December 5, 2022
Allowing residents to carry concealed guns without a permit. Combatting the influence of China. Increasing protections for the unborn. Continuing to push back on woke corporations trying to impose their ideological agendas on the state.
These are just some of the issues newly reelected Florida governor Ron DeSantis may prioritize next year as he begins his second term at the state’s helm, according to Republican consultants, current and former elected leaders, and people with close ties to DeSantis who spoke to National Review. They could also help him as he looks to burnish his credentials as a conservative champion ahead of a potential 2024 presidential run.
DeSantis has not indicated that he will run for president. Last month, he said people need to “chill out a little bit” about talk of a 2024 run and his allegedly growing rivalry with former president Donald Trump. But after spending his first term as governor building a national reputation as a smart and pugnacious conservative, and cruising to reelection with a nearly 20-point margin, DeSantis typically tops lists of GOP alternatives to Trump in 2024. And, while he’s reluctant to publicly entertain 2024 speculation, DeSantis is reportedly planning to release an autobiography in February, a telltale sign that a rising political figure is interested in seeking a promotion.
After making gains in November, Republicans now have supermajorities in the Florida house and senate. The leaders of both chambers are generally seen as DeSantis allies poised to tee up legislative victories next year that DeSantis can use to build his résumé, all while Trump is caught up defending himself in at least eight criminal and civil probes.
“We all work well together,” Florida house speaker Paul Renner said of his relationship with DeSantis and Florida senate president Kathleen Passidomo. “There will be things that will be extremely important to the governor, and therefore they’re extremely important to me. And we’re going to look at it and try to get everybody where they want to go, because we do have close philosophical alignment.”
“I assume there may be some things where we disagree,” said Passidomo. “But I haven’t seen it yet.”
Last year, DeSantis worked with his allies in the legislature to chalk up high-profile culture-war wins, including the so-called Stop W.O.K.E. Act, a law to stop the spread of critical race theory; a parental-rights bill that prohibits educators from talking to young children about sexual orientation and gender identity; a bill to revoke Disney’s autonomous governing zone after company leaders criticized the parental-rights bill; and a ban on most abortions after 15 weeks. He also notched less-discussed wins around school choice, tax relief, student testing, Everglades restoration, and protecting the state from floods and sea-level rise.
For the most part, the Florida Republican leaders who spoke to National Review said they expect DeSantis to continue on the same course in his second term.
“I think it’s more a matter of consolidating existing wins,” said Mike Haridopolos, a former Florida senate president who is now a political consultant. “No one is going to call the governor weak on crime. No one is going to call the governor not for school choice. There’s really no chink in the armor in my opinion if he chooses to run for president.”
DeSantis has already laid out some of his priorities for 2023 and beyond. Some of his priorities — including efforts to curb China’s influence, provide tax relief to working families, and limit woke investment strategies involving the state’s money — could help him in a 2024 presidential campaign, while priorities around toll relief and property-insurance reform are more Florida-centric. The legislature is slated to meet this month to address skyrocketing property-insurance rates, and the growing crisis of insurers pulling out of Florida or declaring insolvency.
Other issues DeSantis could champion over the next year or two include a further expansion of school choice in Florida, constitutional-carry legislation to allow residents to carry concealed firearms without a license, and additional abortion limits to further protect the unborn.
Taking on ESG and Woke Investing of State Funds
Over the summer, DeSantis announced legislative proposals to protect Florida residents from the so-called environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) movement, a business and investment practice that emphasizes not just financial returns, but also grades companies on things such as their ethics, board diversity, political donations, and sustainability efforts.
DeSantis has described ESG as “the leveraging of corporate power to impose an ideological agenda on society.” His proposed legislation would prohibit financial institutions from discriminating against customers based on their beliefs, and require the state’s fund managers to consider maximizing return on investment for Florida retirees to the exclusion of any ESG factors.
