The Paradise Progressive is an effort to cover, analyze and comment on news affecting the Paradise Coast of Southwest Florida that is overlooked, ignored or avoided by local traditional media. It does this to fulfill the role of a free and independent press in a democratic republic.
As the Washington Post states: “Democracy dies in darkness.” But we say: “Liberty lives in light.” Our goal is to shine a light as best we can to dispel the darkness.
The Paradise Progressive is not affiliated with any political party or organization. It was begun on Dec. 20, 2018. To search past articles, google “Paradise Progressive” with your search terms.
The demonstration at the outset of the event. (All photos: Author)
Oct. 2, 2021 by David Silverberg
On a day of national demonstrations in favor of the right of women to choose abortion, Naples, Fla., was treated to an unusually raucous and contentious rally by pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates.
There were no arrests, although individuals, particularly anti-abortionists, while staying non-violent, became aggressive at times. Demonstrators shouted dueling chants and anti-abortionists attempted to drown out scheduled pro-choice speakers.
The demonstration took place in front of the Collier County courthouse in the county government center at Airport Pulling Rd. and Route 41 and then moved to the sidewalk along Airport Pulling Rd.
At the scheduled start of the demonstration at 10 am, there were about 100 pro-choice demonstrators and 22 anti-abortion demonstrators present. Although the numbers swelled during the next two hours, the ratio of abortion opponents to supporters remained about the same. At its height perhaps a total of 300 to 400 people were in the crowd.
There was no separation between the demonstrators and police made no effort to keep them apart. According to one Collier County sheriff’s deputy, in the public space police were not authorized to keep the competing parties apart or intervene unless a crime was actively committed. Nor was a permit required for the “Mobilize and Defend Our Reproductive Rights” rally, so there was no need to enforce a permit’s requirements.
The effort by farmer and grocer Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III to press Gov. Ron DeSantis to audit and overturn the results of the 2020 election in Florida is drawing fire from another extreme conservative activist, Christy McLaughlin.
In a Sept. 16 letter to DeSantis Oakes requested two hours in person with the governor to present his evidence of 2020 election fraud in Florida. He believes the election was invalid even though the governor held it up as a model election and Republicans swept the full slate of candidates. In an appearance on the Alex Jones online “InfoWars” show, Oakes offered the governor a $100,000 campaign contribution if he would hold the meeting.
That specific a quid pro quo in return for that specific a sum as an individual contribution has raised questions about its legality and whether it could constitute a bribe.
That was the argument made by Christy McLaughlin, a former Republican congressional primary candidate and far right political activist based in Ave Maria.
“Florida had the best run election in the country in 2020, and the best run election our state as ever had in history all thanks to Governor Ron DeSantis,” said McLaughlin.
“Anyone that tries to undermine our Governor is against the Republican Party, against our state, and against people’s freedom. Offering a $100,000 donation to DeSantis so long as he ‘entertains’ the idea of auditing Florida’s 2020 election undermines Governor DeSantis and puts his reelection at risk. Alfie Oakes has created a distraction that only promotes his interests and hurts Governor DeSantis,” she said.
McLaughlin argued that if DeSantis doesn’t audit the election then Oakes is rallying his supporters against the governor; if he does audit the election he can be accused of accepting a bribe and damaging his re-election chances.
“Republicans in Collier County have become numb to Oakes’ hyperboles such as saying he would rather inject his children with heroine than give them the vaccine, obviously he would never do that to his children, however, when he is essentially attacking the Governor by putting him in this impossible decision, he is hurting the Republican Party and the State of Florida. Though this may be political theater for Oakes, his actions have some serious consequences.”
The only reasons to audit an election are to initiate reforms for the future or overturn an election, argued McLaughlin.
“Florida delivered a win for President Trump, and we had a majority of conservatives win local, state and Federal elections in our state. Why would anyone be seeking to overturn that?” she asked. Given the job DeSantis has done, “we need to support him, not challenge him and question his leadership. Most importantly people shouldn’t try to buy a Governor’s compliance with a $100,000 donation. I have Florida’s interests in mind, and I back true patriots like Governor Ron DeSantis.”
Oakes responded with a 1,272-word reply to the post delivered by lawyer Jim Boatman.
“I am very saddened by the juvenile and extremely uneducated remarks made by Christy McLaughlin,” stated the reply.
Oakes immediately questioned McLaughlin’s motivations and launched personal attacks against her.
“1. Could Christy have been paid by establishment Republicans or Democrats in an effort to conceal the massive voter fraud effort in our State and Country?” he asked.
“2. Could she be planning on running for some political office just trying to draw attention to herself? I did hear through the grapevine that she just failed the Florida bar for the second time, if this is so, is it possible she’s just in a really bad mood and is lashing out in frustration of the fact that she can’t get a job as an attorney and is now focusing on a political career?
“3. Or is it just an immature attempt for attention with little or NO thought at all?”
