Gov. Ron DeSantis let delegates to Florida’s Boys State convention in on what he sees as the secret of his success in office: He determined from the first to fully understand the extent and limits of his powers to enact his agenda, he said, and to take no notice of public opinion polls.
During an address Tuesday, DeSantis said those two decisions have allowed him to succeed in the Governor’s Mansion.
Boys State — and the separate Girls State — brings young people to Tallahassee where they conduct mock elections for state and local office and run legislative sessions. The American Legion sponsors the events.
“I had my transition folks give me a list of all the powers of the governor. The constitutional powers, statutory powers, customary powers. What can I do on my own? What did I need the Legislature for? … What would the courts have to check? Just really get a good idea.” he said.
“And I knew most of it, but just every little nook and cranny I wanted to know. And then, when you’re trying to pursue an agenda, you’ve got to be cognizant of where all these pressure points are within the system.
“And so, I’m trying to do something with, you know, school funding, well I can’t do that on my own; I need to get the Legislature on board for that. If I’m doing something with, like, an appointment, well, I may be able to do that on my own. There may be other things I can do on my own.
“So, we had a kind of a good sense of how we needed to advance the agenda through the various wickets and constraints to be able to actually deliver on our promises. And we were able to do that.”
As for polling, DeSantis claimed, “I’m not going to be one of these politicians that just has the finger in the wind, that’s so worried about kinda this or that. You gotta do what’s right.”
“And you know, responding to polls is being a follower. That’s not being a leader. A leader will set out a vision, will execute on that vision, and then, when the results are positive, you know what? People will be with you when you do that.
“So, I could take a poll of this room on whatever issue — that’s just a static analysis. That doesn’t even tell me what I need to know. What I need to know is that, if I embark on an initiative, and I explain what I’m doing and I’m successful in doing it, then what would the results be in the room.
“I think too many politicians, they get paralyzed with these polls and they’re so concerned about every little thing in a news cycle. That’s not the way I think a leader operates. A leader needs to understand where true north is.”
DeSantis, a U.S. Navy veteran, asked the kids whether they’d seen “Top Gun: Maverick,” which shows an aircraft carrier on a mission to bomb a nuclear site in an unnamed hostile country.
“The seas are not always calm. There’s choppy seas. There’s a lot of things that happen, you know, on the voyage. But if you have that rudder set and you know where you’re going, that’s ultimately the important thing, is whether you get to that ultimate destination.
“So, whenever there’s something in the news cycle or, you know, a phony controversy or whatever, just don’t even indulge in that. There’s no worry. So, we always keep focused on what we’re here to do and the things that actually matter to people, and we’re not going to let little blips in public opinion” — he trailed off.
He acknowledged drawing criticism over, for example, his decision last year to order in-class instruction in the public schools notwithstanding COVID but said he believes that choice has been vindicated.
“None of this is cost-free. But if people aren’t willing to stand up and take those arrows and pay the price to be able to do what’s right, then we don’t have much of a future,” DeSantis said.
“What people appreciate — if they see you standing up on the wall for them, they see you taking incoming and you stand your ground and you support them, they will have your back. I mean, these folks will walk over broken glass to say thank you and to support you if you’re standing up for them.”
–Michael Moline, Florida Phoenix