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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee.

DeSantis is back in Florida and lawmakers are asking, what's next?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stands behind a podium and speaks to the crowd after being sworn in to begin his second term during an inauguration ceremony on the steps of the Old Capitol on Jan. 3, 2023, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Lynne Sladky
/
AP
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to the crowd after being sworn in to begin his second term during an inauguration ceremony outside the Old Capitol on Jan. 3, 2023, in Tallahassee, Fla.

Governor Ron DeSantis is back in Florida after ending his presidential bid, and politicos in the capitol are wondering: what’s next? That’s because the governor made his name on an agenda that capitalized on culture wars and he’s led the state—and the legislature—with an iron fist. Now Florida Democrats are openly pondering how much influence the governor may exert on the GOP-led legislature this year.

For the past several years DeSantis has led, and largely crafted, the Republican legislative agenda. He strong-armed through a congressional map that eliminated a minority access district over the opposition of the Republican leadership. He’s called on Florida to reject a so-called “WOKE” agenda, resulting in laws that targeted LGBTQ people and he signed into law a restrictive six-week abortion ban that’s yet to go into effect. However, this year, DeSantis hasn’t proposed any legislation. During his state-of-the state address earlier this month, he highlighted his legislative achievements but only urged lawmakers to keep the status quo.

“My message is simple; stay the course. The state of our state is strong. Let’s keep doing what works. Let’s continue to make Florida the envy of the nation," DeSantis said in a speech that was more targeted to a national audience than those in the room.

At the time, the governor was preoccupied by his presidential campaign, leaving lawmakers to expect a less contentious legislative session. But now, things are up in the air, says Democratic Sen. Lauren Book, the chamber's minority leader.

“I thought it was good he was preoccupied and let us do our job, but ya know…I think the rest of the country didn’t want to be Florida’d, or his version of Florida," she told reporters during a media avail this week.

“He’s really destroyed, I believe, a lot of who and what we believe to be true due to culture wars and we have a responsibility to go back and undo what he did while we’re here.”

It's been an open secret, says Book's counterpart, Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky, that DeSantis even angered fellow Republicans.

“We all know our Republican colleagues didn’t enjoy being told what to do and having the agenda shoved down their throats," Polsy said.

One example of that—when the issue of redistricting arose, the legislature proposed a map that preserved minority access districts, before DeSantis effectively pushed through his own which eliminated one of them. And when Republican Sen. and former state GOP chairman Joe Gruters endorsed Donald Trump for President, he saw his priorities vetoed.

This year, says Polsky, the tone around policy has been noticeably different.

“I sensed from opening remarks in both chambers and conversations that we’ve had that we’re going to have a more independent legislature this year," she said. "I just don’t think he has the power to make them follow his agenda…they may agree with some of the policy things and culture garbage, but I don’t think it’s going to be at the same level.”

Privately, Republicans remain very worried about what DeSantis they will get: the DeSantis who in 2019 largely won bipartisan praise…or the culture warrior? It’s a question that will eventually be answered as the governor begins to ponder his post-gubernatorial future. There are already rumblings of a potential, 2028 presidential bid.
 

Follow @HatterLynn

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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