Oakes related that he’d been sitting through Republican executive committee meetings “where she acted in a very emotional immature and combative manner toward her fellow executive board members.” Oakes said he had never encountered such “irrational non-productive behavior” in an employee and would never hire her.
Regarding her allegation that the donation might constitute a bribe, he stated: “Yes Christy you caught me ….with your stellar instincts that every 25 year old possesses…I’m going to offer a bribe on public radio and TV to the governor to thereby get him and myself thrown in jail ..no words to describe this level of ignorance….The reality is I offered to donate $100,000 to any PAC gov. Ron DeSantis chooses as a token of my appreciation for attending a meeting with me to explain my election fraud findings and thank him for everything he has done for our state.”
He took umbrage at her statement that he would never inject his children with heroin. On the contrary, “I swear with my life, my fortune and my sacred honor that I would [emphasis ours] shoot heroin into my children’s arms without hesitation if given a choice between heroin and this experimental RNA altering vaccine (at least I know what heroin is).”
He also argued that DeSantis must audit the 2020 election in Florida: “in fact if he does NOT dig into this election fraud he will most certainly lose to Charlie Christ or even worse Nikki Fried.” Oakes stated that he had spent “hundreds of hours” on Florida election fraud and found possibly 900,000 stolen votes, penetration of all 67 Florida counties and Chinese hacking of Florida computer systems.
“Christy alleges with certainty that she is aware that Gov. Ron DeSantis is aware of the voter fraud in Florida” he wrote. “Well I guess Christie you must be much closer to gov. Ron DeSantis than his own chief of staff. In speaking with Adrian Lucas (chief of staff to the governor) yesterday he thanked me for the admirable work that I have been doing to prove election fraud in Florida and could not wait for the governor to see the findings we have uncovered,” [sic, as posted].
He denied being motivated by any financial gain and disputed that Collier County Republicans had become numb to his hyperboles “when in fact I have hundreds of people every day thanking me for articulating exactly what they are thinking and taking the bold position to stand strong for them.”
Oakes concluded: “I am praying for your wisdom Christy…”
Mimi Lamb remembers the moment the idea came to her.
“There was a young lady who was looking for a service person in one of the Democratic chat groups,” she recalls. The woman was seeking a reliable handyperson whom she could allow into her home who was also a Democrat.
But in an overwhelmingly conservative area where many businesses are vocally and conspicuously defying COVID precautions and opposing vaccinations, her quest wasn’t just a political statement; she was also looking for someone who could be trusted to keep her safe by following anti-COVID guidelines and practices.
“I said, ‘That’s it!’” Lamb related. Inspiration had struck. On Facebook Lamb started a poll of people who were similarly looking for Democratic vendors. She learned that people were especially seeking dependable physicians, healthcare providers and beauty salons where customers could be assured of friendly service, sympathetic views and hygienic practices.
Beverly Lamb, known to her five grandchildren and the rest of the world as Mimi, has followed a political journey taken by many people who feel the need to find a new political home. “It’s been a journey of discovery of what works, what matters to me,” she said of her exploration of the political spectrum.
Originally from Pennsylvania, she started her political life as a Republican. However, she voted for Bill Clinton in 1992.
But voting for Clinton didn’t make her a Democrat and she disagreed with aspects of the Clinton presidency. “It’s like you don’t get enough of what you want for Christmas,” she says of her initial apostasy and then disillusionment.
She became an independent.
At the same time her political journey was accompanied by a physical move from Pennsylvania to Florida, initially to Orlando and then Miami. Her son-in-law was in the military and so she followed him and one of her two daughters on their different assignments, moving steadily southward before arriving in Fort Myers in 2004.
She switched her party affiliation to Democratic in 2014. But then, in 2016, “Trump lit a fire under me,” she says. She became not just a Democrat but a committed activist.
“I just got really involved as a Democrat,” she related to The Paradise Progressive. During the 2020 election campaign, “We were seeing all these Trump signs and flags but no one was marching on the other side. People were too afraid.”
Teaming up with another local activist whom she met online, she began organizing people to hold pro-Democratic signs and wave flags on Fort Myers street corners.
“We started marching and got other people to march,” she said. Initially they attracted around 15 people but with each event that grew until they were joined by 40 or 50 people.
“The first time, we faced a lot of threats and had to get police protection,” she says. Angry opponents told her: “We know who you are and know where you live.”
But she persisted.
After the election, she initially became involved in Facebook when she wanted to post pictures of her grandchildren. But as she explored the platform she became aware of people seeking assistance.
“Every other week I’d see someone asking for help,” she related. “They’d need a handyman or someone to put down sod but they’d say, ‘I don’t know who to ask for.’”
Political affiliations could usually be determined for big corporations and companies. But that wasn’t the case with small businesses, independent contractors and local service providers.
