Could Gov. Ron DeSantis face a recall in Florida?

Gov. Ron DeSantis (Caricature: Donkey Hotey via Wikimedia)

Sept. 17, 2021 by David Silverberg

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s smashing victory in California’s recall election has sparked hope in the hearts of some Floridians that a similar effort can be mounted in Florida to recall Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

As the New York expression goes: “Fuggedaboudit!

Florida has no constitutional recall provision. What you get in a Florida election is what you’re stuck with until the end of the term.

Florida is hardly alone in this. Only 19 states have gubernatorial recall provisions.

Nationally, the US Constitution has no provisions for recalls of any kind. A president can be removed following impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors but otherwise he’s in office for the length of his term.

It’s not as though Floridians are not expressing their displeasure with DeSantis’ governing. A Change.org petition to recall DeSantis had 93,609 signatures as of this writing. A MoveOn.org recall petition had 8,913 signatures.

However, the next real opportunity to recall DeSantis comes on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022.

The silly season that isn’t

The days before an election are often referred to as “silly season.” It’s when politicians say and do strange and often outlandish things to get elected.

While the election is still a year and nearly two months away, “silly season” is well under way, only right now there’s nothing funny about it due to the COVID pandemic.

A sensible, center-governing politician of any party or persuasion might ordinarily be expected to throw some rhetorical bones to the more rabid dogs in his following, sometimes tossing some real red meat as well. But when it comes to the nuts and bolts of ensuring the health, welfare and prosperity of those in his jurisdiction, decisions have to be driven to some extent by reason, reality and logic.

That’s not happening in Florida. In rhetoric and action, DeSantis is proving a hard-right, extreme, Trumpist governor who is matching extreme rhetoric with extreme action. At every level he appears to be governing for the sake, and at the direction, of a hard-core, fanatical, minority base. In matters of life and death he’s not only offering up COVID-denying rhetoric, he’s actively impeding and obstructing science-based measures like masking and vaccinations and attacking those who do try to implement them, like local school districts.

This includes his ban on school mask mandates, on vaccination “passports,” threats to withhold salaries of school officials who defy his ban in order to protect children, appeals of a court order challenging his ban, threats to fine Florida cities that impose a vaccine mandate on their workers, attacks on federal COVID-prevention mandates and silence in the face of false claims and disinformation about vaccines and COVID precautions.

In a Sept. 14 editorial, The Washington Post characterized his actions as “a jaw-dropping level of cynicism.”

It stated: “Mr. DeSantis harbors national political ambitions. But what he’s displaying here is crass opportunism and disregard for the greater good. As he stokes the ignorance and misguided impulses of some in the Republican base, he is acting against the very tools needed to save lives and stop the pandemic.”

The former president may not be directing DeSantis but DeSantis is closely following the Trumpist playbook, from threats and intimidation to impose his will down to the denial and dismissal of the COVID-19 threat and indifference to its consequences.

Leaching down to Lee County

The DeSantis method and Trumpist playbook are not only playing out in the state capital but like Trumpism itself, are leaching down into local nooks and crannies at the local level.

Case in point is the Lee County School District. When Judge John Cooper of the 2nd Judicial Circuit of Florida overturned the governor’s school mask ban on Sept.  2, Lee County School Superintendent Ken Savage was free to impose a mask mandate to last the month of September.

However, when the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals stayed Cooper’s order and left the ban in place, Savage felt he was compelled to allow parents to opt out and so he did beginning on Sept. 14.

“Given the legal landscape, I am appealing to your humanity and sense of community,” Savage wrote in a letter to the community. “With approximately 500 COVID-19 patients isolated within our local hospital system, and a 101 percent staffed bed capacity over the weekend, remember that these aren’t just numbers. These are people. These are your neighbors, your family, your friends, your co-workers. I choose to believe that the vast majority of our community are reasonable, caring people who want this surge to end as quickly as possible and would willingly volunteer to wear masks as an additional measure to protect each other from harm.”

He concluded: “I implore you to prove your commitment to each other by getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, and following other safety protocols to help us get through this surge together. I will never underestimate our community’s ability to show love and compassion for each other.”

Savage’s civilized faith in the love, compassion and reason of his community was admirable but hardly reciprocated. Demonstrations against the mask mandate brought out shoving matches by mask opponents in front of the School District headquarters and heated rhetoric inside its council room.

On a political basis it provided an opportunity for state Rep. Spencer Roach (R-79-Buckingham) to send a letter to Savage demanding an end to the mask mandate or face a Roach call to DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran for his firing.

In fact the Lee County School District had to allow a temporary, court-imposed, opt-out option. As Savage wrote in his letter to parents: “…last Friday, the 1st District Court of Appeal instituted a stay, which means the Florida Department of Education can continue to enforce its interpretation of the parental opt out until this matter is ultimately resolved.” As a result, an opt-out provision had to be instituted for students, although not for employees.

