By The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board
The Ron DeSantis we saw during the just-ended gubernatorial campaign was a disappointment: The stumbles over racist dog whistles. The lack of coherent environmental or health care plans. The blatantly false accusations against his opponent.
We much prefer the Governor-elect Ron DeSantis. The DeSantis who, unlike his mentor President Donald Trump and predecessor Gov. Rick Scott during the recounts, eschewed divisive and unfounded rhetoric about attempts to “steal the election.” The DeSantis who has hinted at bringing a Democrat into his administration to help him work across the aisle. The DeSantis who has reached out to his opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, to put their heated political battle behind them and join him in “a conversation” about the state.
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“We have both traveled the state and met Floridians from all walks of life,” DeSantis said in a statement after sealing his victory in a statewide machine recount. “Sharing these experiences will, I believe, help us unite our state and build toward unity on behalf of the people of Florida.”
That’s the proper tone for moving forward.
But DeSantis’ sincerity will soon be tested. The new leadership in both chambers of the Florida Legislature — Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes — held organizational sessions last week and revealed policy agendas that tended to offer the same recipe Republicans have served up since 1998: cutting taxes, decreasing regulations and expanding school choice programs.
Yet lawmakers are split in various directions over health care, the scope of tax cuts and the amount of spending on infrastructure and the environment.
This is where the governor-elect, who hasn’t said much about his own agenda — either during or after the campaign — can take the lead in making sure our state government works for all Floridians. While we are enjoying the fruits of a growing economy and net migration of about 850 people a day — “a population slightly larger than the city of Orlando every year,” according to Galvano — the state still faces major challenges.
Following are five big issues that the Post Editorial Board would like to see a Gov. DeSantis prioritize:
ENVIRONMENT. This may the lone issue that DeSantis clearly campaigned on. He promised to focus on water quality in the wake of this year’s devastating toxic blue-green algae and red tide. And he should follow through on stepping up those regulations.
Things are off to a bad start, in the minds of voters affected by the algae outbreaks, after the South Florida Water Management District’s recent surprise decision to re-lease to Florida Crystals Corp. 560 acres of farmland south of Lake Okeechobee designated for the Everglades Agricultural Area reservoir meant for water storage.
Ensuring that hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars from 2014′s Amendment 1 referendum is spent the way voters intended — on land and water conservation — would go a long way toward restoring their confidence.
EDUCATION. Galvano has already said he wants to do more to make our public school campuses secure. DeSantis should work with him on this, but be careful not to turn our schools into fortresses or do any more to put guns in the hands of “volunteers.”
A billion-dollar corporate tax increase, as proposed by Gillum, was never going fly, but to keep expecting the third largest state to have a top-rated public school system while underpaying teachers is a fool’s errand. And now, with school shootings becoming more frequent, the same can be said of guidance counselors specializing in mental health.
Put a halt to unfunded mandates on traditional public schools. And stop diverting taxpayer dollars to unaccountable for-profit charter schools and private-school vouchers.
ECONOMY. Florida’s economy will keep adding jobs because, well, it’s Florida. The economic issue for DeSantis is attracting better-paying jobs.
The ROI on Scott’s short-term fix of offering millions in incentives to companies to relocate is no long-term solution. Companies like Amazon want a large, educated populace to draw upon and housing that employees can afford to live in. That requires increased investment in our public colleges and universities to produce graduates in areas like health and technology, and using the money from the Sadowski Housing Trust funds to actually build affordable housing.
HEALTHCARE. Like education, Medicaid takes up a huge part of the state’s $89 billion budget. Again, here is where DeSantis can show vision where Scott did not. He can work with the business community to develop a Medicaid expansion plan that federal officials will accept.
A growing number of GOP-controlled states are doing this to help their budgets, bolster their economies and ensure that more of their working poor have access to affordable healthcare.
ELECTIONS. The messy 2018 midterms is all the evidence needed to show that our election laws need a re-vamp, the most obvious change being the ridiculously tight deadlines for counting and recounting votes. It absolutely strains credulity to argue that Palm Beach County should accurately count 600,000 votes in the same amount of time that Bay County counts 50,000 — especially with late-arriving absentee and provisional ballots making up as much as half the total. We simply cannot have a repeat in 2020.
To be sure, there are other issues that require attention, such as infrastructure spending. But the above issues require an overall change in direction that only a chief executive can provide.
We hope that Gov.-elect DeSantis is truly sincere about working with Republicans and Democrats to govern for the benefit of all Floridians — and that he doesn’t revert to candidate DeSantis, the Trump disciple who says he wants to be the governor for all Floridians but would further divide us by governing for a favored base.