What was more, she became aware of a Republican Facebook group called Boycott Democrat Businesses. As of this writing it has only 37 members and its location is unclear. It sees Democratic businesses as enemies and was created the day Joe Biden was declared the election winner, Nov. 7, 2020.
A self-employed independent contractor who specializes in marketing educational software, Lamb is still professionally active and works remotely. Her new Facebook project is more than a hobby but less than a full-time occupation.
She reached out to a group supporting Democratic businesses operating in the Orlando area for ideas but has not yet heard back.
She emphasizes that the local Democrat Owned Businesses Facebook group is not against anyone.
“This should be a positive environment where we can support each other, not stress each other out,” she states in the “About” section.
“This is a place for Democrats to find local businesses led and operated by Democrats. Acceptable posts: Businesses promoting their products or services, Customers searching for referrals, general public recommending a Democratic- owned business.”
It warns that negative posts will be removed: no business bashing, political ranting or political posturing is allowed.
At this time the group does not list any businesses—and that’s deliberate.
“I recognize there is some risk in sharing info about Dem-led businesses,” it states. “We live in a very ‘red’ area of the state. That is likely why there has not been a group like this for our area until now. And that is why this page is private. We will make every reasonable effort to protect Dem-led businesses here and admins caution you not to share that information publicly.”
It continues: “I recommend you invite any Dem-led businesses you patronize to join our group so they can make that decision [to go public] for themselves, and ask their permission first before sharing them with the group.”
Right now, Lamb is scrupulously vetting applicants who want to join the group. Anyone wishing to join must fill out a questionnaire and be approved. It takes time. “Please be patient with admin activities while I get this up and running, as I work a full-time job and may not always be able to respond immediately,” she states.
Writing from a personal perspective, Lamb writes on the page: “I am a businesswoman myself; I’ve owned or operated several companies in the past, and I always strove to serve everyone with the same grace and dignity. I expect any Dem-led business who joins our group will want to do the same.”
Right now, Lamb is cautiously finding her way forward, experimenting with what works and what does not and adapting the group to the needs of Southwest Florida.
“I would really like for this to be a very positive and safe place,” she told The Paradise Progressive. “If it becomes uncomfortable, I won’t do it.”
Do you think you can draw better political maps than the state legislators in Tallahassee?
Now you can get your chance.
A new website, Florida Redistricting, launched Monday, Sept. 20, gives anyone who cares to use it the opportunity to recommend re-jiggering the state’s political boundaries based on 2020 Census data.
It’s a remarkable experiment in citizen participation and a striking change from past redistricting done in dark, smoke-filled rooms out of public sight.
Of course, while citizens can make plenty of suggestions it will be the legislature that finally decides how the maps will be drawn.
Still, for a state that has increasingly pulled the curtain on its vaunted principles of sunshine in government, it is an exceptional departure from the past. It brings a bit of light to a process that is unglamorous but essential—and determines the partisan balance of power for the decade to come.
Redistricting actually consists of two processes: redistricting (redrawing district lines) and reapportionment (redistributing congressional seats among the states).
Next year Florida gets one new seat in Congress based on its increase in population since 2010. That new district is expected to be in the high-growth area of Orlando or somewhere along the I-4 corridor.
Traditionally, redistricting is colloquially known as the process whereby politicians choose their voters, so voters will likely choose them at election time. It has been manipulated since the beginning of the American republic—and even before, in colonial times. In 1812 it gave rise to the term “gerrymander” after Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry so manipulated the state’s district maps to his political advantage that what emerged was a salamander-like creature immortalized in a newspaper cartoon.
Republicans have been past masters of drawing lines to favor their party. This was highlighted in January 2020, after the death of Republican redistricting consultant Thomas Hofeller. His daughter Stephanie made public the contents of four external hard drives and 18 thumb drives from her father’s office, revealing his detailed gerrymandering work. While he was based in North Carolina, he had clients all over the country and participated in Florida’s redistricting.
In 2010 two constitutional amendments, 5 and 6, were on the ballot in Florida. Amendment 5 covered legislative districts, amendment 6 covered congressional districts and both were known as the Fair Districts Amendments.
Both amendments required that: “districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.”
In the 2010 election both amendments passed with 63 percent of the vote, despite vehement opposition from the state’s Republican lawmakers. (Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) joined a lawsuit to block their implementation, which failed.)
Despite the amendments, Florida’s 2010 maps were drawn by consultants and political operatives who maneuvered behind the scenes to push Republican dominance. The lines were so elaborately gerrymandered when the maps were revealed that fair districts supporters sued to overturn them.
A “group of Republican political consultants did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process,” ruled Judge Terry Lewis of the 2nd Judicial Circuit in 2014. “They made a mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting” and “went to great lengths to conceal from the public their plan,” and “managed to taint the redistricting process and the resulting map with improper partisan intent.”
It took five years of litigation to finally end the disputes, during which two elections took place.
