So Gov. DeSantis, a master of weaponizing law enforcement, cries foul | Editorial
The governor knows it when he sees it but not apparently when he does it?
Gov. Ron DeSantis, flanked by Republican sheriffs, announces the suspension of Democratic Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren on Aug. 4, 2022, in Tampa.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, flanked by Republican sheriffs, announces the suspension of Democratic Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren on Aug. 4, 2022, in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published June 9, 2023|Updated June 9, 2023

In the wake of Donald Trump’s most recent criminal indictment, Gov. Ron DeSantis blasted the Biden administration on Twitter for the “weaponization of federal law enforcement.” He added that politicizing law enforcement “represents a mortal threat to a free society.”

He’s right, of course. Not about the Trump indictment, but that weaponizing and politicizing law enforcement threatens democracy. Unfortunately, Floridians have learned that lesson firsthand, from the Republican governor’s own record. Let’s review.

Ousting Democrats. In 2019, just three days after first taking office, DeSantis suspended Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, a Democrat, whom DeSantis blamed for the chaotic response to the 2018 school massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. A former Republican state legislator who served as special master in the case found that DeSantis failed to prove that Israel should be removed, and recommended reinstatement. But the Republican-led Senate, voting mostly along party lines, removed Israel in late 2019. Last year, DeSantis suspended Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren, a twice-elected Democrat and DeSantis critic, accusing Warren of wholesale refusing to prosecute certain crimes. A federal judge in January found the suspension was based on “false” claims and violated the Florida and U.S. constitutions. Warren is seeking reinstatement to his post.

Border enforcement. Last month, DeSantis signed a legislative package that expands the state’s role in federal immigration enforcement, highlighting the political tensions between himself and the White House as DeSantis seeks the Republican presidential nomination. The law does several things: Anyone who “reasonably should know” they are transporting into the state an immigrant who entered the country illegally would be subject to a third-degree felony. It invalidates driver’s licenses issued by other states for immigrants who lack proper documentation, and bars cities and counties from funding programs that provide ID cards for those migrants. Florida law enforcement is also expressly charged with assisting the federal government on immigration matters within “or affecting this state,” opening a nationwide venue for DeSantis to meddle. None of this does anything to reduce traffic flowing toward the border, to ease the backload in immigration courts or to tailor U.S. immigration policy to meet America’s needs. It simply uses Florida law enforcement to whip up nationalist fervor.

Elections police. Last year, DeSantis convinced the Republican-led Legislature to create a new elections police force, which quickly became the very tool of harassment that critics feared. DeSantis held a high-profile news conference in August to tout the arrests of 20 people who were ineligible to vote but had voted in 2020 anyway. Never mind that it was Florida’s elections office — which reports to DeSantis — that cleared them to vote in the first place. Some cases have collapsed; two Hillsborough residents pleaded guilty in March to avoid any further entrapment and received six months of probation. Other cases are pending. The state is unwilling or incapable of policing its own voter rolls, so it resorts to criminalizing the confusion of Floridians whom the government misled into thinking they were allowed to vote.

Migrant flights. California is investigating potential false imprisonment crimes and civil action stemming from two flights that Florida arranged transporting migrants from Texas to Sacramento, California. Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, which reports to DeSantis, took credit for the flights for the first time on Tuesday. California Attorney General Rob Bonta suggested the move amounted to “state-sanctioned kidnapping.” Migrant advocates said the group was lied to and intentionally deceived; U.S. immigration had already processed the men and women and given them court dates for their asylum cases. The migrants, in other words, were in the government’s pipeline for resolving their legal status. Sending agents of Florida’s governor to another state to hoodwink migrants is the very definition of politicizing legal powers.

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DeSantis has shown zero interest in stopping the weaponization of law enforcement. Quite the opposite — he has used it to intimidate voters, harass immigrants and score political points. So why would anyone believe he would act differently in Washington than in Tallahassee?

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.