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Kudos: Ron DeSantis is getting high marks with at least one environmental group over his commitment to conservation, Everglades restoration and resource protection. Image via WFSU.

Emails & Opinions

Joe Henderson: Ron DeSantis has different approach to Republican leadership

That’s what can happen when someone is willing to break from the pack.

In extolling Gov. Ron DeSantis, the unabashedly liberal Mother Jones magazine noted, “DeSantis appears to have broken away from the Republican pack.”

Well, not that far away. No one should doubt his conservative chops.

DeSantis signed bills during the just-completed Legislative Session to expand the state’s school voucher program. He green-lighted allowing some teachers to carry guns in the classroom. The Governor went along with a move that makes harder for felons who have served their prison time to regain the right to vote.

He recently signed his first death warrant.

Give the man his due, though.

DeSantis has been a welcome surprise on the environment after eight years of Rick Scott and his band of Florida trashers who couldn’t use the words “climate change.”

DeSantis appointed Thomas Frazer as the state’s first Chief Science Officer and, guess what? He believes climate change is real.

DeSantis’ latest move, vetoing a snarky bill by GOP lawmakers to overturn the ban some Florida cities have on plastic straws, was met with widespread applause.

His reasoning was perfect, too.

Those bans, DeSantis said, have “not frustrated any state policy or harmed the state’s interest.”

I may need a moment after what we’ve seen over much of the last decade. During Scott’s eight years as Governor, he had little interest for anything except business expansion. His party had little regard for any ideas beyond its own.

President Trump appears to care only his base of supporters, but that excludes about 60 percent of the country.

But let’s get back to the point made in Mother Jones.

Republican friends have told me, in various ways, about their frustration at being labeled mean by opponents. I get that, but sometimes it’s hard not to view them that way.

Under GOP control, Tallahassee has for years chipped away at public schools. Republicans ignored health care expansion for the neediest Floridians.

Guns are everywhere.

Trump’s name-calling, tweetstorms, and cozying up to dictators while insulting long-time allies is a huge factor too. Put it all together, and it creates an awful image of the party of Lincoln and Reagan.

But then along comes DeSantis, winning praise from even those on the left. No one expected him to shout “FREE STUFF FOR EVERYBODY” from the Governor’s mansion, but it’s refreshing not to feel at odds with everything the chief executive does.

The left loves his positive moves on the environment. They applauded when he pushed, and won, for smokeable medical marijuana. Pardoning the Groveland Four was widely lauded. His approval rating is through the roof, and that includes many people who voted against him.

If this how DeSantis continues to operate, it could help reset Republicans around the country into something they once were – and need to be again. They went off the rails when they stopped being inclusive. DeSantis appears to realize he is the Governor for the whole state.

He has only been the Governor for a few months. He already is building a resume that might play well, though, if his future ambitions include an even-higher office than the one he currently holds.

DeSantis will have served as the Governor for the country’s third-largest state. He has crossover popularity. He is conservative but willing to listen to concerns from the other party.

It’s a brand of Republican leadership with which many people are not familiar. That’s what can happen, though, when someone is willing to break from the pack.

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I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

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