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

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

Could Gov. Ron DeSantis face a recall in Florida?

Gov. Ron DeSantis (Caricature: Donkey Hotey via Wikimedia)

Sept. 17, 2021 by David Silverberg

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s smashing victory in California’s recall election has sparked hope in the hearts of some Floridians that a similar effort can be mounted in Florida to recall Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

As the New York expression goes: “Fuggedaboudit!

Florida has no constitutional recall provision. What you get in a Florida election is what you’re stuck with until the end of the term.

Florida is hardly alone in this. Only 19 states have gubernatorial recall provisions.

Nationally, the US Constitution has no provisions for recalls of any kind. A president can be removed following impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors but otherwise he’s in office for the length of his term.

It’s not as though Floridians are not expressing their displeasure with DeSantis’ governing. A Change.org petition to recall DeSantis had 93,609 signatures as of this writing. A MoveOn.org recall petition had 8,913 signatures.

However, the next real opportunity to recall DeSantis comes on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022.

The silly season that isn’t

The days before an election are often referred to as “silly season.” It’s when politicians say and do strange and often outlandish things to get elected.

While the election is still a year and nearly two months away, “silly season” is well under way, only right now there’s nothing funny about it due to the COVID pandemic.

A sensible, center-governing politician of any party or persuasion might ordinarily be expected to throw some rhetorical bones to the more rabid dogs in his following, sometimes tossing some real red meat as well. But when it comes to the nuts and bolts of ensuring the health, welfare and prosperity of those in his jurisdiction, decisions have to be driven to some extent by reason, reality and logic.

That’s not happening in Florida. In rhetoric and action, DeSantis is proving a hard-right, extreme, Trumpist governor who is matching extreme rhetoric with extreme action. At every level he appears to be governing for the sake, and at the direction, of a hard-core, fanatical, minority base. In matters of life and death he’s not only offering up COVID-denying rhetoric, he’s actively impeding and obstructing science-based measures like masking and vaccinations and attacking those who do try to implement them, like local school districts.

This includes his ban on school mask mandates, on vaccination “passports,” threats to withhold salaries of school officials who defy his ban in order to protect children, appeals of a court order challenging his ban, threats to fine Florida cities that impose a vaccine mandate on their workers, attacks on federal COVID-prevention mandates and silence in the face of false claims and disinformation about vaccines and COVID precautions.

In a Sept. 14 editorial, The Washington Post characterized his actions as “a jaw-dropping level of cynicism.”

It stated: “Mr. DeSantis harbors national political ambitions. But what he’s displaying here is crass opportunism and disregard for the greater good. As he stokes the ignorance and misguided impulses of some in the Republican base, he is acting against the very tools needed to save lives and stop the pandemic.”

The former president may not be directing DeSantis but DeSantis is closely following the Trumpist playbook, from threats and intimidation to impose his will down to the denial and dismissal of the COVID-19 threat and indifference to its consequences.

Leaching down to Lee County

The DeSantis method and Trumpist playbook are not only playing out in the state capital but like Trumpism itself, are leaching down into local nooks and crannies at the local level.

Case in point is the Lee County School District. When Judge John Cooper of the 2nd Judicial Circuit of Florida overturned the governor’s school mask ban on Sept.  2, Lee County School Superintendent Ken Savage was free to impose a mask mandate to last the month of September.

However, when the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals stayed Cooper’s order and left the ban in place, Savage felt he was compelled to allow parents to opt out and so he did beginning on Sept. 14.

“Given the legal landscape, I am appealing to your humanity and sense of community,” Savage wrote in a letter to the community. “With approximately 500 COVID-19 patients isolated within our local hospital system, and a 101 percent staffed bed capacity over the weekend, remember that these aren’t just numbers. These are people. These are your neighbors, your family, your friends, your co-workers. I choose to believe that the vast majority of our community are reasonable, caring people who want this surge to end as quickly as possible and would willingly volunteer to wear masks as an additional measure to protect each other from harm.”

He concluded: “I implore you to prove your commitment to each other by getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, and following other safety protocols to help us get through this surge together. I will never underestimate our community’s ability to show love and compassion for each other.”

Savage’s civilized faith in the love, compassion and reason of his community was admirable but hardly reciprocated. Demonstrations against the mask mandate brought out shoving matches by mask opponents in front of the School District headquarters and heated rhetoric inside its council room.

On a political basis it provided an opportunity for state Rep. Spencer Roach (R-79-Buckingham) to send a letter to Savage demanding an end to the mask mandate or face a Roach call to DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran for his firing.

In fact the Lee County School District had to allow a temporary, court-imposed, opt-out option. As Savage wrote in his letter to parents: “…last Friday, the 1st District Court of Appeal instituted a stay, which means the Florida Department of Education can continue to enforce its interpretation of the parental opt out until this matter is ultimately resolved.” As a result, an opt-out provision had to be instituted for students, although not for employees.

The Lee County retreat was hailed by local conservatives and anti-maskers as a huge victory for their cause.

Roach’s gesture certainly rebounded to his benefit with the anti-mask constituency, prompting them to credit him for the change in Lee County policy. As a bit of political sleight of hand, it was deftly done.

Roach’s grandstanding is just one example of the kind of maneuvering that will be increasing across the board in Florida as the clock ticks toward Election Day.

Why are they acting this way?

Florida is now in the grip of a governing party for whom the lives of Floridians are not even a secondary consideration. The clear calculation is that serving the extreme anti-vaxx, anti-mask, COVID-denying base is the formula for success at the polls.

But is that true? In California it clearly was not. Californians overwhelmingly rejected the Trumpist mantra.

So far, the polling—at least the publicly available polling—is paltry in Florida but it would seem to indicate that the silent majority of Floridians support mask and vaccination mandates and COVID precautions.

That was the result indicated by the most recent poll on the topic, conducted by Quinnipiac University from August 17 to 21 and released on Aug. 24. Quinnipiac polling is highly respected, getting an A- rating from the FiveThirtyEight.com website. This poll was based on responses from 997 Florida adults.

The poll found that by 60 to 35 percent, Floridians supported requiring masks in schools. By 68 to 27 percent they believed that local school officials should be free to make the decision. What was more, 69 percent to 25 percent thought DeSantis’ withholding of school salaries to force compliance was a bad idea—and that finding applied across the political spectrum.

