After a tough campaign and razor thin finish, Ron DeSantis appears to be governor-elect of Florida. It’s a victory to be proud of, and we congratulate the man who, until recently, represented Volusia and Flagler counties in Congress..
DeSantis’ platform emerged late in the race, but he has clearly identified some of the biggest challenges facing Florida: Building its economy and creating a business-friendly environment that encourages the development of good jobs. Protecting its fragile coastline from the ravages of pollution and the threat of sea level rise. Meeting the state’s infrastructure needs, including transportation.
One of his first challenges, however, should be inspired by the narrowness of his victory. After a campaign that often veered toward the rancorous, DeSantis should work to build bridges across Florida’s political spectrum. His mentor, President Donald Trump, claims to have perfected the art of the deal. DeSantis should put that skill — and his own youthful energy — to work, building a coalition of innovative-thinking Republicans and Democrats that can carry Florida into the future.
DeSantis will have the opportunity to define himself more fully in the coming months, and he should take it. This state faces massive challenges: It ranks catastrophically low on national comparisons of public-school performance and personal income (particularly for working families with children). Florida is also on the front lines of the battle to spare a way of life increasingly threatened by rising sea level. For Floridians to weather the coming storms, they need a governor who is present and grounded in state issues — who makes the people of this state his priority.
DeSantis will have powerful allies for whatever he chooses to pursue. Start with Trump. As one of Trump’s most stalwart supporters, DeSantis is perfectly positioned to shine a spotlight on Florida’s biggest needs, including a very real crisis with opioid use, a desperate need for better mental-health services and a need for infrastructure to fight sea-level rise. Florida is a “donor state,” sending more tax dollars to Washington than it claims in federal spending. That should be the governor’s first topic of conversation with the president.
On the state level, GOP control of the Florida Legislature could allow DeSantis’ agenda — when he defines it — to sail through. And DeSantis will be handed three Supreme-Court picks that will likely set the course of Florida’s seven-member Supreme Court for a decade or more.
But before he dives in, DeSantis might want to take a look at his erstwhile opponent’s plan. In an interview earlier this week with the Tampa Bay Times, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said one of his first calls would be to former Gov. Jeb Bush. Bush has valuable advice for DeSantis, because he, too, went into the Governor’s Mansion with the expectation that he’d been handed the keys to Florida government with a Republican-controlled Legislature. Instead, he faced intense and often painful negotiations with lawmakers who had their own priorities. In the long run, Bush’s counsel might be far more informative to DeSantis than Trump’s.
DeSantis should also remember that, though the GOP has held onto the “quadfecta” of control in Tallahassee — House, Senate, governor’s office and Supreme Court — that happened by only the narrowest of margins. Florida voters have placed their trust in DeSantis to put their needs first, and that means all Floridians.