By Jim Turner & Ryan Dailey, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis was sworn in Tuesday for a second term, offering a theme of “freedom” in Florida to counter “faddish ideology” nationally.
Speaking on the steps of the Old Capitol, the state’s 46th governor balanced some campaign-style rhetoric and generic policy stances with the confidence of a politician who won re-election by nearly 20 percentage points in November and whose name is repeatedly mentioned as a 2024 presidential contender.
“These last few years have witnessed a great test of governing philosophies as many jurisdictions pursued a much different path than we have pursued here in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said during a 16-minute address before an overflow audience that exceeded the 2,400 seats arrayed in front of the stage.
“The policies pursued by these states have sparked a mass exodus of productive Americans from these jurisdictions — with Florida serving as the most desired destination, a promised land of sanity,” DeSantis added. “Many of these cities and states have embraced faddish ideology at the expense of enduring principles.”
Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Carlos Muniz administered the oath to DeSantis, who placed his hand on a Bible held by First Lady Casey DeSantis.
The stage was backed by a pair of banners proclaiming DeSantis’ 2022 campaign theme of “The Free State of Florida.”
His political standing is vastly different from four years ago, when he took office as a relatively little-known former congressman who narrowly won the gubernatorial election.
Since then, he’s positioned himself as a national counter to the Biden administration on issues such as immigration policy and COVID-19. He also saw his stature as a leader grow as he appeared on television providing assistance after Hurricane Ian.
DeSantis was joined by Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez in being sworn in for second four-year terms.
The only office that changed hands Tuesday involved former Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Republican who was sworn in to replace Democrat Nikki Fried as agriculture commissioner.
Susan MacManus, a retired political-science professor at the University of South Florida, called the DeSantis address a “generic” message that balanced themes of economic and cultural issues.
“I think there was some concern he would just focus on the cultural,” MacManus said. “The economic message was first and foremost. And I think if you’re looking ahead, with what people expect to happen in the national economy in the next few years, was probably a good thing to do.”
Before the inauguration ceremony, MacManus surmised DeSantis’ words would be closely dissected because of his perceived national ambitions.
Democrats criticized the speech, mostly because of what wasn’t said.
“He talked about Florida being such a stark contrast to the federal government, but made no mention that our budget was in the tank but for the dollars that we received from the Biden administration during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, told The News Service of Florida. “So, there was a lot of, I thought, smoke and mirrors and misleading Florida voters.”
Driskell added that “everyday issues” such as property insurance, health-care affordability and housing affordability were also missing.
“It was incredible to me just to listen to this governor not actually address the people of Florida but rather project his remarks, in my opinion, to donors. Billionaire donors and Republican primary voters,” Driskell said. “It wasn’t a speech for Florida or really about Florida,” Driskell said.
DeSantis did not mention former president Donald Trump, a potential 2024 primary foe, or Democratic President Joe Biden. He also did not address issues such as his support for proposals to allow people to openly carry firearms.
But he said Florida schools need to be responsive to parents, “not partisan interest groups.” He also pointed to a desire for the Republican-dominated Legislature to approve more tax cuts amid a record budget surplus.
As he did throughout his re-election campaign against Democrat Charlie Crist, DeSantis accused the federal government of leaving the nation weaker through pandemic restrictions, inflationary spending and energy and immigration policies he opposes, while maintaining “we will never surrender to the woke mob.”
“They have harmed education by subordinating the interests of students and parents to partisan interest groups. They have imposed medical authoritarianism in the guise of pandemic mandates and restrictions that lack a scientific basis,” DeSantis said. “This bizarre, but prevalent, ideology that permeates these policy measures purports to act in the name of justice for the marginalized, but it frowns upon American institutions, it rejects merit and achievement, and it advocates identity essentialism.”
The inauguration ceremony was part of a series of events, including “A Toast to One Million Mamas” hosted by First Lady Casey DeSantis to recognize women who supported the governor, and an inaugural ball at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.