TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Gov Ron DeSantis is poised to position himself Tuesday as a champion of conservative ideas during a State of the State address that is likely to focus as much on his national ambitions as on assessing Florida’s response to the pandemic and a series of crippling storms.
The address came at the start of a 60-day legislative session that has taken on added significance this year because it will likely be used to launch DeSantis in long-awaited presidential campaign.
The Republican-dominated Legislature, seeking to advance DeSantis’ political prospects, is expected to sign off on virtually every item on the governor’s agenda, which is rife with issues from race to immigration to gender that could prove popular in the GOP presidential primary.
Instead of focusing on rising rents and the cost of living, a struggling property insurance market and preparing for sea level rise in a state vulnerable to climate change, DeSantis will begin a session in which the GOP will push issues such as telling teachers what pronouns they can use for students, making guns more accessible to Florida residents, keeping illegal immigrants out of the state, and criminalizing some drag shows like Tennessee recently did.
While DeSantis is unlikely to officially announce a presidential campaign until the legislature ends in May, he has already making big moves to the White House bid. Last week, he participated in a high-profile donor rally in Florida before traveling to California, where he railed against what he said was the excesses of liberalism. Later this week, he will travel to Iowa for the first time this year, which will host the nation’s first meeting of Republican presidents in 2024.
Even without a formal campaign, DeSantis is emerging as the leading alternative to former President Donald Trump, a fellow Floridian who has already announced his third bid for the White House. DeSantis’ strength is fueled in part by the fact that he has nearly 20 percentage points re-election victory last year in a state that is often notorious for closed elections.
He did so by restricting the teaching of issues such as race and sexuality in schools, banning transgender girls and women from participating in school sports, rewriting the state’s political maps in favor of Republicans, and eliminating a congressional district that favored black voters, attacking the a private business that disagrees with his ideology and suppression of Black Lives Matter protests.
“Our governor is truly America’s governor. He has defended our conservative values, challenged individuals and institutions that pose a threat to others, and offered innovative solutions to improve our state,” state Senate President Kathleen Pasidomo said Tuesday. “It is often said that states are laboratories of democracy. Under Governor DeSantis, Florida is more than a laboratory. We are a model.”
DeSantis acknowledges that his decisions as governor are based on what he thinks is right, not necessarily what is popular with the mainstream. He said that’s why he was able to turn a 32,000-vote recount victory in 2018 into a 1.5-million victory last year, the largest margin ever won by a Republican governor in the state. .
“We’re defeating the left day by day,” DeSantis said Sunday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. “Don’t worry about the polls, don’t worry about the daily news cycle, and for Pete’s sake don’t worry about the media, what they’re saying. Do what’s right and the voters will reward you.”
He’s also been the subject of near-nightly jokes on late-night shows like “Saturday Night Live” and “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” but the more critics mock DeSantis, especially those he calls the “liberal elite,” the more he galvanizes support among his base.
While most candidates entering the presidential race two years from now spend the early days of the campaign raising money, traveling the country, building endorsements and building name recognition, DeSantis still has $70 million in the political committee after just four months after his re-election.
And he is already a star at national Republican Party events.
“You don’t see the Florida flag behind it anymore. They are all American flags,” said Democratic Senator Jason Pizzo.
DeSantis’ “State of the State” certainly contains some of the same “anti-awakening, pro-liberty” messages he’s been pushing around the country.
The book he released last week is called “The Courage to Be Free,” and its subtitle predicts his plans for 2024: “Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Rebirth.” Instead of Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, DeSantis aims to make the nation more like Florida and less like states like California and New York.
“These liberal states got it wrong,” DeSantis said. “It all comes back to ideology. I think it goes back to the virus of the awakened mind that has infected the left and all these other institutions.”
But Democrats see it as intolerance and misplaced priorities. They point to efforts to build a new law, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics, that limits discussion of gender and sexuality in schools. A new GOP proposal would limit how schools can use gender pronouns, while another would criminalize some drag shows.
“The number one cause of death for children in our country is gun violence, but again, they’re concerned about who’s going to which drag show,” said state Senate Leader Lauren Book, Democrat. “You have ‘Don’t Say Gay.’ Now 2.0, Don’t Tell Them. Let’s make it so that people can pay their electric bill, put food on the table, pay their prescriptions, and fill up their car.”