Friday, September 22, 2023

ANNALS OF DeSANTISTAN: Waiting for him to drop out’: DeSantis’ influence nosedives in Florida (Politico)

Karma.  DeSANTIS is a kiss-up, kick-down authoritarian.  All of the people who saw this know this, and now that his campaign is tanking, there will be Hell to pay in Tallahassee, as the legislature rediscovers their powers  From Politico: 

Waiting for him to drop out’: DeSantis’ influence nosedives in Florida

Some party members view the once-powerful governor as weakened amid his campaign struggles. 

Republican presidential candidate Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Pray Vote Stand Summit.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is losing his clout in Florida.

College boards, stacked with DeSantis appointees, are rejecting job candidates with ties to the governor.

The chair of the Republican Party of Florida urged executive committee members to attend all GOP candidate events — giving cover to party faithful who want to attend a dinner at Mar-a-Lago with former President Donald Trump.

And the board that oversees many of Florida’s affordable housing programs this month placed on leave its executive director, who was helped into the job by a top DeSantis adviser.

Interviews with nearly two dozen lobbyists, political consultants and lawmakers revealed that DeSantis’ struggles as a presidential candidate have already eroded his influence in Florida. There is a widespread expectation that his candidacy will end in failure. His standing at home may depend on how long he slogs forward in the presidential campaign — and how he will manage his exit from the race if he eventually drops out.

Now, it may be just a matter of time before Florida Republicans, once unflinchingly loyal, seek distance from DeSantis and his hardball governing methods.

“You don’t get the assumption they are measuring drapes anymore — they are waiting for him to drop out,” one long-time Republican consultant in Tallahassee said of those working for the governor. The consultant, like others quoted in this story, was granted anonymity to freely discuss the sensitive situation.

State Rep. Daniel Perez, the Miami Republican in line to become the next state House speaker, urged his GOP colleagues this week to move more carefully in the future, saying that “the problem with wielding the power of government like a hammer is that the people start looking like nails.”

Perez insisted his comment was not a “message to the governor,” but added, “That being said, the Legislature can’t work alone, the Legislature works with the governor.”

And no matter how he framed his comments, Perez’s words were being viewed as a rejoinder to DeSantis. One Tallahassee lobbyist said it was a signal that the “conveyor belt” Legislature that passed whatever DeSantis wanted is coming to an end.

DeSantis is one of Florida’s most powerful governors and has used his influence and sway over the past five years to transform politics in the state, including getting the Republican-controlled Legislature to bow to his agenda.

He reshaped the state’s education system by installing allies in top university positions and pushed legislation that limits how race and gender are taught. He endorsed dozens of K-12 school board candidates in the wake of the pandemic in an effort to help Republicans control all levers of state government. He’s used his power to suspend elected officials, including two Democratic prosecutors, while strong-arming his own party to approve congressional redistricting maps that favored Republicans.

He’s also known for his combative streak, willing to fight major corporations like the Walt Disney Co., Google and the cruise line industry.

But DeSantis’ troubles on the campaign trail have emboldened some in his party who are exhausted by his aggressive tactics. The state party last week rescinded a loyalty pledge that would have obligated the GOP primary candidates to endorse the eventual Republican presidential nominee, a stunning turnaround made at the behest of Trump supporters and against DeSantis’ wishes.

A major lobbyist in Tallahassee said: “There’s no love lost between the Legislature and DeSantis. ... They are faking it. They are waiting long enough to see the king drained of all his power. It’s a slow-motion coup.”

Beyond the capitol, trustees at Pasco-Hernando State College, a small public school near Tampa, bucked DeSantis this week by choosing a new president over an official from the governor’s administration, state Juvenile Justice Secretary Eric Hall, who was a finalist for the position, the Tampa Bay Timesreported this week.

It was surprising, because the majority of trustees of the college were appointed by DeSantis in June.

Earlier this month, the board of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, the state’s affordable housing agency, placed its executive director on leave over allegations that he created a hostile work environment, among other issues. The executive director, Mike DiNapoli, was appointed by DeSantis.

And billionaire Ken Griffin, who moved to Miami recently, previously spent $10 million total on DeSantis’ 2018 and 2022 gubernatorial elections. But he told CNBC that he’s sitting out the 2024 cycle and doesn’t understand who DeSantis is trying to appeal to.

The governor still has his supporters — and those who fear him. Most of the people interviewed for this story were granted anonymity because they worried about retribution.

State Rep. Alex Andrade, a Pensacola Republican who endorsed DeSantis, contended that the governor continues to enjoy strong support among legislators and said sarcastically that it was “shocking that some people in politics are fair weather actors.”

“He’s still a very effective governor, he’s the most effective governor I have had a front seat to watch,” Andrade said. “He still has the veto pen.”

Andrade also added: “I see him as governor. I couldn’t care less what is going on nationally.”

GOP House Speaker Paul Renner, who also endorsed the governor, said DeSantis had the “session of the century” just a few months ago and that “you would have to go back to Jeb Bush to find a governor with this kind of a record.” Bush, notably, ran for president in 2016 but dropped out after the South Carolina primary because he was unable to excite the electorate.

“Not having a perfect record is not a sign of collapsing strength,” Renner said.

Likewise, the state Republican chair, Christian Ziegler, has pledged to remain neutral in the presidential race despite the recent move urging some party members to attend all GOP events just days after Trump invited Florida Republicans to a dinner at his South Florida resort.

Yet some state lawmakers are still bitter that DeSantis’ campaign asked Florida lawmakers to fundraise for him ahead of the GOP debate in August, according to a former Republican officeholder who spoke with them.

“Few members of the Legislature have a relationship with Ron DeSantis,” the person said. “He’s like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. You can’t get to him. All you hear about is the great and powerful Oz.”

Bryan Griffin, press secretary for DeSantis’ campaign, asserted that the Florida Legislature and state leaders support the governor.

“Of course lobbyists, the D.C. crowd, and the agenda-driven college board members will have unpleasant things to say — Ron DeSantis stood up to all of them to do the right thing and deliver for his constituents,” he said in a statement.

State lawmakers will likely be hesitant to openly defy the governor in the immediate future. But the next legislative session, beginning in January, will be underway as Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are voting, and early wins by Trump could effectively end DeSantis’ campaign and dilute his clout in Florida.

Asked about the governor’s standing in Florida, the Trump campaign described DeSantis as “dropping like a rock,” and “failing badly.”

This week, three different Republican members of Florida’s congressional delegation, including Trump stalwarts Reps. Matt Gaetz and Byron Donalds, also began floating their names as candidates for the governor’s race that’s three years away, a move viewed by many as a sign of DeSantis’ waning influence since they wouldn’t rely on his endorsement.

Democrats, who have little power under the GOP-supermajority Legislature, say they’re also seeing signs of the governor’s dwindling power. House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell of Tampa predicted that if DeSantis were to lose the GOP nomination, he would be a very weak lame-duck governor.

“I don’t know that the Legislature is going to play ball with him in the same way that they have previously,” she said, though she pointed out that DeSantis would still wield power over the budget.

State Rep. Vicki Lopez, a Miami Republican who had been an advocate and lobbyist over the past few decades before getting elected last year, said it was a “unique” situation to have a governor running for president.

But Lopez predicted that once Perez becomes speaker, lawmakers would again drive the agenda — not the governor.

“I remember a time when the House was the House, the Senate was the Senate, and oh, by the way, there’s the governor’s office on the plaza level [of the state Capitol],” she said.

Mia McCarthy contributed to this report.

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