“As COVID-19 makes a frightening resurgence, it’s Tallahassee vs. the teaching institutions,” stated Tim Malloy, a Quinnipiac polling analyst. “Thumbs down from Floridians on DeSantis’ ban on mask requirements in public schools. Thumbs down on DeSantis’ call to freeze pay of administrators who mandate mask wearing. And he gets scant support from fellow Republicans on penalizing the school leaders who defy him.”

Regrettably, more granular data from Southwest Florida is not publicly available.

If most Floridians don’t approve of the DeSantis/Trump approach to handling the pandemic and this could prove politically damaging, why are DeSantis and other Florida Republicans sticking so stubbornly to policies and positions that are killing Floridians and endangering their children?

Five reasons immediately suggest themselves:

They’re true believers. DeSantis, Roach and other Republicans truly believe the anti-mask, anti-vaccination, disease-denying ideology. This is not just an act, it is not just a pose, and it is a real, heartfelt opposition to COVID precautions. In this it mirrors Donald Trump’s own reaction to the COVID pandemic as president. As for the deaths and infections resulting from this stance, in their minds that’s just collateral damage. In some ways a true-believing politician is more dangerous than a cynical one—at least a cynic can be swayed by reason, self-interest or constituent needs.

It will help them win the next election. DeSantis and the Republicans believe that the strength of the COVID-denying base is sufficient to help them win the election in 2022 and possibly 2024. This also applies down the line in congressional, county and municipal elections. As result they’re pandering to its prejudices and extremism.

It will all be forgotten by next November. Politicians and the public know that voters have short memories. No doubt DeSantis and the Republicans are calculating that by November 2022 the pandemic will be a bad dream that voters are eager to forget—at least the ones that are still alive.

There’s a presidential race on. Certainly at the gubernatorial level, DeSantis has long been running for the presidential nod in 2024. In the Republican Party he has to compete with the likes of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in a race to the rim of reason. These candidates must prove themselves sufficiently fanatical to win over the hard-core militants and walk in the footsteps of Donald Trump—who might himself overturn their calculations by demanding the Party’s nomination in 2024.

The extremists are louder. Without data, sense or logic, COVID-deniers and anti-vaxxers are using volume to fight efforts to stem the pandemic. They’re loud, threatening and they turn out in numbers at demonstrations like the ones at the Lee County School Board. It makes an impression on television and certainly impacts school board members and local officials. It is also what some politicians heed and fear to contradict.

The COVID-deniers, anti-vaxxers and Republican politicians frame the debate over masks and vaccinations as one of personal choice versus government overreach. But what they overlook or ignore is the nature of the disease itself. They regard this as one more political issue that can be dealt with on a human timetable and at human discretion.

However, COVID is not subject to human whims or desires. It is literally a force of nature that operates on its own timetable and according to its own imperatives. As humans—and especially as Americans—we’re accustomed to imposing our will on nature; this is a case of nature forcing us to adapt to it. DeSantis and the Republicans have not made that mental adjustment.

Politically, all this will play out in the next election. It’s clear: those Floridians who believe in science, who don’t want their school-age children used as pawns, who prefer to adapt to real-world conditions rather than impose comforting delusions on reality, will have to be more active, determined and mobilized than their opponents and show up in greater numbers.

And that is the only way to recall a governor of Florida.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

‘Sanctuary city for the unborn’ movement threatens Naples, Fla., economic recovery

Demonstrators calling for Naples to become a ‘sanctuary city for the unborn’ gather on April 21 in front of the Naples City Council. (Image: WINK News)

June 10, 2021 by David Silverberg

A group agitating for the city of Naples, Fla., to declare itself a “sanctuary city for the unborn” could threaten the city’s tourism and hospitality-based economic recovery.

Naples experienced “an amazing April” in tourism recovery, Anne Wittine, the director of data analysis for Research Data Services, told Collier County’s Tourist Development Council on May 24, according to The Naples Daily News. Visitors and spending in the city were up over 1,000 percent over the year before and room nights and hotel occupancy increased over 900 percent.

Clearly, Naples is roaring back from its pandemic shutdowns. But all that recovery is threatened if it becomes the focal point of an unneeded controversy centered around a fringe movement out of Texas, which is seeking to ban all abortions within the city limits.

The new sanctuary cities movement

The anti-abortion “sanctuary cities” movement is the brainchild of Mark Lee Dickson, an itinerant preacher and self-professed 35-year-old virgin from White Oak, a small town in east Texas that sits an hour’s drive from the Louisiana border.

Mark Lee Dickson in his signature backwards baseball cap. (Photo: Ilana Panich-Linsman/HuffPost)

Dickson began preaching against abortion outside a women’s clinic in Shreveport, La., in 2012 and made the anti-abortion cause his own. He traveled rural Texas towns to preach his message. In 2019 he broached the idea of a “sanctuary city for the unborn” in tiny Waskom, Texas, population 2,189. He told Britain’s The Guardian newspaper that he wanted to forestall Waskom from having a clinic like nearby Shreveport’s across the state line.

“When I reached out to them it was all about protecting Waskom,” Dickson told The Guardian. “I didn’t have any other city in mind.”

The City Council of Waskom unanimously voted in a sanctuary city ordinance on June 11, 2019. The ordinance simply outlawed abortions within city limits.

From there, Dickson’s efforts led 23 other Texas towns and one town each in Nebraska and Ohio to pass anti-abortion ordinances.

The largest city to vote itself an anti-abortion sanctuary city is Lubbock, Texas, with a population of 278,831. Initially, the Lubbock City Council rejected the ordinance but it was then voted in by referendum on May 1.

It was immediately challenged in court by Planned Parenthood, which had opened a clinic there last year, and the American Civil Liberties Union, whose lawyers argued that the ordinance was unconstitutional. On Tuesday, June 1, a federal judge ruled that he did not have jurisdiction in the case and dismissed it, pointing out that because it would be enforced by private citizens through lawsuits rather than state or local authorities, he could not limit the right of private citizens to sue.

It was the same day the ordinance took effect. While the sanctuary cities movement counted it as a victory, the Planned Parenthood clinic continues to operate.

“We will continue to stand up for [our patients] with all of our resources,” Ken Lambrecht, president of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, told The Texas Tribune.

In Florida

Naples, a city of roughly 22,000 and known as politically very conservative, is a test case for this movement in Florida.

Dickson visited the North Naples Seed to Table market owned by extreme conservative Alfie Oakes, to preach in July 2020.

“I did not draw Naples, Florida out of a hat,” Dickson told WINK News at the time. “The people of Naples, we’ve had hundreds and hundreds of people reach out to me and others saying they want their city to outlaw abortion. They don’t want babies to be murdered in the city.”

