New Senate-passed redistricting map confirms Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres gerrymander—but DeSantis proposal is a wild card

The transfer of north Fort Myers (left arrow) and Lehigh Acres (right arrow) into the 17th Congressional District in the map passed by the Florida Senate. The red lines denote the existing district lines. (Map: Florida Senate/Arrows: The Paradise Progressive.)

Jan. 21, 2022 by David Silverberg

By a vote of 31 to 4 the Florida Senate yesterday, Jan. 20, passed its version of Florida’s new congressional districts.

The new map makes only slight changes to Southwest Florida’s congressional districts but it does take a chunk of Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres out of the current 19th Congressional District and puts it in the 17th Congressional District to the north.

Those districts include considerable Black and Hispanic populations and dilute any potential Democratic voting blocks in the 19th, making both the 19th and 17th districts, already heavily Republican, even more so.

The Senate completely ignored a map submitted on behalf of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), which made radical changes to Florida’s congressional districts. DeSantis has indicated that he may veto the Senate map, since he has to sign off on any congressional boundary changes.

The Florida House has yet to weigh in with a final version of its congressional map.

The Senate map

An overview of the Senate-passed congressional redistricting map. Red lines denote existing district boundaries. (Map: Florida Senate)

The map approved yesterday by the Senate (S000C8040) largely keeps existing boundaries and numbers.

This map was chosen and shepherded through the committee process by Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Lee County) who chaired the Senate’s Reapportionment Committee.

From the outset, Rodrigues said he was committed to avoiding the experience of the 2010 redistricting, which was challenged in court and took six years to litigate before final maps were approved.

The initial round of maps proposed by the Senate received a “B” grade from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, an academic, non-partisan evaluation by Princeton University. It largely kept existing districts intact, while giving Florida its new 28th district. The B meant that the map was considered “better than average for the category, but bias still exists.”

As of this writing the new maps have not yet been graded by Princeton.

The Senate map keeps Fort Myers’ River District in the 19th and makes Park Ave. the boundary line between the 19th and the 17th in the west. State Road 82 becomes the boundary between the 17th and the 19th until it reaches Rt. 75 in the east.

It also puts the 19th District portion of Lehigh Acres solidly in the 17th.

The initial draft of this map was denounced by Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai. “This is gerrymandering,” she stated in a Nov. 19 press release. “Most of the people who are no longer in FL19 are minorities, our Black and Latino neighbors. It’s well known that this district has always been a giveaway to the Republicans, but this clear targeting of our communities of color should alarm everyone.”

The DeSantis map

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed map for Southwest Florida congressional districts. Red lines denote existing districts. (Map: Florida Senate)

The DeSantis proposal (P000C0079) largely follows county lines.

Under the DeSantis proposal, all of Lee County would constitute the 19th Congressional District. Collier County would constitute the bulk of a re-numbered 26th District, along with a chunk of Broward County as far east as Hialeah, the Cuban-American stronghold that provides the center of gravity for the current 25th District. A newly re-numbered 18th District would cover an immense swath of land including all of Charlotte County. Today, much of this area is contained in the 17th District.

An overview of Gov. DeSantis’ proposed congressional district map for Florida. Red lines denote existing boundaries. (Map: Florida Senate)

Analysis: Outcomes

It remains unclear whether the Senate or DeSantis maps will prevail when it comes to congressional districts. (The Senate also redrew state Senate districts. House districts will be redrawn by the state House. These do not need the governor’s signature to take effect.)

“We have submitted an alternative proposal, which we can support, that adheres to federal and state requirements, while working to increase district compactness, minimize county splits where feasible, and protect minority voting populations,” stated Christina Pushaw, the governor’s press secretary. “Because the governor must approve any congressional map passed by the Legislature, we wanted to provide our proposal as soon as possible and in a transparent manner.”

The controversies over the dueling maps will not center around Southwest Florida. The battles are emerging over heavily populated districts on the east coast in Democratic areas like Miami and Jacksonville. According to The Florida Phoenix, it appears “DeSantis’ proposed congressional map favors Republicans in 18 districts and Democrats in 10. Under the existing map, Republicans control 16 seats to the Democrats’ 11” whereas the “Senate draft contains 16 districts that went for Donald Trump two years ago and 12 likely to skew Democratic — a gain of one seat.”

Under the Senate map, existing representatives would remain largely in place, with Rep. Byron Donalds (R) representing the 19th, in which he does not reside, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R) representing the 25th, and Rep. Greg Steube (R) representing the 17th.

Under DeSantis’ map, Donalds would have to choose whether to run in a 19th District that’s even further from his home—meaning a dual commute to Lee County as well as Washington, DC—or stay where he lives in the 25th and face off against fellow Republican Diaz-Balart.

If Donalds decided not to run in the DeSantis 19th, it could open the door to a new contender of any party.

For his part, if Diaz-Balart decided to run in the DeSantis 26th District, he would suddenly have a population center to contend with in a relatively urbanized western part of his district. Until now, the western part of the 25th was barely populated and Diaz-Balart could concentrate his attentions on Hialeah and his Cuban-American constituents with the occasional trip out to Immokalee serving as a show of some degree of concern for western constituents.

Though the redistricting process is far from over, the Senate map has the greatest likelihood of passage, although DeSantis’ wild card could still change the outcome of the game.

Maps must be finalized by June 17 when candidates qualify to run in the new districts. They’re more likely to be finalized by March 11, the last scheduled day of the legislative session.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

Oakes, Donalds, Rooney and Gingrich: Four Floridians and the attack on America’s Capitol

Alfie Oakes urges Capitol rioters on Jan. 6, 2021: “Guys, it’s time to fight! They’re taking our freedom! This is our house! Come on! Come on!” (Image: YouTube)

Jan. 6, 2022 by David Silverberg

If Dec. 7, 1941 is a day that will live in infamy, Jan. 6, 2021 is a day that will live in disgrace.

It was the day that democracy almost died.

It was a day when Americans, incited by a delusional and dictatorial president, went on a rampage that came close to destroying the Constitution, Congress and government by, for, and of the people.

On this, the first anniversary of the insurrection and attack on the United States Capitol and Congress, the words and actions of four Floridians—all residents of Naples—bears remembrance, as well as their words and actions in the days afterward. They illustrate a range of characters and reactions to what was one of the most horrific events of the early 21st century.

The insurrectionists

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III both attempted to overturn the 2020 election, one from inside the Capitol, the other from outside.

Oakes, a Naples farmer, grocer and deep and fervent supporter of President Donald Trump, had chartered two buses to carry about a hundred Trumpers to the “Stop the Steal” rally. He traveled to Washington to participate in the rally and marched to the Capitol.

Oakes was in the mob that breached the police barriers protecting the building.

At one point he stood on the steps of the Capitol at the southeast corner of the East Front and exhorted the rioters to continue the attack.

Grabbing a microphone, he shouted, “Guys, it’s time to fight! They’re taking our freedom! This is our house! Come on! Come on!” Then he returned the microphone and went a few steps down and back into the crowd. The moment was caught in a video titled: “Looks like Francis Alfie Oakes is inciting violence /riot after breaking past DC Capitol barriers.”

With My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell and former national security director Michael Flynn in the foreground, Rep. Byron Donalds looks out on the “Stop the Steal” rally before going to the Capitol. (Photo: Twitter)

On the morning of Jan. 6, Byron Donalds, who had sworn to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution three days before, attended the rally on the Ellipse outside the White House.

He left the rally before it ended and went to the Capitol to register his objection to certifying the vote of the Electoral College.

“I’m walking into the Capitol to sign the objection to the Electoral College certification. It’s important we always uphold our laws and our Constitution, no matter what,” he tweeted at 11:17 am that morning.

Rep. Byron Donalds signs a paper registering his objection to certifying the election. (Photo: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

Donalds was inside the Capitol attending the certification when rioters breached police barriers and began attacking the building. He and the other members were evacuated from the House chamber.

“On my fourth day as a United States Congressman, I followed Capitol staff into a safe room with a gas mask in hand rather than representing my constituents,” Donalds recounted in a statement on the events.

At 2:49 pm, the height of the attack, Donalds tweeted: “Americans have the right to peacefully protest & demand their government works for them—that doesn’t mean we resort to violence. Rule of law must stand during our nation’s brightest & darkest hours & that includes right now. We are better than this. There is no place for anarchy.”

At 10:09 pm, after the riot was over and the rioters had been evicted from the building, Donalds issued a lengthy statement, calling the rioters “lawless vigilantes” and condemning their actions as “thuggery.”  Despite this, he voted against certification.

