Democracy dies in darkness but liberty lives in light
Author: The Paradise Progressive
David Silverberg is a veteran journalist who spent over 30 years in Washington, DC covering a variety of topics, including Congress and politics. He moved to Southwest Florida in 2013 and lives in Naples.
Southwest Florida congressional Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) rushed to support former President Donald Trump following his unverified claim that he might be arrested tomorrow, Tuesday, March 21.
As of this writing, Rep. Mario Diaz Balart (R-26-Fla.) had not weighed in on the possible arrest.
Trump alleged that he was going to be arrested in a posting on his Truth Social network on Saturday, March 18. “THE FAR & AWAY LEADING REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE & FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, WILL BE ARRESTED ON TUESDAY OF NEXT WEEK,” he wrote in all capital letters. “PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!”
Trump is under investigation in a wide variety of venues for numerous possible crimes and infractions. While in office he was impeached twice for misconduct, including inciting a riot on Jan. 6, 2021 aimed at overturning the election, overthrowing the US government and attacking his vice president.
Donalds, who also has an arrest record and who voted to overturn the 2020 election, built his congressional career on loyalty to Trump. He issued a lengthy statement on Sunday, March 19, denouncing the possible arrest.
“Unfortunately, our nation is increasingly mirroring the practices of authoritarian regimes and blatantly neglecting the Rule of Law established in our Constitution and the liberties long enshrined in the bedrock of our Republic,” he said in his statement. “Following recent reports of the imminent arrest of former President Donald J. Trump, it is clear that there is no light between the beacon of freedom in the world and the most oppressive regimes in history.”
Steube, who has been sidelined from Congress since his home accident on Jan. 18, issued a tweet on March 18: “Once again, the Left is weaponizing the government for their own political motivations,” he wrote. “They never learn. The American people will rally behind President Trump. We see right through it.”
To date there has been no verification of Trump’s impending arrest claims from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose office has been investigating whether Trump’s 2016 payment of $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels violated campaign finance laws.
In an e-mail sent to staffers and obtained by a number of media outlets, Bragg told staff that ““we do not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office or threaten the rule of law in New York.”
He continued: “Our law enforcement partners will ensure that any specific or credible threats against the office will be fully investigated and that the proper safeguards are in place so all 1,600 of us have a secure work environment.” He stated that the office was coordinating with the New York Police Department and Office of Court Administration to maintain security and added that “as with all of our investigations, we will continue to apply the law evenly and fairly, and speak publicly only when appropriate.”
The resolution changed the definition of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) to potentially allow greater water pollution. It seeks to return to the status of regulation under former President Donald Trump.
Protecting the purity of water is a priority for Southwest Florida, which is currently suffering a major red tide bloom.
Both Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-26-Fla.) voted for the resolution. Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) did not vote, still absent due to an accident he suffered on Jan. 18. One Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-1-Pa.) voted against the resolution. Nine Democrats voted for it.
Neither Donalds nor Diaz Balart issued statements explaining their votes. Donalds did not mention his vote in his weekly newsletter to constituents.
The House action is unlikely to take effect given Democratic dominance in the Senate and a pledge by President Joe Biden to veto the Republican House measure if it reaches his desk.
The water issue
The Clean Water Act of 1972 regulates US waters to prevent pollution, giving primary enforcement responsibility to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In 2015, WOTUS was put in place under President Barack Obama to protect a variety of streams, rivers and wetlands that serve as sources for larger bodies of water, in an effort to reduce pollution. In particular, the rule covered water sources that run intermittently or underground. The rule particularly affected Southwest Florida whose streams and wetlands impact much larger bodies of water like the Caloosahatchee River and the Everglades.
In January 2020, President Donald Trump rolled back WOTUS with his own administration’s “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” which eliminated many of the previous protections. Developers and industries were no longer required to get permits under the Clean Water Act before dumping waste and pollutants like pesticides and fertilizers into water sources like creeks and streams. Essentially, the Trump administration held that if a body of water wasn’t “navigable” anti-pollution measures wouldn’t apply.
“I terminated one of the most ridiculous regulations of all: the last administration’s disastrous Waters of the United States rule,” Trump boasted when he ended the protections. “That was a rule that basically took your property away from you.”
“This is a horrible setback for wetland protection in the USA,” wrote Bill Mitsch, a globally recognized wetlands expert and eminent scholar and director of the Everglades Wetland Research Park at Florida Gulf Coast University at the time. (Mitsch has since retired.)
“I have followed this tug of war for all these years between those who appreciate the many ecosystem services that wetlands provide, including cleaning our waters, sequestering and permanently storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and providing the best habitat for hundreds of threatened and endangered species, and the industrial-scale agricultural, energy, and real estate giants” Mitsch wrote. “It has always been a David vs. Goliath [battle].”
In June 2021, President Joe Biden’s administration restored the previous anti-pollution restrictions of WOTUS. Both the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers made the announcement.
Mitsch continued: “I’m delighted both agencies have stepped forward. This, in my view, is a good turn for Southwest Florida and especially the Everglades.”
With its vote last Thursday, the Republican-dominated US House voted to remove the Obama-Biden protections and allow Trump-era pollution.
Although the measure is unlikely to take effect, Southwest Florida’s waterways and wetlands remain under threat since the state took over the permitting process from the federal government in one of the Trump administration’s last acts.
“I’m very much afraid of Florida taking wetland management away from the feds. What the feds are doing is great but I’ve seen it before,” Mitsch said at the time. “There’s no question why [the state] wanted to take over water regulation; it was for development.”
Florida Sen. Jason Brodeur’s bill would require bloggers to register with the state
March 8, 2023 by David Silverberg
Updated, Sunday March 12 with new contact information for Sen. Jason Brodeur.
A Florida bill requiring bloggers to register with the state if they cover or comment on the governor, Cabinet officers or state legislators is sparking alarm and outrage.
It needs to be stopped and bloggers in Florida and around the world should immediately raise their voices against it.
The bill was introduced by state Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-10-Seminole and Orange counties).
Titled “An Act Relating to Information Dissemination” (Senate Bill (SB) 1316), the bill was filed on Feb. 28 in advance of the state legislature’s general session. It was referred to three committees for consideration: the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Appropriations Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice, and the Committee on Fiscal Policy.
The Florida legislature convened yesterday, March 7, for a 60-day session during which the bill may be considered.
(Editor’s Note:The Paradise Progressive and this author have a clear and obvious interest in this bill and its consideration. Nonetheless, that interest does not preclude factual coverage, analysis or commentary of the bill, its sponsor or its progress. The Paradise Progressive, which is supported by its author and reader donations, will continue to provide coverage, analysis and commentary on politics, especially related to the governance, representation and elections of Southwest Florida and the state as a whole as long as the United States Constitution and its Bill of Rights continue in force in Florida and the United States generally.)
The bill has two parts. (The full bill as introduced is available for download at the conclusion of this article.)
The first part has nothing to do with blogging. It amends an existing law for court sales of property (“judicial sales”), usually to pay debts in bankruptcy cases, so that the sale is posted on the Web for a specified time period. The second non-blogging clause establishes conditions and procedures for government publication of legally required notices.
It is in its third, entirely new, section that it tackles blogging.
As with all legislation, it first defines its terms.
A “blog” “means a website or webpage that hosts any blogger and is frequently updated with opinion, commentary, or business content. The term does not include the website of a newspaper or other similar publication.” A “blogger” is anyone submitting “a blog post to a blog.” A “blog post” is defined as “an individual webpage on a blog which contains an article, a story, or a series of stories.”
(Just for historical context, the word “blog” is a contraction of “Web log” that took hold in the early 1990s as the Internet gained popularity.)
It defines “Elected state officer” as the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Cabinet officer, or any member of the Legislature.
The key provision of the bill is in its second section: “If a blogger posts to a blog about an elected state officer and receives, or will receive, compensation for that post, the blogger must register with the appropriate office, as identified in paragraph (1)(f), within 5 days after the first post by the blogger which mentions an elected state officer.”
The two offices mentioned in the paragraph are the Office of Legislative Services and the Commission on Ethics. If a blogger mentions a member of the legislature, the blogger reports to the first office; if the blogger mentions an executive branch official the report is to the second.
Under the legislation, once registered, the blogger must file a monthly report within 10 days of the end of the month, with exceptions for weekends and holidays.
The reports have to include the person or entity that paid for the blog post and how much the blogger was paid (rounded to the nearest $10) as well as the website and website address where it was posted.
If the reports are not filed on time the blogger is subject to a fine of $25 per day that has to be paid within 30 days of being assessed. If the blog post was about a member of the legislature, the money goes into the Legislative Lobbyist Registration Trust Fund; if about an executive branch official, the Executive Branch Lobby Registration Trust Fund. If about both, then the payment goes to both. Bloggers can get a one-time waiver of the first fine but must report within 30 days of the first infraction.
Bloggers can appeal their fines and the bill sets out the procedures for such appeals through the courts. However, if the blogger doesn’t pay a fine within 100 days, he or she is subject to court action.
This law takes effect upon passage.
“Do you want to know the truth about the so-called ‘blogger’ bill?” a defensive-sounding Brodeur wrote in a March 5 tweet. “It brings the current pay-to-play scheme to light and gives voters clarity as to who is influencing their elected officials, JUST LIKE how we treat lobbyists. It’s an electioneering issue, not a free speech issue.”
