The Florida Law Standing Between DeSantis and a Presidential Bid

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With the release of his book last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has begun his campaign for an office he hasn’t declared he’s seeking. It’s not officially a campaign. It’s called instead a book tour for “The Courage to be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival.”

DeSantis will make two book-tour stops this week in Iowa, important to presidential contenders with its early primary caucuses. He’s likely to stop by in New Hampshire, with its early primary, as well.

DeSantis has other pieces of a campaign in place. He meets with and gets checks from big donors. Meanwhile, his campaign staff has stayed in place, paid by the Republican Party.

Why hasn’t he declared for office? He’s said he’s first concerned with Florida’s legislative session, beginning March 7 and lasting until May 5.

There’s another reason, though. Florida law now requires him to resign as governor—in a second term he took the oath of office for just two months ago—if he runs for another office.

Florida lawmakers have gone back and forth on that law over the past two decades. They eased it for state or local officials considering a run for federal office in the late 2000s when then-Governor Charlie Crist sought the vice-presidential nomination in 2008.

But they changed it back in 2018, under then-Governor Rick Scott, having decided that easing it had led to costly special elections. The resign-to-run law was intended to avoid those.

If DeSantis resigned, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez would succeed to the office.

No bill has yet been introduced to ease the law once again. But behind the scenes, lawmakers in the Republican-controlled legislature quietly acknowledge that a plan for that is coming together.

And both state House Speaker Paul Renner and Senate Majority Leader Kathleen Passidomo hinted after the November elections that they favor fixing the resign-to-run problem. Neither responded to emails from The Epoch Times asking for their current positions.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez takes to the podium at the Republican National Convention in Washington, DC, on Aug. 25, 2020. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Legislators have kept mum on the subject.

The law, as written, is ambiguous, and any change might be billed as an effort to clarify it.

Florida Statute 99.012 (4)(a) states: “Any officer who qualifies for federal public office must resign from the office he or she presently holds if the terms, or any part thereof, run concurrently with each other.” The law goes on to state that resignation is irrevocable.

What needs to be clarified is when DeSantis would have to resign if the law isn’t changed. He’d have to submit his resignation “at least 10 days before the first day of qualifying for the office he or she intends to seek.”

It would be effective no later than the earlier of two dates—the date he would become president if elected, or the date his successor as governor would be required to take office.

That leaves wiggle room, a lot of it, political scientists say. For most offices, the qualifying deadline is a single deadline, says Susan MacManus, professor emeritus at the University of South Florida.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo “The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival,” by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, soars to No. 1 on Amazon on the day of its release, Feb. 28, 2023. (Nanette Holt/The Epoch Times)

Floridians running for governor, as DeSantis did last year, or for federal offices such as Senate or Congress, had to qualify by June 17, 2022. Someone with a conflict would have had to resign 10 days before that.

But someone running for president first runs in a host of primaries in other states. MacManus agreed Florida’s law might not require DeSantis’s resignation until 10 days before he first qualifies for a primary.

Aubrey Jewett of the University of Central Florida said DeSantis could push the deadline even further if he argues that seeking a party’s nomination is not the same as running for “office.”

Under that scenario, Florida law wouldn’t require him to resign until he, assuming he won the Republican nomination, qualified for the November 2024 general election.

“There’s some ambiguity, if the law doesn’t change, when Governor DeSantis would be required to file his resignation,” Jewett said. “It’s confusing.”

Jon McGowan, a lawyer specializing in federal and state law, told The Associated Press the same thing. “There’s too much ambiguity.”

The date of New Hampshire’s 2024 primary, traditionally and by state law the first in the nation, has yet to be established.

The national Democratic Party wants to oust the state from that position and shake up its primary schedule to get states with more minorities in sooner.

Still, New Hampshire is resisting, and the Republican party prefers the current status.

That primary has historically been early in February.

In 2020, it was held on Feb. 11, with a filing deadline on Nov. 15, 2019. So, assuming New Hampshire has the same qualifying period as in 2019, DeSantis would only have to resign 10 days before a date sometime in mid-November.

Republican voices raised in opposition have all been from outside the legislature—and all supporters of DeSantis’s rival for the nomination, former President Donald Trump.

Critics so far include former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Republican activist Laura Loomer, and former state Rep. Anthony Sabatini.

Loomer has attacked DeSantis about it, most recently in a YouTube video she linked on her Twitter account on March 6.

In it, she decried his effort to “abuse his authority,” says he “deceived Florida voters” by running for a second term he had no intention of finishing, and accused him of thinking himself “above the law.”

She said the whole thing smacks of the “self-serving political corruption” associated with “third-world leaders, dictators, or authoritarian individuals.”

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo Laura Loomer. (Courtesy of Laura Loomer)

Neither DeSantis’s spokesman Bryan Griffin nor his political adviser Lindsay Curnutte responded to emails from The Epoch Times asking for a response to Loomer’s remarks.

Palin was nicer about it. She’s said DeSantis is young and can wait before running for president.

“DeSantis is a great governor, probably the best governor in the nation,” she said recently at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

But “nobody can compare to Trump.”

Jewett agreed that DeSantis is formidable, not someone with whom a legislator wants to pick a fight.

“Republicans don’t want to cross him. It could come back to haunt them, particularly in a primary,” Jewett said.

“But I don’t want to overplay that. A lot of it goes back to, he’s really popular, and a lot of Republicans in the legislature like Ron DeSantis. They think he’s good for the party and good for policy.”

“He’s perceived as the head of the Republican party in Florida. He has high popularity within GOP circles across the country and in Florida, and he has so much money.”

Any Republicans opposed to DeSantis in the legislature don’t have the votes to stop the law change if it’s introduced, MacManus said.

Trump at CPAC
Trump at CPAC Former President Donald Trump arrives to address the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., on March 4, 2023. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Jewett said that if legislators move to change the law, it will probably come near the end of the session.

DeSantis can keep his focus on, and be seen keeping his focus on, the state’s business during Florida’s 60-day legislative session. He’ll delay announcing his candidacy in the meantime.

“Wide speculation is that he wants to wait until the legislative session is over,” Jewett said.

The Republican National Committee recently announced the party’s first presidential debate would be in Milwaukee in August. So far, only Trump, Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor and UN Ambassador, and entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy have declared their candidacies.

DeSantis is among several prominent Republicans expected to announce, including Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), former CIA Director and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and former Vice President Mike Pence.

MacManus said DeSantis has numerous reasons to declare candidacy later rather than sooner.

Some candidates face pressure to do so before potential donors or campaign staffers commit to other candidates.

Neither applies to DeSantis, who has already raised a lot of money and retains millions from his 2022 reelection bid and with his 2022 campaign staff kept in the wings, paid by the Republican party.

Epoch Times Photo
Epoch Times Photo Fans of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wait to file into a Books-A-Million where he was signing copies of his just-released book in Leesburg, Fla., on Feb. 28, 2023 (Nanette Holt/The Epoch Times)

Neither does he need to declare to build excitement and enthusiasm, Jewett said. “He’s not hurting for those. He could wait until much later in the cycle if he wants to, and not hurt his chances.”

Waiting also puts off his becoming even more of a target than he already is for hostile media or opponents.

“Trump is already hammering away at him peripherally. Coming after him with nicknames and highlighting negative things on Truth Social,” Trump’s social media outlet, Jewett said.

“But because DeSantis is not actually in the race yet, he hasn’t gotten both barrels of Donald Trump. Once he’s in the race, I presume that will happen. So that might be a reason to stay out longer—to say out of Trump’s sights longer.”

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