State Politics

How well does DeSantis’ ideology line up with new leadership in Florida Legislature?

Ron DeSantis and his wife, Casey, celebrate after winning the Florida Governor’s race at the Rosen Centre in Orlando on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.
Ron DeSantis and his wife, Casey, celebrate after winning the Florida Governor’s race at the Rosen Centre in Orlando on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. Orlando Sentinel/TNS

When Ron DeSantis eked out a slender win in the race for Florida governor Tuesday night, it wasn’t just a win for the former congressman from Jacksonville who had yoked his political ambitions to President Donald Trump.

It was also an early victory for incoming state House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, who was the first major Florida Republican to openly endorse the now governor-elect in his primary battle against outgoing Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Oliva, an unflappable ideologue who was anointed last year to succeed Richard Corcoran as speaker, is likely to reap substantial dividends from that fortuitous bet, as he and Senate President-designate Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, convene the first meeting of the newly elected Florida Legislature near the end of the month.

Oliva has outlined a few key priorities though Galvano has been more coy about his, saying he’ll announce them in two weeks. But despite potential disputes on issues like healthcare, the midterms’ results mean the Legislature — which had been expected to remain in Republican control — will largely remain in political consensus with the executive branch.

“There are always nuances,” said Oliva Wednesday morning, noting disagreements “are going to happen whether it’s the House and the Senate or the Legislature or the executive [branch].” But, he noted, “we have aligned ideologies. That’s what’s most important.”

Galvano said his general priorities “I think, are going to fit very nicely with where [DeSantis] is and where the Speaker-designate is.”

But “everything’s pretty much at the 40,000-foot level,” he added.

At the top of Oliva’s early legislative agenda are changes to the state’s healthcare system, which the South Florida Republican has long criticized as a “hospital-industrial complex” that enables hospitals he regards as government-subsidized, self-regulated monopolies. On his slate of considered proposals: another attempt to remove the state’s certificate-of-need process for approving hospitals, and expanding free-market competition among the state’s healthcare providers by enabling options like surgical centers and telemedicine.

“Everything is on the table with regards to creating a more competitive environment,” Oliva said, even a narrowly negotiated compromise on trauma centers that settled the status of several disputed facilities last session. Oliva also said he intended to revisit the battle over how to reimburse hospitals for Medicaid care, which became one of the final sticking points in last year’s legislative budget.

“The current way of funding is more arbitrary than is sound for a market,” he said, though he added it is only one of several means by which he intends to cut healthcare costs. Many of those proposals will wind through Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, who Oliva has tapped to lead the House healthcare committee.

But some pieces of the healthcare budget may be an early flashpoint between Oliva and Galvano, who demurred when asked about his stances on hospital funding and Oliva’s early suggestions on reducing healthcare costs.

“Those are discussions and issues that will have to be hammered out between the House and the Senate,” Galvano said. “At this point we’re not in agreement on what direction we’ll go collectively.”

Healthcare was also not a core focus of DeSantis’ gubernatorial campaign, though Oliva said he had discussed healthcare issues with DeSantis and that he expected to see some of his issues with cost reflected in the governor-elect’s proposed budget. “What he has come to understand is that healthcare costs are taking over our budget, and yet we are not meeting our healthcare needs.”

The incoming Speaker also intends to focus on expanding school choice in education, which along with the economy and the environment was a DeSantis talking point on the campaign trail.

DeSantis had proposed increasing the amount that could be distributed for Florida’s voucher-like system for low-income students, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, and advocated for increased school choice. He had also campaigned on requiring 80 percent of all public school funding be “used in the classroom,” which he said would cut administrative and bureaucratic inefficiency, echoing a similar nationwide proposal in 2006 that failed in the state.

Oliva said he expects the House, whose education committee will be chaired by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, to advance school choice options.

“Ultimately the goal is to have education savings accounts, and how we shape those education savings accounts whether it’s based on family income, whether it’s based on where they are in the state,” he said. They had been discussed as part of an omnibus education bill last session but ultimately axed from the final legislation.

Galvano said he has always been supportive of school choice options, though “I also want to make sure we’re continuing to support our traditional public schools.”

He said he agreed that that “majority or the vast majority” of school money should go towards educating children, but he doesn’t know to what amount.

More of Oliva’s and Galvano’s priorities are likely to emerge as they name their committee chairs and members convene in Tallahassee Nov. 20, where they will officially elevate both leaders. Through the rest of the year, lawmakers will also begin educating freshman members as well as set up bills for committee weeks.

Amid that, the new governor-elect, an unfamiliar face in Tallahassee, is expected to put together a proposed budget and his own policy agenda, as well as build a new executive team. DeSantis announced several chairs to his transition effort Wednesday, including Oliva’s own predecessor, Corcoran.

Oliva and Galvano both said they have high hopes after DeSantis’ win, with the Speaker-designate noting the governor-elect’s relationship with Trump.

“I see us being able to work together,” said Galvano. “[DeSantis] is coming into a new office, and I think there will be somewhat of an adjustment that has to be made, and we’re going to learn more about each other’s styles going forward.”

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