The clip posted by Brodeur started in response to a question. It bears quoting in full.
“The biggest thing that you pointed out is, it is for—only for—bloggers who are paid, compensated to influence or advocate on state elections. And this is really to get an electioneering thing and perhaps, I’m even open to it, even in the wrong place in the statute, because what we have out there today is a system by which someone can pay someone to write a story, publish it online and then use that in a mail piece as a site source when they’re making claims about an opponent. So what we want, is we want voters to be able to know—you can still do it, that is a mechanism by which candidates advertise. You can still do it, we just believe that voters have a right to know when somebody is being paid to advocate, like lobbyists. And so, if you believe, that we should have a state registry of lobbyists, so everybody knows who is trying to influence who, what is the difference between a paid blogger who writes about state government or a paid lobbyist who advocates for state government? One talks and one writes. And so my position on it would really be: ‘So look, listen, we’ll just get rid of the lobbying registration, then?’ Either way, I want to be consistent because if you’re being paid to advocate a position the public should be able to know who’s being paid and make a decision for themselves. So that’s all we’re trying to clean up, is really an electioneering issue.
“Now, what I think the media is getting wrong about it is—you know, I’ve gotten phone calls all day long about it, from Seattle to New York, literally—where people are going: ‘I hate you and you’re trying to ruin free speech, this is how Germany got everything wrong’—no, no, no, this is not a free speech issue, it’s a transparency issue and electioneering. It’s—so all I’m trying to do is say, ‘Treat paid bloggers just like you treat lobbyists.’ That’s it.”
Brodeur may be particularly sensitive to hostile blogging and media coverage and especially hidden funding because his initial, razor-thin 2020 election was clouded by the presence of a “ghost candidate,” a non-party-affiliated candidate whose campaign was secretly funded by the Republican Party in an effort to siphon votes from the Democrat.
That was enough for Brodeur to win a squeaker of a victory over his opponent, Democrat Patricia Sigman, by a hairsbreadth 7,644 votes.
As Ogles wrote: “This year, prosecutors brought charges against Iannotti, consultant Eric Foglesong and Seminole County Republican Party Chair Ben Paris, who notably works for Brodeur at his day job running the Seminole Chamber of Commerce.
“Paris was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge in September, and both Iannotti and former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg both told investigators Brodeur knew about or was expected to support her candidacy. Brodeur has denied any knowledge of the scheme,” the article stated.
So apparently, when Brodeur discusses pay-to-play schemes and hidden funding, he knows whereof he speaks.
Reception and denunciation
The instant Brodeur’s bill came to light it attracted national media attention—and denunciation.
One of the first and most prominent people to react was former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is currently a retired resident of Naples, Fla.
“The idea that bloggers criticizing a politician should register with the government is insane,” Gingrich tweeted on Sunday, March 5. “It is an embarrassment that it is a Republican state legislator in Florida who introduced a bill to that effect. He should withdraw it immediately.”
Brodeur’s bill didn’t get any love from the governor it might ostensibly protect, either.
“That’s not anything that I’ve ever supported. I don’t support it, I’ve been very clear about what we are doing,” DeSantis said.
He noted that “every person in the legislature can file bills” and “the Florida legislature, 120 of them in the House and however many, the 40 in the Senate, they have independent agency to be able to do things,” he said. “Like, I don’t control every single bill that has been filed or amendment, so just as we go through this session, please understand that.”
Uncounted and likely uncountable were the denunciations of the bill in online comments, tweets, postings and phone calls “from Seattle to New York” as Brodeur himself put it.
“The bill is an unconstitutional, moronic disgrace, and the guy who wrote it, Senator Jason Brodeur of Seminole County, is an embarrassment to the GOP,” wrote Charles Cooke on March 2.
Other than Brodeur himself, defense of the bill was hard to come by, either online or as covered in the media.
Commentary: Putin would be proud
There are so many arguments to be made against SB 1316 that it’s hard to know where to begin.
SB 1316 is a clear and obvious attempt to suppress free speech in the state of Florida. It doesn’t just violate the First Amendment, it violates both its free speech and free press clauses.
In fact, Brodeur’s bill most closely resembles Russia’s “blogger’s law,” passed in 2014 and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin. That law requires any blogger with 3,000 or more followers to register with Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media oversight agency.
In American history it also harks back to the Sedition Act of 1798, which made it a crime for American citizens to “print, utter, or publish…any false, scandalous, and malicious writing” about the government. That law, along with Alien Acts aimed against immigrants, was largely directed against the new Democratic-Republican Party and Democratic-Republican newspapers were prosecuted under it. When Thomas Jefferson won the election of 1800 the acts were repealed or allowed to lapse and those prosecuted were pardoned. The whole period is considered a dark stain in American history and is often overlooked (and no doubt will never be taught in Florida schools).
SB 1316 walks in these notorious footsteps. Not only would it have a chilling effect on free speech, if it were to pass it would immediately be challenged in court where even a legal layman can see that it would lose.
But aside from railing against the bill itself, let’s take Brodeur at his own words that “It’s an electioneering issue, not a free speech issue.”
What Brodeur clearly doesn’t understand is that in a democracy every citizen has a right to electioneer and influence government, whether in person, in print or online. Brodeur apparently doesn’t see it this way. He thinks that advocacy occurs only among a paid lobbying class and that citizens expressing their opinions online are part of that class and need to be registered and regulated, regardless of the source of their funding.
He also doesn’t seem to understand the broader implications of his bill. At its most basic level it would give the state government a mechanism to suppress blogs—and all opinions—it didn’t like. This would apply to blogs and bloggers whether liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican.
It would be nearly impossible to police and enforcement would be intrusive, unconstitutional and expensive. Even if intended only for paid bloggers, the bill’s restrictions would ineluctably affect all blogs on all topics. It would affect blogs used for commercial, non-profit or simply informative purposes, stuntng legitimate commerce and obstructing myriad blog-based enterprises.
Brodeur seems not to understand that he introduced his bill at a moment when people fear that civil liberties and democracy in his state are under unprecedented assault. In Florida a Republican super-majority state house has begun a session in which each legislator is scrambling to prove him or herself more ideologically extreme than the competition. A former president who incited an anti-government insurrection is fighting for a comeback. The governor, effectively running for president on an extreme right platform, is at war with the national media and explicitly wants to overturn the landmark 1964 New York Times versus Sullivan case. Bills are being introduced to make defamation suits against the media easier and the state is emerging as a laboratory for repression, reaction and regression.
Into this state house full of flammable fumes Brodeur casually tossed the match of SB 1316. Did he or any other carbon-based life form imagine that there wouldn’t be an explosion of fear, outrage and alarm? Apparently not.
Beyond its political implications, SB 1316 reveals Brodeur as a singularly inept politician, someone unable to think through the full consequences of a proposal on a policy, political or constitutional level. He clearly thought through the procedural and punitive aspects of his legislation but beyond that narrow vista he had no perspective. Moreover, he appears to lack an understanding of democracy, freedom and advocacy—as well as a simple ability to read the room.
He shouldn’t be surprised that people are calling “from Seattle to New York” to oppose his bill.
Editorial: To the keyboards, bloggers!
It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t just an obscure proposal in what appears to be the increasingly insane state of Florida. If passed, it would set up a government mechanism to suppress online independent thought and the expression of opinion, which could then be applied nationally, especially if DeSantis wins the presidency in 2024. That, in turn could become a global template for Internet censorship and repression.
If Brodeur doesn’t have the good sense to withdraw his bill, it should be defeated. Every blogger who loves freedom can play a role—not just in Florida but everywhere from Singapore to San Francisco, Seattle to Saint Petersburg.
At the very least, people should make their opinions known to the key Florida legislators on the referred committees who have received this bill.
This is one case when the flap of a butterfly’s wings really could bring on a hurricane.
Sen. Jason Brodeur himself can be reached by e-mail through his offcial website, https://flsenate.gov/senators/s10 and clicking the e-mail button in the left column. He can also be reached by phone at his Tallahassee office at (850) 487-5010, at his district office at (407) 333-1802 and at his campaign office by phone or text at 1-407-752-0258.
Other senators can be reached by going to the Florida websites and clicking on the “Email this senator” button in the left-hand column:
A disturbing pattern of cronyism and sweetheart dealing appears to be emerging from the war on education by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and the Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement in Florida.
While much of the public and media attention has been focused on issues of academic freedom and the DeSantis-MAGA anti-woke, anti-public education crusade, when it comes to practically implementing this agenda at the operational level, instances of lucrative deals for politically-connected, ideological loyalists of questionable qualifications seem to indicate a trend.
What is more, the trend is not confined to any single level of education. DeSantis is clearly attempting to bring the state’s higher education establishment to heel. In last year’s elections he also sought to dominate elementary and secondary education at the county level through school board endorsements.
The results on the ground have been questionable candidate searches, exorbitant salary bumps and an opportunistic feeding frenzy. Where at one time academia was seen as an ivory tower, in Florida it is becoming a feeding trough.
Three instances illustrate this trend and its consequences. One is at the premier state university level and the appointment of Ben Sasse at the University of Florida. Another is at the state college level, the ouster of the existing president and subsequent appointment of Richard Corcoran as president of New College. A third is at the county school board level and the appointment of James Molenaar as attorney for the Collier County Board of Education.
Ben Sasse and the University of Florida
Last November trustees voted to appoint Ben Sasse, former conservative Republican senator from Nebraska, as president of the University of Florida in Gainesville.
