Governor Ron DeSantis has entered office with a bang. He’s spent his first two weeks in office suspending local elected officials, reversing Rick Scott’s policies on a few key matters and generally showing he’s able to use the power of the governorship as effectively as Richard Corcoran who is now in his administration, used the post of House Speaker.
Corcoran redefined the power of the Speaker of the House in a way few imagined, and was able to assert legislative prerogatives over the entire state, running at time roughshod over the Executive Branch and the Florida Senate.
Regarding DeSantis his power grabs leading to an imperial governorship are both good and bad for the state.
Partisan Democrats will rightly DeSantis argue grabbing power by quashing local control has been disturbing. However others, myself included would argue that changing the trajectory of the state’s attitude toward medical marijuana and the Everglades ecosystem by using the executive power begins the reversal of Rick Scott’s abdication of responsibility on these issues. In addition, Rick Scott’s punting on the long overdue pardon of the Groveland Four was quickly reversed by DeSantis, in a positive step forward for healing some of the wounds of Florida’s openly racist past.
DeSantis suspension of Okaloosa County’s Superintendent of Schools, Broward County Sherriff Scott Israel, Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher and forced resignations of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) board are all attempts to assert state power and crush local control. However, in some cases particularly that of Israel and the SFWMD board members, DeSantis has just cause to make moves that quite frankly Governor Scott should have undertaken. But in the case of Bucher, petty political retaliation seems the motive.
As a Broward County resident with political friends, I can attest to how poor a job I believe Sheriff Israel had done. It’s not just the response and aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that was problematic. I had believe Israel should have been suspended by Governor Scott after the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport attack in January 2017, where BSO was slow to respond.
Five people died in that mass shooting, while 42 were injured (including those stampeded in the ensuing panic) in a heavily patrolled public area. It still remains to this day a mystery how a shooting of that sort could have taken place at a major international airport and not been contained quickly – it’s even more stunning than the school shooting quite frankly when it comes to BSO’s failures, when you consider how heavily patrolled the airport is.
Israel’s response to the airport shooting like to everything was to play politics – having surrounded himself in office with countless Democratic Party operatives, his instinct was to spin. No offense to those operatives, they are some of the top political and communications minds in the area, but the Sheriff’s office needed to be about law enforcement and protecting Broward County citizens as well as visitors since it is an area heavily dependent on tourism and attracting outside investment. Instead Israel made his office a repository for almost any active Democrat in town who wanted a government job.
The MSD shooting was the second mass failure on Israel’s watch and how he survived for 11 months after the tragedy owes itself to his outstanding supporting case of Democratic Party spinmeisters and the clannish behavior of many around Broward County.
Similarly on the pushed SFWMD resignations, I find it difficult to find fault with DeSantis. The SFWMD was negligent in so many ways during the Scott years in terms of being proactive in regards to algae blooms and the continued unchecked polluting of the Everglades ecosystem by sugar companies. While the majority of the board has not heeded DeSantis’ call to resign, he’s changed the discussion and is demonstrating he will be an activist executive when it comes to protecting south Florida from polluters.
But the suspension of Bucher is plainly petty. The Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections has her own management style – dependent on examining every detail and ensuring a fair and accurate count. It is not the obligation of an urban county SOE to report election results quickly so the media and politicos can be satisfied and spin the results on election night – it is critical that official gets the count right, and is fair to each and ever constitutionally eligible voter in her jurisdiction.
Bucher’s failures were down to a County Commission (run by Democrats) that didn’t work well enough with her office and the partisan attacks of local Republicans, who never allowed the former very progressive State Representative to act as a truly independent elections official. Bucher’s motives were ALWAYS impugned by Republicans as her liberal voting record and advocacy as a State Representative were used to “prove” her unfitness for office.
I personally would love to see a similar scrutiny that has been placed on Palm Beach and Broward put on quick-reporting Republican-leaning counties in other parts of the state. Perhaps we’ll learn that GOP officials that run elections are just better at covering their tracks and more able to spin than the likes of Bucher and Broward SOE Brenda Snipes.
Speaking of Snipes, DeSantis rescinded her suspension issued by Governor Scott and allowed her to resign instead. Snipes had intended to resign in January but in a move of ultimate pettiness, Governor Scott suspended her anyhow and appointed a replacement. But pettiness is nothing new from Scott as DeSantis learned on the eve of his inauguration with the outgoing Governor’s unwillingness to leave the mansion early and his filling of numerous appointments that in all rights should have been left to DeSantis.
Scott was so petty he enters the US Senate not only as the Florida’s Junior Senator but as the most junior member of the body – ranking a 100th in seniority since he did not take office until days after the rest of the freshman class. Why? He wanted to continue enjoying the fruits of being Florida’s Governor and plainly wanted to screw DeSantis from making appointments and completely enjoying the shine of his inauguration.
On the Groveland Four, KKK-connected Sheriff McCall of Lake County has been a favorite subject of ours at this site, so seeing the state finally do some justice in one of the many controversies that involved him is music to our ears.
On medical marijuana DeSantis is doing the right thing but might in fact be doing so because he is being pushed by Congressman Matt Gaetz – a benefactor of the new governor and a dangerous demagogue who despite the respectability of his high office appears simply to be a hoodlum gangster-type. DeSantis’ relationship with Gaetz is worrying and bears further watching.
Thus far, DeSantis’ record is a mixed bag – doing the right thing on some fronts, playing politics on others. But he’s already done more positive for the state in two weeks it can be argued than Scott did in eight years. If DeSantis is going to use executive power to help the state’s citizens and reign in corrupt or negligent elected officials that’s a good thing. But if he is going to use it to settle political scores, that’s not so good.
It’s important Florida have a strong executive. Our state has fallen miserably behind where it should be making us at this point one of the least desirable destinations with a population concentration in the western world for professionals and millennials. Florida is routinely the butt of jokes and even similarly conservative Republican states in the sunbelt such as Texas and Georgia seem to be doing better than us in many important metrics.
Since the special interest groups that dominate both political parties promote tribalism and will never fully permit an open dialogue about reforming the state, having an independent-minded executive willing to use the power afforded him/her to move the state forward is a good thing even if most politicos are scared by it – let’s just hope DeSantis doesn’t get too carried away or authoritarian in his use of this power.