By ANTHONY MAN
| SOUTH FLORIDA SUN SENTINEL |
MAY 08, 2019 | 4:35 PM
Gov. Ron DeSantis, delivering a report card for the first part of 2019 and touting the Florida economy, told a Broward audience Wednesday that the state is well-positioned on several fronts for continued economic and population growth.
Though much of the speech contained talking points that could have been delivered by previous Republican governors, with several themes that pleased the largely business-oriented crowd, DeSantis reminded his audience that he’s bringing a new outlook — especially on the environment.
DeSantis ran as an environmental champion and the Legislature approved increased funding for water resources and the environment, he said, prompting a major round of applause.
“That’s a really big success story,” he said.
The result: When people in other states consider where they’ll move themselves and their businesses, DeSantis said, they’ll see that “in Florida you’re going to get a state that is business friendly that has low taxes; you now have a state where the broad cross-section of political leadership is supportive of environmental quality and keeping our national resources in good shape.”
He said he was proud of his early decision to appoint Broward’s Ron Bergeron to the governing board of the South Florida Water Management District.
The business, government, legal and political worlds in Broward wanted to hear what the governor had to say. Almost 600 were shoehorned into the filled-to-capacity Crystal Ballroom at the Pier 66 Hotel & Marina for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance’s mid-year meeting and luncheon.
The first four months of his governorship and the annual legislative session, which finished its business on Saturday, have been filled with accomplishments, DeSantis said.
In addition to the new focus on the state’s environment, DeSantis played up something that isn’t at all popular with Democrats — his remaking of the Florida Supreme Court. Retirements as he took office allowed DeSantis to appoint three new justices on the seven-member court.
The business community will like what that produces, the governor said. “We have not had the best legal climate in Florida, but I am happy to report help is on the way with that,” he said.
He also touted legislation changing assignment of benefits, in which property owners who need repairs sign over their benefits to contractors, who then seek money from insurance companies. Business groups and insurers sought — and trial lawyers and some restoration companies opposed — changes to the system, which critics said drove up premiums.
DeSantis said problems with assignment of benefits “have been destabilizing our insurance markets.”
The combination of the two issues means, DeSantis said, that “we’re much better off in terms of a legal climate than we were a year ago.”
Mostly, he stayed away from the most contentious issues of the legislative session, such as allowing many more students to get vouchers to help pay for private school and the banning of co-called sanctuary cities and counties.
DeSantis didn’t talk about another issue important to many in the business community, the decision to preserve state funding for the Visit Florida tourism agency. In his introduction of the governor, state Rep. Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point, said preserving the tourism agency was the right thing to do — even though it was his own party’s leaders in the Florida House of Representatives who wanted to kill it.
“The reality is Visit Florida was in some dangerous trouble,” LaMarca said. “I realize how important it is and how important it was that we retain it.”
On the campaign trail, DeSantis often pushed apprenticeships and career training, as opposed to college, as the best choice for some students. For many, he said, it is better “not to go $100,000 in debt breaking their backs and getting a degree in zombie studies.”
Jacqui Blake of Fort Lauderdale liked what she heard in the 13-minute speech.
“I love the governor. He’s making changes that are phenomenal and aggressive and successful,” she said. It was the first time the commercial real estate broker had seen DeSantis in person.
“He’s approachable. He’s relatable,” she said.
State Sen. Perry Thurston, a Broward Democrat, was one of many political leaders in the audience. He has big disagreements with DeSantis on many policy issues but said the governor “did a great job” connecting the state’s prosperity to Broward County
Thurston praised the governor’s moves on the environment.
Before the Alliance luncheon, DeSantis had a private meeting at the Pier 66 with 20 business and community leaders, organized by Ed Pozzuoli, CEO of the Tripp Scott law firm, and former U.S. Sen George LeMieux, chairman of the board of the Gunster law firm.
DeSantis said he’s resuming his frequent appearances in South Florida — Miami on Tuesday, Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, back to Miami on Thursday — that had tapered off while the Legislature was in session.
He said he’d be back in Broward — often. “I think I’ve been to Broward more than anywhere else since I’ve been governor,” he said. The audience applauded.