Sasse was the only announced finalist, although there were reportedly a dozen others. Trustees defended keeping the other candidates secret in compliance with a newly-passed state law allowing such concealment.
“The bottom line is if we had run a process that required more than one finalist to be publicly disclosed, none of the top 12 people we interviewed would have stayed,” trustee Chair Mori Hosseini told the publication Politico. “It’s that simple.”
Because of the secrecy there was no way to confirm that a dozen finalists had in fact been considered. University faculty held a vote of no confidence in the trustees’ personnel search.
According to Forbes magazine, Sasse’s 5-year contract provides a base salary of $1 million per year with annual 4 percent increases if he meets certain performance goals. He will receive an additional retention bonus of $200,000 per year if he stays the entire length of the contract. He will also receive annual 15 percent “performance bonuses,” contingent on meeting particular goals, including adoption of a strategic plan with short-term and long-term objectives.
Executive benefits include payment of moving expenses, a 15 percent retirement benefit paid by the university, tuition remission for any of his immediate family members who might enroll at the University of Florida, and health, life and disability insurance paid by the university. In addition, “reasonable business, travel and entertainment expenses (including professional dues and meetings) incurred in his capacity as President of the University shall be reimbursed.”
The contract requires Sasse to live in the Dasburg President’s House on the campus. The University pays “the cost of hazard and liability insurance, utilities (including internet service), housekeeping, home office facilities, equipment and services, landscaping, maintenance, and grounds-keeping, security, repair and maintenance of The Dasburg President’s House facility.”
The contract can be extended by mutual agreement and after its expiration Sasse will be eligible to work as a full time faculty member at the university.
Sasse at least presented a variety of qualifications for the position: in addition to having served as senator he had a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a doctorate from Yale. He previously presided over Midland University, a private Lutheran university in Fremont, Neb., that was home to about 1,600 students—in contrast to the University of Florida with 60,000 students.
Students, faculty and alumni protested the appointment when it was made and then demonstrated in person on the day it was implemented. On Feb. 6, the day he arrived on campus to take office, they presented a variety of demands that included protection of academic freedom, retention of tenure and support for inclusivity, equity and diversity.
Richard Corcoran and New College
New College is a small, state-run liberal arts college of about 698 students and about 90 faculty, located in Sarasota.
In early January DeSantis appointed six new members to its 13-member board of trustees with a seventh new member appointed by the Florida Board of Governors. Most of the new appointees came from ideologically conservative or religious academic backgrounds.
On Jan. 31 at an online Zoom meeting, the board fired the existing president, Patricia Okker, and appointed Richard Corcoran as interim president.
Corcoran, a Republican, is a former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives and represented the state’s 37th House District, covering Pasco County. He served as state Commissioner of Education from 2019 until last year.
Earlier in his career he also served in a variety of staff positions including as an aide to Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). In that position his spending of Republican Party money drew criticism, including $400,000 on charter plane flights, $29,000 at the Capital Grille restaurant in Tampa and $1,000 for cufflinks.
In one memorable instance he dropped $8,000 on a single meal at a restaurant known as The French Laundry in Napa Valley, California.
Corcoran’s tenure as Commissioner of Education was not free of taint. Last January the Department of Education under Corcoran came under scrutiny from its own Inspector General when it apparently deliberately steered a $2.5 million consulting contract to a company linked to Corcoran. The bidding was open for only a week and only MTG Consulting, the company run by a Corcoran colleague, was pre-approved to bid on it. However, when two of Corcoran’s deputies and a member of the state Board of Education filed a competing bid, the contracting process came under investigation for a conflict of interest, the aides resigned and MTG was denied the contract.
The contract was to help Jefferson County get its schools in order and would have been paid for with federal COVID relief funds.
“I’m just going to be honest with you. It’s money,” Bill Brumfield, a Jefferson County School Board member told the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s money and it’s politics, and they are just trying to kick Jefferson County around again like a bunch of little country bumpkins sitting over there and knowing nothing.” Corcoran defended the contract and said his department had followed the letter and spirit of the law.
The DeSantis administration chose not to take further action on the matter after the aides resigned. The Inspector General did not rule on whether the bids were illegal or were conflicts of interest.
Corcoran’s own academic credentials consist of his dropping out of the University of Florida but receiving his bachelor’s degree from St. Leo University, a small, private Catholic university in St. Leo, Fla., and his Juris Doctor law degree from Regent University, a small, Christian school in Virginia Beach, Va.
The trustees’ firing of Okker, who has a doctorate and spent her career in academia, and hiring of Corcoran was done by a vote of 11 to 1 in a single, swift action before any other attendees at the meeting had a chance to speak or comment.
Under Corcoran’s contract he receives an annual salary of $699,000, which is $394,000 more than Okker’s $305,000. He also receives an $84,000 housing allowance, the top range of such allowances for people in the position in Florida.
James Molenaar and the Collier County Board of Education
In Collier County, Florida, a MAGA-dominated School Board’s search for its own attorney resulted in a grab for a lucrative contract by a favored candidate and allegations of Sunshine law violations, improper communications, cronyism and misuse of documents.
On Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022, three MAGA candidates won election to the Collier County Board of Education, constituting a majority of the five-member board.
The new chair, Kelly Lichter, had served on the board from 2014 to 2018 during which she clashed with the school district’s sitting attorney, Jonathan Fishbane. She suggested that the School Board needed its own attorney, separate from the school district.
Accordingly, on Dec. 7, just before the Christmas and New Year holidays, the Board approved the idea, set out the duties, responsibilities and qualifications and advertised the position for only one week. It also established a salary of $180,000 per year for the position.
Four applicants responded: Cassius Borel, Michael Fasano, Kevin Pendley and James Molenaar. Pendley, with 32 years as a practicing lawyer, had the most school-related experience and was serving as the Volusia County School Board attorney.
Molenaar, with 27 years of experience, had served as senior legal counsel for the Collier County Clerk of Courts and Comptroller until 2020. That election year he filed papers to run against his boss, Crystal Kinzel, clerk of the courts. He was fired the day after filing and subsequent court cases revealed an illicit sexual relationship with a colleague. Ultimately, he lost the election despite being endorsed by conservative political activist and grocer Alfie Oakes.
During the Board’s search phase, Molenaar e-mailed three of the Board members, offering to meet privately, which Board member Erick Carter (District 4) thought might be a violation of a “cone of silence” period.
Molenaar submitted his own proposed contract to Lichter on Dec. 7, the day the School Board agreed to the idea of hiring its own attorney.
Instead of the $180,000 annual salary proposed by the Board, Molenaar proposed $195,000. He also proposed “a performance-based merit system through which the Employee [Molenaar] shall be eligible for a merit adjustment upon successful completion of measurable goals and objectives to be completed” of up to 10 percent of his base salary.
He would get a $650 per month ($7,800 per year) car allowance “to cover gas, mileage, and maintenance.”
In order to work at home, he would be provided “at the Board’s sole expense, at his choosing a laptop computer and a device(s) for scanning, copying, printing and faxing for use at his residence.” In addition, he would get $225 per month ($2,700 per year) for other technology materials including internet connections as he shall consider necessary to carry out his work as Employee.”
He would also get a cell phone “of the make and model of his choosing” and the service to support it.
The Board would agree to pay his professional dues and subscriptions, his business travel and car rentals outside the county, “travel associated with attending conferences, conventions, meeting[s]” and continuing education and “transportation fares, meals, mileage, lodging, taxi, or ride share fares, parking fees, and communication expenses.”
In order to join community and civic associations he would get an additional stipend of $1,500 per year.
With the additions—not including bonuses and benefits—Molenaar’s proposal came to $212,100 per year.
The night before the Jan. 23 meeting to decide on the attorney, Kelly Lichter’s husband, Nick, sent an e-mail to Board members:
“I am unable to make tomorrow’s meeting, and I can’t make a public comment related to this issue, so here you go. I have been watching the ‘fake news’ hysteria surrounding my wife and Jim Molenar [as spelled], a candidate for the attorney position. This is right from the left’s playbook. They falsely accuse people of doing the very things they themselves are guilty of doing. What is even more incredible, is the fact that the leftists are all pushing Kevin Pendley. Kevin Pendley has deep ties to local attorney Grant Fridkin, a local attorney who maxed out contributions to Jen Mitchell’s campaign in the most recent election. In looking into Kevin Pendley’s own campaign contributions, he has given money to Byron Donalds, the same person that tried to ‘crush’ my wife in this school board race.
“If you want the fox guarding the hen house, then hire Kevin Pendley. He may look good on paper, but he would be a disaster as your board attorney,” Lichter wrote.
(Jen Mitchell was the incumbent school board chairperson defeated by Kelly Lichter. Byron Donalds is Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), whose wife Erika has clashed with Lichter in person and in court.)
At the Jan. 23 meeting three candidates were interviewed, Fasano having dropped out. Each was asked the same 10 questions with no follow-ups or other questions allowed.
At the meeting School District attorney Fishbane stated that “There have been a lot of comments concerning the process that forms the foundation of this meeting.” This included questions concerning “Sunshine Law violations, back door communications, wrongful favoring of a particular candidate [i.e., Molenaar], and wrongful usage of documents.” However, said Fishbane, his review had revealed no improprieties.
About 20 members of the public spoke at the meeting, most favoring Pendley.
