Ron DeSantis, a Republican, is the current governor of the state of Florida. He has served as Florida’s governor since January 8 2019. Before that, DeSantis was a congressman representing Florida’s 6th congressional district from 2013 to 2018.
DeSantis is expected by many to run for President of the United States in 2024 within the Republican Party, challenging incumbent President Joe Biden.
DeSantis is a close political ally of Donald Trump and launched his gubernatorial campaign with an ad praising Trump and his anti-immigrant border wall.
This is a comprehensive guide to the scandals and controversies that DeSantis has been involved in over his life and political career.
Opposition to School Mask Mandates
DeSantis has expressed opposition to school mask mandates despite the threat of the Delta variant of COVID-19. The Broward County, FL school district has decided to defy DeSantis’ ban on mask mandates.
Rebekah Jones Raid
Florida police raided the home of data scientist Rebekah Jones in December 2020. The raid came after Jones was ousted by the Florida Department of Health after she resisted what was described as unethical requests related to the pandemic.
After the raid, Ron Filipkowski, a Republican lawyer, resigned from his position on a state judicial panel in protest. He called the warrant “unconscionable” and told a newspaper that the raid was “about intimidation” from the DeSantis-led state government.
COVID Deaths Lie
DeSantis said in an April 2020 meeting that “I don’t think nationwide, there’s been a single fatality under 25.” Politifact rated his statement as a lie and gave it a “Pants on Fire” rating.
The Florida Medical Examiners Commission said in May 2020 that the Florida Department of Health told them not to release a comprehensive list of coronavirus deaths.
Ten days before the November 2020 election, Florida stopped including backlogged COVID-19 deaths in the daily tally of fatalities, making the virus seem less severe than it truly was. Two weeks after the election and Donald Trump’s win in Florida, the backlogged deaths were added back into the death toll.
The pause also occurred while Florida voters were doing early voting in the presidential race.
The South Florida Sun-Sentinel said the activities suggested “the state manipulated a backlog of unrecorded fatalities, presenting more favorable death counts in the days leading up to the 2020 presidential election.”
Hiring Of Anti-Mask Advocate To Analyze COVID Data
DeSantis hired sports blogger Kyle Lamb, who also advocated against wearing masks during the pandemic, as a data analyst for the state of Florida.
Lamb is not a data scientist and the Washington Post reported his “public statements about the pandemic have frequently contradicted advice from public health officials.”
Ignoring Safety Guidelines On COVID-19
As COVID-19 cases were experiencing an uptick in September 2020, DeSantis lifted restrictions on statewide businesses in defiance of Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations.
As Florida faced 700,000 cases, DeSantis said bars and restaurants would be allowed to operate at full capacity.
DeSantis also told the public to go ahead and “give a hug” to grandparents, even as health officials were urging social distancing during the viral outbreak, particularly with regard to vulnerable populations like the elderly.
He said he wouldn’t close gyms during the outbreak because people there are “in good shape.”
Arguing in favor of schools being open during the pandemic, DeSantis cited the need for children to play football.
DeSantis resisted efforts to close beaches in the state, even though they could be a gathering point for crowds spreading COVID-19.
DeSantis tried to get the Republican National Convention to host an in-person event in Florida for the 2020 election, even though such events had been canceled due to the pandemic.
“Essential” Designation For WWE Wrestling During Pandemic
DeSantis classified professional wrestling as an “essential” service during the pandemic, allowing the business to continue operating while others were locking down. DeSantis defended the decision by claiming that people are “starved of content.”
WWE, the biggest name in pro wrestling, operates a training facility in Orlando, Florida, and was using the location to broadcast its highly-rated “Monday Night Raw” program.
WWE’s former CEO, Linda McMahon, served as administrator of the Small Business Administration under Donald Trump. At the time DeSantis made the wrestling designation, McMahon was operating a super PAC advocating for Trump’s reelection.