To date, 260 people claiming Naples residence have signed a petition supporting passage of the ordinance, although their actual residence in the city cannot be independently verified. (A complete list of the names of petitioners from those giving Naples as their residence can be read on the movement’s website here.)

On March 15 at the Naples City Council regular meeting, William Oppenheimer, a local lawyer and head of the anti-abortion organization Act for Life, proposed putting an anti-abortion ordinance on the Council agenda. Councilmembers rejected it by a vote of 4 to 3, with Paul Perry, Mike McCabe, Ray Christman, and Gary Price opposed and Mayor Theresa Heitman, Vice Mayor Terry Hutchinson and Ted Blankenship voting in favor.

At an April 19 working session, Mark Lee Dickson came to Naples and organized a demonstration of about 25 people favoring the ordinance but did not make comments to the Council.  Five people spoke against the ordinance during the public comment period.

At the Council’s April 21 regular meeting abortion opponents held a demonstration and some spoke to the Council during the public comments period. At that time Oppenheimer vowed in an interview with WINK-TV that demonstrators would be back to protest at every city council meeting.

Annisa Karim, chair of the Collier County Democratic Party, told WINK News at the time: “I don’t believe that that is appropriate for a local municipality to be ruling on. I think it is government overreach at this level.”

The Naples City Council will convene this coming Monday, June 14 for a working meeting and on Wednesday, June 16 for a regular meeting. Demonstrators may be present. A “sanctuary city” ordinance is not on the agenda for either meeting.

Commentary: Civics and common sense

Any sensible person with even a passing knowledge of basic American civics can see that the proposal for a local ordinance of this nature is unconstitutional on its face. At the federal level, the issue of women’s choice is working its way up to the Supreme Court in a number of cases and will be decided there. That decision will apply to the entire country.

On a state level, declaring Naples—or any other Florida city—a “sanctuary city” may well be illegal, running afoul of the state’s anti-sanctuary city law. While that law may have been driven by an enmity against immigrants, it nonetheless may have banned the entire concept of sanctuary cities when the legislature passed it and the governor signed it.

And beyond the argument whether women have a right to make their own decisions regarding their health, from a local, municipal standpoint, the City Council of Naples would be doing itself and the city a deep disservice if it even considers this proposed ordinance.

This is a solution that Naples simply doesn’t need in search of a problem it simply doesn’t have. It’s not as though Naples is a hotbed of the kind of women’s health services that the sanctuary city people are trying to outlaw, nor is it something that vast numbers of actual city residents are demanding. Instead, a small group is trying to impose its will for no other purpose than to prove a point and meet its larger goals.

For a city that is attempting to emerge from the economic damage of a pandemic, a drop in tourism and hospitality business and which may be facing the additional blow of a red tide summer, a completely unnecessary, divisive controversy is the last thing it needs. As a Florida test case the ordinance debate would focus unfavorable national attention on the town, hurting its reputation as a welcoming and open vacation spot for everyone around the world.

Given its unconstitutionality, even considering whether to consider the ordinance is already consuming too much time that is much better spent on more pressing needs. If such an ordinance were to pass, it would impose expenses in litigation on a city that needs every penny it can get to meet its existing municipal responsibilities and obligations.

And from a purely parochial standpoint, this seems like another outlandish Texas idea that some extremist Texans are trying to foist on the rest of the country—like seceding from the union or creating an independent power grid that can’t withstand a winter storm.

So if the towns of Texas want to go their own way in this matter, they can certainly try. But for a Florida city that’s finally open for tourism and has a more welcoming and cosmopolitan view of the world, adhering to the US Constitution and following plain common sense seems like a much better bet.


To reach the members of the Naples City Council, contact:

The Naples City Council meets at 735 8th Street South, Naples, Florida, 34102

To see scheduled meetings and agendas of the Naples City Council, or watch streaming videos of Council proceedings, click here.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

The Donalds Dossier: Firing Fauci, supporting suppression, bashing the border

Rep. Lauren Boebert (left) and Rep. Byron Donalds listen to a briefing during a trip to the southwest border. (Photo: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

151 days (5 months) that Byron Donalds has been in Congress

June 3, 2021 by David Silverberg

The five-month anniversary of Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) taking office might have been a fairly innocuous milestone, except that yesterday, June 2, he decided to issue a gratuitous and unnecessary attack on—of all people—Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Anthony Fauci (NSIAID)

And not just Dr. Fauci, either. In true Trumpist fashion he decided to go after the media as well.

“Fake news media outlets like @CNN continue to praise Dr. Fauci as the hero of COVID-19. When has the media or Dr. Fauci ever been right? Read the emails and #FireFauci,” Donalds tweeted.

What prompted this was the release under a Freedom of Information Act request of thousands of Fauci’s e-mails during the height of the pandemic.

It’s not clear which CNN report on the e-mails aroused Donalds’ ire, since there have been a number of them. But one CNN commentary by Dr. Megan Ranney, an associate professor of emergency medicine and a CNN medical analyst, praised the doctor.

“Throughout [the e-mails], his on-paper voice sounds just like his television voice,” stated Ranney. “He is humble, curious and committed. My takeaway? He is just like us—or, at least, he’s how most of us like to imagine ourselves to be, on our best days.”

That would be in stark contrast to Donalds’ idol, Donald Trump, for whom the words “humble, curious and committed” could never apply.

But Donalds saying that Fauci has never been right is pretty rich coming from a man who contracted COVID last October. It was a failing in the eyes of Trump that prompted him to ignore Donalds’ existence when Trump passed through Fort Myers in October 2020.

Donalds, a vehement anti-masker at home, in the halls of the Capitol and in the council rooms of Southwest Florida who to date has not revealed whether he’s received any vaccine or will be getting any, was lucky to recover without too much damage. The same cannot be said for the 1,046 people in Lee County and 571 in Collier County who have died from this scourge (based on Rebekah Jones’ figures).

What’s most surprising about Donalds’ tweet is that it was completely unnecessary, brought him no political capital or advantage with the possible exception of COVID-deniers like Alfie Oakes, and puts him on the side of lunatic fringe for whom Donald Trump is always right and people who rely on facts and data, like Fauci, must always be wrong.

But then again, that’s where he was anyway.

Out of the bubble, into The Times

Astead Herndon (NYT)

On May 22, Donalds finally stepped out of the right-wing media bubble he’d carefully inhabited. The New York Times published an interview conducted by reporter Astead Herndon, in which Donalds insistently defended Florida and Georgia’s voter suppression laws.