This year state Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Estero), who heads the state Senate’s reapportionment committee, is promising that the process will be open, fair and transparent and meet both the spirit and letter of Florida’s Fair Districts Amendments.
“We are taking steps to safeguard against the kind of shadow process that occurred in the last cycle,” Rodrigues said during the first meeting of his committee on Monday, Sept. 20. “We will protect our process against the ‘astroturfing’ that occurred in the past, where partisan political operatives from both parties wrote scripts and recruited speakers to advocate for certain plans or district configurations to create a false impression of a widespread grassroots movement.”
He added: “Fortunately, we now have the insight into both the judiciary’s expanded scope of review, and how courts have interpreted and applied the constitutional standards related to redistricting. I intend for this committee to conduct the process in a manner that is consistent with case law that developed during the last decade that is beyond reproach and free from any hint of unconstitutional intent.”
How they break down
According to the 2020 Census, Florida gained 2,736,877 people over the last ten years and now has a population of 21,538,187.
In Southwest Florida, Lee County gained 142,068 residents, reaching a population of 760,822. Collier County gained 54,232 people to reach a total population of 375,752. Charlotte County gained 26,869 people to reach a total of 186,847.
The redistricting effort will try to bring the new districts into line with ideal population levels while meeting Fair Districting criteria. Since all of Southwest Florida gained population above the ideal, most—but not all—its districts are considered “overpopulated.”
Ideally, each Florida congressional district should have 769,221 people in it, a gain of 72,876 from last time.
According to the data from FloridaRedistricting.gov, in Southwest Florida the current congressional districts break down as follows:
District 17: With a total population of 779,955 people, it has 10,734 or .014 percent people more than the ideal number.
District 19: With a total population of 835,012 people, it has 65,791 or .086 percent more people than the ideal number.
District 25: With a total population of 771,434 people, it has 2,213 or .003 percent more people than the ideal number.
Once in, users can fiddle with the maps to their heart’s content and send recommendations to the legislature.
It’s a remarkable innovation in participatory democracy. Time, however, is of the essence. The legislative redistricting session convenes on Jan. 11 of next year and it must complete its work by the time it adjourns on March 11. Without a doubt, it will be a contentious session.
After that, there will presumably be newly-drawn districts. By June 11, candidates will qualify to run for office. Then the party primaries will take place on Aug. 23 and the general election on Nov. 8.
Can this experiment in popular participation actually result in fairly drawn, politically neutral boundaries?
Obviously, it remains to be seen. In 2010 the Fair Districting Amendments passed overwhelmingly but the maps that came out were gerrymandered anyway. Florida always seems to have a way of ignoring or circumventing its most popular constitutional amendments.
Coming out of the gate, though, Rodrigues’ intentions seem good if his words are taken at face value.
If this experiment works Florida could become a national model of fair districting. This time, if citizens are alert, engaged and determined, maybe—just maybe—Florida for once might abide by its own constitution and put to rest the gerrymander, or, in this case, the Republigator.
The US House of Representatives today passed the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 3755) permitting health care professionals to provide abortions, by a vote of 218 to 211.
The bill, introduced in June by Rep. Judy Chu (D-27-Calif.), effectively codifies the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in legislation by making abortion legal nationally.
All of Southwest Florida’s congressional representatives voted against measure, along with the rest of the Republican caucus.
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-28-Texas) was the only Democrat to break ranks and vote against the bill.
“Today, Nancy Pelosi is bringing the most radical pro-abortion legislation ever for a vote,” tweeted Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who has long characterized himself as anti-abortion. “This indefensible bill would remove every protection for the unborn and would allow taxpayer-funded abortions up until birth. I’m proudly standing for life and voting NO.”
As of this writing, neither Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) nor Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) had issued statements explaining their votes.
House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) urged passage of the bill in a speech from the House floor.
“This is the first time…that we have a pro-choice Democratic [Majority] with a Democratic president,” she said. “And the timing could not be better, because of the assault that has been made on the constitutional rights of women in our country.”
She stated the Texas law effectively banning abortions “unleashes one of the most disturbing, unprecedented, far-reaching assaults on health care providers and on anyone who helps a woman in any way access an abortion, by creating a vigilante bounty system that will have a chilling effect on the provisions of any health care services. And what’s next? What’s next with these vigilantes and their bounty system?”
On Wednesday, Sept. 22, Florida state Rep. Webster Barnaby (R-27-Volusia County) introduced House Bill 167 in the Florida House of Representatives to follow Texas’ lead in restricting abortions.
HR 3755 now goes to the US Senate, where passage is uncertain.
The fight over women’s reproductive rights in Florida was joined yesterday, Sept. 22, when state House Bill (HB) 167, a Florida version of the Texas abortion prohibition law, was filed by Rep. Webster Barnaby (R-27-Volusia County) at 9:14 am.
