Gov. Ron DeSantis delivered an upbeat, inclusive inaugural address Tuesday that focused on bipartisan themes, from protecting the environment to improving education to creating opportunities for everyone to succeed. On a sun-splashed 70 degree morning, the young governor’s warm embrace of a common purpose set a welcome tone following a bitter election so close it required a statewide recount. With Republicans in firm control of Tallahassee but the state sharply divided, DeSantis should focus on building broad consensus to meet Florida’s biggest challenges.
Unlike his predecessor, this Republican has the potential to make significant strides on environmental issues. He highlighted his commitment to deal with the green algae blooms and Red Tide, and to continue efforts to restore the Everglades. He directly connected the dots between the state’s economy, tourism and protecting the environment as he borrowed and adapted a quote from the great Yankee Yogi Berra: “If people don’t want to come nobody is going to stop them.’’
DeSantis also highlighted broad education goals that are widely supported, from emphasizing vocational and technical training to the value of civics education — a value particularly championed by former Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who was one of four former governors at the inauguration. The new governor also generally talked of providing every child access to a quality education regardless of income or zip code, avoiding the bashing of teacher unions and failing public schools that too often comes in the next breath from many Republicans in Tallahassee.
At his core, of course, DeSantis remains a conservative who became governor largely on the strength of the endorsement from President Donald Trump, whom he did not mention. The governor sprinkled the predictable touchstones throughout his tidy 15 minute address: low taxes, reduced regulation, small government, a restrained judiciary. And there was a passing reference to sanctuary cities, which don’t exist in Florida.
There were no cutting edge proposals or soaring rhetorical flourishes. But on the whole, there was a freshness in tone and atmosphere to this inauguration that has been lacking in recent years in the state capital. DeSantis, 40, began with a touch of humility, declaring he is “conscious of my own deficiencies’’ and promising to do his best by following principles he said have endured “not because they are partisan’’ but “because they are right.’’ The youngest governor in a century scrapped the traditional parade so his family could head to the Governor’s Mansion and have his 9-month-old son baptized. This is the first time a family with very young children has lived there in a half-century.
That isn’t the only change in the wind. DeSantis’ secretary of state, Mike Ertel, sent a direct email Tuesday morning to county supervisors of elections about how to proceed on the effective date of Amendment 4, which automatically restores voting rights to most felons who have completed their sentences: “If you receive a voter registration application today, do as you have always done: accept it.’’
And on Friday, the new governor and Cabinet will meet as the clemency board to discuss pardoning the Groveland Four, the four black men wrongly accused of sexually assaulting a white woman in 1949.
There will be sharp policy disagreements down the road. As DeSantis embraces more school choice, he should not abandon traditional public schools. As he pushes to reduce costs for Medicaid and other health care, he should not reduce access to care for poor people. As he prepares to appoint three new justices to the Florida Supreme Court, he should not leave the court without an African-American justice.
Those are battles for another day. There is a generational change in Tallahassee. The governor and the three elected Cabinet members — Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried (the only statewide elected Democrat) — are all under 50 years old. They have an opportunity to demonstrate they can succeed where their predecessors failed and build the widespread support needed to creatively meet the needs of the nation’s third-largest state.