Donalds said that one of the best aspects of Florida’s new law was getting rid of “ballot harvesting,” collecting other peoples’ ballots to cast them.

“You know, I think the process we have now going forward in our state is actually a good one,” said Donalds. “Everybody’s free to request their ballot. They prove who they are, that’s a good thing. They receive their ballot, they vote. It’s all about security.”

“Ballot harvesting was already outlawed in parts of the state,” pointed out Herndon. “And new lawsuits claim that the real impact of the identification measures will be another barrier suppressing Black and Latino voters. What’s your response to that?”

“I don’t pay any attention to those claims,” responded Donalds, who went on to say that he believed the state law would be upheld in court.

A reader can sense Herndon’s mounting frustration and growing skepticism as the questioning went on but Donalds remained adamant. As any experienced interviewer knows, sometimes short of grabbing a subject by the lapels and screaming “you’re wrong!” there’s not much an objective journalist can do to shake the truth out of an obdurate subject. Being a reporter for a credible, objective newspaper, Herndon wasn’t about to do that.

At least Donalds’ opinions are now on the record somewhere beyond the Trumpisphere, regardless of what Donalds thinks of the real media’s credibility.

Grassroots, water and the border

Beyond these events, Donalds was careful during the past month to tend to the grassroots in his district. Apparently sensitive to criticism that he was neglecting Southwest Florida in his quest for publicity and ideological prominence and sacrificing local concerns in favor of endless bashing of President Joe Biden’s attempts to help Americans and end the pandemic, he made some efforts toward reaching out to local groups who would give him a favorable reception.

Southwest Florida is facing a summer water crisis and Donalds duly visited Lake Okeechobee with other Republican lawmakers during the past month. However, when water advocates gathered at Moore Haven to advocate for a particular water release plan by the Army Corps of Engineers, Donalds sent a surrogate.

However, he himself headed to the Southwest US border with Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-3-Colo.), another extremist member of Congress, to denounce Biden border policy, as part of the general and ongoing Republican offensive.

Legislatively, Donalds’ Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act made no progress in House committees. He did, however, finally introduce some text to his other legislation, the RESCUE Act. However, since passage of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, that proposal is largely moot. A third piece of legislation, introduced on May 7, to prevent sharing trade information with the World Trade Organization, had not received any text from Donalds.

Donalds, who sits on the House Budget Committee, has now moved on to denouncing the administration’s budget proposal and taxes on the ultra-wealthy and corporations to pay for it.

With the arrival of June 1, Donalds now goes into his first hurricane season as a member of Congress. He’s already been part of the insurrectionist political storm. It will be interesting to see how he weathers storms from nature.

523 days (1 year, 5 months, 5 days) until Election Day

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

The Donalds Dossier commentary: Rhetoric, reality and law enforcement

Rep. Byron Donalds addresses the US House on the occasion of National Police Week. (Image: C-Span)

May 21, 2021 by David Silverberg

Two recent votes by Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) belie his purported support for the nation’s law enforcement officers.

Donalds voted against both creation of a bipartisan commission to investigate the events of Jan. 6 and against supplemental appropriations to improve Capitol security.

On May 12, Donalds joined other members of Congress to acknowledge National Police Week and honor the men and women of law enforcement.

Recalling a time when he was robbed at gunpoint at the age of 16 and the police responded to his call, Donalds made a 2-minute, 19-second floor speech acknowledging the importance of their role in society.

“The police are the ones in our communities. They patrol the streets. They try to keep our neighborhoods safe. They are the ones who put their lives on the line every single day, who may not go home. They are the ones who are the pillars of every community in our great country,” he said.

“So on National Police Week, the number one thing we need to learn not just on this specific week, but in every week, is that we need to show them the necessary honor and respect that they deserve.”

Donalds then had the opportunity to demonstrate that honor and respect with two subsequent votes.

The first was a vote to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, an attack by what Donalds called at the time “lawless vigilantes” engaged in “thuggery.” He later characterized the rioters as “a bunch of lunatics.”

While some Republican members of Congress downplayed the severity of the attack, an anonymous letter by Capitol Police officers was sent to House members stating that “It is inconceivable that some of the Members we protect, would downplay the events of January 6th. Member safety was dependent upon the heroic actions of USCP [US Capitol Police]. It is a privileged assumption for Members to have the point of view that ‘It wasn’t that bad,’” the letter stated. “That privilege exists because the brave men and women of the USCP protected you, the Members.”

Though allegedly supported by 40 members of the Capitol Police, their support could not be independently verified. The Capitol Police disavowed the letter as an official communication.

Nonetheless, on Wednesday, May 19, the House voted by 252 to 175 to establish the commission.

Donalds, however, voted against the bill. (Also voting against it were Southwest Florida’s two other representatives, Reps. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.).

Yesterday, May 20, Donalds had another opportunity to show his support for law enforcement by voting for a $1.9 billion bill to improve security around the Capitol. The vote on that was 213 to 212.

Donalds voted against that bill too, along with the rest of the Southwest Florida delegation.

Commentary: Putting the money where your mouth is

“Mr. Speaker,” Donalds said in his May 12 floor statement, “we have all seen the videos that get thrown in front of us. We have seen the handful of acts that all Americans find distasteful”—his reference, apparently, to the wholesale assault on the Capitol in which he was speaking and the attempt to kill the lawmakers inside and lynch the Vice President of the United States.

He continued: “But the uniform, that badge, the officers that serve every day, they serve our communities with honor and with distinction. So it is really my pleasure and my honor to honor all those officers, including the ones in this very Capitol, who protect us every single day.”

Apparently Donalds’ rhetorical support did not extend enough to honor them by investigating the past attack upon them and giving them the resources and funding they need to prevent a similar attack again.

Nonetheless, the men and women of law enforcement continue protect Donalds, his fellow lawmakers and the public in general from the “thugs” and “lunatics”—Donalds’ terms—who remain at large.

Both bills have now gone to the Senate where they face uncertain futures.

Liberty lives in light

©2021 by David Silverberg

It’s not your imagination: There really is a MAGA migration to Florida

Gingrich move to Naples is just latest addition to rightist roster

A satirical map of the MAGA migration to the Sunshine State. (Art: Author)

May 17, 2021 by David Silverberg

Updated May 18 with current valuation of Sen. Rick Scott’s home.

If you had the impression that all the debris and detritus of the Trump years was drifting southward to Florida—you’d be right.

