One Republican senator who was granted anonymity to speak freely said that there was bad blood between Simpson and DeSantis. It will likely work out in the end, but they are not in a good place right now.

The feuds are surprising because the GOP-controlled Legislature has helped pass the legislative priorities of the governor, and many expected this year would be no different. The first three years as governor were marked by few obstacles from Republican leadership eager to hand him legislative wins and fuel a national rise that has him on the short list of possible presidential hopefuls. With just three weeks left in the state's legislative session, time is growing short for the two sides to hammer out differences.

Even as it lobbied conservative groups to attack Simpson and released public statements critical of the Senate president's newly emerging budget priorities, the office would not respond to questions about tensions with the Senate.

Taryn Fenske, the governor's communications director, said that the governor's office continues to work in close cooperation with the Legislature.

Antagonistic tactics

Over the past week the disagreements have spilled out into public view, but much of the tension has been behind the scenes. The Florida Legislature has a long-standing tradition of downplaying party differences and few lawmakers are willing to discuss them publicly.

While there have been few disagreements between the Legislature and the governor in recent years, one former Republican Senate president said that it is customary to have some disagreements.

Our state is too diverse and the issues are too complex to expect that every Republican or Democrat will agree on everything, says former Florida Senate President Tom Lee.

The most direct attack came in early January, when his top staffers began lobbying conservative groups to hit Simpson over his opposition to the Paycheck Protection Act. Automatic deduction of union dues from an employee's paycheck is banned by legislation. The proposal has been approved by the Florida House for a long time. This year, he tried to get the conservative groups to pressure Simpson.

The chief of staff, James Uthmeier, and the governor's legislative affairs director started calling national conservative groups shortly after. The person who declined to speak on the record was afraid of reprisals from the governor and Simpson.

Simpson was unaware that the governor's office was making calls.

Florida Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls (right) and Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson (left) applaud as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses a joint session of the Legislature.

Florida Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls, right, and Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson, left, applaud as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses a joint session of the Legislature on Jan. 11, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla. | Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Photo

They want this bill and reached out to stakeholders asking them to make a lot of noise in order to get it up.

The following week, Club for Growth announced it was spending $75,000 on TV and digital ads and mailers in Simpson's central Florida district asking voters to call him and urge the Senate to hear the bill now.

The Club for Growth supports the Paycheck Protection bill and hopes that Senator Simpson will do the same, said Joe Kildea, the group's vice president of communications.

Simpson told reporters last week that the bill's chances of passing his chamber this session are pretty bleak, and that the ads did little more than annoy him.

Simpson said that the Club for Growth ads were the same for everyone in the room.

The legislative process in Florida is used to mutually-respectable deal-making and shared victories rather than the win-at-all-cost mentality that plays well in conservative political circles.

Uthmeier was elevated to chief of staff. As the top attorney in the administration, Uthmeier oversaw the legal strategy as it attempted to use the courts to achieve wins in culture war issues.

One veteran Republican said that the governor has lost a lot of institutional knowledge when he got his new chief of staff. It seems like James Uthmeier doesn't understand that much and thinks everyone is on his pace.

Those types of internal gripes have been going on for a while. They burst out publicly last week when the Senate tied a controversial water bill championed by Simpson to a huge chunk of the Senate's budget. The issue immediately became a point of contention with DeSantis, who has policy and political motives to oppose the measure because it is supported by the state's powerful sugar industry, a long-time political foe.

The South Florida Water Management District was required to certify that recommendations to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers do not reduce the water supply available to existing users. Sugar companies need water from Lake Okeechobee even when the water levels are low.

The proposal could affect restoration efforts. He was critical because the issue was injected late in the process and his administration was not involved.

The bill is being rammed through the budget process, short-circuiting public engagement and leaving affected agencies in the dark.

Simpson issued his own statement backing the plan, which Senate supporters say is being misinterpreted by opponents.

Simpson said in his statement that the Senate bill does not reverse or hinder the restoration of the Everglades.

The Senate late Wednesday night filed an amendment that made some concessions to the office of the governor.

The two sides are not yet on the same page, even after the amendment was filed, according to Fenske.

She said that they are reviewing the amendment.

The mid-legislative session public spat between two of the state's most powerful Republicans drew immediate attention because such displays have been so rare during Ron DeSantis' first few years in office.

When you have a strong leadership team, there are some healthy discussions on differing priorities, but the ability of the governor, Senate president, and speaker to collaborate is unprecedented.

Ahead of a big election cycle that will see Simpson make a statewide bid for agriculture commissioner, the feud came about. Simpson has been endorsed by Trump, but the Senate president has yet to get the approval of another popular Republican, Ron DeSantis. A Mason-Dixon poll had his approval rating at 53 percent, but it jumped to 89 percent with Republicans.

More than policy fights

The water policy fight has become a point of contention between the two sides. The Senate's budget ignores some of the top priorities.

The Florida House and Senate have not yet decided how to distribute the federal money. There is no clarity on top priorities like a $1 billion gas tax cut and huge teacher and law enforcement pay increases. The House has created a $2 billion fund that the governor can use to offset costs related to price inflation. Inflation has become a point of political emphasis for Republicans as the Biden administration struggles to rein in increasing costs.

The governor praised the House for trying to punish school districts that disobeyed his ban on mask mandates for students. He thanked House Speaker Chris Sprowls and the chamber's top education budget writer, Randy Fine.

As the end of session approaches with huge budget and policy priorities left unresolved, the Senate has not yet extended a similar public olive branch.

The relationship is strained. One GOP consultant who has worked with both sides said that the Senate underestimates the power of the governor.

The once-a-decade redistricting process has been at odds with the senators. The congressional map approved by the Senate was not aggressive enough for the GOP. The governor's office took the unprecedented step of drafting its own congressional map, which irked some legislative leaders who are used to leading the process.

The Senate ignored DeSantis’ map, in part because it would break up Rep. Al Lawson ’s (D-Fla.) 5th Congressional District, a north Florida seat that has long allowed Black residents to elect a candidate of their choosing. In what also amounts to a high-profile loss for the governor, the conservative-leaning Florida Supreme Court last week denied his request for an opinion about whether he could break up the seat.

Simpson was asked by reporters how he would describe his relationship with DeSantis.

I think it is strong. Simpson said that the governor did a great job leading us through the Pandemic.

Simpson said that the judiciary did its part today.