As his first legislative session winds down, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis—elected five months ago by the narrowest of margins—has soared in popularity while pursuing an aggressive reform agenda that includes reshaping the state’s judiciary, investigating school safety, and enforcing immigration laws.
“He’s off to a fast start. He’s a trailblazer throughout the state,” Scott Parkinson, who served as chief of staff for DeSantis in the U.S. House of Representatives, told The Daily Signal.
“As a member of Congress, he had to be a consensus builder and build coalitions. As a governor he can lead on principle. He has such a unique life experience to be a leader,” Parkinson said.
DeSantis, 40, is a graduate of Yale and Harvard Law. He went on to serve as a Navy JAG officer, as an adviser to Navy SEALs in Iraq, and as counsel for the U.S. detention center for suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, before first being elected to the House in 2012.
Parkinson, now vice president of government affairs at Club for Growth, a conservative business advocacy group, said that when he saw DeSantis in late February, the governor was in active mode.
“He said he had been to his fourth city in a day,” Parkinson said. “He’s not tied to a desk in Tallahassee. He demonstrates leadership.”
In what could be his biggest legacy accomplishment, DeSantis quickly reshaped the Florida Supreme Court from a 4-3 liberal majority to a 6-1 conservative majority.
Florida has mandatory retirement ages for its state Supreme Court justices. In 2018, voters approved a measure raising that age from 70 to 75.
Upon the retirement of three justices, DeSantis named three relatively young successors: Barbara Lagoa, 51, the first Cuban-American female on the court; Carlos Muñiz, 49, the first Nicaraguan-American; and Robert Luck, 40, the first Orthodox Jew.
“He named three justices and changed the Supreme Court for a generation,” Parkinson said. “Even though we’ve had Republican governors since the 1990s, none [has] had a Supreme Court to back them up.”