TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Here’s one big thing that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has that former President Donald Trump doesn’t: A supercharged Republican-controlled Florida Legislature prepared to do whatever he wants.
DeSantis’ nearly 20-point victory on Tuesday will only increase his sway with Republican legislators who have already shown a willingness to bend to the governor — especially after the GOP swept races up and down the ballot in Florida, including winning supermajorities in the state House and Senate.
With a looming presidential campaign on the horizon, DeSantis will now be able to turn to state lawmakers to give him legislative and policy victories that he can use in a highly competitive Republican primary against Trump if both men run for president in 2024.
“He will have an entirely subservient Republican Legislature to continue as his testing lab to distinguish himself from other likely ’24 primary opponents,” said state Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Democratic legislator. “If legislation is well-received he’ll take the credit, and if it’s not he’ll lay blame on the Legislature.”
DeSantis has long been viewed as one of the most powerful governors in the state’s history, strong-arming lawmakers to do his bidding and endorsing ideologically sympathetic candidates who will help him shape his agenda from the state capitol to local school boards. Republican lawmakers this year gave the governor big wins, such as approving his redistricting maps that gave House Republicans four additional seats this cycle.
When asked about DeSantis’ second term agenda, his Democratic former opponent for governor, Charlie Crist, responded: “He’s not going to be here. He doesn’t care about it. He cares about the White House.”
What DeSantis wants from the Legislature remains murky. He framed much of his reelection campaign as a referendum on his job performance as governor for the past four years, reminding voters about his opposition to Covid-19 lockdowns and his push to keep schools open.
DeSantis said Florida will “work to expand pro-life protections” after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. He also spoke about moving ahead with “constitutional carry,” a term that refers to letting people carry guns in public without having to apply for a permit from the government.
Those who have watched DeSantis in action contend that the Legislature will fall in line if the governor wants it.
“He as a close to a Caesar in Florida as we have had at this point,” said Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican whose term in the state Senate ended this week. “I think Florida has never seen what is likely to happen over the next two years. … I think it will be very difficult for House and Senate leadership to change direction or to be anything but speed bumps to the DeSantis agenda.”
GOP state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, the next Senate president, disagreed sharply with that assertion.
“I think the next two years will be more collaboration than anything else,” Passidomo said. “If the governor has an initiative that can be done a better way, or don’t agree with, I will be happy to talk to him. I have a lot of respect for him, and he has lot of respect for me.”
Passidomo added that “we think a lot alike. We have different styles but we have similar philosophies.”
On Thursday, DeSantis launched a second-term transition process and, in a statement, said he would stay focused on “keeping our schools open and free from indoctrination,” protecting the environment and keeping the state’s economy strong.
DeSantis already has a successful track record with the Legislature. He persuaded legislators to approve contentious measures, such a ban on critical race theory in classrooms and outlawing so-called “sanctuary cities.” He also pushed lawmakers to set aside $12 million for his controversial migrant relocation program. That money was used to pay a contractor $615,000 to fly nearly 50 migrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in September.
“I think we’re going to see more of the same, where the governor is taking the lead on a lot of legislation,” said Republican state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia. “This governor has been one of the most active since Jeb Bush for pushing with legislation.”
Ingoglia added that DeSantis’ Tuesday night landslide means there should be a “tremendous amount of loyalty” to the voters who supported him.
“Let me be clear: If that wasn’t an overwhelming mandate that the voters of this state like what this governor is doing I don’t know what is,” Ingoglia said.