The Florida governor’s suspension of the duly elected district attorney in Orlando is just the latest attack on the fundamental freedoms that he is sworn to uphold. And this is no isolated incident.
Unfortunately, it fits comfortably with his authoritarian brand of partisan politics that has sent shockwaves across Florida and threatens the foundations of our Republic by subverting American democracy.
Early Wednesday morning, DeSantis announced that he was suspending State Attorney Monique Worrell of Orange and Osceola counties for what he described as “incompetence” and “neglect of duty.”
The executive order effectuating the suspension identifies Worrell’s “practices and policies” regarding mandatory minimum sentences, juvenile offenders, gun violence, and drug trafficking cases. Following her suspension, Worrell shot back with statistics about how crime in her community has decreased and how her constituents support her policies.
This type of debate about an elected official’s policies and record makes for healthy dialogue during a campaign. That’s the problem with the executive order; it reads like a list of talking points for a candidate running against Worrell.
But this is not a campaign, and there is nothing healthy about it.
It isn’t neglect of duty when a public official carries out the agenda they promised to the voters who put them in office in a free and fair election. It’s the way democracy works, whether you’re on the winning team or the losing team after the results are counted.
When one elected executive can overturn the will of the voters arbitrarily, simply because he disagrees with their policies, it’s time to question just what kind of democracy we have.
DeSantis just overthrew the results of a fair and free election because he disagrees with how the elected official is doing her job. He is denying the people of Orlando their right to have the state attorney of their choice. He installed the person he wants to be in office, rather than the one the voters elected.
It’s his typical anti-freedom agenda, and I would know: In August 2022, DeSantis suspended me, the elected state attorney in Tampa.
State Attorney Worrell and I are both Democrats, and both of us had spoken out against several of the governor’s policies before being suspended. I sued DeSantis, and earlier this year a federal judge concluded that the suspension was unlawful—that the governor had violated state and federal law in trying to remove me from office for politics and for publicity. (The judge said that he lacked the authority to reinstate me and the case is currently pending appeal on that issue.)
The judge called on DeSantis to rescind my suspension, noting that if he did not, it would be clear that politics were the true motivation behind it. Unsurprisingly, DeSantis ignored the federal court’s invitation to reinstate me to my duly elected office. The governor has also ignored the court’s conclusions about the illegality of my suspension, continuing to brag about it in his stump speeches for his presidential campaign, telling lies and making misleading statements that the court found to be wholly inaccurate.
It’s clear from his suspension of Worrell that DeSantis has ignored the rule of law once again.
There have been rumors swirling since last year that DeSantis was targeting Worrell. So why suspend her now?
Well, timing is everything, and his flailing presidential campaign needed a new distraction. Clearly, his team thought another move out of the authoritarian playbook—with an eye to the culture wars—would do nicely.
The suspension came the day after news broke that DeSantis fired his campaign manager, his most recent attempt to reboot his campaign. In recent weeks DeSantis has faced growing scrutiny about his campaign struggles—major donors backing off, poor polling, and an inability to connect with voters. Suspending Worrell fits with a scared candidate who is desperate to rescue his presidential campaign.
“It isn’t neglect of duty when a public official carries out the agenda they promised to the voters that put them in office in a free and fair election. It’s the way democracy works…”
But this is no typical campaign shake-up or political Hail Mary that a stumbling candidate might employ. It’s far worse, and it’s not the way things should work in this country.
It is an illegal, unconstitutional attack on democracy and the rule of law—the latest abuse of power in an administration defined by them; championing and passing unconstitutional laws that infringe on free speech; orchestrating criminal stunts to trick unsuspecting migrants; punishing companies like Disney for opposing laws that he supports; and violating campaign finance laws.
Today we are questioning DeSantis’ latest authoritarian move. Tomorrow, we must question who will be targeted next, and when will Floridians say enough is enough?
We all know the saying that desperate times call for desperate measures, and the DeSantis campaign seems to have fully embraced that mantra.
But when elected officials get so desperate that they are willing—and, worse, able—to abuse their authority to advance their political ambitions, it poses a foundational danger to our Republic.
America witnessed that desperation manifest itself in the attack on our Capitol on Jan. 6. Incidentally, last week former President Donald Trump was indicted for conspiring to overturn the 2020 election—a desperate attempt to cling to power after being removed from the White House by the American people, and an attempt to illegally subvert their will and our constitutional rights to choose our leaders.
DeSantis and Trump were not the first politicians in U.S. history to do something illegal to win or stay in elected office, and they will not be the last. But our nation has stood as the beacon for democracy throughout the world because we, as a people, have rejected such desperation.
We must call out DeSantis’ latest assault on democracy for what it is. No one who ignores or subverts the laws of our country can ever be permitted to lead it.