DeSantis insists – but provides no data – that Hillsborough County is safer since he suspended the elected state attorney

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Andrew Warren suspended by Ron DeSantis
Gov. Ron DeSantis(AP Photo/Chris O'Meara). 2022.

Backroom Briefing: ‘If Ifs and Buts Were Candy and Nuts’
Weekly political notes from The News Service of Florida
By Jim Turner ©2024 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis contends Hillsborough County is a “safer” place after he suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren. But he wouldn’t directly say if he would again suspend Warren if local voters elect the Democrat in November.

“It was appropriate what we did and it has made Hillsborough County safer as a result,” DeSantis said this week during an appearance in Redington Shores. “Criminals are held accountable in a much more significant way since Suzy Lopez has been the state attorney there in Hillsborough County. That’s just a fact. Talk to any of the sheriff’s deputies.”

Warren announced on April 16 that he would run again this year for state attorney, after being suspended by DeSantis in August 2022. DeSantis accused Warren of incompetence and willful defiance of his duties, pointing in part to Warren signing a statement about enforcement of the state’s abortion laws.

DeSantis replaced Warren with Lopez, who is running for the position in November.

When pressed this week on whether he would suspend Warren again if the twice-elected state attorney wins the election, DeSantis first sputtered out, “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas,” before adding, “I think it’s all gonna work out.”

DeSantis also surmised that “Hillsborough County, probably by election day, is actually going to have more registered Republicans than Democrats.”

As of March 31, Hillsborough had 289,116 registered Democrats, 280,659 registered Republicans and 232,320 voters without party affiliation. On Dec. 31, it had 289,903 Democrats, 275,217 Republicans and 231,978 no-party voters.

Warren, in a conference call Wednesday with the Florida Democratic Party, said he was suspended for criticizing “extreme abortion bans, not for any action that I took.”

“This is putting pressure on prosecutors to violate their duty to enforce the law in the interests of justice, and instead coercing them to just blindly apply the law in order to appease the extreme politicians who pass them,” Warren said.

PLAYING FAVORITES?

President Joe Biden, appearing Tuesday in Tampa, voiced support for former Democratic Congress member Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who is seeking to oust U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla.

“It’s really important you win. This is a critical, critical race,” Biden said before making brief remarks in support of a proposed state constitutional amendment on abortion rights. “Debbie’s running against Rick Scott, who wants to sunset Social Security. I think the voters are going to sunset Rick Scott.”

Biden’s comments and the way the event was handled didn’t sit well with another Democratic U.S. Senate candidate, Stanley Campbell, a Palm City resident and founder of technology development and consulting firm EagleForce Associates.

“Whether the party wants to admit it or not, this race is wide open and ignoring the preference of a large swath of committed voters does a disservice to those voters at a time when the Democratic Party can ill afford to alienate them,” Campbell said in a statement.

The party also has taken heat recently for removing Miami-Dade County party Chair Robert Dempster.

Asked about accusations of playing favorites, Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried said Wednesday that the “party does not endorse, and so we’ve made that very clear.”

“The Florida congressional delegation shrunk in size over the last few cycles, and we’re going to take that back,” Fried said during a conference call with reporters. “But that means that the adults in the room have to come together and figure out our best path forward.”

With qualifying ending at noon Friday, other Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate include former Congress member Alan Grayson, former Florida House member Brian Rush of Tampa and Rod Joseph of Fern Park.

MAYBE NOT YET

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is advising 23 cities not to ditch citizen-review panels of law enforcement just yet.

The ACLU contends there is a disconnect between what a bill (HB 601) signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis does and what some say the measure does.

The law allows sheriffs and police chiefs to establish civilian oversight boards that are made up of three to seven members, with at least one being a retired law enforcement officer. When he signed the bill this month, DeSantis said the measure puts the “kibosh” on certain communities that have stacked review boards with activists.

“They’re not free to use law enforcement as political pinatas,” DeSantis said. “They’re not free to create false narratives. They’re not free just to make it miserable to work in uniform. And these things are highly political.”

But the ACLU issued a memorandum this week to cities and counties and said in a news release that the bill doesn’t go as far as DeSantis and other supporters contend.

“The ACLU-FL shows that the legislation has little or no practical effect on existing citizen-review panels in Florida,” the ACLU said in the news release. “The legislation applies only to panels created by ordinance, not those that community groups created through a charter amendment or the authority of government officials such as sheriffs and mayors.”

SOCIAL MEDIA POST OF THE WEEK

“As presidential candidate, @GovRonDeSantis dismissed warnings about intensifying weather as ‘fear tactics.’ And today, he expands program to help Floridians harden homes against hurricanes.” — John Kennedy (@JKennedyReport), Florida Capitol reporter for USA Today Network, on X.

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