Most governors don’t have name recognition beyond their state. Sure, some of the more outspoken ones might grab national headlines for a news cycle or two, but those names rarely have staying power, especially when there’s plenty going on closer to home.
But everyone seems to know who Florida’s current governor is and whether Gov. Ron DeSantis evokes cheers or jeers depends largely upon the lens through which one views him.
“With Gov. DeSantis, it really does come down to where you lie politically,” says Republican political analyst Frank Torres. “It couldn’t be more red-versus-blue at this moment.”
“For most Republicans in the state, they think that Gov. DeSantis has been a terrific governor … and for most Democrats, for most of his term, they’re the 180-degree opposite,” agrees University of Central Florida political science professor Dr. Aubrey Jewett.
The aggregate of those vastly differing, almost predetermined perspectives is the governor’s approval rating, which currently hovers around 53% according to a recent Mason-Dixon poll. As Jewett points out, DeSantis did win some Democratic and third-party support in the early days of his term, which “was somewhat surprising to a lot of political analysts when you look at the fact that he was elected in a very close race—it went to a recount, it was that close.”
Jewett continues: “Within his first six months, his approval rating was a top 10 in the nation. He was one of the most popular governors in the country, his approval ratings were up around 60%—in a divided state like Florida, that’s darn good! … After his first legislative session, he surprised a lot of people in the state. He struck a somewhat bipartisan tone, he appointed a couple Democrats to some high-profile positions … he emphasized the environment.”
More recently, it’s become impossible to mention DeSantis without talking about the impact the protracted COVID pandemic had on his leadership, decisions, public image, and both the supporters’ and naysayers’ talking points alike.
“He took a much harder line against steps to fight the pandemic,” Jewett says. And while some took issue with DeSantis’ handling of the COVID, many others were quick to praise his efforts, namely his push to keep businesses open and students in the classroom.
Joseph Bert, chairman and CEO of the personal financial planning and investment management firm Certified Financial Group in Altamonte Springs, says that the governor’s determination to keep Florida’s businesses running was crucial to sidestepping the added stress of households’ financial strain, especially considering the Central Florida’s reliance on the service industry.
“His biggest successes, I think, are certainly keeping Florida open as much as he possibly could and fighting the fight with Washington because he recognizes that the heart and soul of Florida’s economy is a small business person—and with tourism, if you shut that down, it impacts the entire economy,” he says.
It is admirable, Bert adds, that the governor also remained visible while conducting his leadership duties like so many private citizens had to, rather than retreating to the reclusive safety of his political ivory tower.
“In my mind, he’s not a politician: He walks the walk and he understands the big picture and will go against the popular grain if he has to for what he believes in,” Bert observes. “He was out and about, meeting with people and doing forums on television, giving interviews. He wasn’t hiding, he wasn’t hunkered down: He was living his life as best as he could during that time, and he should be respected for that.”
Others, however, see it as prioritizing the economy over human lives.
“From a party and an individual that scream from the highest mountains about our freedoms and our individuality, something like telling people not to wear masks shows the polar opposite by wanting to control what they do,” says Eric Rollings, an area real estate agent whose involvement in local and state politics includes being Rep. Darren Soto’s advisor on environmental policy.
But not everyone’s opinion on DeSantis is so closely aligned to their political leanings. Gene Josephs, a Northeast transplant with an information technology background, has called Longwood home for four decades and is open about financially supporting former Rep. Gwen Graham in the Democratic primary “and would have voted for her no matter who she ran against.” He and his wife spend five months a year in Western Massachusetts, allowing them to note the two states’ COVID contrast, particularly how Floridians could live their lives as normally as possible, as it is “without a doubt” imperative to consider the pandemic’s toll on mental health, too.
“During COVID—which is probably not over—the governor allowed our