New Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis came to power thanks in part to President Donald Trump and now U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and he showed no inclination of breaking ranks with his fellow Republicans on some core issues when he started his service in Tallahassee on Tuesday.
DeSantis made his support of Trump a core part of his gubernatorial campaign and it paid off as the president helped him win the primary and edge Democrat Andrew Gillum in the general election. Florida’s booming economy, including record tourism numbers, and job growth under Scott also helped DeSantis win in November.
In his inaugural address on Tuesday, with Scott having just left the scene to take his seat in the Senate, DeSantis made it clear that he intended to follow his playbook on the economy.
“I am…fortunate to be succeeding our new U.S. Senator, Rick Scott, who stood here eight years ago at a time of great economic turmoil and pledged to put people back to work. Today, a million and half more Floridians have jobs and our economy is one of the best in the nation,” DeSantis said before addressing Scott directly. “Senator, your laser-like focus on improving Florida’s economy has meant so much in the lives of so many in our state. You are leaving a strong foundation from which we here today can build. I wish you and Ann fair winds and following seas in our nation’s capital; I know you will be a champion for Florida in the U.S. Senate.”
DeSantis was clear that he intended to follow the same strategy that Scott often employed with low taxes and targeting companies, urging them to relocate to Florida.
“Florida competes with other states to attract investment, jobs and opportunities for our citizens,” DeSantis said. “Too many states have sought to match runaway public expenditures with ever-increasing levels of taxation. This creates a vicious cycle that leads productive citizens to flee, repels investment and leaves their people overburdened, with less opportunity to prosper, and badly damages the fiscal health of these states. Indeed, we in Florida have benefitted from these follies and have wisely chosen sound fiscal policies and maintained a favorable tax climate.
“Let’s promote a virtuous cycle whereby low taxes, a reasonable regulatory climate, a sensible legal system and a healthy environment attract jobs, business and investment – particularly in the areas of technology, manufacturing and finance,” DeSantis added. “An expanding economic base will yield more high-paying jobs for our citizens and is the best way to generate the revenue needed for public priorities like education, protecting our natural resources and infrastructure. We know what works and what doesn’t – let’s not veer off course.”
Later in his speech, DeSantis turned to Trump’s hallmark issue: immigration. DeSantis briefly touched on the topic on Tuesday.
“We will stand for the rule of law,” DeSantis said. “We won’t allow sanctuary cities. And we will stop incentivizing illegal immigration, which is unfair to our legal immigrants, promotes lawlessness and reduces wages for our blue-collar workers.”
DeSantis also echoed themes that Republicans in Tallahassee have sounded in recent years, including expressing his support for school choice and opposing an activist judicial branch. Certainly the likes of former House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who DeSantis tapped to be in charge of education, has backed school choice in Tallahassee. Early on in Scott’s first term, then House Speaker Dean Cannon made judicial reform one of the cornerstones of his two years holding the gavel.
Still, DeSantis, who criticized the sugar industry on the campaign trail, focused on the environment. Florida was hit hard last year by toxic algae and red tide.
“Our economic potential will be jeopardized if we do not solve the problems afflicting our environment and water resources,” DeSantis said. “People want to come to Florida because of its natural beauty. Tourism is not only a pillar of our state’s economy, it helps spread the tax burden to non-Floridians, limiting taxes on our citizens. But this could be in jeopardy if we do not solve our pressing environmental problems. As the great philosopher Yogi Berra remarked: if people don’t want to come nobody is going to stop them.
“For Florida, the quality of our water and environmental surroundings are foundational to our prosperity as a state – it doesn’t just drive tourism; it affects property values, anchors many local economies and is central to our quality of life. The water is part and parcel of Florida’s DNA. Protecting it is the smart thing to do; it’s also the right thing to do,” DeSantis continued. “I will lead the efforts to save our waterways. We will fight toxic blue-green algae, we will fight discharges from Lake Okeechobee, we will fight red tide, we will fight for our fishermen, we will fight for our beaches, we will fight to restore our Everglades and we will never ever quit, we won’t be cowed and we won’t let the foot draggers stand in our way. We resolve to leave Florida to God better than we found it.”
DeSantis sounded other themes as well: support for vocational and technical education, tying education to the changing job market, support for veterans and law enforcement and, with memories of recounts still fresh from November, electoral reform.
Still, if he sounded Republican notes for most of the speech, DeSantis also offered a firm reminder to the GOP controlled Legislature that he will not be a rubber stamp for them.
“If the Legislature engages in wasteful spending, I will veto it,” DeSantis promised. “If a local official is neglectful of required duties, I will remove the official. If our environment is threatened, I will move to protect it. Leadership requires decisive action. After all, ‘If the trumpet sounds an uncertain note, who shall prepare for battle?’”
At the conclusion of the speech, DeSantis noted that political tribalism stands in the way of Florida’s future.
“If we meet the challenges that lie before us; if we overcome the tribalism that has dominated our politics; if we set the interests of hard-working taxpayers as our true north, then I have no doubt that the state of Florida will cruise to bright new horizons,” DeSantis said. “God bless you, and may God bless the great state of Florida. Thank you.”
With Republicans having controlled the Governor’s Mansion for the last two decades, with the exception of the environment, DeSantis sounded as if he plans to stay the course, especially on the economy. No bad thing, especially with Scott having managed it so well over the past eight years.
Kevin Derby can be reached at Kevin.Derby@floridadaily.com.