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Florida Gov. DeSantis is sworn in for his second term

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis was sworn in for a second term today. The event, held outside the Capitol building in Tallahassee, presented a contrast with the turmoil among Republicans in Washington as they struggled to elect a House speaker. In his speech, DeSantis, a likely 2024 presidential candidate, gave few hints about his plans for his second term as governor. Instead, he focused on conservative policies that he said have made Florida a model for the nation.

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RON DESANTIS: We will never surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die.

SUMMERS: NPR's Greg Allen has been covering DeSantis since he was first elected Florida governor and joins us now. Hey, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Juana.

SUMMERS: So, Greg, that phrase we just heard, Florida is where woke goes to die - that's becoming sort of a recurring theme for him. What does DeSantis mean by that?

ALLEN: Yes, he's turned it into kind of a shorthand phrase to refer to any progressive or liberal policies that he opposes. Some examples - in his first term, DeSantis and his Republican allies in the state legislature placed restrictions on how schools can discuss issues involving race, sexual orientation or gender identity. And he's worked to get conservatives elected to local school boards, where they've scrutinized books, curricula and policies that involve transgender students. And he used that phrase election night after winning his race by one of the largest margins ever as governor in Florida. He got a really big response then. And as you heard, he got another big response today.

SUMMERS: All right. So setting that aside for a second, what else did you hear from DeSantis today? What other topics came up?

DESANTIS: Well, few specifics on his plans for a second term. He signed a law last year banning abortions after 15 weeks. And he said in the past the state may adopt more stringent restrictions on abortions this term. But he didn't say anything about it today. He also said in the past he wants to sign a bill allowing Floridians to openly carry firearms - again, nothing about that today. Republicans did really well in Florida, though, in the recent election, and they now have a supermajority in the legislature. So lawmakers are likely to give DeSantis really anything he wants, especially now that his star is rising in the Republican Party and many believe he could be president someday. Today DeSantis talked broadly about continuing his policies that he began in his first term.

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DESANTIS: We will enact more family-friendly policies to make it easier to raise children, and we will defend our children against those who seek to rob them of their innocence.

ALLEN: You know, that broad comment can mean different things to different people. But one thing I think people are looking at is DeSantis' administration's concerns in recent weeks about drag shows in Miami and elsewhere. They've taken steps, in some cases, to make sure that children aren't able to attend those shows.

SUMMERS: On now to 2024. Did DeSantis give any hints today at all about his possible presidential ambitions?

ALLEN: Not directly, but the tone of his speech was very short on specifics about what's ahead, you know, for Florida in his second term. That's something you typically hear in these addresses. Susan MacManus, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of South Florida, was in Tallahassee for DeSantis' inauguration. And she said she didn't hear it as a typical inaugural speech.

SUSAN MACMANUS: This was not just about Florida. This was about the national audience. His theme of the free state of Florida was interwoven with just about every comment he made.

SUMMERS: The free state of Florida. What is DeSantis getting at there?

ALLEN: This is another one of his catchphrases. He was one of the first Republican leaders to tap into the frustrations with restrictions that came out of the COVID pandemic. And he signed orders and laws banning vaccine and face mask mandates in Florida. And Florida saw a big influx of newcomers last year and was the nation's fastest growing state, according to the census. DeSantis attributes the growth to its relaxed COVID policies.

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DESANTIS: Florida was a refuge of sanity, a citadel of freedom for our fellow Americans and even for people around the world.

SUMMERS: And, Greg, if DeSantis does run for president, will he have to step down from his job as Florida's governor?

ALLEN: Well, under the current law, that does appear to be the case. So far, however, he's shown no signs that he's ready to officially begin running for his party's nomination. He's already raising a lot of money. He raised $200 million last year as Florida governor. Tickets for his inaugural ball tonight run as high as a million dollars. As governor, he can continue to raise money and visit all the primary states that he wants. And this might be the key thing. He can avoid talking about the elephant in the room - whether he's ready to go head to head against the one candidate already in the race for the gubernatorial GOP nomination. That's former President Donald Trump.

SUMMERS: NPR's Greg Allen. Thank you.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.