The Board then ranked the candidates and ultimately voted 3 to 2 to hire Molenaar.
With these proposals becoming public and opposition building to his appointment, on Feb. 2 Molenaar withdrew his application to be School Board attorney—sort of. He did it in an e-mail to Andrew Brown, the school district’s senior director of human resources and it became public on Feb. 6.
But then, on Feb. 10 he complained that the human resources director had rescinded his application without affording him due process. He accused Valerie Wenrich, the assistant superintendent of human resources, of abusing her authority, saying she had “wrongfully relied on the outcry made from a few vocal minority who do not support the agenda of the new majority school board members and our governor” in canceling his application.
On Feb. 13, in an address during the public comments portion of a School Board meeting he said he was waiting for the District to process his paperwork so he could begin work as the attorney the Board had voted to approve.
At this point it is unclear whether Molenaar is in or out, whether his hiring is being processed or a new search is about to begin. Some clarity may be shed at the next School Board meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, March 7.
To date, in practical terms, the DeSantis-MAGA war on education in Florida and independent thought appears to have been expressed in hiring ideological loyalists.
However, this is likely only the beginning. The next phase is likely to be expressed in contracting.
The Florida educational establishment, at all levels, is a source of millions of dollars in purchased goods and services, ranging in everything from food, to textbooks, to operations, to maintenance to construction.
If the current apparent pattern of favoritism and financial reward holds, the next phase of the educational anti-woke war may be manifested in unbalanced contracting as education-related purchases go to favored, ideologically loyal contractors, vendors, friends and allies.
It is beyond the capacity of The Paradise Progressive to monitor every college and university or the state’s 67 counties.
But what can honest Floridians do in a non-election year? Concerned citizens, alert journalists and all Florida taxpayers should watch district schools and state universities for improper hiring and contracting and raise their voices against it when they see it.
In no particular order, improper practices include:
Making hires or writing contracts narrowly tailored to favor particular individuals or companies in what should be broad competitions.
Conducting proceedings, searches or evaluations in secret, possibly in violation of Florida Sunshine Laws.
Closing or excluding public comment in public proceedings like school board or trustee meetings, or delaying the public’s input until after a decision is made.
Allowing candidates or vendors to write their own contracts rather than using neutral, standardized contracts drafted by the hiring or contracting party.
Failing to provide reasonable time periods for hiring or contracting responses or making them suddenly or abruptly, especially at inconvenient or unreasonable times (for example, issuing a request for proposals after 5 pm on a Friday with a deadline of 9 am on a Monday so that only a single competitor who is already alerted can respond).
Providing favored applicants and contractors exorbitant or unusual compensation out of line with common standards or previous practice.
Abruptly dropping or disqualifying candidates or contractors from competing without explanation or justification.
Elevating obviously unqualified candidates and contractors over ones that have obviously superior qualifications and experience.
Using personal smears and ideological litmus tests against potential hires or contractors and basing awards on political loyalties.
Ultimately, Florida, its people and its schools will be the losers if these practices dominate—and Floridians will not just lose intellectually, they will lose financially as taxpayer money is siphoned off to cronies and co-conspirators.
As it is, the anti-woke jihad in education is an attempt to snuff out independent thought and free academic enquiry. It is an effort to legislate thinking rather than have freely expressed ideas compete in an open intellectual marketplace. In the past it was believed the best thoughts would win through reason and logic. That is not the DeSantis-MAGA approach and it already seems to be bringing cronyism and corruption in its wake.
Florida education is heading to “enrichment” but not the kind that enlightens minds—rather, the kind that just lines pockets.
A bill filed in the Florida Senate today, Feb. 28, intended to decertify the state’s Democratic Party, would have the ironic effect of also decertifying the Republican Party as well, leaving both parties to reconstitute themselves from the ground up.
The bill, The Ultimate Cancel Act, or Senate Bill (SB) 1248, would require the state’s Division of Elections to cancel “the filings of a political party, to include its registration and approved status as a political party, if the party’s platform has previously advocated for, or been in support of, slavery or involuntary servitude.”
Under the bill, once a party is decertified it would have be recertified “by filing a certificate showing the name of the organization and the names and addresses of its current officers, including the members of its executive committee, accompanied by a completed uniform statewide voter registration application as specified in S 97.052 for each of its current officers and members of its executive committee which reflects their affiliation with the proposed political party, and a copy of its constitution, bylaws, and rules and regulations.” It would then have to change its name to be “substantially different from the name of any other party previously registered with the department” and do so within six months of being decertified.
The bill was introduced by state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia (R-11-Citrus, Hernando and Sumter counties). He did not issue a public statement on the bill or its rationale.
The bill, while alarming on first read, is really a bit of right-wing showboating, rather along the lines of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) transfer of asylum-seekers to Martha’s Vineyard last year.
Ironically enough, while clearly intending to make Florida a one-party state along the lines of North Korea, it would also have the effect of decertifying Ingoglia’s own Republican Party.
Clearly, Ingoglia intended to link today’s Democratic Party to its pre-Civil War predecessor, when it was the dominant party of the slaveholding South.
However, prior to the outbreak of war, the Republican Party also accepted slavery in the states where it existed.
This was clear in the Republican Party’s 1860 party platform when it declared, “That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the states, and especially the right of each state to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of powers on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depends; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any state or territory, no matter under what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.”
The Republican Party platform opposed expansion of slavery in territories which were not yet states admitted into the union, like Kansas. But the Party leaders did not want to embrace abolitionism and were willing to leave the institution alone where it was of long standing, i.e., they were “in support of, slavery or involuntary servitude” as defined by SB 1248.
It was not until the middle of the Civil War that President Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation—which was not a Party document.
So, far from making Florida a one-party Republican state, which is clearly Ingoglia’s intent, it would in fact make it a no-party state—which might just be an improvement.
In fact, SB 1248 is not a serious piece of legislation. If seriously considered, however, it may prove to be a serious waste of time.
With thanks to June Fletcher for her historical insight.
When the Florida state legislature convenes on March 7, it will have a busy two months.
Dominated by Republican supermajorities, the Florida House and Senate are likely to implement the agenda of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to prepare the way for his now-obvious run for the presidency in 2024.
But no matter what the legislature’s other priorities—restricting abortion, encouraging gunplay, politicizing school boards, reducing local autonomy, narrowing academic freedom, restricting voting, bullying corporations, banning books, and waging war against a supposedly “woke” culture—there is one obstacle above all that may stand in the way of DeSantis’ presidential run.
Does Florida law allow DeSantis to actually formally declare himself a candidate and run while serving as governor or must he “resign-to-run?”
If the law does prohibit his run, will the legislature change the law to accommodate him?
Although there was considerable discussion of this in November following his strong re-election showing, the talk died down shortly thereafter.
Still, resign-to-run (which The Paradise Progressive will henceforth abbreviate as “R2R” for convenience’s sake—you read it here first) could be a big impediment.
The state of the law
Florida is one of four other states (Arizona, Georgia, Hawaii and Texas) that has an R2R law: an officeholder must resign his or her current office to seek another office.
(2) No person may qualify as a candidate for more than one public office, whether federal, state, district, county, or municipal, if the terms or any part thereof run concurrently with each other.
(3)(a) No officer may qualify as a candidate for another state, district, county, or municipal public office if the terms or any part thereof run concurrently with each other without resigning from the office he or she presently holds.
(b) The resignation is irrevocable.
At first glance, this would seem to put a crimp in DeSantis’ plans; he wouldn’t be allowed to declare his presidential candidacy and mount a campaign without irrevocably resigning the office of governor.
However, as in all law, that’s open to interpretation.
One view: He doesn’t have to resign
One view is that DeSantis doesn’t have to resign at all.
That was put forward by Lilian Rodríguez-Baz, a founder and legal counsel for Ready for Ron Political Action Committee (PAC).
“Armchair lawyers proven wrong again — DeSantis does not have to resign to run for POTUS,” was the headline of an article by her that appeared on Nov. 29 on the website Florida Politics (but which was subsequently removed).
While one cannot help but note that lawyers do almost all their work from armchairs, her argument deserves to be examined at length.
The notion that DeSantis would have to resign to run is an “idea as misleading as it is dangerous, and if left unchecked, it could cost Republicans the next election,” she wrote.
“As a lawyer, I look to the law, and on this point, the law is crystal-clear on its face: State officeholders do not need to quit their jobs in order to run for federal office — whether it’s the House, Senate, or presidency. Florida Statute Section 99.012, which governs this issue, has two relevant parts: Sub-sections (2) and (3). Those wrongly claiming DeSantis needs to resign are playing legal gymnastics by improperly conflating the two sub-sections.
“Sub-section (2) is straightforward. It provides, in plain English, that a person cannot qualify as a ‘candidate’ (e.g., be on the ballot) for two offices at the same time, including local, state, and federal offices.
“This is why Sen. Marco Rubio was unable to run for both President and U.S. Senate in 2016. Instead, he had to wait until the end of his presidential campaign to restart his Senate run. Unlike Rubio, however, this scenario is totally inapplicable to DeSantis given that he is the sitting Governor of Florida and would, therefore, not be a ‘candidate’ for two offices if he runs for President.
“Meanwhile, sub-section (3), which applies to DeSantis, makes it clear that an ‘officer’ (as defined by the Statute) cannot be the holder of a state-level or lower office while running for another state or lower position without resigning.
