Who is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis?
Elections and Politics Policy Brief #131 | By: Ibrahim Sultan | September 18, 2021
Header photo taken from: Tampa Bay Times
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Photo taken from: The Guardian
The conservative-leaning state of Florida which has not elected a Democratic governor since 1999 is currently being headed by its 46th governor Ron Desantis. Before being elected Desantis joined the U.S. Navy from 2004 to 2010, serving as a judge advocate general (JAG) officer advising troops in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. He represented Florida’s 6th congressional district for three terms until his election as Governor over Democratic rival Andrew Gillum in 2019.
Desantis’ term as governor has been full of controversy but also praise and high approval ratings among conservatives in both Florida and around the U.S. DeSantis has signed a number of controversial bills into law such as Florida bill 168: an Anti-Immigrant law that attempts to ban sanctuary cities in Florida and requires local law enforcement and jails to comply with ICE requests to find and hold illegal immigrants. This law received backlash from immigrant rights organizations and the ACLU.
Earlier this year in April 2021, DeSantis also signed HB 1 or what his administration called an anti-riot bill into law. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, which were met with disapproval among conservatives, the Florida Governor signed into law a bill that granted civil legal immunity to people who drive through protesters blocking a road. Supporters of HB 1 say the bill targets those who would act violently during protests, block highways or engage in looting.
Photo taken from: The Washington Post
The claim is that protests that impede traffic and block roads are dangerous and any citizens encountering protestors doing so are legally allowed to drive through the crowd. This law was recently declared unconstitutional by a federal judge in Florida but the judge’s ruling does not block all law enforcement in the state from enforcing HB 1.
Governor Ron DeSantis is also accused of sending Florida law enforcement to the home of former state data scientist Rebekah Jones. Jones had been fired from her job after refusing to change data that would put Florida counties meeting criteria for easing Covid restrictions and reopening. Jones says a superior asked her to open up the data and alter the numbers so that the state’s coronavirus positivity rating would change from 18% to 10% — and the state would appear to meet its target to reopen.
When she refused and continued posting data independently a search warrant was issued for her home and video emerged of several agents with weapons drawn entering her home and seizing her computers and phone. DeSantis alleges Jones sent illegal messages to state health department groups, though Jones was never arrested or charged with any crime.
Photo taken from: The Guardian
During the start of the U.S. shut down due to COVID-19, DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order on April 1st, 2020, but quickly set a reopening date for only a month later, May 4th, 2020. Having resisted lockdowns and mask mandates throughout the pandemic, he has become the leading the voice for the Republican hands-off approach to the virus. Allowing Floridians to deal with the virus as they pleased has resulted in Florida becoming among the worst in the nation for infection rates with about 22,000 per day and most ICUs in the state being filled to the brim. DeSantis has worked to ban mask mandates in schools even as the COVID-19 cases and deaths among children have risen with the new Delta variant. The U.S.
Department of Education recently it had begun a new program to provide funding for school districts in Florida that lose money for implementing safe COVID-19 practices such as mandatory masks.
Photo taken from: Tampa Bay Times
Future of the GOP and Presidential Hopeful
DeSantis has made it clear that he is looking to embrace Trumpism and the Republican party’s shift to the far right. Many see DeSantis as the new rising star to take the mantle and Presidency whenever Donald Trump is defeated or relinquishes his grip on the Republican party. Others see DeSantis as the right man to join former President Trump on the 2024 ticket, with the two being among the most popular of all potential Republican candidates.
Of the laws passed during his administration, many have caused concern by civil society organizations. His in-action and lack of acceptance of mainstream science have placed Florida as one of the worst states in COVID-19 deaths. And his politics signal the growing problem of a growing list of conservative governors and senators who are banking their re-elections on who can be the most inflammatory regardless of the toll on their constituents and who can best emulate Trump. Whatever the possibilities in the future, DeSantis seems secure to win re-election in Florida if he chooses to run.