Gov. Ron DeSantis violated the Florida Constitution when he issued an executive order last month forbidding local school districts from mandating masks in classrooms, several Democratic state lawmakers charged Tuesday.
DeSantis didn’t just overreach his executive authority, Reps. Robin Bartleman of Weston, Fentrice Driskell of Tampa, Anna Eskamani of Orlando and Mike Grieco of Miami Beach said, he defied the will of the people.
“Here in Orange County our folks are really frustrated by the Governor’s authoritarian actions,” Eskamani said. “It’s immature. It’s not what he was elected to do, and it very much speaks to a Trumpian (approach), which this country has rejected for a reason.”
Eskamani’s comments came during a Zoom conference on DeSantis’ executive order and his threat to withhold pay from school administrators who flout it. She wasn’t alone in characterizing the move as childish.
“It is time for everybody to just kind of grow up, which is … ironic when we’re talking about adults protecting children,” Grieco said. “I can’t believe some of the rhetoric that I’m seeing not just coming from the public but coming from the elected officials and the administration and the bureaucrats throughout the state of Florida. It’s pretty gross.”
It’s also illegal, they agreed.
“There’s a constitutional conflict here, as the Florida Constitution gives the right to run local school districts to the local school board,” Driskell said. “The Governor is overstepping his bounds.”
Article 9, Section 4 of the Florida Constitution says county school boards “shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school districts,” and DeSantis’ order has prevented school boards from doing that, said Greico, who vowed to skip his government paycheck if DeSantis follows through on his threat to withhold pay from school administrators.
Further, as the state’s top executive official, he said, DeSantis’ job is to uphold the constitution, not sign legislation and executive orders that run afoul of it.
“It’s the wrong way to govern, to pass laws and pass rules and to pass executive orders where they are unconstitutional,” he said. “It’s un-American.”
It’s also not what most Florida voters want. Last week, a survey by St. Pete Polls found more than 62% of likely voters in the state think schools should require all children to wear masks.
But according to Eskamani, adhering to the will of the people isn’t a big concern for DeSantis, whose stances against pandemic-driven business closures, mask mandates and so-called critical race theory curricula, among other subjects, have made him a darling of the GOP base.
“The fact that Gov. DeSantis was fundraising in Michigan last week, also speaking at events across the country, including even in Nebraska, really speaks to how the Governor is setting himself up for a national stage,” she said. “That is such a disservice to the people of Florida who need leadership here and need leadership now.”