Discover more from The MCIMAPS Report
Issue #122: The Ron DeSantis Assault on Democracy
Another abuse of the suspension power
Well, Ronny D has struck again. The day after Ron DeSantis’ Presidential campaign faced another round of negative press stories thanks to the announcement they were firing the campaign manager, the Governor decided to change the story. Yesterday morning, DeSantis announced he was suspending State Attorney Monique Worrell from office. Worrell represents the 9th Judicial Circuit, which covers Orange and Osceola Counties; getting elected to the post in 2020.
In a press conference, flanked by Polk Sheriff Grady Judd and Brevard Sheriff Wayne Ivey, DeSantis claimed that Worrell had been too lenient on people charged with crimes. Note that no charges or even formal investigation have gone into the office. This suspension came down to disputes about charges/sentencing, something that is the preview of the State Attorney - not Governor. It is no shock that Judd or Ivey were present, as they are easily the two biggest far-right blowhards in the state. Judd is well known for his publicity stunts to act tough on crime, while Ivey has been slowly consolidating control in Brevard County to make elected officials subservient to him. Neither man have overlapping jurisdiction with Worrell, and neither Sheriff from Osceola and Orange, both Democrats, were present.
The Governor of Florida has broad powers to suspend elected officials. A suspended official can appeal to the Senate to be re-appointed, but in this era the legislature never overrides the Governor. However, most suspensions go un-noticed because they are for officials charged with crimes or under serious investigations. However, there has been a disturbing uptick in DeSantis using this broad power to remove officials for non-criminal reasons. DeSantis has suspended 23 officials, but four, all democrats, were for “infractions” that did not represent clear incompetence or crimes.
This move comes just over a year from when DeSantis suspended Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren. It shows a pattern of the Governor weaponizing his power for political purposes. In light of this, I want to take a look at some of these suspensions.
Monique Worrell and the 9th Circuit
The 9th circuit has seen two State Attorney’s anger the incumbent governor of the state. Worrell was elected to the post in 2020 when her predecessor, Aramis Ayala, opted not to run for re-election. Ayala was elected in 2016 on a progressive platform, defeating the incumbent State Attorney Jeff Ashton. Her win came via consolidating the support of black and Hispanic residents in the rapidly diversifying district.
I covered her race and several other instances of progressives making bids for State Attorney in this 2017 article. A few months into her term, Ayala announced she would not pursue the death penalty in any cases. This was, of course, the correct position since the death penalty is a soulless, monstrous, un-Christian practice. Predictably this led to major pushback, which culminated with Governor Rick Scott moving all potential death penalty cases to another circuit and the Florida Supreme Court siding with him.
For her entire tenure, Ayala would get pushback from the tough-on-crime crowd. Her decision to not run again did not come as a massive shock. The primary to replace her saw a four-way contest, which I did a preview of here. Worrell, a defense attorney, had the backing of Ayala. This secured her the nomination, with her beating out prosecutor Ryan Williams, Assistant SA Deborah Barra, and former judge Belvin Perry.
With her primary win, Worrell faced a NPA candidate Jose Torroella, taking 66% in the general.
There has been brewing tension for months between DeSantis and Worrell. Her office has been at odds with the Governor and the Orange Sheriff, John Mina, over the sentencing and handling of repeat offenders. The move to suspend is so egregious because it comes before any actual formal findings of wrong-doing exist. It is purely a policy dispute.
There is an obvious racial component as well, as Worrell was the only black female State Attorney in Florida. The incident is just one of several racially-charged controversies for the Governor, which include
His Education Board touting the benefits of slavery
This latest suspension is the latest over-reach by the Governor. However, there are some others to highlight.
Other Suspension Efforts
Before this move, the most high-profile suspension from the Governor was that of State Attorney Andrew Warren, who was re-elected to his post in the 13th district, which is Hillsborough County, in 2020.
Warren was suspended after he signed a pledge to not prosecute the state’s new 15 week abortion ban. The Governor’s office defended the move as it was Warren making a declarative statement, but a judge highlighted that no actual actions had been taken yet. The move is widely seen has DeSantis attempting to win over the most hardened anti-abortion side of the Republican primary.
This wasn’t DeSantis’ first run of controversy over suspensions, however. His first few weeks in office saw two very polarizing picks. First, DeSantis suspended Broward Sheriff Scott Israel from office. The Sheriff had received plenty of criticism for his handling of the Parkland shooting. The Parkland Safety Commission did find many security failings that allowed the shooting to happen, but the Florida Senate’s Special Master assigned to the case found the Sheriff should be re-instated, as the Sheriff was not directly at fault and the issue of school mass shootings is still so new. However, the Senate, in GOP control, did not re-appoint the Sheriff, though Republican Tom Leek did back re-instatement.