As the bill’s summary states, it: “Requires physician to conduct test for, & inform woman seeking abortion of, presence of detectable fetal heartbeat; prohibits physician from performing or inducing abortion if fetal heartbeat is detected or if physician fails to conduct test to detect fetal heartbeat; provides exceptions; authorizes private civil cause of action for certain violations; provides for civil remedies & damages.”
Oddly, while the introduction caused an immediate storm of protest from pro-choice activists and Democrats, Barnaby himself was silent about the bill, neither issuing a statement explaining his action nor posting any comment on his social media platforms.
Pro-choice groups around the country were already organizing for a National Day of Action to Mobilize and Defend Reproductive Rights on Saturday, Oct. 2. In Florida, the group Florida Reproductive Freedom is organizing rallies in 13 cities throughout the state.
In Collier County a coalition of groups has called for a major demonstration at the Collier County Courthouse in Naples that Saturday, Oct. 2, at 10 am for two hours. (Full disclosure: The Paradise Progressive is a sponsor.)
The demonstration is intended to get elected officials to commit to reproductive freedom.
Scheduled speakers include Stephanie Fraim, chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida; Corrie Vega, a Collier County public school teacher and Rev. Tony Fisher of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Naples.
Angela Cisneros, co-founder of Collier NOW (National Organization for Women) and a scheduled speaker, stated: “We all desire to live a safe and healthy life, free to pursue our own paths. However, the types of bans passed in Texas and currently being framed here in Florida are in direct opposition to that premise. An abortion ban would be especially detrimental to those of us from communities with few resources that already face barriers to basic healthcare.”
State Senate prospects
The Florida Senate’s president, Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-10-Citrus and Hernando counties), may introduce similar legislation in that body.
Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Collier County), the Senate Majority Leader and a possible Senate president in 2022, told Florida Politics after the Supreme Court let stand the Texas law that she is “pro-life but I am not pro-telling on your neighbors.”
Passidomo said in a speech to the Argus Foundation in Sarasota that she does not favor an exact “cut-and-paste” of the Texas law for Florida.
“There are provisions in there that don’t make sense,” she said. “We need to do what’s right for Florida.”
Passidomo stressed, however, that she is an anti-abortion legislator.
UPDATED Sept. 22, 2021 with new information about campaign contribution offer.
Southwest Florida’s lawyers have been busy on the political front this month.
In the case of Casey Askar versus Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), there having been no resolution of the case, a jury trial is scheduled for 9:00 am, next May 18.
To recap: This is a case of defamation and libel. Casey Askar was a Republican primary candidate for Congress last year, running against Donalds, who ultimately won the race.
On primary election day, Aug. 18, a text message was sent to Republicans, allegedly from Donalds, saying that he had dropped out of the race. Donalds vehemently denied its authenticity and accused Askar of sending the false message.
However, Donalds provided no evidence and Askar denied the charge. On Nov. 16, 2020, Askar sued Donalds for defamation and libel, demanding $30,000 in damages.
Since then, the two parties’ lawyers have been wrangling, fighting over the legitimacy of the case, the timing, whether to sit for in-person depositions and the like. Askar is represented by Michael Lawhon of Naples, Donalds by Alan Perlman of Fort Lauderdale.
The next action is scheduled for this Thursday, Sept. 23, when Judge Elizabeth Krier of the 20th Judicial Circuit is scheduled to hear motions to compel Donalds to answer questions and for Askar to file an additional complaint.
While many lawsuits are settled well before they come to trial—sometimes right on the courthouse steps—this one may be different. Whoever sent the original text message committed a federal crime. Askar’s lawsuit is at least partially defensive, since if he wins before a jury he would conclusively prove his innocence.
Unless the case is resolved before its assigned date, Southwest Florida will be treated to a Collier County jury trial in the Spring, just as Donalds’ 2022 re-election campaign ramps up.
It should provide quite the Springtime spectacle.
Oakes, Boatman and DeSantis
Ever since the 2020 presidential election and Donald Trump’s Big Lie that he won in a landslide and it was stolen from him, Trumpers of varying credibility have been insisting that they have the evidence confirming Trump’s delusions.
The most prominent of these folks outside the immediate Trump orbit has been MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell. He has famously insisted he has compelling proof of the fraud that robbed Trump of another term.
To date, despite much hoopla, Lindell has made no case, sliding down the credibility scale into the laughable range and becoming a late-night punch line.
But in Southwest Florida Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III has stubbornly promoted Trump’s alleged victory since the very day Trump lost. Of course, in January he sponsored two buses of demonstrators to the “Stop the Steal” rally and participated himself.
Now comes Oakes in the form of a Sept. 16 letter by him and James Boatman, managing shareholder of the Naples law firm Boatman Ricci, to Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
“I am writing today to strongly encourage you to meet with Alfie Oakes and the forensic data experts he wants to bring with him to discuss the verifiable evidence of election fraud that occurred in Florida during the 2020 Election,” Boatman states in the letter, which was released on Sept. 16. “The data doesn’t lie.”
