DeSantis appoints Moms for Liberty co-founder to state ethics commission

South Florida Sun Sentinel | By Leslie Postal | Updated September 7, 2023 

A co-founder of Moms for Liberty, the controversial parent group known for fighting mask mandates and pushing book bans in public schools, was appointed Wednesday to the Florida Commission on Ethics by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Tina Descovich was one of two people DeSantis appointed Wednesday to the nine-member commission, which serves as “the guardian of conduct for officers and employees of Florida and its political subdivisions.” The commission investigates complaints of “breach of the public trust by public officers and employees.”

The commission faced its own ethics controversy this summer, however, when Glen Gilzean, its then chairman, was found to be wrongly holding that position after accepting a $400,000-a-year job leading DeSantis’ Disney World oversight district. Commission members, who are not paid, cannot hold “public employment.” Gilzean, who was hired by the Disney district in May, resigned from the commission on Aug. 22.

Descovich was elected to the Brevard County School Board in 2016 and served one term before being defeated by a challenger. In early 2021, she helped found Moms for Liberty with two other conservative women, who were on or had been on Florida school boards.

“It will be a privilege to serve the state I love as a member of this commission,” Descovich wrote on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, on Wednesday.

DeSantis announced Descovich’s appointment in a press release that did not say why he wanted her on the commission.

Stephana Ferrell, a founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, which was created to fight book bans and oppose some of the Moms group’s efforts, said Descovich’s appointment makes “a mockery of the state government.”

DeSantis should not appoint “people to positions of power that put their own political interests above the people of this state — in this case, appointing a leader of a special interest group to a Commission on Ethics,” said Ferrell, an Orange County mother, via email. “It’s a fox guarding the hen house, and Floridians should not accept it.”

The pandemic and public schools’ embrace of face mask requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic galvanized many of Moms for Liberty’s first members, who began protesting the mask rules and showing up at school board meetings wearing T-shirts that read, “We do not co-parent with the government.”

But the group, which became aligned with DeSantis and other Florida Republican leaders, soon turned toward the broader issue of “parents’ rights,” focusing on books it viewed as “pornographic” and academic lessons it did not like, including those that focused on racism or LGBTQ issues.

Moms for Liberty chapters across the state have pushed for books to be yanked from public schools, though group leaders say they are just trying to make sure the books are appropriate for children.

The group of “joyful warriors,” as members refer to themselves, has become a national movement since its founding, attracting nearly 700 attendees, and both DeSantis and former President Donald Trump, to its conference in Philadelphia this summer.

Moms for Liberty has also faced criticism from those who say it has outsized influence and peddles hateful views. In its annual “year in hate” review, the Southern Poverty Law Center called Moms for Liberty an extremist anti-governmental group — a designation the group refuted and used as a fundraising tactic, telling its followers to “Show the Southern Poverty Law Center that you STAND WITH MOMS.”

Descovich’s appointment to the commission must be approved by the Florida Senate. DeSantis also appointed Luis Fuste, a South Florida attorney, to the commission on Wednesday. There were two openings after Gilzean’s resignation and another member’s two-year term ended.

DeSantis gets to appoint five of the nine commission members and only three can be from the same party. The Senate President and the House Speaker each get two appointments and can name only one person from any party.

The commission also includes a paid staff of about 25, people who investigate complaints of ethics violations.

Its next meeting is Friday and includes a case from Orange County where a former clerk of court employee was accused of improperly accepting severance payments while still working.

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