Tuxes and ball gowns are coming out of the closet. Custom-made boots are being buffed and shined. Babysitters’ calendars are blocked off.
Whether it’s a pizza party, prayer breakfast or posh gala, Tallahassee’s illuminati are preparing for a once-in-while glamfest known as an inauguration.
Two days of fetes will mark the advent of new administrations in the offices of governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner.
Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis won’t take over as chief of the nation’s third-most populous state until Tuesday. But the former congressman, a Republican, this week continued to round out his brain trust, including naming some agency heads with ties to his predecessor, Gov. Rick Scott, who’s on his way to Washington after defeating U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
Next week’s pageantry sets the table for an administration headed by a fresh-faced governor who’s toting a crib to 700 North Adams Street.
DeSantis, 40, and his wife, Casey — a Jacksonville television personality — are the parents of a 2-year-old and an infant who won’t turn one until March.
Republicans will be celebrating with DeSantis, Attorney General-elect Ashley Moody and returning Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, but Democrats also will get a chance to kick up their heels. Haitian-born pop star Wyclef Jean will highlight an inaugural celebration for Agriculture Commissioner-elect Nikki Fried — the lone Democrat to win a statewide election in November.
Amid the pomp and circumstance, the Legislature is dusting itself off as lawmakers prepare to take on issues ranging from veggie gardens to school safety.
The state Senate this week also released details of a settlement that will close the books on a complaint related to the downfall of former legislative leader Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who left office amid allegations of sexual harassment.
Rachel Perrin Rogers, the Senate staffer whose complaint of sexual misconduct led to Latvala’s exit from the upper chamber he loved so well, agreed to a $900,000 settlement in December. Perrin Rogers leaves the Senate after years as legislative aide privy to the closely held secrets of elected officials, lobbyists and other insiders.
Perrin Rogers signed off on her Senate career in a short resignation letter last month to her boss, Sen. Wilton Simpson.
“I feel an immense sadness that at this time I am no longer able to do this work for you in the Senate,” Perrin Rogers wrote to Simpson, a Trilby Republican slated to take over as Senate president in 2020. “Thank you for your unwavering support.”
SCHOOL SAFETY ON THE SLATE
Nearly a year after a deadly shooting at a Broward County high school, a state panel created to investigate the horrific event and come up with ways to prevent future tragedies released its initial recommendations this week.
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission found that “personal and system failures” culminated in the mass shooting on Valentine’s Day that left 14 students and three faculty members dead and 17 people wounded at the Parkland school.
The months-long probe also revealed that many Florida schools remain vulnerable to attacks similar to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas attack by confessed killer Nikolas Cruz, a former student at the school who legally purchased the AR-15 assault weapon used in the massacre.
State lawmakers responded to the mass shooting, which occurred during the 2018 legislative session, by quickly passing a sweeping law that raised from 18 to 21 the age to buy long guns, such as the rifle Cruz legally purchased; banned so-called “bump stocks;” and imposed school-safety requirements and mental-health screenings for students.
The new law also required all schools to have at least one school safety officer and allowed districts to hire armed “guardians” — school personnel whose primary job duties are outside the classroom — to supplement the officers, who are usually deputies.
In its report Wednesday, the state panel recommended that classroom teachers also be allowed to act as armed “guardians,” even though that controversial idea created an impasse before the school-safety measure passed last year.
Allowing specially trained teachers with concealed-weapons licenses to bring guns to classrooms was among the many recommendations offered by the commission, which was created as part of the law. The only commission member to vote against the armed-teacher proposal was Max Schachter, whose 14-year-old son Alex was among the slain students.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday afternoon, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, chairman of the commission, defended the proposal.
“This isn’t about ideology. This is about reality, and this is about making sure that we can save kids’ lives,” Gualtieri said.
The report blamed the Broward County school system and sheriff’s office for being unprepared and for delays in responding to the volley of bullets from Cruz, who reloaded five times during the minutes-long assault at the high school.
“Anybody who thinks we’re going to get rid of guns is crazy. We’ve got to do something,” said Gualtieri, who at one time opposed allowing teachers to carry weapons but has since reversed his stance.
Teachers should undergo “an absolutely rigorous selection process” and training prior to getting permission to bring guns to schools, Gualtieri said, adding that Floridians “have to be realistic” about the threats schools are facing.
The “best possibility” to reduce the harm to students and faculty is to have someone trained with a gun on campus, he said.
“And that’s school staff,” he said.
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE YOUNG
DeSantis will be Florida’s youngest governor in more than a century when he takes office on Tuesday.
DeSantis turned 40 about two weeks after he won the Aug. 28 Republican primary. He will be the youngest governor on Inauguration Day since Park Trammell took the oath of office on Jan. 7, 1913, as a 36-year-old former attorney general.
The former congressman will be Florida’s first “Generation X” governor, succeeding three “baby boomer” leaders, including Scott and former governors Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush.
“The election of Gov. DeSantis is a generational shift in Florida politics,” said former Senate President Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican whose 36-year-old son, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, is one of DeSantis’ closest advisers.
“I think he comes with a fresh perspective. He’s not hamstrung or tied up in a lot of the decisions and prejudices of my generation perhaps,” Don Gaetz added.
STORY OF THE WEEK: Tallahassee insiders are preparing for the inauguration of Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis and new Florida Cabinet members, who will be sworn into office Tuesday amid two days of celebration.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “The reality of this is that it is going to happen again. The question is where. The question is when.” — Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, referring to the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 14 students and three faculty members dead and another 17 students and staff injured.