Remember that this was an election of which DeSantis himself said: “The way Florida did it, I think inspires confidence, I think that’s how elections should be run. We’re one of the few states in the country where you can follow the number of people that are voting in real-time. The rest of these states, it’s kind of like a black hole.”
Clearly, Oakes and Boatman don’t agree. “If we do not draw a line on the battlefield on this issue, the Republic will be unrecoverable, as it is nearly lost already,” warns the letter.
Oakes and Boatman want two hours of face time with the governor. In its later paragraphs, the letter starts pleading: “Just show up with an open-mind. What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Possibly, they write, DeSantis would hear nothing compelling. At best, he’d learn something new “which allows you to take action that could change the course of history for this Country and, in fact, for the World.”
In addition to his opportunity to change history, Oakes sweetened the pot for DeSantis by pledging a $100,000 donation to the governor’s re-election campaign if he would meet, according to Jacob Ogles, reporting in Florida Politics. He made the offer during an appearance on Alex Jones’ notoriously extreme Internet program, InfoWars.
The letter concludes: “We are on the edge of an abyss, if not neck deep in one already”—a badly crafted metaphor given that when you’re neck-deep in an abyss you’re no longer on the edge.
Two hours of face time with a governor is a very long time for a very busy man and the discussion may not stay on topic. DeSantis already did a great boon to Oakes last September when he canceled all COVID mandate-violation fines throughout the state. Now Oakes is facing federal pressure to protect his workforce from a virus whose reality he doesn’t admit in order to keep his considerable federal income; perhaps the discussion would also veer into that.
Also unmentioned in the letter is whether this discussion would have to take place in public under Florida’s Sunshine Law.
There are no publicly available indications at this point that DeSantis or his office has received the letter, acknowledged it or responded.
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s smashing victory in California’s recall election has sparked hope in the hearts of some Floridians that a similar effort can be mounted in Florida to recall Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
Florida is hardly alone in this. Only 19 states have gubernatorial recall provisions.
Nationally, the US Constitution has no provisions for recalls of any kind. A president can be removed following impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors but otherwise he’s in office for the length of his term.
It’s not as though Floridians are not expressing their displeasure with DeSantis’ governing. A Change.org petition to recall DeSantis had 93,609 signatures as of this writing. A MoveOn.org recall petition had 8,913 signatures.
However, the next real opportunity to recall DeSantis comes on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022.
The silly season that isn’t
The days before an election are often referred to as “silly season.” It’s when politicians say and do strange and often outlandish things to get elected.
While the election is still a year and nearly two months away, “silly season” is well under way, only right now there’s nothing funny about it due to the COVID pandemic.
A sensible, center-governing politician of any party or persuasion might ordinarily be expected to throw some rhetorical bones to the more rabid dogs in his following, sometimes tossing some real red meat as well. But when it comes to the nuts and bolts of ensuring the health, welfare and prosperity of those in his jurisdiction, decisions have to be driven to some extent by reason, reality and logic.
That’s not happening in Florida. In rhetoric and action, DeSantis is proving a hard-right, extreme, Trumpist governor who is matching extreme rhetoric with extreme action. At every level he appears to be governing for the sake, and at the direction, of a hard-core, fanatical, minority base. In matters of life and death he’s not only offering up COVID-denying rhetoric, he’s actively impeding and obstructing science-based measures like masking and vaccinations and attacking those who do try to implement them, like local school districts.
This includes his ban on school mask mandates, on vaccination “passports,” threats to withhold salaries of school officials who defy his ban in order to protect children, appeals of a court order challenging his ban, threats to fine Florida cities that impose a vaccine mandate on their workers, attacks on federal COVID-prevention mandates and silence in the face of false claims and disinformation about vaccines and COVID precautions.
In a Sept. 14 editorial, The Washington Postcharacterized his actions as “a jaw-dropping level of cynicism.”
It stated: “Mr. DeSantis harbors national political ambitions. But what he’s displaying here is crass opportunism and disregard for the greater good. As he stokes the ignorance and misguided impulses of some in the Republican base, he is acting against the very tools needed to save lives and stop the pandemic.”
The former president may not be directing DeSantis but DeSantis is closely following the Trumpist playbook, from threats and intimidation to impose his will down to the denial and dismissal of the COVID-19 threat and indifference to its consequences.
Leaching down to Lee County
The DeSantis method and Trumpist playbook are not only playing out in the state capital but like Trumpism itself, are leaching down into local nooks and crannies at the local level.
Case in point is the Lee County School District. When Judge John Cooper of the 2nd Judicial Circuit of Florida overturned the governor’s school mask ban on Sept. 2, Lee County School Superintendent Ken Savage was free to impose a mask mandate to last the month of September.