The latest move is by Newt and Callista Gingrich, who on May 3 purchased a property in Naples’ tony Quail West development and will be moving there permanently in September.

Newt and Callista Gingrich announce their Florida move on Twitter. (Photo: Twitter)

They’re just part of the Trumps, Trumpsters and assorted Trumpers migrating to the swampy warmth of Florida south of Interstate 4.

Of course, the real lodestar for all this is Donald Trump himself, the loser of the 2020 election, who retreated to his luxurious lair of Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach following his failed January 6th attempt to overturn the US government and cancel the election. Trump became a full-time Florida resident in September 2019 and officially tweeted the change on Nov. 1 of that year.

“…Despite the fact that I pay millions of dollars in city, state and local taxes each year, I have been treated very badly by the political leaders of both the city and state. Few have been treated worse,” he complained of New York. At the time he was under pressure from New York authorities investigating a variety of suspected misbehavior. (That pressure may turn into indictments any day now, his Florida residence notwithstanding.)

Along with the Former Guy himself came the family Trumps, who have settled along the east coast of the peninsula. Daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner have purchased a lot for $32 million on Miami’s exclusive Indian Creek Island, known as the “Billionaires Bunker.”

Further north, Don Jr. and his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle, purchased two waterfront homes in Jupiter’s Admiral’s Cove, another exclusive high-end enclave. The main house, 492 Mariner Drive, listed for $11 million. Next door, Guilfoyle was planning to purchase a $9.5 million mansion for her family, according to The Palm Beach Post.

Marla Maples shows off her new Florida driver’s license, taking care to conceal her address. (Photo: Instagram)

It’s not only the current family coming south: Trump ex-spouse Marla Maples has settled in Miami, joining her daughter Tiffany who already resides there with her fiancée, Michael Boulos. In March, Marla posted a photo on Instagram of her coyly displaying a Florida driver’s license.

Interestingly, while Trump & Family settle into extravagant and expensive digs, lesser Trumpsters who served his campaign or administration are pleading poverty and penury, either because they’re out of the graces of the Orange One, or because they’re facing the wrath of law enforcement.

Fort Lauderdale is home to Roger Stone, political trickster, lobbyist and consultant. Stone was arrested there on Jan. 25, 2019 and charged with witness tampering, obstructing an official proceeding, and five counts of making false statements during Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian collusion. He was convicted of seven felonies and sentenced to 40 months in prison. Trump first commuted his sentence and then pardoned him altogether just before leaving office. However, this past April 16, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) sued Stone for $2 million in back taxes.

Stone pleaded poverty: “The Internal Revenue Service is well aware of the fact that my three-year battle for freedom against the corrupted Mueller investigation has left me destitute,” Stone told The Associated Press. “They’re well aware that I have no assets and that their lawsuit is politically motivated. It’s particularly interesting that my tax attorneys were not told of this action, filed at close of business on a Friday. The American people will learn, in court, that I am on the verge of bankruptcy and that there are no assets for the government to take.”

That’s not the IRS view, which holds that Stone and his wife used a commercial front to “shield their personal income from enforced collection” and support a “lavish lifestyle.”

According to the IRS filing: “Despite notice and demand for payment, Roger and Nydia Stone have failed and refused to pay the entire amount of the liabilities.”

The drama will play out in a Fort Lauderdale courtroom over the coming months.

Also in Fort Lauderdale, Brad Parscale, who touts himself as “an advertising legend,” served as Trump’s campaign manager for 897 days before a major Trump rally he organized in June 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma failed spectacularly.

Brad Parscale’s former Ft. Lauderdale home. (Photo: Miami MLS)

During his Trump time, Parscale was riding high with a salary of $15,000 a month but with seeming use of much more. Under Parscale Properties LLC, he invested in real estate around Fort Lauderdale including a $2.4 million waterfront home for himself. Over the course of a few months he also purchased $300,000 in luxury cars.

But apparently he wasn’t feeling well after his fall from grace. On Sept. 27, 2020 his girlfriend called Fort Lauderdale police to say that he was waving a gun and threatening both her and himself. Parscale’s takedown by police in his driveway was videotaped and widely broadcast. He sold his main house shortly after his arrest and the following day listed a townhome he also owned.

In March 2021, Pascale announced that he had formed a new super political action committee (PAC) called American Greatness PAC and a non-profit American Greatness Fund, which promotes what it calls the Election Integrity Alliance to “unite groups and efforts across the nation focused on combating election fraud.” It will fund state legislators and activists “on challenges to free and fair elections.”

Donors will no doubt be reassured by Parscale’s proven record of handling money in the past.

The other side of Alligator Alley

In an essay published in The Washington Post this past January, humorist Dave Barry put Florida’s east and west coasts into perspective:

“…Miami, where I live, is directly across the Everglades from Naples, only about 100 miles as the crow flies, which the crow had better do because if it lands it will be eaten by a Burmese python,” he wrote. “But despite their proximity, the two cities, because of unfortunate stereotypes, view each other negatively. Miami views Naples as a boring, retiree-infested backwater where the height of wild nightlife is ordering a second round of breadsticks at the Olive Garden. Naples views Miami as an insane urban hellscape whose residents celebrate every occasion, including Valentine’s Day, with gunfire.

“For the record, both of these unfortunate stereotypes are 100 percent accurate.”

Perhaps it was this boringness—or viewed another way, the peace and quiet—of the Gulf coast that first drew Indiana native Mike Pence to Sanibel Island. During his time as Trump’s vice president, Pence would occasionally vacation at an undisclosed location there. Whether his trips continue in the future or he settles there permanently, only Pence himself knows.

For four years Pence was an unfailingly loyal and servile wingman to Donald Trump—who rewarded him by inciting a murderous mob to try to lynch him on Jan. 6.

Also on the Gulf coast is the longtime home of former Florida governor and current senator Rick Scott, whose beachfront home at 3150 Gordon Dr., Naples, is estimated to be worth over $30 million as it awaits climate change-driven sea level rise to wash it into the Gulf.

Naples, with a picturesque downtown and beautiful beaches, has been a minor haven for right-wing pundits and performers for some time.

Fox News commentator Sean Hannity bought a $4.75 million penthouse in a luxury high-rise condo called Moraya Bay in 2009. It was one element of his real estate empire that reportedly includes as many as 900 properties around the country. Hannity sold that penthouse for $5.7 million in December 2020 and has reportedly moved on to Florida’s east coast.

