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Get the latest coverage of the 2024 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee.

Democrats believe DeSantis' grip on the Florida Legislature has loosened

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis stands behind a podium and speaks to the crowd after being sworn in to begin his second term during an inauguration ceremony on the steps of the Old Capitol on Jan. 3, 2023, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Lynne Sladky
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks to the crowd after being sworn in to begin his second term during an inauguration ceremony outside the Old Capitol on Jan. 3, 2023, in Tallahassee, Fla.

Florida Democrats believe Gov. Ron DeSantis’ grip on the legislature is loosening.

Democratic legislative leadership during a Monday press conference pointed to DeSantis backtracking his policy allowing books bans in schools and Republican leadership refusing to pursue certain culture war bills as evidence that his influence has slipped after his failed presidential run.

DeSantis championed legislation last year that allows parents to file complaints about books or other education materials they believe are not age appropriate. After districts were inundated with hundreds of complaints, DeSantis directed the Florida Department of Education last week to begin policy making to crack down on what he sees as frivolous complaints.

To House Democratic Leader Fentrice Driskell, DeSantis’ move validates the criticism that Democrats levied against the policy from the start.

“So maybe if he focused on the real problems facing Floridians all along, instead of trying to appeal to an out-of-state GOP primary base, we wouldn’t need to clean up this particular mess,” she said.

To Driskell, the book ban roll back signals that DeSantis has lost some of his influence in the legislature since dropping his presidential race. However, she says there are several tools in his toolbox he can use to pursue his policy priorities.

“Because he still has that veto pen, and he still has leverage in terms of you know, what will move forward in the budget and what not. I think that the next week or so will be particularly telling as we move into the conference process,” she said.

She also pointed to Republican legislative leadership appearing to step away from many of the culture war priorities DeSantis has championed during the pass several legislative sessions.

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo said last week that several controversial bills, like a ban on removing confederate monuments and lowering the gun purchasing age to 18, were dead in her chamber. Those bills were policy priorities of the state Republican party and DeSantis has backed similar policies in the past.

“The way I look at it, our bill process is not the Republican Party of Florida. We are the legislature. We make the laws. We review the laws,” Passidomo said during a press conference last week.

However, Driskell isn’t convinced that those bills are gone for good.

“I’m always worried about the resurrection of any culture war proposal as long as there is time on the clock. Because we know that there is a lot of horse trading that goes on back and forth between the House and Senate leadership and we know that we got a governor who’s also in the mix who’s trying to continue to make himself relevant now that he is done running for President,” she said.

The best Democratic lawmakers can do to resist those policies if they come back is make a lot of noise. Republicans currently hold a super majority in both legislative chambers, so if leadership wants to pass a bill, Republicans have all the votes they need to get it passed.

Tristan Wood is a senior producer and host with WFSU Public Media. A South Florida native and University of Florida graduate, he focuses on state government in the Sunshine State and local panhandle political happenings.