TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis sounded much like a 2024 presidential candidate as he was sworn in to a second term Tuesday, addressing national issues like immigration and inflation as much as highlighting his own plans for the state.
DeSantis turned to the message that helped him win reelection by a landslide and build a national image as a conservative, blasting “woke” ideology, repeatedly calling Florida a leader for freedom and setting the stage for a potential run for the White House.
“Florida’s success has been made more difficult by the floundering federal establishment in Washington D.C. Federal government has gone on an inflationary spending binge that has left our nation weaker and our citizens poorer,” DeSantis said.
He said on issues like COVID-19 restrictions, federal spending and immigration policy, Washington is driven by a political ideology that has eroded freedom and stunted commerce.
“We reject this woke ideology. We seek normalcy not philosophical lunacy. We will not allow reality, facts and truth to become optional. We will never surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die,” DeSantis said to loud applause.
Democratic House Leader Fentrice Driskell said DeSantis’ speech was aimed more at his future political ambitions than it was at addressing the state’s problems.
“This is probably the first Florida governor to give an inaugural speech not speaking to the people of our great state and the challenges we all face, but directed at GOP primary voters and billionaire donors,” Driskell said in a news release. “Any time he wants to distract from his own failed record, he creates a new fake ‘woke’ boogeyman to battle.”
The ceremony took place after Florida’s three independently elected Cabinet members were sworn in. He took his oath in front of the state’s historic Capitol, where the main street through the city was renamed Ron DeSantis Way for the day.
DeSantis defeated Democrat Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor and Democratic congressman, by more than 29 percentage points in November. It was a huge blowout in a state known for close elections, and other Republicans on the statewide ballot won by similar margins.
Along the way, DeSantis has built a national image, often traveling the country fundraising for himself or campaigning for other candidates.
DeSantis used an endorsement by then-President Donald Trump to come out of nowhere to win the 2018 governor’s race in an election so close it required a recount. DeSantis built his popularity largely on fighting COVID-19 restrictions, constantly attacking President Joe Biden and being vocal on issues like illegal immigration, giving parents more control over school books and instruction, policies seen as anti-LGBTQ.
“When other states consigned their people’s freedom to the dustbin, Florida stood strongly as freedom’s lynchpin. When the world lost its mind, when common sense suddenly became an uncommon virtue, Florida was a refuge of sanity,” DeSantis said.
“Florida is proof positive that we the people are not destined for failure. Decline is a choice. Success is attainable. And freedom is worth fighting for,” DeSantis said.
Politically, DeSantis has helped make the state more conservative by getting involved in local politics and reshaping school boards and taking full control of the rewriting congressional maps to give Republicans more power in the U.S. House.
The man who can credit Trump for his success now is seen as the top Republican to challenge him in 2024.
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.