Gov. Ron DeSantis governed in his first term with the sureness of someone who had a clear mandate, even though he won in 2018 by less than half a percentage point. But now he has one, granted by a reelection margin 19 points wide.
Fresh off what he called a “win for the ages” Tuesday night, DeSantis in a second term is expected to continue to hammer the cultural issues that have made him a national brand — especially as he governs a state that has turned deep red. He’s signaled that he wants to crack down on “woke” banking practices, increase restrictions on abortion and loosen the unanimous jury requirement for people to be sentenced to death. Some observers expect DeSantis, who has said he believes in centralized executive authority, to keep expanding the powers of his office.
It’s unclear just how long he’ll run the Sunshine State, as speculation continues to mount that he’s eyeing the White House in 2024. He has declined to publicly commit to serving all four years.
Two days before the election, DeSantis promised a Hillsborough County rally crowd that he would continue to “fight the woke,” which he called a “mind virus” permeating all aspects of society.
“We will never, ever surrender to the woke mob in the state of Florida,” he said to hearty applause. “Our state is where woke goes to die.”
DeSantis’ campaign hinged on his handling of the pandemic and his persona as a conservative fighter. Supporters say his enormous victory should give him confidence that his state fully backs his approach.
“The results of the election are validating Gov. DeSantis’ efforts and his tone and his commitment to his principles, his ideology,” said Christian Ziegler, vice chairman of the Republican Party of Florida. “This election ... (shows) what he’s been doing, we want more of.”
The next cultural issues
DeSantis already has teed up the next cultural fight against what he says is an increasingly “woke” corporate America. In particular, he’s targeting banks and other financial services companies that he says are “discriminating” against users based on political or religious ideology. The upcoming proposals, he said at a summer news conference with incoming Florida House Speaker Paul Renner, also would prohibit the state from considering a company’s environment or social impact before investing Florida’s retirement funds.
DeSantis also has said he intends “to expand pro-life protections” in the state, though he was mum on details throughout the campaign. Republicans also are awaiting the Florida Supreme Court, four of whose seven justices have been appointed by DeSantis, to overturn its own precedent and open the door for further abortion restrictions.
Several top anti-abortion activists predict that DeSantis will pursue a six-week ban, also sometimes called a “heartbeat bill.” DeSantis has long said he’d sign such a measure.
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During his debate with Crist, DeSantis said that he would ask the Legislature to change the state law requiring that a jury be unanimous to sentence someone to death. The convicted killer in the Parkland shooting massacre was spared the death penalty because not the entire jury supported it.
In addition to emphasizing social issues, DeSantis is expected to work with the Legislature on one of the state’s biggest unaddressed crises: affordable housing. The governor’s staff has met with incoming Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, to write proposals that she said will address an issue that has festered for decades.
“He and I have talked a lot about affordable housing issues ... and his staff and my staff have been working on a really robust bill we’re going to roll out in early session,” Passidomo said in an interview. The next regular legislative session begins in March.
She said one aspect of the bill could encourage local governments to allow the development of apartments in commercial areas, such as dormant strip malls.
State Rep. Fentrice Driskell of Tampa, the incoming House Democratic leader, said she’ll be skeptical of any Republican attempts to alter affordable housing policy. Last year, the Legislature made a deal to stop “sweeping” 100% of the state’s affordable housing trust fund money toward other projects, in exchange for permanently diverting two-thirds of the money to other purposes.
“What we can expect from Gov. DeSantis is for him to continue to be consistent. ... His ambition and running for president in 2024 are the guiding principles of how he governs,” Driskell said. “It’s about what can create headlines, stoke fear, create division and consolidate his base.”
Despite a few hints he’s given, it’s not typically obvious which hot-button issue DeSantis will seize on next. He keeps a famously tight circle of advisers and has, on more than one occasion, surprised his own agency officials or fellow Republican leaders with announcements.
That has left some of his critics, particularly those who have been singled out by his rhetoric, anxious for what he could do in his second term.
