Gov. Ron DeSantis played the waiting game, at least as far as Capitol insiders were concerned, as speculation percolated throughout the week about when the Republican chief of state would uncap his red pen for the first time and veto items tucked into the new state budget.
The waiting might have been the hardest part for some, but the 90-minute notice given to Tallahassee reporters to cover Friday afternoon’s budget press conference may have been even more painful.
In what seems to be a never-ending list illustrating the contrasts between DeSantis and his predecessor, the last-minute notice by DeSantis was a sharp departure from how former Gov. Rick Scott handled his first budget.
Scott, now a U.S. senator, in 2011 held a ceremonial budget-signing event, reminiscent of a rally, in the Republican stronghold of The Villages, where he brandished a red Sharpie as he gleefully slashed a record-breaking $617 million from the state spending plan.
In the governor’s large conference room Friday, DeSantis was surrounded solely by staffers and reporters as he announced he had cut $131.3 million from what wound up being a $90.98 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
When asked why the veto total was among the lowest of any first-year governor in recent history, DeSantis said he “got more in the budget” than any of his predecessors.
“If I had not been as successful, there probably would have been more projects in there that I would have vetoed,” he said. “I think we worked well together, so there wasn’t a need for me to exact any type of retribution because the Legislature didn’t work for me.”
READY FOR 2020
Earlier in the week, the governor went to Orlando to join the man who takes some credit for DeSantis’ November victory.
Part-time Florida man Donald Trump’s been in perpetual pursuit of re-election ever since he moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue less than three years ago.
But the president made it official this week, “launching” his 2020 campaign in Orlando, where tens of thousands of adoring fans turned out to stomp and cheer for what’s become a standard playlist for Trump: bashing the media, Democrats and the Washington “swamp” he pledged to drain in his first campaign.
“As long as you keep the steam in place, we have a tremendous way to go. Our future has never looked brighter or sharper,” Trump told supporters at the Amway Center. “The American Dream is bigger, stronger than ever before.”
Throughout the roughly two-hour political rally, all of the president’s closest Florida political allies cheered, and in a very Trumpesque way, the president took the time to thank DeSantis for his “great job” in passing legislation to crack down on so-called sanctuary cities in Florida.
“Thank you, Gov. Ron for ending that whole disaster,” Trump said. “It’s common sense.”
DeSantis sat in the front row of the rally’s VIP section, which was a who’s who of Florida Republican politics. First Lady Casey DeSantis, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez, state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Scott were all there to support the president’s re-election bid.
Rick Gorka, a Trump campaign spokesman, said it is important to have a governor who is doing “extremely well and is well-liked” in Florida as the president sets up a strategy to win the nation’s largest swing state. Trump won Florida by a little more than 1 percentage point in 2016, when he ran against Democrat Hillary Clinton, and both parties consider the state crucial again next year.
But DeSantis hinted that he might not be a major presence on the campaign trail.
“For me, I probably won’t be that involved. I’ll go to this and if the president needs me, but in terms of being there every single day … I mean, I got a job to do,” DeSantis told reporters a day before Trump’s rally.
POLITICS OR PRINCIPLE?
The governor also loomed large in a different Capitol setting this week, as ousted Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel jousted with DeSantis’ general counsel Nicholas Primrose in a quest to get his law enforcement job back.
Stripped of his uniform and badge, Israel for the first time made a direct appeal to a Senate Special Master Dudley Goodlette as he fights DeSantis’ decision to suspend him shortly after the governor took office in January.
In his suspension order, DeSantis alleged that “neglect of duty” and “incompetence” by Israel were connected to the February 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 students and faculty members dead.
DeSantis’ executive order also blamed Israel for mishandling the response to a mass shooting at Hollywood-Fort Lauderdale International Airport that resulted in five deaths.
“The state didn’t prove their case. There’s nothing incompetent or negligent about me. That’s not who I am. That’s not how I work. That’s not how I performed, and I hope the senators realize that and vote that way, but that’s their vote,” Israel, 63, told reporters after the hearing concluded Wednesday.
Israel appealed his suspension to the Senate, which has the authority to reinstate or remove elected officials. Goodlette, who oversaw what was essentially a trial, will make recommendations to Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton. The Senate Rules Committee will consider Goodlette’s recommendations when lawmakers return to Tallahassee in the fall, and the full Senate will make a final decision on Israel’s fate.
Israel and his lawyers maintain that the suspension, something DeSantis pledged to do while running for office last year, was a political ploy aimed at winning favor with voters in Democrat-rich Broward County and supporters of the National Rifle Association.
A combative Israel --- at one point admonishing Primrose for “trying to put words into my mouth” --- and an equally truculent Primrose crossed swords during Israel’s testimony Wednesday.
Israel repeatedly refused to answer Primrose, challenging the lawyer for making statements rather than asking questions.
For example, Israel at one point said: “I’m not trying to be argumentative, but you’re telling me what I don’t think instead of asking me a question and letting me answer it.”
Primrose also concentrated on Scot Peterson, the long-serving resource officer at the Parkland school who was seen on videotape hovering outside a building as Cruz unleashed a volley of bullets inside.
Peterson, who retired after Israel announced he intended to suspend the deputy, was arrested this month following a Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s investigation into the shooting.
After reading a state law that says sheriffs are responsible for the “neglect and default” of their deputies, Primrose tried to get Israel to take the blame for Peterson’s behavior, saying that six lives could have been saved if the resource office had gone into the building.
But Israel didn’t bite.
“The only person, the only person responsible for the loss of lives is a horrific, evil killer that did things through sheer evil. The responsibility of taking human life, only the killer did that,” he said.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the state’s $90.98 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, vetoing $131.3 million in spending proposed by lawmakers.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “He was just a coward who wasn’t going to act.” --- Suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel on Scot Peterson, the former resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who was arrested this month for his role in the 2018 mass shooting that left 14 students and three faculty members dead.