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A year ago in January, Ron DeSantis became FL Gov. DeSantis: What do you think about his first-year record?

By Michael Moline -January 7, 2020

Ron DeSantis

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

At an inaugural ceremony in Tallahassee on Jan. 8, 2019, former congressman Ron DeSantis was sworn in as Florida’s governor.

We’ve heard what DeSantis thinks of his first year in office – it was “an incredible year for Florida” with “historic accomplishments that are of the utmost importance to Floridians,” according to an assessment released by the governor’s aides last month.

The Florida Phoenix queried an array of figures active in political circles, including Republicans and Democrats, about their own takes on the Republican governor’s performance thus far. They didn’t all get back to us, but here’s what those who did had to say:

Gwen Graham, former congresswoman and 2016 Democratic candidate for governor:

“I don’t buy any of his record. The decisions that should be being made – whether we talk about education or the environment or voter rights – concern how do we make this state better for the lives of Floridians.

Gwen Graham  Gwen Graham, former congresswoman. U.S. House of Representatives.

He’s not willing to expand Medicaid, which is ludicrous.

In the area of the environment, the only area where he’s done any good is the Everglades, and the reason why is that he hates the sugar industry. With voter suppression, the Republicans in no way want Amendment 4 to be put into place because they know that means more voters who are not going to vote Republican for the most part.

“He goes to the Pulse nightclub and stands in front of a mural with his wife, but before he did that he refused to expand LGBTQ protections at the state level for anti-discrimination purposes.

It’s extremely disingenuous on the part of Ron DeSantis to claim that he’s an environmental governor, or that he’s an education governor, or that he cares about the LGBTQ community, or that he cares about the right to vote, or that he cares about the only process that Floridians have to have actually try to have their voice heard through the petitioning to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot.”

Susan McManus, distinguished professor emerita of political science, University of South Florida”

“The biggest DeSantis achievement was quickly bringing the state together after a highly contentious election. Pardoning the Groveland 4, targeting the environment, etc. He came out of the box being more of his own person than a Trump clone.”

Pamela Marsh, president, Florida First Amendment Foundation:

“First, we were pleased to see that, after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement declined to investigate the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, Gov. DeSantis did not just drop the ball.

The First Amendment Foundation initially requested an investigation. The state attorney’s office with jurisdiction over the matter had a conflict and sent it over to FDLE.

FDLE declined to investigate with seemingly little thought, effort or interest. And, as a result, Gov. DeSantis issued an executive order assigning the investigation of the airport authority to an appropriate state attorney.

“Second, while some sources (citizens and reporters) have complained that the governor’s office has been slow to comply with public records requests, we have noticed some improvement in communication, compliance and outreach, when compared to the prior administration. Certainly, there have been some glitches, and there is always room for improvement from our perspective, it is good to see a renewed commitment to transparency.

“Now, if we could just persuade the Legislature from blasting more holes in the public records law by adding additional exemptions, we would be on our way in 2020!”

Aliki Moncrief, executive director, Florida Conservation Voters:

“The DeSantis administration has consistently touted its commitment to protecting the Everglades and addressing the red tide and blue-green algae crisis, which are two of the most important environmental issues facing Florida.

Akili Moncrief Akili Moncrief with Florida Conservation Voters, speaking at a press conference in the Capitol on April 9.

Keeping these issues at the forefront of public attention is helpful, but the administration has much more work to do. Florida needs not only deeper investments, but also stronger water protections to fix our long-term water quality issues. He must hold polluters accountable, and must also address the unfettered construction of roads and rampant sprawl, which together fuel our water problems.

“On Florida’s climate crisis, the governor continues to ignore the fact that our state’s dependence on fossil fuels is the main contributor to sea level rise, saltwater intrusion, and rising temperatures that are already harming Florida families.

While he remains focused on ‘resilience,’ it is difficult to see how Florida can make long-term progress by only treating the symptoms of crisis and not the root causes.

In his first year, DeSantis hired a chief resilience officer, Julia Nesheiwat, which is a step in the right direction. Moving forward, his administration must consider how to achieve 100 percent clean renewable energy for Florida’s economy and families.

