COVID vaxx for kids sets stage for renewed struggle at school boards and in classrooms

Alfie Oakes: Teachers should be “taken down” by “force”

A March 10, 2021 meeting of the Collier County School Board is disrupted by anti-mask protesters. (Image: Fox4 News)

Oct. 26, 2021 by David Silverberg

Tensions surrounding school board decisions, masking and curriculum, already at a high pitch, are likely to become even more pronounced in the weeks ahead as new child COVID vaccines become available and are mandated for school use.

The possibility of violence and past intimidation and harassment of school officials has prompted federal law enforcement intervention, leading to state and local pushback.

Southwest Florida is already in the grip of these stresses and challenges. Passions have run high at local school board meetings over the past year, with disruptions, disorderly conduct and protests.

To date there has not been any school-related violence in Southwest Florida. However, there has been at least one local, politically-motivated overt call to use “force” against teachers.

On Aug. 16 Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III, an extreme right-wing grower and grocer, posted on Facebook: “These corrupt teachers unions are the enemy of our country and our citizens! We need to take them down by force!! ALL enemies foreign and domestic !!! Time for a revolution!”

On Aug. 20 Oakes told a conservative gathering in Naples that he had a sufficient number of guns to arm all his 3,200 employees. While no illegal actions have been publicly apparent to date, his call to “take [teachers] down by force” could inspire other school opponents to use violence.

The simmering summer

After a summer of rising tension and threats directed at elected school board members, along with a spike in the COVID-19 Delta variant, on Sept. 29, Viola Garcia, president of the National School Boards Association (NSBA), and Chip Slaven, its interim executive director, sent a five-page letter to President Joe Biden, detailing the danger.

“America’s public schools and its education leaders are under an immediate threat. The National School Boards Association (NSBA) respectfully asks for federal law enforcement and other assistance to deal with the growing number of threats of violence and acts of intimidation occurring across the nation,” it stated.

“Local school board members want to hear from their communities on important issues and that must be at the forefront of good school board governance and promotion of free speech,” it continued. “However, there also must be safeguards in place to protect public schools and dedicated education leaders as they do their jobs.”

The letter provided extensive examples of harassment and threats in its body and footnotes.

On Oct. 4 Attorney General Merrick Garland responded with a public memorandum.

“Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values,” he wrote. “Those who dedicate their time and energy to ensuring that our children receive a proper education in a safe environment deserve to be able to do their work without fear for their safety.” (The full text of the memo is at the end of this article.)

Based on the danger to teachers and school board members, Garland ordered agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and US attorneys to begin meeting with law enforcement agencies at all levels to discuss strategies for dealing with the danger. “These sessions will open dedicated lines of communication for threat reporting, assessment and response by law enforcement,” he stated.  

Garland’s memorandum was interpreted by Republicans, grass roots conservatives and the right-wing media as an assault on parents’ rights and free speech, potentially labeling parents “domestic terrorists.”

This was the line of attack opened by Republican members of Congress when Garland testified before the House Judiciary Committee this past Thursday, Oct. 21. The hearing’s official topic was the investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection but it examined a broad range of subjects.

Garland defended his memo.

“Parents have been complaining about the education of their children and about school boards since there were such things as school boards and public education,” he told the lawmakers. “This is totally protected by the First Amendment. True threats of violence are not protected by the First Amendment. Those are the things we are worried about here. Those are the only things we are worried about here. We are not investigating peaceful protests or parent involvement in school board meetings. There is no precedent for doing that and we would never do that. We are only concerned about violence and threats of violence against school administrators, teachers, staff.”

Republicans on the panel, however, used the opportunity to unleash their grievances and attack the memo. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-4-Ohio), the ranking member on the panel, delivered a vociferous opening statement accusing Garland and the FBI of selectively targeting parents, while ignoring Republican priorities like violent crime and border security.

Garland, said Jordan, had opened “a snitch line on parents, started five days after a left wing political organization asked for it. If that’s not political, I don’t know what is.”

(Southwest Florida Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), who sits on the panel, used his question to ask Garland if the Department of Justice was pursuing environmental protesters at the Department of the Interior with the same vigor as the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. Garland said he was unfamiliar with the incident Steube was mentioning.)

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) declared that the state would not cooperate with the FBI.

“We’re not going to be cooperating with any types of federal investigations into parents,” he said at a press conference in Titusville last Wednesday, Oct. 20. “And we’ll do whatever we can to thwart such investigations.” He accused Garland and President Joe Biden of pulling a political stunt to “intimidate parents” and “squelch dissent” and called a memo a “slap in the face” to Florida and other local law enforcement officers.

“They don’t need to have their hand held by federal agents over basic law enforcement,” he said. “At the state level, we will be not facilitating or participating in any of the things that were outlined in that memo, because it’s just not appropriate to do that.”

Trouble in paradise

In an essay published on Oct. 20 in The Washington Post: “I’m a Florida school board member. This is how protesters come after me,” Brevard County school board member Jennifer Jenkins related how protesters opposing school curriculum demonstrated at her house, how a state representative gave out her private cell phone number and encouraged harassing phone calls, and how her lawn was vandalized, among other forms of threats.

She wrote: “I ran for the school board last year because I was concerned about issues such as teacher pay, student equity and, oh yeah, the coronavirus. As a progressive in a red county, I expected to be a target of conservatives; I did not expect to be called a Nazi and a pedophile and to be subjected to months of threats, harassment and intimidation.” 

On the west coast of Florida, specifically in Lee and Collier counties, there has not been the same level of threat against school boards, teachers or staff. Nonetheless, in the spring, school board meetings were the scene of intense debate and at times disruption.

Issues included mask mandates, curriculum, school textbooks and especially the teaching of critical race theory, an educational concept that emphasizes the importance of racial relations in American history.

In March the Collier County school board chambers had to be cleared when anti-mask parents insisted on removing their masks in defiance of board rules.

In June, the Collier County school board was again the scene of disruptions as the board discussed school textbook purchases and anti-curriculum attendees disrupted proceedings.

Alfie Oakes harangues the Collier County School Board before being escorted out by a security officer. (Image: WINK News)

During that meeting on June 7 Alfie Oakes was escorted out of the chambers after he refused to respect the rules governing discussion while accusing the board of planning to purchase $6 million worth of what he called “books and materials that are laden with critical race theory and other strictly liberal viewpoints.”

The pandemic and the issues of masking in school led to protests and demonstrations in the spring. However, with the COVID Delta variant outbreak in the summer and especially as schools prepared to open in August, passions reached a new pitch.

In August there were shoving incidents outside the Lee County School Board headquarters before a meeting to discuss a school mask mandate. Although the Lee County Board imposed a 30-day mandate for September, a mid-month court ruling forced the school system to provide exemptions.

It was also in August, in the midst of the Delta spike, that Alfie Oakes issued his call for the use of “force” against teachers.

In October the Lee County school board discussed an armed guardian program, training armed teachers and school security officers to prevent school shootings from any source.

Commentary: From angry August to nasty November

School-related tensions are likely to rise substantially in the coming weeks when COVID vaccines are fully approved and distributed for children from ages 5 to 12.

Schools have mandated a variety of vaccines for decades but given the level of resistance and politicization surrounding the COVID vaccine, quite an eruption can be expected when schools try to require the latest protection.

School board members, teachers and staff will need extensive physical protection and they should start preparing now—even if they don’t impose mandates.

In this context, Attorney General Garland’s memo directing federal, state and local coordination and strategizing is a reasonable, lawful, and sensible effort to protect elected school board officials and staff from attacks of all kinds. As Garland himself stated, and as the memo itself states, it is only directed against unlawful threats. It does not infringe on parents’ rights, of free speech or anything else, and it does not designate them as “domestic terrorists.”

In fact, Garland would be remiss if he did not take such actions.

Of course, Florida, led by an ambitious and determinedly Trumpist governor has already established itself as an outlier. DeSantis has shown himself driven to fight all COVID protections of all sorts, at all levels and for all ages. He picked a pliant Surgeon General in Joseph Ladapo, who simply provides any and all justifications DeSantis requires for his desired electoral results. His administration has concealed the real statistics for COVID, especially the Delta variant, to minimize the toll his policies have taken on Floridians.

At the grassroots level the anti-mask, anti-vaccine, anti-science, anti-curriculum—in fact, anti-learning—movement seems aimed more at imposing its own version of the indoctrination it claims to decry than the education it purports to uphold. It is aided and abetted in this by the right-wing media outrage machine, which is twisting any science-based, or law enforcement measure into an assault on parental authority and individual freedom.

In a broader sense what the anti-learning, anti-protection activists seem intent on doing is creating a parallel universe in classrooms where COVID either doesn’t exist or can be ignored, where American history is literally whitewashed and where comfortable delusions—like the Big Lie—can be taught as fact and take hold for generations to come.

If it succeeds, Southwest Florida will not be spared its results any more than other corner of the country.

In the days ahead, those who do love democracy, learning and wish to protect the lives of schoolchildren will have to show themselves more committed, more mobilized and more dedicated than those who seek to put their lives and learning at risk.


The next regular meeting of the Lee County School Board is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 2 at 6:00 pm at the Lee County Public Education Center, 2855 Colonial Blvd., Fort Myers, Fla. 

The next regular meeting of the Collier County School Board is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 7 at 4:00 pm at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Administrative Center, 5775 Osceola Trail. Naples, Fla.


Full text of the 1-page Oct. 4 memorandum from Attorney General Merrick Garland to law enforcement agencies.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

The Donalds Dossier: Anti-vaxxer or not?

Rep. Byron Donalds in an Aug. 10 Fox News interview, denouncing vaccination distinctions. (Image: Fox News)

Aug. 15, 2021 by David Silverberg

With the COVID-19 Delta variant rampaging through Florida and with urgent efforts to get the vulnerable vaccinated to halt the spread of the virus, “influencers” of all stripes and positions have taken on new importance, especially public figures and elected officials.

Nowhere is this truer than in Southwest Florida and the 19th Congressional District along the Florida Gulf coast from Cape Coral to Marco Island. Here, vaccination has become an acutely intense and impassioned political act. A vocal, hardcore anti-vaccination (anti-vaxx) constituency is demonstrating against vaccinations and especially fears vaccine mandates.

In all this Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) plays a particularly prominent role. He represents nearly 700,000 people in Congress and has special access to a media megaphone. What he says and does can sway many people in this community.

So is he an anti-vaxxer or a pro-vaxxer? It’s a question that should be easy to answer.

He’s…

Well, let’s examine the context, the politics and the record first.

Summertime

Donalds started off the summer very strongly and looked set to cruise through to Labor Day on top of the world.

There’s no denying that his second-quarter fundraising numbers were impressive: His political campaign took in $1.1 million for his re-election effort, an astounding sum for the otherwise sleepy beachfront district.

His staunchly far-right political positions were playing well with his white, conservative base in the district and gaining him national prominence with conservative elites, aiding his fundraising. The money came in from all over the country. If properly managed, some of it could be used to donate to other candidates, building his support in Congress.

