Gov. DeSantis hails his first-year accomplishments, but your view may vary

Gov. Ron DeSantis traveled to Miami shortly after taking office in January 2019. Aides have released a lengthy list of his accomplishments since then. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Things went swimmingly for Florida during 2019 – at least, judging by year-end summaries issued by the governor’s office and state agencies.

Aides to Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a long list of accomplishments for his first year in office in areas including education, economic development, health care, hurricane response and recovery, and public safety. He also bragged on his appointments of conservatives to courts including the Florida Supreme Court.

It was “an incredible year for Florida. We have achieved historic accomplishments that are of the utmost importance to Floridians and will bring our state to the next level,” DeSantis said in a news release.

Similar missives came from the departments of Children and Families, Economic Opportunity, Environmental Protection, and Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. That last agency noted that the Florida Highway Patrol had issued more than 900 stops for texting while driving, plus nearly 800 warnings nearly 50 citations.

Of course, many of the governor’s accomplishments reflect policy goals that not all Floridians share – notwithstanding his popularity in opinion polls like this one.

For example, DeSantis cites an “historic expansion in school choice options for Florida families,” including creation of the Family Empowerment Scholarship program. That means school vouchers, or $140-million in state financing enabling low- and middle-class families to attend private and religious schools.

Conservative activists love it, but organizations including the Florida Education Association, the League of Women Voters, and the ACLU view state financing for religious schools as anathema.

DeSantis also lauded plans to allow state agencies and perhaps private citizens to import cheaper prescription drugs from Canada – although the feds have undertaken formal rulemaking for the program only recently, and it’s not at all clear the program will prove practical or that Canada or drugmakers will allow it.

Meanwhile, Florida still hasn’t expanded Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, sometimes called Obamacare, which research suggests might have saved thousands of lives. DeSantis opposes expansion.

Regarding hurricane recovery, DeSantis’ Division of Emergency Management took unprecedented steps to speed delivery of aid dollars after Michael hit in October 2018, and persuaded political patron Donald Trump to dig a little deeper in terms of the federal share of recovery money. Still, local officials have complained that the response remained frustratingly slow.

“Ron DeSantis would like to be seen as a moderate and an environmentalist, but there is nothing moderate about his first year in office,” Juan Peñalosa, executive director of Florida Democratic Party, said via email when asked for comment.

“In addition to reversing environmental protections, Gov. DeSantis has allowed oil exploration in the Everglades to move forward. And the governor has been lockstep in pushing Trump’s hard right agenda, including efforts to overturn Amendment 4 and signing a Jim Crow style voter suppression law. And if that weren’t enough, DeSantis has stacked the courts with conservative judges, opposes raising the minimum wage, and funded his campaign with donations from Ukrainian criminals,” he said.

(That’s an apparent reference to Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, associates of Trump’s private attorney Rudy Giuliani, who face charges but haven’t been convicted of injecting overseas money into U.S. elections, including $50,000 to DeSantis. The governor has since distanced himself from the pair and turned over the money to the U.S. Treasury.)

You can read the full list of the administration’s accomplishments here. Please feel free to chime in via comments with praise or criticism for the governor’s accomplishments.