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Ron DeSantis faces new questions about his personnel decisions

Has Gov. Ron DeSantis tapped far-right conservatives to serve in key government positions despite their radical records or because of them?


Gov. Ron DeSantis doesn’t take criticisms especially well. After Disney, for example, expressed disapproval of the Florida Republican’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” policy, the governor set out to punish for daring to disagree with him.

The result is a new policy, which DeSantis recently signed into law, giving him increased power over the local district’s board. In fact, his handpicked board members won’t just deal with economic and infrastructure matters: The GOP governor also said he expects his new board to exercise some influence over Disney content.

With this in mind, it becomes all the more notable to consider whom DeSantis tapped for this oversight role. CNN reported late last week:

On Monday [Feb. 27], the Republican governor appointed Ron Peri, an Orlando-based former pastor and the CEO of The Gathering — a Christian ministry focused on outreach to men — as one of five people who will now oversee the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the government body that has given Disney unique powers in Central Florida for more than half a century.

At face value, this might not seem especially notable. After all, DeSantis is a far-right Republican, so it stands to reason he’d turn to a politically conservative former pastor to serve on a local board.

But CNN's report found that Peri has quite a record — including his apparent belief that tap water is responsible for turning some people gay.

“So why are there homosexuals today? There are any number of reasons, you know, that are given. Some would say the increase in estrogen in our societies. You know, there’s estrogen in the water from birth control pills. They can’t get it out,” Peri baselessly said last year. “The level of testosterone in men broadly in America has declined by 50 points in the past 10 years. You know, and so, maybe that’s a part of it.”

All of this was and is ridiculous, but it wasn’t especially surprising coming from a Floridian who’s also called gay people “deviant” and equated homosexuality with a “disease.”

Obviously, Peri can believe what he wishes. It’s a free country. If he has contempt for the LGBTQ community, that’s offensive, but it’s his choice. If he’s worried about estrogen in tap water turning men gay, that’s weird, but his beverage choices are up to him.

But Florida’s chief executive, who appears to be gearing up for a presidential campaign, decided to put Peri in a position of influence over the state’s largest private employer — possibly even giving the former pastor influence over Disney’s creative content. All of which leads to a question that hasn’t yet been answered: Did DeSantis choose this guy for the Disney-area board despite Peri’s record or because of it?

What’s more, it’s also worth appreciating the Republican governor’s broader track record when it comes to making personnel assessments. DeSantis had a great many choices for state surgeon general, for example, but he picked Dr. Joseph Ladapo, despite — or perhaps because of — the physician’s highly controversial record.

Similarly, the governor had an opportunity last year to appoint a new Florida secretary of state — an office that helps administer state elections. DeSantis tapped Cord Byrd, who has partnered with election deniers and has refused to say President Joe Biden won the 2020 election.

Byrd’s wife, meanwhile, has taken some radical positions related to the Jan. 6 attack, the Proud Boys, and even the QAnon delusion — and DeSantis appointed Esther Byrd to the state board of education.

It’s possible the governor didn’t bother with due diligence and had no idea about these officials’ backgrounds before he chose them for influential government posts. It’s also possible DeSantis did his homework, but liked what he saw.

Perhaps now would be a good time for the governor to tell us which of these possibilities is accurate?