He’s been on the job for just a handful of days, but Gov. Ron DeSantis has already burnished his brand as a no-nonsense chief of state asserting his authority via pink slips, ultimatums and generally rocking the boat from one end of the state to the other.
Last week, the freshly inaugurated governor appointed the first Cuban-American woman justice to the Florida Supreme Court, suspended a South Florida sheriff and ousted a Panhandle school superintendent.
This week, the Republican governor placed another justice on the court, took on Airbnb and pushed the Legislature into a corner over smokable medical marijuana. And he capped his second week on the job by giving Palm Beach County elections supervisor Susan Bucher the boot.
Bucher, a former state representative, came under fire for problems related to the November elections. Among other things, her office was unable to complete a manual recount in the statewide race between then-U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and former Gov. Rick Scott, who eventually emerged the winner in the Senate race. Before leaving office as governor, Scott ousted former Broward County elections supervisor Brenda Snipes, who also drew heavy scrutiny because of problems in the November elections.
Scott and DeSantis may be of like minds when it comes to axing Democratic elections chiefs, but DeSantis has made clear there’s a new chief executive on the plaza level in the Capitol, one whose agenda and demeanor is markedly different from his predecessor.
For example, DeSantis harshly criticized how the state has handled the medical-marijuana issue, griping this week about having other “fish to fry” as the state’s top executive.
The state has evolved since Scott --- whose mantra was jobs, jobs, jobs --- was elected more than eight years ago, DeSantis told reporters this week.
Florida’s water woes are troubling to residents throughout the state but may not have been as salient an issue a decade ago, said DeSantis, who has demanded the resignation of water management officials appointed by Scott.
Without naming Scott, DeSantis also pointed out that the former governor failed to act on the “Groveland Four,” despite the Legislature’s request for pardons of the African-American men who were accused of rape in a notorious case from the state’s Jim Crow era.
“I had a directive from them that was left over, saying consider this for a pardon. So I did. I was like, these guys got railroaded. We’ve got to do what’s right,” DeSantis said. “I’m just calling ‘em as I’ve seen ‘em. I want to continue a lot of the economic momentum that we’ve had. I think you’ll see a lot of continuity there. But at the end of the day, Floridians expected me to be bold on our water quality and environment, so that’s exactly what I promised and that’s exactly what I’m doing.”
SMOKE ‘EM IF YOU GOT ‘EM
DeSantis stood shoulder-to-shoulder Thursday with Orlando attorney John “#PotDaddy” Morgan, the political rainmaker who largely bankrolled a 2016 medical-marijuana constitutional amendment, and Congressman Matt Gaetz, one of the architects of the state’s pot laws.
The governor challenged the Legislature to fix a 2017 law that banned smoking medical marijuana --- or else. If lawmakers don’t comply, DeSantis pledged to drop the state’s appeal of a court ruling that found the smoking prohibition is unconstitutional.
DeSantis, who had been widely expected to announce he was going to drop the appeal, instead delivered the unambiguous ultimatum, which he called the “sword of Damocles” hanging over the head of legislative leaders.
The Republican governor said he also wants lawmakers to address other components of the 2017 law, which was passed to carry out the voter-approved constitutional amendment. DeSantis said lawmakers should revisit a cap on the number of medical-marijuana licenses and a “vertical integration” system that requires operators to grow, process and distribute cannabis products.
“This is all about doing the people’s will,” DeSantis told reporters at a news conference in Winter Park.
DeSantis accused the Republican-dominated Legislature of failing to implement a medical-marijuana system “in accordance with what the amendment envisioned.”
DeSantis also used the threat of dropping appeals in other marijuana-related lawsuits to goad the Legislature into addressing issues that could include the cap on the number of medical-marijuana licenses and the “vertical integration” system. Moving away from vertical integration could involve opening up the marijuana market to businesses that wouldn’t be responsible for all of the aspects of growing, processing and distributing the products.
“We need to have the people’s will represented in good law that is doing what they intended. I look at how some of this was created, where they (lawmakers) created a cartel, essentially,” DeSantis said.
But an unrestricted medical-marijuana market could raise concerns in an industry in which licenses have sold for more than $50 million.
DeSantis instructed lawmakers to revisit vertical integration, which he said “is not good policy.”
“The way they did this vertical integration, that is not free-market principles, for sure,” he said. “If you’re going to do it, do it according to sound economic principles.”
HE’S A MENSCH
In dual overtures to the state’s Jewish population this week, DeSantis appointed a second Miami-Dade County appellate judge to fill a vacancy on the Florida Supreme Court and came out swinging against Airbnb over West Bank rentals.
DeSantis on Monday tapped Robert J. Luck, a 39-year-old judge on the state’s 3rd District Court of Appeal, to fill the second of three vacancies on the high court. Last week, DeSantis appointed Barbara Lagoa, who had served as chief judge of the Miami-based appellate court, to the Supreme Court.
“Really across the board, people who know him, like him and respect him. So I think not only will he be a formidable force on the Florida Supreme Court, I think he will immediately have the respect of all his colleagues on that court and beyond,” DeSantis said about Luck.
Luck, a graduate of the University of Florida Law School, will be the youngest member of the Supreme Court and could potentially serve until he is 75 years old.
DeSantis, a Harvard Law graduate, noted Luck’s skills as a legal writer. “He was born to be a judge. There’s just no doubt about it,” DeSantis said.
The announcement was made at the Scheck Hillel Community School, a Jewish day school in Miami-Dade where Luck started kindergarten more than three decades ago. He and his wife, Jennifer, have a son and a daughter who now attend the school.
In accepting the appointment, Luck talked about the working-class roots of his family members and their deep ties to the Miami-Dade community.
“Two generations after my grandfather sliced brisket at a deli, one generation after my father-in-law slept on the basement floor of his boss’ T-shirt shop, so he could save as much money as possible, I am here having been sworn in as a justice of the highest court in the state,” Luck said.
The following day, DeSantis announced that Florida employees will no longer be reimbursed for Airbnb stays while traveling, as the state considers economic sanctions over the home-sharing platform’s decision against listing properties in the West Bank, an area that is a major flashpoint in Israeli-Palestinian relations.
“My hope is that Airbnb will rescind that policy,” DeSantis said during an appearance at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County in Boca Raton. “I don’t think they quite understood what they were getting into on this.”
Claiming a “moral obligation” to oppose the Airbnb property-listing policy for the West Bank, DeSantis said the State Board of Administration will determine by the end of this month if Airbnb is subject to a new Florida law that prohibits state investment in companies that boycott Israel.
On Tuesday, Airbnb issued a statement that it “unequivocally rejected” the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, or “BDS,” movement targeting Israel in support of Palestinians. But it made no mention if the policy about hosts in the West Bank will change.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Continuing to assert his authority in his second week on the job, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed a second Supreme Court justice, suspended Palm Beach County elections supervisor Susan Bucher and ordered the Legislature to address the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Whether they have to smoke it or not, who am I to judge that? I want people to be able to have their suffering relieved. I don’t think this law is up to snuff.” --- Gov. Ron DeSantis, speaking about the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana.