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Ron DeSantis goes shock-and-awe in his first 10 days as Florida governor

In less than two weeks, he’s offered a clear view of how he intends to govern.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, speaks during a press conference Thursday with Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary, left, and John Morgan, center, about his plan to pressure state legislators and give them a mid March deadline to repeal a law that prohibits smokable forms of medical marijuana at Kraft Azalea Garden in Winter Park. (Photo by Willie J. Allen Jr.)
Published Jan. 19
Updated Jan. 19

Historically, newly elected politicians are given 100 days to settle into office and get to work before their actions and policies are pored over and dissected.

But it took Florida’s new governor less than two weeks to set his agenda and offer a clear view of how he intends to govern.

During his first 10 days in office, Ron DeSantis led a shock-and-awe campaign across the state. He appointed two conservative state Supreme Court justices, visited a hurricane disaster zone (twice) and unveiled a sweeping environmental agenda in his first 48 hours alone.

On Friday, one day after announcing plans to overhaul the state’s medical marijuana regulations, he ordered the removal of Palm Beach County Elections chief Susan Bucher — the third politician he’s suspended since being sworn into office Jan. 8. And then he explained a decision to rescind nearly four dozen of his predecessor’s nominations to state boards.

Though he’s barely had time to get settled, DeSantis is already carving out a reputation as a constitutionalist intent on fulfilling promises and crushing politicians who cross him. He has impressed even his critics and rallied the Republican party around him — all while departing notably from predecessor Rick Scott.

“If you look at the campaign promises that we made, the expectation from every Floridian, regardless of whether they voted for us or not, was we were going to lead and we were going to act,” Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, who’s so far played an unusually active role in what is traditionally a largely ceremonial post, said in an interview. “He’s serious about getting things done. It’s not just about campaign promises and rhetoric.”

Whether intentionally or not, much of DeSantis’ early agenda has focused on cleaning up issues that Scott left behind.

On Friday, he rescinded Scott’s Nov. 30 suspension of Broward County Elections Supervisor Brenda Snipes, who’d been removed from office despite her stated plans to resign following a controversial recall. DeSantis, who would otherwise have had to conduct a hearing on her removal, said he wanted to “move beyond this controversy.” Then, a few hours later, he rescinded 46 of Scott’s lame-duck appointments to state boards, although he’s indicated that he’ll renominate some of the same people.

Those moves came one day after DeSantis held a press conference in Winter Park to say he would drop the state’s legal challenges to the ability to smoke medical cannabis — all but ending a legal battle that Scott’s Department of Health had waged following the 2016 passage of a constitutional amendment approving the use of medical marijuana.

“We’ve got a lot of fish to fry in Florida,” said DeSantis, who also wants to loosen up marijuana business regulations. “The last thing I want to be doing is cleaning up for something that should have happened two years ago.”

DeSantis, who was praised widely by Democrats following the announcement, has also been generally lauded by the opposition for announcing on his third day in office that he’d push to secure an additional $1.5 billion for Everglades restoration and water resources during his four-year term. His environmental platform — which includes a new office to tackle the consequences of climate change — took on added importance after toxic algae blooms blossomed on Lake Okeechobee and red tide flourished under Scott’s watch.

DeSantis has also called for the resignations of the entire Scott-appointed board of the South Florida Water Management District.

Still, though Florida’s new governor has been rubbing away Scott’s imprint on the state as he places his own fingerprints on the government, DeSantis and Scott — now a U.S. senator — insist there’s no friction between the two men.

“While the press corps and some Tallahassee insiders seem intent on trying to create conflict between Senator Scott and Governor DeSantis, that’s not a game we’re interested in playing,” said Chris Hartline, Scott’s spokesman. “When he was governor, Senator Scott made the decisions he did based on the law and the information he had at the time.”

Feud or no, DeSantis has certainly shown a different style than Scott, who relied on talking points during press gaggles, routinely avoided answering reporters’ questions and relegated his top lieutenants to secondary roles.

Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, flanked by U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, left, and Gov. Ron DeSantis, right, during the press conference Thursday about DeSantis' plan to pressure state legislators and give them a mid March deadline to repeal a law that prohibits smokable forms of medical marijuana at Kraft Azalea Garden in Winter Park. (Photo by Willie J. Allen Jr.)

DeSantis has called regular press conferences and been willing to elaborate on his positions. Nuñez has accompanied him at all his “major” announcements. And he signaled that he meant what he said when he told lawmakers that he respected their role in the government when, instead of declaring changes to Florida’s marijuana policies, he gave the Legislature time to tackle the issue through legislation.

Florida’s new governor is also, in some ways, benefiting from the low-hanging fruit Scott left behind.

On his first Friday in office, DeSantis and the newly constructed Florida Cabinet pardoned the Groveland Four, a group of four men who were wrongly accused of rape in 1949 and then murdered, tortured or wrongly incarcerated. The Florida Legislature asked the Florida Cabinet to pardon the men in 2017.

Then, DeSantis flew to South Florida and suspended Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, whom House Republicans had asked Scott to suspend months ago over the problematic police response to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The decision was strongly supported by the families of more than a half-dozen shooting victims, including some who campaigned against DeSantis.

“Anyone who follows me knows I call things as I see them. It is also known I worked against @RonDeSantisFL,” tweeted Parkland father Fred Guttenberg. “That said, I must say that overall, he is having an impressive start as Governor.”

Guttenberg isn’t alone.

Carlos Guillermo Smith, among the state’s most liberal lawmakers and one of DeSantis’ most ardent critics last year, declared “progress!” after DeSantis announced his marijuana position. “Two weeks almost down. LONG way to go,” tweeted former Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Gwen Graham, “but, please, keep it up.”

DeSantis’ first two weeks — which included an announced trip to Israel and the appointment of Florida’s first Hispanic female Supreme Court justice — were also received well within his own party. DeSantis was present Jan. 12 when the Republican Party of Florida elected Sen. Joe Gruters as its new chairman.

DeSantis’ first days haven’t been perfectly smooth. He clashed with the press after his staff invited reporters to a hurricane disaster recovery meeting in the Panhandle only to close the doors. And his environmental roll-out was greeted with skepticism by Senate Democrats, who noted that for now his “bold” platform has been mostly words.

More clashes are certainly on the way.

Friday’s removal of Bucher may, in fact, signal DeSantis’ first clear battle with Florida Democrats. Terrie Rizzo, the chairwoman of the state party, called the act “a gross overreach and a politically motivated move to consolidate power and obstruct the will of the people.”

But for now, DeSantis’ honeymoon is in full swing. And Nuñez said the governor’s blistering pace may not necessarily slow down in week number three.

“There are certainly opportunities for a lot more action,” she said.

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