Trump Ally Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Cheered By Environmentalists Ron DeSantis won his bid to be governor of the Sunshine State, in part, by allying himself with President Trump. But his defense of the state's environment has surprised many political watchers.
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Florida's New Governor Redefines What It Means To Be A Trump Republican

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Florida's New Governor Redefines What It Means To Be A Trump Republican

Florida's New Governor Redefines What It Means To Be A Trump Republican

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

When Ron DeSantis entered the race to become Florida's governor, he was a congressman from the Daytona area. Not that many people in the state knew of him. But he went on to win the Republican primary and then the general election in large part because of President Trump. Trump endorsed him. He campaigned for him. DeSantis made the most of it, even running an ad in which he read "The Art Of The Deal" to his infant son. NPR's Greg Allen looks at how this Trump conservative is governing in Florida.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: DeSantis was elected Florida governor after narrowly defeating Tallahassee's Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum, a contest that went to a recount. But as he took office, he told reporters he planned to be the governor for all Floridians, including those who didn't vote for him.

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RON DESANTIS: I've never been one who if someone's on the other side of a political issue to me - I don't, like - OK, like, we have different views. It doesn't mean that you're not somebody I want to work with, does not mean you're not somebody that's a good Floridian.

ALLEN: In his first weeks, DeSantis made clear that he'll be a different governor from his Republican predecessor, Rick Scott, who's now serving in the U.S. Senate. DeSantis named a Democrat to lead the state's Emergency Management agency, a critical position in a hurricane-prone state. He asked the legislature to change the law to allow the smoking of medical marijuana, something his predecessor opposed. And he won applause from African-Americans when he voted to pardon four black men falsely accused of raping a white woman nearly 70 years ago.

DeSantis' greatest departure from Scott, though, is on the environment. The new governor shook up the boards of regulatory agencies and pledged big increases in spending to safeguard water quality.

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DESANTIS: These are things where people from all political persuasions understand the importance of our water resources to Florida's, you know, beauty, our way of life but also our economic future.

ALLEN: DeSantis has taken other actions that have cheered environmental groups. He says he'll appoint a chief science officer and create an Office of Resilience to help Florida prepare for sea level rise. Julie Wraithmell, the head of Audubon Florida, says DeSantis marks a return to an old tradition in Florida politics. In Florida, she says, protecting the environment is a nonpartisan issue.

JULIE WRAITHMELL: Conservation has long been a green issue in Florida, not so much a blue or a red one. And we recognize that Florida's ecology is the basis of our economy.

ALLEN: This week, governing begins to get real for DeSantis when the legislature convenes for its annual session. Members have already expressed skepticism of some of his spending proposals, including the several hundred million dollars he wants for water resource projects. But fellow Republican Florida Senate President Bill Galvano says already DeSantis is taking a much more collaborative approach than his predecessor in his dealings with the legislature.

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BILL GALVANO: It's certainly a different style of relationship between the two branches, and I'm really looking forward to our work together.

ALLEN: Democrats in the legislature are less enthused. The minority leader in the state Senate, Audrey Gibson, has been critical of the lack of diversity in DeSantis' administration. That issue became most stark for her when the governor did not appoint an African-American to the state Supreme Court, leaving the court without a black justice for the first time in more than three decades.

AUDREY GIBSON: Our state is very diverse, and that is not reflected on the court. And that to me is a justice problem.

ALLEN: In recent weeks, DeSantis has taken a series of actions that have dismayed Florida Democrats but are consistent with his record as a conservative congressman and Trump supporter. He's supporting a bill banning so-called sanctuary cities, communities that don't cooperate with federal immigration authorities by holding inmates for possible deportation. In a state where 1 out of 5 residents is an immigrant, Gibson says there's only one explanation for DeSantis' support of the policy.

GIBSON: Trump and DeSantis' connection.

ALLEN: Recently DeSantis unveiled another big proposal that appeals to conservatives and especially proponents of school choice.

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DESANTIS: So in Florida, public education is going to have a meaning that is directed by the parents, where the parents are the drivers, where they know what's best for their kids.

(APPLAUSE)

ALLEN: DeSantis is proposing a dramatic expansion of school voucher programs in Florida, making tuition funds available to an additional 14,000 students and increasing that funding every year going forward. It's a controversial proposal opposed by the teachers union. And if it makes it through the legislature, it's likely to face a court challenge. Tomorrow DeSantis will have an opportunity to discuss his vision as Florida governor when he delivers his first State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature. Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

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