On his way out the door after Gov. Ron DeSantis booted him Thursday from his elected job, Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren accused Florida’s chief executive of “trying to overthrow democracy.”
Warren’s removal from an office he first won in 2016 and was reelected to four years later by 46,626 votes set off another round of Democrats slamming DeSantis as an aspiring authoritarian — and Republicans cheering his boldness as a governor.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson thanked DeSantis for “finally doing something more than whine” about an issue that has conservatives up in arms — progressive prosecutors pushing criminal justice reforms.
Tucker Carlson, Heritage Foundation applaud move
Carlson said it was “amazing” and “kind of a big move” for DeSantis to remove Warren. He accused liberal prosecutors of “a subversion of democracy” by refusing to adequately enforce certain laws.
The conservative Heritage Foundation also chimed in with praise for DeSantis. “We need more leaders to follow DeSantis’ lead and to hold these rogue prosecutors accountable,” wrote Heritage Legal Fellow Zack Smith in a statement.
Meanwhile, both candidates competing in the Democratic primary for governor called DeSantis a “wannabe dictator.”
DeSantis has become a magnet for this type of heated rhetoric over the last year as he uses his authority aggressively. He has quickly become one of the most powerful and polarizing chief executives in state history.
“His history is one of very aggressive decision making, no question about it,” said University of South Florida emeritus political science professor Susan MacManus. “He’s hardly a wallflower.”
Nothing demonstrates that power more than removing another democratically elected official from office.
Florida Constitution gives DeSantis removal authority
The Florida Constitution gives the governor the authority to remove “any county officer, for malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony.”
Warren is not the first local official to be removed by a Florida governor, or even the first one to be removed by DeSantis.
But those who have been removed in the past typically had been the focus of a major controversy.
“Governors remove people from office in local government all the time but usually there’s a scandal, a malfeasance in office,” noted Charles Zelden, a professor of history and political science at Nova Southeastern University.
Election problems in Palm Beach County in 2018 prompted DeSantis to remove the supervisor of elections. He also removed Broward County’s sheriff after his agency was accused of mishandling the response to the mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the Fort Lauderdale airport.
Warren wasn’t accused of a single major misstep. Instead, local law enforcement leaders said he was soft on crime and DeSantis agreed, saying he didn’t do enough to enforce certain laws while also complaining about letters he signed stating he wouldn’t enforce laws on abortion and transgender medical care.
“It’s basically a disagreement about policy and ideology and the governor’s trying to remove a prosecutor who was elected twice by the people of Tampa,” said University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett.
DeSantis’ executive order removing Warren says the prosecutor’s actions amounted to “neglect of duty.”
Warren said it was pure politics. He accused DeSantis of having the 2024 Republican presidential primary in mind.
“I think the Governor is trying to make a good impression on the Iowa caucus voters,” he said.
Abuses of power
Similar criticisms — that DeSantis is willing to abuse his authority to score political points — were lodged against the governor when he passed legislation punishing Disney after the company opposed his efforts to restrict how sexual orientation and gender identity are discussed in schools.
Republican lawmakers dutifully went along with the governor, as they have on a host of other issues that have collectively demonstrated DeSantis’ immense power.
Among the most significant: DeSantis rejected a once-a-decade congressional redistricting map approved by the Legislature, calling lawmakers back to Tallahassee in a special session to pass his map, which they did.
The precedent for these actions was established during the depth of the COVID-19 pandemic, when DeSantis began pushing back aggressively on public health recommendations, Jewett said.
“That’s where he began to discover this new strategy of taking bold, controversial steps and actions and discovering that his Republican base not only in Florida, but across the country, loved it,” Jewett said.
There increasingly seem to be few checks on the governor, who also has reshaped the state Supreme Court to be more conservative.
DeSantis is hoping to consolidate his power even further this election cycle by getting GOP candidates elected that are loyal to him. He has endorsed in a host of races, from school board to state Senate contests.
Many politicians try to influence the political landscape with endorsements.
Punishing a company like Disney for speaking out on legislation or removing an elected official such as Warren over what some argue amounts to partisan policy disagreements is outside the norm, though.
DeSantis seems to have a keen sense of how far he can push the boundaries when it comes to exercising executive power, Zelden said.
“He has been more aggressive than the average governor, but the important thing to keep in mind is he’s not moving beyond the powers that are granted to a governor,” Zelden said. “He’s pushing the limits hard but he hasn’t crossed the line yet.”
But Zelden adds that every time DeSantis does something like removing Warren from office, he pushes the boundary of what’s politically acceptable further out and leads the state in a more “extreme” direction.
“The danger is this: Every time you push the line, the line moves a little bit to the extreme and every time you do it you make it more extreme,” he said. “So there’s the potential of him overstepping what used to be the line and us not noticing it because he keeps pushing the line further and further out.”
Follow Herald-Tribune Political Editor Zac Anderson on Twitter at @zacjanderson. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org