David Holden and Cindy Banyai are introduced at a meeting by Collier County Democratic Chair Annisa Karim this past January. (Photo: Author)
July 21, 2020
Democrats in Southwest Florida have never been blessed with an abundance of political candidates but this year is different—there are two capable and attractive Democratic candidates for Congress and that means Democrats have a difficult choice ahead of them.
As stated in a past posting, it has always been the position of The Paradise Progressive that a media outlet covering politics has a duty to endorse a candidate when choices are hard. Following candidates and political developments on a regular basis gives journalists insights and knowledge that need to be shared with voters. Whether the outlet is national or local television, print newspapers or even a simple blog, it is the obligation of independent media in a free society to help voters make an informed choice. Any endorsement offends some people but that comes with taking a stand on anything.
When it comes to the race for Congress in the 19th Congressional District, Democrats have to make a selection between candidates Cindy Banyai and David Holden.
Both are excellent people. Both bring great virtues to the table. Both are intelligent and articulate. Both have run civilized campaigns focused on the issues and solutions to problems. Democrats should be proud of their conduct.
Importantly, both are committed to preserving democracy and the best values of America. Both seek to serve all the people of Southwest Florida. Both believe that healthcare is a right, the environment needs to be protected and justice and equality need to advance.
Both have strong educational credentials. Holden has a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University. Banyai has a PhD from Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Japan.
David Holden, 61, is thoughtful, insightful, extremely well versed in the issues and has real compassion for people and a deep commitment to social justice. He genuinely cares about overlooked and underserved communities. Thanks to his 2018 run, voters in the District, especially in Collier County, are familiar with him.
Cindy Banyai, 40, is a mom with a strong sense of social justice and a fearless willingness to fight for what she believes is right. She has energy and determination and is a fast learner. She is intimately familiar with the issues and challenges facing families, especially with school-aged children, of which she has three. Living in Fort Myers, she’s especially well versed in the needs and geography of Lee County.
So how is a Democrat to choose?
Looking to the future
It makes sense to look beyond the individuals to the job demands of a member of the US House of Representatives and the situation that is likely to confront those members when the 117th Congress convenes in January 2021.
This assumes, of course, that the United States is still governed under its original Constitution, that the election takes place as scheduled, and civil order prevails. These are no longer givens, thanks to President Donald Trump’s drive for “total domination” and unwillingness to commit to accepting the results of the vote. In fact, by next year the nation could be in a state of civil war or something like it. Also, the election may have been disrupted or in dispute, and even if defeated Trump could still be insisting on staying in office.
But for the purpose of this essay, let’s assume that the election takes place as scheduled and life goes on as in the past, in something akin to pre-Trump “normal” or close to it.
Now, what follows are not absolute predictions of the future; rather they’re scenarios and, in fact, one hopes that they turn out better than at first glance. But they’re certainly plausible given where we are today and they represent the environment in which the next Congress may be working.
First, the members of the 117th Congress may very well have to govern a nation that is essentially bankrupt. Between the economic crash, the ravages of coronavirus, the emergency spending that’s been done to date and the impacts of Trump’s changes to the tax system, the government may be in a situation that is effectively bankrupt.
Secondly, the odds are high that the country may be in a full-blown economic depression. The kinds of stock market crashes Wall Street has suffered under Trump will not be overcome with just an election and a change of administration. Trump has deeply injured America’s trade and international economic relationships.
Third, unemployment may be at Depression-era levels and take many years to recover.
Fourth, coronavirus will likely still be with us. There’s no telling what the state of the pandemic will be in January. It’s unlikely to disappear like a miracle, as Trump promised. Even if vaccines are developed, tested and proven by late 2020 or early 2021, huge numbers of people around the world—but especially Americans—are likely to still be suffering and dying. Social distancing is likely to still be in force.
The impacts of Trump’s tenure on defense and foreign affairs are too numerous to delve into here but they will certainly preoccupy Congress.
The next Congress will also be deeply engaged in investigating and rooting out the corruption that Trump introduced into government.
Overall, the 117th Congress is likely to be overwhelmingly preoccupied with the work of renewal, restoration and repair.
So if this is the situation that the new members of Congress will confront when they take office, what will the representative of the 19th Congressional District and Southwest Florida have to do?
- Any representative will have to do whatever can be done to ensure that Southwest Florida gets as many federal unemployment and economic benefits as possible, to cope with what is already a devastated local economy.
- The representative will have to ensure that Social Security benefits continue to flow to the area’s seniors who are entitled to them and depend on them.