Among the Fox news readers, Brett Baier also has a condo in Naples, possibly in Moraya Bay.

Also in Naples, rocker Ted Nugent, better known at this point for his extreme political views than his music, has long been an occasional seasonal resident. Nugent announced on April 19 that he had contracted COVID-19 a week after performing at Seed to Table, a defiantly COVID-denying, anti-masking market in North Naples.

None of these celebrities made much of an impression on the local community, either showing up on the streets, in shops or in the pages of slick hometown lifestyle magazines as charitable donors.

To the north of Sanibel, Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson occasionally visits the $2.9 million, 3,000-square-foot plus, single-level modernist home he purchased in 2020 on Gasparilla Island, one of the Gulf shore’s many islands.

Newt and Callista Gingrich are the latest additions to the Gulf shore, scheduled to move permanently to Naples in September.

Newt, of course, was Speaker of the US House of Representatives from 1995 until he was ousted in 1999. Callista is just back from a stint as US ambassador to the Vatican’s Holy See.

Her presence will give Naples two former Vatican ambassadors, given the presence of Francis Rooney, who served in that capacity from 2005 to 2008 before representing the district in Congress from 2016 to 2020.

Rooney called Southwest Florida “the redder than red region” in a 2016 speech at the Collier County Fairgrounds when he introduced then-candidate Donald Trump. While he later broke with Trump and Trumpism, he was certainly right in his characterization.

To his credit, for all his ideological loyalty, Gingrich vehemently denounced the Jan. 6 insurrection in no uncertain terms:

“I was furious. I am furious. Every person who broke into the Capitol has to be arrested and has to be prosecuted,” said Gingrich 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.”

This is not to say that Gingrich hasn’t pounded the Trumpist drum for a long time. But at least he drew the line at insurrection.

Someone who never broke with the Big Lie and in fact swore actual allegiance to the absurd QAnon conspiracy theory is Michael Flynn. He served 24 days as Trump’s national security advisor in 2017 before being dismissed after lying to Pence about his contacts with the Russians. He pleaded guilty to one felony count of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, then withdrew his guilty plea. He was pardoned by Trump in December 2020.

On April 9 Flynn and his wife Lori closed on a home in the Boca Royale Golf and Country Club in Englewood. It’s a modest, 2,236-square foot single family home valued at $543,005 with three bedrooms and two-and-a-half bathrooms that backs onto a lake.


Sidebar: Disappearing beaches

The Moraya Bay condo in North Naples pushes beachgoers into the Gulf using its beach chairs as barriers in March 2021. (Photo: Author)

In keeping with Trump’s “Me First” philosophy, Naples’ beachfront condos and hotels are now trying to drive Floridians off the sands of the area’s beaches.

Florida law allows property owners to possess beaches up to the “mean high tide line”—i.e., the dry sand up to the water. For the most part, the beaches are sufficiently broad that in the past there was room for all and people could walk and pitch their umbrellas where they liked.

But the high-end beachfront resorts and condos sell themselves as having exclusive, private beaches. They’re prohibited from putting up clear barriers like traffic cones to keep people off the sand. Instead, they put up barriers of beach chairs right to the water’s edge. Beachgoers are allowed on the dry sand as long as they keep walking but if they sit down they’re shooed away by security guards. Otherwise, everyday Floridians had better stay in the water—not exactly where people can camp out to enjoy a day at the beach.

The leader in this movement to appropriate the beaches is the Moraya Bay condo in North Naples, once home to Hannity. Further south, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on the town’s Vanderbilt Beach has moved with increasing aggressiveness to keep plebeians off its sands. Once upon a time, the Ritz-Carlton was tolerant and welcoming but no more. The condos’ movement against beachgoers is picking up steam, both with other property owners and with state legislators like the area’s state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Naples) who in 2018 introduced legislation to make it more difficult for municipalities to claim beaches for all residents.

Naples, which prizes its beaches as its main tourist attraction, is headed toward a time when all but a small strip of wet sand will be off-limits to anyone other than the extremely well-heeled. It’s the logical result of Trumpism on the ground—literally.


It’s the law

“My parents live in Florida now,” observed comedian Jerry Seinfeld. “They moved there last year. They didn’t want to move to Florida, but they’re in their 60s, and that’s the law.”

Seinfeld continued: “You know how it works. They got the leisure police. They pull up in front of the old people’s house with the golf cart, jump out: ‘Let’s go, Pop! White belt, white pants, white shoes! Get in the back! Drop the snow shovel! Right there! Drop it!’”

As it is for normal people, so it is for Trump and his Trumpsters. Perhaps Seinfeld’s Florida must-move law was the only law Trump ever obeyed—and even then he was tardy, being well past 60 when he took Florida residency in 2019. Flynn, Stone and the Gingriches are all past 60 and all coming to Florida to—presumably—retire.

Being under 60, the family—Ivanka, Jared, Don Jr., and Tiffany—have moved because that’s simply the way of the world: where Daddy goes, so they go all.

As for the rest of the Tumpers, pundits and assorted minions of all ages, in addition to the extreme politics, they’re attracted to the beaches, the heat and the low taxes like everyone else.

Politically, though, these are not just ordinary immigrants. Their presence along with their money, a Trumpist governor and a Republican legislature incline Florida to indeed become Florumpia—a state governed in true Trump fashion where voting is suppressed, dissent is crushed, corruption is pervasive, lawbreaking is excused, lying is instinctive, bankruptcy always looms and fantasy prevails.

In Florida, all the world will be able to see what a second Trump administration would have looked like—and could look like again if Trump and Trumpism are able to triumph in future elections at any level.

But then, Florida has always attracted delusional dreamers and fevered fantasists. Why should Trump be any different?

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Florida voter suppression bill comes before state Senate hearing; Floridians can oppose it now

A bill in the Florida Senate could cripple mail-in voting and add unwanted expenses to county budgets. (Photo: Author)

March 9, 2021 by David Silverberg

The most significant bill suppressing voting in Florida is scheduled for committee consideration tomorrow, March 10—and Florida residents can weigh in with their opposition.

Senate Bill 90 would require voters seeking to vote by mail to renew their mail-in request every year in the calendar year of the election rather than the current two years. That means that voters seeking a mail-in ballot for the 2022 election would have to wait until next year to request it.

Introduced on Feb. 3 by state Sen. Dennis Baxley (R-12-Sumter County), the bill has already been approved by the Florida Senate Ethics and Elections Committee.

The Florida Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee, has scheduled a hearing on it for tomorrow.

