Here are the top 2023 stories in Florida state government

DeSantis
Ron DeSantis' star has fallen, but Republicans still maintain control of Tallahassee.

At the start of 2023, Gov. Ron DeSantis was riding high. Fresh off a 20-point obliteration of Charlie Crist the previous November, he started his second term with an eye on the Oval Office.

In his second inaugural address he highlighted the accomplishments of his first term, mainly his handling of the pandemic, which largely pushed against restrictive measures recommended by public health experts. But, foreshadowing his national ambitions, he heaped scorn on the federal government led by President Joe Biden, a Democrat.

“(The federal government) wields its authority through a sprawling, unaccountable and out-of-touch bureaucracy that does not act on behalf of us, but instead looms over us and imposes its will upon us,” DeSantis said in his second inaugural speech Jan. 3.

“The results of this have been predictably dismal. This has caused many to be pessimistic about the country’s future. Some say that failure is inevitable. Florida is proof positive that We the People are not destined for failure. Decline is a choice. Success is attainable. And freedom is worth fighting for.”

The first item of business in DeSantis’ second term was bringing the Disney corporation to heel.

DeSantis called a Special Session for February and before the month was out signed into law a measure giving him total control over the Reedy Creek Improvement District that governs the area around the Disney theme parks in Central Florida and renamed it the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

The fight with Disney, a perennial financial backer of state-level GOP campaigns and politicians, underscored DeSantis’ sway over the Legislature.

During the same Session, the Legislature approved bills at DeSantis’ behest to give a statewide prosecutor jurisdiction over election fraud cases and to cement into law his administration’s authority to pick up undocumented immigrants anywhere in the U.S. and transport them within the country.

Those bills were all “fixes” of measures passed by the Legislature the previous year, but DeSantis’ squabble with Disney, which is still being disputed in the courts, garnered him national attention, boosting his profile and adding to the expectation of a presidential run.

That expectation began to transform into urgency among DeSantis’ supporters in the Spring. Former President Donald Trump had formally entered the race two weeks after the 2022 elections and had begun taking potshots at DeSantis, who was nearing Trump in many national polls at the time.

But DeSantis was engaged in the Regular Session for most of the Spring. As DeSantis prepared a run for the GOP nomination for President, warily negotiating an oncoming clash with Trump, he pushed for and won a series of priorities from the Legislature that underlined his status in the race as its top culture warrior.

DeSantis signed bills to further restrict abortions, ban “gender-affirming” care for minors, erode the scant power of teacher unions, allow concealed weapons to be carried without a permit, make child rapists eligible for the death penalty, eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives in schools and universities and ban “woke” investing by state and local governments.

The major bills helped to add to DeSantis’ red-meat résumé ahead of his entry into the Republican Primary, but the Session wasn’t completely made up of the Governor’s to-do list. Legislative leaders — House Speaker Paul Renner of Palm Coast and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo of Naples — pushed their top priorities over the finish line as well.

For Renner, it was a move to install vouchers for all Florida students in K-12 grades. Florida under Gov. Jeb Bush led the push for vouchers in the early 2000s, but it started as a program for lower-income families to send their children to private schools. It gradually expanded to higher income levels and Renner was able to pass the bill to make it available to all students, despite the protests of Democrats who argued making it available to rich families was essentially an entitlement program for the well-to-do, who were likely to send their children to private school anyway.

Passidomo, meanwhile, pushed for her Live Local Act, which is designed to provide incentives to developers to build more affordable housing units throughout the state. It’s an attempt to alleviate spiking rents in many cities that have made it difficult for working class families to afford to live near their workplaces.

Some critics of the legislation noted it also preempted local governments from imposing rent controls and required cities and counties to accept zoning changes to allow for residential if a developer planned to include enough affordable housing units. But it contained enough provisions, including $736 million for affordable housing programs, to get widespread support from Democrats.

Democrats, though, were incensed by most of DeSantis’ and the GOP Legislature’s agenda. But they could do little to stop it. Republicans won supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature in 2022, helped by taking over the voter registration advantage from Democrats, a lead that continued to grow in 2023.

Republicans have been in firm control of the Governor’s mansion and the Legislature in Florida for more than two decades. The few bright spots have been in municipal elections, such as when Democrat Donna Deegan defeated Republican Daniel Davis in the Jacksonville mayoral race in May.

That victory gave Democrats a glimmer of hope amid a gloomy time in the Sunshine State, but even that glimmer may prove to be fleeting. The Legislature has passed numerous bills to preempt the power of local governments, often thwarting progressive policies. But DeSantis has gone further, removing Democratic elected officials from office.

