While campaigning for governor in 2018, Republican Ron DeSantis focused very little on policy, issues and solutions and instead relied heavily on President Donald Trump's endorsement. The lack of a vision was troubling — and the reliance on Trump even more so.
To distinguish himself from his primary opponent, DeSantis publicly took a strong stance against Florida's sugar industry and pledged to act swiftly to address the blue-green algae on Florida's Atlantic coast and the red tide on the state's Gulf coast.
That sounded good, but many environmentalists were understandably skeptical due to DeSantis' failing record on the environment during his time in Congress. The League of Conservation Voters examined his voting record on environmental issues and found that DeSantis voted on the right side of environmental policy only 2 percent of the time. That's not a typo; it's a single digit — 2 percent. That was disqualifying.
After eight years of Republican Rick Scott's partisan politics on education, the environment, criminal justice, and voter suppression, and Scott's refusal to accept responsibility or to be held accountable, Florida—a purple state—needed someone who would represent and unite Floridians.
It was difficult to imagine that DeSantis would be different than Scott or Trump. We didn't have many clues other than his past record, what little he said, and his over-the-top admiration of Trump. After he eked out a close win, I dreaded the direction he would take Florida.
But after three weeks in office, DeSantis has shown some surprising—and promising—signs.
The flurry of activity in his first two weeks included demanding the Legislature allow smoking of medical marijuana as intended by voters, rescinding many last-minute appointments made by Scott, and rescinding Scott's suspension of Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, who had already declared her retirement date.
Distancing himself from Scott gives some hope to Floridians who feared he might be little more than Scott 2.0. Still, the news media may be overselling DeSantis' impact. Headlines have gone a little overboard with descriptions like "shock and awe," "widely praised," and "fast and furious" to describe his actions.
That could be because expectations were low. It could also be resetting those expectations a little too high.
Let's bring a little moderation to the discussion and recognize that his record as governor will be judged over a longer period of time and based on results, not stated intentions. That doesn't mean that these unexpected positions aren't a welcome change. They are.
His success at reaching beyond his base would be a positive change for the state, so let's give credit where it is due and when it is due.
DeSantis early on announced a promising environmental proposal focusing on water quality that moves the state back to some of the more responsible policies and funding positions of the past under Govs. Bob Graham, Bob Martinez, Lawton Chiles, Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist.
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Effective environmental policy takes time and resources to reach objectives. It also requires willing partners in the Legislature to make it happen. While DeSantis appears committed to seeing it through, will he expend the political capital to get the necessary legislation and funding through both legislative chambers? If he fails at that, his good intentions will be no more than mere words.
Has he changed his mind on the importance of protecting the environment? Is he just trying to fulfill an election promise on an issue necessary to distinguish him from his primary opponent? Does he know the Legislature won't go along so he can take credit for pushing an issue he knows will go nowhere?
Things are not always as they appear.
Or is the gravity of holding the office and the weight of doing what is right for the health of Floridians—and our economy, environment and quality of life—tipping the scale in favor of reassessing his prior environmental positions on water quality regulation?
Time will tell.
Though skeptical, I'm willing to wipe the slate clean and judge him on his environmental record going forward. Florida is in desperate need of a new environmental hero. I'd be thrilled if DeSantis turned out to be one.
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. PBDockery@gmail.com.