He played the conservative martyr when the Congressional Black Caucus ignored his application to join. He had a greatly exploitable issue in opposing critical race theory, on which he had particular credibility. His adamant denunciations resonated with his base and his donors on the eve of a new school year. He stoked paranoid fear of liberal radicalism, driving donations and advancing the Republican agenda.

He was getting plenty of softball publicity in the right-wing media sphere and when he was critically scrutinized by traditional, mainstream media, he could discredit or dismiss the results. He had some useful pictures showing himself being blessed by Donald Trump, presumably making Trumpers happy.

He was at last showing concern about the district’s water issues, sending out letters to the Army Corps of Engineers regarding Lake Okeechobee releases and participating or hosting conferences on water management solutions. It was gaining him local environmental credibility, or at the very least, publicity.

His longstanding anti-masking efforts seemed justified as COVID receded and the pandemic appeared to be over. He had staunchly supported Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) opposition to masks, mandates or lockdowns and Florida was booming economically.

What was more, he could piggyback on DeSantis’ popularity. The governor’s polling numbers were very high among Republicans and might provide Donalds some nice coattails to ride in the next election.

Senate seats might also be opening up that Donalds could pursue. Then, who knows? Perhaps Donalds, currently age 42, could reach the presidency as the conservative Obama in 2028 or ’32 or ’36 or ’40—provided, of course, that the elections took place as scheduled.

A smooth and sunny summer stretched before him.

What could possibly go wrong?

From summer to bummer

Donalds won the 2020 Republican nomination for Congress in the 19th District after a strenuous nine-person primary that saw the candidates scrambling to out-Trump each other.

As they competed to be Trumpier than Trump, they aped the former president’s casual and dismissive approach to the COVID outbreak.

Donalds was particularly active in this regard. He opposed masking and took the time and made the effort to show up in person to oppose mask mandates whenever they arose. This included appearances in Cape Coral and before the Collier County Commission.

“You have no authority to mandate what people can put on their body. The fear people are having doesn’t justify it,” Donalds said when he spoke before the Cape Coral City Council on July 6, 2020. “As a council, you have the solemn duty to vote this down and get back to common sense.”

On July 14, when the Collier County Commission first debated a mask mandate, Donalds argued it would put “extensive burdens” on local law enforcement.

“How are you going to have them enforce such a mandate?” he asked commissioners. “Who are they going to decide to enforce it on and who are they not going to enforce it on? There are major issues with such an order.” The commission ultimately voted in a mask mandate.

He also argued against mask mandates when he debated Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai on Sept. 28.

Candidate Byron Donalds during his October 2020 COVID quarantine. (Image: Byron Donalds for Congress campaign)

Given all this, it was richly ironic that Donalds tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 16, 2020 when President Donald Trump came to Fort Myers.

Donalds quarantined at home for two weeks and seemed none the worse for wear when he emerged. In videos he made from his back yard his chief focus was on the different exercise workouts he was trying.

Presuming his personal immunity, Donalds continued taking an anti-mask position through his primary and general races, winning the congressional seat he now holds.

Once in office, Donalds continued to denounce mask mandates and COVID precautions and attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, for his warnings.

“When has the media or Dr. Fauci ever been right?” he asked in a tweet on June 2.

 Unsurprisingly, he also praised DeSantis’ executive order banning mask mandates in schools.

“PARENTS must choose what is best for their child, NOT the federal government!” he tweeted on July 30, starting a petition to “tell the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] they have no right to mask our kids!” He also praised DeSantis’ executive order prohibiting mask mandates in schools, which he stated was “putting the power back into the hands of parents––but we must continue our fight!”

All the fulminations against masking went over well enough in July until the current COVID Delta variant spike could no longer be ignored. Not just Fauci but virtually the entire medical community, the mainstream media and the whole weight of the federal government starting with President Joe Biden began urging and pushing Americans to get vaccinated.

But fighting COVID precautions didn’t just curry favor with the base for Donalds, it was fundraising gold.

“Biden and the radical Left are coming for your freedom,” he wrote in a fundraising e-mail on Aug. 12, which warned that Biden might intervene against DeSantis’ mask mandate ban. “They’re trying to use the federal government to FORCE Anthony Fauci’s anti-scientific mandates and lockdowns on Florida and take away our ability to make our own decisions.”

Some politicians might have considered their previous anti-precautions positions a problem given the magnitude of the COVID threat. But Donalds decided to double down in opposing protections.

On July 27, he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo during a contentious interview: “You’re saying that everybody has to get vaccinated to protect everybody. What I’m saying is that if Americans want to get vaccinated, if they want to be protected from COVID-19, whether it’s the Delta variant or the new Lambda variant that’s coming across our southern border as we speak, if you want to be protected, go get the vaccine, I fully promote your doing that. At the same time there are Americans that don’t want to get it; they shouldn’t be forced to do so.”

He also provided some personal perspective.

“I chose not to get vaccinated because I chose not to get vaccinated,” he said. “I already had COVID-19 once, I’m 42 years old, I’m in very good health, I actually get checkups regularly and do all those things. That is a personal decision for myself; members of my family, my wife and three kids, they’ve all had COVID. They’re not getting vaccinated, they’re all healthy. That is a decision they’ve chosen to make.

“If people in the United States are concerned about contracting and being hospitalized and dying, of course, from COVID-19, please go get vaccinated. I will never tell you not to get vaccinated. What I’m saying is: I made a decision not to get vaccinated and it doesn’t matter if it’s you or Joe Biden or anybody else that’s going to stress or want me to get it…I made that decision as a free person.”

The CNN anchor was having none of it: “Everybody should know that about you, Byron Donalds: you’re not telling people to get the vaccine, you are not pushing it and you’re not saying it’s the right choice. You’re saying you’re not doing it and your family’s not doing it and you’re leaving that out of the equation that you can make other people sick as though that doesn’t matter.”

Then, in a head-spinning act of projection, in an Aug. 10 Fox News interview with host Lawrence Jones III, Donalds went on to accuse Democrats of racism and trying to reintroduce segregation based on vaccination status.

“So when you look at what’s going on in the country, yes, the largest percentage of our population has vaccine hesitancy is the Black community,” said Donalds. “At this point I will tell anybody: go talk to your doctor, get the information; if you feel comfortable enough, then go get the vaccine. But the way the Democrats are going is typically what they always do. You see they have no problem choosing segregation; it’s their history. Their way of maintaining power is no different today.”

Then he accused Democrats and the federal government of not giving people sufficient information to make informed decisions whether to get vaccinated.

As he put it: “And so, when you give people credible information, you break it down for them people will actually see: Is their risk of infection higher? Yes. Is their risk of hospitalization higher than someone who is vaccinated? Yes. But the risk of death is still significantly lower than somebody who was in the vulnerable population, whether with the original strain or now with the Delta variant. The White House doesn’t want to give that information ‘cause their entire goal is zero COVID, so Joe Biden can run around saying that he solved the pandemic. Give people real information, they will make decisions for themselves in their own lives.”

Editor’s note: A new study released on Aug. 6 revealed that even those with a previous bout of COVID like Donalds’ should get vaccinated.

“If you have had COVID-19 before, please still get vaccinated,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, stated at that time. “This study shows you are twice as likely to get infected again if you are unvaccinated. Getting the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others around you, especially as the more contagious Delta variant spreads around the country.”

Commentary: Is Donalds an anti-vaxxer?

It’s clear that in his vaccination positions, Donalds is trying to thread the needle between hard-core, fanatical anti-vaxxers who make up a significant part of his political base and the rest of humanity that’s trying to survive.

In his public statements, Donalds argues that he isn’t anti-vaccine per se. He just thinks vaccinations are a personal choice.

That may be true enough. But as he perfectly well knows, the unvaccinated are not only endangering their own lives but those of their families and everyone around them. Defeating the virus is an all-or-nothing effort.

While Donalds may parse his opposition to vaccinations, in fact his actions speak louder than words—but his words are pretty powerful too.

By refusing to vaccinate himself and his family, he is setting a prominent, public example of vaccine resistance. By not verbally endorsing vaccinations, he’s encouraging vaccine hesitancy. These failures to act or speak are helping spread the virus in Southwest Florida.

His criticism of Democrats—and by extension the CDC and the entire government—for somehow not providing the hesitant with enough information is mind-boggling. Since taking office President Joe Biden, his administration and his team have been inundating the airwaves and public spaces with the kind of data, facts, studies and conclusions that were never shared under President Donald Trump. This is an administration of transparency, frankness and encouragement that is trying to defeat the pandemic. It’s people like Donalds who are making that more difficult.

His attacks on Democrats for somehow displaying racism and renewing segregation based on vaccination status are simple, absurd projections that aren’t even worthy of refutation. They’re just pages from Donald Trump’s well-worn book of distractions, projections and narcissistic mind tricks.

What is more, his personal example of getting vaccinated might encourage people in the Black community who might be vaccine-hesitant to get the shot. Instead, he’s giving legitimacy to vaccine resistance that could take Black lives—while turning around and accusing Democrats of racism.

But politically, Donalds is trying to have it all ways: he’s anti-vaxx while not specifically denouncing vaccinations. He is, however, denouncing those, like Fauci, who are desperately attempting to protect people from the pandemic. He presents himself as standing for individual freedom while at the same time standing in the way of public health measures that might preserve lives, especially those of school-age children.

He appears more concerned with protecting his political future and pandering to the most extreme and ignorant elements of his base than saving lives and protecting the public.

This balancing act on the edge of the precipice is not working. Instead, it smacks of moral cowardice and a failure—or inability—to lead.

Ultimately, when the chronicle of this plague is written, Rep. Byron Donalds will go down in history as an accomplice of Death.

That’s not the way anyone should want to be remembered.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

A license for lawlessness: Collier County, Florida’s proposed “sanctuary ordinance” and a better way forward

The Collier County Commission considers a “Bill of Rights sanctuary” ordinance at its June 22 meeting. (Image: NBC2 News)

June 27, 2021 by David Silverberg

A proposed ordinance to create a “sanctuary county for the Bill of Rights” in Collier County, Florida, is clearly unconstitutional, illegal and—rather than protecting the Bill of Rights—would erode the county’s rule of law and equal administration of justice.

Such an ordinance will be considered by the Collier County Commission at its next meeting on Tuesday, July 13.

On a practical level, the ordinance would encourage lawbreaking with impunity, invite immediate and costly litigation for the county and make Collier County and Southwest Florida a laughingstock in the nation. It would harm tourism and the local hospitality industry as people take their vacation dollars away from a region embroiled in an emotional and unnecessary controversy.

So what is this ordinance? What is its state of play? How did it come to be proposed?

If passed, what are the implications for the county, state and country?

Lastly, is there a better alternative?

This article will address all these questions, draw conclusions and recommend a better course.

The proposal

(A copy of the full ordinance for download is available at the end of this article.)

The five-page proposed ordinance was put on the County Commission agenda at a meeting on Tuesday, June 22.

In broad summary the proposal creates a “sanctuary county” that exempts Collier County and its residents from federal laws and regulations that they may feel violate the Bill of Rights.

Collier County residents are given standing to sue officials attempting to enforce those federal laws and regulations.

