State Watch

DeSantis previews 2024 message in State of the State address

AP Photo/Phil Sears
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gives his State of the State address during a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives on March 7, 2023, at the Capitol in Tallahassee.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) used his highly anticipated State of the State address on Tuesday to preview what is expected to be the core message of his likely 2024 presidential campaign, touting his work transforming Florida into a bastion of conservatism and hinting at more fights to come.

Speaking to a joint session of the state legislature as lawmakers kicked off their annual session, DeSantis riffed on his usual talking points: how he pushed back on the so-called “biomedical security state” in his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic; how he fought against “woke” culture; and how Americans were flocking to Florida en masse because of it.

“We defied the experts, we bucked the elites, we ignored the chatter, we did it our way: the Florida way. And the result is we are the No. 1 destination for our fellow Americans who are looking for a better life,” DeSantis said.

“Working together, we have met big challenges, and we led the nation on many big issues,” he added. “We don’t make excuses. We don’t complain. We just produce results.” 

His speech — the first State of the State address of his second term as governor — marked the beginning of a whirlwind 60-day legislative session in Florida that is expected to deliver DeSantis a number of key policy victories as he moves toward a likely 2024 presidential bid.

State Republicans, who won supermajorities in both chambers of the legislature last November, have indicated that they’ll move quickly on a long list of proposals spanning everything from concealed carry laws to K-12 education, an issue that has been central to DeSantis’s political reputation.

In his remarks, DeSantis laid out a long wish list for the legislative session. He asked lawmakers to take up tax legislation that would remove taxes on baby supplies, lamented Florida’s “lawsuit-happy legal climate” and urged the legislature to consider tort reforms, and pass new enhancements for Florida’s natural resource protection efforts.

But the speech also included several of the red-meat issues that DeSantis has become known for nationally. 

He railed against the Chinese Communist Party and touted efforts to bar entities tied to the Chinese government from purchasing certain land in Florida. He also went after the Biden administration and its approach to border security, lamenting “the massive amount of fentanyl being trafficked around the southern border” that “has devastated families throughout our nation.”

Notably, DeSantis said little about abortion in his speech. At one point, he said that Florida was “proud to be pro-life,” but did not offer any details on what he expected from lawmakers over the next two months. 

Less than an hour before his address, Republican lawmakers in the state House and Senate filed bills that would ban abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. DeSantis signed a 15-week ban on the procedure last year, though he has said that he would sign tougher restrictions into law.

For DeSantis, the speech and the beginning of the legislative session kicks off something of a countdown to his presidential bid. While he hasn’t publicly announced his intentions, he’s actively preparing for a campaign and is expected to travel to key early primary states, like Iowa and New Hampshire, this month.

DeSantis has said that he will make a decision on his 2024 plans once the legislative session ends in May.

But his remarks on Tuesday were reminiscent of a presidential hopeful in waiting. He cast Florida as being “on the front lines in the battle for freedom,” and urged lawmakers to run through the tape as they begin their legislative session, saying that “now is not the time to rest on our laurels.”

“We have the opportunity and indeed the responsibility to swing for the fences so that we can ensure that Florida remains No. 1,” he said. “Don’t worry about the chattering class. Ignore all the background noise. Keep the compass set to true north. We will stand strong. We will hold the line. We won’t’ back down. And I can promise you this: You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Tags Donald Trump Florida President Joe Biden Ron DeSantis Ron DeSantis

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