From decisions on ethics, to the environment, to a Supreme Court pick, Ron DeSantis got a lot done in his first four days as Governor of the state of Florida.
Though it’s far too early to make conclusions about the way DeSantis will lead, it does appear the Republican governor is “trying to take some steps that will have broad appeal,” said Jim Saunders, Executive Editor for News Service of Florida, Friday on The Florida Roundup.
DeSantis made it clear he plans to focus on the environment and combat the state’s water issues, a drastic departure from former Gov. Rick Scott. By the end of his fourth day in office, DeSantis had pledged $2.5 billion over four years for water resources and Everglades restoration.
He’s “certainly sending the signal that this is going to be a priority for him,” Saunders said.
DeSantis created the state’s first ever office of resiliency, issued an executive order to appoint a Chief Science Officer for the state and called for the resignations of the entire board of the South Florida Regional Water Management District.
But despite his quick action on the environment, DeSantis has not made clear his position on man-made climate change and refused to respond to a question about that Friday morning at the Capitol.
“He is careful in toeing the line in how he describes himself as a climate denier or not,” Ana Ceballos, who covers state government and politics for the USA Today Network, said on The Florida Roundup. “He still has a base that elected him that may consider the term [climate change] toxic.”
Saunders noted that many of the most severe water and environmental issues over the past year were in Republican strongholds, like Martin, Lee, Collier and Sarasota counties.
“DeSantis probably heard a lot about this while he was out on campaign trail. And as a result I think he’s responded to it,” Sanders said.
DeSantis announced his first of three picks to sit on the Florida Supreme Court Wednesday, veteran appeals court judge Barbara Lagoa from Miami. Lagoa is the first Cuban-American woman to serve on Miami’s appeals court.
During a press conference, Lagoa underscored her belief that the legislature − not the courts − should make the law.
“She pretty much mirrored DeSantis’ views on the role of the constitution, the role of the legislature ... that the courts should not trump the legislature unnecessarily,” Sanders said. “And that was music to the ears of conservatives. That's what they've wanted for years and years, a court that is more conservative.”
The three outgoing liberal-leaning justices on the court were forced to retire last week. DeSantis is expected to name two additional conservative judges to fill the seats.
“I think the appointments to the Supreme Court may be most important long lasting thing that he does,” Saunders said. “If he makes similar picks this could be meaningful for decades.”
This week DeSantis also toured Hurricane Michael restoration efforts, suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel for his department’s role in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and pulled back a slate of 11-hour appointments made by outgoing Governor Rick Scott.
Scott made 100 appointments to courts, boards and committees in the days before leaving office.
Ceballos said during The Florida Roundup that she was told by U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a close DeSantis ally, that the DeSantis administration had asked Scott not to make some of the appointments, and that Scott did not honor the request.
“It’s a sign that maybe he did not really appreciate some of things Scott did at the last moment,” she said.
Among the appointments made by Scott was Carlos Beruff, a developer from Bradenton, who was appointed to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. He's a controversial figure: Beruff is facing an ethics commission complaint over how he benefitted a former business partner while serving as chairman of the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
DeSantis “might not want to have him on the Wildlife Commission, especially when the environment has been a cornerstone of his campaign,” Ceballos said. “He may want to bring his own person to have a fresh start.”
Largely a newcomer to state politics, it remains to be seen how DeSantis will govern in tandem with other branches of government.
“He does bring Washington experience," Saunders said. "But whether he’ll take on the swamp in Tallahassee − it’s hard to tell."