Bill allows DeSantis to run for president while governor

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis arrives at the Foreign Office to visit Britain's Foreign Secretary in London, Friday, April 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
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Republican Ron DeSantis would not have to resign as Florida governor in order to run for president if he chooses under a bill given final approval Friday in by the GOP-dominated state Legislature.

The measure, attached to a much broader elections bill, would carve out an exemption to Florida law requiring anyone seeking office to resign from one they already hold after qualifying as a candidate. Only an officeholder running for U.S. president or vice president would not have to resign.

Supporters portrayed the bill as purely a clarification and not intended specifically for DeSantis, who has not yet announced a presidential bid but is widely expected to declare his candidacy for the Republican nomination in the coming weeks. The bill passed the state House 76-34 along party lines and now goes to DeSantis, who is expected to sign it into law.

“It is an individual office that is unique. It is the chief executive of our country," GOP Rep. Ralph Massullo said during House debate Friday. "This isn’t just for our governor, it’s for anyone in politics.”

Democrats called the effort a cynical attempt to clear the way for DeSantis to run while remaining as governor. His current term in Tallahassee would end in January 2027.

“We in this body are doing the governor’s bidding,” said Rep. Angela Nixon, a Democrat. “He needs to resign to run if he wants to run for president, period. Last time I checked, being governor is a full-time job. Running for president takes a lot of work.”

The bill, which makes a number of other changes to Florida election law, passed one day after a federal appeals court upheld a GOP-led election law that was enacted last year. That law was challenged as racially discriminatory by seeking to suppress Black votes, but a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.

Among other things, it would tighten limits and increase fines for third-party voter registration organizations, impose more restrictions on mail ballots and shift responsibility for determining if a voter is eligible from the state to the individual.

Democrats contended the bill is another step to suppress votes of minorities and economically disadvantaged people to benefit Republicans who already dominate state government and Florida's federal offices.

“We’re back at it again, making it more difficult for people to register to vote. What we are doing with this bill is unnecessary,” said Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamni. "It’s really frustrating.”

Republicans, however, portrayed the measure as guaranteeing a legitimate vote, streamlining election operations and eliminating ambiguity in the law.

“There is no more sacred thing than our vote," said GOP Rep. John Snyder. "It should be easy to vote and hard to cheat.”

The House also passed a proposal that would require a constitutional amendment to pass with at least 66.67% of the vote, up from 60% currently. That measure has to clear the Senate and then would go on the November 2024 ballot — where it would require a 60% vote to be enacted.

“We know in this crazy world today we are at greater risk of bad constitutional amendments," said the main sponsor, Republican Rep. Rick Roth. "We have to stand for our constitution.”

Democrats contended the amendment threshold change would make it harder for voters to take their own initiative to change policies if the Legislature refuses to do so.

“Sixty percent is high enough," said Democratic Rep. Bruce Antone. "Voters need to have an option when the Legislature does not listen to them. We’ve seen that time and time again.”