However, when the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals stayed Cooper’s order and left the ban in place, Savage felt he was compelled to allow parents to opt out and so he did beginning on Sept. 14.
“Given the legal landscape, I am appealing to your humanity and sense of community,” Savage wrote in a letter to the community. “With approximately 500 COVID-19 patients isolated within our local hospital system, and a 101 percent staffed bed capacity over the weekend, remember that these aren’t just numbers. These are people. These are your neighbors, your family, your friends, your co-workers. I choose to believe that the vast majority of our community are reasonable, caring people who want this surge to end as quickly as possible and would willingly volunteer to wear masks as an additional measure to protect each other from harm.”
He concluded: “I implore you to prove your commitment to each other by getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, and following other safety protocols to help us get through this surge together. I will never underestimate our community’s ability to show love and compassion for each other.”
Savage’s civilized faith in the love, compassion and reason of his community was admirable but hardly reciprocated. Demonstrations against the mask mandate brought out shoving matches by mask opponents in front of the School District headquarters and heated rhetoric inside its council room.
On a political basis it provided an opportunity for state Rep. Spencer Roach (R-79-Buckingham) to send a letter to Savage demanding an end to the mask mandate or face a Roach call to DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran for his firing.
In fact the Lee County School District had to allow a temporary, court-imposed, opt-out option. As Savage wrote in his letter to parents: “…last Friday, the 1st District Court of Appeal instituted a stay, which means the Florida Department of Education can continue to enforce its interpretation of the parental opt out until this matter is ultimately resolved.” As a result, an opt-out provision had to be instituted for students, although not for employees.
The Lee County retreat was hailed by local conservatives and anti-maskers as a huge victory for their cause.
Roach’s gesture certainly rebounded to his benefit with the anti-mask constituency, prompting them to credit him for the change in Lee County policy. As a bit of political sleight of hand, it was deftly done.
Roach’s grandstanding is just one example of the kind of maneuvering that will be increasing across the board in Florida as the clock ticks toward Election Day.
Why are they acting this way?
Florida is now in the grip of a governing party for whom the lives of Floridians are not even a secondary consideration. The clear calculation is that serving the extreme anti-vaxx, anti-mask, COVID-denying base is the formula for success at the polls.
But is that true? In California it clearly was not. Californians overwhelmingly rejected the Trumpist mantra.
So far, the polling—at least the publicly available polling—is paltry in Florida but it would seem to indicate that the silent majority of Floridians support mask and vaccination mandates and COVID precautions.
The poll found that by 60 to 35 percent, Floridians supported requiring masks in schools. By 68 to 27 percent they believed that local school officials should be free to make the decision. What was more, 69 percent to 25 percent thought DeSantis’ withholding of school salaries to force compliance was a bad idea—and that finding applied across the political spectrum.
“As COVID-19 makes a frightening resurgence, it’s Tallahassee vs. the teaching institutions,” stated Tim Malloy, a Quinnipiac polling analyst. “Thumbs down from Floridians on DeSantis’ ban on mask requirements in public schools. Thumbs down on DeSantis’ call to freeze pay of administrators who mandate mask wearing. And he gets scant support from fellow Republicans on penalizing the school leaders who defy him.”
Regrettably, more granular data from Southwest Florida is not publicly available.
If most Floridians don’t approve of the DeSantis/Trump approach to handling the pandemic and this could prove politically damaging, why are DeSantis and other Florida Republicans sticking so stubbornly to policies and positions that are killing Floridians and endangering their children?
Five reasons immediately suggest themselves:
They’re true believers. DeSantis, Roach and other Republicans truly believe the anti-mask, anti-vaccination, disease-denying ideology. This is not just an act, it is not just a pose, and it is a real, heartfelt opposition to COVID precautions. In this it mirrors Donald Trump’s own reaction to the COVID pandemic as president. As for the deaths and infections resulting from this stance, in their minds that’s just collateral damage. In some ways a true-believing politician is more dangerous than a cynical one—at least a cynic can be swayed by reason, self-interest or constituent needs.
It will help them win the next election. DeSantis and the Republicans believe that the strength of the COVID-denying base is sufficient to help them win the election in 2022 and possibly 2024. This also applies down the line in congressional, county and municipal elections. As result they’re pandering to its prejudices and extremism.
It will all be forgotten by next November. Politicians and the public know that voters have short memories. No doubt DeSantis and the Republicans are calculating that by November 2022 the pandemic will be a bad dream that voters are eager to forget—at least the ones that are still alive.
There’s a presidential race on. Certainly at the gubernatorial level, DeSantis has long been running for the presidential nod in 2024. In the Republican Party he has to compete with the likes of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in a race to the rim of reason. These candidates must prove themselves sufficiently fanatical to win over the hard-core militants and walk in the footsteps of Donald Trump—who might himself overturn their calculations by demanding the Party’s nomination in 2024.
