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  1. Opinion

Where in the world is Gov. Ron DeSantis? | Paula Dockery

The governor has not been showing up to some events, and he’s avoiding reporters’ questions.
Paula Dockery of Lakeland served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years. [Paula Dockery]

Is Gov. Ron DeSantis unusually elusive, or is it just my imagination? We are smack dab in the middle of the 60-day legislative session, and we don’t see or hear much from him.

The governor’s reaching a crucial point in the process to be getting his priorities in order. Why isn’t he visibly working on the issues he says he cares about — teacher pay raises, the use of E-Verify by employers to identify immigration status, cleaning up our decaying prisons? Maybe he’s working behind the scenes instead of letting Floridians see what’s going on.

It could be he just seems elusive because his predecessor — Rick Scott — was constantly seeking the spotlight. By comparison, DeSantis appears missing in action.

He broke tradition by not appearing at the Governor’s Luncheon at the Florida State Fair. Seems odd to miss that. He was also absent from the annual Capital Press Corp skits in Tallahassee — a fun event during legislative session that brings out many senators, representatives and on many occasions the governor.

Perhaps I’m not imagining it and he is hiding from the press.

In Politico’s Florida Playbook, two excellent reporters — Gary Fineout and Matt Dixon — opine that DeSantis’ press strategy of late is avoidance. They provided a few examples.

DeSantis took no questions during an emergency management press conference after a story broke about the state sitting on $900 million in hurricane aid. A handful of reporters chased after him, to no avail.

The governor also didn’t take questions after the last Cabinet meeting. Why would he do that? Doesn’t every governor owe it to constituents to answer questions and let the public know what’s happening and why?

The reporters point out that “DeSantis has not taken any questions from the Tallahassee media in nearly three weeks”.

Ben Wilcox of Integrity Florida — a government ethics watchdog group — questions why DeSantis has failed to act on a backlog of ethics cases imposing penalties on public officials — some going back 18 months.

DeSantis does not seem interested in answering questions submitted to his office on why he has ignored these 30 cases.

I’d like to know why he isn’t taking ethics violations seriously, particularly when it comes to cases involving not submitting financial disclosure forms that might show conflicts.

These reporters also point out that DeSantis was pretty good with the press and this is a change in course for him. Why the change?

Could his new avoiding the press strategy have anything to do with being questioned about his ties to Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman? They have close ties to Rudy Giuliani and were involved in the Ukraine scandal that led to President Donald Trump’s impeachment.

In October 2019, Parnas and Fruman were arrested for making illegal campaign donations by steering foreign funds into political campaigns. Pictures surfaced of Parnas and Fruman at DeSantis fundraisers and in the VIP seating at his swearing-in ceremony.

DeSantis was initially unwilling to talk to reporters about his meetings with the two men. He since has acknowledged accepting contributions to his campaign and meeting with Parnas six times. He claims to have given the $50,000 from them to the U.S. Treasury.

In January, texts surfaced between DeSantis and Parnas. The Wall Street Journal reported those texts were turned over as evidence in Trump’s impeachment trial. DeSantis shrugged off questions and has remained mum.

By stonewalling, the story has faded from public view. Perhaps that has been a good strategy for him, but a lot of questions remain. The governor owes us some answers. He needs to come out from hiding and start talking.

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She is now a registered NPA.