In its establishing clauses (the “whereas” paragraphs), the ordinance argues that since the county commissioners are concerned that the federal government is encroaching on citizen rights, “Any federal act, law, order, rule, or regulation” that seems to violate the Bill of Rights “is invalid in Collier County and shall not be recognized by Collier County, and shall be considered null, void and of no effect in Collier County, Florida.”

County officials attempting to enforce federal laws will be subject to lawsuits by citizens. Further, county resources are not allowed to be used to enforce “unlawful” acts.

The ordinance was publicly proposed by Commissioner and Vice-Chairman Bill McDaniel, who represents County District 5, which includes Golden Gate, Immokalee and Everglades City.

The bill was effectively snuck onto the County Commission agenda with little to no advance general publicity but considerable lobbying that saw Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), a surrogate from state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-North Naples to Marco Island), and Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk all endorsing the proposal. At the meeting 25 supporters spoke in favor of it, without any dissenting voices.

According to a June 23 Naples Daily News account of the meeting, McDaniel told the Commission: “This isn’t a political issue, this isn’t a party issue, this is an American issue. It’s something I think we can do just as an additional step to offer assurances to our community. We are going to support their God-given rights.”

Saunders and Solis raised some questions: How would the county determine that a federal law violated the Bill of Rights? Who would make the determination?

The county attorney, Jeffrey Klatzow, raised similar concerns: “We’re shoehorning a political message here into an ordinance, is what we’re doing. It’s probably more appropriately a resolution, but if the board of County Commissioners wishes to enact it, that’s your prerogative.”

With commissioners expressing doubts about the ordinance, a vote was taken whether to proceed with advertising it prior to voting on the measure itself at the next meeting. Commissioners Rick LoCastro (District 1), Burt Saunders (District 3) and McDaniel voted to proceed while Andy Solis (District 2) and Chair Penny Taylor (District 4) were opposed.

It will now be advertised and considered at the next Commission meeting on July 13.

Analysis: The implications

The proposed ordinance proceeds from a flawed premise: That the federal government is an encroaching, alien interloper on people’s “God-given” rights.

That is simply wrong. The federal government is an expression and a product of the people of the United States. It is, as Abraham Lincoln said, “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

The Constitution, the Bill of Rights and all the amendments are the law of the land, administered by the federal government. While a vote or an election or a decision may not go the way some people would prefer, the rule of the United States Constitution is still supreme. It can’t simply be negated by a town, county or state.

America has had this battle before. In the very beginning of the republic western Pennsylvania farmers rebelled against a lawfully enacted federal whiskey tax. President George Washington personally led an army to put it down, becoming the last president to command a force in the field. In 1830 Sen. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts responded to a southern effort to “nullify” federal laws in a famous speech directed to Sen. Robert Hayne of South Carolina in which he crushed the notion of “nullification” (the same term used in the Collier County ordinance).

And, of course, in 1860 southern states refused to recognize the lawful, properly conducted election of Abraham Lincoln and attempted to secede from the union. That argument was resolved by a civil war.

In every Supreme Court decision since, the superseding authority of the federal government has been upheld.

As small and obscure as Collier County may be, its proposed ordinance is very much in the spirit of past efforts at nullification, secession, rebellion and insurrection. It is an attempt to carve out an extrajudicial, rule-free zone exempt from federal law and the Constitution. If passed in Collier County it could spread like a virus to other towns and jurisdictions in Florida and elsewhere.

The questions of commissioners Saunders and Solis are very pertinent: Under this ordinance who would determine that the Bill of Rights is being violated? How would the determination be made? What constitutes a violation? The ordinance doesn’t say—and it probably never could.

In fact, this ordinance is essentially a license for lawlessness. It would make Collier County an area of anarchy where anyone could simply declare that the Bill of Rights is being violated and federal law should be ignored any time they wanted. It would bypass the courts whose entire purpose is to interpret and enforce the nation’s laws and uphold the Bill of Rights.

What would be the result? To use a purely hypothetical example, say that a Collier County grocer and market owner decided he didn’t want to comply with federal public health mandates, or worker safety rules, or immigration enforcement regulations, or minimum wage requirements, or child labor prohibitions, or civil rights laws, or anti-discrimination measures, or pay employees’ Social Security taxes, or pay his own taxes, or comply with any other legally enacted federal act, law, order, rule or regulation. He would simply declare that his rights under the Bill of Rights were being violated so the measures wouldn’t apply and the county couldn’t enforce them. What is more—and perhaps even more insidious—is that he would have the standing to sue any duly authorized official or officer who tried to properly enforce the law. (That would include the county sheriff and his deputies.)

In fact, from a legal and principled standpoint this proposed ordinance is absurd, ridiculous and nonsensical. It seems like the fevered delusion of someone with poor impulse control, covered with a veneer of legalese.

Practical problems

Passage of this ordinance would have immediate and devastating practical consequences for Collier County.

  • It would be immediately challenged in court, saddling the County with the costs of having to defend it. One of the plaintiffs might be the federal government itself.
  • It would put Collier County outside the jurisdiction of the United States and disrupt the orderly administration of the law.
  • It would cripple federal law enforcement in Collier County, disrupting any investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation or prosecutions of federal crimes.
  • Over time it would impede law enforcement at all levels as increasing numbers of residents and business owners would likely try to put themselves beyond the law.
  • It would weaken the authority of all laws, rules and regulations whether county, state or national
  • It would put Collier County in a negative national spotlight, damaging its reputation as an open and welcoming place for businesses and new residents.
  • It would depress real estate values and disrupt the real estate market because federal rules governing the orderly functioning of the market would be nullified and there would be nothing to take their place.
  • It would hurt Collier County’s tourism and hospitality business as American and foreign visitors shunned a place that has declared itself outside the jurisdiction of federal law.
  • It would create division and dissension, controversy and conflict at a time when the county leadership and residents need to pull together to overcome the lingering effects of the COVID pandemic.

Lastly, an observer has to wonder what conceivable benefit this ordinance brings to the constituents of Golden Gate, Immokalee and Everglades City in Commissioner Bill McDaniel’s 5th District.

This proposed ordinance should be defeated.

A better way forward

It is undeniable that all Americans right now are worried about the future of the country, the preservation of democracy and the stability of government. Fears for the preservation of the rights in the Bill of Rights are credible in light of an insurrection that attempted the overthrow of the government, the attempted decertification of a properly conducted election and increasing restrictions on voting.

It is commendable that residents of Collier County and county commissioners want to uphold the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

In contrast to the poorly conceived proposed ordinance there is a perfectly legal and proper way to express their patriotism. That is to simply pass a resolution reaffirming Collier County’s loyalty and allegiance to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the United States of America.

Such a resolution could take the following form:

WHEREAS the Constitution of the United States of America is the law of the land and;

WHEREAS Collier County Florida is part of the United States of America and;

WHEREAS Collier County Florida is committed to equal justice under law and;

WHEREAS Collier County Florida supports, upholds and adheres to the Constitution of the United States of America, the Bill of Rights and the laws of the United States;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the County Commission of Collier County, Florida reaffirms its loyalty, its patriotism and its allegiance to the United States Constitution, its Bill of Rights, its Amendments and the duly constituted laws, acts, orders, rules, and regulations of the United States of America and that these have force in Collier County as they do in the rest of the United States, now and in perpetuity.

It is hard to see how Collier County citizens could object to such a resolution. It restates bedrock principles, it maintains good order and discipline among the citizenry, it reassures those who fear for their rights and it is well within the legal authority of the County Commission to approve.

Out of this controversy, if it is willing, by passing this resolution, Collier County can make a positive contribution to its citizens, the state of Florida and the country as a whole.


The County Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, July 13 at 9:00 am. Public petition speakers are limited to ten minutes and general address speakers to 3 minutes. The Commission Chambers and Commissioners’ offices are located on the third floor of the Administration Building at 3299 Tamiami Trail East, Suite 303, Naples, Fla.

Meetings are also aired live on Collier Television CTV and are available online via Video On Demand.

To reach commissioners:

Rick LoCastro

Andy Solis

Burt Saunders

Penny Taylor
Chair

William L. McDaniel, Jr.

The full text of the proposed ordinance:

To come: An examination of sanctuary movements past and present

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

The Donalds Dossier: Dissing donors, Dems and DC

Rep. Byron Donalds on the night of Feb. 27 denouncing the American Rescue Plan before the House vote passing it. Donalds admits he was under the influence of alcohol when he delivered his remarks. (Image: Rep. Byron Donalds/Twitter)

113 days Rep. Byron Donalds has been in office

April 26, 2019 by David Silverberg

April was a relatively undemanding month for Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.). At the beginning of the month Congress was closed for an Easter recess and there were no major votes.

But that didn’t mean there weren’t significant revelations to be had, of course—but this time Donalds himself supplied them.

Still, it was a month marked mostly by rhetoric and gestures rather than legislating or voting. He took a trip to the US border for photo ops and he needed to respond to the conviction of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. He maintained his reflexive drumbeat of criticism against President Joe Biden, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) and Democrats in general.

When it came to media availability, Donalds remained within the warm embrace of the right-wing echo chamber. Clearly he and his advisors have decided that the only voters he needs to reach are those who consume only the output of the extreme media. Also, he regards members of the established media as mere “knuckleheads,” to use his own term.

But while he gave no interviews to credible, objective media outlets that might challenge his views and pronouncements, that didn’t mean the interviews he gave couldn’t be revealing.

And one such interview stands out. It occurred on March 30 at the Seed to Table marketplace. It was on a program called Patriot Talk Show produced by independent, conservative journalist Brendon Leslie.

Donalds was relaxed, expansive and frank, talking among friends and with a sympathetic audience listening in. Controversial market owner Alfie Oakes was at the table inserting his comments and observations from time to time.  It provided a real window into Donalds’ thinking and perceptions of Congress and provided some interesting background into past events.

Dissing the donors

The Jan. 6 Trump insurrection and Capitol attack continue to reverberate, especially for what has been called the “Sedition Caucus” of Republicans who voted to decertify the election, of which Donalds was one. Political action committees (PACs) attached to major corporations suddenly recoiled in horror at the violence and criminality and chose to express their disapproval by defunding the Republicans who tried to overturn the elections.

“Look,” Donalds explained to Leslie and Oakes, “after January 6th a bunch of the corporations and the federal PACs said, ‘Oh, we’re not going to donate to these Republicans who voted to not certify the Electoral College.’

“So I was asked about it: ‘Byron, what do you think about the PACs drying up?’

“So? Like, I don’t care. The PACs didn’t get me elected. You people did. And I don’t care.”

The PACs didn’t get him elected? Donalds seems to have forgotten that it was PACs who made him a competitive candidate at all. That may come as a surprise to the PACs that not only funded his general election bid but his primary bid as well, such as the Mortgage Bankers Association PAC, or the Orthopaedic Surgeons PAC, or the Credit Union National Association PAC, or the National Association of Realtors PAC—and those were only in his primary race. Once he barely eked out a victory over eight other Republicans in the primary the PAC floodgates opened and the money poured in. And let’s not forget the major ideological donors like Club for Growth Action, which made him competitive against much better funded primary candidates like William Figlesthaler and Casey Askar. (A complete list of the PACs that supported Donalds can be seen here.)