“However, the Florida Legislature specifically and intentionally removed the word ‘federal’ from the list of offices implicated in this section.
“In other words, there is no law that prevents DeSantis from holding the office of Governor of Florida while running for president at the same time.”
As an example of this, Rodriguez-Baz cites the instance of Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). In 2018 Scott, still serving as governor of Florida, did not have to resign to run for the US Senate.
“Anti-DeSantis partisans, with their short memories, are so desperate to undermine the man poised to win the White House in 2024 (see: every poll) that they will resort to shoddy lawyering,” complained Rodriguez-Baz. “Unsurprisingly, those accusing DeSantis of attempting to change the law in his favor, are the very ones re-writing clear legislative directives in order to mislead the public.”
The bottom line, according to Rodriguez-Baz: “…The reality is this: DeSantis can run in 2024 (without resigning),” and her organization was working to convince him to do so (as though he needed that push).
Arguments and precedents
Whether Rodriguez-Baz’s argument is correct is something that may be determined in court if DeSantis simply declares his candidacy while governor.
The law has been challenged before: in 1970 a US District Court in northern Florida ruled that it didn’t apply to candidates for the US Congress, since federal congressional qualifications are governed by the Constitution.
In the Florida legislature, the most prominent advocate for changing the law is State Senate President Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Naples). “If an individual who is Florida governor is running for president, I think he should be allowed to do it,” she told reporters on Nov. 22, 2022 after the election. “I really do. That’s a big honor and a privilege, so it is a good idea.”
Unsurprisingly, at least one Democrat disagrees. In November, State Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-47-Orlando) argued that if the law is in effect, DeSantis must be held to it.
She continued: “If we’re going to hold ourselves to standards that we must resign in order to run, that standard must be held to Governor DeSantis as well.”
Someone who has a lot of experience with the resign-to-run law is Charlie Crist. While Republican governor in 2008, he was considered for then-Sen. John McCain’s running mate. The legislature changed the law to allow him to do that but then changed it back again in 2018.
The 2008 change included a “carve out” that allowed an official whose term of office was about to end to seek another position and that allowed then-Gov. Rick Scott to run for the US Senate. He was allowed to stay in the governor’s office until the day his successor, DeSantis, was inaugurated.
In 2022, though, Crist, then a Democrat, resigned from the US House of Representatives to run for governor. Also resigning was Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried who sought the gubernatorial nomination but lost to Crist in the primary.
Analysis: Hanging over his head
Florida’s R2R law, could prove a stumbling block if not addressed by DeSantis.
Even if, technically, DeSantis can ignore it, as Rodriguez-Baz argues, it will haunt him when he formally declares his candidacy. If not clarified, it will always hang over his head, threatening the legitimacy of his candidacy, even if it ultimately proves little more than a distraction.
If he were the sole candidate running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, that would not matter. But, of course, that’s not the case. Even if DeSantis isn’t yet formally running, other candidates are already in the race.
Chief among these is former President Donald Trump, whose anti-DeSantis campaign to date has mainly consisted of schoolyard insults: “Ron DeSanctimonious,” “GLOBALIST RINO” (capitalization, of course, his) and the not-yet formally unveiled “Meatball Ron.”
Trump was supposedly also considering “Shutdown Ron,” in reference to COVID. “No, you dummy!” protested comedian Stephen Colbert. “Quit while you’re ahead! You’re never going to do better than the crystallized genius that is Meatball Ron!”
Then, on Feb. 14, Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor, declared her candidacy. She and Trump are likely only the first stones in what is sure to be an avalanche of Republican hopefuls and if DeSantis’ legal status isn’t clarified, all will be citing R2R to disqualify him.
There is always the possibility that DeSantis will suddenly be incapacitated or will choose not to run—but while nothing is totally impossible, those odds are extremely low given every move and decision he has made to date.
One way or another, DeSantis’ status as a governor-candidate will need to be determined finally and decisively. It can be done by a formal gubernatorial announcement, it can be done in court, or it can be done in the legislature. But even in Florida, where the concept of law itself is squishy, where constitutional amendments are routinely evaded and where even drivers ignore traffic rules, the law must ultimately be addressed.
The 2024 election will be dominated by the race for president—no matter which candidates run. But around the country another, county-level contest may be just as important.
Certainly that will be true in Collier County, Fla., because the outcome of this election could influence all voting—and the local state of democracy—into the indefinite future.
The position is Supervisor of Elections. In Collier County the post is currently held by Jennifer Edwards, who has served in the position since 2000.
Edwards is up for re-election in 2024. However, she told The Paradise Progressive she hasn’t decided whether to run for another term.
“I’ll decide in a few months,” she said.
Meanwhile, Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III, the outspokenly conservative, Trumpist farmer and grocer who is a significant local political player, has targeted the Supervisor of Elections position.
“I will be challenging the Superintendent of Elections to clean up and do away with computer calculations for voting,” he told The Paradise Progressive in an interview on Dec. 14. “We should have hand counts. In Europe they don’t take three weeks,” to reach a conclusion, he noted, referring to other elections around the United States that took long times to tabulate.
As for Edwards, he said, “I like Jennifer Edwards. I think she’s a little bit naïve and if you put her hand on the Bible, she would swear there is nothing corrupt going on there. I don’t think that’s true.”
The 2024 election is still one year and two months away. However, if the person elected Supervisor cannot be depended upon to accurately, neutrally and effectively count the votes in compliance with law, voters won’t ever again have confidence in the official outcome of any Collier County election, including intraparty elections like primaries.
That situation could get the county in trouble both with state and federal law and be a deadly blow for real democracy.
A legacy of stability
In Collier County the position of Supervisor is a partisan, elected position with a term of four years. To date, county election supervisors have served long, non-controversial terms and there have only been three of them.
Collier County was created as a separate governing entity in 1923. It was served by a Supervisor of Registration of Electors before the office was changed to Supervisor of Elections in 1965. After serving four years as registrar, Edna Cribb Santa became the first Supervisor in 1965 and held the post for 16 years until 1981. She was followed by Mary Morgan, who served 19 years until 2000.
Edwards, a Republican, was appointed to the position to oversee the general election of 2000. She won election in her own right and has held the post ever since and was most recently re-elected in 2020.
A native of Kentucky, she received all her education including her bachelor and master degrees there. She moved to Collier County with her husband in 1984.
She entered county government in 1987 after a stint as a school teacher and served as a budget analyst, assistant to the county manager and director of human resources, and took over as Election Supervisor when Mary Morgan chose to step down.
She did this just in time to oversee Collier County’s part in the hugely controversial 2000 presidential election, which hinged on hanging chads, butterfly ballots and a nail-biting statewide recount, which was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court.
“I got to be part of the improvements over the years because the Florida legislature immediately started making improvements and making changes to help the voters in Florida,” she recalled of the experience.
Undismayed—and unsullied—Edwards continued on as Supervisor, expanding her expertise and won honors and additional credentials in election management. These included a state certification, a Master Florida Certified Elections Professional designation from the Florida Supervisors of Elections and certification as an Elections Registration Administrator from the Election Center, also known as the National Association of Election Officials. She received a Chancellor’s Certificate in Public Administration from the International Association of Government Officials.
She also stood out among her fellow state election supervisors, rising through the ranks of the state’s professional association, the Florida Supervisors of Elections, serving successively as the organization’s treasurer, secretary and president.
In addition she has been active in a wide variety of county civic and social groups.
During her terms in office there have never been any scandals, criminal investigations, or allegations of wrongdoing in Collier County elections. There were recounts of close elections but these were handled as part of the normal election process.
Also under Edwards’ tenure, Collier County continuously updated its technology to count the votes cast on paper ballots, in compliance with state law. Today it has rigorous, multilayered safeguards at all levels against errors, miscounts, tampering or fraud. It is equally equipped to process both in-person and mail-in ballots under strenuous security measures. It actively trains its election workers and volunteers in the latest procedures, regulations and technology. After every election a precinct is selected at random for an in-depth audit to evaluate the integrity of the vote.
In keeping with state law, Collier County has faithfully complied with Florida requirements for timely results reporting. That law (Title IX, Chapter 102.072) states that “Beginning at 7 p.m. on election day, the supervisor must, at least once every hour while actively counting, post on his or her website the number of vote-by-mail ballots that have been received and the number of vote-by-mail ballots that remain uncounted.” The county has always met that requirement.
To date, Collier County voters have been able to have confidence in clean, accurately counted elections tabulated in a lawful and transparent manner, with results posted immediately and in real time.
Indeed, in the last election, all of Florida’s results were reported as soon as the polls closed and were widely accepted without argument. “People are actually looking at Florida and asking the question, why can’t these states be more like Florida?” Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said in the immediate wake of the 2022 midterm election. “The way Florida did it, I think, inspires confidence. I think that’s how elections should be run. We’re now being looked at as the state that did it right, and the state that these other states should emulate.”
A faith in disbelief
For all that, there remains an ingrained, unshakable disbelief in the voting process among some people, particularly 2020 election-denying subscribers to the Make America Great Again (MAGA) ideology.
In September 2021 he argued on Facebook that DeSantis had to 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 warned. He 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.
On the Alex Jones InfoWars show, Oakes offered DeSantis a $100,000 campaign contribution if he would sit down in person for two hours and listen to Oakes and his friends try to convince him to reopen the election count—this ten months after the election concluded. A DeSantis aide politely responded but declined.
