emphasizing a clean environment in his Tuesday inaugural speech, but the two biggest audience cheers he earned were about traditional conservative hot button issues – immigration and so-called “activist judges.”

“We won’t allow sanctuary cities,” he declared, returning to a favorite theme that he utilized against both Adam Putnam in the Republican primary and Democrat Andrew Gillum in the general election.

There currently are not any local governments in Florida that fit the “sanctuary city” definition – which means they pledge not to cooperate with federal authorities when it comes to removing undocumented immigrants.

DeSantis also declared that “we will stop incentivizing illegal immigration, which is unfair to our legal immigrants, promotes lawlessness and and reduces wages to our blue-collar workers.”

He did not say who or what he believes is providing incentives for illegal behavior.

On the eve of his first planned appointment to the Florida Supreme Court, DeSantis again bashed previous decisions by the high court that have angered Republicans for decades.

“For far too long, Florida has seen judges expand their power beyond proper constitutional bounds and substitute legislative will for dispassionate legal judgement, damaging the constitutional separation of powers, reducing the power of the people and eroding individual liberty,” he said.

However, just last week, the Florida Supreme Court ended a nearly 10-year education lawsuit in large part because it did not want to usurp the powers of the Legislature to set policy and provide funding for public schools.

So DeSantis’s remarks seem at odds with what’s going on in Florida right now, at least with the Florida Supreme Court.

The high court’s ruling on Friday related to whether schoolchildren are receiving a high-quality education. The court essentially threw out the case, out of concerns about “judicial intrusion,” meaning which branches of government should be overseeing pubic schools.

The ruling made clear that the court would be opposed to intruding into the Legislature’s appropriations power and injecting itself into matters of education policy-making and oversight.

“We decline the invitation for the courts to overstep their bounds,” the ruling stated.

DeSantis, who was part of an incredibly close election and recount,  also spoke on the issue of electoral reform that Democrats say is needed following problems during the three statewide recounts in the last election. DeSantis said that real blame lies with the Democratic Supervisors of Election in Palm Beach and Broward counties (Rick Scott suspended Broward County SOE Brenda Snipes last month. She is now challenging that decision in court).

“We also cannot allow Florida’s reputation to be further tarnished by the repeated failure of a small number of counties to conduct elections in a transparent, lawful manner,” he said. “A generation of botched elections is enough.”

The crowd roared.

Like his wife first lady Casey DeSantis mentioned this week, DeSantis made a promise to work on Florida’s water pollution problems.

“For Florida, the quality of our water and environmental surroundings are foundational to our prosperity as a state – it doesn’t just drive tourism; it affects property values, anchors many local economies and is central to our quality of life,” the new governor said.

“We will fight discharges from Lake Okeechobee, we will fight red tide, we will fight for our fishermen, will we fight for our beaches, we will fight to restore our Everglades and we will never quit, we won’t be cowed and we won’t let the foot-draggers stand in our way.”

Former University of South Florida political science professor Susan McManus said that segment of the speech was the most significant.

“His statement about no foot dragging on the environment was one of the strongest and may be a key to his legacy if he can do what he says he will do by the end of his term,” she said.

DeSantis also campaigned on supporting a ban on fracking if elected. Environmentalists said Tuesday they like what they have heard so far – but add they will hold him to his word.

“Governor DeSantis deftly made the environment a cornerstone of his campaign. Now it’s up to all citizens to keep a close watch to make sure he fulfills his promises like banning fracking and cleaning up our waterways,” said Aliki Moncrief, the executive director of Florida Conservation Voters.

Members of the group Food & Water Watch came to the event with a sign that listed the governor’s “to-do list” on his first day in office. That included being sworn in, giving a speech and “ENSURE THAT FRACKING IS BANNED.”

DeSantis is an enthusiastic supporter of charter schools which was evident in his  recommendation that  former House Speaker Richard Corcoran head the state’s Department of Education.

“Our education system needs to empower parents to choose the best possible school for their children,” DeSantis declared. “One size does not fit all.”

Florida Education Association president Fedrick Ingram responded in a statement, saying that the word “choice” is a “code word for draining tax dollars from our neighborhood public schools to fund charter and voucher programs that serve only a small percentage of children.”

About a half-hour before the program began, approximately 120 protestors from the group Dream Defenders marched across the street from the event on Monroe Street and Apalachee Parkway, many holding balloons resembling large human eyes, with the message being – “We’re watching you.”

Several former top elected state officials were in attendance, including former governors Bob Graham, Jeb Bush, Bob Martinez and Rick Scott. Scott left early to fly to Washington and be sworn in as the state’s next U.S. Senator.

The sky was picture perfect blue. The 13th Army Band played a medley of military and patriotic songs. And jets flew overhead.  A blue banner draped the Old Capitol with the inaugural theme in gold letters, “Bold Vision Bright Future.”

Among the several thousand citizens  gathered there was Ilene Safron-Whitesman of Fort Myers, who had never been to a gubernatorial inauguration in Florida, but decided to visit her daughter at Florida State University and wanted to make time for the inaugural event. She did attend a presidential inauguration for Jimmy Carter, but Florida’s event was the first for her.

Meanwhile, John Clark of Tallahassee, said he marched in his then-high school marching band in Gadsden County for the inaugural parade for Claude Kirk in 1967.

Clark said he hasn’t missed a gubernatorial inauguration since then.

Likewise, Terry Mahoney, from Quincy, is a history buff and began attending Florida inaugurations since Lawton Chiles’ swearing in and has continued to come back for the events. He didn’t want to listen in a radio or watch the televised event.

“To be there is the way to go,” Mahoney said.

After the inauguration ended, the governor, Cabinet, and the entire Legislature met on the 4th floor of the Capitol building for a luncheon. The inauguration festivities will conclude Tuesday night with the Inaugural Ball at the Donald Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee.

 

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.
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.

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