Those donors might not demand a specific quid pro quo from the candidate they backed but they might reasonably expect a little respect.

But Donalds said he wasn’t worried about offending the PACs.

“And here’s one thing I know about lobbyists and companies,” he said. “When the Democrats do stupid things and push their stupid policies, they’ll be back. Because [the PACs are] going to be like: ‘Oh my gosh, these people are in charge, they’re crazy, we need help, what’re we going to do?’ They’re going to go see Republicans.”

Maybe they will. Then again, maybe they won’t. They may see Republicans—but they might not donate to them.


Speaking of Casey Askar

It may be long forgotten here in Southwest Florida but the lawsuit between Askar and Donalds continues.

Casey Askar

To recap: On Aug. 18, 2020, the day of the Republican congressional primary, a text message went out to Republican voters purportedly from Donalds, saying he was withdrawing from the race. The message was phony. Without presenting any hard evidence, Donalds accused Askar of sending it. Askar denied the accusation

On Nov. 11, Askar sued Donalds for defamation, seeking between $30,000 and $50,000 in damages.

The case has dragged on, with neither a settlement nor conclusion in sight. Askar is asking for a jury trial and his lawyer demanded that Donalds sit for a deposition in person. For his part, Askar’s lawyer objected to nearly every point made by Donald’s lawyer in what is called a “request for admissions,” in which both parties agree on the indisputable facts of the case.

On April 1 Judge Elizabeth Krier of the 20th Judicial Circuit held a proceeding to sort out these arguments and it was determined that Donalds would not have to sit for a deposition in person but would answer questions in writing. Askar’s lawyer would also have to answer questions and the answers from both parties were due on April 20th.

We’ll see where this goes from here but one place it isn’t going is away.


Unmasked and under the influence

While Donalds has now made several speeches on the floor of the House, his most prominent speech to date occurred on Feb. 27 when he appeared unmasked with his fellow Republican freshmen in the Crypt of the Capitol. He was there to denounce and oppose the first Democratic stimulus and pandemic relief bill, Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

In that speech he accused Democrats of passing the Plan out of fear of Speaker Pelosi and their need for support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee—not because of the deaths of over 500,000 Americans from COVID or the damage to the economy or the loss of paychecks.

In his Seed to Table interview, Donalds revealed that the speech was inspired by—Johnny Walker Black whiskey.

“I was in my office, it was like 11’o clock at night,” he recounted. “And, because at this point legislative business was over, so I was in my office and I had, y’know, Johnny Walker in my office and I was having a glass of Johnny Walker and a press conference was called and my team says, ‘Hey, you want to go to this press conference?’

“And I was like, ‘I don’t want to go.’

“And they were like, ‘Just go.’

“So I said, ‘fine,’ and I went and I forgot the mask, I left it in the desk and everybody’s got a mask on and I’m like, shoot, I don’t have a mask on, everybody’s going to be like, ‘the media’s here’—the Washington Post and the New York Times were like in the corner … so I just said ‘I’m going to leave it’ and it’s stupid because everybody in Congress has had a shot. They’ve either gotten COVID or they’ve gotten the shot, so why are we wearing masks in Congress when everybody else in the building, it’s just stupid.”

Donalds maintained that all congressional offices had doses of the vaccine, most of the staff had been inoculated and although members were required to wear masks on the House floor, it was unnecessary.

This discussion of masks needs to be put in context: Donalds vocally and vociferously opposed masking during the height of the pandemic, doing so during debates over masking mandates by city and county councils. He was being interviewed in front of Alfie Oakes, the virulently anti-mask activist who has called COVID a “hoax” and a “sham,” and he was sitting in a market that defiantly flaunts its opposition to masks and all COVID precautions. Donalds contracted COVID in October 2020 but recovered. On April 19 musician Ted Nugent announced that he had contracted COVID after playing an unmasked performance at Seed to Table seven days earlier before a densely-packed, unmasked audience estimated at 300.

Pelosi put the mask requirement in place on July 29, 2020 “as a sign of respect for the health, safety and well-being of others present in the chamber and surrounding areas.”

Continuing the interview about his speech from the Crypt: “So what happened was that number one, I was kind of tired; number two, Johnny Walker Black—y’all know; and number three, this was like: ‘This is what it is: I don’t have [a mask], it’s stupid, people have been vaccinated, all we’re doing, it’s really like a Potemkin village.’”

Just for laughs: Potemkin on the Potomac

Donalds’ comparison of Washington, DC to a Potemkin village led to the only truly funny—if unintentionally so—part of the interview, his version of history.

As he put it: “If people know what a Potemkin Village is, back from when the Nazis controlled East Germany and when they would let people come in, you would see the first street, past Checkpoint Charlie and everything would look normal and nice and they would say: ‘See, everything looks nice’ and then when you would go four or five or six streets back, that’s when you would see the disaster was there for the world to see if you got that far and what the Democrats like to do is they like to put a lot of Potemkin villages up… .”

People who have read history might spot mistakes. A minor quibble is that there was no East Germany during the Nazi era; that occurred after World War II.

But just for the record, Potemkin villages were named after a person: Grigory Potemkin, a Russian prince, general, diplomat, lover of Tsarina Catherine the Great and possibly her secret husband. In 1787, after Potemkin obtained the Crimea for Russia, Catherine took a grand journey down the Volga River to see it. To make all look well, Potemkin allegedly had portable village facades that looked prosperous and well-kept, constructed along her route so she could see them as she sailed by. These came to be known as “Potemkin villages” or потёмкинские деревни in Russian. A Wikipedia article on the subject can be read here and for further reference an excellent book on Catherine the Great is Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert Massie.

As for where Donalds got his version of “Potemkin villages,” perhaps his source was Johnny Walker.

Dissing the elders

Donalds is scornful of the established Republican leadership, although to be fair, he feels the same about the Democrats.

As he said: “The older members just get caught up in Washington-think and what’s going to happen at the Capitol Hill Club [the Republican Party headquarters] and what’s going on at the Capital Grille [a high-end steak house] or the next dinner or the next event, or what’s the media going to think? Or what company you want to make sure you say the right things, so they don’t get squishy,” he said.

He also sees a new generation of leaders emerging. “You’ve had a lot of members who have been there too long.  The new wave of members—and this is where I’m going to be consistent: it’s also bipartisan—you have new Democrats who are coming in, they don’t care about the status quo. And so I think as our politics evolve what you’re going to see is a new crop of leadership on both sides of the aisle. They’re not going to sound professional, they’re not going to say things like people like hearing from them in the past, it’s going to be raw, it’s going to be uncut, it’s going to be somewhat emotional but it’s going to be straight to the point but I think people will respect it.”

Indeed, they might respect it — or they might recoil from it.

Potential patriots or hopeless traitors?

The discussion of the length of service of the congressional leadership led to discussion of term limits and then a philosophical exchange between Oakes and Donalds about non-Trumpers, revealing that Donalds may be softening due to his time in Washington.

“Our politics is really suffering because everybody is in their feelings way too much, they take it way too seriously—and it’s serious, don’t get me wrong—people on both sides have forgotten that you got to have relationships with people on the other side of the aisle because we’re all Americans, we’re in this thing together and it’s important to debate hard, fight hard for what you believe in and I’m all about that,” said Donalds. “But at the same time you got to be able to see the world through their lens because once you can see the world through their lens, then you can help them to see how wrong they really are and you can help them to be conservatives anyway.”

At first Oakes agreed: “I agree 100 percent. We have liberals who work in this company. And I might tell them that they’re misguided but we’ve still got to love and respect them and we’ve got to treat everyone as human beings even if we don’t agree and that’s the only way we we’ll ever have a chance to bring them in.”

Donalds recounted sharing an elevator with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-14-NY) (AOC) during which she asked him: “Is everything going OK?”

Recalled Donalds: “I say, ‘It’s all good.’ She was cordial. She wasn’t disrespectful. It’s fine. She was like, ‘Fine, let me know if there’s anything I can do.’ And I said, ‘OK, I will but I don’t think there is.’”

But then, having related this warm and human exchange with a leading progressive Democrat, Donalds needed to assure listeners that he hadn’t gone squishy. “But they’re crazy,” he said next. “They’re not even liberalism any more, they’re leftists. What’s pushing their party now does not believe in individual liberties, it doesn’t believe in honest debate and disagreement. They want to silence, they want to control, they want to dictate and, really, they are the true Fascists in our politics. This is what the leftists have become and it’s really a terrible thing.”

That set off Oakes: “As I said before you got here, there’s … it’s not it’s not two parties now, it’s Republicans, it’s you’re either a patriot or a traitor and I know that we said there are other people are Americans but the values they represent are no longer American values. It’s really hard for me to respect them as Americans. They may be American-born, some of them, but it’s very difficult for me to call them Americans.”

So much for loving and respecting everyone! There was some further exchange about whether liberals were hopeless traitors (as Oakes seems to think) or potentially convertible conservatives (as Donalds argued).

One more small revelation came out of this exchange as Oakes denounced Biden and AOC: “…I see what the AOCs are doing, every single policy that I seen come out of the Biden administration is anti-American. Every single one. I’m watching them. They’re letting foreign vegetables come in… .” Of all the crimes of Joe Biden, allowing foreign vegetables enter the country to compete with Oakes Farms seemed a big one on Oakes’ list of grievances.

“I see what you’re trying to do,” he said of Donalds’ calls for converting the heathens, “but I’m also big on calling out the truth and what I see Biden doing and Harris and AOC doing to this country is not very American.”

Dissing DC

Donalds made clear that he doesn’t really like Washington, DC.

“…Even under COVID rules, Pelosi doesn’t have us to the Capitol very often,” he observed. “It’s a double-edged sword. Like to me, I like it. I want to be home in my district. I don’t want to be in DC all the time.

“First of all, being in DC kind of sucks. It’s much nicer down here. We’ve got beaches and boats.”

Well, if Donalds would rather be at home than in Washington, DC, that’s a problem that’s easily fixed.

516 days (1 year, 6 months, 13 days) to Election Day.

The complete Donalds interview can be viewed here. Donalds takes the stage at minute 42 in the hour-long video.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

The Donalds Dossier: No rescue for Americans, defending the filibuster and fixating on the border

Rep. Byron Donalds calls for removing Capitol barriers and rebuilding them on the border. (Image: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

92 days Rep. Byron Donalds has been in office

582 days until Election Day 2022

April 5, 2021 by David Silverberg

Having tried and failed to stop President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan from assisting Americans to recover from the pandemic and receive vaccines, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has now turned his fire against the American Jobs Plan intended to restore America’s infrastructure.

Additionally, in the past month Donalds attempted to play the race card against Biden’s opposition to Georgia’s voter suppression law and defended the Senate filibuster. Along with the rest of the Republican caucus in Congress, he tried to politically exploit the immigration influx at the southern border and opposed a bipartisan solution to farm labor needs and the agricultural workforce.

All of these activities were rhetorical; legislatively, Donalds proposed a widely ignored alternative to the American Rescue Plan. His proposal to protect Southwest Florida from interruptions in harmful algal bloom monitoring remains in committee.

