DeSantis Touts GOP-Primary-Friendly Priorities In Florida ‘State Of The State’ Address

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Ron DeSantis kicked off Florida’s annual legislative session on Tuesday with a call to allow the carrying of concealed weapons without a permit and a crackdown on the hiring of undocumented immigrants — priorities that would endear him to GOP presidential primary voters — but failed to touch on an even stricter abortion ban that he supports.

“As we used to do in the military, here’s the BLUF, the bottom line up front: Florida is number one,” the Republican governor said in the state House chambers in his fifth state of the state speech and first since winning reelection in a 20-point landslide in November.

He spent the next half hour describing his accomplishments, with emphasis on his opposition to the “biomedical security state,” as he calls mandates for masks and vaccines against the COVID pandemic.

“We defied the experts. We bucked the elites. We ignored the chatter. We did it our way. The Florida way,” DeSantis said. “And the result is that we are the No. 1 destination for our fellow Americans who are looking for a better life.”

DeSantis, though, did not mention either the 15-week abortion ban he signed into law or the bill for a six-week ban that was filed Tuesday morning. He also failed to use a pet insult for policies and individuals he disagrees with — “woke”— even once.

His remarks, which he read off a pair of teleprompter screens and which were frequently interrupted by standing ovations by the Republican supermajorities, offered few specifics on policy changes he wanted or legislation he supports, instead hitting many of the favorite topics of Fox News viewers in broad strokes.

He promised stricter penalties for fentanyl dealers and to “treat them like the murderers they are.” He would get tougher on illegal immigration: “Florida is not a sanctuary state, and we will uphold the rule of law.” He vowed to prohibit China from buying up land in the state: “We will not allow land grabs by CCP-backed businesses in our state,” he said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party.

And he said he would expand on last year’s banning of sexuality and gender discussion in the early grades. “Our schools must deliver a good education, not a political indoctrination,” he said.

DeSantis, who is expected to announce his candidacy for the 2024 presidential nomination after the end of the legislative session in May, also took a page from his onetime ally and benefactor, Donald Trump. He pointed out a woman in the visitors’ gallery who was raped by an undocumented immigrant.

“He should have never been in the country in the first place,” he said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media following his State of the State address during a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives, March 7, 2023, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media following his State of the State address during a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives, March 7, 2023, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media following his State of the State address during a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives, March 7, 2023, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida.

In a question-and-answer session with reporters afterward, DeSantis said he would sign a six-week abortion ban and that his concern was more about the presence of a heartbeat as opposed to a specific number of weeks of pregnancy. “We welcome pro-life legislation,” he said.

DeSantis did not explain why the topic was left out of his speech, which was being monitored closely by a national audience. Polling, however, shows that abortion restrictions are unpopular with most Americans and that last year’s overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court was a big reason why Republicans did poorly in the 2022 midterms.

One prominent Florida Republican, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said DeSantis’ failure to mention abortion did not surprise him. “After 50 years of Roe v. Wade, I think younger Republicans know how difficult it is to reverse course and I really think it would be difficult to pass a heartbeat bill in [the] Senate.”

While providing fresh fodder for his anticipated run for president, DeSantis’ priorities will do little to address the biggest problems his constituents face, such as massive increases in property insurance premiums, the loss of health care insurance for 1.8 million Floridians, and yet another spring and summer of red tide along the state’s southwest and southeast coasts.

DeSantis already solved the one looming disaster his potential presidential candidacy faced during a special session last month, when he undid a $1.2 billion property tax increase on Central Florida taxpayers that was set to take effect on June 1 thanks to a law he rammed through a year ago to punish the Walt Disney Co. The new law leaves the structure of Disney’s taxing districting largely untouched, although it replaces a board chosen by Disney with one hand-picked by DeSantis.

Meanwhile, one proposal that DeSantis did not mention in his remarks on Tuesday that is likely to pass is a modification of the state’s “resign to run” law, which states that candidates seeking a new office must resign their current position as of the start date of the term they are seeking.

DeSantis, who was reelected in November for a second four-year term, would under the commonly understood interpretation of the statute have to resign effective Jan. 20, 2025, should he declare his candidacy for president.

Although it is unclear whether the law would apply to a state official running for president, lawmakers are expected to clarify that it would not, allowing him to run for president, lose, but still be able to remain governor for the final two years of his term.

He had been a little-known congressman from northeast Florida when he decided to run for governor in 2018. DeSantis started far behind in the primary against the then-agriculture commissioner but parlayed frequent appearances on Fox News and an endorsement from then-President Trump into easily winning the GOP nomination. He went on to a narrow victory over Democrat Andrew Gillum, who was at the time under an FBI investigation for corruption.

Trump, who is now seeking the White House yet again — despite facing multiple criminal investigations into his coup attempt after losing the 2020 election — has now labeled DeSantis “disloyal” for daring to consider a run against him, and has spent much time and energy looking for new ways to insult and demean the Florida governor.

Among all the Republicans running or considering running in 2024, DeSantis is the most competitive with Trump thus far. He is also likely to jump into a fundraising lead soon after he announces, with $77 million in a state political account that can be transferred to a federal super PAC backing DeSantis — $16 million more than the total that Trump had available at the start of 2023 from his campaign, his fundraising committee and a super PAC controlled by a former aide.