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Who is Ron DeSantis? Get to know Florida's governor ahead of the 2022 election

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference, Feb. 1, 2022, in Miami.
Rebecca Blackwell
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference, Feb. 1, 2022, in Miami.

Gov. DeSantis' name is being bandied about as a potential candidate for president in 2024. As he prepares for November's gubernatorial election against Democratic challenger Charlie Crist, here's how he got there.

It's hard to believe that the man who barely squeaked by in the race for governor in 2018 is now being touted as a leading candidate for the highest office in the country.

That the impact Ron DeSantis has had in the last four years — and it hasn't been without controversy.

READ MORE: Who is Charlie Crist? Get to know Florida's candidate for governor ahead of the 2022 election

Largely due to his stances on COVID-19 lockdowns and mask mandates, teaching of critical race theory in Florida schools, championing what critics call the "Don't Say Gay Law," and immigration(see his flying about 50 migrants from Texas to Massachusetts), DeSantis has rallied the conservative Republican base and is now widely considered a leading candidate to unseat President Biden in 2024.

Supporters, however, have applauded DeSantis for preventing those lockdowns while supporting pay raises for teachers, and increased pay and bonuses for law enforcement and first responders.

Apart from the fact that both DeSantis and Crist have roots in Pinellas County, the similarities end there.

Here are some other things you may not know about Ron DeSantis:

  • DeSantis was born in Jacksonville.
  • All of his great-grandparents were born in Italy.
  • His maternal great-great-grandfather Salvatore Storti immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1904, eventually settling in Pennsylvania. His great-great-grandmother Luigia Colucci joined her husband in the United States in 1917.
  • He grew up in northern Pinellas County and graduated from Dunedin High School.
Ron DeSantis For Governor

  • DeSantis graduated from Yale University — where he was captain of the varsity baseball team — Harvard Law School and the Naval Justice School.
  • He was deployed to Iraq as the legal advisor to the SEAL Commander, Special Operations Task Force-West in Fallujah.
  • He was elected to Congress in 2012, representing a Jacksonville-area district.
  • DeSantis signed a pledge in 2013, vowing to vote against any global warming legislation that would raise taxes. He was a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, a group of conservatives and libertarians in Congress.
  • In 2015, DeSantis announced he would run for U.S. Senate. When the incumbent, Marco Rubio, ended his bid for the presidency and ran for reelection to the Senate, DeSantis withdrew from the Senate race.
  • In 2017, President Donald Trump said he would support DeSantis should he run for governor. One year later, DeSantis announced his candidacy.
  • DeSantis won the race for governor by less than 34,000 votes — a margin of 0.4%.
  • In 2019, DeSantis signed an executive order calling for the end of Common Core in Florida. He later signed a measure to make it harder to launch successful ballot initiatives.
  • In 2021, DeSantis threatened to withhold COVID-19 vaccines from counties that criticized how vaccines were distributed
  • In 2021, officially ended the state of emergency and all COVID-19-related public health orders. This order superseded all local public health orders and prohibited municipalities from enacting any further public health order related to COVID-19. The same day, he signed a bill into law that prohibited businesses, cruise ships, schools, and government entities from requiring proof of vaccination for use of services.
  • That same year, during a resurgence of COVID cases, he banned public schools from implementing mask mandates, claiming without evidence that masks were harmful to children, and later threatened to fine, withhold funding, or withhold salary from any school district or school official who required masks.
  • Also in 2021, DeSantis led an effort to ban the teaching of critical race theory in Florida public schools, describing it as as "teaching kids to hate their country." Later, he introduced the Stop Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act, which would allow parents to sue school districts that teach their children critical race theory. No school districts did.
  • In 2021, he said that state colleges and universities could lose funding if they were found to promote "stale ideology" and "indoctrination."
  • In 2022, during a news conference, DeSantis scolded students for wearing face masks, saying: "You do not have to wear those masks. I mean, please take them off" and "Honestly, it's not doing anything, and we gotta stop with this COVID theater. So if you want to wear it, fine. But this is ridiculous."
  • That same year, he signed into law the Parental Rights in Education Act, called the "Don't Say Gay Law" by its opponents, which prohibits instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in public school classrooms from kindergarten to third grade.
  • After Walt Disney Co. opposed the "Don't Say Gay" law, he signed a bill in 2022 to revoke Disney World's special self-governing privileges over its 25,000-acre Reedy Creek property near Orlando.
Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
I wasn't always a morning person. After spending years as a nighttime sports copy editor and page designer, I made the move to digital editing in 2000. Turns out, it was one of the best moves I've ever made.