In terms of serving his district, Donalds held a series of photo opportunities to prove that he has not forgotten Southwest Florida. However, he held no town halls or public events allowing constituents unrestricted access or unfiltered questions of his policies or positions. His media appearances were only with right-wing media outlets where he did not face skeptical or challenging questions.

Opposing rescue and jobs

In some rare and remarkable reporting covering local governance, yesterday, April 4, five reporters from the Naples Daily News published details of the benefits that Southwest Florida cities and counties will receive from the American Rescue Plan—and they are significant.

The article, “American Rescue Plan to bring more than $300M to Southwest Florida,” investigated the amounts that local jurisdictions will be receiving and their internal debates on how to use it.

Whatever the outcome of the debates at the county and municipal level on how to spend the money, it is clear that the dollars will significantly assist Southwest Florida in its efforts to recover from the effects of the pandemic.

Donalds vociferously fought passage of the American Rescue Plan, which passed the House twice and the Senate and was signed into law on March 11.

With implementation of the American Rescue Plan under way, Donalds, along with the rest of the Republican Party, turned his fire against Biden’s effort to restore and improve American infrastructure, fight climate change and provide American jobs. They focused on the Made in America Tax Plan, decrying its proposal to raise the corporate tax rate from 21 to 28 percent and make the ultra-wealthy pay a fair share of taxes.

“Biden is BAD for business,” Donalds tweeted on April 2. “Under this Admin, the incentive of corporations to do business in America has diminished greatly as a result of Biden’s anti-economic growth agenda. Raising the corporate tax is just another America last policy being adopted by the Biden Admin.” (Editor’s note: that tweet should be read “America-last” as opposed to Trump’s “America First,” slogan, which Donalds supports.)

He also complained that the American Jobs Plan was the Green New Deal in disguise and would provide only 5 percent of its funding for roads, highways and bridges, work against the coal and natural gas industries (in favor of solar, wind and renewable energy sources) and end anti-union “right to work” laws.

And in an unintentional bit of irony, on March 29 Donalds marked Vietnam Veterans Day by tweeting “Florida is home to the second-largest number of Vietnam War veterans in the nation, many of whom live in SW Florida. Today and every day, we offer our immense gratitude & appreciation for their selfless service to our nation.”

The American Jobs Plan, which he is so loudly denouncing, provides $18 billion for upgrades and modernization to Veterans Administration facilities like those in Southwest Florida.

Defending the filibuster and voter suppression

The US House of Representatives and the US Senate operate as separate and distinct institutions by design; in fact, Thomas Jefferson wanted each to operate as though the other didn’t exist. Members of the House are prohibited by House rules from referring to the Senate by name in their debates and speeches; they can only refer to “the other chamber” and the same goes for senators. This is to reduce institutional friction and maintain institutional independence.

That’s why it was surprising to see Donalds defending the Senate filibuster. It’s a practice peculiar to the Senate; the House has nothing like it.

Donalds’ defense of the Senate filibuster came in the context of his defense of Georgia’s voter suppression law, which has otherwise been blasted across the country as a deliberate attempt to dampen voting by communities of color and reduce democratic participation. He called Democratic condemnation of the law “race baiting” and was moved to issue a distinct statement expressing his sense of outrage that Biden had called the Georgia law “Jim Crow in the 21st Century” and “an atrocity.”

(Fun fact: The longest continuous filibuster in Senate history was conducted by Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina (at the time a “Dixiecrat” Democrat but later a Republican), who in 1957 spoke continuously for 24 hours and 18 minutes in an effort to stop a civil rights bill guaranteeing Black voting rights.)

Biden, stated Donalds, was “irresponsibly injecting race and the travesty of Jim Crow to oppose the filibuster. Time after time, Democrats resort to the race card to shield them from having to answer for their hypocrisy and radical policies.” Considering that Biden had in the past opposed school busing along with southern segregationists, “that dark stain on our Republic is personal to me and many Black Americans like me.”

The For the People Act (House Resolution (HR) 1) is designed to combat voter suppression and ensure that elections remain open and accessible to all voters.

Donalds denounced it on the House floor and called it “the radical takeover of our elections.”

“Abolishing voter ID laws, ending signature verification, and putting into place taxpayer-funded campaigns is detrimental to every American’s right to a free and fair election and the harmful rhetoric of President Biden cannot evade this fact,” Donalds argued in his statement.

The For the People Act passed the House on March 3 despite Donalds’ “no” vote and is now in the Senate where it faces a Republican filibuster.

Immigration and the southern border

With little else to criticize and Biden actions to date proving overwhelmingly popular, Republicans have seized on the migrant influx at the southern US border as a point of attack. However, without Donald Trump whipping up a frenzy of fear and loathing of foreigners, Republican attacks have lacked the certain je ne sais quoi that Trump provided. By regarding migrants and refugees as human beings seeking safety and refuge rather than subhumans bent on rape and pillage, Biden is taking heat out of the Trumpist fire.

Donalds sought to remedy that. In keeping with the rest of the Republican caucus for the past two weeks he was fixated on the southern border.

“Instead of traveling back home to Delaware, Biden should head to our Southern Border immediately,” he tweeted on March 16. “Since taking office, illegal migrants, drug smugglers, & human traffickers have had their sights set on entering our country and Biden has given them the key. Secure our border, now.”

Donalds also posted a video of himself walking beside the temporary barriers protecting the US Capitol two days before they were scheduled to come down anyway and called for them to be dismantled and erected instead along the southern US border.

“…The Democrats actually do love walls, and they do love fencing—to protect them. But when it comes to our border, they don’t want any protection. Let’s take down these walls in D.C. and relocate them to our Southern Border,” he said in the March 19 video as he walked along the barrier.

The 19th Congressional District is not on the US territorial border and for most Southwest Floridians the only signs of the migrant influx are landscape workers mowing their lawns, replacing their roofs and agricultural laborers making their full dinner tables possible.

In another unintentional irony, when a bipartisan solution to the problem of undocumented seasonal agricultural workers—who are badly needed by local farm owners and growers—came before the House, Donalds voted against it.

And in a less amusing irony, the barriers were indeed removed. Then, last Friday, April 2, Capitol Police Officer William Evans was killed when Noah Green attacked him and another officer by driving his car into them—while they were protecting the Capitol.

Donalds of course issued an appropriate tribute.

Commentary: Past and prologue

Not all of Donalds’ initiatives in the last two weeks were negative. On March 17 he introduced his second piece of legislation, the Responsible and Effective Spending Cuts of Undesirable Expenditures (RESCUE) Act of 2021 (HR 1955), which is his answer to Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

Technically, the purpose of HR 1955 is “to temporarily modify the application of the sequester under the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010.”

That’s an interesting concept since there were complaints about pay-as-you-go budgeting and sequestration since the idea was introduced over 10 years ago. However, Donalds never submitted any text for the bill and it remains nothing more than a name and a number. An observer could be forgiven for concluding that this was not a serious piece of legislation but a bit of anti-Biden showboating.

Donalds has also been at pains to show that he is aware of his district. He and some of his staff took an airboat tour of the Everglades (which is actually outside the District boundaries), he and his family visited the Naples Botanical Garden (whose expansion was made possible by a generous donation from his predecessor, Francis Rooney), and he toured the Collier County Mosquito Control District headquarters, so he is cognizant of the local mosquitos.

Actually, for all this rhetorical sparring, this period has been something of a lull legislatively. Much of the initial heavy legislative lifting has already been done, with Donalds voting entirely against it.

But everyone should rest up: next up Biden will submit a new social program plan, the American Families Plan, and will submit his proposed budget for fiscal year 2022. That budget will feature implementation of the American Jobs Plan and corporate tax hikes to pay for it.

Donalds sits on the House Budget Committee, so this will be a chance for him to shine, as the Republican leadership and his PAC backers intended. No doubt he will have much to say, all of it negative. If past is prologue, he will be shallowly ideological, follow the party line and provide cover against any charges of Republican bias or prejudice. The 19th Congressional District will not play a large role in this.

The problem for Southwest Florida is that Donalds’ rigid right-wing orthodoxy and total rejection of relief, rebuilding and renewal will ensure that the region becomes an underfunded backwater while the rest of the nation moves forward to defeat the pandemic, boost employment and strengthen its infrastructure.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Bill aiding farmers and workers shows divide among Southwest Florida congressmen

Farm laborers load freshly picked produce. (Photo: Coalition of Immokalee Workers)

March 30, 2021 by David Silverberg

If you’re like most Americans, you celebrated National Agriculture Day last Tuesday, March 23, by eating.

However, if you forgot National Agriculture Day entirely you can be forgiven. It is, after all, an artificial holiday, dreamed up in 1973 by a trade association, the Agriculture Council of America, a non-profit 501c3 educational institution backed by some of the biggest corporate names in the US agriculture industry.

The folks who didn’t forget National Agriculture Day were politicians of all stripes who want to remain in the graces of the farming industry and its campaign contributions.

In Southwest Florida, a heavily agricultural area, all three of the region’s congressmen—Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.),  were careful to acknowledge National Agriculture Day on their Twitter feeds, the latter two adding bland bromides to the nation’s farmers.

But when it came to substance, they took very different—and very illuminating—actions.

The action in question was consideration of a bill this month that made fundamental changes to the way agriculture gets done in the United States.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 1603) was a sprawling bill that made fundamental changes to America’s agricultural workforce. It closed legal loopholes while maintaining a strong and healthy—and most of all, legal—labor force.

Among its many provisions, it created a Certified Agricultural Worker (CAW) status for farmworkers, effectively a guest worker program that was long needed. Farmworkers could apply, be verified and receive legal CAW status good for five and a half years, protecting them and their families from deportation, while weeding out people with criminal pasts. The existing H-2A visa status for foreign workers was improved to provide for better compliance by both workers and employers.

These changes would have a major impact on farmworkers in Southwest Florida, particularly in the heavily agricultural areas of Collier, Lee and Hendry counties. It provides a measure of legality and security for the many migrants from Mexico and Latin America while still assisting the growers.

According to Diaz-Balart, who was involved in formulating the bill, “my colleagues and I spent almost a year negotiating” and working on the bill, “painstakingly working out its provisions.” Diaz-Balart’s 25th district includes wide swaths of farmland across the interior of Florida and includes the town of Immokalee in Collier County, a center of the agricultural workforce population.

Diaz-Balart was one of the original cosponsors of the bill, which included 61 Republicans and Democrats. By the end of Democratic and Republican negotiations, what emerged was a “bipartisan, targeted labor solution [that] our agriculture industry needs. This removes opportunities to work illegally in the U.S., strengthens our border security, and ensures we have a reliable, legal workforce for our farms and ranches,” according to Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-4-Wash.).

Diaz-Balart hailed it as “a significant and necessary step once again toward finally solving the labor crisis facing our nation’s agriculture industry.”

In their interests

The bill’s provisions tightening legal eligibility to work in the United States and boosting enforcement of immigration status by the Department of Homeland Security should have delighted Rep. Byron Donalds.

