Moms for Liberty co-founder Tina Descovich speaks June 30, 2023, at the group's meeting in Philadelphia.Moms for Liberty co-founder Tina Descovich speaks June 30, 2023, at the group's meeting in Philadelphia.
Moms for Liberty co-founder Tina Descovich speaks June 30, 2023, at the group's meeting in Philadelphia. | Matt Rourke, AP

Moms for Liberty co-founder appointed to ethics panel

Published on September 6, 2023 at 3:36 pm

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday appointed a co-founder of the group Moms for Liberty and a South Florida-based attorney to seats on the Florida Commission on Ethics, replacing the board’s former chairman and a member whose term expired.

Tina Descovich, a former Brevard County School Board member who helped found the prominent conservative group Moms for Liberty, said in a statement that she was honored to be named to “this important statewide commission.”

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“The Florida ethics commission is charged with serving as the guardian of the standards of conduct for public officers and employees as well as safeguarding public trust. It will be a privilege to serve the state I love as a member of this commission,” Descovich said.

DeSantis spoke at Moms For Liberty “summit” events in Tampa and Philadelphia in 2022 and 2023, respectively, and was a guest on the group’s “Joyful Warriors” podcast in July, where he discussed his campaign for president.

Moms for Liberty has been a major player in controversies about attempts to remove or review books at schools. Moms for Liberty contends it is trying to prevent children from having access to adult-oriented books and material, but critics have accused the group of book banning.

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Among other questions, the ethics commission soon will consider whether former Jacksonville City Councilwoman Randy DeFoor can serve as the city’s general counsel. The City Council and mayor’s office both have asked the commission whether DeFoor’s appointment would conflict with a state law that restricts former council members from lobbying people or entities before City Council for two years.

Democrats immediately objected to Descovich’s appointment to the commission.

Jennifer Jenkins, a Brevard County School Board member who appeared with Democratic Party officials in July 2022 during the same weekend as the Moms for Liberty summit in Tampa, criticized the governor’s pick.

“Qualifications include: losing an incumbent school board seat & creating a nationally recognized hate group,” Jenkins said in a tweet, referring to the Southern Poverty Law Center labeling Moms for Liberty as an “antigovernment organization.”

Moms for Liberty is “exploring every legal option” to “hold the (Southern Poverty Law Center) accountable,” Moms for Liberty co-founder Tiffany Justice told The Wall Street Journal in a recent interview.

The other DeSantis appointee to the ethics commission is Luis Fuste, a founding partner at Fuste Law, PA. The firm’s website said he has a focus on “representation of labor organizations, employees, and small-to-medium-sized businesses” and has served on the Miami-Dade Police Department’s legal unit and as assistant general counsel for the South Florida Police Benevolent Association.

Fuste in January also was appointed by DeSantis to the state Board of Chiropractic Medicine.

The ethics commission appointments ultimately will need approval from the Florida Senate.

Former commission Chairman Glen Gilzean resigned from the role Aug. 22. Gilzean holds a $400,000-per-year job as administrator of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, a revamped special district that includes Walt Disney World properties. Gilzean left his unpaid position on the ethics panel after a lawyer for the commission wrote that it would be “inconsistent” with state law for Gilzean to hold both roles simultaneously.

The other open commission seat had been held by Jim Waldman, a former Democratic state lawmaker from Coconut Creek. Waldman’s term on the commission expired in June, but he continued serving until a replacement was named.

A spokeswoman for the ethics commission told The News Service of Florida that Descovich and Fuste became members of the commission immediately. They joined the board two days before a high-profile meeting in which the commission will consider dropping an ethics complaint against former state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

The ethics commission in 2018 launched a probe of Latvala after allegations of sexual harassment. Latvala has fought the allegations.

Information from Jacksonville Today reporter Casmira Harrison was used in this report.

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