The defenders

Then-Rep. Francis Rooney (center) discusses Lake Okeechobee with President Donald Trump during the latter’s visit in March, 2019. (Image: C-Span)

For two former Republican members of Congress the attack on the Capitol was unacceptable, outrageous and enraging.

Francis Rooney of Naples had just retired from two terms representing the 19th Congressional District, the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island.

As the violence peaked at 3:49 pm that day he stated on Facebook: “All of America should be saddened and sickened by today’s events at the US Capitol. President Trump is complicit in inciting violence to contest an election that is over and adjudicated. This must stop now.”

Newt Gingrich appears on Fox News the day after the attack. To the right is the scene inside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. (Image: Fox News)

Newton “Newt” Gingrich served as Speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999. He and his wife Callista quietly moved to Naples in September 2021.

When rioters invaded the Office of the Speaker on Jan. 6th, they weren’t vandalizing one individual’s office; they were attacking the chamber of the highest ranking official in the House of Representatives. That room wasn’t just the personal office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.), it was the sanctum that Gingrich had also inhabited for four years. Every Speaker had occupied it, regardless of party, since the current House wing of the Capitol was completed in 1857.

For Gingrich the riot hit close to home and he responded with fury.

“I was furious. I am furious. Every person who broke into the Capitol has to be arrested and has to be prosecuted,” he said in a Fox News interview the day after the riot. “This is the center of freedom on the whole planet. It’s a symbol for everybody. And what happened yesterday was utterly, totally inexcusable. People should be locked up and punished. And I’m delighted that they’re increasing the preparations for the inaugural because we have to make absolutely certain nothing like this happens again. But as a former House member as well, as you point out, former Speaker, I found it enraging that people who clearly are not patriots — these are people are destructive barbarians and they are frankly criminals, and they should be treated that way and locked up. And I’m very proud of the Capitol Police, that they clearly needed a lot more reinforcements yesterday.”

In the year since

Gingrich may have been angry over the insurrection but it wasn’t sufficient to permanently turn him from Donald Trump. A mere five months after the insurrection he made the pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to craft a new, Trumpist “Contract with America,” the political device that brought a Republican Congress to power and him to the Speakership in 1995.

Details are sparse but the new contract may be unveiled this year in time for the midterms.

“It should be positive,” Gingrich was quoted as saying about it in the publication Politico in May. “School choice, teaching American history for real, abolishing the ‘1619 Project,’ eliminating critical race theory and what the Texas legislature is doing. We should say, ‘Bring it on.’”

He made no mention of preserving democracy or punishing insurrection.

Over the past year Francis Rooney continued to post on Facebook and do the occasional op-ed, concentrating on his real passions of foreign affairs and environmental stewardship.

Four days after Alfie Oakes returned from Washington he gave a lengthy account of the riot on Facebook on Jan. 10. In it he argued that the assault on the Capitol was “an incredibly clever tactic orchestrated by those that will stop at nothing to ensure the Globalist take over of our United States.”

According to Oakes, “Leading the group was the obvious six or eight paid actors(used in other events such as BLM riots, hard to believe they would be that blatant and sloppy) … followed by a small group of aggressive Trump supporters caught up in the moment.”

In the year since the attack, Oakes never retreated from Trumpism or expressed regret over the attack. In fact, as 2021 went on he called for outright revolution against what he called a “tyrannical” government and said he was stockpiling guns in the event he considers the 2022 elections stolen.

Nonetheless, he did acknowledge in his Jan. 10 post that “I have now found ONE thing that I completely agree on with the ever corrupt main stream media on…..This is truly one of the lowest days in our country’s history!”

When it came to Byron Donalds, after denouncing the riot, he watered down his tweet condemning the rioters to say that they “do not embody my constituents’ values and heart.” Their actions, he tweeted at the time, “will not alter my decision to object to the Electoral College certification” and he indeed voted against certifying the election when the roll call was taken.

Nonetheless, at 3:26 am on the morning of Jan. 7, Vice President Mike Pence, who had been threatened with lynching by the mob, certified the vote of the Electoral College that confirmed Joseph Robinette Biden as president of the United States.

During the rest of 2021 Donalds proved a reliable right wing megaphone, following Republican talking points in denouncing Biden and Democrats, promoting a MAGA agenda and never condemning or acknowledging Donald Trump’s role in the “anarchy” of Jan. 6.

On Dec. 13 Donald Trump endorsed Donalds for re-election.

Rep. Byron Donalds, Donald Trump, Melania Trump and Erika Donalds in Naples, Dec. 13. (Photo: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

2022, Florida and the future: Anticipating the political year ahead

A vision of Florida’s future? The dome homes of Cape Romano off the coast of Southwest Florida. When built in 1979 they were on solid land. (Photo: Andy Morfrew/Wikimedia Commons)

Jan. 3, 2022 by David Silverberg

At the end of every year, most newspapers and media outlets like to do retrospectives on the year past. They’re easy to do, especially with a skeleton crew: just go into the archives, pull out a bunch of the past year’s photographs or stories, slap them together, throw them at the readers or viewers and then staff can relax and party for the New Year. Or better yet, when it comes to a supposedly “daily” newspaper, don’t print any editions at all.

What’s much harder to do is look ahead at the year to come and try to determine, however imperfectly, what the big stories will be.

That takes some thought and effort but it’s much more valuable and helpful in setting a course through the fog of the future.

Although there will be surprises and any projection is necessarily speculative, there are a number of big issues in the nation and Southwest Florida that are likely to dominate 2022.

Democracy vs. autocracy

Donald Trump may no longer be president but the impact of his tenure lives on. Just how much will he and his cultists continue to influence events this year?

Although the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection and coup failed, the effort to impose autocratic, anti-democratic rule continues at the state and local levels as Trumpist politicians push to create mechanisms to invalidate election results they don’t like.

Nowhere is this truer than in Florida where Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is playing to the most extreme elements of his base as he tries to ensure his own re-election and mount a presidential bid in 2024. He also has to outdo his other potential presidential hopefuls, most notably Texas’ Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

In Florida, the race is on to produce the most extreme, radical right measures both by DeSantis and members of Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature.

Examples of this include DeSantis’ 2022 $5.7 million budget proposal for an Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Department of State to investigate election crimes and allegations. In another time and in other hands, this might seem like a politically neutral and straightforward law enforcement agency, if a redundant and unnecessary one. However, given the past year’s efforts in Florida to narrow voting options and the continuing influence of Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him, it could have more sinister purposes, like invalidating or discarding legitimate election results.

DeSantis is also proposing creation of a Florida State Guard, which would be wholly subject to his will and authority. The Florida National Guard, by contrast, can be called up for national duty and is answerable to the US Department of Defense in addition to the governor.

These efforts, combined with DeSantis’ past assaults on local autonomy and decisionmaking and his anti-protest legislation, are moving Florida toward a virtual autocracy separate and unequal from the rest of the United States.

The question for 2022 is: will they advance and succeed? Or can both legislative and grassroots opposition and resistance preserve democratic government?

The state of the pandemic

The world will still be in a state of pandemic in 2022, although vaccines to prevent COVID and therapeutics to treat it are coming on line and are likely to keep being introduced. However, given COVID’s ability to mutate, new variants are also likely to keep emerging, so the pandemic is unlikely to be at an official end.

Globally, vaccines will be making their way to the poorer and more remote populations on earth.

In Florida and especially in Southwest Florida, vaccination rates are high. However, there’s no reason to believe that anti-vaccine sentiment and COVID-precaution resistance will slacken. Further, as President Joe Biden attempts to defeat the pandemic by mandating and encouraging vaccines, Republican states are trying to thwart mandates in court. At the grassroots, as rational arguments fail, anti-vaxxers are resisting COVID precautions in increasingly emotional and extreme ways, potentially including violence.

In Southwest Florida the political balance may change in favor of science as anti-vaxxers and COVID-deniers sicken and die off. This will reduce their numbers and their political influence. As their influence wanes that of pro-science realists should rise—but it’s not necessarily clear that realistic, pro-science sentiment will automatically translate into equal and opposite political power.

This year will reveal whether the DeSantis COVID gamble pays off. He has bet that resisting and impeding COVID precautions in favor of unrestrained economic growth will result in political success at the polls.

Will Floridians forget or overlook the cost in lives and health at election time? It’s a result that will only be revealed in November.

Choice and anti-choice

Abortion will be a gigantic issue in 2022. Anti-choicers are hoping that a conservative majority on the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade and abortion will be outlawed.