“This is an important issue because it raises the question of who governs society,” he said during a press conference in July. “Do we govern through our Constitution and through our elections, or do we have these masters of the universe occupying these commanding heights of society? Are they able to use their economic power to impose policies on the country that they could not do so at the ballot box?”
Renner and others said the fight over ESG could be the next front in the fight against efforts by ideologues to weave woke, leftist ideals into the nation’s fabric. “We’ve seen idealogues politicize everything in society,” he said. “I think it’s important that we aggressively push back against these groups who have turned politics into their religion and are demanding that we follow it no matter what the costs are.”
Protecting Florida from Chinese Influence and Espionage
In recent months, DeSantis has been saying that the U.S. needs to do “much, much more” to protect itself from China and other hostile nations. In September, he signed an executive order prohibiting government entities in Florida from procuring technology products and services from companies owned, controlled, or based in “foreign countries of concern.”
“The last thing we want to see is the [Chinese Communist Party] getting their mitts onto people’s personal information,” DeSantis said while announcing the effort.
He has also proposed legislative action to prohibit companies from those countries — China, Cuba, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Venezuela — from buying agricultural land and land around Florida’s 21 military bases. Lawmakers raised concerns earlier this year that China is buying up agricultural land near military bases in an effort to monitor electronic communications and base activities.
Last year, DeSantis signed legislation requiring the disclosure of foreign donations of $50,000 or more to higher-education institutions in Florida. He has since called for legislation to prohibit any gifts to schools connected to a country of concern, and restrictions and preconditions on researchers from those countries.
“This is really a mechanism for the CCP to expand propaganda in the United States,” he said, noting that a college in Miami-Dade County recently short-circuited a Chinese Confucius Institute on its campus. “Why would you want a CCP operation in Miami of all places, where people understand the malevolence of this ideology.”
Speaking at Mar-a-Lago in February, DeSantis expressed support for legislation that would allow Floridians to carry concealed weapons without a permit. He has since repeatedly reiterated his desire to sign a constitutional-carry bill, according to news reports.
DeSantis said he doesn’t believe “government bureaucrat[s]” should be able to “stymie your ability to exercise your constitutional rights.”
“I can’t tell you if it’s going to be next week, six months, but I can tell you before I am done as governor, we will have a signature on that bill,” DeSantis said in May, according to USA Today Network — Florida.
Passidomo said she hasn’t had an in-depth discussion with DeSantis on the topic. “The devil is in the details,” she said, specifically noting firearms training and what she sees as a need to do more to assess threats, including identifying and tracking students who make credible threats to schools. “We don’t have a statewide database that tracks those kids,” she said.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen” on constitutional carry, Passidomo said. “There are so many things that we’re going to be doing this session. We’ll see on that.”
Further Expansion of School Choice
Just last year, Florida passed a massive expansion of school choice with a bill to substantially grow a program that provides low-income and working-class families with scholarships to pay private-school tuition. Last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Carson v. Maine that it is unconstitutional to exclude religious schools from state tuition-assistance programs could open the door for an even greater expansion of school choice in the Sunshine State.
Sal Nuzzo, vice president of policy at the conservative James Madison Institute in Tallahassee, said the “brass ring” would be a school-choice program where funding follows the students. “Now you have a Supreme Court precedent that allows it,” he said. “It’s also going to align very much with the governor’s take on parents having a say in how kids are educated.”
Renner said school choice-expansion is a priority of his, including expanding eligibility for existing voucher programs and making education-savings accounts available to students statewide. With Florida being the third most populous state in the nation and the world’s 15th largest economy, he said, the state has “the capacity to create a really exciting market that will induce a lot of education innovators to come in and get great educational results.”
Tax and Toll Relief
With inflation still roaring, DeSantis has expressed interest in helping working families save money at the cash register and helping commuters with tolls. He has proposed permanently ending the state sales tax on baby goods — diapers, strollers, cribs — as well as a one-year tax holiday on household items under $25. He has also proposed providing discounts on tolls for frequent commuters. The move could save frequent commuters hundreds of dollars a year, he estimated, and could save some commuters in South Florida more than $1,000 a year.