Prior to his election to Congress last year Donalds represented the 80th Florida House District, which includes Immokalee and the agricultural areas around it, so he should be intimately familiar with its growers and workers and their needs. What is more, for weeks he had been hammering away at President Joe Biden’s administration for its handling of the migrant influx at the Southwest Border. HR 1603 addressed many of the legal problems at the destination end of that influx, reducing crime while maintaining the workforce Southwest Florida growers need.

Rep. Greg Steube too should have welcomed the bill. His sprawling district includes vast swaths of farmland stretching from the coast to Lake Okeechobee and includes Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties, plus northern Lehigh Acres in Lee County. Steube, like Donalds, had taken every available opportunity to attack the Biden administration’s handling of cross-border migration.

HR 1603 was fully bipartisan and addressed longstanding concerns of both parties, providing the humane and orderly treatment of farm workers prized by Democrats as well as the legal procedures and immigration security emphasized by Republicans, all while protecting both growers and workers. It was the kind of bipartisan cooperation in the interests of getting something substantive done that people so often say they want to see in Congress. It also had major beneficial implications for Florida.

On March 18, HR 1603 came up for a vote in the House of Representatives. It passed by a vote of 247 to 174. Of that vote, 217 Democrats voted for it as well as 30 Republicans.

Among those Republicans was Diaz-Balart.

And Byron Donalds and Greg Steube…voted against it.

Neither one bothered to issue a statement explaining his vote.

The bill has now gone to the Senate. Given that it is largely flying under the media radar and it’s a strongly bipartisan bill, it has a relatively good chance of passage.

Commentary

Both Donalds and Steube had a chance to benefit their districts, their state and the farms, businesses, workers and people they represent. But that would have involved casting a thoughtful, substantive, well-researched vote. It’s much easier to tweet hysterical attacks on border security, issue anti-immigrant broadsides and oppose any constructive compromises.

And, of course, both tweeted their celebrations of National Agriculture Day.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

The Donalds Dossier and DC Roundup: Donalds discovers his district; Steube denies gold to the blue

A sign at the entrance to Delnor-Wiggins State Park warns of red tide during the Big Bloom of 2018. (Photo: Author)

March 22, 2021 by David Silverberg

Updated March 24 with new Stafford Act link

Last week Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) took a break from his verbal attacks on President Joe Biden, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) and Democrats to actually pay attention to his district.

The attention came in the form of his first legislative proposal, a re-tread of a bill introduced in the previous Congress by his predecessor Francis Rooney, to ensure that the government keeps monitoring harmful algal blooms (HABs) even in the event of a government shutdown.

Donalds’ Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 1954) would, according to its official language, “amend the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998 to clarify that during a lapse in appropriations certain services relating to the Harmful Algal Bloom Operational Forecasting System are excepted services under the Anti-Deficiency Act.”

The need for the legislation became apparent during former President Donald Trump’s 35-day shutdown of the government from Dec. 22, 2018 to Jan. 25, 2019 in a battle with Congress over funding his border wall. Following 2018’s severe red tide off the Florida Gulf coast, Rooney tried to build a coordinated response to future HABs.

In June 2019 he introduced the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act (HR 3297) so that monitoring of HABs would not be interrupted. That bill gained 16 cosponsors, 12 Democrats and four Republicans. However, it never made it out of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

Donalds’ bill was introduced with six cosponsors. Four are Republicans: Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-1-Fla.), Bill Posey (R-8-Fla.), Anthony Gonzalez (R-16-Ohio), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.); and two Democrats: Reps. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-13-Mich.). Tlaib, a member of the liberal Democratic “squad,” also cosponsored Rooney’s bill.

Like its predecessor, Donalds’ bill has been referred to the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology as well as the Committee on Natural Resources.

Analysis: What to watch

Voters should watch to see if Donalds can move this bill out of its committees and onto the floor during the current session. While Rooney sat on the Science Committee, Donalds is not on either of the committees of jurisdiction, so his climb is steeper.

This will be especially interesting to see given his attacks on Pelosi. In the previous Congress, Pelosi advanced Rooney’s legislation on offshore oil drilling to full House consideration. She might not be equally inclined to move this legislation this time.

The need for this legislation is less urgent than it was under President Donald Trump, who thought little of shutting down the government as a negotiating tactic (or in a temper tantrum). With Democrats in charge of both houses of Congress and a sane president in the White House, the probability of a government shutdown, at least over the next four years, is far lower than in the past.

From a substantive standpoint, of far greater importance to Southwest Florida is another measure introduced by Rooney: amending the Stafford Act to include HABs.

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act defines which natural disasters are subject to federal emergency treatment. Algal blooms are not included. If Southwest Florida suffers another Big Bloom summer like 2018’s, the area’s governments, merchants and residents would be eligible for federal emergency funds and support if the Stafford Act is amended. Rooney tried to make this change with his Protecting Local Communities from Harmful Algal Blooms Act but it remained undone during his tenure. For Donalds, however, this kind of legislation might clash with his small-government, you’re-on-your-own ideology.

From a political standpoint, Donalds’ new HAB legislation may help close a gap that was threatening to widen into a vulnerability: his almost complete disinterest in the district and its needs. He received some minor, uncritical coverage of his bill in the local media, which was no doubt helpful to him in changing this perception.

On the record

Since our last Donalds Dossier, in major legislation Donalds toed the Republican Party line. He has:

Steube: No gold for the blue

Capitol Police try to hold back rioters during the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection.

In other action by a Southwest Florida representative, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), a vehement ever-Trumper and extreme conservative who represents the area from Punta Gorda to Venice and east to Okeechobee, chose to oppose honoring those who protected him during the Jan. 6 insurrection and attack on the Capitol building.

Steube’s action came after Pelosi proposed awarding three Congressional Gold Medals, Congress’ highest civilian honor, to the Capitol Police and the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police. The third medal, along with a plaque listing all the agencies that protected the Capitol that day, will be displayed in the Smithsonian Institution.

Pelosi’s sponsorship of the legislation was a rare move in the chamber, signifying its solemnity.

“January 6th was one of the darkest and deadliest days in American history,” Pelosi said in a speech on the floor.  “The waging of a violent insurrection against the United States Capitol and against our very democracy on that day was a profound horror that nearly defies comprehension.  That day, the country witnessed the gleeful desecration of our Temple of Democracy.”

While Jan. 6 was a day of “horror and heartbreak,” she said, “because of these courageous men and women, it was also a moment of extraordinary heroism.  That day the United States Capitol Police force put themselves between us and the violence.  They risked their safety and their lives for others with the utmost selflessness, and they did so because they were patriots – the type of Americans who heard the call to serve and answered it – putting country above self.” 

When the time came for a vote last Wednesday, March 17, Steube and 11 of his Republican colleagues didn’t agree. Instead, Steube blamed Pelosi for the insurrection and attack, saying in a statement:

“The unprecedented leadership failures of Speaker Pelosi, the U.S. Capitol Police Chief and the Sergeant at Arms put their officers, Members of Congress and the public at risk on January 6. They had the opportunity to call in the National Guard days before and refused to do so for ‘optics.’ There is no reason that Congress should now award the highest civilian medal to leaders who failed in protecting the Capitol, which led to their resignation and the shooting of an unarmed woman, just so Speaker Pelosi can check the box and say she supports law enforcement a week after Pelosi-led Democrats attacked the police by ending their qualified immunity and taking away their protective equipment.”

Rep. Greg Steube

Despite voting against the gold medals Steube maintained that he’s a “staunch defender” of law enforcement and opposed any movements to defund the police.

When the roll was called, the bill, HR 1085, passed by an overwhelming vote of 413 to 12, that included the Republican leadership.

In addition to Steube, the other nay votes were: Reps. Andy Biggs (R-5-Ariz.), Michael Cloud (R-27-Texas), Andrew Clyde (R-9-Ga.), Matt Gaetz (R-1-Fa.), Louis Gohmert (R-1-Texas), Bob Good (R-5-Va.), Lance Gooden (R-5-Texas), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-14-Ga.), Andy Harris (R-1-Md.), Thomas Massie (R-4-Ky.), John Rose (R-6-Tenn.).

Commentary

Steube’s vote in this matter is outrageous, disgusting and shameful. His rationale is absurd. His indifference to the deaths of the officer who lost his life, Brian Sicknick, and those who took their own lives subsequently is despicable. He has forfeited any legitimate claim—or future claim—to be a defender of law enforcement. He and his colleagues deserve to be called “the dirty dozen” for rejecting this recognition for the police officers who stood their ground against the most repulsive attack on the American government in history.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

No need to secede: Welcome to Florumpia!

Data scientist Rebekah Jones surrenders to police when they come to search her Tallahassee house on Dec. 7. (Image: FDLE body camera)

Dec. 11, 2020 by David Silverberg

It’s almost official: tonight the Supreme Court turned down a Texas lawsuit to overthrow the results of the presidential election in four swing states. On Monday the electors of the Electoral College will—barring an act of God or outright sedition—certify Joe Biden as the next president of the United States and Kamala Harris as vice president.

But facts go down hard in Southwest Florida.

According to a recent poll by the firm Victory Insights of Naples, Fla., 53 percent of Southwest Florida Republicans are open to the idea of Florida seceding from the United States and forming its own country. Why? Because they think the results of the presidential election were fraudulent.

“Figuring out how many Republicans are open to secession is really saying how many Republicans will stick with President Trump until the end through thick and thin no matter what,” Ben Galbraith, the firm’s senior pollster, told Dave Elias, political reporter for NBC-2 News in Fort Myers, in a report that aired on Dec. 10

First, let it be said that Florida secession is a really stupid idea. This is the only state where a sitting governor committed suicide when secession didn’t succeed the first time in 1865. There have been all sorts of secession ideas since the Civil War and none of them have come to fruition. There’s no reason to expect that a second Florida secession would have any better success.

Moreover, as glad as the rest of the United States would be to get rid of Florida, independence is improbable, to say the least.

However, if Southwest Florida Republicans really want a Trumpist government, they have no need to secede at all. While President Donald Trump seems firmly on his way out of the presidency—unless he incites an armed rebellion to overturn the 2020 election results—the kind of autocratic, self-centered government he dreamed of creating nationally is being premiered in the great state of Florida even while it’s still part of the Union.

It’s a government that indulges Trump’s delusions, overlooks uncomfortable realities, ignores science and the health of its people, twists the facts and crushes dissent. It has the hallmarks of a dictatorship.

It’s something new. Let’s call it “Florumpia.”

And speaking seriously, unless opponents effectively mobilize, Trumpism may dominate the state government for a long time to come.

Florumpia is possible because Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and his handpicked administration has chosen to entirely follow the Trump playbook and adopt the Trump mindset on all things related to Florida. DeSantis is governing in true Trumpist fashion.

The signs are everywhere. When it comes to COVID, DeSantis is ignoring the pandemic, playing down its threat and not only refusing a statewide mask mandate to protect Floridians but making it impossible for localities to establish their own mandates.

As for respecting facts, reality and truth: dissident data scientist Rebekah Jones charged that the state Department of Health was fudging infection numbers to fit DeSantis’ policy goals. Her house has now been raided and searched in an act clearly intended not just to find the perpetrator of an internal e-mail urging state employees to speak out but to intimidate her into silence as well as anyone else who might challenge the DeSantis doctrine.

