In what would be a precedent-setting action, DeSantis indicated he might only need approval of the appointee from the Legislature. The issue came up during a Cabinet meeting when Agriculture Secretary Nikki Fried asked about plans to replace former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein.
“It’s an executive appointment,” DeSantis initially replied. “So, that’s our prerogative, and we’ll do it when we want to, and we’ll let folks know about it.”
When Fried, a Democrat running to try to unseat the Republican governor in 2022, said the appointment requires Cabinet approval, DeSantis disagreed.
“I think if you actually look at the Constitution, it says either the Cabinet or the Legislature, the Senate,” DeSantis said. “The statute said both, but there’s an argument that it conflicts and that it would be one or the other. My sense would be the Legislature would retain their authority rather than give the Cabinet authority, so that would be a live issue, potentially, if we end up with a conflict.”
A part of the statute about the creation of the Department of Environmental Protection, says: “The head of the Department of Environmental Protection shall be a secretary, who shall be appointed by the Governor, with the concurrence of three members of the Cabinet. The secretary shall be confirmed by the Florida Senate. The secretary shall serve at the pleasure of the Governor.”
During a break from the meeting, Fried told reporters that “he is going to have to deal with me, in order for it to be approved.”
“The Department of Environmental Protection is one of the most essential elements here in state government,” Fried said. “It protects our wetlands, our waterways, our natural resources. This is fundamental to who we are as Floridians, is the job of the Department of Environmental Protection.”
Fried later sent out a news release saying DeSantis “defensively” misquoted state law.
In an email after the meeting, DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw said DeSantis based his comment on part of the state Constitution dealing with executive departments. That part of the Constitution says: “When provided by law, confirmation by the Senate or the approval of three members of the Cabinet shall be required for appointment to or removal from any designated statutory office.”
Valenstein announced on May 8 he was stepping down after four years running the environmental agency. The resignation took effect on June 4.
Valenstein, who was initially appointed to the $155,530-a-year job by former Gov. Rick Scott in May 2017, was reappointed two years later by DeSantis. Both appointments received the support of the Cabinet, currently made up of Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Fried.
Valenstein was the only one of 140 applicants to be interviewed for the job by Scott and the prior Cabinet lineup — former Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, former Attorney General Pam Bondi and former Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater — in 2017.
The Moody, Patronis and Fried lineup backed Valenstein’s reappointment by DeSantis in February 2019.
Shawn Hamilton, the agency’s deputy secretary for land and recreation, was named interim secretary on June 4.