Gov. DeSantis: Republican Convention will be a ‘safe environment’

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis listens during a news conference at the old Pan American Hospital during the coronavirus pandemic, Tuesday, July 7, 2020, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Lynne Sladky, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis vowed Thursday that the Republican National Convention next month in Jacksonville will be “a safe environment,” despite widespread concerns about increasing coronavirus cases across Florida.

DeSantis, during an appearance in Jacksonville, said he wasn’t surprised about talk of moving some of the four-night event from inside the 15,000-seat VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena to an outdoor stadium or setting.

“My view was that outside was always something they were looking at,” DeSantis said while at the JaxPort office for a news conference with U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia. “When they came to me, they said, ‘Look, all we want you to do is work with us.’”

Concerns have grown as the state has added thousands of new coronavirus cases each day with the total hitting 232,718 on Thursday. Also, the number of deaths of Florida residents attributed to the virus reached 4,009.

Jacksonville last week joined a growing list of Florida cities and counties that have required people to wear face masks when it is not possible to socially distance indoors to prevent the spread of the virus. Mayor Lenny Curry, who pushed for bringing the convention to Jacksonville, announced Tuesday he would self-quarantine after coming into contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

DeSantis said, “Safety is non-negotiable, it’s going to be a safe environment.”

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He also pointed to Daily’s Place, a downtown amphitheater in Jacksonville that seats 5,500 people, as a potential alternative location.

“I think it would be a healthy environment,” said DeSantis, who lived in nearby Ponte Vedra Beach before becoming governor. “And here’s the thing. You do the safety because it’s the right thing to do. But delegates need to be comfortable going into these places. And so, I think that they will be.”

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Preparations continued Thursday with Jacksonville businesses pitching their products and services outside the Prime Osborn Convention Center. A total of 77 vendors took part, hoping they can get an economic jolt from the event.

Vendors had to meet certain criteria from the RNC Host Committee, including meeting demand on short notice, and that their items had to be made in the USA.

A New York Times article published Thursday suggested DeSantis is working behind the scenes to keep people from contributing to the RNC in Jacksonville. The Republican Party of Florida sent News4Jax a statement disputing that claim that reads:

First and foremost, Gov. DeSantis has appropriately focused all his attention on working tirelessly for the last four months to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. Despite working around the clock, he made sure that Florida was well positioned to host the Republican National Convention. As the Convention’s number one supporter he is looking forward to welcoming President Trump, who in August, will be taking the stage to accept his Party’s nomination.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump pointed to being “very flexible” when asked if increasing coronavirus cases in Florida could affect his desire for a big nominating convention in the city.

“When we signed a few weeks ago, it looked good,” Trump said during an appearance on the “Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren” show. “And now, all of a sudden, it’s spiking up a little bit. And that’s going to go down. It really depends on the timing. Look, we’re very flexible. We can do a lot of things. But we’re very flexible.”

Republican leaders last month decided to move key parts of the convention from Charlotte, N.C., to Jacksonville after Trump expressed displeasure that North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, was “unable to guarantee” that coronavirus social-distancing requirements would be lifted before the event, scheduled for Aug. 24 to Aug. 27.

Speculation on changes reached the Governor of Florida as he visited Jacksonville

About the Authors:

Kent Justice co-anchors News4Jax's 5 p.m., 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts weeknights and reports on government and politics. He also hosts "This Week in Jacksonville," Channel 4's hot topics and politics public affairs show each Sunday morning at 9 a.m.