Ocean Reef Club Vaccine Distribution Scandal
DeSantis was accused of favoritism towards the wealthy when it was revealed that 1,200 wealthy residents of the exclusive Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Florida, received access to coronavirus vaccines before other residents in the state.
DeSantis and his team personally selected sites in the state to receive vaccine, bypassing state and local vaccination systems. Critics say that has allowed political influence to play a role in distributing vaccine.
DeSantis owns a home in Ocean Reef Club, as do many wealthy donors who support the Republican Party. An analysis of campaign donations showed that the only people in the Key Largo area who gave to DeSantis political committee live in Ocean Reef. Through December 2020 they donated $85,000 to DeSantis.
One resident, former Illinois governor Bruce Rauner (R), gave DeSantis $250,000 around the same time the club was getting vaccines, despite shortages around the country.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried described the scheme as “public corruption.”
Lakewood Ranch Vaccine Distribution Scandal
High-end communities developed by Pat Neal, a Republican fundraiser for DeSantis, received an unusually high portion of vaccines in early 2021.
Neal donated $125,000 to DeSantis’ political committee in 2018 and 2019.
In February 2020, DeSantis declared that three sites affiliated with Neal – including Lakewood Ranch – had been chosen to host pop-up vaccination clinics.
DeSantis was criticized for sending vaccine to these wealthy and mostly white areas while minority and poor communities in Florida still had no vaccines available to them.
A text message between a commissioner for Manatee county and a developer showed that DeSantis’ office asked county officials to bypass the existing protocol for selecting vaccine sites in favor of a handpicked list that ended up favoring DeSantis’ donor.
A federal complaint from retired law enforcement officer Matthew Issman was lodged with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It accuses DeSantis and his administration of discriminatory and fraudulent practices relating to how the state is distributing COVID-19 vaccines, specifically referencing the Lakewood site.
Vaccination Plan Fallout, Federal Investigation Request
Members of Congress from Florida have called on the federal government to investigate DeSantis over allegations that he directed vaccines to the wealthy and to his political allies.
In a statement from Rep. Alcee Hastings, Hastings said, “DeSantis is establishing coronavirus vaccine distribution and administration sites in select locations to benefit political allies and donors, over the needs of higher risk communities.”
COVID-19 Fine Cancellations
DeSantis released an executive order in March 2021 that cancelled any fines related to violations of local government restrictions on people and business during the pandemic.
The decision was slammed by Florida officials. State Senator Gary Farmer, of Lighthouse Point, Florida, said the decision “flies in the face of public interest.”
Racist Attack On Black Democrat
DeSantis, speaking about the gubernatorial campaign of his Democratic rival Andrew Gillum, who is Black, told Fox News, “The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up by trying to embrace a socialist agenda with huge tax increases bankrupting the state.”
DeSantis’ use of “monkey” was even criticized by the conservative Fox News. Discussing DeSantis, anchor Sandra Smith told viewers, “We do not condone this language.”
DeSantis Book Defended Slavery
DeSantis wrote a 2011 book, “Dreams from Our Founding Fathers: First Principles in the Age of Obama.” The book claimed that America’s Founding Fathers were compelled to ratify slavery in the U.S. Constitution, and argued that the Constitution was perfect despite its inclusion of slavery.
In the book DeSantis even attacked Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall for criticizing the Founding Fathers over decision to allow slavery in the Constitution. Marshall was the first Black justice in the Supreme Court.
Repeatedly Appeared At Racist Conference
DeSantis appeared at a conservative conference featuring racist and bigoted speakers on multiple occasions. DeSantis appeared at the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s “Restoration Weekend” conference in 2013, 2015, 2016, and 2017.
DeSantis said it was an “honor” to speak at the conference in 2015 during his speech there.
Speakers at the conference have made racist references to Black male genitalia, while one speaker at the 2017 event said, “the more diverse you get, the more stupid you get.”
Racist Facebook Group
DeSantis was the administrator for what was described as a “racist and conspiracy-obsessed” Facebook group.