- The representative will have to ensure that in a time of crisis and straitened circumstances the area receives the federal support that has already been promised for projects like the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project, Hoover Dike restoration and harmful algal bloom protection. Remember: the federal government will be trying to cut costs anywhere it can and environmental management is likely to be on the chopping block. Trump already tried to shortchange Southwest Florida on its contracted appropriations; that can’t be allowed to happen again.
- The representative will have to bring whatever aid is available to a region that is still going to be in the grip of coronavirus. That means getting federal support for medical supplies and whatever other needs the area’s healthcare system requires.
- The representative should continue trying to make the moratorium on offshore oil exploitation permanent.
- The area could see widescale homelessness as a result of the economic depression and unemployment as occurred in the 1930s; the representative will have to work to get as much federal assistance as possible to address that problem.
- If the area suffers a devastating hurricane in the 2020 season, the representative will have to fight for a share of emergency funding and support starting on the first day of the 2021 term.
These are some of the real challenges that will likely confront a newly elected congressional representative. Elections may be lost and won on grand rhetoric and sweeping visions but the truth is that these are some of the unglamorous tasks that will be pressing, immediate and urgent on the first day a new representative takes office.
So who is best equipped to meet them?
During the course of this campaign, Cindy Banyai took two particularly impressive actions.
The first came when she was trying to get the state to postpone the deadline for candidate filings due to the coronavirus.
To do this, she pulled together a coalition of candidates from around the state from both parties. It showed that she was willing to work across the political aisle to get something done and reach a goal she had set. It took initiative and an openness to converse with people holding different opinions and political allegiances. Ultimately, she was successful and was able to file, which is why she’s on the ballot today.
Banyai’s second initiative came when WINK-TV News held an online and on-camera debate among District 19 congressional candidates—and didn’t invite any Democrats to participate.
Banyai drafted a letter to WINK management protesting this oversight. But she didn’t just send the letter. She reached out to her opponent, David Holden, and convinced the chairs of both the Lee and Collier Democratic parties to sign on. She drafted the letter and it was approved by all parties with a single word change. When the letter was brought to the attention of WINK management a second Democratic debate was held (even though this one was only online).
By these actions, Banyai displayed an instinct to reach out to all parties on an issue and showed a skill for coalition-building. Bringing people together and building coalitions are what she has done her entire professional life. These are perhaps the most critical instincts and skills for getting anything tangible done in Congress. It’s how laws are made, money is appropriated and legislation is passed.
She consistently displayed initiative and energy in campaigning even when coronavirus curtailed in-person events. She has also consistently promoted a progressive agenda and in a measure of her commitment to Democratic values, she got into the race in September 2019 despite the fact that Rep. Francis Rooney looked like he would run for a third term, his victory seemed certain and the odds for any challenger were long at best.
She also has some actual congressional experience as an intern on Capitol Hill. It may not be much but it’s more Washington experience than any other candidate of any party in the race—and despite its widespread disparagement, the past four years have shown that experience counts for a great deal.
Lastly, her past as a pugilist stands her in good stead: she knows how to take a punch to the face and keep on fighting.
Banyai hasn’t just talked the talk, she’s already walked the walk.
As a result of these actions, experiences and instincts, Cindy Banyai should be the next congressional representative from the 19th Congressional District.
But that’s not the end of the story.
On January 16 of this year, Banyai and Holden sat together at the Collier County Democratic Party’s Progressive Caucus meeting. They were asked if each would support the winner of the Democratic primary and both agreed.
That was not an idle question and it was not an insignificant answer. It was a solemn pledge and Democrats should expect both candidates to abide by it.
Despite the long odds in the 19th District, there is a Democratic path to victory. In a year when the Republican standard bearer is clearly unfit and increasing numbers of Republicans are recognizing it, there is a real possibility that a Democratic alternative could win in Southwest Florida. Democrats should aggressively pursue it.
After this primary, local Democrats need to unite. Whoever wins, both candidates should campaign together—and not just pro-forma, phone-it-in campaigning. They should aggressively and energetically share platforms, tweets, online conferences and town halls, statements, campaign materials and most of all, funding. When in-person campaigning becomes possible again, they should appear together early and often. These are two talented and committed people. Together they will make a dynamic team.
It will be essential that Democrats show Southwest Floridians of all political affiliations that the Party is united and committed to ideals and positions that will benefit everyone.
The upcoming primary should not be a loss for anyone; it should be a win for Southwest Florida.
Liberty lives in light
© 2020 by David Silverberg