MIAMI – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis may need some help from the state Legislature if he proceeds with a highly anticipated bid for the Republican presidential nomination.
A “resign to run” law requires state officeholders to commit to leave their positions if they run for federal office. The measure, which has been on and off the books over the past several decades, was reinstated in 2018. But Republican leaders in the GOP-dominated Legislature have expressed openness to changing or rescinding the law when they gather again.
Florida House Speaker Paul Renner recently told reporters that it was a “great idea” to review the law. Senate President Kathleen Passidomo similarly said that changes to the resignation requirement would be a “good idea.”
“If an individual who is a Florida governor is running for president, I think he should be allowed to do it,” she said.
DeSantis is emerging as an early favorite of some Republican donors and activists who are seeking a conservative leader without the baggage associated with former President Donald Trump, who has already announced his 2024 White House bid. In an underwhelming year for Republicans in much of the U.S., many in the party are taking notice of DeSantis' commanding reelection victory, including his strong performance in longtime Democratic strongholds around Miami.
The governor has dodged questions about his presidential aspirations, telling reporters last month to “chill out” about the subject. But during a debate before the November election, he pointedly declined to answer questions about whether he would serve out his full term. And he's gained notice for his travel around the country on behalf of other GOP candidates and will release an autobiography next year.
Florida constitutional experts said there's little ambiguity in the law, likely requiring some type of action by the Legislature.
“There is no ambiguity, no debate, no dispute,” said Bob Jarvis, a professor at Nova Southeastern University’s law school. “Under current law, DeSantis cannot run for president before first resigning as a governor.”
But given the Republican majorities in the Legislature, the law isn't expected to pose a significant hurdle. The governor didn't respond to a request for comment about whether he's calling for a change.
There is precedent for changes to the Florida law to help clear a path for potential candidates for higher office. In 2007, the Republican-controlled Legislature changed the law to prevent problems for then-Gov. Charlie Crist, who was being considered as a possible running mate for Republican John McCain in 2008. Crist later became a Democrat and challenged DeSantis for reelection this year.
“You can make the argument that there is no reason to have this law. The voters all knew that there was a chance that (DeSantis) would not complete his term as governor and that he was at the very least considering a presidential run,” Jarvis said. “No voter could say I was duped into voting for someone.”
Only a handful of states have similar resign-to-run laws. Some say that while the law is clear about politicians having to resign if they seek federal office, it is vague about when they would need to do so. It states the resignation must be submitted at least 10 days before the first day of qualifying for the office.
“There is too much ambiguity,” said Jon McGowan, an attorney that specializes in business and state government law, adding that it is not clear if a candidate would be qualified when he runs for the Republican nomination or for the general election. McGowan says the motivation behind the law “is really about not having endless elections.”
“What we’ll see is they will create a new section so that candidates for president or vice president do not have to resign to run, and just if they win.”
A revision to the law is likely just one piece of a legislative agenda DeSantis would like to oversee next year as a launching pad to a presidential campaign. DeSantis calls his administration and election results a “blueprint” for Republican success.
Education and abortion bills are likely to be filed. Incoming Republican state legislative leaders have referred to a new law limiting instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grade school that DeSantis championed, hinting that additional similar legislation could follow.