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Moms for Liberty co-founder grilled by Florida lawmakers about state ethics post

Moms for Liberty founders Tiffany Justice (left) and Tina Descovich present the Liberty Sword to Florida Gov, Ron DeSantis before he speaks during the inaugural Moms For Liberty Summit at the Tampa Marriott Water Street on July 15, 2022, in Tampa, Florida. (Octavio Jones/Getty Images/TNS)

Tina Descovich, the co-founder of the right-wing advocacy group Moms for Liberty, on Monday pushed back against accusations of political bias and conflicts of interest as she gets one step closer to being confirmed as a state ethics officer by the Florida Senate.

Descovich — who Gov. Ron DeSantis picked to serve on the Florida Commission on Ethics — faced questions from Democrats on how her association with the conservative group, her public statements on issues such as gender and critical race theory and her close ties to DeSantis would impact her ability to remain neutral on state ethics cases.

“I think my role with Moms for Liberty, I look at it as completely separate from the ethics commission,” Descovich told the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee as she was grilled about potential conflicts of interest due to her organization’s involvement in endorsing school board candidates and polarizing education policies in Florida and other parts of the country.

During questioning, Descovich acknowledged there would be a “public perception” issue if there were to be an ethics violation complaint against Bridget Ziegler, a founding member of the group who today serves as a school board member in Sarasota and a board member in DeSantis’ Walt Disney World oversight board. Descovich said she would also recuse herself if an ethics complaint were to be filed against Jennifer Jenkins, the Democrat who beat her in a Brevard School Board race in 2020.

She also insisted that she would be able to “rise above politics,” while vowing that her political affiliations, her personal disagreement with using gender-neutral pronouns and stances on policy would not skew the decision to hold politicians accountable.

“I respect that I come with some concerns if you read things about me … or you don’t agree with me politically in some areas,” she said. “But I can promise you this: I will be fair, I will be just, I will work with my teammates in the commission and you can speak to anyone that knows me and has served with me on the school board — left, right, Republican, Democrat — and they will all tell you the same thing.”

Sen. Tina Polksy, D-Boca Raton, was skeptical. She said appointing Descovich would be the same as picking the founder of Black Lives Matter or Equality Florida, two left-leaning groups, to serve on the ethics commission.

“Moms for Liberty is that for half the state,” Polsky said. “They are as political, as divisive and they have wormed their way into the top echelons of this government.”

“To say she can separate herself from that is not possible, and if it is possible it certainly has an awful perception,” Polsky added.

Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, said he was concerned about how Descovich would act in cases involving non-binary individuals.

He asked her about a post on X, in which Descovich said “People have been pretend dying in Florida for many years” with the crying emoji to comment on transgender individuals protesting a state policy that would no longer let them change their gender on their driver’s license. Rouson also asked about a comment she made about refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns.

“The point of my tweet was in my personal life, it seems more and more people are asking to be called a man if they are a woman especially with children, and the absurdity of a singular human being wanting to be called a they is just too far for me,” she said. “Saying that you are multiple people when you are a singular person is concerning.”

Polksy wondered how those views would impact her ability to judge a case in which an elected official was accused of violating Florida law that restricts Florida school employees from calling students by pronouns that were not assigned to them at birth.

Descovich said she would rule following the guidance of counsel. When addressing individuals, she said she would use their names and avoid the use of pronouns in order to avoid any issues

Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Melbourne, defended Descovich, saying “someone of her caliber” ought to serve in the position.

“Yes, she is involved in Moms for Liberty, but I also know her as a person of integrity and I don’t believe that she would do anything to harm this process when it comes to the ethics commission,” Mayfield said.

DeSantis appointed Descovich to the ethics post in September of last year, but she ultimately needs Senate confirmation to continue serving.

After about an hour of back and forth between Descovich and the Senate panel, the Republican majority voted to recommend her confirmation, which will now be considered by the full Florida Senate.

The three Democrats on the panel — Polksy, Rouson and Sen. Bobby Powell, of West Palm Beach — voted against it.


© 2024 Miami Herald

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