Congressman Ron DeSantis sat resolutely in a well-tailored blue suit and perfectly straightened and dimpled tie. His posture and sharp, attentive eyes don’t disguise his years of military service as a prosecutor and the fact that he is a serious man on a new mission. The Congressman took a few moments to speak with us about his vision for safer schools, a healthier economy, and stronger conservatism if he becomes governor of Florida.
A bit of background on the race: The Congressman from Florida’s sixth district was in a tight primary for governor, but has surged past his opponent in recent weeks. Prior to the Fox News debate in Orlando, Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam outpaced Congressman DeSantis by nearly double digits in the polls. However, a Remington Research Group poll shows – and the campaign contends – that there has been a dramatic swing to DeSantis as a result of a “dominating performance at the Fox News Debate last month, and the beginning of our $12 million TV ad campaign.” The Harvard-trained lawyer and former Navy JAG officer touts his message as resonating with the people of Florida.
A key component of the DeSantis platform is building on the legacy of current Governor Rick Scott in developing a robust economy. "[Scott] had a lot of mess to clean up with [former Governor] Charlie Crist,” DeSantis said. “The Tallahassee swamp was really ruling the day and the average taxpayer really wasn't being looked out for.”
His plan for economic success requires positive reforms that focus on job creation, maintaining low taxes, reasonable regulation, and reforming the litigation system because "we have too much litigation in Florida,” DeSantis said. He hopes to pitch Florida as a state for financial services firms, tech startups, and manufacturing. The main concern for the Congressman is setting Florida up to “weather economic downturns.” This requires building a more robust economy that doesn’t solely rely on “tourism and homebuilding," two sectors heavily hit by the 2008 financial crisis.
On June 22, President Donald Trump reiterated his endorsement for the Congressman. When asked how he navigates his relationship with the president, DeSantis told us that he wants the Trump administration to succeed. He described Trump as “eager to get the economy moving better,” “seeing the world properly,” and, in contrast to President Barack Obama, as “receptive towards opportunities to advance the ball” in Congress.
On Trump's tweeting, DeSantis takes the approach that it’s “unhelpful to criticize him” at every tweet because the press and Democrats are "nonstop banging on the guy.”
The Congressman also considers a relationship between the governor of Florida and the president as vital due to natural disasters. "The Democratic candidates want the guy impeached," DeSantis said, adding: "If we have a hurricane, a good relationship with the president is necessary." He also expressed a willingness to “work productively with the White House and the federal government to do things that'll benefit Florida.”
When discussing the future of conservatism among young people, DeSantis’ message is that of “fiscal prudence from and free from government." To DeSantis, young people now take a “command and control approach”:
"Young people have the ability to just customize things that you want, everything from a song playlist to being able to communicate with people rapidly … it's a model where people are more empowered. And the more you put power in bureaucracies, the less ability you have to control your own destiny.”
He advocates that the more experience young people have, the more they will “appreciate of the need for limits on government bureaucracies.”
In a similar vein, the Congressman is a strong advocate for innovation and flexibility in higher education. As governor, DeSantis plans to “hold the line on tuition increases at the state universities and then insist on there being low-cost degree options so that if someone has $10,000 they can get a degree at one of the state colleges and I think that that's important.”
As education costs nationwide continue to rise, the Congressman, a former lecturer at Florida Coastal School of Law, notes: “federal policy drives tuition higher because they have a gusher of federal loans and some of the grant programs.” He calls for accountability on the part of colleges to “be on the hook for part of [student debt] if they're simply running up the score.”
DeSantis wants Florida to be a “laboratory for democracy” by considering “competing accreditation systems” to allow for different education experiences to be credited towards an education beyond a “four-year brick-and-mortar or an Ivy.” This could permit students to gain “tangible skills that ended up being successful in the job market.” Ever concerned about economics, DeSantis sees his plan as a method for decreasing tuition and putting a “downward pressure on tuition” because "colleges and universities aren't going to be the only game in town to be successful."
Turning to Florida's southern "border" and its impact on his state, DeSantis carried a wealth of knowledge about Cuba from his military service as a JAG Officer that brought him to the U.S. Naval Station in Guantanamo Bay. DeSantis seeks to “empower the Cuban people, but not the Cuban regime – the regime will take the money and they'll give the people crumbs.” The Congressman flexed his “strong record of standing with the exile community, and really standing for democratic opportunities for the people of Cuba.”
School safety is particularly important to the people and students of Florida. DeSantis echoed the need for better allocation of resources, using metal detectors, and identifying and taking seriously threats from students who are deemed violent. He did offer to us, however, that the Broward County Sheriff did not put the “safety of the schools or the community first.” To DeSantis, there was a “serious dereliction of duty and … the superintendent needs to go and Broward sheriff needs to go.”
DeSantis cited his military service: “I'm a navy guy [and] when you're the captain out at sea and the ship runs aground, the captain's relieved of duty, it doesn't matter that it was not his personal fault – you're in charge and there needs to be accountability – and we've really lost that at a lot of levels of government. We need to bring an ethic of accountability back.”
The Congressman sees an opportunity for the Republican Party to reach out to communities of color in Florida. DeSantis champions conservatism as a message of “economic opportunity,” citing gains by both African-Americans and Hispanics in their respective employment rates since Trump's election. Other ways he hopes to make inroads with minority communities include “aggressive education reform by empowering parents to make choices” and freeing up “public education money” for higher education funding for the benefit of minority populations.
As the primary enters its final stretch, Rep. DeSantis plans to convince Floridians that his message of economic opportunity and educational innovation is the right one. If his poll numbers hold, he has already changed the minds of many and may very well continue his lifetime of public service in the Sunshine State.
Kyle Kashuv is the Director of High-School outreach for Turning Point USA and a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High-School. He has become an outspoken gun rights advocate since the horrific tragedy that happened at his high school on February 14th. Kyle has been able to successfully lobby congress and the President to pass the "STOP School Violence Act" and "Fix NICS". You can follow him on Twitter @KyleKashuv.
Tyler Grant is a lawyer in Washington, D.C. He is a graduate of Washington and Lee University and University of Virginia School of Law. Tyler's work has appeared in National Review, The Weekly Standard, and The Hill, among others. You can follow Tyler on Twitter @The_Tyler_Grant.