A Supreme Court ruling on a Mississippi law outlawing abortion is expected in June. There may be a ruling on Texas’ ban on abortions before then. If Roe is overturned, a number of Republican state legislatures are poised to enact their own bans based on the Texas model and Florida is one of these.

If House Bill 167 passes the Florida legislature, it will inaugurate an environment of civil vigilantism as individual citizens sue anyone suspected of aiding or performing abortions. It’s hard to imagine anything more polarizing, more divisive or more destructive both at the state level and grassroots, as neighbor turns on neighbor.

By the same token, the threat to safe abortion access may galvanize political activism by pro-choice supporters regardless of political party. That was the situation in Georgia in 2020 when a fetal heartbeat bill was passed and signed into law, only to be thrown out in court. Politically, the issue helped turn the state blue.

This year, if Roe is struck down, millions of women may turn against an anti-choice Republican Party and mobilize to enact reproductive rights legislation.

What will be the reaction if Florida follows Texas’ lead and enacts an abortion ban?

Whichever way it goes, abortion will be a sleeping but volcanic issue this year. It will erupt when court decisions are announced. It has the potential to completely reshape the political landscape.

Elections and redistricting

All other issues and debates will play out against the backdrop of a midterm election. Nationally, voters will be selecting 36 governors, 34 senators and the entire House of Representatives.

The national story will center on whether Democrats can keep the House of Representatives and their razor-thin majority in the Senate. In the past, the opposition party has usually made gains in the first midterm after a presidential election. That is widely expected to happen again this year.

In Florida, DeSantis is up for re-election as is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), all state senators, all state representatives and county and municipal officials.

DeSantis is a base politician, in every sense of the word “base.” He doesn’t try to appeal to all Floridians but has clearly decided that his victory will be won by pandering to his most extreme and ignorant supporters—including Donald Trump. His actions reveal that he is calculating that this will give him sufficient support to keep him in office and provide a platform for the presidency in 2024.

Trump, however, is a jealous god and has lately been denigrating his protégé, whom he apparently sees as a potential threat for 2024 and getting too big for his britches. DeSantis may face a Trump-incited primary on the right from Roger Stone, the previously convicted and pardoned political trickster and activist, who lives in Fort Lauderdale.

If the Stone primary challenge does indeed materialize, it will make for one of the great political stories of 2022.

The primary action on the Democratic side will be between the three candidates for the Party’s gubernatorial nomination: Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.), a former governor; Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide Democratic officeholder; and state Sen. Annette Taddeo (D-40-Miami.). This battle will be resolved on primary election day, Aug. 23.

On the Senate side Rep. Val Demings (D-10-Fla.), is currently the leading contender to take on Rubio, although Allen Ellison, who previously ran in the 17th Congressional District, is also seeking the Party’s nomination.

In Southwest Florida Democrat Cindy Banyai is pursuing a rematch with Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.). Currently, no other Democrat is contesting her candidacy.

The congressional and state elections will be occurring in newly-redrawn districts and the exact boundaries of all districts, congressional, state and local, will be a major factor in determining the political orientation of the state for the next decade. The Republican-dominated legislature, which begins meeting on Jan. 11, must finalize the state’s maps by June 13, when candidates qualify for the new districts.

If the maps are overly gerrymandered they will be subject to court challenges. In 2010 court challenges were so numerous and complex that maps weren’t finalized for six years. This year state Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Fort Myers), who heads the Senate redistricting committee, has publicly stated that he wants to avoid a repeat of that experience by drawing fair maps at the outset.

Whether the final maps approved by the legislature are in fact fairly drawn and meet the terms of Florida’s Fair Districts Amendment, will be a major question in 2022.

Battle over schools

School boards were once sleepy and relatively obscure institutions of government and education was a quiet area of governance.

That all changed over the past two years. With schools attempting to keep students, teachers and employees safe with mask and vaccine mandates despite vocal opposition from COVID-denying parents as well as right-wing hysteria over the teaching of critical race theory, school board elections have become pointed ideological battlegrounds. Frustrated Trumpers are determined to impose ideological restrictions on teaching and curriculum and use school boards as grassroots stepping stones to achieving power.

In Virginia the 2021 gubernatorial race turned on the question of parental control of curriculum, resulting in a Republican victory. Across the country Republicans will be trying to duplicate that success by making education a major focus of their campaigns. The resulting battle is already fierce and poised to become fiercer. It has erupted at the grassroots as school board members have been physically threatened and Attorney General Merrick Garland’s mobilization of law enforcement assets to protect school board members was denounced by right wing politicians and pundits as threatening parents.

This is prominently playing out in Florida. DeSantis has proposed the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees [WOKE] Act to prohibit critical race theory teaching and allow parents to sue school board members and teachers. Locally, state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples) has proposed putting cameras in all classrooms to monitor teachers. Local grocer, farmer and conservative extremist Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes, has demanded that teachers’ unions be “taken down” by “force.”

The school board elections of 2022 will not be what were once considered normal, non-partisan contests. They will be extreme, passionate, heavily politicized, bare-knuckled ideological battles. The outcome of these elections will determine whether students, teachers and school employees are kept safe from the pandemic, whether teachers are able to teach free of surveillance and liability, and whether the lessons imparted to students encourage open inquiry and critical thinking or narrow, ideologically-driven indoctrination.

Climate change—natural and political

The past year was one that saw some of the most extreme weather on record, clearly driven by a changing climate. Biden’s infrastructure plan had some measures to address these changes and build resilience in the face of what is sure to be climatic changes ahead. However, a major initiative to halt climate change is stalled along with the rest of his Build Back Better plan.

Climate change is the issue that undergirds—and overhangs—every other human endeavor. That was true in 2021, it will be true in 2022 and it will be true for the rest of the life of the human race and the planet.

Florida was extraordinarily lucky last year, avoiding the worst of the storms, wildfires, droughts and heat waves that plagued the rest of the United States.

Locally, Southwest Florida got a taste of climate change-driven weather when an EF-1 tornado touched down in Cape Coral on Dec. 21, damaging homes and businesses.

Nonetheless, on Dec. 7 at a Pinellas County event, DeSantis accused climate activists of trying to “smuggle in their ideology.”

“What I’ve found is, people when they start talking about things like global warming, they typically use that as a pretext to do a bunch of left-wing things that they would want to do anyways. We’re not doing any left-wing stuff,” DeSantis said to audience cheers.

“Be very careful of people trying to smuggle in their ideology. They say they support our coastline, or they say they support, you know, some, you know, difference, our water, environment. And maybe they do, but they’re also trying to do a lot of other things,” he said.

This does not bode well for the governor or legislature addressing climate change impacts this year. Still, even the most extreme climate change-deniers are having a hard time dismissing it entirely.

Reducing or resisting the effects of climate change will be the big sleeper issue of 2022, providing a backdrop to all other political issues as the year proceeds. If there is a major, catastrophic event like a very destructive hurricane—or multiple hurricanes—DeSantis and his minions may have to acknowledge that the urgency of climate change transcends petty party politics.

Beyond the realm of prediction

It is 311 days from New Year’s Day to Election Day this year. A lot can happen that can’t be anticipated or predicted.

In past years a midterm election might seem to be a routine, relatively sleepy event of low voter turnout and intense interest only to wonks, nerds and politicos.

But the stakes are now very high and the dangers considerable. As long as Trumpism continues to threaten democracy and the future of the United States, nothing is routine any more.

The world, America, Florida and Florida’s southwest region are facing unprecedented perils. But as long as America is still an election-driven democracy, every individual has a say in how those perils are addressed.

That precious vote is a citizen’s right and obligation—and it can no longer be taken for granted.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Chunk of Cape Coral moved to new congressional district in Florida House draft maps

An overview of Southwest Florida congressional districts as proposed by the Florida House Redistricting Committee. (Map: House Redistricting Committee)

Dec. 2, 2021 by David Silverberg

–Updated at 3:00 pm with redistricting timeline.

A large chunk of Cape Coral would move from Florida’s 19th Congressional District into a newly re-named 18th Congressional District according to new draft redistricting maps released Monday, Nov. 29, by the Florida House Redistricting Committee.

The redistricting aims to create congressional districts of equal population throughout the state. The goal is to have 769,221 people in each district if possible. Florida must also accommodate a new 28th Congressional District.

Under existing boundaries, the 19th District is overpopulated by 65,791 people or .086 percent more than the ideal and so must lose population to surrounding districts. The question is: where?

The House proposal contrasts with maps released on Nov. 10 by the Florida Senate Redistricting Committee. Those drafts moved North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres into the existing 17th Congressional District.

