DeSantis's second inaugural address will likely draw more national attention
Gov. Ron DeSantis will be sworn back into office at noon Tuesday. Four years ago, he was a relatively unknown politician who won his gubernatorial bid by fewer than 33,000 votes. This time, he cruised to reelection with a nearly 20-point lead over his Democratic challenger and is a Republican presidential contender.
It’s against this backdrop that DeSantis’s second inaugural address will be a “legacy speech” says Steve Bousquet, the opinions editor and columnist for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and a longtime state capital politics reporter.
Four years ago, a relatively unknown DeSantis promised Floridians that he would invest in clean water, be a good steward of the environment, press for greater school choice and crack down on what he saw as judicial activism. DeSantis also struck a tone of humility in his first inaugural address, stating “I take the helm of the ship of state as a Florida native, a veteran of our nation’s military, conscious of my own deficiencies, mindful of the great trust that has been placed in me and thankful for so many of you who have prayed for me.”
During his first two years in office, the governor earned bipartisan praise for record investments in water quality and even appointed officials to address climate change. But that praise ended during the pandemic, when DeSantis shifted to focus on culture war issues, like combating so-called “woke” culture, and fighting with teachers' unions over how to teach race and history in schools. DeSantis also pushed to reopen state institutions like schools and get businesses back up and running while the virus was still raging. Recently, he requested the Florida Supreme Court to convene a grand jury to investigate the promotion of COVID-19 vaccinations.
“It’s been a dramatic change,” says Bousquet. “The DeSantis of four years ago was largely a blank canvas…Ron DeSantis 2.0 has won by nearly 20 points, he’s a major national political figure, and everything he says takes on much greater weight than it did four years ago.”
Since the 2022 election, the governor has been taking “victory laps” and Bousquet expects DeSantis will look to further his conservative agenda amid a national spotlight. Still, there are pressing issues at home, such as climate change, housing affordability and property insurance. And while DeSantis is increasingly popular nationwide, all three of those state issues, if not addressed, could hurt the governor.
“It’s a limited risk as long as things are going fairly smoothly in the state –of course, that’s in the eye of the beholder,” said Bousquet.
Unlike four years ago, when DeSantis takes to the steps of the Historic Old Capitol Tuesday, he’ll be doing so with an eye toward a national audience, not just a state electorate.