Floridians can expect a quick start to the Ron DeSantis administration, with the new governor ready to make key appointments to the state Supreme Court, announce a major environmental initiative and try to improve the medical-marijuana system.
“Within the next week, I think you guys are going to have a lot to write about,” DeSantis told reporters, after attending a Monday luncheon with legislative leaders and Lt. Gov.-elect Jeanette Nuñez at Florida State University.
DeSantis, a 40-year-old former Republican congressman from Ponte Vedra Beach, will succeed outgoing Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday, with a midday inauguration ceremony held on the east side of the Old Capitol building.
DeSantis said he will make an appointment Wednesday to fill one of three vacancies on the Florida Supreme Court that will occur with the mandatory retirement Tuesday of justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince. He didn’t indicate when he will appoint the other two replacements.
DeSantis’ appointments, which will come from a list of 11 nominees, are expected to shift the ideological balance of the state’s highest court to a conservative majority, more likely to uphold laws passed by the Republican-led Legislature.
In his luncheon speech, DeSantis, a Harvard-educated lawyer, said there has been “a lot of frustration” with the court “constantly usurping more and more legislative power over the years.”
He said that is why it is important to make the “right” court appointments.
“I think as we get that right, we will then have new horizons open to us legislatively to be able to (plow) new ground, new reforms, better reforms that are going to make Florida even stronger,” DeSantis said. “It’s a great opportunity and I’m looking forward to doing that.”
DeSantis’ appointments will leave the court without a black justice for the first time in 36 years. But he said he had no control over a Scott-appointed nominating commission that did not advance any African-American nominees.
He said U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is his “favorite justice of all time.”
“I would be delighted to appoint an African-American who understands the law, in that respect, like Justice Thomas does. I don’t know what went into the (nominating commission’s) decision,” DeSantis said.
He said he has interviewed the 11 nominees and they “were all a pretty impressive bunch of folks.”
“But look, I always want to appoint people from a wide variety of walks of life,” he said.
In another area, DeSantis said he expects to move quickly on a major environmental initiative that seeks to address the state’s water-quality problems, which have included an outbreak of toxic algae in rivers and red tide along the coastlines.
DeSantis, who narrowly beat former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in November, said the environmental package should have broad appeal in the state.
“I think it is something that doesn’t fall neatly on party lines. And when you have these tough elections, I think it’s good to be able to do some things that are not just red versus blue all the time,” he said.
DeSantis also said his policies may appeal to Floridians who did not vote for him, if they are effective programs.
“I think at the end of the day, the vast majority of voters in Florida, they want to see results. If we’re producing results on the environment, the economy, those things, to me that’s the best thing you can do for the folks who were not necessarily with you in the election,” he said.
DeSantis also said he would work to quickly improve the delivery of medical marijuana in the state. He said the implementation of the system, which was overwhelmingly endorsed by voters in a 2016 constitutional amendment, has lagged, and his administration will announce efforts to remedy those problems.
On a new constitutional amendment that will restore voting rights to felons who have served their time, DeSantis said rights restoration will occur, but it will need a new state law clarifying issues like the definition of sex offenders who would be ineligible.
Another item on DeSantis’ early agenda is a decision on whether to suspend Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who has been criticized for the performance of his agency during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year.
“There will be executive actions on potentially a number of local officials within a relatively short time of taking office,” DeSantis said.
One positive sign for DeSantis as he becomes Florida’s 46th governor on Tuesday is his backing from Republican legislative leaders.
House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, and Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, both said they were “optimistic” about finding common ground with the new governor on issues like health-care costs, the environment, education and the economy. They have praised his selection of Nuñez, a former House leader, as lieutenant governor.
“We’re all singing from the same hymn book,” Oliva said.