Florida Lawmakers Are Clearing the Way for a DeSantis Presidential Run

  • Republicans in Florida are changing the law so DeSantis can run for president and keep his job. 
  • The so-called “Resign to Run” law has been changed for candidates before. 
  • The Trump campaign accused DeSantis of violating the law, even though he hasn’t made a bid official.

Republicans in the Florida Senate have passed a bill that would make it easier for Gov. Ron DeSantis to run for president. 

State Sen. Travis Hutson, a Republican of St. Augustine, altered language on Tuesday to the so-called “Resign to Run” law that would allow DeSantis to maintain office if he runs for president — or even for vice president. It passed the chamber on Wednesday night along party lines, 28-12. 

Under current Florida law, there’s some question over whether DeSantis would have to resign his post as governor, but should he need to that would leave him unable to return to his post even if he eventually lost the presidency. 

The amendment is part of a broader elections reform bill. It was introduced the same day that President Joe Biden announced his reelection bid and as former President Donald Trump is escalating his attacks against DeSantis, who is widely expected to announce a bid for the GOP presidential nomination as early as May.

The former president’s campaign has already accused DeSantis of being in violation of the “Resign to Run” law through his book tour stops that began two months ago. The campaign also bashed DeSantis in an email circulated to reporters Tuesday, with an image headlined “Never in Town,” that criticized the governor for being on a foreign trip and book tour while Florida lawmakers were in session. 

“Gov. Ron DeSantis wants to campaign full-time for president, during the Florida legislative session, while collecting a salary and having the taxpayers pick up the costs for his travel and security,” Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said. 

The Trump campaign also released a negative campaign ad Monday evening accusing DeSantis of “attacking the man who saved his career,” referring to Trump’s 2018 endorsement.

But lawmakers in Florida, where there is a GOP supermajority, appear to be siding with the governor. House Speaker Paul Renner and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo said in November that they both supported the move to alter the “Resign to Run” law, Insider previously reported

“If an individual who is Florida governor is running for president, I think he should be allowed to do it,” Passidomo told reporters at the time. “I really do. That’s a big honor and a privilege, so it is a good idea.”

The text of the law reads, “Any officer who qualifies for federal public office must resign from the office he or she presently holds if the terms, or any part thereof, run concurrently with each other.”

Under the language of the law, candidates have 10 days to resign after they qualify for federal office, but how exactly that is defined when it comes to the presidency isn’t clear and has been open to different interpretations, according to The Miami Herald.

The language Hutson introduced Tuesday would exempt anyone running for president or vice president from the requirement. The clarification would ease DeSantis’ path forward and subdue criticism from opponents such as Trump. 

Hutson made the clarification argument on Wednesday, during a question and answer session with state senators, though he maintained the change wasn’t necessary.  

But Democrats criticized the move. Democratic Sen. Tina Scott Polsky of Boca Raton raised concerns about the legislature giving DeSantis “the path” to “dereliction of duty.” 

“If you think about the reasons why we had Resign-to-Run laws, it’s so people could focus on their campaign and not be negligent about their current office,” she said. “How is it that the governor of 23 million people is going to spend a year and a half going around this entire huge country and govern this huge state?”

Hutson disagreed that with the assessment that DeSantis wouldn’t be able to both operate as governor and run for president. 

“It’s probably me being a little selfish here,” Hutson said. “If for some reason the governor is not going to win the president of the United States, I think he has done a great job as governor and I think he should stay here as our governor.”

Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis smiles as confetti falls after he is declared the victor on election night 2022.

Getty Images

The law had been changed before

There’s precedent in Florida for changing the elections law. The legislature loosened the law in 2008 when then-Gov. Charlie Crist, a former Republican, was a running mate contender for GOP presidential candidate John McCain — but then changed it back in 2010.

It’s not clear whether DeSantis would want to hold down the grueling task of running for president while also leading the third-largest state in the US, along with being a spouse to Florida first lady Casey DeSantis and parent to three children ages 6 and younger.

“I’ve got different obligations and it’s not the easiest thing in the world to go through and I also want to make sure that I have a very clear rationale for doing what I’m doing,” DeSantis told British TV personality Piers Morgan in March. 

DeSantis resigned from the US House when he ran for governor. If he were to resign the governorship then Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez would replace him, becoming the first woman to become governor of Florida.

DeSantis has brushed off his recent drop in hypothetical 2024 polling, pointing out he’s not a candidate for president, and on Monday he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that he didn’t know why Trump was attacking him. He also, however, dug at the former president’s elections’ record. DeSantis won a blowout reelection victory while Republicans elsewhere struggled, including those backed by Trump.

“We worked really hard for his reelection in Florida, and I always had a good relationship with him,” DeSantis said of Trump. “And then, once the midterm election happened, he started taking shots at me.” 

April 25, 2023: This story has been updated with a comment from the Trump campaign.

April 26, 2023: This story originally ran on April 25, 2023, and has been updated to include reporting and quotes from the Florida Senate. 

April 27, 2023: This story has been updated to show that the elections bill passed the Florida Senate. 

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