“An emboldened DeSantis, with his eyes locked on a 2024 presidential bid, would be disastrous for the LGBTQ community,” Brandon Wolf, spokesperson for Equality Florida, said in a statement. “We could expect rapid escalation of his attacks and the continued bending of the entire state government against the community.”
DeSantis has worked to consolidate the power of his office, and may continue to do so in a second term.
He rejected redistricting maps drawn by leaders of his own party in favor of versions by his office that more aggressively favored the GOP. He’s pushed the Legislature for increased authority over agency appointments. He’s intervened in races for school board and the Florida Senate by recommending his own slate of candidates. And he’s broadened the use of executive suspensions by ousting the Hillsborough state attorney, who had signed pledges that would not prosecute cases of women seeking abortion or transgender people seeking gender-affirming healthcare.
Darryl Paulson, a former political science professor at the University of South Florida and a lifelong Republican who left the party in 2017, said he expects DeSantis’ political influence to grow.
“He has done something many governors have been unlikely to do, and that’s go out there and grab power — and it’s significant power,” he said. In large part because of the new congressional maps DeSantis drew, Republicans picked up four more of the state’s total 28 seats, giving the GOP a 12-seat edge in Florida and a major boost in efforts to flip the U.S. House.
Paulson said that move will have ripple effects in building DeSantis’ future political capital.
“What political obligations do those individuals have to the governor, when without his intervention, they would not have won their seats that they will hold past Tuesday?”
Several draft pieces of legislation worked on by DeSantis’ staff and obtained by news outlets revealed plans the governor left on the cutting room floor in past sessions. While it’s unclear whether his administration will pursue these ideas, they provide insight into his approach. Several shift the balance of power toward the governor.
As reported earlier by journalist Jason Garcia in his Seeking Rents newsletter, one piece of draft legislation would have broadly given DeSantis more control over state universities. One piece of the sweeping bill, for example, would have taken the authority to hire faculty from university presidents and rested it instead with the boards of trustees. Many of those members are appointed by DeSantis. The rest are appointed by a Board of Governors, largely put in place by the governor.
However, the state university landscape has shifted dramatically since that bill was drafted. Republican U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse is going to lead the state’s flagship university, the University of Florida, adding a high-profile figure to the world of Florida higher education who will likely be part of the calculus of future policy changes.
Other draft bills published by Garcia would have broadened DeSantis’ authority to suspend school board members, school district superintendents and state attorneys.
Passidomo said she does not anticipate upcoming legislation to expand the authority of the governor’s office. Some insiders suggest that DeSantis had undermined the new Senate leader after he endorsed at least one candidate for state Senate who was running against the person she had backed.
“I feel very strongly that we will have a partnership,” Passidomo said. “I’m a very strong person — I have no problem expressing my opinion to the governor, and he actually listens.”
In his second term, DeSantis will preside over the reddest version of Florida in recent memory. After the 2022 election, not a single Florida Democrat will hold statewide elected office for the first time since at least the start of the 20th century. The state will send more Republican members to Congress, and Tuesday night the GOP clinched supermajorities in the the state Legislature. There are about 300,000 more registered Republican voters in the state, which is a first after years of Democrats boasting larger numbers.
First Lady Casey DeSantis, the governor’s top adviser on both politics and policy, is expected to continue taking an extremely public role now that she is cancer-free — adding one more key person to his arsenal of backers and political surrogates.
“You’re going to have a state Legislature that is going to be jam-packed with people that just watched” DeSantis get reelected by a large margin, said Zeigler, of the Republican Party of Florida. “They will dissect what he pursued — his style, the way he messaged and fought — and I think it’s going to empower them and officials at the local level ... to lead in the same style as the governor. And that is going to be transformational.”
If DeSantis does challenge Trump for a 2024 presidential bid, it will test Republicans’ loyalties. But multiple surveys of Florida Republican voters have found that in both men’s home state, DeSantis holds a lead over Trump as the preferred candidate.
“You may not have another shot at the big prize ... so you’ve got to take your opportunity while it’s there,” said Paulson, the political scientist. “That’s the big question to me: Is he going to do what nobody has done so far? Is he going to challenge the king?”
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