Israel honestly would have been in big trouble in his re-election. Regardless of blame for the shooting, the Sheriff’s office defensive posture and national spotlight seeking only turned off once-supporters in the county. This is the area I come from, and the number of “Israel handled everything post-shooting wrong” from Democrats was non-stop. Israel would seek his post back, facing off against DeSantis appointee Gregory Tony in the 2020 Democratic primary. However, Israel lost, getting 35% to Tony’s 37%. Tony, who is African-American, was able to consolidate the black community and also easily won the Parkland community.
Israel was strongest with white Democrats and Jewish retirees. Israel may well have fallen in a Democratic primary even if he was never suspended. The actions of the Governor actually gave him sympathy points.
That very phenomenon would take place in Broward a few years later. On my list of suspensions is his fall of 2022 decision to Suspend 4 members of the Broward School Board. This came after a Grand Jury report found the members and former embattled superintendent were found to have engaged in incompetent oversight of school safety grants and projects.
The Broward School board has been decades of scandal, crimes, and controversy, so this was a tricky thing for many Broward Democrats. DeSantis’ reasoning here was much stronger than the Sheriff Israel suspension. Already two of the members were retiring in a few months, with Patricia Good being the lone suspended board member with years left in her term. The other member suspended was Donna Korn, who just a few weeks earlier had placed with only 30% in the non-partisan primary for her re-election.
Now when a longtime Incumbent who won several countywide races before only gets 30%, it shows they are in trouble. Indeed Korn likely was heading for a 2-1 loss. However, her suspension led to a massive rebellious vote for her from Broward Democrats. She still lost re-election, but by much closer than otherwise.
I will go on record that Korn was aided by the suspension due to the terrible image the Governor has in the region. Even if she wasn’t the most defendable official.
Ron’s decisions on when to suspend people and his treatment of them still shows clear partisan bias. One of his other suspensions without a crime being committed was Palm Beach Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher. Still in his first month as Governor, DeSantis suspended Bucher due to the county’s issues with the 2018 recounts. Bucher had already been facing heat for her running of the office, which came to the forefront when the county missed the recount deadline due to machine overload. However, part of this was due to the office not upgrading its machinery for years.
Bucher’s running off the office was lazy, but it was not the level of incompetence that warranted a suspension. If you want an example of that level of incompetence, then see Rick Scott’s suspension of Broward Elections Chief Brenda Snipes after her office screwed up the ballot design for the 2018 US Senate race. Now that is a suspension I supported, as it was the final nail in a LONG coffin of problems. If you want an example of that office’s issues, look back at my coverage of the 2018 ballot layout controversy - which led to 3% of Florida Senate ballots being left blank in the county.
Bucher, however, clearly was checked out, and did not fight to get her job back. One other official, however, was treated leniently by the Governor. Also in his first month of office, DeSantis had suspended Okaloosa Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson. This suspension came from a grand jury report that the district had neglected special-needs kids and turned a blind eye to abuse, with the Superintendent implicated. She was rightfully suspended. However, she was eventually allowed to be re-instated, and then immediately resign. This allowed her to keep a lucrative retirement package and pension worth well over 6 figures
Nice to be a Republican.
The remaining suspensions all stem from actual charges for crimes. There is no real scandal there.
Ron’s Scary Precedent
Florida’s constitution allows the Governor to suspend officials. This was created to allow for the removal of corrupt and criminal officials. However, the power is now being abused by a man who only cares about becoming President of the United States. He won’t become President, hell he might now make it to Iowa. However, we in Florida are stuck with him for over 3 more years. I shudder at the damage he will do in the meantime.
These suspensions are just another part of the eroding of home rule in individual counties and cities. Localities have been given fewer and fewer decisions to make for themselves. If you want another example of this, read my article about DeSantis and the legislature passing legislation to override Key West setting rules for Cruise Ships, which have done serious damage to the local environment.
This suspension power needs real checks, not the rubber-stamp legislature. That or it needs to be ended. However, I don’t expect a bill from lawmakers on the matter anytime soon. No one is going to stand up to the Governor as long as he can line-item veto their budget priorities.
Though I’m sure they will suddenly take interest in reform the next time a Democrat is elected Governor.