‘Ain’t seen nothing yet’: DeSantis touts making Florida attractive destination, largely tempers firebrand style
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In his first State of the State speech since his re-election, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday touted his policies as making Florida an attractive destination with a booming economy.
Widely expected to run for the Republican presidential nomination, the governor appeared to temper his firebrand style for an intended audience far beyond the state's coastlines.
DeSantis urged lawmakers to pass new laws preventing immigrants in the U.S. illegally from finding jobs, ban hormone treatments and surgeries for transgender minors and allow residents to carry guns without permits.
The governor acknowledged a major concern that has been a point of criticism by Democrats under his administration – homes are too expensive across Florida.
“We also need to ensure that our supply of housing is adequate to meet the needs of those in our workforce,” he said. “Workers who make our economy tick should be able to find a place to live that’s affordable in their general area of their jobs.”
He also returned to familiar opposition to vaccine mandates and what he described as expanding parental rights over what is taught in Florida’s classrooms.
DeSantis did not mention his prospective political rivals for the Republican nomination, never uttering or alluding to former President Donald Trump, a Florida resident who has been increasingly critical of DeSantis. He also didn’t mention election integrity, or pointedly criticize the media – a favorite target – even as he has urged lawmakers this year to make it easier for politicians to sue journalists.
DeSantis also boasted about Florida’s extraordinary response to widespread damage in southwest Florida from Hurricane Ian last fall, when some bridges and causeways to outlying islands were temporarily rebuilt in record time.
“We defy the experts. We buck the elites. We ignore the chatter,” DeSantis said. “We did it our way: the Florida way.”
The governor’s address was one of the most consequential of his career so far.
More often than in previous speeches, DeSantis pointed out audience members his administration had invited to put a face to his range of talking points. He called on a woman who had taken hormone therapy and had a double mastectomy at 16 and later regretted it, a newly elected school board member in Orlando who had complained about library books she said were pornographic, and a woman who was sexually assaulted by an immigrant in the country illegally.
Coming off his national book tour, the legislative agenda DeSantis outlined is more important than ever. Winning re-election as governor in November by the largest margin in 40 years, DeSantis can claim a popular mandate by voters to drive a GOP-controlled Legislature that appears eager to assist the governor’s aspirations to become the Republican nominee in 2024.
“November’s election results represent a vindication of our joint efforts over these past four years,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis laid out policies he wanted, including:
- Allowing Floridians without criminal records to carry concealed weapons without a permit. ”A constitutional right should not require a permission slip from the government,” he said.
- Banning medical treatments involving hormone therapy or surgeries for transgender minors.
- Increasing teacher salaries and passing what he called a Teacher’s Bill of Rights. One such measure would put new restrictions on teacher unions, which have traditionally favored Democrats and progressives in Florida. “Our schools must deliver a good education, not a political indoctrination,” he said.
- Increasing criminal penalties for fentanyl dealers, who he compared to murderers. Some proposals would allow judges to impose life imprisonment or death sentences for dealers. “We must treat them like the murderers that they are,” he said.
- Requiring more employers to check the immigration status of prospective employees and increasing penalties for human smugglers. “Florida is not a sanctuary state and we will uphold the rule of law,” he said.
DeSantis touted the state’s fiscal health, praising its economic growth, low unemployment and a burgeoning budget surplus. He blamed “excessive spending and printing of money” by the Biden administration for painful inflation, which economic experts have attributed to low unemployment, high wages and supply-chain problems left over from the global pandemic.
DeSantis said he wanted to keep Florida “pro-family” and “pro-life,” alluding to restrictions on abortions, but he did not specify whether he will endorse limits beyond Florida’s current ban on abortions beyond 15 weeks, which DeSantis signed last year. A new bill banning abortions after six weeks was filed in Tallahassee on Tuesday.
Culture war issues should not have been the focus of the governor’s address, said House Minority Leader Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa.
“It was practically a speech full of red meat for his base. Not much to help Floridians actually pay their bills,” Driskell said.
Unlike in earlier annual addresses, the governor was far more pointed criticizing vaccines, which he previously celebrated in 2021. He didn’t directly mention vaccines last year. On Tuesday, DeSantis praised what he said were Florida’s protections against a “biomedical security state.”
“We have protected Floridians from losing their jobs due to their personal decision about whether to take or not take the COVID jab,” DeSantis said.
The governor defended his highly controversial decision in September to fly two plane loads of 48 Venezuelan immigrants from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. In his speech, he called the immigrants “illegal aliens,” although they were lawfully seeking asylum in the United States at the time.
“We have fought against illegal immigration in the state of Florida from banning sanctuary cities to suing the Biden Administration over its catch-and-release policies to transporting illegal aliens to sanctuary jurisdictions,” he said.
In a follow-up to the health department banning what physicians call gender-affirming care for minors, DeSantis stood firmly against transgender treatments – although never saying the word “transgender.”
“Our children are not guinea pigs for scientific experimentation and we cannot allow people to make money off of mutilating them,” DeSantis said.
The February special legislative session provided a glimpse into how legislators plan to appease the governor during the general session for the next 60 days. Lawmakers expanded his ability to fly immigrants out of Florida using public money and wrapped up efforts to punish The Walt Disney Co. over its public criticism of Republicans’ efforts to limit discussions of sexual identity or orientation in classrooms.
The work between the House and Senate began Tuesday, said Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples.
“We are in concert. We are together,” Passidomo said. “We have the same priorities. The House and Senate are going to be a legislative family.”
For Democrats, the session will be contentious and frustrating, as Republicans hold overwhelming majorities in both chambers.
“They will never see a war like they’re about to see,” said Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at semineram @freshtakeflorida.com . You can donate to support our students here .