While the bill is ostensibly intended to prevent voter fraud, it has been denounced by county election supervisors, who worry that it will add unnecessary financial burdens to their counties.

The Miami Herald, editorialized that, “While not solving any real problems, it would force supervisors of elections to scramble to comply and notify voters, costing counties hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Further, it “smacks of a partisan attempt to confuse voters and catch them off guard in next year’s election.”

Florida Democrats have denounced the bill.

“Why do Florida Republicans want to limit vote by mail access? Well it all comes down to who has access to the franchise,” Marcus Dixon, Florida Democratic Party Executive Director told News4 in Jacksonville. “So even though the vote by mail system worked well here in Florida this past election, any time too many people have easy access to the ballot box, Republicans feel like they need to change the rules.”

Manny Diaz, Florida Democratic Party Chair, agreed. “This is not an issue of Republicans versus Democrats, but instead an issue of Republicans versus democracy,” Diaz said. “Florida Republicans keep showing us that when given a choice between defending the rights of voters, or suppressing voter access, disturbingly they will all too gladly suppress, harm and sacrifice our most sacred Constitutional right, on the altar of preserving power for the sake of power.”

Comment: What you can do

Florida residents can weigh in on this issue before, during and after it comes up for a hearing in the Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee.

They can contact their state senators and urge them to oppose it.

To find your senator, go to Find Your Legislators and enter your address. Your senator will appear along with a button to e-mail that senator. Tell your senator to oppose SB 90 and keep the mail-in voting provision the way it functioned in 2020.

The members of the Government Oversight and Accountability Committee are:

Chair:

Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Estero)

Vice Chair:

Sen. Joe Gruters (R-23-Sarasota)

Members:

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Secession, sedition and real estate: Rush Limbaugh’s Florida legacy

Rush Limbaugh ponders secession, Dec. 9, 2020. (Image: YouTube)

Feb. 19, 2021 by David Silverberg

In his departure from this world, Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk radio commentator who died Wednesday, Feb. 17 at age 70, bequeathed Florida two things: his $50 million mansion in Palm Beach (which presumably goes to his wife Kathryn) and the idea of Florida seceding from the union.

No doubt Kathryn will enjoy the 34,000-square foot, seven-bedroom, 12-bath palace with pool, putting green and private beach on two oceanfront acres.

Limbaugh’s Palm Beach home. (Photo: Zillow)

But for the state that he called home since 1996 his most recent legacy was his floating the idea of secession from a United States presided over by Joe Biden. It was an idea that found receptivity among numerous Florida Republicans. (See: “No need to secede: Welcome to Florumpia!”)

Limbaugh did not specifically call for Florida to secede: he raised the idea of secession in general on Dec. 9, 2020 when a caller to his radio show asked if conservatives could ever win over Democratic cities in northern states. Limbaugh interpreted this as asking whether they could ever be won over culturally, rather than electorally.

Limbaugh said he thought the big challenge was winning over the culture rather than the votes.

“I thought you were asking me something else when you said, ‘Can we win?’” said Limbaugh to the caller. “I thought you meant: ‘Can we win the culture, can we dominate the culture?’

“I actually think that we’re trending toward secession,” he said.

“I see more and more people asking what in the world do we have in common with the people who live in, say, New York? What is there that makes us believe that there is enough of us there to even have a chance at winning New York? Especially if you’re talking about votes.”

He continued: “I see a lot of bloggers—I can’t think of names right now—a lot of bloggers have written extensively about how distant and separated and how much more separated our culture is becoming politically and that it can’t go on this way. There cannot be a peaceful coexistence of two completely different theories of life, theories of government, theories of how we manage our affairs. 

“We can’t be in this dire a conflict without something giving somewhere along the way. And I know that there’s a sizable and growing sentiment for people who believe that that is where we’re headed, whether we want to or not—whether we want to go there or not,” he said. “I myself haven’t made up my mind. I still haven’t given up the idea that we are the majority and that all we have to do is find a way to unite and win.”

Limbaugh said all this when a lawsuit by the state of Texas and 17 other states—including Florida—was before the Supreme Court, seeking to overturn the election results in four key states. It was five days before the Electoral College was going to cast its votes confirming Joe Biden’s victory. Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud were threadbare, rejected by every court where they’d been heard and seemed unlikely to sway the Supreme Court but were nonetheless being loudly propagated by the president and his followers.

Limbaugh made many outrageous and extreme pronouncements during his 54-year radio career. While his constant and deliberately provocative statements had somewhat depleted the pool of available outrage, reference to secession brought more than the usual opposition and blowback.

“I think talk of secession is treason, Martha, I want to be very clear,” fellow conservative pundit Geraldo Rivera told Fox News host Martha MacCallum the next day. “That talk is reckless. It’s irresponsible.”

It was on the 11th that the Supreme Court issued its ruling dismissing the Texas lawsuit. References to secession spiked, especially in Texas where the state Republican chairman, Allen West, said “Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the Constitution.” 

But that was also the day that Limbaugh backtracked. “I simply referenced what I have seen other people say about how we are incompatible, as currently divided, and that secession is something that people are speculating about,” Limbaugh said. “I am not advocating it, have not advocated, never have advocated it, and probably wouldn’t. That’s not something — 32 years — that’s not the way I’ve decided to go about handling disagreements with people on the left.”

Neither Texas nor Florida nor any other state seceded.

On Dec. 12, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-16-Ill.) tweeted: “I want to be clear: the Supreme Court is not the deep state. The case had no merit and was dispatched 9-0. There was no win here. Complaining and bellyaching is not a manly trait, it’s actually sad. Real men accept a loss with grace.”

On Jan. 6 Trump decided to vent his rage before his followers and incite them to attack the Capitol Building to overturn the election—and in the process destroy the legislative branch of government, kill its leaders and the Vice President. The effort failed.

Although he had retreated from secession, Limbaugh defended Donald Trump and his sedition: “There’s a lot of people calling for the end of violence,” he said the day after the insurrection. “A lot of conservatives, social media saying any violence, any aggression at all, is unacceptable—regardless of the circumstances. I’m glad Sam Adams, Thomas Paine, the actual Tea Party guys, the men at Lexington and Concord, didn’t feel that way.”

After Limbaugh

The Capitol attack and the subsequent impeachment of Donald Trump seem to have lanced the boil of hatred, prejudice and rage that was swelling with the encouragement of Trump and Limbaugh. The smashed glass and dead police and rioters appear to have brought home to Trumpers and dittoheads the dangers and reality of violence and insurrection—and that rhetoric has repercussions.