Instead, both drafts released by the House committee (H000C8001 and H000C8003) take a piece of Cape Coral from the 19th and put it in a newly renumbered 18th District.

The new 18th

Cape Coral (left arrow) and parts of Lehigh Acres (right arrow) change congressional districts in new maps proposed by the Florida House Redistricting Committee. Red lines denote existing district boundaries. (Map: House Redistricting Committee; arrows, The Paradise Progressive.)

The new 18th would include Charlotte, Hendry, Glades, Highland, DeSoto, Hardee and Okeechobee counties with pieces of Sarasota and Lee counties—roughly the same territory as the current 17th.

The 18th would also get a chunk of Cape Coral from the Lee County line, down Burnt Store Rd., to SW Pine Island Ln. (Rt. 78) as far east as Del Prado Blvd., North, then to Hancock Bridge Pkwy., stopping just short of Rt. 41 (N. Cleveland Ave.). It then just follows the Caloosahatchee River east to Interstate 75.

In a gain for the 19th, the draft maps give a chunk of Lehigh Acres back to the 19th, although the bulk of it remains in the new 18th.

Collier County lines

Changes propsed for the 19th District in Collier County. Red lines denote existing district boundaries. (Map: House Redistricting Committee)

In the southern part of the 19th District, the 19th gains a bit along Golden Gate but then loses a chunk of East Naples including Lely, Naples Manor and Lely Resort.

It also loses some swampland further south—and the tiny community of Goodland, which would celebrate any future Buzzard Lope contests and mullet festivals in a newly re-numbered 26th District.

That 26th District largely keeps the shape of the previous 25th, spreading across Collier County, encompassing Immokalee and keeping Hialeah, its Cuban-American center of gravity and population.

Analysis: An F grade for the House

The two draft congressional maps from the state House Redistricting Committee have come under fire for their partisan gerrymandering.

H000C8003 (which is identical to H000C8001 as far as Southwest Florida is concerned) was given an overall grade of F from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, which found it significantly biased in favor of Republicans. The FiveThirtyEight.com redistricting tracker found it similarly biased, creating 15 Republican-leaning seats statewide, where before there had only been one.

Much of this bias takes place in the congressional districts on the east coast in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area where there are significant Democratic populations.

As far as Southwest Florida is concerned, cutting out a chunk of Cape Coral is less radically partisan than cutting out minority communities in North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres. Those changes were in the state Senate draft, which came under fire from Cindy Banyai, the Democratic congressional candidate in the 19th Congressional District.

From a partisan standpoint, the Cape Coral area being moved into a new district in the House drafts is mostly Republican anyway, so moving it into a new, heavily Republican 18th District won’t make that much of a difference.

It needs to be noted that in addition to the Senate and House drafts, there are proposals from individual Floridians who submitted maps, since the process was thrown open to the public.

A map submitted by Curtis Steffenson signficantly redraws congressional districts in Southwest Florida. Red lines denote existing boundaries. (Map: House Redistricing Committee)

A congressional map from Curtis Steffenson (P000C0054), released the same day as the House maps was much more radical in its redrawing than the committee maps, although not necessarily more partisan. It would significantly alter the 19th Congressional District, splitting Lee County in half and putting all of Collier County including Naples and Immokalee into a new 20th District that would go as far east as the county line.

It’s an interesting concept and demonstrates how flexible the lines can be. However, it is very uncertain how seriously the state legislature will be taking this and other draft maps submitted by the public.

All redistricting must be completed and finalized during the Florida legislative session that begins on Jan. 11, 2022 and before the candidate qualifying period beginning on June 13, 2022.


To register an opinion on potential redistricting, go to the state redistricting opinion form, here.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Draft redistricting maps move North Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres, into different congressional district

Other changes expand 19th District in Collier County

Southwest Florida congressional districts as drafted by the state Senate redistricting committee.

Nov. 14, 2021 by David Silverberg

–Updated at 5:00 pm with Rep. Byron Donalds’ home location.

North Fort Myers, including the River District, the Dunbar neighborhood, and a portion of Lehigh Acres, would change congressional districts under new draft redistricting maps.

Florida’s first four draft maps of new districts were released on Wednesday, Nov. 10, by the state Senate redistricting committee, headed Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Estero).

For the most part, the new maps leave Southwest Florida’s 17th, 19th and 25th congressional districts largely intact. The districts retain their existing numbering. No local congressmen were redistricted out of their seats or forced into runoff elections. All the districts remain overwhelmingly Republican based on voter registrations.

The big change for the state as a whole is the addition of a new congressional seat, the 28th. It is proposed, as expected, for the center of the state where population growth has been greatest.

While there was widespread trepidation—and expectation—that the new Florida maps would be radically biased in favor of Republicans that proved not to be the case.

When the maps were released, “they were surprisingly unaggressive,” wrote the website FiveThirtyEight.com. “Instead, they largely preserve Florida’s current congressional map, exhibiting only a mild Republican bias.”

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project, an impressively deep and thorough examination of redistricting across the country, gave them an overall grade of B, meaning “better than average for the category, but bias still exists.”

This article looks at the four draft maps for three US congressional districts in Southwest Florida and what they mean for voters. Subsequent articles will examine state Senate and House districts and other draft maps.

In all four draft maps released last week (S000C8002, S000C8004, S000C8006 and S000C8008) the boundaries for the 17th, 19th and 25th congressional districts that make up Southwest Florida remain largely the same.

There are, however, some important changes.

Northern borders

The existing 17th Congressional District.

The Florida Fair Districts amendments aim to keep districts as compact and contiguous as possible, following existing boundaries, like county lines. These maps largely do that.

The 17th District, represented by Rep. Greg Steube (R), is a huge, although largely rural, district encompassing Hardee, Desoto, Charlotte, Glades, Highlands, and Okeechobee counties, with chunks of Polk, Lee, and Sarasota counties.

In the new maps the 17th loses all its territory in Polk County, which goes to the newly-formed 28th Congressional District. It also gives up much of its Sarasota County territory to the 16th, although it keeps North Port and the whole town of Venice. But it gains territory in Lee County.

The northern border of the draft Congressional District 17 showing the change in Sarasota County. The red line denotes the existing boundary. (Map: Florida Senate Redistricting Committee)

North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres

The existing 19th Congressional District.

It is in North Fort Myers that there are big changes proposed as that community shifts from the 19th to the 17th.

The 19th District is represented by Rep. Byron Donalds (R), who lives two miles east of Rt. 75 in the 25th District.

In the new maps State Road 82 becomes the boundary between the 17th and the 19th until it reaches Rt. 75. Then everything—the River District, Buckingham, Tice, Dunbar, Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., as far south as Winkler Ave. and as far west as the Seminole Gulf railway—becomes part of the 17th.

The 19th may be losing a big chunk of North Fort Myers but it picks up Palmona Park across the Caloosahatchee River in Cape Coral.

In the past, most of Lehigh Acres was in the 17th District with a sliver in the 19th. That’s no longer true: the 17th takes all of Lehigh Acres as far south as State Road 82.

The draft map of the northern 19th Congressional District with North Fort Myers (left arrow) and Lehigh Acres (right arrow) moved into the 17th District. The red lines denote the current boundaries. (Map: Florida Senate Redistricting Committee)

Collier County

Since its drawing in 2010, the 19th District has resembled a railroad spike or a mushroom, with a bulbous north and a skinny south along the coast in its Collier County portion.

In the draft maps, that spike or stem widens slightly. Instead of Livingston Rd. in Collier County being the eastern end of the district, this map extends the line to Rt. 75, which makes much more sense as a boundary.

Between Vanderbilt Beach Rd. and Pine Ridge Rd., it also extends the district eastward to Logan Blvd. to include The Vineyards, which are now entirely in the district.

In its southern end, it stops following Rt. 75 and instead makes 32nd Ave. SW its boundary as far as Collier Blvd., where it goes straight south to Rt. 41 and encompasses Marco Island and Goodland as its most southeasterly community.

Where the 19th gains in Collier County the 25th loses, but not by much. The western edge of the 25th, represented by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R) retains Golden Gate and the unincorporated town of Immokalee and more or less keeps its existing shape. More important is the action on its more densely-populated eastern side where it gains population with Opa-Locka and slivers of Miami. However, it keeps its most important community, Hialeah, a Cuban-American stronghold.

Expansion of the 19th District in Collier County. The red line denotes the existing boundary. (Map: Florida Senate Redistricting Committee)

Analysis: Implications

Redistricting—or gerrymandering, if you don’t like the results—is always a delicate art. Drawing the lines can’t help but get partisan as they’re drafted.

