Ron DeSantis is using his perch as Florida’s governor to take stands on national energy issues at the state level as he appears poised to jump into the 2024 presidential primary.
DeSantis recently signed a bill that restricted environmentally and socially conscious investing, also known as ESG, in the Sunshine State. As gas stove politics heated up in Washington, D.C., the governor also floated tax breaks for the appliances in Florida even though they are not widely used there.
Strategists say his embrace of such issues at the state level will elevate DeSantis if he enters the presidential field. News outlets,including The Hill, have reported that he will enter the race next week.
“And all these candidates need to figure out how do they distinguish themselves from one another in whatever fashion and because he’s governor and governors do things, he’s going to be able to talk about the direct results that he enacted,” said Republican strategist Doug Heye.
DeSantis first pitched the ESG legislation, which would bar state pension funds from considering ESG factors and prevent cities from selling bonds related to ESG projects, in February.
At the time he referred to that investment strategy as an “elite-driven phenomenon” saying “they really want to jam this on society.”
He signed the bill this month.
Republican strategist Keith Naughton said he thinks the ESG issue will be a strong one for the GOP as an economic policy.
“It’s both a cultural and economic argument,” he said. “I think you should do both, but I don’t think they’ve done enough on the economic side. I think that’s going to be more durable.”
Environmentalists in the state, however, were critical of the move, as they have been of much of DeSantis’s record.
“This is a situation where the governor could have taken action to protect families, homeowners the environment, but instead we’re spending taxpayer dollars to further political theater. ESG is a national conversation and part of the culture war signaling,” said Emily Gorman, director of the Florida Chapter of the Sierra Club.
DeSantis has also railed against the federal government over gas stoves despite only 8 percent of Floridians having this type of appliance in their homes, according to federal data.
The Republican outcry on the gas stoves issue came after a Biden-appointed regulator floated a ban as a possibility. Since then, another key Biden-appointed regulator and the White House have come out against gas stove bans.
The Florida governor in February suggested a sales tax exemption for gas stoves. This month, Florida’s legislature also passed a DeSantis-backed bill that would prevent cities and countries from being able to outlaw the appliances.
Heye, the Republican strategist, said that gas stoves can resonate as it is “tactile” to voters.
“It allows, whether it’s DeSantis or others, to push back on the policy that has people angered, but also to push back on Democrats and on the media who got this proactively wrong,” he said.
Both ESG and gas stove politics have become political flashpoints in Washington.
Proponents of ESG see it as a way for people to make investments that are both economically and ethically sound, while opponents worry that it could prioritize outside factors into investment decisions. Republicans have also raised concerns that following ESG principles could harm fossil fuel companies.
The gas stove issue comes as the Consumer Product Safety Commission weighs regulations — amid concerns about health impacts, including asthma. The Energy Department separately proposed an energy efficiency rule aimed at gas stoves, though Secretary Jennifer Granholm has said that the rule does not apply to half of the gas stoves on the market.
DeSantis’s messaging on these issues is somewhat different from how he has talked about energy and environmental issues broadly in the state, though many environmentalists in the state have been critical of his actual policies.
In his 2018 gubernatorial campaign, DeSantis called himself a “Teddy Roosevelt-style” Republican.
But, Florida environmental groups have described his actual actions as disappointing.
“What we’ve seen are commitments that are encouraging in some ways, but a lack of follow-through from DeSantis,” said Eve Samples, executive director of Friends of the Everglades.
She pointed to his establishment of a task force to tackle blue-green algae, which can produce toxins that are harmful to people and animals. She described the task force’s establishment as a positive step, but state environmental organizations found in August that only four of the task force’s 31 recommendations had been fully implemented.
The Sierra Club in October gave him a D-minus for environmental policies, knocking him on issues ranging from characterizing fossil-fuel gas as renewable energy to blocking coral reef protections issued by Key West. However, the group did credit him for vetoing a few pieces of legislation including a bill that would have cut benefits for rooftop solar.
If DeSantis jumps into the presidential race, he’s expected to be one of the Republican primary frontrunners alongside former President Trump.
Naughton said that this puts him in a position where he should be appealing to the GOP base.
“His main task is going to be fighting against Trump,” he said. “So that’s the number one thing he’s got to figure out and step one is to keep on the right side of the base when it comes to their issues.”