TALLAHASSEE — U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz has been attending gubernatorial inaugurations in Florida since age 6, something that comes with the territory when born into a political family.
Tuesday’s inauguration of Ron DeSantis, though, was different, Gaetz said. This time he felt less like a spectator and more like a player on the winning team.
“This one is very special. I remember bouncing around in the back of the rental van with Ron as we made all of our stops around the state,” he said.
Gaetz said he became friends with DeSantis when the two were in Congress together. He said he was impressed that Florida’s new governor, though a prime target for leadership with an Ivy League resume and military background, refused to “sell out” to get to the top.
He called DeSantis “gritty,” willing to stand in and fight for what he believes in. Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, said the fight to curtail some of the environmental damage under the Rick Scott administration is coming soon.
“There’s way too much sugar industry involvement in the South Florida Water Management District,” Gaetz said, after promising “a big environmental step” would be taken early in the DeSantis administration.
Florida’s 46th governor has apparently impressed a lot of people since his November election. Gaetz, who co-chaired his transition team, said DeSantis has successfully recruited some heavy hitters to the state to head key agencies.
Gen. Mark Inch, a former head of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, will oversee the state’s beleaguered Department of Corrections.
Mary Mayhew, a successful Human Services Commissioner in Maine, will oversee the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.
Richard Corcoran, a former Florida House Speaker, will serve as Secretary of Education. Helen Ferre, who worked as a White House press secretary, will be communications director.
Gaetz said DeSantis’ relations with the news media will be “very different” from those of Scott. Scott could be evasive, or stand-offish, the congressman said.
“In Washington the media run down the hallway with us, there’s more engagement with the media,” he said.
Gaetz made it a point to mention twice that DeSantis had pledged in his inaugural speech to hold local government officials accountable for their actions.
State Rep. Mel Ponder, R-Destin, was thoroughly impressed by DeSantis’ decision to invite not only all members of the Florida House and Senate — both Republicans and Democrats — to his legislative luncheon.
“He’s very good. I’m excited to see what happens the next two years,” Ponder said.
Gaetz said DeSantis is well aware he won this year’s election for governor by a mere 33,000 votes, and he’s already proven willing to employ Democrats in his administration. He said the governor witnessed the destructiveness of the fierce partisanship in Washington and doesn’t want to have it happen in Florida.
Gaetz also said that DeSantis plans to quickly show he's an active governor. He announced that DeSantis will be in Northwest Florida on Wednesday as a show of support for the victims of Hurricane Michael.
“He didn’t want time to lapse before letting the people know he supported them,” Gaetz said.