In this case, the 19th District was overpopulated and had to lose population somewhere. It so happens that the state Senate drafters chose to take it out by removing minority, working class, somewhat Democratic communities.

Moving North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres into the 17th means the interests of those suburban communities will be subsumed by the majority rural and agricultural voters further north in Charlotte, Hardee, Desoto, Glades, Highlands, and Okeechobee counties.

In partisan terms, it means they can’t threaten Republican dominance in either the 19th or the 17th. But that was the way the existing lines were drawn anyway.

Assuming that redistricting proceeds smoothly and according to its assigned schedule, next year candidates will be campaigning in the newly drawn new districts. However, it’s difficult to see how the new lines could make much of a difference.

Currently, both the 19th and 17th districts are represented by extreme, radical right-wing Republican incumbent representatives, Donalds and Steube.

For residents of North Fort Myers that doesn’t mean much of a difference in being represented to policymakers in Washington, DC. For Black residents of the affected areas, Donalds not only has no interest in traditional Black concerns like civil rights and voting access, he is actively hostile to them. He has inveighed against critical race theory in schools and is part of the Republican culture wars chorus. He plays to his extreme conservative political action committee donors and a hard-right Trumpist base. Minority voters weren’t getting much representation anyway, so they aren’t losing much if he doesn’t represent them in 2022.

By contrast, his Democratic opponent, Cindy Banyai, is already campaigning vigorously on behalf of those communities. However, she’ll be deprived of potentially supportive voters if the maps change as drawn.

Nor will North Fort Myers residents get any representation if Steube wins re-election again. If anything, Steube is even more extreme than Donalds and would likely completely ignore those communities.

Steube was opposed in 2020 by Allen Ellison, whom he defeated 64 to 34 percent. This year Ellison is running for the US Senate seat of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). To date, Steube has no announced opponent.

In the 25th District, Diaz-Balart is running against Democrat Adam Gentle. Last year Diaz-Balart ran unopposed. Changes in the district lines would not seem to make much of a difference in the demographic makeup of the district.

It’s worth remembering that these are just draft maps. In addition to the state Senate committee’s proposals individuals have submitted proposed drafts. Also, the state House committee is expected to shortly submit its proposals.

People who want to weigh in can contact their representatives and Southwest Florida is fortunate in that Rodrigues, who oversees the whole redistricting effort, is a local state senator. Also, state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Naples) will be serving as Senate president next year and has a disproportionate say in the final redistricting.


To make your opinion of the draft maps known:

State Sen. Ray Rodrigues can be reached at

rodrigues.ray.web@flsenate.gov

(239) 338-2570

District Office

Suite 401
2000 Main Street
Fort Myers, FL   33901

State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo can be reached at

passidomo.kathleen.web@flsenate.gov

(239) 417-6205

District Office

Suite 203
3299 Tamiami Trail East
Naples, FL   34112

Liberty lives in light

(c) 2021 by David Silverberg

DeSantis, SWFL reps’ opposition to infrastructure package threatens local benefits

A photo of the Capitol taken at sunset the night of the infrastructure bill vote by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart from his office window.

Nov. 11, 2021 by David Silverberg

Over the next five years Florida stands to receive $19.3 billion of the $1.2 trillion in infrastructure funding passed by the House and soon to be signed into law by President Joe Biden.

How much Southwest Florida receives depends on its representatives’ willingness to lobby for its share—but those representatives are dead set against the whole infrastructure initiative.

“The need for action in Florida is clear. For decades, infrastructure in Florida has suffered from a systemic lack of investment,” states an administration fact sheet on the infrastructure bill issued in April. “In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Florida a Cgrade on its infrastructure report card.”

The bill passed on Friday, Nov. 5. On Monday, Nov. 8, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) dismissed the entire initiative: “So, um, I think it was a lot of pork barrel spending from what I could tell,” he said at a press conference in Zephyr Hills, offering no details.

On Tuesday, his criticism was not that it was a pork barrel bill but that Florida wasn’t getting enough of the pork: “Is Florida being treated well in this?” DeSantis said while speaking at a news conference in Spring Hill. “Or, are they basically funneling money to a bunch of very, very high tax and dysfunctional states?”

DeSantis was referring to potential allocations to states like New York, which may get $26.9 billion or California, which may get $44.5 billion.

Southwest Florida’s representatives were dead-set against the infrastructure initiative from the beginning. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) consistently called it an “inFAKEstructure bill” and inveighed against it in every forum he could.

Two days after the bill passed at 11:24 pm, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), tweeted: “On Friday, in the dead of night, House Democrats passed the $1.2 trillion so-called “infrastructure bill,” where only $110 billion actually goes to roads and bridges. I voted no and will continue to relentlessly oppose these dangerous bills that are destroying our country.”

As the debate proceeded, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) was in a reflective mood as he watched the sunset over the Capitol and tweeted: “Beautiful night on Capitol Hill. Meanwhile Democrats’ incompetence is on full display as they try to enact their socialist agenda on the American people.”

Given its needs and the formula for meeting them, Florida can expect to receive:

  • $13.1 billion for federal-aid highway apportioned programs and $245 million for bridge replacement and repairs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act over five years. This is based on 408 bridges and over 3,564 miles of highway in poor condition. The state can also compete for money from the $12.5 billion Bridge Investment Program for economically significant bridges and nearly $16 billion for projects that deliver substantial economic benefits to communities.
  • $2.6 billion over five years to improve public transportation options. This is based on Floridians who take public transportation spending an extra 77.9 percent of their time commuting and the fact that non-white households are 3-and-a-half times more likely to take public transportation.
  • $198 million over five years to support the expansion of an electric vehicle (EV) charging network in the state. Florida can also apply for $2.5 billion in grant funding dedicated to EV charging.
  • $100 million to help provide broadband coverage across the state, including providing access to the at least 707,000 Floridians who currently lack it. And, under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, 6,465,000 or 30 percent of people in Florida will be eligible for the Affordability Connectivity Benefit, which will help low-income families afford internet access. In Florida 13 percent of households lack an Internet connection.
  • $26 million over five years to protect against wildfires and $29 million to protect against cyberattacks. Floridians will also benefit from the bill’s $3.5 billion national investment in weatherization which will reduce energy costs for families. Over the last ten years Florida has suffered $100 billion in damages from 22 extreme weather events.
  • $1.6 billion over five years to improve water infrastructure across the state and ensure that clean, safe drinking water is a right in all communities.
  • $1.2 billion for infrastructure development for airports over five years.

Analysis: The Republican dilemma

Neither DeSantis, nor Donalds, nor Steube, nor Diaz-Balart, nor any other Republican, for that matter, can acknowledge that the Democrats’ Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will make a real, beneficial difference to America.

In part, that’s the job of any opposition party—to oppose, point out flaws and come up with counter arguments.

But now that the bill is passed and about to be signed into law, any responsible elected official is duty-bound to get as many benefits for his constituents as possible.

For Republicans, this is a dilemma.

DeSantis, a protégé of Donald Trump, is approaching infrastructure from a true Trumpist perspective. Under the former president all government functions were transactional, i.e., you had to pay to play. Trump would have used funding like that provided by the infrastructure package as a weapon to reward friends and punish enemies and would have demanded a price for his largesse. This is the way DeSantis approaches governing himself, so his inclination is to look for inequities in the program and presume himself and his state to be victims of a mafia-like shakedown.

But Biden’s package hearkens back to a time when presidents governed for the sake of the whole country, like Dwight Eisenhower’s interstate highway system. This initiative follows a neutral formula based on need to provide its benefits.

While DeSantis raised suspicions that Florida was being shortchanged and asked, “are they basically funneling money to a bunch of very, very high tax and dysfunctional states?”—i.e., Democratic states—he overlooked the fact that the second biggest chunk of change, $35.4 billion, was going to Texas, a Republican state with a governor, Greg Abbott (R), who is unremittingly hostile to Biden. The allocations are based on need, not favor.

This is an idea DeSantis seems unable to wrap his head around. The concept that a president could govern for the sake of the whole country and not just his base seems too novel for him to comprehend.

When it comes to local allocations, an area’s congressional representative should be working for the benefit of his district and all his constituents, not just his supporters.

It’s hard to imagine Donalds switching from being a rigid, ideological, warrior and right-wing mouthpiece to an effective representative who actually has an interest in his district and its welfare and is willing to work within the system to get the 19th District its piece of the pie.

(Interestingly, Donalds’ fellow Republican and member of the so-called “Freedom Force,” Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-11-NY) preferred the more pragmatic course and voted for the bill, bringing down the wrath of the Republican caucus. “I read this bill and it is cover to cover infrastructure,” said Malliotakis on Fox News. “…For an aging city like New York City, this bill was incredibly important.”)

