Gov. Ron DeSantis made his first trip out of Tallahassee aboard an upgraded King Air aircraft that law-enforcement officials had seized in a drug bust.
Unlike his predecessor, former Gov. Rick Scott, a multimillionaire who could buzz around the state in his own plane, DeSantis entered the governor’s office Tuesday without a vast financial portfolio.
So, a trip from Tallahassee to Miami to announce his first state Supreme Court appointment Wednesday, before shuttling off to Mexico Beach to view hurricane damage, involved him taking the seized aircraft maintained by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
“Similarly to them taking me by car, FDLE does have a plane that was seized,” DeSantis told reporters on Monday.
“It’s a drug seizure that’s been upgraded, and it’s their opinion and I think it’s our opinion in terms of being legal, that that is something because they have the responsibility to protect and transport the governor, that that can be used for my transportation,” DeSantis continued. “Now, that’s not going to be like the old state planes where the Cabinet and other people could do it. It flows from their responsibility to protect me.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement was asked about the aircraft on Wednesday, but information was not immediately available.
DeSantis’ office also did not respond to questions about the aircraft.
Scott, who was sworn into the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, made the state’s ownership of a pair of airplanes and employment of flight crews a campaign issue when he first ran for governor in 2010.
The cost to fly the state planes was more than $3,000 an hour, or about $2.4 million a year. The Department of Management Services accepted a bid for $1.9 million for a state jet and $1.8 million for a prop plane. The governor also ordered the agency to lay off 11 people who worked in the state air pool.
The changes were possible because the Scott’s wealth allowed him to use his personal aircraft.
Owning a plane isn’t an option for DeSantis, who had a net worth of $310,971 as of Dec. 31, 2017.
DeSantis noted that the FDLE takes him everywhere now, which has resulted in him selling a pickup truck.
“I had it forever,” DeSantis said. “But I don’t need it anymore.”
In October, former Gov. Bob Martinez said state aircraft for the governor and other top officials is a must.
“I know it may be controversial in the minds of people, but when you’re up here almost in Georgia and you’ve got go down to Miami, you’re looking at almost 700, 800 miles, you’re just not going to drive it,” Martinez said. “It’s just not going to happen.”
The quickest drive from Tallahassee to Miami is just under 500 miles, and Martinez said it’s important for the governor, Cabinet members and other state officials to have contact with all residents.
--- News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this report.