early and often

DeSantis Continues Race to Right With Criminal-Justice Reform Veto

DeSantis makes no bones about his strategy to out-demagogue other Republicans on crime. Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

If you value your health and safety, you don’t want to stand between Ron DeSantis and any available opportunity to show that he’s the meanest MAGA SOB in the 2024 presidential contest. His own Republican-controlled Florida legislature found that out this week when he vetoed a very modest criminal-justice reform bill that had near-unanimous bipartisan support.

The legislation simply made it possible for “people who had charges dropped, were found not guilty or were arrested but not ultimately charged” to expunge their records, making it possible for them to get jobs, loans, and other things a criminal record might prevent, NBC News explained. The bill passed the Florida Senate unanimously and the Florida House by a vote of 107-2. The chief sponsor, Republican state representative David Smith, was apparently blindsided by the veto and declared that he was “disappointed” (he’s a backer of DeSantis’s presidential bid). Expunging arrests for someone never convicted of a crime, after all, is hardly a “soft-on-crime” measure since, so far as we know, the people affected never committed a crime in the first place.

DeSantis did not bother to explain his veto, but his advisers all but admitted that it had nothing to do with Florida criminal law and everything to do with his determination to strut and posture as a candidate well to the right of Donald Trump on this and other issues, NBC News reports:

His office did not respond to a request seeking comment.

Some of the governor’s advisers, however, said the move was consistent with the message he wants to send as a tough-on-crime presidential candidate.

Another DeSantis supporter said signing the bill into law could have sent mixed signals and opened “him up to criticism since he’s been vocally against Trump’s First Step Act.”

The reference here is to DeSantis’s earlier demagogic attacks on the modest bipartisan legislation put together by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in 2018 that combined prison reforms backed by Republicans (including DeSantis when he was in the House) with a few very basic federal-sentencing reform measures. Without question, Trump has exaggerated the boldness of the First Step Act. It was one of his calling cards in reaching out to minority voters in 2020, but DeSantis’s description of it as a “jailbreak bill” is even more ludicrous. It passed the Senate by a 87-12 margin and the House by 358-36. The most it could be called is a down payment on real criminal-justice reform.

But to Team DeSantis, any legislation that’s not brutal in its treatment of anyone who even might be guilty of a crime represents the “California and Soros prosecutor’s view,” as one of the governor’s advisers puts it now. And the broader context is a struggling presidential campaign that has chosen to outflank Trump on the right wherever possible (notably on abortion policy, COVID-19 precautions, and crime) and treats Florida as an ultra-MAGA experiment station where “woke goes to die” and any hint of liberalism is crushed by the remorseless governor.

In explaining the appeal of Trump’s openly nasty personality to his fan base, journalist Adam Serwer once observed that “the cruelty is the point.” It looks like DeSantis understands that and is competing to show how callous he can be. Too bad if you are a Floridian seeking compassion.

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DeSantis Continues Race to Right With Criminal-Justice Veto