In Tampa, DeSantis declines to speak with reporters following electoral night disappointment
Gov. Ron DeSantis at a bill signing ceremony at Cambridge Christian School in Tampa on May 17, 2023 (photo credit: Mitch Perry)
Gov. Ron DeSantis appeared at a bill signing event at a Christian evangelical school in Tampa on Wednesday, touting measures banning transgender minors from receiving gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers and an expansion of a law to prohibit classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity through the 8th grade.
But unlike other bill-signing events since DeSantis has been crisscrossing the state, the governor notably declined to answer any questions from the media.
His refusal to speak to reporters came after the two Republicans that he endorsed in elections on Tuesday night – Daniel Davis in the Jacksonville mayor's race and Kelly Craft in the Kentucky GOP gubernatorial primary – both lost their contests.
"The DeSanctimonious backed candidate came in a DISTANT third," former President Donald Trump wrote on his Truth Social page on Wednesday, referring to DeSantis’ endorsement of Craft, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 2019-2021 who finished behind both the Trump-backed candidate Daniel Cameron and another candidate in the Kentucky Republican gubernatorial primary on Tuesday night.
"Ron's magic is GONE! He also lost, shockingly, in Jacksonville last night (Mayor)," Trump added.
In Jacksonville, Democrats were exuberant after Donna Deegan became the first female mayor in the city's history after she defeated the DeSantis-backed Republican Davis on Tuesday night, getting 52% of the vote and flipping the mayor's office from red to blue for the first time in Jacksonville since 2015. The vote is also a strong reversal of the results from last November, where DeSantis won Duval County – the county that encompasses Jacksonville – by nearly 12 percentage points.
Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried and others are embracing Deegan's victory as a referendum on DeSantis.
In February, DeSantis had lambasted the Democratic Party in Florida, telling Newsweek that it was "basically a dead, rotten carcass on the side of the road." In response, Fried tweeted on Wednesday that "the only ‘dead carcass on the side of the road’ that I see is your presidential race."
And a new poll published on Wednesday by two progressive organizations shows that a majority of Floridians aren't happy with the direction that the state has gone in after the Legislature passed a number of controversial measures over the past two months on issues like abortion, guns and specific provisions designed specifically to aid the governor.
A survey of 2,713 registered voters in Florida taken by Florida Watch and Progress Florida that was weighted to reflect the party registration of the state (37% Republican, 34% Democrat, 28% NPA) shows that DeSantis’ approval rating is now at 50%, and disapproval rating is at 49%. That's a major change from the same survey conducted in February, where DeSantis had a 60%-40% approval/disapproval rate.
The poll also shows that Floridians are down on several major bills passed by the Legislature this spring, such as a measure (SB 1616) that exempts all of the governor's past and future travel from disclosure under the state's public records laws, which previously had the reputation as being among the most transparent in the country. The survey shows that 86% oppose that measure.
Meanwhile back at Cambridge Christian School in West Tampa, the governor was joined Wednesday by Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, Jr., Agency for Health Care Administrator Jason Weida, and a number of state GOP legislators who either sponsored or co-sponsored the five bills that he signed that are designed "to protect the innocence of Florida's kids," as stated in a press release distributed to reporters before the event.
That included HB 1069, which declares that Florida students and teachers will no longer have to declare their pronouns in school, among other measures in that legislation.
"This is something, they’re now having third graders declaring pronouns?" DeSantis asked. "We’re not doing the pronoun Olympics in Florida."
Brevard County state Rep. Randy Fine sponsored a couple of measures that DeSantis signed into law on Wednesday. He said the legislation was about combating "evil" in the state of Florida.
"The fight that we have had here in Florida is about the fundamental nature of childhood itself," he said. "Because the other side believes that eight-year-olds should pick their pronouns. That nine-year-olds should read books about sex. That ten-year-olds should be able to take puberty blockers and 11-year-olds should be able to get experimental drugs and 12-year-olds should be allowed to have healthy body parts cut off. In the state of Florida, we have said that this is going to stop. And we’re going to do it because God does not make mistakes with our children."
DeSantis is expected to officially announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination for president within the next few weeks. The next major policy announcement is likely to be when he signs the recently-passed $117 billion budget, the largest in state history.
by Mitch Perry, Florida Phoenix May 17, 2023
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Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.