SARASOTA, Fla. — In a move described by critics as another political stunt, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren Thursday after calling him "woke" and accusing him of refusing to properly enforce certain laws.
The move has been criticized by Democrats who raised concerns over DeSantis' decision.
Warren called the governor's move a "political stunt" and "an illegal overreach that continues a dangerous pattern by Ron DeSantis of using his office to further his own political ambition."
The Democrats vying to take on DeSantis in November both reacted to the governor's move by calling him an aspiring "dictator."
“DeSantis is a pathetic bully,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat running for governor.
U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, who is running against Fried in the Democratic primary for governor, said: "This action by Governor DeSantis is that of a wannabe dictator who puts partisan politics first."
Warren is a Democrat who has been out front on criminal justice reform issues and Republicans have pushed back against these reforms, arguing they are leading to an increase in crime. The governor said he conducted a statewide review of prosecutors and quickly zeroed in on Warren, saying he "put himself publicly above the law."
Much of the focus nationally has been on liberal cities such as San Francisco, where the district attorney recently was recalled. Now Tampa is squarely at the center of that debate.
"Over the last few years individual prosecutors take it upon themselves to determine which laws they like and will enforce, and which laws they don’t like and won’t enforce and the results of this in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco have been catastrophic," DeSantis said.
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While DeSantis framed the issue as upholding the rule of law, the suspension has partisan overtones, with a GOP governor removing a Democratic official who twice was elected by voters in his county.
Warren first was elected to the position in November 2016 and then re-elected in November 2020 with 53% of the vote, but DeSantis said: “I don’t think the people of Hillsborough County want to have an agenda that is basically woke."
The governor criticized Warren for signing a letter in 2021 that states: "Bills that criminalize safe and crucial medical treatments or the mere public existence of trans people do not promote public safety, community trust, or fiscal responsibility. They serve no legitimate purpose. As such, we pledge to use our settled discretion and limited resources on enforcement of laws that will not erode the safety and well-being of our community."
DeSantis also knocked Warren for instituting "policies of quote ‘presumptive nonenforcement’" regarding certain laws, and said Warren signed a letter "saying he would not enforce any laws relating to protecting the right to life in the state of Florida."
Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June to undo Roe v. Wade, Warren joined dozens of state prosecutors nationwide in saying they would not pursue criminal charges against women seeking abortions.
“Not all of us agree on a personal or moral level on the issue of abortion. But we stand together in our firm belief that prosecutors have a responsibility to refrain from using limited criminal legal system resources to criminalize personal medical decisions,” according to the June 24 letter.
State Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, defended Warren's position on abortion law.
"To suspend him because he won't criminalize a women's right to choose is unconscionable," Cruz tweeted. "Shame on you Governor, may the women in this state speak out in November."
Abortion opponents applauded DeSantis for ousting Warren.
“Governor DeSantis’ aggressive action sends the message to other rogue state attorneys throughout Florida that they are duty-bound to enforce all of Florida’s laws — and if they do not, they will find themselves out of a job just like Warren,” said Florida Voice for the Unborn Executive Director Andrew Shirvell.
Ultimately, the Florida Senate has the exclusive responsibility to sit in judgment of the merits of a governor's suspension, under the state constitution. Warren's fate will be decided by senators, who can remove him or order his reinstatement, action not likely to occur until after the November elections.
Contributing: John Kennedy and Kathryn Varn, The Tallahassee Democrat
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspends state attorney for being 'woke'