In a more recent case of election denial, on Dec. 20, 2022, Mike Lindell, chief executive officer and owner of My Pillow, alleged a false Florida result in the midterm election, the outcome of which even Democrats don’t dispute.
In that election DeSantis won his race for governor by 59.4 percent, a truly decisive victory and Republicans swept virtually every office they contested.
Nonetheless, on his own show, Lindell said, “I don’t believe it,” referring to DeSantis’s major win in Miami-Dade County (which Lindell kept calling Dade County). “So it’s just going to show everybody — just like we always tell you about Democrats where they stole their elections … I’m going to find out if Dade County — what happened there.”
Lindell’s disbelief would seem to be in the service of former President Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy but it also shows both the stubborn persistence of election skepticism and its use for short-term political gain. (Since then, nothing further has been heard regarding Lindell’s allegations.)
Looking ahead to the 2024 election in Collier County, Oakes similarly remains convinced of improprieties and wants to stop electronic tabulation as a matter of principle.
“I’m not saying there isn’t a system that lends itself to corruption,” he told The Paradise Progressive. “We need to take the most strict measures. [Computerized counting] lends itself to massive fraud.”
Nor is Oakes convinced by Collier County’s otherwise clean record in this regard. “If I left the door to Seed to Table open for two years and nothing was stolen that still wouldn’t mean it was safe,” he said. “Overwhelmingly there’s a large population in our country who believe elections are compromised.”
Even the banking system has flaws, he noted. “So we have to come up with something we can have confidence in.”
People might dismiss these kinds of allegations, except that Oakes has his own record of electoral success behind him. In the last election, using his Citizens Awake Now Political Action Committee, all of his endorsed candidates won positions on the Collier County Board of Commissioners and the School Board, allowing them to dominate both bodies.
Edwards is unworried. “If somebody thinks they can come in here and do whatever they want to do, they can’t do it. There are Florida election laws that have been passed over the years and I take an oath and my staff takes an oath every year to uphold the US Constitution and the Florida Constitution. It’s very important for us.”
As for changing the election process, she pointed out that there’s an open and transparent procedure to adapt to new conditions. Each county is asked to submit suggestions for legislative changes. The state election supervisors association weighs in on electoral changes and actively lobbies the legislature.
After the experience of the contested 2000 presidential election, she said, “We follow Florida election law. We will continue to do that and I encourage folks to talk to their state legislators if they want elections conducted differently because they’ll have to get the law changed in Florida by the state legislature in order for their changes to become effective.”
As for the use of technology, “I think the advances we’ve made in technology goes without saying,” she argued. “I have worked in elections since punch cards and I’m seeing the improvements. And there are cross checks of everything we do and we do conduct an audit after every election and we never had a difference in results. The controls we have in place in my view confirms the accuracy of the equipment.”
Edwards also believes she has solid backing among Collier County Republicans, should she decide to run again.
This is confirmed by Diane Van Parys, president of Republican Women of SW Florida Federated, a First Vice President of the Florida Federation of Republican Women and a member of the Florida Fair Elections Coalition, an election reform organization. She has extensive experience in election monitoring and observance, not just in Florida but also in her previous residence in Georgia. There she says she observed numerous irregularities and questionable practices in large part due to completely computerized balloting, none of which have been present in Collier County where paper ballots are used.
When it comes to Edwards’ election management, “You can’t trip her up in terms of how she does things,” Van Parys said. “She has operated totally with integrity and in a non-partisan way. There are free and fair elections in Collier County. I can tell you that we have the best practices in the state for elections.”
While it is not certain that Edwards herself will be on the ballot in 2024, Melissa Blazier, Collier County’s chief deputy supervisor of elections, has expressed an interest in filling the role. Blazier has worked in the Supervisor’s office for 17 years and is both a Master Florida Certified Elections Professional and a Certified Elections/Registration Administrator.
National push—and pushback
Collier County and Florida are just microcosmic instances of a national movement of election denial, which is being very deliberately stoked and incited.
Ever since President Donald Trump baselessly denied the results of the 2020 election, his MAGA followers have called into question the entire election process. Despite strenuous efforts by Trump and his lawyers, no court challenge, audit or recount turned up the supposedly massive fraud that he alleged. Even the hosts and commentators of Fox News, which did much to spread his accusations, didn’t believe them, as their private communications have revealed.
Nonetheless, based on the belief of widespread fraud and disbelief in the process as it’s currently constituted, MAGAs have been working to alter the process in their favor.
Legislatively, this has taken the form of Republican-dominated state legislatures and governors steadily restricting voting access and seeking to suppress the franchise to as great a degree as possible.
At the grassroots, election workers and volunteers have been physically threatened and verbally assaulted. Completely unfounded conspiracy theories and fabricated rumors have been spread about the election process, although this was less prevalent in 2022 than in 2020.
While not all supervisors are elected, as the country prepares for the 2024 election, there is a new national MAGA push to take over elected supervisor positions. The challenge is likely to be mounted at the primary level, especially among Republicans.
“The concerns about being primaried [are] absolutely on the mind of very dedicated and very middle-of-the-road, nonpartisan-functioning” election officials in Florida, said Mark Earley, the election supervisor in Leon County, Fla., and current president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections. He was quoted in a Feb. 1 Politico article, “Election officials ready themselves for the next wave of Trump followers,” which provides a national perspective on the effort.
Nationally, one of the most strenuous struggles is expected to take place in Maricopa County, Ariz., which was the focus of intense controversy in 2020 when Joe Biden narrowly won the county and state. Since then battles have embroiled its county commissioners and election officials. But similar battles are expected in places such as Colorado, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Steve Bannon, Trump’s former strategic advisor, who has advocated a “village-by-village” approach to taking political power, has told listeners of his “War Room” podcast that Democrats can only win elections if they steal them and argued that the only way to prevent that is “by taking over the election apparatus.”
But the election deniers don’t have a clear field; there is new resistance to the election denial cohort.
Polling data backs this up: “On the whole, it appears that a majority of Americans do believe in the integrity of the nation’s elections: An Oct. 3-20  poll conducted by Gallup showed that 63 percent of U.S. adults were at least somewhat confident ballots would be ‘accurately cast and counted’ in this year’s midterms,” wrote Zoha Qamar on the website FiveThirtyEight.com.
Another poll by Bright Line Watch, an academic group studying American democracy, found that confidence in the 2022 election results increased, even among skeptical Republicans.
So the news is not entirely threatening for democracy’s future. Normality and constitutionality seem to be reasserting themselves.
That applies in Collier County as well, whether Edwards runs again or not.
Voters should take note as the 2024 election season proceeds: as big and brassy and boisterous as a presidential election is, sometimes those quiet, overlooked down-ballot races are extremely important.
All elections are consequential but some are more consequential than others. And it is just possible that election of the Supervisor of Elections may be the most consequential of all.
There’s an old adage: “When you’re in a hole, stop digging.”
But Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), seems to have turned that wisdom on its head: already deep in a hole, he’s digging deeper.
Just where he’ll end up is anybody’s guess.
What hole is Scott in? Consider the following:
In early 2022 Scott was explicitly told by his ostensible boss, Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), not to issue a Republican platform based on the 1994 “Contract With America.”
But as Scott would put it in a post-election letter to his fellow senators, “after travelling the country to support our candidates I believe voters want a plan. They are begging us to tell them what we will do when we are in charge.” McConnell wanted to keep the Republican platform vague.
Scott chose to deliberately defy him and on March 30, 2022 unveiled an 11-point (later 12-point) “Rescue America” plan in collaboration with former President Donald Trump. Among its points: “All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.” (More about that later.)
After being entrusted by his fellow Republican senators in 2020 to win the Senate for the Party, Scott oversaw the disappointing Republican 2022 returns, having boosted such fringe candidates as Herschel Walker in Georgia, Kari Lake in Arizona and Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, all of whom went down to embarrassing defeats. Democrats kept the Senate and gained a seat.
Even the famously taciturn McConnell was moved to comment: “I think there’s a probably a greater likelihood that the House flips than the Senate,” he said at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Kentucky in August. “Senate races are just different—they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.” McConnell’s insight was proven correct.
Having now failed his Party, his colleagues and his boss, Scott turned on McConnell and ran against him for Party leader.
In a Nov. 15 letter to colleagues, Scott wrote: “I’m writing to you today because I believe it’s time for the Senate Republican Conference to be far more bold and resolute than we have been in the past.”
He brushed aside the criticism of his performance at the National Republican Senatorial Committee: “Despite what the armchair quarterbacks on TV will tell you, there is no one person responsible for our party’s performance across the country.”
He noted that he had heard voter requests for a Republican plan and stated: “Unfortunately, we have continued to elect leadership who refuses to do that and elicits attacks on anyone that does. That is clearly not working and it’s time for bold change”—clear criticism of McConnell.
Scott was endorsed by Trump, who even before the midterms called McConnell a “lousy leader.”
“I think Rick Scott is a likely candidate — he hates the guy,” Trump said of Scott’s attitude toward McConnell. “He’s tough — he’s tough, and I think he would probably go for it.” He later added that Scott was “underrated”—perhaps winning over some Trumpers.
But when the election for Senate minority leader came to pass, McConnell, a superb vote-counter announced, “I have the votes.” Indeed he did, crushing Scott by a vote of 37 to 10.