Then, Mother Nature and climate change drove home the point: after all the anti-government rhetoric about going it alone and secession, the deep freeze crushing Texas has made clear that the Lone Star State needs the rest of the nation to survive in a modern, technological world with running water and reliable electricity.

The secession talk was never as strong in Florida as it was in Texas. Now, with Limbaugh gone from the American airwaves and Donald Trump banned from Twitter, sanity seems to be returning. Insurrection has been defeated and secession is not a serious notion.

In Florida Limbaugh’s legacy seems as ephemeral as the airwaves on which he broadcast and his ideas as impermanent as a passing tropical shower. His more concrete legacy lies in his palatial mansion, which is only one of many in the Sunshine State’s pricey precincts.

There are many evaluations and analyses of Rush Limbaugh being written now. There’s no denying that he created the genre of talk radio. At a time when AM radio was moribund and seemed headed to obsolescence (it couldn’t broadcast music in stereo like FM radio), Limbaugh’s torrent of words revived it and gave it a new role. It caught on and made him rich, famous and influential, inspired numerous imitators and created a right-wing mediasphere. He presented and shaped a political point of view held by millions of Americans, no matter how delusional, hateful and prejudicial it may be.

Perhaps the best summation of Limbaugh appeared in a 1999 book written by humorist Al Franken, who went on to be elected Minnesota’s junior senator.

That book was called Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat Idiot.

Liberty lives in light

©2021 by David Silverberg

Guest Commentary: The Electoral College may be more critical than we all realize

Signing of the United States Constitution. (Painting:  Junius Brutus Stearns, 1856)

Nov. 27, 2020 by Tyler Skaathun

The 2020 election cycle had plenty of twists and turns and many of us still wonder if the race is at its end.

When I talk to Democrats, the answer is an obvious yes but many of Donald Trump’s supporters still claim that there is a path to victory for the President. The situation is made worse when he and his supporters claim that he won or that somehow he’ll stay in power even after new states certify their elections. As I write, the transition was just officially announced but these concerns are still atop of many Americans’ minds.

With Trump refusing to concede, I’ve had plenty of conversations with folks across South Florida who fear that somehow the election will be stolen from President-elect Joe Biden, and we already know that many conservatives feel that the election was conducted unfairly.

The whole fiasco of the President holding out leaves open questions about America’s checks and balances. In middle and high school we were taught that Congress has the power of the purse, the executive performs its namesake and executes the law, and the judicial system interprets the Constitution. But who is responsible if the President just decides that he’s going to stay in the White House?  Maybe this is a job for the Electoral College.

Many Americans have shown disdain for the institution for the simple reason that it may deprive the winner of the popular vote a victory. This causes a lot of confusion.

To briefly explain, a candidate must have the most electoral votes to win. But what is an electoral vote? According to the Constitution, each state gets the number of electors equal to the number of representatives and senators.  So, on Election Day, voters are telling state electors how to vote. Florida provides an example. It has 29 electoral votes, because it has 27 members of the House of Representatives and two Senators.  In order to win the White House, the winner must get the magic number of 270 electoral votes, because 270 is the majority of the 538 electoral votes available.

The system may seem strange when elections could just be determined by the popular vote.

There are many theories why the Founders created this system. One theory is that it was to give southern slave states more power in picking the president. The three-fifths clause of the Constitution is infamous for counting slaves as only three-fifths of a person. This artificially increased the population of slave states and gave them more seats in the House of Representatives and more electoral votes. As repulsive as the reasoning may seem now, some historians have argued that it was a necessary compromise to get the southern slave colonies to join the United States.

(In my view, I find it disgusting but they didn’t invite me to the Constitutional Convention.)

Another possibility was that the Electoral College would protect small states from big states. For example, Wyoming is the smallest state in terms of population, and needs every electoral vote it can get to be relevant in the presidential race. But the Electoral College gives it greater political power.

There are still a lot of problems with this theory. Small numbers of electors still render small states less relevant and big swing states will always be the key to a presidential election.

(Tangentially, many Floridians are asking why this year Florida didn’t get the attention it normally does in an election cycle. My personal theory is that the state was just not that important for the national Democratic strategy. Joe Biden did not need Florida’s electoral votes and there were no Senate seats up for election. He didn’t have to spend the time and resources when he could have gotten the necessary 270 votes elsewhere.)

The existing theories about the logic behind the Electoral College remain unsatisfying, since it doesn’t do what is allegedly supposed to do: protect small states or preserve slavery. Rather, I would argue that the Founders never thought the Electoral College would work the way it has ended up working.

If we look closely at the Constitution, we see that if there is a tie or a failure to get a majority of electoral votes, the House of Representative is supposed to pick the president from the top five winners of the Electoral College.

This seems odd because in modern politics we have never had a candidate not get a majority, or even five viable candidates at the same time. So why is it there unless they thought it would happen? I think that they thought it would happen. The Constitution was created before the two-party system and all those Founders in the same room writing it were possible candidates for president—and many of them tried. They thought there would always be many people trying to be president until the two-party system destroyed the idea. They assumed that Congress would have more power in picking the president than it ended up having.

If five viable candidates were running with strong regional backing, there was the possibility that none would get a majority and the House of Representatives would decide the winner, probably after much debate and a major compromise. In a way, it was a good idea because it forced different factions to work together in the national interest—something we could certainly use now.

Whether this was the Founders’ true intent, the Electoral College had another important function—stopping a would-be king. And to take it into the present day, it could stop a would-be dictator.

In the event of a dictator attempting to take over the country with support from some members of Congress and governors, the Electoral College just might provide the stopping point for the takeover, preventing him from declaring victory.

I fear that in the future we will see presidents who have lost more obviously than Donald Trump making far more drastic attempts to influence electoral outcomes. Perhaps democracy needs a place between the elected official and the people to ensure that no one takes too much power.

For all the talk of “faithless electors” and state legislatures determining the outcome, this year may be the first time that this kind of check is needed. Americans have always assumed that the outgoing president would leave with dignity and grace. That’s not the case this year.

Democracy is hard to maintain. Perhaps the Electoral College has more to do with maintaining it than we thought.


Tyler Skaathun is a veteran campaigner having worked on political campaigns in South Florida as a volunteer all the way up to senior campaign management. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in public administration. Outside of politics he focuses on a variety of volunteer projects to improve our community and promote the common good.

Liberty lives in light