When it comes to Trump’s delusional denial of the results of the election, Florida joined the absurd Texas effort to completely overturn the vote of the American people. To this day, only two of the state’s Republican officeholders (Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Francis Rooney) have publicly accepted the election results.

When it comes to free and independent coverage of these developments DeSantis has adopted the Trump tactic of trying to discredit the media, blaming bad press on politicized, “agenda-driven” “corporate media.”

All of this might seem like temporary insanity that will pass when President-Elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20, but there are structural factors that point to Trumpanoia going deeper and lasting longer in this state than anywhere else in the country.

1. Trump will be in the house: Florida is now the official residence of Donald Trump and where he is likely to come to live after leaving the White House. The baleful influence of his physical presence in the state is not to be underestimated. As comedian Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of life is showing up.” Just by showing up in Florida, Trump will be able to have meetings, hold rallies and stay in the local media spotlight, if not the national one. He will be able to call on Trumpers in the state to hold protests, demonstrations and issue threats if there’s something he doesn’t like. Instead of having to pick up the phone to call DeSantis, he’ll be able to stroll into his office. And who’s going to keep him out?

2. A Republican state government: The 2020 election resulted in 78 Republican seats to 42 Democratic ones in the Florida state House and 24 Republican to 16 Democratic seats in the state Senate. With the one exception of Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, all state executive offices are held by Republicans. The state’s judges have been appointed by Republican governors since Jeb Bush took office in 1999. What is more, in Florida this is not Abraham Lincoln’s Republicanism, it’s Trump’s.

With only the feeblest checks and virtually no balances, Florumpia is a one-party state just as surely as North Korea—but with beaches and palm trees.

3. Gerrymandering: As if existing political forces didn’t weigh on the state enough, the fact of a totally Republican state government means that all legislative districts will be gerrymandered to favor Republicans based on the 2020 Census—ensuring Republican control for the next decade at least.

4. Florida Men: As Benito Mussolini could call on his Black Shirts and Adolf Hitler could call on his Brown Shirts, Trump can call on his MAGA red hats to sway the state to his will with the pliant complicity of the DeSantis administration. Around the country Trumpers have issued death threats against officials that Trump doesn’t like, most notably against election officials in Georgia and Michigan. As the Southwest Florida polls have demonstrated, he retains a mesmerized horde in the Sunshine State, which can be deployed now and in the future to obey his whims and orders. All it takes is a tweet—or, after Jan. 20, a Parler.

5. Dark money—and lots of it: In the month after Election Day, Nov. 3, Trump raised $207.5 million—on top of $288 million he’d raised since Oct. 15, according to The Washington Post. The total has likely gone up in the days since; between Oct. 15 and Nov. 23 he was bringing in $13 million per day thanks to relentless fundraising appeals, which have not slackened.

Some of the money is going to his lawsuits and efforts to overturn the election. Other sums are going to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, the Republican Party and his political action committee, Save America. This being Trump, vast amounts are likely pouring into his own pocket.

But a proportion of that money and other dark money will probably be turned into buying political power in Florida. Dark money from Trumpist contributors already affected local races in 2020, including one state senate race where a $1 million dark money contribution helped the Republican candidate win by only 32 votes. After Trump is out of office there is a very high likelihood that a good chunk of those dollars are going to be spent making sure that Florida and its officials don’t stray too far from Trumpist orthodoxy.

6. The launch pad: Just as Florida’s Cape Canaveral is the launch pad for American space missions, Florumpia will probably serve as the launch pad for Trump’s 2024 presidential bid. Assuming he stays alive and doesn’t have another bout of COVID or some other unforeseen obstacle, he will no doubt be bending all Republican thought, resources and personnel in the state to his election. It will not make for a lively or diverse political dialogue and Trump is unlikely to tolerate any dissent, disagreement or anyone else’s political ambitions.

The one-party record

Florida’s Democrats already have a hard row to hoe to simply stay viable and in the next two years that row is going to get rockier and steeper. The kind of political atmosphere that once applied largely in Southwest Florida is now going to be seen statewide. As Rick Wilson, the wise Lincoln Project Republican and consultant has said, “Florida, north of I-4, is basically Alabama with more guns” and Democrats “don’t understand this is not a blue state, it is a red state with a blue tip on the south end.” 

But one-party polities have their own weaknesses. They tend to be personality-driven, riven by factions and end up with purges and internal battles like Hitler’s “Night of the Long Knives” or Stalin’s show trials. The state’s Grand Old Party could fracture from its own internal stresses.

On top of this are Trump’s own pathologies, his impulsiveness and his tendency to turn on former allies and supporters. DeSantis would do well to study the experience of his neighbor to the north, Georgia’s Gov. Brian Kemp (R), once a Trump darling and now the focus of his wrath for daring to carry out the dictates of the law. Some day when Trump awakens in Mar-a-Lago with indigestion he may decide that DeSantis was the cause and DeSantis will pay the price.

Additionally, the devoted followers of the Great God Trump may find that their aversion to science, masking and anti-COVID precautions causes a significant thinning of their ranks before the next round of elections in 2022. They may hope for herd immunity but get herd culling instead.

So those who don’t believe Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, who are so fervent in their belief that not even the Electoral College can shake their faith and who are ready to bend a knee to a mad king have no need to secede from the United States. They have Florumpia, the land of sunshine and delusion.

It is, however, worth remembering the words of Fisher Ames, a congressman in the early years of the American republic. He once observed that “Monarchy is like a sleek craft, it sails along well until some bumbling captain runs it into the rocks. Democracy, on the other hand, is like a raft. It never goes down but, dammit, your feet are always wet.”

And remember this: when your ship sinks, it’s a raft that saves your life.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida’s ‘teachable moment’ and the 2020 election

A young Barack Obama teaches a class.

Nov. 6, 2020 by David Silverberg

President Barack Obama used to find “teachable moments” in his setbacks and disappointments. It’s a good way to approach the world. Avoiding or dismissing a defeat is unproductive and unhelpful. But making it a teachable moment, staring it in the face, objectively studying all its warts and ugliness, provides critical knowledge and ultimately, wisdom.

It’s always more pleasant to analyze the results of a victory rather than a defeat—but in some ways, it’s more important to examine a defeat because it holds more lessons for the future.

Although the presidential race, which is unresolved as of this writing, seems headed toward a victory for former Vice President Joe Biden, in Florida the race was pretty much a complete defeat for Democrats.

Donald Trump took the state, Republicans took the legislature, and incumbent Democratic stalwarts like Reps. Donna Shalala (D-27-Fla.) and Debby Murcarsel-Powell (D-26-Fla.) lost their seats. Republicans are crowing that Florida is no longer a purple state that can swing either way and is now “Trump country.” At the moment, they’re right.

In Southwest Florida, every Democratic candidate was defeated and by large margins.

So what are some of the lessons of this experience for the region’s Democrats, liberals and progressives?

Demographics are destiny

For the time being, SWFL is overwhelmingly Republican and will stay that way for a long time.

For years Republicans have outnumbered Democrats in Southwest Florida, whether those Republicans were long-residing Floridians or more recent Midwestern migrants who drove down once I-75 opened up in the 1970s.

The dominant population of Southwest Florida is politically conservative by habit as reflected in its party registration. This is also a function of age: 29 percent of the Lee County population is 65 and older as is 33 percent of Collier County. These are not people thirsting for revolutionary change.

The area’s dominant party affiliation may have altered from southern Democrat to Republican in the 1960s and from traditional Republican to Trumpist starting in 2016, but it is clear that the overwhelming sensibility is conservative—however “conservative” is defined.

That rightist allegiance—and infatuation with Donald Trump—was clearly not shaken despite the COVID pandemic, Trump’s threats to seniors’ Social Security and healthcare, his personal repulsiveness, his general incompetence and his catastrophic governance. Despite some Republican dissenters and the votes of independents, Southwest Florida voters overwhelmingly voted their registrations and so his hold continues.

With its critical victories, Republican dominance in Florida and Tallahassee seems set to continue for at least the next decade. This is the legislature that will redraw the maps after the Census. Florida is already gerrymandered to benefit Republicans. That will probably be intensified as the boundaries are refined to Republicans’ advantage with the aid of new digital tools. If those maps are too blatantly biased, Democrats will challenge them in court; however, they will be bringing those challenges to a politicized, ideologically conservative state judiciary, so not much relief can be expected there.

Certainly, Republican dominance for years to come can be expected in Southwest Florida, if not in the state as a whole.

This too shall pass

But like all things, this too shall pass—and demographics work both ways. Donald Trump won’t be president forever (or possibly not past Jan. 20) and the current Republican Boomer generation will leave the scene—sooner rather than later if they continue to refuse to wear masks. (And by the way, it’s worth noting that two prominent anti-maskers, Donald Trump and Byron Donalds, both contracted COVID-19 during this campaign.)

As Democrats pick themselves up, they have to adjust to the realization that the pursuit of democratic ideals and values in Southwest Florida is a marathon, not a sprint. Democrats, liberals and progressives need to start playing a long game, laying the groundwork for the future; organizing, thinking and cultivating the next generation of leaders.

In this there was some good news for Southwest Florida Democrats, not in the results but in their slate, which featured young, dynamic candidates like Anselm Weber, 24, who ran for Florida House District 76; Rachel Brown 25, who ran for Florida Senate District 27; and Maureen Porras, 31, who ran for House District 105. In Cape Coral, Jessica Cosden, 36, kept her seat on the Cape Coral City Council.

Congressional candidate Cindy Banyai is 40 years old—a veritable baby in Southwest Florida terms. She came from virtually nothing in terms of name recognition and is now on the local political map. She has many years of organizing, coalition-building and campaigning ahead of her—which will no doubt ultimately lead to electoral success.

To the north, in the 17th Congressional District, Democrat Allen Ellison, 40, also has many years ahead of him.

On the presidential level, the Democratic primary campaign revealed a whole echelon of talent and young, dynamic leaders. (See “The hidden story of the Democratic presidential primary–and the party’s future.”)

The Lee and Collier county Democratic parties will be examining their roles and activities and out of that examination will no doubt come new reforms and changes. It won’t be easy or bloodless but it will be essential. As it was, they went into the contest with better organization and dynamism than had been seen in previous contests.

On a more granular level, there is a tremendous need for better data collection about the Southwest Florida population. There is little to no systematic polling on any issue. This is a need not just in the political realm but for a great deal of decisionmaking and awareness of public attitudes on issues such as climate change, land development and conservation. Polls that were done during this election were done privately by individual candidates and only selective data was released to the public. Better data would help formulate better strategies, messaging and campaigning—and better governing in general.

The power of persistence

The great heroes and dissidents of history all have something in common—their persistence in their commitment to their ideals, values and goals no matter what the odds and setbacks.

From George Washington facing starvation and defeat at Valley Forge, to Nelson Mandela suffering 27 years in prison, to Andrei Sakharov, who labored against a seemingly insurmountable Soviet system, to Martin Luther King who fought entrenched segregation, all remained true to their ideals and values. There is the example of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), whose determination to speak on the floor of the US Senate won her what was both a rebuke and a plaudit from Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.): “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Most recently, we have the example of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who lost many battles on the Supreme Court. When she lost, she reflected, “I’m dejected, but only momentarily, when I can’t get the fifth vote for something I think is very important. But then you go on to the next challenge and you give it your all. You know that these important issues are not going to go away. They are going to come back again and again. There’ll be another time, another day.”

