Orange County mayor: Gov. Ron DeSantis attempting ‘to usurp’ leadership in Democrat-led urban counties

Governor’s actions are part of Republican strategy, Mayor Jerry Demings says

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – After Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order revoking all local pandemic-related mandates, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings says he believes the governor’s actions are part of a bigger partisan plan to undermine Democratic-led urban counties and cities.

The mayor and other local leaders were surprised Monday when DeSantis signed legislation to protect against government overreach in the event of an emergency, which would not take effect until July, but then issued an executive order making it effective immediately.

“None of us knew it was coming down,” Demings said. “We all were caught by surprise.”

The new law grants the legislature the ability to overrule an emergency order by the governor and “creates a default legal presumption that during any emergency our businesses should be free from government mandates to close, and our schools should remain open for in-person instruction for our children,” according to DeSantis.

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DeSantis never issued a state-wide mask mandate but local government leaders including in Orange and Seminole counties have put face covering requirements in place.

Asked Monday afternoon what the executive order means for Orange County’s executive order requiring face coverings in public places, Demings said he needed to read the order first. A few hours later, after the governor’s office sent out the executive order, Demings released a statement.

“I am not surprised,” he wrote. “He first indicated that the order would not take effect until July 1, 2021, and then quickly changed it to be ‘effective immediately.’ He then offered new language that invalidates a local government’s ability to take action during a public health emergency.”

Demings said the Orange County government will continue to review its statutory authority and will respond accordingly.

“Gov. DeSantis has been slow to act in responding to the pandemic, which has caused local elected officials (mayors) to take action to fill the void and keep their residents safe,” Demings continued. “I want Orange County residents to know that I will continue to make decisions in the best interest of their health, safety and welfare and will not wait on the governor to tell me what to do.”

The Orange County mayor said he believes the real purpose behind the governor’s actions is tied to Republican Party actions happening across the country.

“I conclude that his actions are part of a larger partisan strategy by the Republican Party to usurp the authority of Democrat-led urban counties and cities across America,” Demings wrote concluding, “We expect better from the governor of Florida.”

The new executive order isn’t the first time DeSantis has attempted to prevent local mask mandates.

He issued an executive order signed in September, preventing cities and counties from fining people for not adhering to mask mandates. It also prevents cities and counties from ordering restaurants to close without economic or health reasons being justified. The governor then extended that order in November.

“There’s obviously a move afoot in Tallahassee to preempt local governments from their authority and control,” Demings told News 6. “At the end of the day, this should not be about politics, this should be about the health safety and welfare of our residents.”

Orange County’s mandate does not fine individuals for not wearing a mask and with the governor’s executive order in November the county can no longer fine businesses for not following the mandate.

Hundreds of people continue to test positive for COVID-19 in Orange County, Demings said.

“If we give up now, we’re going to have terrible results if we do that,” Demings said.

One day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated people no longer had to wear a mask outdoors except in crowded settings, Demings announced the county’s three-phased plan for rolling back its mask mandate.

When 70% of the county population is vaccinated, Demings planned to lift all mandates. Currently, Orange County is approaching 50% vaccination.

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About the Authors:

Mark Lehman became a News 6 reporter in July 2014, but he's been a Central Florida journalist and part of the News 6 team for much longer. While most people are fast asleep in their bed, Mark starts his day overnight by searching for news on the streets of Central Florida.