The national press continues to try to assess Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' pandemic response, and this time Politico's Michael Kruse, a former enterprise reporter for the Tampa Bay Times, spent a week chasing the governor around the Sunshine state.
Setting the scene: Kruse casts DeSantis as a "small-government conservative with a libertarian bent" who "was hesitant to shut down from the start."
- So hesitant, in fact, that DeSantis allegedly told U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a fellow Trump ally, that he’d do just one thing differently if he could have a re-do. "He told me," Gaetz said, "that his biggest regret as governor is that we ever locked down for even one day."
Why it matters: A year after the pandemic’s start, the third most populous state is neither the best nor the worst in some key categories.
Flashback: DeSantis instituted a month-long stay-at-home order on April 1. And refused to do so again, Kruse points out.
What they're saying:
- "It could have potentially gone very wrong," said Brian Ballard, the powerful Trump-tied lobbyist.
- "He could have killed a bunch of us," said lawyer and Democratic donor John Morgan. "But he didn’t."
- "He made the right decisions," said Christian Ziegler, the vice chairman of the state GOP.
- U.S. Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist called DeSantis’ pandemic response "horrific" and "immoral."
Of note: Mayors say DeSantis didn’t make the hard decisions — they did.
- "I like how now he’s taking credit for how well the state did while it was really local governments and mayors that put orders in place that kept our residents safe," St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said.
The big question: "What’s an acceptable death toll — the actual number of people lost — to try to keep as much of everything else intact?" Kruse writes.
- In Florida, that number is 32,741 and climbing.
This story first appeared in the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.
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