The Lee County retreat was hailed by local conservatives and anti-maskers as a huge victory for their cause.

Roach’s gesture certainly rebounded to his benefit with the anti-mask constituency, prompting them to credit him for the change in Lee County policy. As a bit of political sleight of hand, it was deftly done.

Roach’s grandstanding is just one example of the kind of maneuvering that will be increasing across the board in Florida as the clock ticks toward Election Day.

Why are they acting this way?

Florida is now in the grip of a governing party for whom the lives of Floridians are not even a secondary consideration. The clear calculation is that serving the extreme anti-vaxx, anti-mask, COVID-denying base is the formula for success at the polls.

But is that true? In California it clearly was not. Californians overwhelmingly rejected the Trumpist mantra.

So far, the polling—at least the publicly available polling—is paltry in Florida but it would seem to indicate that the silent majority of Floridians support mask and vaccination mandates and COVID precautions.

That was the result indicated by the most recent poll on the topic, conducted by Quinnipiac University from August 17 to 21 and released on Aug. 24. Quinnipiac polling is highly respected, getting an A- rating from the FiveThirtyEight.com website. This poll was based on responses from 997 Florida adults.

The poll found that by 60 to 35 percent, Floridians supported requiring masks in schools. By 68 to 27 percent they believed that local school officials should be free to make the decision. What was more, 69 percent to 25 percent thought DeSantis’ withholding of school salaries to force compliance was a bad idea—and that finding applied across the political spectrum.

“As COVID-19 makes a frightening resurgence, it’s Tallahassee vs. the teaching institutions,” stated Tim Malloy, a Quinnipiac polling analyst. “Thumbs down from Floridians on DeSantis’ ban on mask requirements in public schools. Thumbs down on DeSantis’ call to freeze pay of administrators who mandate mask wearing. And he gets scant support from fellow Republicans on penalizing the school leaders who defy him.”

Regrettably, more granular data from Southwest Florida is not publicly available.

If most Floridians don’t approve of the DeSantis/Trump approach to handling the pandemic and this could prove politically damaging, why are DeSantis and other Florida Republicans sticking so stubbornly to policies and positions that are killing Floridians and endangering their children?

Five reasons immediately suggest themselves:

They’re true believers. DeSantis, Roach and other Republicans truly believe the anti-mask, anti-vaccination, disease-denying ideology. This is not just an act, it is not just a pose, and it is a real, heartfelt opposition to COVID precautions. In this it mirrors Donald Trump’s own reaction to the COVID pandemic as president. As for the deaths and infections resulting from this stance, in their minds that’s just collateral damage. In some ways a true-believing politician is more dangerous than a cynical one—at least a cynic can be swayed by reason, self-interest or constituent needs.

It will help them win the next election. DeSantis and the Republicans believe that the strength of the COVID-denying base is sufficient to help them win the election in 2022 and possibly 2024. This also applies down the line in congressional, county and municipal elections. As result they’re pandering to its prejudices and extremism.

It will all be forgotten by next November. Politicians and the public know that voters have short memories. No doubt DeSantis and the Republicans are calculating that by November 2022 the pandemic will be a bad dream that voters are eager to forget—at least the ones that are still alive.

There’s a presidential race on. Certainly at the gubernatorial level, DeSantis has long been running for the presidential nod in 2024. In the Republican Party he has to compete with the likes of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in a race to the rim of reason. These candidates must prove themselves sufficiently fanatical to win over the hard-core militants and walk in the footsteps of Donald Trump—who might himself overturn their calculations by demanding the Party’s nomination in 2024.

The extremists are louder. Without data, sense or logic, COVID-deniers and anti-vaxxers are using volume to fight efforts to stem the pandemic. They’re loud, threatening and they turn out in numbers at demonstrations like the ones at the Lee County School Board. It makes an impression on television and certainly impacts school board members and local officials. It is also what some politicians heed and fear to contradict.

The COVID-deniers, anti-vaxxers and Republican politicians frame the debate over masks and vaccinations as one of personal choice versus government overreach. But what they overlook or ignore is the nature of the disease itself. They regard this as one more political issue that can be dealt with on a human timetable and at human discretion.

However, COVID is not subject to human whims or desires. It is literally a force of nature that operates on its own timetable and according to its own imperatives. As humans—and especially as Americans—we’re accustomed to imposing our will on nature; this is a case of nature forcing us to adapt to it. DeSantis and the Republicans have not made that mental adjustment.

Politically, all this will play out in the next election. It’s clear: those Floridians who believe in science, who don’t want their school-age children used as pawns, who prefer to adapt to real-world conditions rather than impose comforting delusions on reality, will have to be more active, determined and mobilized than their opponents and show up in greater numbers.

