(CNN) — When Governor Ron DeSantis abruptly suspended Tampa’s elected attorney last week, he didn’t do it in an overnight shootout or bury it in Friday’s press release at 5 p.m. Rather, DeSantis called reporters and cameras for an afternoon media event, as he does several times a week, standing in front of elected officials and aides, and actually explaining his decision to suspend an official. Is. Twice elected Democrat.
It was an amazing sight not only because of its extraordinary result, but also because of the way it was choreographed. The act was pre-planned to trigger, as their spokesperson wrote on Twitter the night before, “the moderate media slump of the year.” Pat Kemp, a Democrat who sits on the local Hillsborough County commission, described it as “our own January 6.
A ruthless display of raw political power in the removal of Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren as shameless and unprecedented, but Florida was the latest example of a new reality: DeSantis is ruling without the constraints of checks and balances. Traditional executive authority. Over the past eight months, DeSantis has enacted a new law to get back at Disney amid a political feud with the entertainment giant, aggressively partisan redistribution of Congress through the state legislature and almost every aspect from the state government. pushed to the front lines. Culture War. And it has done all this with opposition from Republicans who control other branches of the state of Florida.
As he seeks a second term in November, and weighs in on a possible presidential race in 2024, the full weight of this accumulated power is also beginning to crystallize. If he is re-elected, and with a nine-point fundraising lead in his favor, there appears to be little to stop him from pursuing an agenda that will see Florida as future primary voters. transforms the audience. Republican Party.
“DeSantis has a blank check,” said Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University, a private school in Fort Lauderdale. “There is no longer a part of the Constitution that protects democracy because the checks and balances on it have been completely removed. If he wins, he will interpret it as a mandate and say, ‘If the Floridians If I didn’t like anything, I would have been kicked out.'”
DeSantis justified Warren’s removal as necessary to protect the Floridians from an elected official who does not obey the law. Warren pledged in several letters that he would not use the discretion of prosecutors to prosecute people seeking abortion or gender-affirming care, as well as those who provided those services.
“That’s not how the rule of law can work, and ultimately you can’t have safe and strong communities,” DeSantis said.
His critics have described these decisive and controversial actions as an excess of his office. Two leading Democratic candidates for Florida governor, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Rep. Charlie Crist, compared DeSantis to a dictator following Warren’s suspension.
But he has also cemented DeSantis as the only Republican to consistently challenge former President Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential election, giving DeSantis a lot of free airtime in the conservative media. DeSantis jumped right from Thursday’s suspension announcement to an interview with Fox News Digital. He then appeared on the network during prime time, where Fox host Tucker Carlson praised DeSantis for “finally doing more than just complaining”.
DeSantis is also expanding its influence nationally. This week, he called it a “weapon by federal agencies” in an FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. And next week, he’ll headline rallies for GOP candidates in New Mexico, Arizona, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Charlie Kirk, president of Turning Point America, the conservative organization that organizes the rallies, called DeSantis “the model for a new conservative movement” when he announced the planned events.
DeSantis has already set some of his future goals for a second term, when his actions will be closely monitored until 2024. He recently said that he wants to penalize financial institutions that take into account factors such as environmental destruction. of society when making investment decisions, which he describes as “woke banking”. DeSantis has also promised to change gun ownership laws to allow people without a license or prior training to carry firearms in public. Democrats are poised for new abortion restrictions after DeSantis promised to “expand anti-abortion protections,” though he hasn’t said yet how far he’ll go.
“Previously, under previous Republican governors, you could expect policies to be conservative skewed,” said State House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell. “But it’s not a conservative leaning, it’s a DeSantis leaning. It’s not about what the party wants, it’s about what it wants.”
The Republican-controlled legislature has so far done little to suggest that it will stand in DeSantis’s way. Instead, he has protested the growing popularity of DeSantis. After Republican lawmakers spent months drafting a new map of Congress, DeSantis blew up the redistribution process by introducing his own, which eliminated two districts represented by black Democrats. Republicans initially resisted but eventually relented, and are now defending the new limits in a legal challenge.
Then they quickly agreed when DeSantis’s office signed the law into law, which allowed Disney, the state’s largest employer, to participate in Florida’s fight over a controversial new law to restrict the teaching of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools. punished for interfering. And two months after that, top legislative leaders cheered DeSantis when he announced he was using his line veto power to cut $3 billion from his agreed budget and eliminate many of his pet priorities.
“The dynamic has been like this for the past two years,” said Sen. Jeff Brands, a Republican from St. Petersburg. “I think he keeps his trajectory.”
Brands is the rare Republican to publicly criticize DeSantis, but his term this year is even closer. Brands will leave behind a legislature that is much more conservative than when he entered office in 2012 and which will be shaped significantly by DeSantis, who has wobbled his way into GOP primaries, sometimes favoring Republican candidates. are pushing. the leadership of his party.
Brands said whether DeSantis continues to exert authority “really depends on whether the House and the Senate and the courts see themselves as independent bodies meant to provide a check and balance to the system.” ” “If they forget about it or if they think it’s not necessary, we’re going down a path. But if just a group of them stand up and say, ‘We have a different point of view,’ ‘ I think you’re going to see another result.”
Florida’s Constitution empowers the state Senate to reinstate Warren. Few expect it. Senate leaders declined to comment publicly on the suspension, but in a series of revealing posts, the House’s projections for 2023, Representative Paul Renner, praised DeSantis on Twitter, minutes after Warren was suspended. , called it “decisive action”.
“Florida’s route puts public safety first,” Rainer wrote.
Warren has vowed to make a legal appeal, arguing that DeSantis has overstepped his constitutional authority. That case will likely end up before the state’s Supreme Court, a panel appointed entirely by Republican governors. On Friday, DeSantis nominated his fourth justice to the high court, meaning a majority of the seven-member panel has given DeSantis his assignment.
Jarvis, who teaches Florida’s constitution and has written textbooks on the subject, said lawmakers did not envision a DeSantis-type executive when he wrote the latest version of the state’s constitution in 1968. He devised a system of government which gave authority to the legislature. To override the governor on several fronts including appointments and removals and oversight of executive administration. Initially, he gave considerable power to a cabinet, six independent and constitutionally elected state officials, who worked alongside the governor.
Along with those checks, the constitution gave the governor unreliable discretion to suspend elected officials for “misconduct, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incapacity, permanent inability to perform their official duties, or the commission of a felony”. Susan McManus, a retired political science professor and leading expert in Florida’s political history, said past governors have used this power to remove elected officials on charges of serious actions or violations of local trust.
Although Warren was not suspended for anything he had done, he suggested that he would not do it one day. If this is the norm for removing someone, then, Jarvis said, there is little to stop DeSantis from removing an official he disagrees with, a dangerous reality that his administration has “groomed” political dissidents. has contracted. , a term that refers to pedophiles, and has portrayed Democrats as anarchic socialists.
Jarvis said, “It sends a message to every other officer who is under his suspension power, ‘If you don’t walk the line or if I see you as a political threat, I won’t hesitate to suspend you. I will.” “And I know the Senate will impeach you.”
McManus said it was foolish to predict that in a second term, DeSantis would not face new obstacles or changes in sentiment among voters and fellow lawmakers. He said there are elections that largely make voters fear for the future of democracy, although they often conflict with other elections that show that crime is a major problem for much of the country.
“Right now it seems insurmountable, but politics change, issues change,” he said. “Things can change with a picture.”