‘Freedom lives here in our great Sunshine State’: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sworn in to start 2nd term

With thousands in a standing room only crowd, governor takes the oath of office

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, center, waves as he arrives with his wife Casey, right, and their children Mason, Madison, and Mamie before his inauguration ceremony outside the Old Capitol Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in Tallahassee, Fla. Applauding at a left is former governor Jeb Bush. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) (Lynne Sladky, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis was sworn in Tuesday for a second term, offering a theme of “freedom lives here in our great Sunshine State” to counter “faddish ideology” nationally.

Speaking on the steps of the Old Capitol, the state’s 46th governor balanced some campaign-style rhetoric and generic policy stances with the confidence of a politician who won re-election by nearly 20 percentage points in November and whose name is repeatedly mentioned as a 2024 presidential contender.

“These last few years have witnessed a great test of governing philosophies as many jurisdictions pursued a much different path than we have pursued here in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said during a 16-minute address before an overflow audience that exceeded the 2,400 seats arrayed in front of the stage.

“The policies pursued by these states have sparked a mass exodus of productive Americans from these jurisdictions — with Florida serving as the most desired destination, a promised land of sanity,” DeSantis added. “Many of these cities and states have embraced faddish ideology at the expense of enduring principles.”

READ: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ full inaugural address

Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Carlos Muniz administered the oath to DeSantis, who placed his hand on a Bible held by First Lady Casey DeSantis in front of the state’s historic Capitol, where the main street through the city was renamed Ron DeSantis Way for the day.

The stage was backed by a pair of banners proclaiming DeSantis’ 2022 campaign theme of “The Free State of Florida.”

His political standing is vastly different from four years ago, when he took office as a relatively little-known former congressman who narrowly won the gubernatorial election.

Since then, he’s positioned himself as a national counter to the Biden administration on issues such as immigration policy and COVID-19. He also saw his stature as a leader grow as he appeared on television providing assistance after Hurricane Ian.

DeSantis was joined by Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez in being sworn in for second four-year terms.

The only office that changed hands Tuesday involved former Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Republican who was sworn in to replace Democrat Nikki Fried as agriculture commissioner.

“I mean, what you heard today was like promises made, promises kept message, and we have a commitment from the governor and from our state, leaders that are going to continue that for Florida,” said state Sen. Clay Yarborough, R-Jacksonville. “It’s a great day to continue to amplify the message that we’ve been working on for the past several years in Florida where ‘the Free State of Florida’ and Florida is a beacon of hope and sanity that people can look to.”

The only office that changed hands Tuesday involved former Senate President Wilton Simpson, a Republican who was sworn in to replace Democrat Nikki Fried as agriculture commissioner.

YOUR VOICE MATTERS: News4JAX readers say they want Gov. DeSantis to focus on guns, cannabis and housing in second term

Susan MacManus, a retired political-science professor at the University of South Florida, called the DeSantis address a “generic” message that balanced themes of economic and cultural issues.

“I think there was some concern he would just focus on the cultural,” MacManus said. “The economic message was first and foremost. And I think if you’re looking ahead, with what people expect to happen in the national economy in the next few years, was probably a good thing to do.”

Before the inauguration ceremony, MacManus surmised DeSantis’ words would be closely dissected because of his perceived national ambitions.

While enormously popular with conservatives, many Democrats did not attend the ceremony for DeSantis and the Cabinet.

Democrats criticized the speech, mostly because of what wasn’t said.

“He talked about Florida being such a stark contrast to the federal government but made no mention that our budget was in the tank but for the dollars that we received from the Biden administration during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, told The News Service of Florida. “So, there was a lot of, I thought, smoke and mirrors and misleading Florida voters.”

Driskell added that “everyday issues” such as property insurance, health care affordability and housing affordability were also missing.

“It was incredible to me just to listen to this governor not actually address the people of Florida but rather project his remarks, in my opinion, to donors. Billionaire donors and Republican primary voters,” Driskell said. “It wasn’t a speech for Florida or really about Florida.”

DeSantis did not mention former President Donald Trump, a potential 2024 primary foe, or Democratic President Joe Biden. He also did not address issues such as his support for proposals to allow people to openly carry firearms.

But he said Florida schools need to be responsive to parents, “not partisan interest groups.” He also pointed to a desire for the Republican-dominated Legislature to approve more tax cuts amid a record budget surplus.

As he did throughout his re-election campaign against Democrat Charlie Crist, DeSantis accused the federal government of leaving the nation weaker through pandemic restrictions, inflationary spending and energy and immigration policies he opposes, while maintaining “we will never surrender to the woke mob.”

“They have harmed education by subordinating the interests of students and parents to partisan interest groups. They have imposed medical authoritarianism in the guise of pandemic mandates and restrictions that lack a scientific basis,” DeSantis said. “This bizarre, but prevalent, ideology that permeates these policy measures purports to act in the name of justice for the marginalized, but it frowns upon American institutions, it rejects merit and achievement, and it advocates identity essentialism.”