And that is the only way to recall a governor of Florida.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

The hidden story of the Democratic presidential primary–and the party’s future UPDATED

04-08-20 Beto O'Rourke high school  04-08-20 Julian Castro high school cropped 04-08-20 Eric Swalwell high school 04-08-20 Pete Buttigieg high school

High school photos of Beto O’Rourke, Julian Castro, Eric Swalwell and Pete Buttigieg.

April 9, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Updated 10:45 am with additional concluding analysis.

With the withdrawal yesterday of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the Democratic presidential nomination is now in former Vice President Joe Biden’s hands; all that remains is an official party coronation.

But amidst the excitement and heartbreak of the Democratic presidential primaries there’s another story that needs to be told. It may be the biggest to come out of the presidential campaign to date—and the most overlooked and hidden.

The coming presidential battle between Joe Biden and Donald Trump is probably the last struggle of Baby Boomers over political power. Donald Trump is 73 and Joe Biden is 77. Sanders is 78 and, just to add them to the mix, Michael Bloomberg is 78 and Elizabeth Warren is 70.

But amidst the brawling debates and the stabbing sound bites, something else happened: a new generation of Democratic leaders emerged and these are the ones who will ultimately lead the nation in the years to come. They were all on display in the first rush of candidates to seek the presidential mantle. None of them succeeded—but they stepped into the limelight, no matter how briefly, and we all got a first look at them.

If the United States remains a democracy, continues to operate under its Constitution and has regularly scheduled elections as in the past—things that can’t be taken for granted if this president remains in office—then these under-50 Democratic leaders will be on the political stage for a long time to come. All are elected officials, all are now veterans of a presidential campaign and all are likely to be back in one form or another. It gives the Democrats a deep bench.

They’re worth looking at, each in turn and examining their electoral records, their prospects and—subjectively—what they might do next to further their political careers.

So, from oldest to youngest:

Beto O’Rourke

04-08-20 Beto_O'Rourke,_Official_portrait,_113th_Congress
Beto O’Rourke

Age: 47 years old, born September 26, 1972.

Education: Columbia University

Previous offices: El Paso City Council, 2005 to 2011; won US House Representative, Texas 16th Congressional District with 65 percent of the vote and served 6 years, 2013 to 2019.

In 2018 O’Rourke ran against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and came within 3 percentage points of defeating him, raising $80 million in the process, the most ever raised by a Senate candidate to that time. He also created enormous enthusiasm for his candidacy, appearing as a fresh, exciting candidate who appealed to younger voters

O’Rourke announced his candidacy for president on March 14, 2019. He never inspired the enthusiasm he had in his Senate race and he announced termination of his campaign on Nov. 1, 2019, well before the first primaries and caucuses. On Super Tuesday, March 3, he briefly made headlines when he dramatically endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for president.

Next steps: Texas Sen. John Cornyn (R) is up for re-election this year but last February O’Rourke flatly decided not to challenge him in order to concentrate on his presidential run. The next possible move is the Texas governorship, which opens in 2022. The current governor, Republican Gregg Abbott, could run for a third term and there are numerous other potential Democratic candidates (more below). When O’Rourke dropped his presidential bid there was talk among the punditry and party activists about his serving as Biden’s vice president, though Biden announced that a woman would be his running mate.

Analysis: If O’Rourke doesn’t go into the executive branch he needs to win the next election he enters to stay a credible prospect for higher electoral office.

Julian Castro

04-08-20 Julián_Castro's_Official_HUD_Portrait
Julian Castro

Age: 45 years old, born Sept. 16, 1974

Education: Stanford University, Harvard Law School

Previous offices: San Antonio City Council, 2000 to 2005 (at 26, the youngest person ever to hold that position); unsuccessful run for mayor of San Antonio, Texas, 2005; in 2008 elected mayor with 56 percent of the vote and served 2009 to 2014; US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development from 2014 to 2017 under President Barack Obama. He also gave the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention and was considered as a vice presidential running mate for Hillary Clinton.

Castro announced his run for president on Jan. 12, 2019. Although he participated in several debates, his campaign never caught fire and he dropped out almost exactly a year after he started, on Jan. 2, 2020. He endorsed Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) four days later.

Next steps: If he seeks Texas office, Castro’s way forward could run into Beto O’Rourke as a rival for the Texas governorship in 2022 or he could take on Sen. Ted Cruz in 2024. Until Joe Biden announced that he would be selecting a woman as running mate, Castro was seriously considered as a vice presidential candidate. Depending on the outcome of the 2020 election, he could try another presidential run in 2024.

Analysis: With his past service in the executive branch, Castro is a real possibility for a Cabinet position in a Democratic administration. Clearly a politician of both electoral and administrative ability with appeal to the Hispanic community, he has numerous options and roads open to him.

