First Read

Florida Gov. DeSantis sued over South Florida special election

The suit takes issue with how long the governor takes to call special elections. A Miami-Dade House seat has gone empty for weeks.


DeSantis’ track record is uneven as to how long he waits to call a special election for an empty seat. But his delay in doing so for Miami-Dade County’s House District 118 now has resulted in a lawsuit. The ACLU Foundation of Florida, filing on behalf of a voter who lives in the district, is asking a judge to grant a writ of mandamus, a court order to an elected official to perform some action. (Democrats also are asking he set an election for House District 35.)

The seat was vacated by Republican Juan Alfonso Fernandez-Barquin, who resigned after the governor appointed him on June 9 to be clerk of court and comptroller for Miami-Dade County. The complaint, filed in Leon County, argues that time’s a-wasting: The first legislative committee week, when lawmakers start doing business before their annual session, is in less than nine weeks. 

The filing says that DeSantis calls “special elections relatively promptly—if it suits him. When Rep. Joe Harding resigned on Dec. 8, 2022, (he) took 13 days to call a special election.” And when then-Rep. Danny Burgess stepped down to be DeSantis’ head of the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2019, the governor “issued an executive order calling a special election … the very same day.” 

Court dockets show that the governor’s lawyers have not yet filed an answer. The case was assigned to Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey, who earlier this year recognized what’s known as “executive privilege” in Florida law to allow DeSantis to avoid disclosing the identities of the “legal conservative heavyweights” he consults before selecting state Supreme Court justices. 

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