He ousted Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren in August 2022 for pledging not to prosecute abortion-related crimes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. A federal judge in January ruled DeSantis violated Warren’s First Amendment rights, but declared he didn’t have the authority to reinstate him in office. The Florida Supreme Court upheld that verdict in June.

DeSantis then suspended Orange County State Attorney Monique Worrell for “neglecting her duty” to prosecute crime in her district. Worrell is challenging that decision in court.

DeSantis routinely touts those suspensions on the campaign trail, saying he got rid of “Soros” prosecutors, referring to liberal billionaire George Soros, whose progressive activist groups backed the campaigns of Warren and Worrell.

Yet all of that hasn’t led to a march up the polls for DeSantis in the Primary. In fact, he’s fallen back to the rest of the pack.

DeSantis’ campaign began with a glitch-filled Twitter talk and has sputtered in its attempt to track down Trump, who still holds a commanding lead among GOP voters.

There have been bright spots, including DeSantis making good on his pledge to visit all 99 counties in Iowa, home of the first caucus, and winning the endorsement of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds. But the infighting between his campaign and Never Back Down, the super PAC supporting him which has seen many of its top officials leave within the last month heading into the last stretch before Iowa, is another unnecessary headache for a campaign needing momentum.

Even as his campaign stumbled out of the gate and ran into a brick wall of Trump infatuation among Republicans, DeSantis’ stranglehold on the Legislature didn’t loosen in any meaningful way, and his policies continued to move forward. Only the courts threw an occasional roadblock in the way, and then it was usually a speed bump on the path to the appeals court.

Apart from the Deegan win, Florida Republicans had little to complain about in 2023. At least until reports of a police investigation into Christian Ziegler were made public.

Ziegler, Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), is accused of raping a woman he and his wife, Bridget, had a consensual sexual relationship with for the prior year. DeSantis and all other top state Republicans have called on Ziegler to resign, but he has refused. The RPOF’s executive committee moved to reduce his salary to $1 and strip him of power ahead of a formal removal next year.

Compared to his standing at the start of 2023, DeSantis’ hopes of defeating Trump have dimmed. But his standing among fellow Republicans in the Legislature remains strong, despite the defections of a handful of lawmakers who initially endorsed him before flipping to Trump.

Now on the precipice of 2024, DeSantis is prepared to push on with an agenda that further cements social conservatism throughout Florida’s institutions, regardless of what happens in Iowa.

Gray Rohrer


9 comments

  • tom palmer

    December 22, 2023 at 5:04 pm

    The top stories that describe Florida’s race to the bottom. It was all about hate and political retribution. He is the worst governor I can recall in my 76 years living in Florida.

    • Julia

      December 22, 2023 at 5:43 pm

      I just got paid 7268 Dollars Working off my Laptop this month. And if you think that’s cool, My Divorced friend has twin toddlers and made 0ver $ 13892 her first m0nth. It feels so good making so much money when other people have to as20 work for so much less.

      This is what I do……………………….> > > dailyincome41.blogspot.com

  • JD

    December 22, 2023 at 5:44 pm

    Worst. Governor. EVER.

    Impeach his ass

  • Pat Snuggles

    December 22, 2023 at 8:18 pm

    You didn’t mention Stafford Jones corruption therefore the list is not valid.

  • My Take

    December 23, 2023 at 12:36 am

    Hoax! Witch Hunt! Fake News!
    The Zieglers are being railroaded by deranged long-time Ziegler-Haters!
    MAGA will not put up with this!
    You are playing with fire!

  • Sonja Fitch

    December 23, 2023 at 5:17 am

    Sadly I have watched the destruction of the common good by Desantis and the other creepy trump cult representatives of Floridians! Either shut up or get out! That means if you are elected look at who and what you are hurting! Very little if any for the common good! Get out and go away!

  • D Purdy

    December 24, 2023 at 8:11 am

    Story would have been easier to read if they were numbered as promised in the headline!

  • m. rogers

    December 31, 2023 at 9:30 am

    Boy the radicle liberals are loud. DeSantis has been a good gov but I do not want to see him as President. He has made mistakes (Disney) and that are too big to give him National power. I wish he had listened to people who were involved with the Disney deal from the beginning. His actions with Disney cost Florida a lot of money.

  • Cynthia chesy

    January 2, 2024 at 9:37 pm

    Floridians will get tired of the hate speech sooner or later. Hate begets hate and that’s what they’re going to be living with if DeSantis Keeps pushing his agenda on women children gaze and other people he disdains. Women have Very little clout, a nurse in some areas of florida makes half of what they do in most states.. Is cost of living is not half in florida. Does santa’s doesn’t care about women plumber Our men and they make twice as much as women in florida. Women are stupid to continue to live there.

Comments are closed.


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