McConnell was gracious in victory. “I’m not in any way offended by having an opponent or by having a few votes in opposition,” he said in a not-so-subtle dig at Scott’s lack of support.
Still, McConnell was clearly disgusted with Scott and on Feb. 2 removed him from the prestigious Senate Commerce Committee. Scott told a reporter, “Well, he just kicked me off a committee. So that was pretty petty.”
On the home front, Scott didn’t do any favors for Florida, the state he ostensibly represents. In September he voted against the $1.7 trillion Continuing Appropriations and Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2023 (House Resolution 6833) that included $20 billion in disaster relief, funding desperately needed by a state reeling from Hurricane Ian.
In doing this he also once again defied the Senate Republican leadership, which supported the bill. And as though the potential injury of his negative vote was not enough, he added insult by calling President Joe Biden “a raving lunatic” just before the president came to Southwest Florida to see the damage for himself and pledge full support for the region’s recovery.
Then, in the past two months as Republicans began engaging in fiscal brinksmanship over raising the national debt ceiling and appeared to jeopardize vital programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, Scott’s “American Rescue” plan came back to bite him. That 6th point sunsetting all federal programs after five years was the chief Republican threat to the key trio of social safety programs.
President Joe Biden, Scott’s “raving lunatic,” hammered the Republicans for menacing the programs, using the American Rescue plan as a wedge. First, he did it in his State of the Union speech last Tuesday, Feb. 7.
Then, when he came to Tampa last Thursday, Feb. 9 he had copies of the plan placed on the seats of attendees at the University of Tampa.
“The very idea the senator from Florida wants to put Social Security and Medicare on the chopping block every five years I find to be somewhat outrageous, so outrageous that you might not even believe it,” said Biden. “But it’s what he…I won’t do it again,” he said of reading Scott’s plan, then changed his mind, “but, well, I will,” and he pulled the pamphlet out of his jacket.
“Twelve-point American Rescue plan,” he read. “One of the points: ‘All federal legislation sunsets every five years. If the law is worth keeping, the Congress can pass it all over again.’ Look, if it doesn’t get reauthorized, it goes out of existence. If Congress wants it, they got to keep it and they got to vote on the same thing. And then, in case there was any doubt, just yesterday, he confirmed that he still, he still likes his proposal.”
Biden continued: “Well, I guarantee you, it will not happen. I will veto it. I’ll defend Social Security and Medicare.”
In addition to these blows to his policy proposals and standing in the Senate, Scott had harbored presidential ambitions in 2024, although he said these were contingent on Trump not running. On Jan. 26 Scott announced he would not be seeking the presidency, would seek re-election to the Senate and would remain neutral in the presidential nominating process.
To add it all up as of this writing: Scott failed in his mission to elect a Republican Senate, failed to unseat the Republican Senate leader, failed to vote for aid to his state, failed to advance his presidential ambitions, provided a weapon for Democrats to hammer Republicans, became the face of Republican callousness, may have lost all of America’s senior voters—and he did all this while personally insulting the president and his own boss in the Senate.
That’s a pretty deep hole.
Most people, having failed in their pursuits and offended their friends, colleagues and the world at large, might draw back a bit, quiet themselves, contemplate their failings, ask forgiveness, humbly seek redemption and try to make amends.
Not Rick Scott. He has doubled down and dug deeper.
The morning after the State of the Union speech, Scott issued a statement arguing that he wasn’t advocating ending Social Security.
He stated that while “Last night, Joe Biden rambled for a while,” and was “confused,” Scott argued that accusing him of wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare was “dishonest” and a “lie” resulting from Biden’s “confusion.”
“In my plan, I suggested the following: All federal legislation sunsets in five years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again. This is clearly and obviously an idea aimed at dealing with ALL the crazy new laws our Congress has been passing of late,” he stated.
Implying that Biden’s assertion was the result of senility, Scott stated, “Does he think I also intend to get rid of the U.S. Navy? Or the border patrol? Or air traffic control, maybe? This is the kind of fake, gotcha BS that people hate about Washington. I’ve never advocated cutting Social Security or Medicare and never would. I will not be intimidated by Joe Biden twisting my words, or Chuck Schumer twisting my words – or by anyone else for that matter.”
He argued that, to the contrary, Democrats in essence cut Medicare when Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act gave the federal government power to negotiate lower prescription drug prices.
“They lie about it and the liberal media covers for them,” he complained. “If they think they can shut me up or intimidate me by lying… I’m here for it… I’m ready to go. I will not be silenced by the Washington establishment.”
But even conservative media hadn’t bought Scott’s plan when it was unveiled. The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump, pro-democracy media organization, gleefully released a March, 2022 sound bite of Fox News host John Roberts arguing with Scott that his plan cut Social Security and Medicare.
Scott dismissed Roberts’ assertion as a “Democratic talking point,” to which Roberts forcefully responded, “It’s not a Democratic talking point, it’s in the plan,” and kept repeating “it’s in the plan” despite Scott’s denials.
Not content with denials and arguments, on Feb. 7, Scott announced on Twitter that he was releasing an advertisement to run in Florida, calling on Biden to resign. “I’m Rick Scott. Biden should resign. I approve this message,” it concludes.
That suggestion is not likely to go far.
Analysis: Channeling Trump and digging deeper
In this give-and-take over whether he wants to cut essential social safety net programs, Scott has clearly chosen to take the Trump approach to criticism: never apologize, never back down, attack your attackers and discredit the media that reports your failings.
Using this approach, Trump bulldozed his way through scandals, two impeachments, a failed coup and even, arguably, treason.
Scott is trying to do the same thing, only he’s not driving a bulldozer, he’s pushing a spade on the end of an idiot stick and the only place he’s going is deeper into the hole he’s already in.
As chronicled before (“Rick Scott meets the Peter Principle”), Scott, who has been able to essentially buy his elections in Florida, was out of his depth on the national stage when he tried to win the Senate.
Now he’s denying that his “Rescue America” plan implicitly endangers Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. However, as Joe Biden, John Roberts and a host of other commentators and critics have pointed out, it does precisely that by jeopardizing all longstanding, duly legislated programs.
In fact what this whole affair really shows is that Scott, in pursuit of broad-brush, politically advantageous slogans was and is unable or unwilling to truly think through the full implications of his policy proposals. In this he is also like Trump—and that’s not a good attribute for presidents or senators.
As previously noted, Scott is not a natural politician, either in his approach to people or leadership. His policy prescriptions are shallow, extreme and unimaginative. He’s not a deep thinker. In his challenges to McConnell and the Republican Senate leadership he’s demonstrated ineptitude and insensitivity and an almost total lack of self-awareness. Outside his own MAGA cheerleading section and whatever voices are in his head, his own statements and actions are coming back to haunt him.
Not to be forgotten in this is his friction with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a leading Republican presidential possibility. The two have never gotten along and their antipathy is likely to intensify as the presidential nominating process proceeds. His protestations of neutrality aside, Scott will no doubt remain a Trump partisan and there is always the possibility that he could be primaried by a viable DeSantis loyalist.
Florida Democrats should welcome Scott’s run for another term in 2024. By his arrogance, blindness and incompetence, Scott is making his Senate seat available. It’s an opportunity for the Florida Democratic Party to reconstitute itself and recapture a statewide office. Like all Scott races it will be expensive. Scott spends whatever it takes to buy votes, but he nonetheless offers Democrats a ray of sunshine after an otherwise dark season.
How deep a hole will Scott dig? He shows no signs of slowing down or changing course. But as anyone who has ever dug a pit knows, the deeper you dig, the more dangerous and unstable it becomes—and when you’re in over your head, that hole just may become your grave.
Updated 3:00 pm with statewide statistics and addition of “Commitment to America.”
Southwest Florida’s seniors were reassured last night, Feb. 7, that Social Security will continue uncut thanks to President Joe Biden’s skillful handling of Republican detractors during his State of the Union address.
“Some of my Republican friends want to take the economy hostage — I get it — unless I agree to their economic plans. All of you at home should know what those plans are,” he said at one point during the speech. “Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans, some Republicans, want Medicare and Social Security to sunset. I’m not saying it’s the majority.”
When Republicans booed and shouted out denials they had any plans to cut Social Security, he took that as support for Social Security and responded: “Folks — so folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right? They’re not to be — all right. We’ve got unanimity.”
He continued: “Social Security and Medicare are a lifeline for millions of seniors. Americans have to pay into them from the very first paycheck they started.
“So tonight, let’s all agree — and we apparently are — let’s stand up for seniors. Stand up and show them we will not cut Social Security. We will not cut Medicare.
“Those benefits belong to the American people. They earned it.
“And if anyone tries to cut Social Security, which apparently no one’s going to do, and if anyone tries to cut Medicare, I’ll stop them. I’ll veto it. And look, I’m not going to allow them to take away — be taken away.
“Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever. But apparently it’s not going to be a problem.”
The threatening record
Despite vehement denials, there are Republican proposals to end, or at least jeopardize, the continuation of Social Security and Medicare.
The chief antagonist is Florida’s own Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) who issued his 11-point “Rescue America” plan early last year. That plan would subject Social Security and Medicare to five-year reauthorizations, with the possibility that it could be terminated at any time. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) proposed subjecting the programs to annual renewals, making them even more precarious.