“The governor’s proposal of $100 million for Florida Forever, while welcomed, unfortunately, lacks the necessary boldness needed to protect our dwindling conservation lands. The coming decade will be marked by dramatic growth, which must be balanced with robust conservation investments. Bold leadership would demand no less than the historic level of funding, $300 million annually.

“Last year, DeSantis and Florida’s legislative leadership failed to strengthen our environmental laws, advance clean energy, or protect wetlands and public lands.

In fact, they quickly passed bills to authorize three proposed toll roads through some of Florida’s best remaining natural lands. The governor’s support of the disastrous toll roads bill and weak funding for water and land conservation raise serious questions about whether his environmental commitments are just talk, and not enough action.”

Andrew Spar, vice president of the Florida Education Association:

“Gov. DeSantis has said he wants 2020 to be the ‘Year of the Teacher.’ What he has proposed so far is a flawed salary plan that fails to acknowledge teachers’ classroom experience and yet another bonus plan, following on the heels of six failed bonus plans over the past 13 years.

Andrew Spar Andrew Spar, vice president, Florida Education Association. Credit: FEA.

All school employees need steady paychecks, not one-time bonuses that don’t help with qualifying for a mortgage or long-term budgeting. None of the governor’s proposals is likely to reverse Florida’s severe teacher shortage.

Midway of the school year, there are more than 2,400 teaching vacancies posted on district websites, about a 10 percent increase over January 2019. In August, more than 300,000 students started school without a qualified, permanent teacher.

“While DeSantis speaks highly of teachers, to date his most notable action toward education lies in driving money away from the public schools that educate more than 80 percent Florida’s children, in favor of putting that money into the pockets of charter corporations and private school operators who select the students they allow in their schools.”

Edie Ousley, vice president for public affairs, Florida Chamber of Commerce:

“Gov. DeSantis is indeed building a bolder, brighter future for Florida families, and his accomplishments will have long-standing and positive impacts. He appointed three new Supreme Court justices who understand that the proper role of the courts is to apply the law and Constitution as written, and we’re confident that his next two jurist appointments will be from the same mold.

Gov. DeSantis also led an unprecedented business development trade mission to Israel, and joined with the Florida Chamber in signing memorandums of understanding with our Israeli Chamber counterparts.

This, along with more than 20 additional MOUs the governor signed while in Jerusalem, will go a long way toward developing strategic partnerships that benefit Florida’s economy. And the governor’s leadership in career and technical education courses will help ensure Florida is No. 1 in workforce education by 2030.”

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, Democrat representing part of Orange County

“Probably the longest impact Gov. Ron DeSantis will have will be his Florida Supreme Court picks. A conservative bench means issues will be re-litigated with potentially very different outcomes, opening the door for new abortion restrictions, voter suppression tactics, and voucher school expansions.

“During his State of the State address last legislative session, the governor made sensational comments about restricting access to a safe and legal abortion. I have no doubt that he will sign the next anti-abortion restriction that gets to his desk, potentially leading to a judicial battle and a new interpretation of Florida’s right-to-privacy clause (or an interpretation that reinforces past decisions).

Either way, we should all be concerned and pro-active in advocating against new attempts to politically restrict abortion access.

“The governor has authority right now to pass an executive order that would provide LGBTQ protections to state employees, something that we spoke to him and the First Lady about when they made a last-minute visit to Pulse nightclub this past June. His inaction on the issues continues to leave LGTBQ workers behind.

The same can be said on the lack of proactive policy to take on polluters, encourage renewable energy development, and repeal preemption laws.“

William W. Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute

“Governor DeSantis showed tremendous leadership by appointing three Florida Supreme Court judges who will say what the law is, not what they think it should be, and who show deference to the legislature as the rightful policy-making branch of government.

William Large William W. Large, president, Florida Justice Reform Institute. Credit. FJRI website.

Now, with two more Florida Supreme Court appointments, Governor DeSantis has the opportunity to permanently stamp an incredible legacy on Florida’s legal environment.

Long after he completes his service as Governor of the State of Florida, his first accomplishment – restoring the Supreme Court to its proper role – will continue to reverberate.”