Thousands attended Tuesday's swearing-in ceremony in Tallahassee. (Copyright 2023 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

The inauguration ceremony was part of a series of events, including “A Toast to One Million Mamas” hosted by the first lady of Florida to recognize women who supported the governor, and an inaugural ball at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.

News4JAX reached out to the elected Democrats from the Northeast Florida area, but none seem to be in Tallahassee and available.

When News4JAX spoke with state Rep. Angie Nixon, D-Jacksonville, she said she fears this second term for DeSantis will be filled with pandering to a national base of Republicans, as the governor looks ahead to running for president instead of guiding the Sunshine State.

Florida’s legislative session begins in two months, and DeSantis is promising legislation that will create what he calls family-friendly tax cuts, expand gun rights and make it more difficult for teachers to join unions. While he hasn’t announced details, DeSantis has also said he supports additional restrictions on abortions, the Associated Press reports.

UNCUT: Press the play button directly below to watch the entire swearing-in ceremony, including DeSantis’ second inaugural address.

Advocate for long-term care visitation attends swearing-in ceremony

A Jacksonville woman who got the governor’s attention and then action during the pandemic was one of the thousands of people who attended Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony in Tallahassee.

Mary Daniel’s story captured hearts across the state and across the country. Locked out of her husband’s care facility during the pandemic, she took a job as a dishwasher there so she could see him. Then she got Florida’s governor to change the rules.

The advocate for long-term care visitation said DeSantis made all the difference to her during his first term.

“I always felt a key to what I needed to get accomplished went through him, and so from the very beginning of March 2020, I knew I needed to speak with him,” Daniel said.

She has developed a relationship with the governor in the past few years as she fought to help caregivers see their loved ones in assisted living facilities during the pandemic.

She took a job as a dishwasher to get into her husband’s care facility — and took that message to the governor’s office.

“The main thing I asked him, it was actually a very simple question,” Daniel said. “By that time, I was washing dishes in Steve’s facility, and I sat right across from him face to face, and I said, “Why am I allowed to touch my husband as a dishwasher, but I’m not allowed to touch him?” And he said, “I don’t know, but we’re going to do something about that.’ And that’s exactly what he did.”

Daniel’s husband, Steve, died last month, and she lives with no regrets concerning her fight to gain access.

“The truth is it got me in a little bit more. I was already in, but it helps so many — literally tens of thousands of people in the state of Florida,” Daniel said.

Daniel’s efforts saw a new law open up things for loved ones and essential caregivers. It’s something she knows has made a difference in other people’s lives. It’s also why she supports DeSantis so fiercely.

And that in a press conference that we had when he announced that we were reopening, he was visibly moved by the fact that maybe some of his decisions may have done more harm than good. And he fixed it, and I love that in a politician who actually admits when they make a mistake and does something to right that wrong,” Daniel said.

Daniel said she wants to see DeSantis in the White House someday because she believes he will support her federal essential caregiver legislation.

Jacksonville connection supporting first family, hoping for the future

There were other supporters that traveled from Jacksonville for the inauguration events.

As the governor spoke to announce his goals in a second four-year term, they leaned heavily on what he did his first term, and that excites Jacksonville’s Daniel Bean.

“I’ve known him since 2009. He’s a great guy. He’s incredible, and Casey is a wonderful human being,” Bean said. “We’re just lucky that they’re running the state of Florida for us —couldn’t be happier with them.”

Bean met DeSantis because of their service in the Navy and jokes that he was once the governor’s commanding officer. Now, Bean shouts about his approval of his former colleague.

“He and Casey had been fighting for us for the last four years. They’ve given us the freedom to make the choices, individual choices. They’ve returned choices about your children in school to us,” Bean said. “And we felt that, you know, we owed it to them to come support them, stand up and cheer for them, make sure that they know that we’re grateful for what they’ve done and what they’re going to get to do in the next couple of years.”

Bean also looks to the governor for continued support.

Bean captained the efforts to bring the USS Orleck Naval Museum to Jacksonville and said he hopes it goes on.

“He supported us in 2010 with a $25 donation back then, and he has always supported us,” Bean said. “He’s been great, and, obviously, we will be back hopefully with the Legislature this year for some help with the pier and things of that nature.”

Bean also told News4JAX that he can’t wait for DeSantis to win the White House, but he denies that the governor has ever told him that he wants to run for president.

Critics of the governor claim his focus is divided and he can’t effectively run the state.

Governor & first lady participate in first dance at inaugural ball

Hours after DeSantis was sworn in, he and the first lady hosted the the “Governor’s Inaugural Ball” at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.

Joined on stage by their three children, the couple walked out to a rendition of Johnny Van Zant’s “Sweet Florida,” and danced to Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon.”

Photo from inaugural ball shared by office of Gov. Ron DeSantis. (News4JAX.com)

About the Authors:

Jim is a Capitol reporter for the News Service of Florida, providing coverage on issues ranging from transportation and the environment to Legislative and Cabinet politics.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter with experience in print and radio, having covered state and local news in Tallahassee since 2014. A graduate of Florida State University, Dailey has been a resident of the capital city since 2012. He joined the News Service of Florida in 2021, reporting with a focus on education and education policy.