In the House, Rep. Kevin Hern (R-1-Okla.), the leader of the conservative Republican Study Committee, told The Washington Postin January that, “We have no choice but to make hard decisions,” when it came to cuts. Coming on top of Republican threats not to raise the debt ceiling, the remarks indicated a willingness to sacrifice Social Security. A House Republican “Commitment to America” called for cuts but was vague about its commitment to preserving Social Security and Medicare.
The debate over Social Security and Medicaid is particularly relevant in Southwest Florida.
As of January 2023, there were 548,533 Social Security recipients in all of Florida, of whom 224,920 were 65 years or older, according to the Social Security Administration.
As of January 2023, there were 548,533 Social Security recipients in all of Florida, of whom 224,920 were 65 years or older, according to the Social Security Administration.
In Collier County, out of a total 2021 population of 385,980 people, 29 percent were 65 years or older and 48 percent of them received Social Security benefits, according to the 2021 Profile of Older Floridians (the latest available).
Some 29 percent of the 2021 Lee County population of 787,976 was also 65 years and older, according to the US Census, and 12,547 received Social Security benefits, according to the Social Security Administration.
Since all these were 2021 figures, the numbers have probably gone up.
These are substantial segments of the Southwest Florida population and they would be devastated by cuts to Social Security and Medicare, especially given the increased needs in the wake of Hurricane Ian’s destruction.
Discussion of the debt ceiling and the future of the national budget will continue. However, for Southwest Florida seniors dependent on Social Security for their income and Medicare to pay their medical bills, their benefits now appear safe for the moment, thanks to an unruly consensus forged by the president in the midst of a State of the Union speech.
When my son was in middle school in Virginia he was assigned to read the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
I had never read the book. I knew of “Uncle Tom” as a derogatory insult but not the novel behind the epithet.
It was in our house. So I read it.
Now I know: Uncle Tom’s Cabin is the most powerful work of American fiction ever written.
It is searing, it is enlightening, it is deeply disturbing and even 170 years after it was published it is as controversial as it was on June 5, 1851, the day its first chapter appeared as a serial in the abolitionist newspaper The National Era.
Just how controversial it is could be seen on Jan. 19 of this year, when a copy arrived in the office of Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.).
Donalds was outraged. He took it as an insult and a challenge.
“Whoever sent this book did so w/ hate in their heart & the desire to depict me as a sellout,” he raged in a tweet.
Four days later he elaborated in a mass e-mail: “When my colleagues nominated me to be Speaker of the House earlier this month, the radical Left and the Fake New [sic] Media put a target on my back. They’ve already called me a white supremacist, a diversity statement, and a prop. Now, someone just mailed a copy of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s renowned book Uncle Tom’s Cabin to my congressional office. The hateful individual who sent it was trying to depict me as a sellout because I’m a black conservative who REFUSES to tow the Democrat party line.”
Then Donalds immediately sought to exploit the incident for fundraising purposes: “Let’s show them that their racist attack BACKFIRED with a surge of grassroots contributions to support my fight against the destructive far-Left agenda. Please make a contribution to help me defend myself from the Left’s racist attacks and fight back against the ruinous Biden-Harris agenda in the new Congress.”
(For the record and under oath: That copy was NOT sent by this author or The Paradise Progressive.)
Beyond its aspects as an insult, Uncle Tom’s Cabin raises a serious question for Florida given Gov. Ron DeSantis’ anti-woke crusade as well as state legislative efforts to craft a version of American history that doesn’t disturb or offend anyone—and Donalds’ own crusade against the teaching of critical race theory.
The question is: Can a 170-year old novel that is arguably an important part of American history even be taught in Florida schools now?
When President Abraham Lincoln met author Harriett Beecher Stowe in 1862 he’s reported to have said, “So this is the little lady who started this great war.”
While Stowe didn’t actually start the war (after all, she didn’t fire the first shot at Fort Sumter), the impact of her novel was indisputable.
Given the size of the audience at the time, Uncle Tom’s Cabin may have been the best-selling book in American history. By the end of the nineteenth century it was second in sales only to the Bible.
Its impact at the time of its publication was explosive. It put the issue of slavery on the front burner of American politics and discussion. It brought home to Americans slavery’s cruelty and inhumanity. It boosted abolitionism and discredited the pro-slavery intellectual arguments. It did this from its opening scene in which a young black child is about to be sold away from his mother so his master can pay off a debt.
The novel’s power comes from its vivid depiction of the impact of slavery on individuals and their responses to it. It portrayed slavery’s cruel twisting of the most fundamental human relationships, between parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, not just among blacks but among whites as well.
In a moving, compelling way, it revealed slaves as human beings with emotions and characters, with whom readers could identify. But its greater point was that slaves were Christians with Christian souls and were facing persecution for it.
Central to doing this is the character of Uncle Tom, an older slave who embodies fundamental Christian values of love, piety, forbearance, patience, self-sacrifice and humility—as well as conscience, empathy and ultimately, deep principle. It’s his commitment to Christian principles and faith that leads to his death at the hands of a brutal master, Simon Legree, a transplanted Yankee whose worst instincts are sharpened and encouraged by his embrace of slavery.
After serialization, the story was published as a book on March 20, 1852. It was an instant bestseller, so much so that the publisher had difficulty running the presses to keep up with demand. In the South it caused outrage and was denounced as false, or as it might be put contemporarily, “fake news.” One bookseller was hounded out of town for selling it and the book was banned in southern communities, the first such ban in the United States.
Long-suffering Uncle Tom was a controversial character from the time the work was published. Even at the outset he was criticized for his submissiveness and forbearance. In the 1960s as the civil rights movement gained momentum and sought to mobilize blacks to actively assert their rights, “Uncle Tom” became an epithet, shorthand for inactivism, indifference and passivity.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin can be said to have been the first “woke” novel—and “woke” in the literal sense that it woke Americans up to the nature of slavery.
Of course, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has declared Florida “the place where woke goes to die” and he is doing his best to kill whatever he considers to be “woke.”
On April 22, 2022 DeSantis signed House Bill 7, the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act.
Promoted and pushed by DeSantis, the Stop WOKE Act, among other things, prohibits advocacy of any kind of discrimination in teaching. But it also prohibits teaching in which “An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.”
Part of the anti-woke effort, and the Anti-WOKE Act, is an attempt to banish the teaching of critical race theory (CRT). This is an academic theory that racial discrimination has pervasively shaped legal and social institutions. Largely confined to academia, CRT became a favored target of conservatives in the aftermath of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.
Locally, Donalds has been an outspoken critic of CRT, denouncing it in the media and targeting the Collier County school system, warning educators at a press conference on Aug. 3, 2021 that they were being watched for any signs of it in classrooms.
“Those proposing this wicked curriculum would like to live in an America where every American is judged based on the color of their skin and not the content of their character, which, if I remember my history correctly, is the complete opposite of the teachings of Dr. King and decades of civil rights progress and commitment to creating a more perfect union,” he wrote. “Today, radical leftists are upending this longstanding American virtue to push this un-American and divisive agenda.”
He also cosponsored a bill in the last Congress, House Resolution 397, which declared CRT prejudicial. The bill never advanced past the introductory stage.
The Anti-WOKE Act has been blocked in court. On Nov. 10, 2022, Chief US District Judge Mark Walker halted its implementation in a 138-page opinion that denounced it for supposedly allowing academic freedom—but only for opinions of which the state government approved. “This is positively dystopian,” he wrote. The state is appealing the ruling.
On Jan. 18, the presidents of Florida’s college system issued a statement rejecting “the progressivist higher education indoctrination agenda,” and committing to “removing all woke positions and ideologies by February 1, 2023”—the beginning of Black History Month, according to the Florida Department of Education.
DeSantis and the state Department of Education took another step toward imposing their view of history when on Jan. 22 they disapproved of an advanced placement course in black history for Florida students.
“We wanted to give a comprehensive view of the culture, literature, historical development, political movements, social movements,” Christopher Tinson, the chair of the African American Studies department at Saint Louis University, who helped formulate the course, told National Public Radio.
DeSantis denounced the course and defended Florida’s decision to ban it. “We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them,” he said in a press conference on Jan. 23. He denounced the course for allegedly attempting to “indoctrinate” students and pursue a political agenda.
A place for Uncle Tom?
Between the Anti-WOKE Act and the effort to stamp out CRT, can Uncle Tom’s Cabin be taught in Florida schools? Can it even be mentioned in the state as part of American history?
After all, there is no book that is more likely to induce “guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress” than Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Indeed, that was what Harriet Beecher Stowe set out to do.
This particular topic hasn’t been high on anyone’s agenda to date, so there hasn’t been any real debate so far.
But how Uncle Tom’s Cabin is taught in Florida, or if it can even be mentioned, is an interesting litmus test of the state-imposed view of history. How far will DeSantis and his allies go to impose their own indoctrination on the state and its teachers and students? Will they even allow teaching the Civil War at all? That event made many people uncomfortable.
The fight in Florida is a complex one that involves principles of academic freedom and the propriety of legislating culture. It is also a question of whether the state will teach history that accords with facts or a version that might be called “fake history,” supporting a politician’s presidential ambitions and the prejudices of his followers. In all of this, producing students who can be considered educated and prepared for the world seems a secondary consideration.
In another great novel, 1984, the Party had as one of its central tenets: “He who controls the past controls the future: he who controls the present controls the past.”
As this year’s Black History Month dawns, the educational battle in Florida is over who will control the past and future. And Uncle Tom’s Cabin speaks to the core of that debate every bit as much today as it did 170 years ago.