With its growing population, Southwest Florida has plenty of needs and projects that will benefit from infrastructure funding. They range from the planned expansion of Southwest Florida International Airport in Lee County to re-engineering the Immokalee Rd.-Livingston Rd. intersection in Collier County and many more in between. There are the perennial Everglades projects, water purity efforts and the absolute, urgent need to strengthen the area for the impacts of climate change.

The same is true in both the 17th and 25th districts. But all three of the region’s representatives have locked themselves into fanatical anti-Biden poses that will make doing the real work of bringing home the bacon much more difficult, if they even have an interest in doing so.

As much as Republicans, local and national, attempt to incite a hatred of Joe Biden equal to the fear and loathing generated by his predecessor, the fact is that Biden is governing rather than ruling the country and trying to bring its benefits to all its citizens and not just his cultic devotees. If these officials would accept this and try to govern and responsibly represent their constituents in their turn, they could get the benefits to which those constituents are entitled as Americans.

However, that would require responsibility, patriotism and maturity.

So don’t hold your breath.

Liberty lives in light

(c) 2021 by David Silverberg

Virginia, Florida and the road ahead for 2022

Nov. 4, 2021 by David Silverberg

When it comes to elections, winners tend to generalize while losers tend to specify.

That’s what’s happening as a result of the Virginia election where Republican Glenn Youngkin beat Democrat Terry McAuliffe by 51 to 48 percent.

But does what happened in the Commonwealth of Virginia necessarily translate into a precursor for the State of Florida?

Republicans, nationally and locally, are generalizing the vote as a referendum on President Joe Biden and portraying it as a harbinger of the 2022 election.

“…I do think this wave is building. I think it was strong last night. But I think it’s going to keep building all the way into 2022,” Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said in an interview on the program Fox & Friends yesterday.

“I think people are rebelling against what the Democratic Party stands for nowadays,” he said. “The never-ending mandates and restrictions because of COVID, using our school systems for leftist indoctrination rather than high-quality education, and then the Biden regime’s failures from Afghanistan to the southern border, gas prices, inflation, supply chain.”

Local Republican Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who initially tweeted a mocking message to the Democratic National Committee that he subsequently deleted, later settled on a blander pronouncement: “Virginians sent a clear message to Democrats: Parents belong in the classroom, stop teaching division, enough with the radical spending, & no more mandates!”

There’s no sugarcoating this defeat for Democrats nationally: It was a big, unexpected blow and it hurt.

As the Republicans generalized its implications, so Democrats tried to focus on the specific reasons McAuliffe lost.

During a candidate debate in which Youngkin questioned McAuliffe’s veto of legislation banning “sexually explicit” content in school curriculum (Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved) “out of McAuliffe’s mouth tumbled these words: ‘I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they can teach.’

“And that’s what done it,” writes Michael Tomasky in The New Republic. “A day later, those words became an attack ad, and McAuliffe was forced to play defense from that moment on.”

DeSantis on a roll

As DeSantis pointed out, the Youngkin victory is a good omen for him.

DeSantis is undeniably in a strong position as he conducts his primary race for gubernatorial re-election and his—at this point—secondary race for president in 2024.

So strong is DeSantis’ position, given his $60 million war chest and subservient legislature that the news platform Politico Florida headlined an October 31 article: “Florida Democrats anxious as DeSantis seems unbeatable.”  

That Democrats are anxious is indisputable; that DeSantis is “unbeatable” is overstating the case.

In fact, Democrats do have some resources and determination, as the article pointed out.

“The election’s not happening tomorrow, there is still time for the tide to turn,” state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-47-Orlando) told Gary Fineout, the article’s author. “But obviously it needs to be an all-hands-on-deck situation right now.”

Manny Diaz, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, took issue with the article’s premise. “We’re in Florida. We lost the last governor’s race by 30,000 votes against the same character,” he said. “In politics, a year is an eternity. There’s nothing that leads me to believe DeSantis is unbeatable.” He also noted that it’s “unbelievable we’re having a conversation a year out” about a DeSantis victory.

Against DeSantis’ advantages are his liabilities: strenuous, determined efforts to block all forms of COVID protections; attacks on local school boards that have tried to protect schoolchildren, and the resulting COVID death toll in Florida—currently at 59,670, according to The New York Times, despite all the governor’s attempts to conceal or obscure state statistics.

Also, it’s being widely noted that a key to Youngkin’s success was his keeping Donald Trump at arm’s length, something noted in another Lincoln Project video, “Ungrateful.”

Another observer who emphasized Youngkin’s distance from Trump was Rep. Liz Cheney (R-at large-Wy.), who tweeted: “Congratulations to @GlennYoungkin for a great victory last night. Winning back suburban moms and independent voters, he demonstrated Republican values and competence, not conspiracy theories and lies, win elections.”

Ironically, DeSantis’ slavish Trumpism may prove a disadvantage next year. His difficulty may come from—of all people—his idol and mentor, Donald Trump. Trump is a jealous god and DeSantis’ popularity among the Republican faithful is already bringing down the divine wrath. He seems to feel a need to cut him down in his youth before he can really mount a challenge to Trump’s own nomination bid.

The anti-Trump Lincoln Project noted this in one of its cutting videos, called “Sad!

Other than Trump’s jealousy of DeSantis, there’s little to no daylight between the maestro and the apprentice. Floridians would be getting a committed Trumper if they re-elect DeSantis in 2022, although that would certainly give some Floridians joy.

Weirdly, DeSantis may face a primary challenge on the right from Roger Stone, the convicted and then Trump-pardoned political trickster and activist who told Dave Elias of NBC2 in Fort Myers that he might run in order to conduct an audit of the 2020 election in Florida. He could be a surrogate for Trump himself in the 2022 Florida race.

But the final arbiter of the 2022 election may not be human at all: COVID is still active and deadly even though the numbers are declining, thanks to widespread vaccinations. DeSantis is on record and running as an anti-mandate, anti-precaution candidate.

If, however, DeSantis and the anti-vaxxers block vaccination mandates for schoolchildren and there is an outbreak that kills large numbers of them, Florida parents might—just might—put the blame at the feet of DeSantis and anti-vaxx Republicans. It is a horrible outcome but one being invited by the anti-vaxxers’ gamble.

Finding a strategy

Still, expecting victory based on an opponent’s stumbles is not a strategy.

The problem for Democrats in Florida and nationally is that they are a political party competing with a cult.

A cult, when it’s strong, has some decided advantages: it has a single leader, its followers obey unthinkingly, and it has a clear, simple message based on a few unmistakable tenets.

This is the state of the Republican Party today. Even with Trump somewhat sidelined, the Republican Party is still a cult of personality, worshipping Trump and his clear, simple message of, in his words, “hatred, prejudice and rage.”

Nowhere is this truer than in Florida, where the man resides and the governor is his closest acolyte.

In comparison to this Democrats, as is more characteristic of a political party, are diverse, contentious and sometimes chaotic. While they entertain a wide spectrum of ideas there’s no one personality imposing intellectual uniformity. Sometimes that can be a disadvantage at the voting booth.

Actually, the Democratic Party does have some clear tenets: inclusion for all, concern for humanity, determination to forge a better future and commitment to democracy. But while the Democratic Party stays within the law and argues policies, Trumpist Republicans pursue power at all costs. There is no hypocrisy too great, no mental gymnastic too convoluted, no legal barrier too high to impede this raw pursuit of power. And if elections don’t go their way they’re willing to overturn them through violence and then condone it, as the January 6th insurrection demonstrated.

Trumpist Republicans also have the advantage in that theirs is an emotional movement, riding on hatred, prejudice and rage but also fear and outrage, much of it generated by pandemic restrictions but finding expression against their long-time targets of Biden, Democrats and governing institutions like school boards.

This is neither new nor surprising. After every disaster there is a search for human scapegoats, sometimes very strange ones. For example, after the Johnstown Flood of 1889, survivors scapegoated Hungarian immigrants; after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 city residents’ wrath fell on a tiny Japanese community; after the great 1927 Mississippi flood there was a horrendous wave of lynchings and murders of Black people in the affected southern states. It is as though people, having suffered at the hands of nature, must find human victims.

We are now coming through the disaster of the pandemic, which, though receding, is still with us. After four years of Donald Trump’s routinely lying, scapegoating and deflecting blame as a standard operating procedure, his cult is now primed to channel all its pandemic frustrations against Biden and the government working so hard to defeat the disease. The resulting program is clear: hatred of Biden and opposition to all restrictions, rules or Democratic ideas.

