Goodman: DeSantis and other governors are the real leaders

While Washington is partially shut down and gridlocked, governors in Florida and other states are optimistic and taking action
As Washington shut down, Florida’s new governor, Ron DeSantis, opened up with more action, less talk; more doing, less posturing; more as a Floridian, less as a partisan. [Photo by Al Diaz, Miami Herald/TNS]
As Washington shut down, Florida’s new governor, Ron DeSantis, opened up with more action, less talk; more doing, less posturing; more as a Floridian, less as a partisan. [Photo by Al Diaz, Miami Herald/TNS]
Published January 18

The escalating drumbeat of negativity is deafening.

The president and Congress are in a showdown over a shutdown. The specter of a wall now divides us from us more than us from them.

The Mueller team, Democrats in Congress and Michael (”The Fixer”) Cohen threaten to transform Russian collusion into displays of hollow politics and 2020 election auditions.

And for all the climate deniers out there, know that the ocean is warming, ice caps are melting, the seas are rising and once-in-a-century storms are now standard fare on the Weather Channel.

No wonder America’s mood has turned frenetic and fearful, despite a robust economy across the land and the joys of Netflix at home.

Yet the band of badness plays on, as pattering poobahs of punditry replay – over and over again — how the current political climate, our political leaders, and, (by extension) all of us are horrible.

While they seek to break America’s confidence, optimism is breaking out on America’s southern flank sparked by a leader taking action.

As Washington shut down, Florida’s new governor, Ron DeSantis, opened up with more action, less talk; more doing, less posturing; more as a Floridian, less as a partisan.

Moving quickly past a bare-knuckled election campaign waged between the right and left, DeSantis is barreling down the center with accolades from Democrats and Republicans alike.

First, he announced a historic commitment to fund Everglades restoration, backed by a new office devoted to protecting the environment, while demanding the resignations of those whose actions at the South Florida Water Management District threatened both.

DeSantis was just warming up.

He pardoned the Groveland Four, four black men falsely accused of sexually assaulting a white teenager in 1949. Looking to the future, the governor addressed a moral stain on the state.

Next, DeSantis put Airbnb on notice. If you boycott business in Israel’s West Bank, we’ll boycott you. Score one for fighting intolerance.

And, while appointing two highly regarded-by-all jurists to vacancies on Florida’s Supreme Court, the governor delivered a message to the sheriff responsible for the horrid response to the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland: You’re fired.

Together, these acts will move DeSantis’ poll numbers skyward. Yet given the fickleness of popularity, will they be enough to sustain him in the months ahead, through good times and bad, through Florida’s heat and the president’s tweets?

Among the top 10 most popular governors in America, three stand out, not just for what they do but also for what they don’t, for seeking common ground over combustions of controversy.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a leader from the right in a state that leans left, governs down the middle as an action-driven problem solver who elevates ideas over ideology and heart over heartlessness.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is a pragmatic, personable Republican who governs like a working class independent in a heavily Democratic state. He makes no apologies for his conservative principles, while welcoming those who don’t, giving him space to thrive in a blue state despite a president who often leaves him blue in the face.

In Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott wields willpower from a wheelchair, inspiring citizens with stories about the state’s economic “miracle” while minimizing mention of his own.

But will it last, can it last, for governors like DeSantis at a time when politics is disparaged and politicians are scorned? That remains to be seen.

According to University of North Carolina psychology professor Mitch Prinstein, there are two kinds of popularity.

One is based on status – who you know, and who knows you – that breeds problems downstream when one’s ego runs confronts the reality that they may no longer be as hip or relevant as they once were.

The other is grounded in like-ability, based in others trusting in you, wanting to be with you, wanting to be like you.

The first is fleeting, the latter is not, and both have everything to do with leaders and leadership today.

Granted, Florida’s new governor is in the “honeymoon period” where new leaders are given a shot to show what they can do. Soon enough, challenges known and unknown will test the young governor’s mettle, wisdom and humanity.

So far, DeSantis is showing he’s up for it, all of it, without the crutch of a commander-in-chief who helped propel him there.

Leadership in Washington may be missing in action, but in Florida today it’s “all present and accounted for…”.

Adam Goodman is a national Republican media consultant based in St. Petersburg and the first Edward R. Murrow Fellow at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

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