The extremists are louder. Without data, sense or logic, COVID-deniers and anti-vaxxers are using volume to fight efforts to stem the pandemic. They’re loud, threatening and they turn out in numbers at demonstrations like the ones at the Lee County School Board. It makes an impression on television and certainly impacts school board members and local officials. It is also what some politicians heed and fear to contradict.
The COVID-deniers, anti-vaxxers and Republican politicians frame the debate over masks and vaccinations as one of personal choice versus government overreach. But what they overlook or ignore is the nature of the disease itself. They regard this as one more political issue that can be dealt with on a human timetable and at human discretion.
However, COVID is not subject to human whims or desires. It is literally a force of nature that operates on its own timetable and according to its own imperatives. As humans—and especially as Americans—we’re accustomed to imposing our will on nature; this is a case of nature forcing us to adapt to it. DeSantis and the Republicans have not made that mental adjustment.
Politically, all this will play out in the next election. It’s clear: those Floridians who believe in science, who don’t want their school-age children used as pawns, who prefer to adapt to real-world conditions rather than impose comforting delusions on reality, will have to be more active, determined and mobilized than their opponents and show up in greater numbers.
And that is the only way to recall a governor of Florida.
A new executive order issued by President Joe Biden requiring federal contractors to vaccinate their workforces will put pressure on “Alfie” Oakes, the fiercely anti-vaccination farmer, grocer and extreme conservative activist based in Naples, Fla., to protect his workforce from COVID-19.
Francis Alfred Oakes III claims to have 3,200 employees.
The order seeks “to promote economy and efficiency in procurement by contracting with sources that provide adequate COVID-19 safeguards for their workforce… .” This is being widely interpreted as mandating vaccinations for all workers on federal contracts.
While the order takes effect immediately, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, a government group providing federal agencies pandemic guidance, has until Sept. 24 to issue the terms, explanations of protocols and guidance to federal contractors. Federal agencies have until Oct. 8 to implement the guidance.
According to the article, the company was awarded $70.2 million in the first quarter of the 2021 federal fiscal year based on contracts with the Agriculture, Defense and Justice departments. In 2017 it won a contract worth $40 million with the Defense Logistics Agency, a second contract with the same agency worth $46.8 million in 2018 and a third contract worth $45 million. In 2018 it won a contract to supply produce to the Bureau of Prisons in the Justice Department. It supplied boxes of produce to needy families under the 2020 Farmers to Families program of the Agriculture Department.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 Oakes has dismissed the virus as a “hoax” and a “sham.” He fought masking in Collier County, defying a county mandate and ignoring regulations. All fines for COVID violations were dismissed by an order of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), on Sept. 25, 2020.
Since the arrival of vaccines Oakes has been a prominent and vocal anti-vaxxer.
“…Our employees, no one died, zero of them died,” Oakes said in a speech to the conservative “We the People Fight Back” conference on Aug. 20 at the Naples Hilton, in Naples. “Very few of them got sick! The people that did get sick were only sick for four or five days. We did have a few people that were sick for a couple weeks but every flu season I get people that are sick for a couple of weeks.”
He continued: “So this is what I’ve seen. I’ve got no reason to lie about it. But we all did the right thing. We got plenty of sunlight, we didn’t obstruct our breathing, and we loved and had a good time. The government’s telling you, to go and stay in your house, stay out of the sun, put a mask on, take this vaccine that’s really nothing and it’s just beyond sad.”
Oakes has characterized vaccines as “Fauci’s poisonous cocktail” and stated that “plenty of sunlight, healthy eating and not stressing out” would result in a “100 percent success rate when you get the proper treatment Hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin. The odds have not changed… anyone with a healthy immune system are [sic] much more likely to die getting struck by lightning.”
The new executive order requiring COVID precautions applies to all new federal contracts. However, it states that when it comes to existing contracts, “agencies are strongly encouraged, to the extent permitted by law, to ensure that the safety protocols required under those contracts and contract-like instruments are consistent with the requirements specified in section 2 of this order,” section 2 being the one providing guidance on safety measures and protocols.
The order’s requirements also apply to all of a business’ locations, so that would presumably also apply to retail as well as production sites: “This clause shall apply to any workplace locations (as specified by the Task Force Guidance) in which an individual is working on or in connection with a Federal Government contract or contract-like instrument…” it states.
(Editor’s note: Oakes’ reliance on “plenty of sunlight, healthy eating and not stressing out,” is an eerie echo of one response to the Black Death, the bubonic plague of the 14th century that took the lives of a third of Europeans. In her book A Distant Mirror, historian Barbara Tuchman writes that in one village: “villagers were seen dancing to drums and trumpets, and on being asked the reason, answered that, seeing their neighbors die day by day while their village remained immune, they believed they could keep the plague from entering ‘by the jollity that is in us. That is why we dance.’” Tuchman does not say if the village remained immune.)