Ron DeSantis Suspends Four Broward School Board Members, Appoints Loyal Republicans

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday afternoon — nothing like a late-Friday news dump! — suspended four members of the Broward County school board and replaced them with four new members. Ostensibly, the suspensions were related to the results of a statewide grand jury investigation that DeSantis had requested following the 2018 school shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, which killed 17 students and school staff and wounded another 17. But in a complete coincidence, we’re sure, DeSantis’s action immediately gave the Broward board a majority of Republican members (Florida school board elections are officially nonpartisan, but the four women DeSantis suspended were Democrats; the new appointees are Republican men). Funny how that worked out!

DeSantis explained in a press release that he was just doing good government stuff in replacing the four elected members of the board, don’t you see:

It is my duty to suspend people from office when there is clear evidence of incompetence, neglect of duty, misfeasance or malfeasance. […]

DeSantis also said that he hoped the action “brings the Parkland community another step towards justice” and that it was “in the best interest of the residents and students of Broward County and all citizens of Florida.” Surely the Parkland community will feel far better now that the people they elected — and reelected since the shooting — have been removed and replaced by DeSantis’s hand-picked members.

The four board members DeSantis suspended were Chair Laurie Rich Levinson, Vice Chair Patricia Good, and board members Donna Korn and Ann Murray. A fifth board member named in the grand jury report, Rosalind Osgood, left the board when she won a special election for a seat to the state Senate earlier this year.

In a statement to CNN and other outlets, former board chair Levinson said that the grand jury report simply gave DeSantis a pretext to replace elected board members with his political allies.

“What country is this? What Governor DeSantis did is un-American and undemocratic. He doesn’t care about democracy and he overturned the will of the voters.”

This is all about political retribution for not firing Superintendent Runcie. It’s about blaming the Superintendent, and any school board members who supported him, for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting. All four board members were elected by the people multiple times, including post tragedy. My heart will always go out to all the families and community.

Because you may disagree on local policy decisions is not a reason to remove someone from elected office…. This action is authoritarian-like and has no place in the United States of America where the voters decide who represents them.

As the New York Times explains, a year after the massacre, DeSantis requested that the state Supreme Court empanel a grand jury to investigate school security matters statewide:

including if refusal or failure to follow school safety laws put students at risk; if districts have committed fraud by accepting state funds conditioned on safety measures without putting them into place; and if districts have diverted for other purposes funds from bonds designated for school safety.

The grand jury completed its report in April 2021, but it was kept under seal while the school board members named in it fought its release.

The grand jury said the five Broward board members had “engaged in acts of incompetence and neglect of duty” in their implementation of an $800 million bond issue, passed in 2014, that was supposed to renovate school buildings to make them safer. We haven’t read the entire 122-page PDF, but pages 12 to 17 make pretty clear the grand jury blamed the board members for cost overruns and delays in those renovations — not for any failures that led to the mass shooting.

Gosh, it sure would be cynical to suggest that the school board suspensions have a lot more to do with DeSantis’s ongoing war on public education — especially in a generally liberal school district like Broward, where the board also defied DeSantis’s ban on mask mandates during the pandemic — than it does with alleged problems with school repair contracts.

But for DeSantis, every last part of governance is about pushing a political agenda. Remember his absolutely necessary $1.1 million Election Police Force, which he vowed would eliminate all the voter fraud that already is extremely rare? The Elections Cops made their first arrests earlier this month, scooping up 20 felons who mistakenly thought their right to vote had been restored by 2018’s Amendment 4, which was supposed to restore voting rights to those who’d served their time? DeSantis held a big press conference and crowed about how he was protecting the integrity of the vote from criminal frauders who were bent on stealing elections from good honest voters.

Defendants in the sweep said that they honestly thought it had been legal for them to vote in the 2020 elections, because after all, they finished their prison time and had been allowed to register with no problems. Yesterday, Politico published a report detailing that several of the defendants were actually notified by their counties that they were all set to vote:

In the days since the announcement, however, several of those arrested have told media outlets or authorities that they had no idea they were not eligible to vote. In court documents filed in five counties, most say at least one official government body — in most cases a local election supervisor — incorrectly indicated to them they could vote, including allowing them to register and sending them voter cards in the mail.

Court records show that many who were swept up by authorities have little education or financial resources and are now back in the state’s criminal justice system. Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agents interviewed the defendants over a few days in early August before arresting them last Thursday.

Gosh, it’s almost as if Ron DeSantis is really good at twisting Florida’s legal institutions to get outcomes that will advance his favored political agenda — with a thin film of official legality, even!

Say, what was that thing Joe Biden said this week about MAGA Republicans going all semi-fascist? Gosh, that guy, what a lot of hyperbole!

[Miami Herald / NYT / CNN / Politico / Image generated with DreamStudio Lite AI and tweaked by Wonkette]

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