The DeSantis direction: Stay upbeat, avoid land mines | Editorial
The governor pitches his plan to raise teacher salaries in his State of the State address, stays silent on gun control and climate change.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, center, addresses a joint session of the Florida Legislature, Tuesday, January 14, 2020 during his State of the State address in Tallahassee.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, center, addresses a joint session of the Florida Legislature, Tuesday, January 14, 2020 during his State of the State address in Tallahassee. [ SCOTT KEELER | TAMPA BAY TIMES ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Jan. 14, 2020

Gov. Ron DeSantis delivered a sunny State of the State address Tuesday that promoted Florida’s successes, avoided divisive issues and assured voters in an election year the future is bright with Republicans firmly in control. The light touch struck a stark contrast with the angry rhetoric and bitter partisanship in Washington, and it highlighted the governor’s ability to pursue a conservative agenda and support President Donald Trump while broadening his own political support. The continuing success of that approach may hinge on whether DeSantis succeeds in convincing legislators to embrace his effort to dramatically increase teacher salaries and avoids becoming embroiled in the ideological battles over abortion rights, gun control and other issues over the next two months.

It’s already clear the governor will have to remain firm but flexible on raising teacher salaries. He pitched his ambitious proposal to raise the minimum teacher salary by nearly $10,000, which would provide raises to more than 100,000 teachers. But as the legislative session opens, it appears likely his Republican colleagues in the Legislature may take a different approach. A Senate committee already has approved a bill that would create a separate state spending category for teacher salaries but leaves out any details. House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami, promises a "significant but equitable'' proposal, which suggests the focus could turn toward raising the average teacher salary rather than the minimum salary.

Either way, teachers need the help. Florida ranks 26th in average beginning teacher pay and 46th in overall average teacher pay. DeSantis has set a marker with a $900 million proposal for teacher pay and an unnecessary bonus program, and the Senate has started with the same total. The governor should set that as a minimum investment and remain engaged in negotiating the details.

DeSantis stuck with safe, familiar themes during his 33-minute address on the opening day of the legislative session. He highlighted last year’s significant legislation in areas such as health care deregulation and Everglades restoration. He touched the conservative bases of low taxes, government deregulation, judicial restraint and school choice. He mentioned the state’s still-secret rewrite of education standards and promised they would offer a renewed emphasis on civics and the U.S. Constitution.

More instructive was how DeSantis only mentioned Trump in passing as he touched on federal money for the Everglades and the president’s support for his push to import prescription drugs from Canada. The governor did not dwell on his proposal to require the widespread use of E-verify by private employers to check the immigration status of prospective employees, which is unlikely to pass the Legislature. He made one mention of the aggressive legislative effort to require minors to obtain parental consent for an abortion (which he supports), and he remained silent on a modest Senate proposal to start closing the so-called gun-show loophole on background checks (but sounded dismissive with reporters afterward). Affordable housing, climate change and access to affordable health insurance? Those words never left the governor’s lips.

DeSantis had a successful first year in office, and he set an upbeat tone Tuesday to position himself to avoid a sophomore slump. That doesn’t mean the governor and the Legislature will effectively tackle the state’s most pressing challenges. In an election year, they would rather avoid the heavy lifting, do just enough to declare victory and leave the big headlines for Washington and the presidential election.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Tim Nickens, and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news