When Ron DeSantis becomes Florida’s next governor, he will continue a two-decade tradition of Republican control that has emphasized tax cuts, the growth of school voucher programs, and a deep skepticism about expanding the state’s health care safety net.
But DeSantis, who defeated Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum after a harsh and negative campaign, is not expected to be a carbon copy of past GOP governors when he assumes office Tuesday. Just 40 years old, he is the youngest governor in decades and the first to live at the mansion with young children in a half-century.
In an interview, he said he is eager to jump into a job that he contends will have more impact than what he tried to do in Washington as a Republican congressman from northeast Florida.
He said that after the inauguration events are over, he will act swiftly on a range of issues, including appointments to Florida’s Supreme Court and deciding the fate of the sheriff whose deputies were assigned to protect the school where 17 died in a February massacre.
“The pomp and circumstance is fine, but ultimately this is about putting the pedal to the metal,” DeSantis said. “So I’ll be raring to go on day one.”
DeSantis, who succeeds Gov. Rick Scott, will get a chance to remake the seven-member Supreme Court as three left-leaning justices will be required by law to retire this week. He said he’ll announce his first selection Wednesday, with the other two coming in the next two weeks. DeSantis said he has already interviewed all 11 finalists selected by a state nominating commission.
During a luncheon with legislative leaders on Monday, DeSantis was applauded when he criticized the current state Supreme Court and vowed to change it.
“Both the executive and the legislative branches in Florida have had a lot of frustration with that third branch of government – the judiciary – constantly usurping more and more legislative power over the years. Well, that ends tomorrow,” DeSantis said.
In addition to appointing his first justices, the new governor said he plans to visit areas hit by Hurricane Michael, decide whether to accept a judge’s ruling overturning a ban on smokable medical marijuana, and tackle a major environmental policy rollout, which he said will appeal across party lines.
“When you have these tough elections, I think it’s good to be able to do some things that are not just kind of red versus blue all the time,” he said.
During the campaign, DeSantis criticized Florida’s powerful sugar companies and vowed to push ahead with actions to stop the algae outbreaks that have plagued both coasts and have been tied to discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
DeSantis also said he’ll render a decision soon on whether to suspend Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. Israel has been criticized for the performance of his deputies during the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
During the campaign, DeSantis originally said he would suspend Israel, but then backed off slightly, issuing a more general statement that he would hold all officeholders accountable. Scott had refused to consider suspending the sheriff until all investigations were complete.
DeSantis was not a major political figure in the state until President Donald Trump’s endorsement paved the way for his crushing defeat of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the GOP primary. DeSantis defeated Gillum after a campaign roiled by accusations of corruption and racism and devoid of any substantive policy debates.
His official victory was delayed by a mandatory recount following the close election. In the weeks since then, he has put together the building blocks of a new administration, tapping several legislators and even some lobbyists to fill agency posts.
In some cases, the new governor turned to people who did not support him in the election. He tapped Democratic State Rep. Jared Moskowitz, vice president and general counsel at a well-known disaster recovery company, to head the state’s emergency management division. And he successfully pushed for former House Speaker Richard Corcoran to become the state’s next education commissioner even though Corcoran, a fellow Republican, took shots at DeSantis during the primary.
“It looks like the House has taken over the governor’s mansion,” quipped State Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Miami Democrat.
Braynon, citing DeSantis’ comments on the campaign trail, said he expects the incoming governor to support ideas championed by conservative Republicans.
“I’d love to be surprised and find that DeSantis has a mind of his own and has some interesting ideas that transcend partisan politics, but I doubt it,” Braynon said.