DeSantis could be the breath of fresh air Florida needs at the top

Tampa Bay Times

There were no chills-down-your-spine moments in Gov. Ron DeSantis’ inaugural address. No “ask-not” phrases burned into your psyche. But it was solid stuff. A good beginning and, in many ways, a hopeful one.

The speech read better than it sounded. Our new governor is no great orator, but he’s smart and well educated (Yale undergrad, Harvard law), which was on full display in his speech and sounded like he wrote it himself.

It had a uniform sensibility along with some nice Churchillian touches and lightly done literary and biblical allusions. Delivered on a splendid, sunny winter day in Tallahassee, DeSantis’ speech set the parameters for a new era of GOP governance in Tallahassee. It promises to be sharply different from the Rick Scott era.

Scott never appeared completely comfortable in Tallahassee, a slap-you-on-the-back and punch-you-in-the-gut place where loyalty can be fleeting and business is often conducted over drinks — many of them.

Not Scott’s style. He arrived as a data-driven business executive who doesn’t do small talk and largely disdained the legislative branch. The judiciary, too. DeSantis, on the other hand, looks like he’ll be a better fit in the Capitol. He knows lawmaking from his six years in Congress and the law from his service as a Navy JAG officer. He was also a star jock as a kid and knows how to be a team player. Now, he’s the team captain and seems totally at ease in that role. “So Sail on, O’Ship of State,” he said as he capped off his speech, “for the future of Florida is strong and great.”

It will certainly be conservative, but not heartless. Economical, but not cheap. Republican, but in a tent large enough to accommodate willing Democrats, such as Rep. Jared Moskowitz of Broward, whom DeSantis named director of the Department of Emergency Management. A few other Democrats will also serve along with several outsiders who appear to be well-qualified and politically neutral. Retired Army Gen. Mark Inch, named to run the state’s troubled prison system, until recently ran the federal prison system. The governor brought in Mary Mayhew, who oversaw Medicaid programs for the Trump administration, to run ACHA (Agency for Health Care Administration), which oversees Medicaid in Florida. DeSantis has put together a nice mix of Tallahassee veterans and outsiders to run the principal state agencies.

The one appointment already roiling the waters is of former House Speaker Richard Corcoran as state education commissioner. “You’d think he might want somebody who actually knew something about education,” snapped Laurie Rich Levinson, the veteran Broward School Board member upon learning of Corcoran’s appointment.

For Levinson and most believers in traditional public schools, Corcoran — a champion of charter schools and vouchers — is anathema. He’s also cagey and effective. It was Corcoran who got the Legislature to appropriate $140 million for “Schools of Hope.” Those are charter schools that will get state funds to operate in areas where traditional public schools are mediocre to terrible. DeSantis is on board: “In a large and diverse state,” he said at the Old Capitol, “our education system needs to empower parents to choose the best possible school for their children. One size does not fit all.” No, it doesn’t — as Miami-Dade and Broward schools have shown with an array of specialized schools and programs geared to the individual needs and talents of all kinds of kids. Nevertheless, Corcoran will pretty much have free rein to do what he wishes — with the governor’s support.

There is cause for hope, however, when it comes to the environment. “I will lead the efforts to save our waterways,” DeSantis said as he promised to make good on a key campaign pledge. “We will fight toxic blue-green algae and we will fight discharges from Lake Okeechobee, we will fight red tide, we will fight for our fishermen, we will fight for our beaches and we will to restore our Everglades and we will never quit.”

Amen! The governor who refused to take money from Big Sugar and other polluters is formally on record as vowing to clean up their mess, and ours — from leaky septic tanks and lawn fertilizer. We’ll be watching to see that he makes good on this critical promise.

DeSantis also said some predictable things about improving healthcare delivery, appointing judges who won’t legislate from the bench, making schools safe and not allowing sanctuary cities or illegal immigrants. That got a big cheer from the audience at the swearing-in ceremonies. Guess they forgot that Florida doesn’t have any sanctuary cities and that most undocumented folks get here on planes and overstay their visas.

There was quite a bit to like DeSantis’ inaugural speech. Andrew Gillum supporters should take heart. The future, politically speaking, is not as bleak as they had feared. Winter is not coming. Yes, it will get chilly with a GOP-controlled Legislature, but Gov. DeSantis sees blue skies and sunny days ahead.

Let’s hope he’s right.