Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Fla. Gov. DeSantis Takes A Conservative Approach To Controversial Issues


Now let's go to Florida, where Ron DeSantis won last year's race for governor by aligning himself with President Trump. Since taking office, he's stayed true to that image in some ways. He's taken consistently conservative positions on immigration and school vouchers and abortion. But on some other issues, the new governor has taken a surprising turn. Yesterday, as he opened Florida's legislative session, he highlighted bipartisan goals, like protecting the environment and bringing down the cost of prescription drugs. Here's NPR's Greg Allen.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: In his two months as governor, Ron DeSantis has been busy, flying around Florida for a series of what his office has billed as major announcements. He's replaced controversial officials, including Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, who some Parkland parents say failed them before and during the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. DeSantis has made multiple trips to Florida's panhandle, pledging funds to rebuild communities devastated by Hurricane Michael. And he's flown to beaches to announce plans to prevent algae blooms that have plagued both the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. In his address to the legislature, DeSantis said he wants to spend $2 1/2 billion to improve Florida's water quality over the next four years, a sizable increase.


RON DESANTIS: Now, given the persistent water problems we've seen over the past several years, now is the time to be bold. We cannot leave for tomorrow that which we can do today.

ALLEN: Democrats say they've liked many of DeSantis' actions so far, including his vote, along with other members of the Cabinet, to pardon four black men falsely accused of raping a white woman nearly 70 years ago. But yesterday, Democrats sat silently while Republicans cheered DeSantis' stance on a series of controversial issues, including immigration enforcement.


DESANTIS: Florida will not be a sanctuary state. We will not allow someone here illegally to commit criminal misconduct and simply be returned to our communities.

ALLEN: DeSantis is supporting a bill in the legislature banning so-called sanctuary cities - communities that don't cooperate with federal immigration authorities by holding inmates for possible deportation. For Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith, a state representative from the Orlando area, it's a proposal that makes no sense.


CARLOS GUILLERMO SMITH: We don't need to ban sanctuary cities in Florida because they don't exist in Florida. Every single study and available data point also tells us that undocumented immigrants are substantially less likely to commit violent crimes than United States citizen.

ALLEN: Another issue DeSantis has focused on is education. He wants to expand a voucher program that allows children from low-income families to receive state dollars to attend private schools. Pitching the idea to the legislature yesterday, he introduced Shareka Wright, a single mom from Orlando whose kids are currently on the school voucher waiting list.


DESANTIS: We're a big, diverse state, and one size doesn't fit all when it comes to education. Let's stand with working moms like Shareka and empower them to choose the best learning environment for their kids.

ALLEN: Democrats and teachers' unions say vouchers take much-needed funds away from public schools. The governor's proposal likely will face a court challenge if it makes it through the legislature. While most of his address focused on Florida, DeSantis found time to weigh in on controversial issues being debated outside of the state. He condemned "Medicare-for-all" proposals supported by some Democrats in Washington. And he referenced legislation removing some restrictions on abortions later in pregnancy being considered in other states, using that as an opportunity to reaffirm his anti-abortion stance.


DESANTIS: I must say, I wholeheartedly reject the callous disregard for human life displayed recently by the governors of Virginia and New York. We will not allow such things to happen here in Florida.


ALLEN: Democrat Audrey Gibson, a state senator from the Jacksonville area, says there's something else she noticed about DeSantis' address.

AUDREY GIBSON: He mentioned the president a lot.

ALLEN: President Trump's support was key in helping DeSantis win the Republican primary and then go on to win in the general election. Since taking office, DeSantis has talked to Trump about U.S. policy toward Venezuela and increasing hurricane aid for the panhandle. Gibson thinks there's something else going on here.

GIBSON: Well, the president supported him. 2020's around the corner. However, what we're doing here in the state of Florida, what we should be doing for the people of the state of Florida, should be about Florida and be driven by Floridians.

ALLEN: When he was campaigning, DeSantis said it would be helpful for Florida to elect a governor who had a good relationship with the president. DeSantis hasn't said so, but as 2020 approaches, it's also helpful for the president to have a friend in Florida's governor's mansion. Greg Allen, NPR News, Tallahassee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.