TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis campaigned against the influence of Big Sugar, fracking and oil drilling off the state’s coasts, which is why environmentalists are trying to remain optimistic.
They hope that unlike the environmental stats from his congressional scorecard, DeSantis in his new position will be more open than outgoing Gov. Rick Scott about issues such as climate change.
“As they say on the stock market, and I’m not a stock broker nor am I allowed to give that kind of advice, but past performance does not always indicate future returns,” said Florida Conservation Voters Executive Director Aliki Moncrief when the topic came up Tuesday. “So, we’re hopeful that will be the case with Gov. DeSantis.”
For now, environmentalists have to go by the governor-elect’s word, which has mostly been ambiguous on a wide range of topics.
Congressman Brian Mast, who chairs the DeSantis transition team’s environmental committee, replied affirmatively Monday when asked if his former U.S. House colleague will be a pro-environment governor.
“I think we’ve got the right fighter to go out there and fight for this environment across all boards,” Mast said after the committee held its first meeting. “Ron is committed to doing it. He’s made it a priority.”
Still, despite Mast’s declaration, the optimism has limits.
Conservationists can recall Scott rolling out a splashy environmental platform when he ran for re-election in 2014 only to be largely disappointed.
Meanwhile, the DeSantis transition team didn’t address climate change, and agricultural impacts aren’t expected to be addressed until the committee meets by phone on Dec. 28.
Then there is DeSantis’ track record before he left Congress to focus on this year’s gubernatorial race.
DeSantis’ lifetime voting score from the League of Conservation Voters came in at 2 percent on issues supported by the group.
On Tuesday, a coalition of environmental non-profit organizations delivered an open letter --- backed by more than 3,000 people --- calling for DeSantis to recognize the climate-change threat and to push for policies that cut Florida’s greenhouse-gas emissions and address rising sea levels.
Moncrief said the proposal should be a winner for DeSantis’ base.
“This is a jobs issue. It’s a public health issue. It’s a military security issue,” Moncrief said. “With his military background, one would hope that he would talk to his former colleagues in the military about how sea level rise and climate-change impacts are actually threatening our national security.”
State agency heads and people working directly under Scott got formal notice Tuesday to dust off their resumes.
Susie Wiles, who chaired DeSantis’ gubernatorial campaign and now oversees his transition effort, advised state agency heads --- “at the request of Governor-elect DeSantis, and according to standard practice during a gubernatorial transition” --- to prepare exit letters that take effect before the Jan. 8 inauguration.
The request is also good for all deputy and assistant secretaries, chiefs of staff, communication directors, general counsels, legislative affairs directors and division directors.
Those who want can reapply for positions with the new administration.
Wiles noted she also requested the resignation of staff within the governor’s executive office, although to “ensure a smooth transition,” members of the Office of Policy and Budget are allowed to work through the July 1 end of the fiscal year.
Several leaders, including Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Justin Senior and Division of Emergency Management Director Wes Maul, didn’t need prodding as they had already announced departure plans.
Meanwhile, the transition team has announced that Cynthia Kelly will remain as the director of Office of Policy and Budget and Melinda Miguel will return as the state’s chief inspector general.
Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat who wants to move oversight of the state’s concealed-weapons licensing program from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement says the latest audit findings show the state “dodged a bullet” with the program.
“The bombshell revelations from the auditor general report should shock and revile all Floridians who care about enforcing existing gun safety laws,” Book said. “Failures in oversight, communication, process and transparency are completely unacceptable when it comes to issuing weapons permits, and we cannot afford to be political with lives on the line.”
A follow-up report on the handling of the state’s concealed-weapons licensing process released last week pointed to a lack of management oversight by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The agency says it is addressing the issues.
The audit found the agency needs more controls over employees who review applications for private investigators, security officers, recovery agents and concealed-weapons licenses.
Auditor General Sherrill Norman noted that managers in the division responsible for issuing the licenses indicated their process was to verbally reprimand contracted employees who had been the subject of a “management report” and to terminate the contracted employees for a second offense.
But that wasn’t the agency’s practice, according to the report.
In some cases, it took more than two months for the contracted employees to be fired, the auditors found.
Book noted being “deeply concerned” in reading about the missteps, including attempts to obscure “egregious errors.”
“Permits were even granted to individuals who never even applied for them,” Book wrote. “When you think about what might have been, it’s more than a turn of tongue to say that the state of Florida dodged a bullet.”
Book’s proposal (SB 108) to move the agency to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement runs counter to the desires of influential National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer. Hammer wants the program under the guidance of a statewide elected official, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.