The day before he was sworn in as governor, Ron DeSantis promised reporters it would be a busy first week for his administration as his team prepared to hit the ground running following his inauguration.
“We’ll definitely have some actions on a number of different fronts,” DeSantis told reporters Monday afternoon.
He kept his word. His schedule has been busy. For the most part, much of what the new Republican governor has done this week has been well received — even by Democrats.
“So far, I must commend Gov. DeSantis,” said Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale. “He has done some things that the prior administration has either refused to do, or he’s undone some of the things the prior administration has done that, I think, has caused a lot of us a lot of concern. And so we’re appreciative open-minded, so far, approach.”
One of the issues that DeSantis has addressed this week is the pardoning of four black men who have come to be known as the Groveland Four. The Lake County men were wrongly accused of raping a white woman in 1949. The men were murdered, tortured or wrongly imprisoned. All four have passed away since then.
Two years ago, the Florida Legislature issued an official apology from the state to the families of the four men and urged the governor and Cabinet to grant all four full pardons. But previous Gov. Rick Scott and the past Cabinet never took up the case saying that there was a process that clemency cases had to follow and never considered pardoning the Groveland Four.
At the first meeting of the governor and Florida Cabinet held Friday morning, sitting as the Clemency Board, unanimusly approved the pardons.
“It’s only been a few days, but it has been a good start,” said Farmer who sponsored the Groveland Four resolution in the Legislature and represents the families of the men. “The fact that we’re here today having a discussion of taking up the issue of the Groveland Four that’s been something that justice has been denied for 70 years for these families … we’re very grateful for that.”
The praise that Farmer had for DeSantis Friday came a day after environmental groups spoke favorably about a new water policy announced by the governor Thursday. DeSantis also called for the resignations of the entire board of the South Florida Water Management District.
Groups like Audubon Florida did not agree with all of DeSantis’ water policies, but were impressed he was taking action so soon in his administration to address a pressing environmental issue for the state.
“It’s only the Governor’s second day in office, and Audubon is encouraged by this move to address Florida’s water crises,” said Sean Cooley, the Florida spokesman for the Audubon Florida. “In Florida, our ecology is our economy, and we must protect the incredible natural resources that make Florida special. Our way of life depends on it.”
On Wednesday in his full day on the job, DeSantis flew to Miami where he announced the first of three appointments to the Florida Supreme Court, filling vacancies caused by a mandatory retirement age for judges in the state. His choice was Barbara Lagoa, the first Cuban-American woman to serve on Miami’s appeals court,
The same day he flew to Panama City to inspect recovery efforts from Hurricane Michael three months ago. The area is still struggling and DeSantis said he didn’t want the people in the Panhandle affected by the hurricane to think they had been forgotten about.
“Those people in northwest Florida are working their tail off. They’ve done a great job,but they need help,” DeSantis said earlier in the week. “I don’t want them to be forgotten and so we’re going to make sure they see me there and let them know it’s something that means a lot to me.”
Not all of DeSantis’ actions in his first week have been positively received. One of his first executive orders dealt with an anti-discrimination pledge for Florida government employees. But, there was no mention of protection for LGBTQ individuals. With nearly 100,000 state employees, advocates for state workers say the omission was unacceptable.
Friday afternoon DeSantis will fly to South Florida, where he’s expected to remove Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel from office as the result of the way the department handled last year’s school shooting in Parkland.
All-in-all, the first week on the job seemed to impress those on both sides of the political spectrum. The word “encouraged” was a common description of DeSantis’ first week by political observers.
I’m encouraged. I am encouraged. I really am,” said Sen. Farmer, who was reluctant to give too high of a grade for the new governor’s first week on the job. “I’m naturally a tough grader. I don’t know, a C+, a B-, something like that.”