Eric Swalwell

04-08-20 Eric_Swalwell_114th_official_photo
Eric Swalwell

Age: 39, born November 16, 1980

Education: Campbell University, NC, transferred in junior year to University of Maryland, College Park, BA; University of Maryland, Baltimore, JD

Previous offices: Alameda County deputy district attorney; city council, Dublin, Calif., 2010; US representative California 15th Congressional District, starting 2012.

Swalwell announced his candidacy on April 8, 2019 and made addressing gun violence the centerpiece of his campaign. His most prominent moment came in the first presidential debate when he observed that he was six years old when Joe Biden spoke of passing the torch to a new generation. His presidential campaign never caught fire, though, and he withdrew in July, before he could be disqualified for the next round of presidential debates.

Next steps:  A logical next step would be for Swalwell to pursue a US Senate seat. However, both of California’s Senate seats are held by fellow Democrats. The seat of Kamala Harris, who also ran for president, is up for election in 2022. Depending on the outcome of the 2020 election, Harris could either enter a Democratic administration or seek re-election in 2022. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has held her seat since 1992, may retire when her term is up in 2024. A run for governor in 2022 seems a stretch since current governor Gavin Newsom is a Democrat. If he seeks a second term it would be difficult for Swalwell to unseat him.

Alternatively, Swalwell could continue to build his career in the House of Representatives. He has graduated to increasingly important roles and committee assignments in his three terms to date as a representative and there may be party leadership openings in the future. He defeated two Democratic primary challengers in his congressional district on March 3 and is in a strong position to win re-election in November.

Though Swalwell did not go far as a presidential candidate, he appeared on the national stage as an intelligent and articulate politician. In the past he has proven an innovative campaigner. As a millennial himself, he made outreach to his generation a central pillar of his presidential campaign and that may pay dividends in the future. In 2015 he founded the Future Forum Political Action Committee, aimed at millennials and their issues. It raised more than $542,000 during the 2017-2018 election cycle — a significant jump from the $62,400 it raised in the 2016 election cycle, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Whatever he does in the future, Swalwell is definitely a Democrat to keep an eye on.

Pete Buttigieg

04-08-20 Pete_Buttigieg_by_Gage_Skidmore
Pete Buttigieg   (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Age: 38, born January 19, 1982

Education: Harvard University, BA, magna cum laude; Rhodes Scholar; Pembroke College, Oxford, UK, MA with a first in politics, philosophy and economics.

Military service: Joined US Naval Reserve, 2009 as ensign, promoted to lieutenant; 2014 deployment to Afghanistan, recipient Joint Service Commendation Medal.

Previous office: Mayor, South Bend, Indiana 2011-Jan. 1, 2020.

Analysis: Of all the candidates under 50, Buttigieg emerged as the media standout. He won the Iowa caucuses after a murky primary process and participated in numerous debates where he came across as very intelligent and articulate. His campaign lasted longest and for a time he seemed to have a real shot at the nomination. His options seem limitless.

Next steps: It’s doubtful that Buttigieg would have much of a political career in very conservative Indiana—then again, just becoming mayor of South Bend and going as far as he did as a presidential candidate seemed improbable. Both current Indiana senators are Republicans and their seats are not up until 2023 and 2025 respectively. The governor, Eric Holcomb, who took over when Mike Pence assumed the vice presidency, is up in 2020, but given his concentration on the presidency, Buttigieg showed no interest in pursuing the office and Indiana pundits think he would have a difficult time if he did.

Buttigieg might have a variety of possible positions in a Joe Biden administration or he could pursue a Democratic Party position.

Buttigieg came out as gay in 2015 and is married to Chasten Glezman, a sexual orientation that will certainly sway some voters against him. However, it didn’t seem to affect his presidential run much and it was never cited as a major issue by the other candidates—although it might have been had he stayed the front runner.

Of all the presidential candidates under 50 who ran in 2019 and 2020, Buttigieg’s star shown brightest. If the Democrats win the presidency and he stays healthy and politically involved, there’s no telling where Buttigieg might go.

* * *

Another Democratic presidential candidate was Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, 38, of Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District. A three-term representative with military service, Gabbard showed promise of political leadership despite some controversial actions, like meeting with Syria’s President Bashar al Assad.

But Gabbard really took herself out of the running for Democratic leadership when she voted “present” on the impeachment vote of President Donald Trump on Dec. 19, 2019, saying she could not in good conscience vote for either side. The animosity resulting from that stance has likely doomed any further advancement in Democratic Party politics. Gabbard also announced that she would not seek re-election to her congressional seat in order to pursue the presidency, leaving her without elected office.

The other  bright young star in the Democratic firmament is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 30, of New York’s 14th Congressional District. AOC, as she is widely known, will first be eligible to run for president in the 2028 presidential election. Before she does that, however, she must win re-election this year to a second term in her home district.

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg