By Lloyd Dunkelberger, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Ronald Dion DeSantis became Florida’s 46th governor on Tuesday, promising to lead the state for the next four years with “a full heart, my best judgment and the courage of my convictions.”
The 40-year-old Republican from Ponte Vedra Beach did not break any new ground in his inauguration speech but used the 16-minute address to broadly outline his agenda. He pledged to keep Florida a low-tax state, to improve water quality and to end “judicial activism.”
There was no mention of President Donald Trump, whose full-throated endorsement provided the political momentum that lifted the former congressman into the state’s highest executive post.
But DeSantis, a Harvard-educated lawyer and U.S. Navy veteran, praised outgoing Gov. Rick Scott, who won a U.S. Senate seat in November, for leaving “a strong foundation,” including a growing economy.
“It now falls to me to build upon the foundation that has been laid, navigate the challenges — economic, environmental, constitutional — that lie ahead, and steer Florida to a stronger, cleaner and safer future,” DeSantis told a crowd of more than 2,000 supporters, lawmakers and state officials who gathered on the east side of the Old Capitol building for the ceremony.
In some of his first acts as governor, DeSantis will appoint three justices to the Florida Supreme Court, beginning with an appointment on Wednesday morning in Miami. He said the court in recent years has expanded its power “beyond constitutional bounds” and has substituted “legislative will for dispassionate legal judgment.”
“To my fellow Floridians, I say to you: judicial activism ends, right here and right now,” DeSantis said in his speech. “I will only appoint judges who understand the proper role of the courts is to apply the law and Constitution as written, not to legislate from the bench. The Constitution, not the judiciary, is supreme.”
Following a campaign promise, DeSantis is also expected to quickly announce a plan to deal with water-quality problems that have included an outbreak of toxic algae in some rivers and red tide along state coastlines.
He said water quality is “foundational” to the state’s prosperity.
“It doesn’t just drive tourism. It affects property values, anchors many local economies and is central to our quality of life,” DeSantis said. “The water is part and parcel of Florida’s DNA. Protecting it is the smart thing to do. It’s also the right thing to do.”
DeSantis also promised to maintain the state’s “favorable tax climate.”
“Let’s promote a virtuous cycle whereby low taxes, a reasonable regulatory climate, a sensible legal system and a healthy environment attract jobs, business and investment — particularly in the areas of technology, manufacturing and finance,” he said.
On schools, DeSantis said he would support the creation of more education “opportunities,” a reference to the likely expansion of charter schools, publicly funded scholarships for private-school students and other “choice” programs.
“One size does not fit all. No family should be denied the opportunity for their child to succeed due to insufficient income or to living in the wrong ZIP code,” DeSantis said.
He also reiterated a campaign pledge to improve civics education in Florida schools.
In a more partisan vein, DeSantis said he would not allow any “sanctuary cities,” which do not currently exist in Florida.
“And we will stop incentivizing illegal immigration, which is unfair to our legal immigrants, promotes lawlessness and reduces wages for our blue-collar workers,” he said.
DeSantis also promised to improve Florida’s reputation for conducting elections, saying the state should not be “further tarnished by the repeated failure of a small number of counties” to properly conduct elections.
“A generation of botched elections is enough,” he said.
DeSantis said he would remove officials if they are “neglectful of required duties.” That could include suspending Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who has been criticized for the performance of his agency during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year.
DeSantis and his lieutenant governor, former state Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami, participated in the traditional swearing-in ceremony shortly before noon Tuesday. But both actually took office just after midnight Monday, having filed their official oaths of office in December with the Secretary of State’s Office.
Nuñez, who succeeds Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, became the highest-ranking Hispanic woman in state history with her new post.
On Tuesday, DeSantis and Nuñez also continued establishing a cordial relationship with the Republican-led Legislature, hosting a luncheon in the Capitol with the 40 state senators and 120 House members after the inauguration ceremony.
DeSantis repeated his philosophy about the importance of the Legislature in the government process.
“I’m somebody who thinks our government is better when the legislative branch is exercising the authority that it was granted under the Constitution. I think that is true in the federal government and I think that is true here,” DeSantis said, drawing applause from the lawmakers.
DeSantis was accompanied by his wife, Casey Black DeSantis, at the inaugural ceremony and at the legislative luncheon. The couple were also scheduled to host an inaugural ball Tuesday night.
State records show DeSantis is Florida’s youngest governor on Inauguration Day since Park Trammell took the oath of office on Jan. 7, 1913, as a 36-year-old former attorney general.