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Ron DeSantis Is Taking Credit for Millions in Federal Relief

The Florida governor has been a vocal critic of President Joe Biden’s big government spending and yet millions of dollars in federal funding have uplifted the state’s budget, reserves and a variety of job and infrastructure projects.

(TNS) — Gov. Ron DeSantis has been on a spending spree for months, taking credit for millions of dollars in federal stimulus money he’s handing out to mostly rural Republican counties while at the same time bashing President Joe Biden’s big government spending.

Federal bucks have bolstered the state budget for two years in a row, shoring up the state’s reserves, and funding such things as the governor’s job growth program, climate “resiliency” against rising waters, road projects, broadband expansion, college training programs and tax cuts.

“I think it’s hypocritical,” said Ben Wilcox, research director for Tallahassee-based government watchdog group Integrity Florida. “He’s taking credit for something that’s not really his to claim credit for.”

One political strategist said it’s part of a plan to shore up DeSantis’ base and win bigger this time compared with his razor-thin 33,000-vote victory in the 2018 governor’s race, thus boosting his profile for a possible run for the presidency in 2024.

“He is solidifying or trying to make sure that his bases are motivated and jack up the turnout,” said Mac Stipanovich, a longtime political strategist and former Republican who became a Democrat and endorsed Biden over his dislike of Trump. “He’s serving up red meat for the base in an ongoing ‘Truman Show.’”

The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

DeSantis has repeatedly called the federal stimulus money “Washington at its worst” and blames it for the nation’s high inflation rate.

“We’re proud we didn’t do like Washington and spent money like a drunken sailor when all of a sudden you end up with all these problems,” he said at a recent event in Trenton where he doled out federally funded grants.

DeSantis never mentions the largesse he is sharing comes from Washington. Instead, he attributes the money to Florida’s strong economy as he hands out oversized checks at campaign-style events, calling himself “DeSantis Claus” on at least one occasion.

American Rescue Plan

While presenting checks to officials in Levy and Gilchrist counties recently, DeSantis touted a $400 million rural broadband access program in the 2022-23 state budget that he hasn’t approved yet. He didn’t mention the money came from Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that DeSantis and most other Republicans have criticized.

Biden, noting that not a single Republican in Washington voted for the president’s rescue plan, said several weeks ago, “I’m not going to embarrass any one of them, but I have here a list of how, back in their districts, they’re bragging about the Rescue Plan ... I mean, some people have no shame.”

The federal stimulus funds also are financing the job growth and other checks DeSantis is handing out, as well as the $200 million gas tax holiday planned for October.

DeSantis has given out $77 million in job growth grants since August that came from the American Rescue Plan, along with the $500 million Resilient Florida Trust Fund meant to fight climate change. Even $1,000 first responder bonuses are being covered by federal stimulus money.

In all, the state’s 2021-22 budget has $10 billion in federal stimulus money helping to fund programs and bolster the state’s reserves.

“We have done more than any other state to step up against ‘Bidenflation’ headwinds, to give relief to our citizens, and we are going to keep on doing that,” DeSantis said when he signed the state’s $1.2 billion tax savings package.

Florida Democratic Party spokesman Travis Reuther said DeSantis is using federal stimulus money to polish his own political image.

“Once again, phony Ron DeSantis will do anything to further his political ambitions, even if it means taking credit for the results of legislation that he called “Washington at its worst,” Reuther said.

Using other people’s money and taking credit for it is classic DeSantis, Stipanovich added.

His case in point: The broadband announcement, made days after Biden announced a deal he made with several Internet companies to provide low-cost, high-speed Internet access to lower income families.

“He did that to run to the head of the parade on broadband and digital expansion … after being critical of it,” Stipanovich said. “And DeSantis is the epitome of hypocrisy on issues like distribution of federal funds, the appropriation of which he criticizes and then touts.”

‘Borderline Campaign Events’

The appearances, almost always in DeSantis-friendly territory, “are borderline campaign events,” Wilcox said.

He often spends the first 15 or 20 minutes delivering a stump speech sharing his views on inflation, gas prices, the culture wars, COVID lockdowns, Elon Musk’s proposed acquisition of Twitter and China. Those topics seem geared more toward a national audience than a local one, Stipanovich said.

Despite being billed as press conferences, he seldom takes questions from reporters who attend.

Other state officials at these events often chime in, crediting DeSantis on making these grants possible.

“The governor is not leaving rural communities behind,” committing that $400 million to broadband, said Department of Economic Opportunity Secretary Dane Eagle Dane Eagle at a Mayo event stop last week.

At the same event, state Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said, “the reason these resources are here for us to be able to appropriate, for the governor to be able to appropriate, is because of the policies and the leadership of Governor DeSantis since he took office.”

His official government Twitter account recently posted a video compilation of him doling out checks, which was then retweeted by his campaign account.

DeSantis isn’t the first to use official events to fundraise and all the things a politician does in campaign mode, Wilcox said. But it’s a prime example of the need for campaign reform, he said.

“Elected officials are supposed to maintain a bright line between the performance of their public duties and their election related activities,” Wilcox said. “It seems that Gov. DeSantis is pretty aggressively blurring those lines between those two types of events … and justify the use of public funds for what are just to the naked eye appear to be a campaign event.”

‘Campaigning All The Time’

DeSantis has been campaigning since the second half of his first year as governor, Stipanovich said.

“He’s campaigning all the time, two campaigns simultaneously, reelection and the presidential race of 2024,” Stipanovich said.

In 2018, DeSantis beat Democratic candidate Andrew Gilllum, a former mayor of Tallahassee dogged by a federal investigation at City Hall and allegations of helping his college era best friend get sweetheart deals, by less than half a percent, in a state of 14 million voters.

DeSantis is going to have to do better than that to be seen as a serious candidate for president, Stipanovich said.

“He needs to crush it in Florida to enhance his status as a national candidate. If he wins by a percentage point, that is not going to cut it,” Stipanovich said.

Going into the rural communities that voted for DeSantis and urban Hispanic communities that are trending to the right is good strategy, especially if the race is a close one, said Matt Isbell, an election data analyst who works for Democratic candidates.

It would help widen the margin if the “rural counties are showing up a lot more in higher turnout percentages than the suburbs and urban areas that might be more apathetic about DeSantis,” Isbell said.

“Tens of thousands of votes in these rural counties can be added up even if turnout goes up just a little bit,” he said. “It is not about flipping counties, it is all about margins all across the boards.”

©2022 Orlando Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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