The last two governors of Florida were Charlie Crist and Rick Scott. Both were extremely divisive, controversial figures–and that is putting it mildly. The 12 years they spent in office from 2007-2019 did a lot to help define Florida as the “50/50” state we are today. Of course, neither would ever own the fact publicly, but even their strongest advocates (namely, themselves) would probably admit it off the record. The beneficiary of all this turned out to be the current governor, Ron DeSantis, who defeated some very strong competition and claimed a fairly surprising win in 2018 against the best Democratic candidate our state has seen since Lawton Chiles, back in 1994.
Whereas his Republican predecessors opened their terms in obnoxiously partisan fashion, DeSantis went in a moderate direction, albeit after an obnoxiously partisan campaign. Why? He’s acceding to the will of the people. And, in the process, he’s starting to consolidate his position in advance of a 2022 re-election battle, in which he may or may not have Donald Trump’s rump to jump that hump.
Since taking office, DeSantis has vastly outperformed even the most optimistic expectations, spending his first days taking bold steps that have already calmed a lot of the vitriol that both parties rolled out in the run up to last year’s election. He won on a margin so narrow that some folks still say it never existed at all, but his opponent, Andrew Gillum, is not complaining, and neither is anyone else.
DeSantis has picked up a good 5 percent toward his re-election by co-opting bits and pieces of the opposition. He’s making substantial concessions toward the left on matters related to education, the environment and, more to the point, medical marijuana. DeSantis prioritized ending Florida’s ban on the whole flower for medical use, and took the initiative of pushing the legislature to do his bidding. It was done quickly, too. The state senate approved SB 182 by a 34-to-4 margin on March 6, and the house followed suit exactly a week later, voting 101 to 11. Republicans hold 23 of 40 seats in the Florida Senate and 71 of 120 seats in the Florida House of Representatives; almost all of them sided with medical marijuana advocates. That is almost unprecedented in recent history. DeSantis wanted it done by March 15, and the GOP delivered two days early, in defiance of the speaker and other party spokespeople. DeSantis signed the bill into law on March 18.
SB 182 carries a multi-million dollar price tag, so now he’s basically an investor himself. Many would call it a half-measure toward full legalization. Baby steps. But the baby is stepping lively, and Ron DeSantis is the new-school Papi Chulo. Further steps are being taken to streamline operations and maximum the profitability of the state’s cannabis market, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is just getting started, and “Reefer Ron” is here for all of it. He’s not just reaching across the aisle–the man is doing the Fargo Strut across the aisle, sitting down on the other side and engaging them on their terms. DeSantis took a sizeable risk in doing this, but the risk is paying off bigly. Easy, breezy, beautiful.