The Florida Legislature opened its 121st regular session March 5 with words from Ron DeSantis, the freshly-minted 46th governor.
“In less than 60 days, my administration has taken bold action to address issues that Floridians care about: reorienting our environmental policy around the goal of cleaning up our water; announcing far-reaching education reforms designed to make Florida number 1 in skills-based education by 2030; securing hundreds of millions of dollars for storm-ravaged parts of Northwest Florida; bringing accountability to entities ranging from the Broward Sheriff’s Office to the South Florida Water Management District; and appointing three spectacular justices to our Supreme Court,” he told the legislature in his first State of the State address.
Shortly after taking the oath of office on Jan. 8 DeSantis asked all nine members of the South Florida Water Management District board to resign. All did or had terms ending, so as of this month all the members who had been appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott will be gone – something applauded by groups such as the Everglades Foundation. They’re being replaced by new appointees including Jacqui Thurlow-Lippish, a well-known Indian River Lagoon advocate who lives in Sewall’s Point.
Florida’s last governor, now Sen. Rick Scott, drew criticism – fairly or not – for being weak and slow on environmental concerns. DeSantis has drawn sharp contrasts to his fellow Republican on environmental issues, particularly water in South Florida. The moves have pleased many otherwise critics. When Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson delivered the Democratic response to the State of the State, she put praise for DeSantis at the top.
“I applaud our governor, Ron DeSantis, on some priorities he addressed in the State of the State message,” she said. “His priorities on the environment, to clean up Florida’s water from all the toxic algae and red tide that killed untold numbers of dolphins and other marine life sounds great and is welcome news.”
DeSantis’ State of the State covered six broad areas: the environment; the economy; education; healthcare; public safety; and illegal immigration. He led with discussing the environment.
“I’m proud to have taken swift and bold action to protect our natural resources and improve Florida’s water quality,” he said. “We are repositioning our water policy to meet the needs of our citizens, by among other things, expanding key projects like the (Everglades Agricultural Area) reservoir and raising the Tamiami Trail; establishing a blue-green algae task force to develop policies to fight algae blooms, fight red tide and improve water quality, and appointing a chief science officer to better harness scientific data and research in service of Florida’s most pressing environmental needs.”
In addition to pleasing Democrats such as Gibson with his rapid moves and big demands for the legislature to prioritize water, DeSantis has delighted fellow Republicans. In an interview before the opening of the legislative session, Sen. Gayle Harrell – who represents St. Lucie County – said she’s convinced DeSantis is serious about and will get results on water quality. “For us on the Treasure Coast it is welcomed to have a governor as focused as we are on the Indian River Lagoon,” she said in that interview.
Earlier in the day at the State Capitol, Speaker of the House Jose Olivia strongly suggested DeSantis will get at least most of his requested funding for water projects.
If DeSantis aims to run for reelection in 2022 he will want increase his appeal among voters in St. Lucie County. He had a weak showing countywide in 2018 with 47.52 percent of the general-election vote. Harrell’s showings were stronger with 49.04 percent. The strongest countywide showing for a Republican in the 2018 general election was Ashley Moody for Attorney General. She garnered 50.01 percent of the votes cast in that race.