“Governor DeSantis wants to make it easier for families and Floridians to weather the difficult economic circumstances that the poor policies of the Biden administration have brought upon the country,” Bryan Griffin, the governor’s press secretary, said in a phone interview.
Additional Protections for the Unborn
Last April, DeSantis signed the Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality Act, which shortened the window for abortions in the state from 24 weeks to 15, with few exceptions.
After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade in June, DeSantis promised to further expand “pro-life protections” in Florida, according to Politico. Last month, Griffin confirmed the possibility for more abortion legislation, writing to the Tampa Bay Times that “we look forward to working with the Legislature to further advance protections for innocent life.”
Passidomo, the new Florida senate president, would like to see the state add exceptions in its law for rape and incest. “I do not believe a simple bill that amends the 15-week bill to address rape and incest will pass,” she told National Review. “I think reducing the number of weeks to 12 makes sense, because most abortions are performed within the first 12 weeks, and that would be a good compromise.”
She noted that the state’s abortion law is currently held up in the Florida supreme court, which needs to rule on whether a privacy clause in the state’s constitution protects abortion rights. Additional legislation on abortion is unlikely until that is addressed.
One former DeSantis staffer, who declined to be named for this story, said Florida Republicans should stick with the gains they’ve made on abortion, and avoid alienating voters by pushing too hard for additional restrictions that will have little practical impact.
“We’re stirring up a hornets’ nest,” the former staffer said of proposals to further limit abortion in Florida. “We’re adding fuel to their fire, and we don’t have to.”
Making Housing More Affordable
With a surge in new residents, housing prices in Florida have skyrocketed in recent years. But Passidomo noted that a lack of workforce housing has been a problem in some corners of the state for decades. She has lived in southwest Florida for over 40 years, and it was a problem when she arrived, she said. “And it hasn’t gotten better. It’s only gotten worse. And we really need to do something about it,” Passidomo said.
In his first speech as Florida house speaker last month, Renner also noted that making housing more affordable would be a priority in 2023. Passidomo, who intends to introduce legislation on the issue, said DeSantis was supportive when she discussed the issue with him, though it’s unclear how high the topic is on his list.
A Master at Steering in the Current
There are other issues that could become DeSantis priorities in the coming months, possibly including issues that aren’t on most people’s radars at the moment.
One current staffer who asked not to be named suggested the governor and the legislature could take another stab at combating Big Tech censorship. A law passed last year that required social-media companies to post their standards for censoring, banning, or blocking users was ruled unconstitutional on First Amendment grounds by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Big Tech censorship is “an issue that is now front and center again,” the staffer said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was something that the governor and the legislature were interested in addressing.”
Chris Sprowls, the outgoing Florida house speaker, suggested that DeSantis would likely prioritize environmental issues next year. While it might not get a lot of media attention, he said, DeSantis “has been a wildly effective leader on protecting Florida’s environment.” As governor, DeSantis has prioritized beach renourishment, state-park investments, Everglades restoration, clean water, and building resiliency from floods and rising sea levels.
A former DeSantis staffer who also spoke on a condition of anonymity suggested that more culture-war battles could be in store in 2023, possibly around woke textbooks and graphic school-library books. DeSantis “didn’t exploit that as much as he could have” in the last year, said the former staffer, who expressed some concern about Republicans engaging too much in culture-war fights. “I don’t like going down this social route as much as we do.”
It’s possible, the former staffer said, that the hot social issue of 2023 has not yet risen. If and when it does, DeSantis has a knack for pivoting on the fly and making hot issues his own.
“In the end, he’s very good at reacting,” the former staffer said. “He’s very good at steering in the current. He’s a master at it.”