Weekly Roundup: DeSantis off and running
By Dara Kam
News Service of Florida
May 26, 2023
TALLAHASSEE — The wait is finally over.
Gov. Ron DeSantis last week put an end to a months-long tease about a possible presidential run and formally entered the race for the White House, pledging to be an “energetic executive” who “will get the job done.”
DeSantis made the announcement during a Twitter Spaces event with Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of the social-media site. Even before the event began, people questioned whether Twitter — which has been riddled with technical issues since Musk’s takeover of the platform last fall — could withstand the anticipated traffic.
Turns out, it couldn’t.
The site, with more than 600,000 listeners trying to tune in, repeatedly glitched. The conversation with DeSantis eventually began after a more than 20-minute delay, with just a fraction of the initial participants connecting.
Early reports of the announcement focused more on the technical meltdown — labeled “embarrassing” by DeSantis detractors and “flattering” by supporters — than the content of his message.
DeSantis said one of his priorities as president would be an “overhaul” of agencies that oversaw the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. His criticism of lockdowns and vaccination mandates has helped build his national political reputation with conservatives.
“These past few years have given me a new appreciation for the fragility of our freedoms,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis, whose team filed campaign paperwork earlier Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission, also used the online announcement to criticize the “legacy” media and “elites” whose “assumptions are never challenged.”
DeSantis’ tech troubles sparked a tongue-in-cheek barb from President Joe Biden, who tweeted a link to his campaign website with the line, “This link works.“
Trump’s campaign also took aim at DeSantis: “Glitchy. Tech issues. Uncomfortable silences. A complete failure to launch. And that’s just the candidate!” the Trump campaign said in a release.
Early polls have shown Trump leading DeSantis in the Republican primary fight, with other GOP candidates further behind. Trump, whose endorsement helped DeSantis get elected governor in 2018, contends DeSantis is being “disloyal” by mounting a challenge.
Trump has long viewed DeSantis as his top primary rival and has used his Truth Social online site to insult and criticize DeSantis, including taunting the governor as Ron DeSanctimonious, which is often shortened to DeSanctus.
DeSantis didn’t directly address Trump during Wednesday’s interview with Musk. The governor will start barnstorming in early Republican battlegrounds next week, with public events scheduled in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Addressing the National Convention of Religious Broadcasters on Monday, DeSantis said the next president could “fortify” the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority during a potential two terms in office.
DeSantis the same day continued to fortify a conservative Florida Supreme Court, appointing Meredith Sasso to succeed former Justice Ricky Polston, who stepped down in March.
Sasso, of Orlando, had served as a state appeals-court judge since 2019 and most recently was chief judge of the Lakeland-based 6th District Court of Appeal. Her previous positions included chief deputy general counsel for former Gov. Rick Scott.
With the pick, DeSantis has appointed five of the seven Supreme Court members, as the court has become dramatically more conservative since the Republican governor took office in January 2019.
“I am proud to appoint Judge Meredith Sasso to the Florida Supreme Court because her fidelity to the Constitution will help preserve freedom in our state for generations to come,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement.
After Polston announced his resignation, speculation swirled about Sasso as a potential successor. Along with serving in the Scott administration, she has been active in The Federalist Society, a conservative group that has played a key role in state and federal judicial appointments.
In her application for the Supreme Court seat, Sasso wrote that while working in the executive branch of government, she “gained an informed appreciation for the separation of powers.”
“Appropriate deference to coordinate branches is not a matter of courtesy; it is essential for the people’s chosen representatives to operate,” Sasso wrote. “Likewise, judicial decisions are not the only available solution to problems. When judges step outside their role, they often justify it by claiming an altruistic purpose of correcting a perceived injustice. But as judges, we should honor both our defined role and the overall system in which we operate.”
THAT DIDN’T TAKE LONG
Hours before his presidential announcement, DeSantis signed into law a major elections bill — and immediately the legal battles began.
The bill (SB 7050), in part, cleared the way for the governor to enter the race for president without having to resign from office.
But the most-controversial parts of the bill are new restrictions on voter-registration groups.
Organizations such as the League of Women Voters of Florida, the NAACP and Hispanic Federation filed three federal lawsuits Wednesday and Thursday arguing that the restrictions violate First Amendment rights and will harm efforts to sign up Black and Hispanic voters.
The restrictions on “third-party” voter-registration groups include dramatically increasing fines for legal violations and preventing non-U.S. citizens and certain convicted felons from handling registration applications.
“The challenged provisions’ only aim, and indeed, only effect, is to limit the ability of 3PVROs (third-party registration groups) like LWVFL (the League of Women Voters) to register eligible Florida citizens to vote, and in so doing, persuade them to action by participating in the electoral process. Indeed, SB 7050 is part of a decades-long pattern of the Florida Legislature seeking to punish and deter the expressive conduct of third-party civic engagement organizations like LWVFL,” said a lawsuit filed by the League of Women Voters of Florida and the League of Women Voters of Florida Education Fund.