Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has thrust himself into the national spotlight as one of the most influential and controversial politicians across the country since becoming governor in 2019.
DeSantis has frequently taken action in his home state that has positioned him as a leader of the conservative movement in the country. He has been rumored to be considering a run for the White House in 2024 and is viewed as President Trump’s most serious competition for the Republican nomination if both enter the race.
Polls have consistently showed him as Trump’s top competitor, and he has led in polls that do not include Trump.
Here are five ways DeSantis has flexed his political muscle in Florida as governor.
The Stop WOKE Act
DeSantis signed the “Individual Freedom” bill, known more widely as the “Stop WOKE Act,” in April after the Florida legislature passed it in March.
The law outlaws “critical race theory training” in schools and the workplace, claiming that the concepts taught in racial sensitivity training and other forms of education regarding race are discriminatory and infringe on some people’s civil rights.
The act designates any “required activity that promotes, advances, or compels individuals to believe discriminatory concepts” as unlawful.
The law also deems unlawfully discriminatory any teaching that a person’s “status as either privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by his or her race, color, national origin, or sex.”
The “Stop WOKE Act” was challenged in court after being passed and portions of it were blocked by a federal judge on Thursday.
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida Chief Judge Mark Walker, who was appointed by former President Barack Obama, said that the law violates First Amendment protections of free speech and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause for being impermissibly vague.
“Judge Walker has effectively ruled that companies have a First Amendment right to instruct their employees in white supremacy,” said DeSantis Communications Director Taryn Feske in response to the ruling, announcing that the governor’s office would appeal Walker’s decision.
The Office of Election Crimes and Security
The Office of Election Crimes and Security was established under Florida’s State Department on July 1.
DeSantis, who was involved in the initial idea behind the office, appointed Peter Antonacci its head last month, saying that Antonacci would “ensure that Florida’s elections are the most secure in the nation.”
The governor announced on Thursday that the office had charged 20 individuals with voter fraud and was in the process of arresting them with the help of the attorney general’s office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The 20 charged with voter fraud allegedly cast votes in past elections despite being disqualified due to prior convictions for homicide or sexual assault, which bar individuals from voting in Florida.
“One of the things that we did in the most recent legislative session, though, is recognize, yes, you can have all these great policy reforms, and it’s important to do it, but if it’s not actually enforced then what difference is it going to make at the end of the day?” DeSantis said during a press conference announcing the fraud charges.
He added that those charged, all of whom were located in the Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, face up to five years in prison in addition to a $5,000 fine for the third-degree felony.
Suspending Tampa prosecutor
DeSantis made waves Aug. 4 when he suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren (D) for “neglect of duty” after the prosecutor refused to enforce bans on abortion and transgender surgery.
The decision was announced at a press conference characterized by the governor’s campaign rapid response director, who previously served as his press secretary, as the impetus for the “liberal media meltdown of the year.”
“When you flagrantly violate your oath of office, when you make yourself above the law, you have violated your duty, you have neglected your duty and you are displaying a lack of competence to be able to perform those duties,” DeSantis said at the press conference.
DeSantis pointed to letters signed by Warren saying that he would not enforce “prohibitions on sex change operations for minors” or “any laws related to protecting the right to life” as evidence that the prosecutor had violated his oath of office.
DeSantis criticized Warren’s positions on both abortion and transgender surgery, saying that the “dismemberment procedure” used in abortions after three and a half months, which Warren said he would not legally prevent, is “really inhumane.”
Warren on Wednesday sued DeSantis for his suspension, claiming that it was unconstitutional and that his letters stating that he would not enforce certain laws constitute protected speech under the First Amendment.
Warren said DeSantis’s failed to produce information about “actual conduct” that shirked his duties.
Battle with the legislature over redistricting
Florida’s redistricting process over the past few months has seen the Florida governor butt heads with both Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature.
The Republican-controlled state legislature approved a map that made relatively minor changes to the state’s districts, but DeSantis vetoed the proposal, citing issues with the strongly Democratic and majority Black 5th Congressional District.
DeSantis argued that the district, which goes across the state’s border with Georgia from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, is unconstitutional. He proposed an alternative map, which eventually went into effect, that eliminates the district and merges parts of it with multiple solid GOP districts.
Rep. Al Lawson (D), who currently represents the 5th district, called the map “overtly racist,” and other Black lawmakers in the state denounced DeSantis’s proposal.
DeSantis’s map also dilutes Black voting power in St. Petersburg and Orlando.
State GOP lawmakers in April said they would allow DeSantis to draw the map, a responsibility usually reserved for the legislature.
Democrats sued DeSantis over the map, and a judge ruled in May that it unduly diminished the rights of Black voters in the northern part of the state. But Florida’s First District Court of Appeal overturned the ruling and restored DeSantis’s map pending the outcome of a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.
Picking a fight with Disney
DeSantis went head-to-head with the Walt Disney Company in the spring in the aftermath of him signing a law to implement restrictions on classroom instruction related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Parental Rights in Education law, which has become known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, banned primary school teachers from covering material on LGBTQ topics and barred all educators from teaching topics that are not “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” for children.
Disney criticized the bill in a statement after it passed and pledged to join efforts to repeal the legislation.
DeSantis said Disney “crossed the line” with its criticism and announced that the state legislature would consider revoking the company’s special status, which has allowed it to have the legal right to operate under its own government in the Reedy Creek Improvement District since 1967. He said the company “alienated” a lot of people in coming forward against the bill.
DeSantis signed a bill to revoke the special status in April.