Members of the group shared posts that compared school shooting victims and Black Lives Matter activists to Adolf Hitler, said NFL players protesting police brutality were “like ISIS,” and described the Islamic faith as being dedicated to “pedophilia, sex slavery, rape gangs, and honor killings.” Members of the group also claimed that the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville Virginia was “orchestrated by the left.”
Blackface Photo Scandal
DeSantis appointed Mike Ertel as Florida’s Secretary of State. After the appointment, photos of Ertel dressed in blackface at a Halloween party two months after Hurricane Katrina hit surfaced.
In the photo, Ertel also wore red lipstick, earrings, a New Orleans Saints bandana, falsies, and a t-shirt labeled “Katrina Victim.”
Ertel resigned and in a statement DeSantis said it was “unfortunate” but praised Ertel for having “done a lot of good work.”
Opposing Voting Rights For Minorities
After Florid voters approved a law restoring voting rights to nonviolent former felons, who are mostly minorities, DeSantis tried to stop the law from being implemented.
Called AOC A “Girl”
After Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won her primary in 2018, DeSantis referred to the then-28-year-old woman as a “girl” in a speech.
“You look at this girl, Ocasio-Cortez or whatever she is, I mean, she’s in a totally different universe,” DeSantis said.
Despite the criticism for the description, DeSantis’ gubernatorial campaign bragged that it had received thousands in donations after the remark.
Excluded LGBTQ People From Non-Discrimination Order
DeSantis excluded LGBTQ people from a non-discrimination order he signed in 2019. “Equality Florida is deeply disappointed to see that LGBTQ employees and contractors have been left out of the governor’s executive order,” Joe Saunders, senior director for Equality Florida, said in a statement after the document was signed.
Keynote At Anti-Gay Event
DeSantis was the keynote speaker at a 2018 event by an anti-gay group, the Christian Family Coalition.
DeSantis spoke before the group despite their history of attacking the rights of transgender students and calling homosexuality “aberrant” behavior.
Support for Attacks on 2020 Election Results
After Donald Trump lost the 2020 election to President Joe Biden, DeSantis urged Trump to continue attacking the election results.
DeSantis endorsed the proposal that Republican-controlled state legislatures should ignore voters in their states and instead appoint electors giving the election to Trump.
Attempt To Obstruct Mueller Investigation
While in Congress, DeSantis tried to impede the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian involvement in the 2016 election.
DeSantis tried to attach an amendment to legislation that would have stopped funding for the Mueller investigation. The DeSantis amendment also tried to limit the scope of Mueller’s work to exclude information occurring before Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign in June of 2015.
DeSantis in 2018 received donations totally $50,000 from Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Russian-born businessmen later accused of funneling foreign money into American elections. Parnas and Fruman were affiliated with Donald Trump ally Rudy Giuliani.
Spoke To Anti-Muslim Group
In 2017 DeSantis made a speech to the anti-Muslim group “ACT for America.” At a conference ACT for America hosted speakers who suggested killing Muslims, defended a candidate accused of child molestation, and argued women are less likely to be leaders due to “biological causes.”
When campaigning for governor, DeSantis attacked his Democratic rival, Mayor Andrew Gillum, and claimed that if Gillum was elected he would be “seeding” people in the state government that DeSantis described as “Soros-backed activists.”
Republicans have long invoked similar anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish control of government while attacking liberal financier George Soros, who is Jewish.
Attack On Health Care Coverage
Defending his opposition to Obamacare, DeSantis said that emergency room visits could make up for lost health care coverage.
“If people really need it, they show up to the emergency room, they do get care, it just gets passed on to other folks,” he told Fox News.
Allowing More Guns In Schools
In 2019, DeSantis signed legislation allowing teachers to carry guns in school buildings. He signed the bill the day after a mass shooting in a Colorado high school.
