Florida lawmakers who endorse Trump fear that DeSantis will seek retribution

Florida Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee are eagerly awaiting to see if Governor Ron DeSantis will take any action against them for publicly supporting former President Donald Trump.

Over a dozen legislators are currently on standby, anxiously waiting to find out whether DeSantis will eliminate their preferred local projects from the yearly budget. This comes as a result of their official endorsement of Trump over the governor during the highly contentious GOP presidential primary.

Lawmakers who chose Trump went up against one of Florida’s most influential governors in history. This governor has a reputation for retaliating against those he views as enemies and using strong-arm tactics to push his own agenda through the Legislature. For example, he has taken on Walt Disney World and Democratic state attorneys, and has even pressured lawmakers to pass a congressional map that his own staff drew.

During the discussion, GOP Representative Paula Stark of Kissimmee, who has endorsed Trump, recognized the concern that a veto might arise. Stark emphasized the need for funding in areas such as lake cleanups and semiconductors as part of her budget priorities.

“I hope the concern is unfounded,” she added optimistically. “I want to believe that the governor will prioritize the well-being of our state’s citizens above all else.”

Lawmakers have passed a budget that exceeds Governor DeSantis’ initial request by approximately $3 billion. Despite this, the governor has indicated that he may need to make some adjustments to ensure fiscal responsibility.

The office did not respond to inquiries regarding the criteria he would use to determine which aspects of the budget would be prioritized or address the concerns raised by lawmakers about potential political motivations.

Many Republican state lawmakers had already thrown their support behind DeSantis long before he officially announced his presidential campaign. They not only approved a range of conservative initiatives that the governor had campaigned on, but also assisted him in raising funds. In fact, several of them even traveled to Iowa in January, braving the freezing temperatures and snow, to canvass on his behalf.

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Many of the 14 lawmakers who endorsed Trump, or switched their support to him when it became apparent that DeSantis would lose the Iowa caucuses, are now concerned about the potential impact on their key priorities. POLITICO has seen a text conversation among some of these members, which goes by the name “Superheroes.”

GOP Representative Juan Carlos Porras of Miami acknowledged experiencing some disagreements prior to his endorsement of Trump, as fellow Republicans attempted to persuade him to pledge his support for DeSantis. However, Porras ultimately backed Trump because it became evident during his 2022 campaign that Trump was the preferred candidate among his constituents.

“I made a conscious decision to take a side early on, fully aware of the risks and the potential consequences,” he stated.

Porras mentioned that he played a key role in obtaining state funding for pro bono clinics through the Cuban American Bar Association. Additionally, he also secured funding for the University of Miami Stroke Center.

He expressed his disapproval of the governor’s decision to engage in political maneuvering at the expense of the residents. In his view, such actions would not foster the formation of alliances or serve as a means of regaining political standing.

Some state lawmakers who supported Trump are not worried about DeSantis reducing their budget requests. GOP state Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez, who has known the former president for over a decade as a councilmember in Doral, endorsed Trump because she believes he is the right person for the current situation. However, she also expressed her respect and support for DeSantis as the governor. Rodriguez, who represents the Keys, has made environmental funding a priority in the budget.

“I’m not too concerned about it because the people he represents are also my constituents. So, if he chooses to inflict harm, it will ultimately affect his own constituents. He’s not directly causing harm to me,” she explained. “There is always that concern of whether he will target those who supported his opponent. However, I’m not troubled by it. If that’s the path he decides to take, it’s his choice.”

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Lawmakers are expressing concerns based on their past experiences. Back in 2022, DeSantis made then-Senate President Wilton Simpson stand alongside him on stage while he significantly reduced the budget by a record-breaking $3.1 billion. This included cutting a $50 road-widening project in Simpson’s district. At the time, Simpson publicly stated that it was not a personal matter. However, when DeSantis made similar cuts to Simpson’s priorities after he became agriculture commissioner in 2023, Simpson questioned the decision, stating that there was no justifiable reason to target agriculture when there were billions of dollars in reserves.

According to GOP Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota, who has been a longtime ally of Trump, he still believes that Governor DeSantis intentionally targeted him by vetoing millions of dollars last year because of his support for the former president. The governor’s office, however, dismissed this accusation as “absurd” and stated that DeSantis’ budget vetoes were driven by conservative governance and fiscal responsibility, rather than political motives.

When asked if he had any similar concerns this year, Gruters expressed his hope that his limited number of projects would receive approval.

“I have high hopes that Sarasota will overcome its past challenges and emerge stronger,” he expressed optimistically.

One GOP lawmaker, Representative Randy Fine of Palm Bay, changed his endorsement from DeSantis to Trump. In a strongly-worded article published in the Washington Times, Fine criticized the governor for what he perceived as a lack of action in combating antisemitism in Florida. Fine’s comments were made shortly after Hamas launched an attack on Israel.

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During this session, Fine, the sole Jewish Republican in the Florida Legislature, had several key priorities. These included introducing a bill that aimed to define and address antisemitism, securing ongoing funding for Jewish day schools, and working towards reducing the waitlist for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities who require in-home care.

Fine expressed that the bills did not provoke any conflict, and in terms of the budget, he had a specific request for $20 million to enhance security measures for Jewish day schools. Given DeSantis’ strong support for Israel and his proactive governance, which includes prioritizing the safety of Americans by facilitating flights from Israel following the Hamas attack, it is highly likely that he will approve the funding.

According to Fine, DeSantis vetoed about 25 percent of his projects last year, even before he changed his stance. Fine argued that this demonstrates that the governor thoroughly evaluates every decision and dismissed the accusation that DeSantis uses vetoes as a means of retribution as a matter of interpretation.

According to him, not everyone who endorsed him will be exempt from receiving vetoes.

DeSantis may have a role to play in the future of state lawmakers beyond just the budget.

Lawmakers may find themselves in a challenging position as they approach the upcoming election in November. With the possibility of the governor attempting to insert himself into state races, the political landscape could become even more complex. An example of this is seen in Fine’s bid for the state Senate, which has garnered recent endorsement from President Trump.

According to Fine, he would advise DeSantis to focus on the present and future rather than dwelling on the past election. He suggests that it’s time to build relationships and progress together rather than looking backwards.

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