As of right now, the political landscape is decidedly headed in the Republican direction, boosted by the victory in Virginia and the close call in New Jersey.

For Democrats who stay within the bounds of law and the Constitution the solution will always be the same: more and better organizing, more energetic campaigning, greater voter registration, sharper messaging, more programs and policies that benefit people and an appeal to reason and good sense.

There is also this to remember: a victory is sweet but a defeat sharpens the mind and energizes the effort.

As Thomas Paine put it in the darkest days of the American Revolution after a string of Continental defeats: “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”

Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Liberty lives in light

(c) 2021 by David Silverberg

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

Florida legislature opens redistricting process to all

The Republigator, a Florida salute to Elkanah Tisdale and his original Gerrymander cartoon, showing Florida after the 2010 redistricting. (Illustration by the author © 2021.)

Sept. 27, 2021 by David Silverberg

Do you think you can draw better political maps than the state legislators in Tallahassee?

Now you can get your chance.

A new website, Florida Redistricting, launched Monday, Sept. 20, gives anyone who cares to use it the opportunity to recommend re-jiggering the state’s political boundaries based on 2020 Census data.

It’s a remarkable experiment in citizen participation and a striking change from past redistricting done in dark, smoke-filled rooms out of public sight.

Of course, while citizens can make plenty of suggestions it will be the legislature that finally decides how the maps will be drawn.

Still, for a state that has increasingly pulled the curtain on its vaunted principles of sunshine in government, it is an exceptional departure from the past. It brings a bit of light to a process that is unglamorous but essential—and determines the partisan balance of power for the decade to come.

The process

Redistricting actually consists of two processes: redistricting (redrawing district lines) and reapportionment (redistributing congressional seats among the states).  

Next year Florida gets one new seat in Congress based on its increase in population since 2010. That new district is expected to be in the high-growth area of Orlando or somewhere along the I-4 corridor.

The original cartoon that gave rise to the term “gerrymander.

Traditionally, redistricting is colloquially known as the process whereby politicians choose their voters, so voters will likely choose them at election time. It has been manipulated since the beginning of the American republic—and even before, in colonial times. In 1812 it gave rise to the term “gerrymander” after Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry so manipulated the state’s district maps to his political advantage that what emerged was a salamander-like creature immortalized in a newspaper cartoon.

Republicans have been past masters of drawing lines to favor their party. This was highlighted in January 2020, after the death of Republican redistricting consultant Thomas Hofeller. His daughter Stephanie made public the contents of four external hard drives and 18 thumb drives from her father’s office, revealing his detailed gerrymandering work. While he was based in North Carolina, he had clients all over the country and participated in Florida’s redistricting.

In 2010 two constitutional amendments, 5 and 6, were on the ballot in Florida. Amendment 5 covered legislative districts, amendment 6 covered congressional districts and both were known as the Fair Districts Amendments.

Both amendments required that: “districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.”

In the 2010 election both amendments passed with 63 percent of the vote, despite vehement opposition from the state’s Republican lawmakers. (Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) joined a lawsuit to block their implementation, which failed.)

Despite the amendments, Florida’s 2010 maps were drawn by consultants and political operatives who maneuvered behind the scenes to push Republican dominance. The lines were so elaborately gerrymandered when the maps were revealed that fair districts supporters sued to overturn them.

A “group of Republican political consultants did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process,” ruled Judge Terry Lewis of the 2nd Judicial Circuit in 2014. “They made a mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting” and “went to great lengths to conceal from the public their plan,” and “managed to taint the redistricting process and the resulting map with improper partisan intent.”

It took five years of litigation to finally end the disputes, during which two elections took place.

Carving up Southwest Florida

Southwest Florida’s congressional districts—17, 19 and 25—were clearly the products of these labors, diluting any potential Democratic blocs of voters to favor Republican hegemony. (For more, see the 2019 articles: “Gerrymandering comes home to Southwest Florida” and “A tale of two swamps: Why Southwest Florida can’t keep its congressmen.”)

This year state Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Estero), who heads the state Senate’s reapportionment committee, is promising that the process will be open, fair and transparent and meet both the spirit and letter of Florida’s Fair Districts Amendments.

“We are taking steps to safeguard against the kind of shadow process that occurred in the last cycle,” Rodrigues said during the first meeting of his committee on Monday, Sept. 20. “We will protect our process against the ‘astroturfing’ that occurred in the past, where partisan political operatives from both parties wrote scripts and recruited speakers to advocate for certain plans or district configurations to create a false impression of a widespread grassroots movement.”

He added: “Fortunately, we now have the insight into both the judiciary’s expanded scope of review, and how courts have interpreted and applied the constitutional standards related to redistricting. I intend for this committee to conduct the process in a manner that is consistent with case law that developed during the last decade that is beyond reproach and free from any hint of unconstitutional intent.”

How they break down

According to the 2020 Census, Florida gained 2,736,877 people over the last ten years and now has a population of 21,538,187.

In Southwest Florida, Lee County gained 142,068 residents, reaching a population of 760,822. Collier County gained 54,232 people to reach a total population of 375,752. Charlotte County gained 26,869 people to reach a total of 186,847.

The redistricting effort will try to bring the new districts into line with ideal population levels while meeting Fair Districting criteria. Since all of Southwest Florida gained population above the ideal, most—but not all—its districts are considered “overpopulated.”

Congressional districts

Southwest Florida’s congressional districts. (Map: FloridaRedistricting.gov)

Ideally, each Florida congressional district should have 769,221 people in it, a gain of 72,876 from last time.

According to the data from FloridaRedistricting.gov, in Southwest Florida the current congressional districts break down as follows:

  • District 17: With a total population of 779,955 people, it has 10,734 or .014 percent people more than the ideal number.
  • District 19: With a total population of 835,012 people, it has 65,791 or .086 percent more people than the ideal number.
  • District 25: With a total population of 771,434 people, it has 2,213 or .003 percent more people than the ideal number.

To find your congressional district, click here.

Southwest Florida Senate districts

Southwest Florida’s state Senate districts. (Map: FloridaRedistricting.gov)

Senate districts should ideally have a population of 538,455 people.

The two main Senate districts covering Southwest Florida are 27 and 28.

  • District 27 has 579,819 people, 41,364 or .077 percent more than the ideal.
  • District 28 has 563,557 people, 25,102 or .047 percent more than the ideal.

To find your Florida Senate district, click here.

Southwest Florida House districts

Southwest Florida state House districts. (Map: FloridaRedistricting.gov)

State House districts should have 179,485 people.

  • District 76: With 180,111 people, it has 626 or .003 percent more people than the ideal.
  • District 77: With 197,485 people, it has 17,997 or .1 percent more people than the ideal.
  • District 78: With 193,526 people, it has 14,041 or .078 percent more people than the ideal.
  • District 79: With 189,703 people, it has 10,218 or .057 percent more people than the ideal.
  • District 80: With 188,858 people, it has 9.373 or .052 percent more people than the ideal.
  • District 105: With 176,959 people it has 2,526 or .014 percent fewer people than the ideal.
  • District 106: With 164,757 people it has 14,728 or.082 percent fewer people than the ideal.

To find your Florida House district, click here.

Can it really happen?

In its effort to be inclusive, the Florida legislature is giving residents the opportunity to draw their own maps and recommend changes.

It’s a chance people should seize by going to the website.

To submit maps and recommendations a user has to create an account on the website. The site has a quick-start guide to walk users through the process.

Once in, users can fiddle with the maps to their heart’s content and send recommendations to the legislature.

It’s a remarkable innovation in participatory democracy. Time, however, is of the essence. The legislative redistricting session convenes on Jan. 11 of next year and it must complete its work by the time it adjourns on March 11. Without a doubt, it will be a contentious session.

After that, there will presumably be newly-drawn districts. By June 11, candidates will qualify to run for office. Then the party primaries will take place on Aug. 23 and the general election on Nov. 8.

Can this experiment in popular participation actually result in fairly drawn, politically neutral boundaries?

Obviously, it remains to be seen. In 2010 the Fair Districting Amendments passed overwhelmingly but the maps that came out were gerrymandered anyway. Florida always seems to have a way of ignoring or circumventing its most popular constitutional amendments.

Coming out of the gate, though, Rodrigues’ intentions seem good if his words are taken at face value.

If this experiment works Florida could become a national model of fair districting. This time, if citizens are alert, engaged and determined, maybe—just maybe—Florida for once might abide by its own constitution and put to rest the gerrymander, or, in this case, the Republigator.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Sept. 18: Another sleepy Saturday or Insurrection 2.0 in DC and Southwest Florida?