Sari Kaufman, a survivor of the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, condemned the law, saying she was “scared” about children who would be afraid of gun violence “not just from a shooter, but from the guns that could be carried by their teachers.”
DeSantis signed the bill despite opposition from organizations like the Florida Education Association and the National Association of School Resource Officers. Voters in Florida had said in polls by a margin of 57% to 40% that they oppose arming teachers.
DeSantis proposed a law that would lead to felony charges against anyone who participated in a protest resulting in property damage and injury, even if they were not the ones personally responsible for what happened.
The proposal was made at the same time Donald Trump was running for reelection and lashing out at protesters. The DeSantis announcement was denounced by many as an attempt to boost Trump’s campaign and its “law and order” message, which ultimately failed to convince most voters.
Rush Limbaugh Flag Controversy
After the death of controversial right-wing radio host Rush Limbaugh, DeSantis said that he would order flags in Florida be flown at half-staff to honor Limbaugh.
Limbaugh had a long history of making misogynist, racist, and false statements on his syndicated radio show. DeSantis’ decision to honor him attracted criticism.
Florida’s Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said she would order her department, the Department of Agriculture, not to comply. She told CNN, “The American flag should not be used and cannot be used as a political prop by Gov. DeSantis.”
Social Media Fine Controversy
DeSantis in 2021 proposed a state law that would fine tech companies for banning politicians from their social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
DeSantis’ proposal would fine companies $100,000 per day even if the politicians violated the terms and service agreements for the companies that they agreed to.
The proposal was made after Twitter and Facebook either banned or limited the account of Donald Trump, after he posted lies and falsehoods about the outcome of the 2020 election, and used his social media accounts to incite violence, including the January 6 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Anti-Abortion Law That Increases Risk Of Harm To Minors
In 2020 DeSantis signed an abortion parental consent law with provisions criticized by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The Academy said legislation like the one DeSantis signed “can delay and obstruct pregnant adolescents’ access to timely professional advice and medical care.” Human Rights Watch also said the law works to undermine the human rights of young people by possibly involving abusive parents in a key medical decision.
Connection To Controversial Sheriff Gregory Tony
DeSantis picked Sheriff Gregory Tony to lead Broward County, Florida in 2020.
When it emerged that as a teen Tony had killed a man with his father’s revolver and had not disclosed the event when applying to the police department, DeSantis then claimed he “didn’t even know him” and said “it’s not like he’s my sheriff.”
Fake “Sanctuary Cities” Ban
In 2019, DeSantis signed a law banning “sanctuary cities” in Florida. But Florida has no such cities.
The signing was seen as DeSantis attempting to curry political favor with anti-immigrant groups and to bolster the Trump administration’s attacks on immigrants.
Scott McCoy, senior policy counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center Action Fund, said the law was an attempt to use “racial grievance to drive a wedge between Floridians.”
History of “False” Claims Checked By Fact Checkers
DeSantis claimed that in May 2020 he held press conferences and “would never be asked about coronavirus.” Politifact said this was “false” and said that in that month “reporters asked him many pandemic-related questions.”
In Congress in 2018, DeSantis said the United Nations made 20 resolutions in one year “and 20 of them were against Israel.” Politifact said this allegation was “false.”
Attacking former CIA director John Brennan because he was critical of Donald Trump, DeSantis said Brennan “was a member of the Communist Party during the Cold War.” Politifact checked the facts and rated DeSantis’ attack “mostly false.”
DeSantis said in 2019 that he had secured a “historic commitment” from the Trump administration to provide aid to Florida after Hurricane Michael hit. Politifact said his claim was “mostly false.”
DeSantis said COVID-19 lockdowns led to “destruction of millions of lives across America” and said they were the cause of “increased deaths from suicide, substance abuse and despair.” Politifact said DeSantis was “mostly false” in his assessment, noting “no clear data” backs up his claim.
DeSantis claimed that President Joe Biden was “trying to shut FL’s border” but Politifact said this was “false” and noted Biden was not doing so.