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 law currently says that “any officer who qualifies for federal public office must resign from the office he or she presently holds if the terms, or any part thereof, run concurrently with each other.”
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 in March.
Florida House Speaker Paul Renner recently told reporters that it was a “great idea” to review the law.
“Candidly, we have gone back and forth based on the circumstances of the moment,” Renner said in a statement when asked about his support for changing the rules. “In this case, it’s an honor for someone from Florida to even consider running for President.”
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.
Renner, R-Palm Coast, said he thinks DeSantis “may be able to run now without resigning under current law,” but said the legislature should “correct any ambiguity” and that the state has been “inconsistent” in the past.
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 re-election victory, including his strong performance in longtime Democratic strongholds around Miami.
DeSantis had a smashing success in Florida’s midterm elections, handily winning re-election against former Rep. Charlie Crist by 19%.
“We had probably the best night you could have ever asked for,” State Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota said.
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.
It wouldn’t be the first time the legislature has changed the rules to benefit a candidate.
In 2007, the resign-to-run law was tweaked to remove the requirement for federal candidates, as then-Gov. Charlie Crist was being considered as a running mate for Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid. Lawmakers in later years continued to tweak the law.
“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 law — Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii, Texas and Florida.
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 who 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.