There will be a new governor and two new Cabinet members in Tallahassee. There’s a new education commissioner, and there soon will be three new justices on the Florida Supreme Court. Together, these new faces could help shape Florida for future generations.
The incoming Republican governor remains a bit of a mystery after winning the election largely on the strength of President Donald Trump’s endorsement. At 40 years old, he will be the youngest governor in a century. The former member of Congress has few detailed positions on state issues, and he is a Tallahassee outsider. So far, he has leaned toward appointing legislators and familiar faces in the state capital. He holds promise on environmental issues, and he’s expected to stick with Republican lawmakers who oppose taxes and favor more school choice. His first big decision: Appointing three new justices to the Florida Supreme Court. Will DeSantis bow to the Florida Legislature or chart his own course?
The answer to every education conundrum in Florida is not either (a) charter schools or (b) vouchers. In fact, new Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran should remember most students attend traditional public schools, that the state Constitution guarantees a “high quality system of free public schools,” and that his first order of business should be strengthening those schools, not scheming to tear them down or replace them. Republicans have been in control of education policy for 20 years, and public support has waned for high-stakes testing and top-down management from Tallahassee. The Corcoran-championed “Schools of Hope” program, which opens charter schools in neighborhoods with low-performing schools, is not the answer. But the former House speaker from Pasco County does believe in vocational education, and a model designed for the 21st century’s fluid job market could be a good place to steer his high energy and political skills.
The incoming agriculture commissioner will be Florida’s lone Democrat in statewide office. Nikki Fried, 41, is a stark break from the usual mold of the state’s chief farmer. She’s no farmer at all, but a lawyer and former lobbyist for the marijuana industry who is poised to bring a new vision to the office. She backs a sensible idea to transfer processing concealed weapon permits from the Agriculture Department to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Fried also wants to move quickly for a pardon of the Groveland Four, which is long overdue. She also is expected to be far less friendly to powerful sugar interests than her predecessor. The other half of the commissioner’s role — regulating consumer services — could get elevated attention under Fried as well.
A former business litigator, federal prosecutor and circuit judge, Ashley Moody is well-prepared to be attorney general. She pledges to focus on the opioid crisis and scams on the elderly, and she emphasizes her background working effectively with law enforcement on large scale investigations. But the attorney general’s job involves more than criminal prosecution. Moody also needs to protect consumers, stand up for open government and ensure that voter-approved constitutional amendments are faithfully implemented. Her backing of a multistate lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act is disheartening, but her support for pardoning the Groveland Four suggests she is considering the full range of duties of her office.
Florida Supreme Court
No gubernatorial appointment has such far-reaching impact as justices appointed to the Florida Supreme Court. While the choice of agency heads reflect a governor’s priorities and management philosophy, Supreme Court vacancies give the governor the chance to shape core rights and protections for generations, on everything from school funding and health care issues to environmental protection and civil liberties. Incoming Gov. Ron DeSantis will select three new justices shortly after taking office Jan. 8, and the original list of 11 nominees submitted by the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission includes no African-Americans. If that injustice stands, the new court will for the first time in 36 years not include an African-American, a stunning lack of diversity in a state with more than 3.5 million African-American residents.