The US Capitol and grounds in May 2021. Authorities are considering restoring the fencing in anticipation of a rally on Sept. 18. (Photo: Author)

Sept. 9, 2021 by David Silverberg

For most Americans, Saturday, Sept. 18 is just another date on the calendar, one more day in one more weekend.

In Washington, DC, however, authorities are bracing for a demonstration that could be a replay of the Jan. 6 rally and riot that nearly overturned the government of the United States. In Southwest Florida that protest will have an echo on a smaller scale but one that bears watching.

Washington, DC

The “Justice for J6 Rally” is intended to call for an end to prosecutions and the release of those who have been prosecuted and jailed as a result of the January 6 insurrection.

It was first announced by a group called Look Ahead America on July 30th. The group states on its website that its mission is to speak for disenfranchised Americans and “register, educate, and enfranchise these disaffected citizens.”

The group’s executive director is Matt Braynard, who previously served as the Donald Trump campaign’s director of data and strategy.

Matt Braynard (Image: LAA)

In a Jan. 29, 2021 letter to the US Justice Department in the immediate wake of the Capitol insurrection, Braynard argued that “Many of the protesters who entered the Capitol reasonably believed they had permission” and “we should not further compound the tragedy through vindictive and selective political prosecutions.”

Braynard is trying to overcome the images and opprobrium of the insurrection. He wants the Sept. 18 rally to be “laser-focused” on the issue of Capitol prosecutions and avoid the symbolism and disorder of the riot.

“Be respectful and kind to all law enforcement officers” Braynard urged would-be demonstrators in a 4-minute, 46-second video on the group’s website. “If they ask you to do something, please, do so.” He also urged rally-goers to stay in groups, notify the organization volunteers if there’s any trouble and not wear attire other than that related to the specific goals of the rally.

Nonetheless, extremist groups like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers are planning to attend the Washington rally, according to media reports. Capitol Police and security officials are already on alert and have been weighing whether to reconstruct the fence that surrounded Capitol Hill after the insurrection.

Capitol Police Chief Tom Manger told the Associated Press on Sept. 1 that his department was “closely monitoring September 18 and we are planning accordingly.”

According to Manger: “After January 6, we made Department-wide changes to the way we gather and share intelligence, internally and externally. I am confident the work we are doing now will make sure our officers have what they need to keep everyone safe.”

Despite Braynard’s efforts at non-violence and lawfulness, security experts are wary. Andrew McCabe, former Federal Bureau of Investigation acting director, warned in a CNN interview on Sept. 7 that the rally should be treated as a potentially violent threat.

“I think they should take it very seriously,” McCabe, a CNN contributor, told interviewer Poppy Harlow. “In fact, they should take it more seriously than they took the same sort of intelligence that they likely saw on January 5.”

But for law enforcement officers there are “a few factors leaning in their favor” this time, said McCabe. “You don’t have a sitting president actively fanning the flames and trying to get people to attend the rally. And on the other hand, it looks like, from all indications, our law enforcement partners are well prepared for this one. They seem to be taking the intelligence very seriously, which raises a question as to whether or not they did on January 6, but that’s another issue.”

Southwest Florida

Alfie Oakes takes aim. (Photo: Facebook)

Southwest Florida will be marking Sept. 18 with its own “Patriot Fest” at the rural North Naples farm of Francis Alfred Oakes III, known to the world as “Alfie,” owner and operator of Oakes Farms and Seed to Table market.

Oakes’ Patriot Fest is scheduled to feature a number of speakers including Rogan O’Handley, a conservative commentator who goes by the stage name “DC Draino;” Jack Prosobiec, a One America News Network commentator; and Anna Paulina Luna, a Republican congressional candidate in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, where she lost in 2020 to Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.).

According to its announcement, Patriot Fest will feature food trucks and entertainment by politically conservative musician Jason Beale. It costs $20 to attend and $200 for deluxe tickets—although Eventbrite, which initially took reservations, decided to drop the event, refused to handle arrangements and refunded all the tickets it had taken.

As a committeeman in the Collier County Republican Party and a prominent conservative activist, not to mention a farmer and grocer promoting his businesses, Oakes is very much a local public figure. However, Oakes, who has become famous—or infamous, depending on one’s perspective—for his far right, Trumpist politics, fierce opposition to anti-COVID masking and vaccinations and pronouncements on social media, has gone to a level that merits special attention.

Starting in early August, Oakes openly called for rebellion against the US government and did not mince words: “I think the time has come for us to revolt against our tyrannical government,” he stated on Aug. 6 on Facebook.

Then, on Aug. 8 he posted a photo of himself firing an automatic weapon, writing: “I pray we have election integrity in 2022…. if we don’t we must prepare for the worst! Our second amendment right is specifically to revolt against a a tyrannical government! Prepare for the worst and pray for the best” [sic, no punctuation at the end of that sentence].

On Aug. 14 the thread continued: “Ivermectin beats Covid hands down! Anyone with the slightest bit of Critical thinking knows the government is screwing over the people! And nearly every crooked politician in DC is guilty of letting this happen! Time for the Revolution !!!”

Then, on Aug. 16, the threat became direct, aimed at civilian teachers: “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!”

As extreme as these expressions are, they can arguably count as free speech under the First Amendment. They can also be regarded as inflated by passion and hyperbole—except that on Aug. 20 Oakes dialed the volume up to 11.

The “We the People Fight Back” event in Naples, Aug. 20. (Photo: Facebook)

On Aug. 20 and 21, like-minded conservatives gathered, unmasked and undistanced, at the Naples Hilton to hold the “We the People Fight Back” event, an activist workshop and conference.

Among the speakers was Oakes, who posted elements of his speech on Facebook.

In a rambling address that veered from COVID to the nation’s founders, Oakes told his audience: “I’m telling you that my threshold of where this goes to, like, the next level is getting close for me.

“I don’t know if it’s going to be ‘before’ but if they try to steal the next election, the ’22 elections, I’m all in. We don’t want to talk about what that is but we have to be all in,” he said to cheers from the audience.

But it was his next sentence that merits particular attention: “I have enough guns to put in every single employee’s hands.”

Analysis: Evaluating the force

In a July 22 dialogue with a reader on Facebook, Oakes gave his employee workforce as 3,200 people. This no doubt includes farm laborers.

If his statements are taken at face value that would mean that Oakes is saying he owns the weaponry to arm 3,200 people. That’s the equivalent of three US Army battalions and two companies, a formidable force that could give any local—or even state—law enforcement agency a serious challenge. If true, it is by any measure a massive arsenal to be held in private, civilian hands.

When combined with his previous statements calling for revolution and the use of force against teachers, he is now talking about an unregulated militia that could threaten the security of the state.

Of course, that’s only if Oakes’ words are taken on their face as true.

In the past, numbers and accuracy have not been Oakes’ strong suit. For example, in a Jan. 10 Facebook posting, he put the size of the crowd at the Jan. 6 insurrection at “well over one million people” and then “1 1/2 million” and the number of leading rioters as “six or eight paid actors.”

Presumably he would be more accurate when it comes to accounting related to his business.

It sounds like he can command an imposing force. But even if, as he states, that he can put guns in the hands of all 3,200 employees it cannot be presumed that all employees, already facing the daily risk of working in an unmasked, anti-protective, COVID-denying workplace, would want to take on the additional danger of using lethal force against the United States in a rebellion led by Alfie Oakes.

Also, his comments don’t make clear whether he could mount a sustained operation. Nor does it make clear the quality or caliber of his weapons. Nor is it clear that he has the command, control, communications, logistics or support to make such a force effective in achieving its mission—whatever that mission might be.

Still, in an era when a single active shooter with a single magazine can tie down a town, a shopping mall or a public intersection, any armed rebellion can prove, to put it mildly, extremely problematic, as witness the siege of Waco, Texas in 1993.

At the very least, the situation bears monitoring.

A case of the maybes

At this point, nothing is foreordained for Sept. 18.

In Washington, DC, Braynard is calling for an orderly, disciplined and focused demonstration. In Naples, Oakes is throwing a party at his house.

So maybe all the fears are just alarmist. Maybe on Sept. 18, protesters in the nation’s capital will peaceably assemble to petition government for a redress of grievances. Maybe there will be no violence or insurrection.

And in Naples, maybe Patriot Fest will consist of good times, good food and speechifying. Maybe there will be no calls for armed revolt or acts of insurrection.

Maybe Sept. 18 will be just another Saturday in September.

Then again, maybe not.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg