Analysis: Who would be more effective for SWFL in Congress, Cindy Banyai or Byron Donalds?

Nov. 2, 2020 by David Silverberg

We all know that tomorrow, Nov. 3, will mark a momentous, historical day whose memory will be passed down for generations. While it may be the last day to vote and it’s when the votes are counted and the results announced, it won’t be the end of the journey. It will, however, be a major milestone and the start of a new phase of the American story.

Southwest Florida is very much part of that story. As in the rest of the nation, most minds are made up. As of Sunday, Nov. 1, in Florida’s Lee and Collier counties, 67.18 percent of voters in Lee County and 76.53 percent in Collier County had cast their ballots.

At the presidential level the final arguments are being made and likely outcomes have been exhaustively polled.

But locally it’s worth asking a question that has largely been overlooked despite all the coverage and campaigning: What kind of representation would Southwest Florida and in particular the 19th Congressional District from Cape Coral to Marco Island, get in Congress if voters elect Democrat Cindy Banyai or Republican Byron Donalds?

While both candidates have made their stances on the issues clear in debates and campaign materials and voters have had plenty of time to evaluate their records and characters, it’s worth speculating how each would likely do the actual job of US Representative from Southwest Florida.

What the new Congress will face

Several massive issues will confront members of Congress the instant they begin work on Jan. 4:

The transition of power: If Trump refuses to accept clear results or if he incites insurrection or denies the legitimacy of the outcome, the transition of power at both the presidential and congressional levels could still be in dispute when the new Congress takes office. The newly elected members will have to assert their legitimacy and authority and this could be a battle that delays addressing other urgent needs.

The pandemic and healthcare: Biden and his team will have to immediately assess the state of the nation’s response to the pandemic and prepare measures to mitigate and respond to it. This will be complicated if the Affordable Care Act is struck down by the newly-conservative majority Supreme Court the week after the election. It will also be made more difficult if the outgoing Trump administration and the lame duck Senate actively sabotage or subvert US disease control efforts and a new pandemic response in an effort to deny Biden a “win.”

The economy: The US economy has been severely damaged by Trump’s inept pandemic response. In the past week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 6.47 percent for its worst week since March 20 because of the lack of a second stimulus package. In Southwest Florida the travel, hospitality and small retail businesses have been hammered by the overall fall in travel, both domestic and cross-border, and decline in leisure and tourism activities. With Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) re-opening the state despite the risk of virus-spreading activities, Florida’s infection rates are likely to spike even higher and affect its seasonal businesses.

Corruption: While attempting to restore basic government agencies crippled by the Trump administration (like the Postal Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), a new administration and Congress will have to investigate and root out corruption, fraud, waste, abuse and foreign interference invited and ingrained by the president and his circle. It will have to do this before it can proceed to new solutions and repairs.

The scenarios

Every indication to date is that Democrats will take the presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives—assuming that vote counting is done properly, efforts to suppress the vote on the ground and in the legal system are unsuccessful and the results are honestly presented and reported.

A Cindy Banyai win

Cindy Banyai and daughter at a Moms Demand Action demonstration in Collier County on Oct. 30. (Photo: Banyai campaign)

If Cindy Banyai is elected, Southwest Florida will have a representative who will be in a likely majority in the House of Representatives. The importance of this cannot be overstated. It means that proposals and legislation she introduces will have a higher probability of making it through the legislative process all the way to the president’s desk and being signed into law.

Banyai’s chief challenge will be to make Southwest Florida’s priorities stand out amidst every other member’s competing priorities. However, Southwest Floridians had a preview of her response to a similar situation in her underdog campaign at both the primary and general election levels, where she showed a willingness to tackle seemingly overwhelming odds.

In her favor is the fact that she is a proven coalition-builder. By being in the majority her job will be easier in that she will face less resistance in forging alliances with fellow Democrats rather than trying to corral and motivate hostile Republicans to help win majorities for her proposals.

Given Southwest Florida’s environmental sensitivity, it will help that Banyai will be operating in a far more environmentally-friendly Congress and administration than previously. This will have an impact on issues critical to the region, in particular preserving the purity of its waters.

Much of her effectiveness will depend on her committee assignments. If she follows Rep. Francis Rooney’s lead in getting a seat on the environmental subcommittee of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, she will be in a position to help Southwest Florida’s water purification efforts.

In this she is likely to be aided by an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Joe Biden that will be working to restore water protections stripped away during the Trump presidency. Such an EPA is likely to be more accommodating to Southwest Florida needs presented by a Democratic representative. This bodes well for obtaining steady, reliable Everglades restoration funding and advancing the projects of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. It will also likely help efforts to fight harmful algal blooms and pollution.

When it comes to offshore oil exploitation, Joe Biden has declared that he is opposed to new offshore oil drilling. This means that the Interior Department, which under Trump relentlessly sought to find ways to promote oil exploitation both on land and offshore, will instead be working to conserve the natural environment.

A Biden administration and a Democratic Congress will also be more helpful to Southwest Floridians and businesses economically hurt by the pandemic. A new stimulus bill will probably be passed fairly quickly and small businesses will get more assistance through paycheck protection and another round of funding. If the pandemic can be eased, travel and border restrictions can be relaxed, so Southwest Florida may see a resumption of the foreign tourism, especially from Canada, that sustains the local economy.

A Biden administration will also be friendlier to first responders and medical personnel, helping them obtain personal protective equipment and implementing rather than resisting experts’ advice in fighting the pandemic. Banyai will be able to assist in those efforts.

A Byron Donalds win

If Byron Donalds wins his race in the 19th District while the rest of the House of Representatives goes Democratic, he will be in the minority and in a diminished position to deliver anything for Southwest Florida.

Donalds will likely be elevated to a very high public profile position by the Republican leadership of the party and in Congress because, as he himself put it in his campaign: “I’m everything the fake news media says doesn’t exist: a Trump-supporting, liberty-loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man.” As such, he will probably be used by Republicans and the conservative movement to refute charges of racism and white supremacy.

However, as an unreconstructed and unapologetic Trumper, Donalds will be representing what will likely become an increasingly marginalized and discredited ideology. No doubt the Trumpers elected to the House will spend their time resisting Democratic initiatives, trying to roll back pandemic responses and obstructing efforts to enact police and social justice reforms. If after the inauguration Trump continues to fight a loss at the polls or refuses to accept the voters’ verdict, his congressional followers will likely waste their time in Congress bolstering his claims and fighting the election results, as they did with endless, failed, wasteful, symbolic roll call votes against the Affordable Care Act.

The Republican leadership will likely expect Donalds to take a leading role in these efforts and there’s no reason not to believe that he will comply. Nor is there any reason to expect he will launch individual initiatives apart from the ideological agenda of the organizations that supported him like Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, the National Rifle Association and anti-abortion groups.

While giving him a high national profile, it will not put him in a good position to advance the kind of practical legislation that Southwest Florida needs (steady appropriations, environmental protection, labor and business support) or build bridges to the Democratic majority.

Much of Donalds’ effectiveness will depend on the committee assignments he gets and in the Republican caucus those assignments are determined by a member’s fundraising prowess for the party. If Donalds doesn’t meet his fundraising targets he’s likely to be shunted off to marginal or obscure committees where he can do Southwest Florida little good.

It is also likely that given his past history and his wife’s prominence in the charter school movement, Donalds will likely be making efforts to advance charter schools at the expense of public education in a Congress that will be strongly supportive of public schools.

Analysis: Mainstream or margin?

As it stands, since Southwest Florida is not a national center of population, industry, commerce or communications it has little clout in the halls of Congress based purely on its demographic and geographic attributes. It has been a politically peripheral district throughout its existence. Its vital interests are easily ignored or overlooked.

For this reason, the 19th Congressional District needs an especially active, aggressive and energetic representative to promote its interests at the federal level.

Regardless of what happens in the race for President and the makeup of the Senate, it is highly likely that the House will be overwhelmingly Democratic.

Election of an ideologically fringe representative, no matter how popular he may be with local conservative activists, will keep the 19th District at the margins of the national agenda and irrelevant to major national policies affecting it.

Clearly, election of Cindy Banyai, the Democratic candidate, will better serve the residents, businesses and the environment of Southwest Florida.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

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