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New Fla. Gov. Seeks to Broaden Appeal  01/19 11:16

   TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida voters who expected new Republican Gov. 
Ron DeSantis to be politically divisive because of his strong ties to President 
Donald Trump may be surprised by the quick actions he's taken in his first two 
weeks in office.

   DeSantis announced a bold plan to address environmental issues, including an 
acknowledgement that the state needs to address rising sea levels; posthumously 
pardoned four black men accused of raping a white teenager nearly 70 years ago; 
named a Democrat to a top position in his administration; and demanded that the 
Republican-led Legislature rewrite a restrictive law so medical marijuana can 
be more accessible to patients.

   While Trump continues to divide the country, DeSantis is beginning his term 
with actions that can unite people across political affiliations.

   "This new governor is a great governor. I'm more encouraged by Ron DeSantis' 
first two weeks than anything I've seen in years," trial lawyer John Morgan 
said recently in a Facebook video.

   Morgan has raised millions of dollars over the years for Democratic 
candidates, including Trump's 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton. Morgan also led 
the effort to put legal use of medical marijuana in the state constitution and 
sued when the Legislature and then-Gov. Rick Scott banned smokable use of the 
plant.

   DeSantis is now on Morgan's side on the medical marijuana issue, prompting 
Morgan to declare, "DeSantisclause came to town!"

   DeSantis campaigned on building off the economic accomplishments of Scott, 
who was elected to the U.S. Senate after two terms as governor, but he's 
proving to be neither a Scott clone nor a divisive figure like Trump.

   Scott had a reputation for being partisan, and DeSantis is starting his term 
by appealing to a broader political base. In doing so, he's taking action on 
issues Scott failed to address.

   In 2017, the Legislature unanimously approved a resolution apologizing to 
the families of the Groveland Four, the men accused of raping a 17-year-old 
girl in 1949. One of the four was tracked down by a posse and shot 400 times. 
The other three were convicted with dubious evidence.

   The case is now seen as a racially unjust blight on Florida's history. The 
Legislature asked Scott to pardon the men, but he took no action. DeSantis and 
the state's Cabinet granted the pardons on his first Friday in office.

   "I don't know why it took this long to do it. I don't know why Gov. Scott 
didn't (pardon them). He didn't have the guts," said Wade Greenlee, the brother 
of one of the Groveland Four. "But I thank God for the governor that we have 
now. He didn't waste no time."

   Although Scott was criticized by environmentalists for denying climate sea 
level rise, DeSantis plans to create a chief science officer position and said 
on his second day in office that the state needs to protect wildlife and 
communities from sea level rise.

   The new governor has also strengthened the commitment to addressing red tide 
off the state's coast and pollutants in Lake Okeechobee that cause algae blooms 
downstream by promising to spend a billion more dollars on the issues and 
create new state offices dedicated to environmental threats.

   DeSantis is also reaching out to people who opposed him politically --- most 
notably by appointing former Democratic state Rep. Jared Moskowitz, one of the 
Legislature's most vocal opponents of the Republican agenda, as the state's 
emergency management director.

   Of course, DeSantis's first impression is only two weeks old, and the 
remaining three years and 50 weeks of his term will be the test of whether he 
continues to govern for a broad spectrum of Floridians.

   But for now, he's even caught the attention of some Democrats.

   "He's taken a pretty proactive Florida stand, and it's a distinct contrast 
with Scott," Democratic pollster David Beattie said. "It's almost like he's 
giving the finger to Scott."

   Beattie was among those who thought DeSantis would have a hard time getting 
elected because he ran almost entirely on his and Trump's mutual admiration. 
Trump backed DeSantis in the primary, tweeting his praise and holding a Florida 
rally. Beattie said at the time that the extreme partisan nature of the 
campaign would make it difficult for DeSantis to build off his base.

   But Beattie now admits DeSantis as governor appears to be different than 
DeSantis the candidate, saying there's no doubt he's appealing to a broad base 
rather than a narrow ideology.

   "I'm surprised. It's not what I anticipated," he said, predicting that 
DeSantis' first approval ratings will be higher than Scott's ever were in his 
eight years in office.

   DeSantis said he's not trying to create a distinction between himself and 
Scott.

   "We all come in under different circumstances. Gov. Scott came in when the 
economy was in the tank. He had run based on being a jobs guy and he focused on 
that," DeSantis said.

   He said issues like the environment are more of a priority for voters now 
than they were 10 years ago.

   "Some of these other things like the Groveland Four, the Legislature led on 
that ... ," he said. "I was like, 'These guys got railroaded. We've got to do 
what's right.' So I'm just calling them as I've seen them."


(KA)

 
 
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