TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It happened during two separate meetings with the press late last week.
Florida’s two highest-ranking lawmakers in the state legislature responded to questions about the nearly $3.5 million dollars spent by Governor Ron DeSantis’ administration to fly migrants in Texas to so-called sanctuary cities in Democratic-leaning states.
“I think the Governor not only needs to do what he has done, but we as a legislature, we're going to look for how we can be supportive,” said House Speaker Paul Renner.
Renner and Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, both Republicans, acknowledged they’ve neither asked the Governor about the controversial flights nor plan to do so.
“I have not had a conversation with the Governor about the issue. The Governor is trying to protect Florida from the problems that are arising federally,” said Passidomo.
Both Passidomo and Renner seemed to shrug off concerns about the use of legislature-approved funds for the flights.
Back in September, the DeSantis Administration spent more than $1.5 million to fly nearly fifty migrant men, women, and children by private charter planes to ritzy Martha’s Vineyard. But the flights didn’t meet the guidelines of the $12 million immigrant relocation plan approved by lawmakers.
That relocation plan, which was signed off as part of the state’s budget, stated undocumented migrants were to be relocated out of Florida, not Texas, where the nearly 50 migrants were recruited.
“The cost of illegal immigration far, far exceeds what we appropriated, and we’re prepared this year to appropriate more to make sure the Governor has the tools he needs to protect our citizens,” said Speaker Renner.
“One of the fundamental responsibilities of legislators and, particularly legislative leaders, is to keep an eye on how our tax dollars are being spent,” explained Florida political analyst Brian Crowley. Crowley is a former political reporter who spent more than two decades covering state politics.
Crowley said there’s nothing wrong with a governor and legislature agreeing on policies, especially when they’re of the same party, but when it comes to checks and balances, Crowley said, Governor DeSantis has changed the game.
“Since he took office, he has been able to pretty much do anything he wants, and they simply say, yes, sir,” he said.
To date, the DeSantis flights have spawned a criminal investigation by a Texas sheriff, a money inquiry by the feds, and several lawsuits, including a class action by the migrants who claim they were lied to and misled into boarding the planes.
A spokesperson from Governor DeSantis’ office has maintained Florida is not a sanctuary city, and they will continue to transport undocumented people to sanctuary cities and states around the country.
While Democratic lawmakers have taken the opportunity to voice political outrage, Florida’s most powerful lawmakers are voicing little more than total support, even passing any questions over potential wrongdoing for courts to decide.
“I understand there's litigation; let's see what happens,” said Senator Passidomo.
It’s a view that perhaps speaks more to power and who seems to currently hold it all in Florida.
“Governor DeSantis does not shy away from using his power. It's kind of a unique time we have in Florida where this governor is probably the most powerful governor we've had in modern times,” said Crowley.