Screenshot via Ron DeSantis Campaign/YouTube
As Floridians start to receive ballots in the mail for the Nov. 3 election, Gov. Ron DeSantis spent the week unleashing a string of policies that could bolster the campaign of his close ally, President Donald Trump.
The Republican governor kicked off the week with an appeal to law-and-order voters by releasing a legislative plan aimed at crushing “disorderly” protests. The proposal infuriated Black lawmakers, Democrats and civil-rights advocates.
On Tuesday, DeSantis offered an olive branch to business owners by saying he supports placing limits on coronavirus-related litigation.
Not missing a beat, the governor on Wednesday put former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg in his crosshairs, asking Attorney General Ashley Moody to open an investigation into the New York billionaire’s big-money contribution to an organization trying to get convicted felons registered to vote in November.
On Thursday, DeSantis held a health care roundtable with a troika of scientists who support his and the president’s approaches to handling the coronavirus pandemic, such as eschewing face masks and condemning the shuttering of businesses and schools.
The governor also scolded university officials for threatening to suspend students who defy social-distancing measures. DeSantis said he’s willing to consider a college students’ “bill of rights” that would preclude state universities from taking actions against students who are enjoying themselves.
Later Thursday, DeSantis took the stage with his White House chum at Trump’s Jacksonville rally.
And DeSantis capped off the week Friday by declaring that the state is in “Phase 3” of its reopening plans, meaning restaurants and bars can operate at full capacity, even as COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to climb.
“The governor is trying to get the attention of the Republican base,” state Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, said of DeSantis’ week of action.
NECESSARY TOOLS? OR BLATANT OVERREACH?
A day after releasing the controversial plan, DeSantis suggested Tuesday that the Republican-dominated Legislature could consider a proposal aimed at cracking down on disorderly protests when lawmakers return to Tallahassee in November for an organization session. But Democrats declared war on what they decried as a racially motivated election-year ploy.
DeSantis’ law-and-order package, backed by incoming GOP legislative leaders, would create new felony crimes when property is damaged or when people are injured as a result of protests involving seven or more individuals. The measure would also make it a crime to obstruct traffic during unpermitted protests or demonstrations and do away with bail or bond for people involved in violent protests.
The proposal comes as Republicans double down on efforts to deliver a second presidential victory to Trump in Florida, a battleground state with 29 electoral votes.
“It’s going to have broad support, certainly from the Republican caucuses, in both chambers. It may be something that you need to act,” DeSantis told reporters following a state Cabinet meeting Tuesday. “Florida has handled it better, but at the same time, you constantly hear these reports of unrest. You hear threats of more unrest. That is not something that we want to deal with, without having all the tools at our disposal.”
But Democrats blasted DeSantis’ plan, calling it an unconstitutional attack on First Amendment rights and an undisguised attempt to galvanize support for the Republican president in a state with a history of narrow elections.
“Let’s be extremely clear about something: This is a blatant overreach from the governor and Republicans who are actively undermining the Constitution,” Jones, who is running for the state Senate, told reporters during a video conference Tuesday afternoon.
Jones said the country was “built and shaped as a result of peaceful demonstrations and protests.”
DeSantis’ proposal “is a desperate violation of our constitutional rights just ahead of a critical election in which every single vote counts,” Jones added.
Desmond Meade graduated from law school, made it onto Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people and was at the forefront of a successful crusade to restore voting rights to convicted felons in Florida.
Meade, executive director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, led efforts to pass a 2018 constitutional amendment that restored voting rights to felons “upon completion of all terms of sentence including parole or probation.” Nearly two-thirds of Florida voters approved the amendment.
But the former drug dealer who was tossed out of the Army three decades ago hasn’t redeemed himself enough to be pardoned for his crimes by DeSantis and Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
As he requested a pardon Wednesday, Meade told DeSantis, Patronis and the other members of the state Board of Executive Clemency, Attorney General Ashley Moody and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, that he has “emerged from a very dark place” to become “a beacon of hope and inspiration to so many people.”
“Not only in this great state of Florida, but across the country, just showing that we can overcome obstacles, that we can overcome the mistakes that we’ve made and do something great and become an asset to our community, to our state, to our country, to the world,” he said.
But the stain still lingers from his years-long cocaine addiction, which led to crime, domestic violence against his late brother and a three-decade-old court martial that landed him in the brig and resulted in a dishonorable discharge from the military.
DeSantis and Patronis blocked Meade’s request for a pardon, with DeSantis saying the panel should take the issue “under advisement” until it can gather more information. Fried supported granting the pardon, while Moody recused herself.
Meade, who graduated from Florida International University law school, said he wants a pardon so he can practice law.
“If a person with my record would have to wait, what does that say for everyone else?” Meade, who has been able to register to vote thanks to the constitutional amendment, told reporters later. “So my resolve is strengthened.”
COME ONE, COME ALL
DeSantis lifted state COVID-19 business restrictions Friday, including limits on the numbers of people who can dine in restaurants, while also prohibiting local governments from closing restaurants and collecting fines from people who don’t wear face masks in public.
DeSantis said the move into the third phase of his economic-recovery efforts is designed to ensure “business certainty.” He said it shouldn’t be that much of a change outside of restaurants, bars and craft breweries, which have been limited to 50 percent indoor occupancy statewide, and Southeast Florida, which has lagged behind the rest of the state in reopening because of its large number of COVID-19 cases.
The governor’s move allows local government officials to impose health regulations, but they can’t shut down businesses such as restaurants or impose fines on people who don’t wear face masks. Businesses, however, can still require customers to wear face coverings.
“All these fines we're going to hold in abeyance and hope that we can move forward in a way that's more collaborative,” DeSantis said.
STORY OF THE WEEK:
Gov. Ron DeSantis spent the week shoring up support for President Donald Trump, rolling out a policy designed to crack down on protests, threatening to prohibit universities from punishing students who don’t comply with social-distancing requirements and reopening businesses and restaurants at full capacity throughout the state.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
“We’ve seen disorder and tumult in many cities across the country. … I think that this has been a really, really sad chapter in American history.” —- Gov. Ron DeSantis, releasing a proposal on Monday aimed at cracking down on disruptive protests.
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