And as Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) said in his 1980 concession speech: “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

The White Walkers of Southwest Florida: Surveying the Republican policy platforms

07-29-20 WW SWFLThe White Walkers from Game of Thrones.      (Image: HBO)

July 30, 2020 by David Silverberg

Anyone who remembers HBO’s Game of Thrones remembers the White Walkers—the undead, unthinking zombies who marched mindlessly against the living, animated by the will of a single leader, the Night King.

No spoiler here—when the Night King was destroyed, so were all the White Walkers since none of them had minds of their own.

Now the White Walkers are in Southwest Florida—and nine of them are running for the Republican congressional nomination in the 19th Congressional District.

Something else that applies from Game of Thrones: the warning refrain “winter is coming.” Well, winter is coming to tropical Southwest Florida too.

Kneeling before Zod

Rick Wilson is a veteran Republican operative who claims to be “one of the handful of people your candidate or SuperPAC calls when it’s time to drop the big, nasty negative ads.” He’s managed numerous campaigns at a variety of levels. He makes no bones that he’ll do whatever it takes to win elections and he’s had plenty of victories. He’s smart, dangerous and wickedly witty.

He also loathes Donald Trump.

Wilson sees Trump’s cult as something different from the traditional Republicanism that he served and promoted.

Why? Because, he writes, “Trump’s Troll Party puts wild-eyed nationalist, anti-establishment ranting before the tenets of our constitutional Republic.” He continues: “All you have to do to stay in the good graces of this new political force is to swear Trump is always right. All you have to do is loathe with the fire of a million suns anyone who levies the slightest criticism of Trump. You must compromise everything you believe to praise and placate him. He is President for Life. Kneel before Zod.”

That’s from Wilson’s book, Everything Trump Touches Dies. It’s also what led Wilson to be one of the founders of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project.

As it happens, Wilson lives in Tampa. If he wanted proof of his thesis, he need go no further down the coast than the 19th Congressional District, where the entire thrust of the Republican primary race from Cape Coral to Marco Island has been for each candidate to outdo the other in his or her protestations of loyalty, fealty and obedience to Donald Trump.

Darren Aquino is “a real supporter of President Trump,” Byron Donalds is “incredibly proud to stand with President Trump,” Casey Askar will “always have the president’s back,” Dane Eagle is “a pro-Trump conservative,” William Figlesthaler will “will fully support President Trump and his America First agenda,” Randy Henderson will be “an ally to President Trump.” Daniel Kowal, will “stand with President Trump,” Christy McLaughlin will “lend unwavering support to President Trump,” Dan Severson wants to be “the Wingman Donald Trump deserves.”

In addition to their personal subservience to Donald Trump, all the candidates adhere to the Trumpist gospel of closed borders, gun ownership, denial of a woman’s right to choose, paranoid detestation of Democrats and immigrants and hatred of RINOs (Republicans In Name Only—i.e., any non-Trump Republican).

To go through the policy positions and propaganda of the nine Republican candidates for Congress in Southwest Florida is to tour an intellectual landscape so barren and arid that no idea can survive there.

They’re all ready to fight for Trump and the Trump agenda once they get to Congress in 2021.

But what happens if there’s no President Trump in 2021?

Will these White Walkers just collapse in a heap like their fictional counterparts when the Night King was destroyed? And worse, if one of them is elected and has no leader, will he or she have any notion what to do in the US Congress?

As noted in a previous post, the issues the next Congress confronts are likely to be much different from what candidates are running on now—far grimmer, more unforgiving and much more real.

So where do these Republicans stand on issues that the next Congress is really likely to face that affect Southwest Florida? We took a tour of the candidates’ websites where they post their most formal and detailed policy positions. This article is based on what we found there.

Southwest Florida is facing plenty of challenges. But let’s concentrate on three of the most compelling and urgent: plague, poverty and water.

This is the winter that is coming.

Plague

By the beginning of January 2021 when the new members of Congress take their oaths of office (assuming of course, that the United States remains a constitutional republic and not a Trumpist dictatorship) coronavirus is likely to remain virulent and active. A vaccine may have even been developed but as Dr. Anthony Fauci put it, “there is no guarantee — and anyone who has been involved in vaccinations will tell you — we’ll have a safe and effective vaccine.”

Given that Dr. William Figlesthaler is the only medical doctor in the Republican field, voters might have expected him to weigh in strongly and authoritatively on the greatest healthcare crisis of our time.

Initially, he did. On March 19 Figlesthaler announced he was suspending his campaign and opening a coronavirus hotline to concentrate on helping people cope with the then-mounting pandemic.

However, as a political novice, Figlesthaler didn’t realize that in political parlance, “suspending” a campaign means abandoning it. As a result, he had to unsuspend his campaign on March 27. (Candidates always “suspend” their campaigns when they are actually ending them in order to leave open the possibility of re-starting them again should circumstances permit.)

Since that time, Figlesthaler has not weighed in on the pandemic. He has been silent on mask mandates and health closures. He has only continued to reaffirm his loyalty to Trump, who kept dismissing or wishing away the crisis.

Also avoiding mention of COVID are Dane Eagle and Randy Henderson.

Of the other candidates, Casey Askar on his website states: “Our nation is at war, this is a public health crisis and a national defense issue. It’s important that we save lives, and that everyone does their part.” That said, NBC2’s Dave Elias reported Askar opposing a mask mandate in a July 9 interview.

Byron Donalds weighed in against Cape Coral imposing a mask mandate when the city debated the issue on July 6.

In contrast to those candidates avoiding the issue, the youngest candidate in the field, Ave Maria Law School graduate Christy McLaughlin, is vehemently and actively anti-closure and anti-mask, holding online anti-closure rallies and repeatedly denouncing mask mandates.

In a particular irony, McLaughlin made a point of appearing at Cape Coral’s mask mandate debate on July 6 where she told Fox4 News that she opposed the mandate: “We do have the personal responsibility and ability to make our own choices with the autonomy of our own bodies,” she said—a choice she would deny to women when it comes to abortion, given her rigidly anti-choice stance.

If a new coronavirus vaccine becomes available next year, the next scramble in Congress will be to fund its production and distribution. From a parochial perspective, all Florida representatives will have to do what they can to ensure that the state gets its share. Until now Trump has favored Florida and his pliant, handpicked governor by giving the state preferred access to the National Stockpile. But if there’s no Trump in office next year, the representative of the 19th District will have to be vigilant and active in monitoring and pursuing the vaccine for constituents and encouraging its production through votes in Congress.

To date, the candidates’ positions do not inspire confidence to that end.

Poverty

Southwest Florida will likely remain in an economic depression next year, along with the rest of the country. Tourism, hospitality, travel and seasonal retail are unlikely to recover quickly and if the pandemic is still raging, those sectors will remain depressed.

When it comes to the economy, the House of Representatives has passed repeated economic stimulus packages to help people with unemployment benefits and businesses with pandemic-related losses. Another such package is imminent. These have all been Democratic initiatives passed with Democratic majorities, with Southwest Florida representatives varying in their approval or, in the case of Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), being absent.

Where do the Republican candidates stand on economic support, both for the nation and Southwest Florida?

Askar and Figlesthaler both boast of their past business successes and say they will fight for the economy in the future, although they don’t give specifics. Askar praises Trump’s tax cuts and vows: “I will always pursue tax policies that create greater opportunities. Washington’s problem is not that it taxes too little, but that it spends too much”—cold comfort in a time of mass unemployment and economic cratering when government spending is the only relief for many people. In a detailed paper, however, (more below) he does acknowledge: “In fact, we may never be able to fully quantify the economic devastation resulting from COVID-19.”

Randy Henderson touts his economic successes as mayor of Fort Myers. Prior to the pandemic, the city had a 3.4 percent unemployment rate, 9 points lower than when he took office. Of the all the candidates, he is the only one who has been in an elected executive position where he could directly affect employment in his jurisdiction.

But that still doesn’t address future unemployment and what steps he could take as a member of Congress to reduce it. In fact, he states: “The federal government should never be in the business of creating jobs. Instead, we need to continue passing President Trump’s America First agenda to rebuild our economy by empowering the private sector and job creators.”

One might point out that it was President Trump’s policies in the face of the pandemic that got America into its current economic state in the first place. But that would be unkind.

Water

In Southwest Florida water issues and environmental challenges long preceded this election and will long follow it. It’s the one constant issue and one where physical realities and the iron laws of science can’t be wished away. Managing water is what makes human life possible in this tropical realm and so the candidates have had a lot of time to ponder it and offer detailed responses.

All the Republican candidates are all for water purity and pledge to fight for funding to achieve it, in varying degrees of detail. But it must be said, one candidate stands out above all the others: Casey Askar.

From a fairly dismissive and shallow position on water issues (as pointed out in the May 15 article, “The Curious Case of Casey Askar”), Askar has since posted the most detailed and researched position on water issues of all the Republican candidates. Someone in his campaign has done his or her homework.

In a paper titled “I will not allow Southwest Florida to go out of Business,” Askar ties water to the economic crisis, arguing that “lobbyists and career politicians in Washington, DC are seizing on the chaos from this unprecedented global pandemic to try to undo huge advancements for water quality in Southwest Florida. Put simply – I will not allow them to put Southwest Florida out of business.”

Askar’s proposals are very much in the general consensus on water issues. He calls for sending water south to the Everglades and protecting the integrity of the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (which is misspelled “Manuel” in the paper) to prioritize the region’s health, economy and environment. He pledges to fight for completion of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and the storage reservoir south of the Everglades Agricultural Area. He also says he’ll fight for “commonsense operational change,” like sending more water south during the dry season.

Even if written by one of Askar’s campaign consultants, as is usually the case, the paper shows some thought, research and originality applied to a real local issue.

One hopes that the candidate has read it.

Winter arrives

On January 19, 2017, the United States was a healthy nation with a strong, if not spectacularly but steadily growing economy, relatively low unemployment, longstanding international alliances, robust trading relationships, declining crime, and smartly enforced borders. It had a diverse but harmonious population with a sense of unity, confidence in its institutions and trust in its government.

In his inauguration speech the next day, Donald Trump called this “American carnage.” In his view, America was exactly the opposite, a place where “the establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country,” an establishment whose victories were its own and not those of the people. America, he said, was a place of poverty, lost jobs, undefended borders, an education system that didn’t educate, crumbling infrastructure, foreign exploitation and a hollowed out economy.

In four years, Trump has turned his delusions from that day into the American reality. As the Lincoln Project puts it: today America is poorer, sicker and weaker.

This is the present and future that the Republican congressional candidates are vehemently vowing to preserve and protect if they’re elected.

It’s the world ruled by the Night King and his unthinking White Walkers.

And if the living give it their votes, it will be the world for the next four years and beyond.

Winter will have come to stay. Even in Southwest Florida.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg