On a personal note: Paul Pelosi, my own hammer attack, and thoughts on stopping political violence

The scene outside the Pelosi home in San Francisico. (Photo: AP)

Oct. 30, 2022 by David Silverberg

In the early morning hours of Friday, Oct. 28, Paul Pelosi, husband of the Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.), was attacked with a hammer in his San Francisco, Calif., home by an assailant screaming, “Where’s Nancy?”

As of this writing, Mr. Pelosi is in the hospital recovering with a fractured skull and other wounds. The assailant, David DePape, is in custody. No doubt many more details will be revealed in the days to come. Mr. Pelosi certainly has all the thoughts, prayers, best wishes and good will I can send him.

As horrifying as an act of political violence can be, when I heard of it, I felt a special chill run up my spine.

I know exactly how it feels to be attacked with a hammer.

Spoiler alert: It hurts. A lot.

In 1981, a mugger tried to kill me with a hammer and nearly succeeded.

Actually, being hit with the hammer didn’t hurt me at all. That’s because the blow that slammed the back of my skull knocked me unconscious.

Even after I woke up on my back on a sidewalk in a pool of blood with police, emergency medical technicians and blue flashing emergency lights all around me it didn’t hurt. It didn’t hurt in the ambulance or at the hospital when I gave a statement to police and drew a picture of my assailant.

Only when the excitement died down and people left my side and I was on a gurney awaiting X-rays and further examination, did it start to hurt. And then the pain built, intensified, became overwhelming and obliterated all else. It bore like a twisting corkscrew into the center of my brain. And when you have a head wound you get no pain relievers because the doctors don’t know how you’ve been affected so you just have to tough it out, fully conscious and awake.

Technicians came and asked the date (in my case, Nov. 19, 1981). They asked the name of the sitting president (Ronald Reagan). They asked for my name. Fortunately, for me, I had it together and could answer the questions.

I hope Mr. Pelosi similarly has it together. Speaker Pelosi asked for privacy and she and her husband deserve it, so some details will be withheld.

It’s clear, however, that Speaker Pelosi was the target of this assailant—and this is hardly the first time she’s been targeted for violence.

Both Pelosis are victims of a rise in violence and violent rhetoric in American political life. That trend has a single, recent and obvious point of origin. It’s a bad trend. Even if it can’t be stopped cold, there are nonetheless ways it can be confronted. Indeed, one small measure has just come out in—of all places—Southwest Florida.

And for the record, nobody—nobody—should ever be hit with a hammer.

A Maryland mugging

To fill in the rest of this story: What happened to me was an attempted robbery on a street in Silver Spring, Md., a suburb of Washington, DC.

On the night in question, I passed two young men on a deserted street at about 10 pm. My assailants never spoke to me or asked for money. After one hit me on the back of my head with his fist, the other attacked with a ball peen hammer. After a brief defense with a bag holding books (I was returning home from the National Press Club book fair), I fled. The hammer-wielder caught up with me, knocked me unconscious and then, when I was down, hit me again on the back of the head.

Police had been watching and were on the scene almost instantaneously. But the hammer-wielder wasn’t done yet. The first plainclothes policeman to arrive was only carrying a radio. The hammer-wielder hit him full force in the face, smashing his jaw. Then the assailant turned and charged the rest of the team coming up the street. One detective told me he had his gun drawn and the assailant in his sights but another policeman ran into the field of fire. Otherwise that would have been the end.

A police car raced up the street and rammed the hammer-wielder just as the rest of the team grabbed him. All of them went tumbling over the car’s hood but the hammer-wielder was finally apprehended. The other mugger ran in the other direction and was arrested with less drama. He was carrying a big fire hydrant wrench that he unsuccessfully tried to use as a weapon.

As the police told me later, when would-be robbers use blunt instruments, their intention is to kill. A robber armed with a gun or knife usually just wants to scare people into giving up money or valuables. But people using clubs or hammers fully intend to do bodily harm or kill to get what they want.

Both muggers had commuted to Silver Spring by Metro from inner city Washington, specifically to commit crimes. The hammer-wielder was named Paul Edward Sykes. He was charged with my attempted murder and assaulting a police officer. Sixteen years old, he was tried as an adult because of the capital nature of his crime and sentenced to 19 years for the attempted murder and 19 for hitting the officer, to be served consecutively. It was later commuted to just 19 years.

I was lucky: I made a full recovery. I believe I lost some hearing and I can’t sleep on my left side anymore because when I fell, I fell on my face and it may have injured nasal passages. But one of the worst effects of a hammer injury to the head is the uncertainty of its effects. Just exactly what brain functions had been affected? A victim is left wondering, sometimes for years.

(Murder with blunt objects takes place regularly in the United States. According to Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics, 243 people were killed with blunt objects in 2021. Southwest Florida had its own such experience in 2015 when Dr. Teresa Sievers was killed with 17 blows from a hammer in her Bonita Springs home. Her husband, Mark, is currently awaiting execution for arranging the murder.)

In my case, when it was all finished, I felt that justice had been done. I was able to make a victim impact statement before sentencing and received restitution. In fact, so unusual was it to see the system work the way it was intended that I wrote an essay about it that was published in the “Periscope” section of Newsweek. In those days that was a big deal.

The accomplice, Lawrence Hardy, was 15 years and 9 months old and tried as a juvenile, receiving a much lighter sentence. I still have an apologetic greeting card he sent me. It’s titled “Sorry about your accident.”

The history of violence

The attack on Pelosi—and the attempt on the Speaker—is part of a dark side of American history.

Political violence has marred American politics in the past. In 1804 Vice President Aaron Burr killed former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in a duel. In 1856 Rep. Preston Brooks (D-SC) savagely beat Sen. Charles Sumner (R-Mass.) with a cane at his desk on the floor of the Senate. There have been other duels and fights among politicians as well, most before the Civil War.

Since then politicians have carefully refrained from advocating or threatening actual physical violence. They’ve known that nowhere is the Golden Rule applied more forcefully than in politics: what you do unto others will most certainly be done unto you. It largely kept violent language out of the public arena, no matter how impassioned the issues or debates.

That applied until 2015. It’s not hard to find the starting point for rise in violence and violent rhetoric in recent American political life. It starts with Donald Trump. As a candidate, Trump broke the taboo against invoking or encouraging violence. At his 2016 campaign rallies, Trump said things like, “I’d like to punch him in the face,” of a protester and “part of the problem is no one wants to hurt each other anymore.” Speaking of behavior at his rallies, at one point he said “the audience hit back. That’s what we need a little bit more of.” And in reflecting on a protest the previous day, “I’ll beat the crap out of you.”

Illustration by Jesse Duquette.

Trump didn’t slow down when he was elected president, infamously equating violent neo-Nazis and racists in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 as “good people on both sides.”

He made other statements too. But, of course, his most infamous act was inciting the crowd at his Jan. 6, 2021 rally on the Ellipse to physically attack the United States Capitol and members of Congress and lynch his vice president. In a presidential vehicle, he himself violently grabbed the throat of a Secret Service officer who wouldn’t take him to the Capitol.

What is most striking about Donald Trump is that he’s physically a coward. He’s never put himself in harm’s way as a member of the armed forces. He’s always been protected and never been physically attacked. He has no idea what it’s like to be on the receiving end of violence. To him, urging violence is a game, a show of machismo, an abstraction, a catharsis, something he can get away with without consequences. As he infamously put it: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?”

The closest he ever came to feeling what it’s like to be attacked was when an eagle he was using in a Time magazine photo shoot tried to bite him. Clearly, the eagle wasn’t impressed with his tweets, his wealth or his fame.

Candidate Donald Trump flees the wrath of a bald eagle named Sam during a Time magazine photo shoot in 2015. (Photo: Time)

At the grassroots

Trump’s acceptance and encouragement of violence has leached down to grassroots America and the attack on Paul Pelosi is one example of it.

But even Southwest Florida has reflected Trump’s attitudes. In the 2020 congressional campaign in the 19th Congressional District along the Paradise Coast, the multitude of Republican candidates promoted their rage and especially their affinity for firearms in their campaigns. Candidates insulted each other and fired weapons on screen, at times directly threatening each other.

Then-state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen takes aim in a 2020 campaign ad for state Senate in which she warned her opponent to stop lying about her record. (Image: Campaign)

Nor has the violent rhetoric eased. For example, on June 16 of this year extreme conservative farmer and grocer Alfie Oakes called for the public execution of federal judge Christopher Cooper of the District of Columbia, for sentencing anti-vaccine doctor Simone Gold for her role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“Simone Gold likely saved more Americans than anyone in history… by prescribing millions of doses of ivermectin.. She is a true American hero!” Oakes posted. “The bought and paid for corrupt DC judge that sentenced her to 60 days in jail is a traitor to this country and should be publicly executed!” (The post, originally appearing at https://www.facebook.com/alfieforamerica/posts/pfbid02qcYvDbunLP7JzVdoK5R227rmaKvPnbaHDRT8W3P4GqcaufMGhWxJwQZiPNcuiwxXl, was removed after many days online.)

But as one reader, Matt Fahnestock, posted in reply: “We need a plan of action.”

Deterring violence

The use of violence for political ends is a bad road that leads to a bad end. In their classic 2018 book How Democracies Die, authors Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky write: “We should worry when a politician 1) rejects, in words or action, the democratic rules of the game, 2) denies the legitimacy of opponents, 3) tolerates or encourages violence or 4) indicates a willingness to curtail the civil liberties of opponents, including the media.”

They also list four criteria for judging incipient use of anti-democratic violence in politics: “Do [authoritarian politicians] have any ties to armed gangs, paramilitary forces, militias, guerrillas, or other organizations that engage in illicit violence? Have they or their partisan allies sponsored or encouraged mob attacks on opponents? Have they tacitly endorsed violence by their supporters by refusing to unambiguously condemn it and punish it? Have they praised (or refused to condemn) other significant acts of political violence, either in the past or elsewhere in the world?”

Remember, that was written in 2017.

People do not have to feel helpless in the face of incipient violence. The use of violence is illegal, it’s still punished under the law. Honest, impartial law enforcement can and must crack down on the criminals who engage in it, as is happening in the Paul Pelosi case and in the prosecution of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. Opponents of violence have the law on their side.

It’s also important that existing authorities and governments express their condemnation of political violence. Here, Southwest Florida is leading the way.

On Tuesday, Oct. 25, the Collier County Board of Commissioners issued a proclamation condemning bigotry, anti-Semitism and hate crimes. (Full disclosure: This author conceived and drafted the text.)

That proclamation “condemns any call to violence or use of violence for any purpose at any time; and resolves to actively and vigorously oppose, investigate, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any advocacy of violence, acts of violence, or crimes manifesting hatred against any person, property, or institution based on faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation.”

A government proclamation won’t end or stop violence. But it puts the government, the legitimate elected local authority, on the record against it and makes clear that there’s no acceptance or tolerance of it in the jurisdiction. It means that local authorities are committed to enforcing the law.

If every town, city and county in the country adopted the Collier County proclamation, it would at least put them on the record opposing political violence and deny its legitimacy. It would help ensure that political violence is neither condoned, accepted nor excused. What is more, getting localities to issue the proclamations is something that activists and everyday citizens can do at the local level in their own home towns.

Beyond the larger concepts of violence and politics and democracy, violence is horrible at any level. It maims. It kills. It ruins lives. It leaves widows and orphans and families bereft and devastated. It weakens communities. It destroys social unity. It can bring down democracies.

And on a personal level, this author can authoritatively attest that it hurts like hell. It doesn’t take a hammer to drive that point home.

Here’s blessings and luck to Paul Pelosi. May he swiftly recover and be made whole. And may we all, with the help of God, protect these United States.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Collier County condemns bigotry, anti-Semitism and hate in proclamation

Illustration by Rose Wong.

Oct. 25, 2022 by David Silverberg

Full disclosure: The author was the drafter of the proclamation covered here.

Today, the Collier County Board of Commissioners proclaimed the county’s condemnation of bigotry, anti-Semitism and hate towards all people.

The proclamation made at the Commission’s regularly scheduled general meeting came amidst a rise in anti-Semitic expressions nationally and incidents locally, as well as a general increase in expressions of intolerance and prejudice (proclamation image below).

The proclamation was introduced by William McDaniel (R-5), chair of the Commission. It was approved by all commissioners.

This author spoke in favor of the proclamation, stating “President George Washington famously wrote that the United States gives ‘to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.’ This proclamation puts Collier County squarely within that fundamental, patriotic American tradition.”

Also speaking was Rabbi Adam Miller of Temple Shalom in Naples. Miller noted that Temple Shalom was 60 years old and when he became rabbi, one of the oldest congregants related that when she was being shown local properties the realtor told her that she should stay on Florida’s east coast with other Jews.

The current proclamation, said Miller, was valuable for everyone because “it expresses respect and engagement” with the whole community.

Also present to lend support was Rabbi Ammos Chorny of Beth Tikvah Congregation, Naples; Rev. Tony Fisher, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greater Naples; Vincent Keeys, president of the Collier County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and Bebe Kanter, Democratic candidate for county District 2.  

Significance of the proclamation

No proclamation is going end hate or bigotry or anti-Semitism. However, amidst a rise in prejudice, especially during a heated election period, there is value in a formal statement condemning those sentiments.

The proclamation puts Collier County officially on the record against that kind of bias.

Deterrence

Very importantly, the proclamation may deter hate crimes, violence and expressions of anti-Semitism. It “condemns any call to violence or use of violence for any purpose at any time; and resolves to actively and vigorously oppose, investigate, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any advocacy of violence, acts of violence, or crimes manifesting hatred against any person, property, or institution based on faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, or national origin.”

Given that there have been instances of anti-Semitic vandalism and leafletting in neighboring Lee County, this may protect Collier County from similar incidents. Anyone contemplating such actions, if made aware of the County’s position, may decide not to break the law.

It also makes vigorous investigation, pursuit and prosecution of hate crimes a priority for county law enforcement.

The denunciation of violence also comes amidst advocacy of violence and violent political rhetoric.  Most immediately, yesterday, Oct. 24, Christopher Monzon, a supporter of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), was brutally beaten by four men while passing out campaign flyers in Hialeah.

The proclamation also repudiates the kind of overtly anti-Semitic allegations made locally by Katie Paige Richards, who claimed to be campaign manager for Collier County School Board candidate Tim Moshier. On a national level, rapper and singer Kanye West (who now prefers to go by the name Ye) has tweeted anti-Semitic tweets, sparking anti-Semitic demonstrations and leafleting in California.

An anti-Semitic demonstration on an overpass in Los Angeles, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 23. (Image: TMZ)

Hospitality

With Southwest Florida recovering from Hurricane Ian and its hospitality and tourism industries damaged, the proclamation makes clear that Collier County is an open, welcoming place and ready to receive all visitors and guests.

This is important on a global basis as people make their vacation plans and the tourist season rolls around. They will be carefully examining Southwest Florida.

Despite the physical damage resulting from the storm, at least Collier County’s welcoming attitudes and commitments are intact, as made clear by the proclamation.

History

It is a sad fact of history that after a natural disaster there is frequently scapegoating and persecution of minority ethnic, racial or religious groups. It seems that people must vent their frustration and anger resulting from a natural calamity. But since they can’t take it out on the storm, fire or flood, they take it out on each other—and it’s at its worst when it’s officially sanctioned.

There are numerous examples of this.

Reaching back in history, after the Great Fire of Rome in the year 64 of the Common Era, the emperor Nero sought to deflect suspicions of his own arson by blaming and persecuting Christians in the Roman Empire and especially in the city of Rome itself. In 1666 during the Great Fire of London, with Britain at war with Holland, Londoners attacked foreigners living in their midst while the fire raged.

In the United States, people of Irish extraction were blamed for the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, giving rise to the legend of Mrs. O’Leary’s cow, a sly canard against them. In 1889, after the Johnstown Flood in Johnstown, Pa., survivors, some of Eastern European extraction, blamed ethnic Hungarians for a variety of lurid crimes and alleged atrocities. In 1906 after the San Francisco earthquake, the discrimination and prejudice against the city’s Japanese community was so great that it threatened to cause war between Japan and the United States. President Theodore Roosevelt had to intervene on behalf of the community. In 1927, after the Mississippi River and its tributaries severely flooded there was a savage wave of lynchings of blacks when the waters receded. During the 2019-2021 COVID pandemic, goaded by President Donald Trump, attacks on Asians rose exponentially.

In an example of better behavior and the positive influence authority figures can have, after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (a deliberate, man-made disaster), President George W. Bush and New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani successfully tamped down any retaliation against American Muslims.

“I ask you to uphold the values of America, and remember why so many have come here,” Bush said in a speech to a joint session of Congress on Sept. 20, 2001.  “We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them.  No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith.”

So far Southwest Florida has not seen any of this kind of scapegoating in the wake of Hurricane Ian. The Collier County anti-bigotry proclamation may go some way toward preventing it in the days ahead.

A reaffirmation

There is a power in reaffirmation and recommitment—just ask couples who renew their wedding vows.

The Collier anti-bigotry proclamation may seem to simply restate principles and values that all decent people share. But sometimes it’s things that seem most self-evident and obvious and taken for granted that need reaffirmation.

Further, these values and principles have long been under assault, along with democracy itself. They can no longer be taken for granted or assumed to have power on their own.

The proclamation makes clear that Collier County is a place of tolerance that “abhors bigotry, discrimination, prejudice, and all forms of hate against all people regardless of faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, or national origin,” as it states.

Beyond just setting an example for Southwest Florida, the Collier proclamation can serve as a template for every town, city and county in the nation as they reaffirm their allegiance to common values and principles. The village-to-village fight can be waged for good.

Collier County’s issuance of the anti-bigotry proclamation puts it squarely within the fundamental, patriotic, American tradition expressed by President George Washington at the dawn of the nation in 1790. He wrote that “…happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

And now Collier County has again made clear that applies in Southwest Florida as well as everywhere else.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

‘A republic, if you can keep it’—Why we can’t let 2022 be our last election

Voters at the polls, 2018. (Photo: Author)

July 4, 2022 by David Silverberg

Some things just seem to happen as decreed by nature: the planets in their orbits, the moon in its phases, the sunrise and sunset.

Americans in particular have come to expect their calendar to be comfortingly predictable: Independence Day every July 4th, presidential elections every four years, and elections for congressional representatives every two years.

However, as hard as humans try, human events are not dictated by the same forces that make the planets turn.

The fragility of human ritual was shown on Jan. 6, 2021. No matter how many times it had happened since ratification of the Constitution, that day proved the counting of Electoral College votes could be disrupted and that acceptance of the results of a fairly conducted and meticulously counted election could be disputed. It also proved the peaceful, orderly transition of power could nearly be destroyed.

As disastrous as the Jan. 6th insurrection was, it could have been even worse. But despite the defeat of rioters incited by a narcissistic, megalomaniacal president, the worst could still happen. Indeed, the possibility exists that the 2022 election could be America’s last—if the forces of fanaticism get the power to snuff out democracy and the Constitution.

This has happened before in history. The worst example was that of the Nazis, who turned to electoral politics after their violent putsch failed in 1923. It took them nine years before Adolf Hitler attained power and began dismantling a representative democracy. But it’s not the only instance. For example, in 1948 an election in Czechoslovakia brought communists to power and once in power, they simply got rid of democracy and imposed one-party rule. For the next 41 years the country did not have another free election until after its “Velvet Revolution” of 1989.

There is no sugar-coating the reality that this year a political party that has surrendered to mass delusion and the cult of personality looks positioned to take over the US House of Representatives. Bolstered by gerrymandered districts and a wave of new laws intended to restrict voting access and enable the invalidation of the popular will as expressed in elections, there is a very real possibility that America could lose its democracy and that the 2022 election could be its last.

The website FiveThirtyEight.com is now tracking upcoming elections for the House, Senate and governorships. While the odds change hourly as new polling comes in, as of this writing it was giving Republicans a 54 percent chance of winning the Senate and an 87 percent chance of winning the House.

It is the prospect of a Trumpist House that is most dangerous for America. As the 1948 Republican Congress was characterized as the “do-nothing” Congress, a Republican 2023-24 Congress would likely be the “revenge” Congress, dedicated to dismantling and destroying as many democratic safeguards and mechanisms as possible in pursuit of an autocratic dictatorship.

To see proof of this, one need look no further than Southwest Florida’s own Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.).

In an interview on the Patriot Talk show held at the Seed to Table market last Tuesday, June 28, Donalds, who voted to invalidate the 2020 election, told his hosts that the January 6th Committee’s inquiry “is an atrocity for a country like ours. So you have my word, in the next Congress, we will be investigating the January 6th Committee.”

Sentiments like these in the rest of a Republican House means there would be no will to pursue truth or defend the Constitution in the next, 118th Congress. Rather, the House majority will officially propagate Donald Trump’s big lie and do everything possible to undermine popular democracy.

In such an instance there will likely be further efforts at the national level to shrink voting rights, ballot accessibility and exclude the franchise from all but favored people who rubberstamp preordained results. Combined with similar efforts at the state level, this raises the possibility of state officials like governors invalidating elections whose outcomes they don’t like.

Nowhere is this possibility greater than in Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has created a state election police force to use against unfavorable outcomes and a state defense force answerable to him alone, all ratified by a completely supine state legislature.

As with all human events, nothing is inevitable so this does not have to be the outcome. But it is undeniable that events are trending in this direction.

True patriotism on the 4th

The Fourth of July has devolved from a celebration of America’s determination to “assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them,” to a day to get drunk, chow down and blast off fireworks without thinking of any higher meaning.

This year it’s worth pausing a moment to ponder, not the past, but the future and to rededicate ourselves to preserving democracy and democratic outcomes.

As the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol has shown and continues to show, America came breathtakingly close to losing its democracy, its Constitution and its legitimate government on Jan. 6.

What prevented that outcome were patriots—not long-ago patriots in powdered wigs and knee breeches and not loud, beer-swilling, MAGA “patriots,” but real, living, boots-on-the-ground patriots who took their oaths of office seriously and had the courage to stand against a would-be tyrant.

We have seen them on our television screens. They were officials in state offices who wouldn’t fabricate or “find” votes that weren’t there. They were poll workers who did their jobs despite verbal attacks and threats that drove them underground. They were government staffers willing to go before Congress to tell the whole truth about what actually happened that day. They were Capitol Police officers who tried to do their jobs despite a tsunami of crazed rioters wielding spears and clubs and chemical weapons. They were Secret Service agents who wouldn’t indulge presidential rage or obey an order resulting in a constitutional apocalypse. They were members of Congress who put country above party and fearlessly pursued the truth. And one was a Vice President of the United States who, after four years of subservience and abasement, simply upheld his oath of office and followed the law despite blandishments, threats and ultimately a mob intent on lynching him.

These are the real patriots to inspire us this July 4th. While they put their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor on the line to preserve America and the Constitution, the rest of us, in more peaceful circumstances, have only one thing we must do—and that is, vote.

Starting with early voting on Aug. 13 and culminating on Aug. 23 with the primary election and then, beginning on Oct. 27 and continuing to Election Day, November 8, every citizen has to show the same courage and commitment as the patriots of Jan. 6. But the everyday citizen has the great good fortune of being able to do this non-violently and without the cost and danger they faced.

On Sept. 18, 1787 when he was leaving the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was asked whether America was to be a monarchy or a republic. He famously replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

On Jan. 6, 2021, Americans proved they wanted to keep it.

On Nov. 8, they have to prove that they want to keep it again.

If they do, if the forces of fanaticism can be defeated at the ballot box, maybe—just maybe— the 2022 election won’t be America’s last.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

The inaction calculation: Why SWFL congressmen won’t act against gun violence

Students who survived the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., visit the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University in June 2018 to promote changes in gun laws and register voters. (Photo: Author)

May 31, 2022 by David Silverberg

It is only a matter of time before the next massacre of innocents at the hands of a crazed, heavily armed gunman. The massacre could occur any time, in any venue, anywhere in the United States.

Southwest Florida is certainly not immune: there are lots of guns here and plenty of addled people to wield them.

In the wake of the Uvalde, Texas elementary school massacre there is yet another cascade of calls to “do something”—i.e., to in some way stem the flood of high performance weapons used against unarmed people peacefully going about their business.

Any proposed solutions are certainly not going to come from Southwest Florida’s elected congressional representatives. After Uvalde, congressmen from Southwest Florida have made the usual, pro-forma expressions of sympathy for the victims’ families. But they are also already falling silent and if history is any guide they will vote in Congress against any kind of gun law reform. Then the public outrage will die down and life will return to “normal.”

It’s as predictable as the coming of hurricane season—there will be storms, there will be damage and there will be death—but all a person can do is hunker down and hope not to be hit.

In contrast to hurricanes, of course, gun regulation is a human construct that could be enacted. However, among the three congressmen who make up the Southwest Florida delegation, not only is there no inclination to make any changes, there is nothing in their records or public positions to indicate they will do anything except resist reform and parrot the talking points of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

An examination of their records makes this clear.

Rep. Byron Donalds

Rep. Byron Donalds

In the 19th Congressional District, which stretches along the coast from Cape Coral to Marco Island, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who does not live in the district, has made a major point of his pro-gun, pro-NRA positions. His 2020 campaign tag line was that “I’m everything the fake news media says doesn’t exist: a Trump-supporting, liberty-loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man.”

Donalds’ opposition to gun violence legislation goes back to his time before he entered Congress. In 2018 in the wake of the massacre in Parkland, Fla., as a state legislator from the 80th District, he voted against the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Act in the Florida legislature, which banned the sale of bump stocks, raised the age for gun purchases to 21 and established a three-day waiting period for all firearm sales.

In his 2020 congressional race Donalds received a full endorsement from the NRA and an A+ rating from the NRA Victory Fund, denoting that he had “an excellent voting record on all critical NRA issues.”

Since entering Congress Donalds has voted and spoken out against the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 1446) and voted against the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (HR 1620). (Both bills passed.) These votes earned him an A rating from the Gun Owners of America, an organization even more fervent in opposing reform than the NRA.

On May 24 immediately after the Uvalde massacre Donalds tweeted: “No family should have to bury their loved one because of the actions of a sick & deranged animal. Our nation is suffering from a mental health crisis that is plaguing our society & senselessly killing too many. Erika & I offer our deepest condolences to the victims of this attack.”

Rep. Greg Steube

Rep. Greg Steube

Another NRA A+ winner is Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), whose district stretches from Venice to the Lee County line and includes large swaths of six interior counties.

Steube has been a defender and active proponent of unrestricted gun access throughout his political career beginning in 2010 when he first ran for the Florida House of Representatives. There, he was a sponsor of House Bill 4001, which allowed the carrying of weapons, both openly and concealed, on college campuses in Florida. He was endorsed by the NRA during his 2016 race for the state Senate and then in 2018 when he ran for Congress.

In Congress, Steube opposed a 2020 Democratic effort to ban guns from the Capitol grounds and introduced a bill to speed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ approval of applications to buy gun silencers. In 2021 Steube, like Donalds, voted against the enhanced background checks and violence against women bills.

In keeping with NRA and conservative orthodoxy, Steube favors hardening schools rather than regulating guns to prevent shootings. On Friday, May 27, Steube signed on as a cosponsor of the School Resource Officer Assessment Act, a bill that would require a national assessment of the number and status of school resource officers across the country. The bill was originally introduced in 2018 by Rep. Clay Higgins (R-3-La.) after the Parkland, Fla., massacre. It passed the House and then died in the Senate. Higgins reintroduced it this year on May 26.

The day after the Uvalde shooting, Steube tweeted: “‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’ – Matthew 5:4. Keeping the students, families, and Uvalde community in my prayers during this horrific time.”

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

As Florida’s longest-serving member of Congress, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) has a more complex record on gun access and violence than his two Southwest Florida neighbors.

Representing a district that stretches from roughly from Interstate 75 in Collier County to Hialeah in the east and including huge stretches of virtually unpopulated Everglades and Big Cypress territory, Diaz-Balart’s focus has been on the Cuban-American and Hispanic populations that provide most of the population of his district.

Throughout his political career in the state House and in Congress, Diaz-Balart maintained an A rating from the NRA, accepted its financial contributions and largely followed its lead on gun-related legislation.

In the immediate wake of the murder of 17 students and teachers (and injuring of 17 others) at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018 nothing changed in Diaz-Balart’s positions. He continued to accept contributions from the NRA. So pro-gun was Diaz-Balart that after Parkland he was the focus of an effort to unseat him by former Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, the victim of a shooting at an Arizona mall in 2011.

As Giffords put it in her endorsement of his 2018 opponent, Democrat Mary Barzee Flores:

“Here are three facts that you should know about Diaz-Balart.

“Number one: he’s taken thousands of dollars from the NRA. More money than any other Florida member of Congress. He even took their money AFTER the Parkland school shooting. After seventeen children and their| educators were gunned down.

“Number two: Diaz-Balart gets an A rating from the NRA year after year.

“And number three: Diaz-Balart voted to weaken our gun laws, not strengthen them. Diaz-Balart even refuses to support common-sense solutions like requiring background checks on all gun sales.

“Nothing’s going to get done with Diaz Balart in the NRA’s pocket voting against our safety.”

Despite the criticism and the passions aroused by the Parkland shooting, Diaz-Balart handily won his 2018 election.  

However, he did shift slightly on gun legislation. In February 2019 he joined seven other Republicans to vote for the Bipartisan Background Check Act of 2019, which mandated background checks for private sales of guns. By voting for it, Diaz-Balart was defying both the NRA and the Republican congressional leadership. The bill passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 240 to 190 but died in the Senate.

The bill was revived after the 2020 election as HR 8 and it came up for a House vote in March 2021.

This time, though, Diaz-Balart had second thoughts and voted against it. As he explained his reversal in a press release, the first time it came up he had hoped there would be “serious negotiations” but “the radical left altered this bill and, in the process, made it far worse and indefensible.”

That bill passed the House on March 11, 2021 by a vote of 227 to 203. It is now in the Senate.

At the same time Diaz-Balart joined two Democrats in sponsoring another piece of legislation, the NICS [National Instant Criminal Background Check System] Denial Notification Act of 2021 (HR 1769). Under this bill if someone is denied a gun license because of a background check, local law enforcement agencies have to be notified by the Justice Department. The bill was introduced on March 10, 2021 and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee where it remains to this day.

Diaz-Balart’s momentary lapse from pro-gun orthodoxy did cost him a bit politically: His grade from the hard-core Gun Owners of America slipped to a C. In 2020 his grade from the NRA Political Victory Fund was A. The 2022 grade is not out yet but it will be interesting to see where he falls when it’s published.

Last Wednesday, May 25, in the immediate wake of the shootings in Uvalde, Diaz-Balart tweeted: “I’m devastated by the senseless shooting at Robb Elementary School that took 19 innocent lives. School safety must be at the forefront of our priorities in Congress. I pray for the families, staff, and students that were victims of this merciless act of violence.”

Commentary: Incentives, disincentives and death

The politicians in Southwest Florida and across the nation who have consistently and stubbornly opposed any kind of gun regulation reform have made two risk-and-reward calculations, one political and one social.

The political calculation is that there are many downsides and no rewards for making any change to gun laws.

It’s not only that the NRA opposes any changes; it is that its followers and one-issue gun owners will more effectively punish a politician for heresy than reform supporters will reward him for righteousness.

There was a clear example of this in the 2020 Republican congressional primary in the 19th District after Rep. Francis Rooney announced his retirement.

At that time all the Republican candidates were ostentatiously loyal Trumpers and gun rights advocates, vying to show the fervor of their fanaticism.

Dane Eagle of Cape Coral, a Florida House member, was the first person to declare his bid for the seat.

By all outward signs Eagle was a properly extreme conservative, Trumpist candidate, a rising star in the Florida Republican Party and at the outset by far the strongest candidate.

But Eagle had a vulnerability: he already had an extensive political career in Florida even at the precocious age of 36.

In the wake of the Parkland massacre the Florida legislature passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. The bill imposed a three-day waiting period for most purchases of long guns, raised the minimum age for gun purchases to 21 and banned possession of bump stocks. People deemed mentally unstable could have their guns confiscated under “red flag” provisions. It also created a program to arm school personnel and provided $400 million for school security and training.

It was quite unprecedented given Florida’s ingrained gun culture. It was a well-crafted bipartisan bill that embodied many of the reforms now being discussed nationally and for once Florida was in the vanguard of new ideas.

The bill passed with majorities in both the state House and Senate and was signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Scott on March 9, 2018, a mere 23 days after the Parkland massacre.

When Eagle ran for Congress in 2020 his opponents, outside advocacy groups and conservative political action committees were ferocious in blaming him personally for the bill. He was accused of “betrayal,” “selling out” and being a pawn of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. One television ad had him in a gunsight’s crosshairs and called him a “surprisingly liberal Republican.”  One opponent called him “sick” because of the law.

An attack ad against Dane Eagle during the 2020 Republican congressional primary race. (Image: Drain the DC Swamp PAC)

Eagle fought back with dark, paranoid, violent TV ads and videos that featured him firing guns in just about every one to show his love of weapons and loyalty to the pro-gun cause.

Dane Eagle takes aim to prove his love of guns in a 2020 campaign ad. (Image: Dane Eagle campaign)

But Eagle ultimately lost his primary bid to Byron Donalds. Just how large a role his supposed “betrayal” played in that defeat cannot be determined with certainty but the race was close.

That’s the nightmare Republican politicians face when they contemplate taking stands contrary to the NRA and it’s why they almost never do it. The gun voters will retaliate while the reformers aren’t cohesive and powerful enough to keep them in office—especially in Republican primaries. And that’s not to mention the pro-gun money on offer from gun industry-related political action committees and organizations.

Until there’s greater personal reward for voting for gun reform than punishment for voting against it, Republican politicians will continue to toe the NRA line and vie for its approval with ever more extreme legislation.

But there’s a second, social calculation that NRA-compliant politicians have made.

It is simply that the occasional random shooting and classroom massacre is just a price worth paying for unlimited public access to guns, industry profits and access to pro-gun votes and cash. In their view, by whatever imperfect means, society’s decision has been made and it has chosen to live with massacres in order to have guns.

Politicians have also calculated that with every massacre and mass murder the horror and the outrage and the grief will peak and then subside and be forgotten—but the cash and the threats and the votes of pro-gunners will always be there.

As for the children, the teachers, the shoppers, the churchgoers and the everyday citizens who might lose their lives to random gun violence—well, they’re just collateral damage.

It’s as though humans are a herd of buffalo on the old plains. The predators take down the weak, the sick or the slow—or in this case the innocent, the incautious and the unlucky. The herd takes note, and learns to live with the threat and the fear. Each member hopes that he or she won’t be the victim next time. Then the herd moves on—until it’s extinct.

In Southwest Florida this is especially true among Republican politicians, all of whose past statements and actions adhere to NRA doctrine—and in which they may actually, genuinely believe. But regardless of motivation, there has never been any apparent inclination nor is there any evident now, to take any action whatsoever to restrict or regulate guns. That is unlikely to change unless the next massacre occurs very close to home in Collier or Lee or Charlotte counties. Even then it would have to be a particularly dramatic and horrifying event to produce a transformation in thinking.

Of course, these are only the calculations within the locally-dominant Republican Party. There is an alternative. In Southwest Florida it is Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai who is running for Congress in the 19th Congressional District against Donalds.

Cindy Banyai

Banyai was calling for four immediate measures to curb gun violence well before Uvalde. She wants:

  • A federal moratorium on the production and import of high-powered and fast-firing weapons;
  • Incentives for the state to create local registration for existing firearms and new purchases, requiring initial and routine training on safety and use, and oversight of all weapons sales;
  • Annual recognition by the state of safe firearms owners and distributors;
  • Voluntary buy-backs for those wishing not to register.

When she learned of the Uvalde shootings, Banyai tweeted: “I am struck with the same sick sadness as when I learned of Sandy Hook. The community of Uvalde and the kids of Robb Elementary School deserved more than thoughts and prayers as a shooter ravaged them.” And subsequently, “I am sick and tired of living in fear of the gun crazed America the NRA fueled. I do not want to live in this carnage. I love our kids. There cannot be another Uvalde.”

Sadly, there are likely to be more Uvaldes as the year progresses and some may be even more bloody and horrific. But the mechanism for reform still exists through a peaceful, non-violent ballot and on Nov. 8, Election Day, maybe—just maybe—the citizens of Southwest Florida will exercise that right for the benefit of all.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Candidates clash over classroom priorities, religious beliefs in Collier County School Board forum

Candidates for Collier County School Board at the Destiny Church in Naples, Fla. on May 21. (Photo: Author)

May 24, 2022 by David Silverberg

The differences between experienced, secular incumbents seeking re-election to the Collier County Board of Education and religiously-driven challengers were on full display this past Saturday, May 21, at a candidate forum held by the Christian Conservative Coalition at the Destiny Church in Naples.

The forum featured nine candidates for School Board seats for districts 1, 3 and 5, which are up for election this year in a non-partisan race. If candidates succeed in winning 50 percent plus one majorities in the Aug. 23 primary they will be elected, otherwise the election will be decided on Nov. 8.

About 100 people attended the two-hour forum, which featured candidates making opening statements then answering prepared questions from the moderator, Chad Taylor. Each candidate was given one minute to answer the question after being picked in random order.

In District 1 Jory Westberry is the incumbent board member. Opposing her are challengers Kimberly Boobyer, a golf teacher and coach, and Jerry Rutherford, a retired life insurance salesman and painting contractor.

In District 3, incumbent Jen Mitchell, the board’s chair, is up against challengers Kelly Lichter, a former teacher and charter school founder, and Jana Greer, a businesswoman.

In District 5, incumbent Roy Terry is facing challengers Tim Moshier, a former trucking company executive, and Ana Turino, an academic mentor.

The three incumbents all have extensive experience either on the board or in the education system. Terry has 44 years in the Collier County school system as a teacher, principal and coach; Mitchell noted her 25 years in Naples and her record since joining the board in 2018 of bringing up Collier County school standards; and Westberry cited her experience as a teacher, administrator and parent and grandparent of students in the county schools.

Opening questions

School boards across the country have gone from relatively quiet and obscure local government agencies to intense ideological battlegrounds in the aftermath of the pandemic, mask mandates, the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 insurrection. Steve Bannon, former strategic advisor to Presdient Donald Trump has stated that Trump believers will take back the country “village by village” at the local level, including school boards.

Collier County is no exception to this effort.

This forum emphasized religious differences. The Coalition’s promotion of the event promised “we will be asking the questions no one else has the courage to ask” and with three districts in play, “we have the POWER to gain the majority and change the liberal policies indoctrinating our children.” 

According to its website, the Coalition is an organization that seeks to mobilize Christian leaders and believers for political “projects, campaigns, and organizations.” It states: “We are about enlisting new conservative Christian ‘boots on the ground’ –  then training, motivating, and informing these believers in Christ via our email newsletter, special events, and monthly meetings,” (The organization’s Facebook page has 1,261 followers.)

The candidates knew they were playing to a religious audience, which may have intensified the zealotry of their responses, especially among the challengers, while incumbents answered from experience and knowledge of the system.

Given its religious setting and ideological hosting organization, the forum’s first three questions—and numerous questions thereafter—were heavily weighted toward emotional, hot-button issues.

When asked the first question, “Should biological males be allowed to compete in female sports?” all the candidates called for the separation of men and women in sports. However, given her experience, Mitchell pointed out that males and females have to be separated to comply with state law and Collier County is no exception.

Asked the second question, “What is your stance on abortion and how would it guide your school policies?” Mitchell noted that she was the result of her mother’s decision to keep her when abortion was an option, so she had a personal connection to the question. However, she also noted that in school, “It’s important to distinguish between information and teaching” and abortion is not part of the curriculum. Parents can opt their children out of instruction when sexual matters are discussed. Westberry also pointed out the school does not have a policy to teach abortion and Terry added that the only students who get the reproductive curricula are in eighth grade.

However, the challengers vied with each other to demonstrate the depth of their opposition to abortion. Boobyer cited her Catholic faith and said she wanted all abortion abolished. Turino called for abstinence and said she would not even “take puppies from dogs.” Greer said that abortion “absolutely should not be allowed” and all references to it in teaching materials should be removed. Lichter said she would ensure that there was no promotion of abortion or references to Planned Parenthood. Rutherford said that if a girl gets pregnant the school should inform the parents and there should be no teaching of abortion.

On the third question: “How should American exceptionalism and Marxism be taught in schools?” Mitchell pointed out that while existing textbooks emphasized American exceptionalism, the stories of Marxism and Fascism are also taught “because how else will students know just how exceptional we are?” Westberry agreed that American exceptionalism should be promoted and that when the histories of Marxism and other ideologies are taught, it “be taught at the appropriate grade level.” Terry, who noted his father’s service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, thought that students should understand the nature of Marxism.

The challengers were more emphatic. Turino wanted American exceptionalism taught “at kindergarten.” Marxism and communism, she argued, shouldn’t be taught before high school and then the failure of countries adhering to those ideologies should be emphasized. Rutherford too wanted Marxism taught as a failure. Moshier accused the current school administration of pushing Marxism. Boobyer not only wanted Marxism taught as evil along with the Holocaust but she made a point of calling for the teaching of flag etiquette. Greer wanted to make sure students did not “believe that socialism or Marxism is the way to go.”

The 38 percent debate

To the degree that the forum became a debate, it focused on a charge by Boobyer that the existing school board is ignoring 38 percent of Collier County students whom she said were failing math and reading.

Mitchell responded that that was simply “not true.” Rather, 38 percent were not at grade level. “To say they are failing is an insult to our students and teachers,” she said, pointedly noting that “we need to be respectful of one another.” Rather, she explained, the school system had achieved a record high 92.7 percent graduation rate, maintained an “A” district status for the last four years, and outperformed state standards in all 21 areas subject to tests, all this coming under her tenure.

Westberry also took issue with Boobyer’s 38 percent charge. “We have 91 different dialects spoken in school,” she said. “Some of the students come without any English at all. That we have only 38 percent [below grade level] is a miracle and a testament to what [teachers] do.”

Another brief point of contention came when Moshier, citing his experience running a trucking business and cutting back in bad times, said that he would cut the education budget “and put more money back in our pockets.” To which Terry replied: “Cut the budget? Tell us what you’re going to cut out” and listed a variety of schoolroom and extracurricular activities that while vital, might go under the knife in a broad and indiscriminate slicing.

Rules and rebellion

One question that went to the heart of the election race was: “Are you willing to take a stand for what is right even if the rules say otherwise?”

Unsurprisingly, all candidates said they would stand up for whatever is right and cited times when they stood up for principle.

However, the answers also revealed the secular-religious divide between them.

Terry noted many times when he had confronted the superintendent and said he could not support a particular activity. “My whole thought is if it’s not good for the students we shouldn’t be doing it,” he said. Mitchell said she had taken a stand opposing use of sexual materials unless parents approved. When it came to masking during the worst of the pandemic the board had followed health department directives, she pointed out, saying, “I uphold the Constitution and follow the law.” Westberry said: “I have proven I am willing to take a stand on things.”

But a number of challengers said they would follow a different law.

“I will always stand up for just laws under God’s law,” said Boobyer. Rutherford said he would stand for the law “unless it’s against God’s law. God’s law comes first.” Greer said she would “always stand up for the Biblical world view.”

Commentary: Realism versus religion

The next candidate forum for school board is on June 21, hosted by Naples Better Government, League of Women Voters, Collier Citizens Council, and Greater Naples Leadership. (Details at the end of this article.)

This event will be held in a non-religious setting and will likely revolve around less religiously driven questions.

It was clear from Saturday’s forum, however, that there is a strong religious element driving the challengers to the current school board. Particular examples of this were candidates Boobyer, Greer, Turino and Rutherford.

However, while decrying “indoctrination” of students with values of logical reasoning, free inquiry and critical thinking, they would seek to impose their own religious views on the school system if elected—in other words, true indoctrination in the sense of inculcating a doctrine.

But that raises the question of which doctrine: Catholic? Protestant? Evangelical? Imposing religious beliefs conjures the specter of doctrinal conflict. When they created the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the nation’s founders could look back on Europe’s previous 200 years of religious wars, massacres and persecutions. They wanted no part of that, which is why the first clause of the First Amendment prohibits establishment of a state religion and allows free exercise of faith. It’s what made America truly exceptional.

No question asked of the candidates at the forum put this in better perspective than: “Are you willing to take a stand for what is right even if the rules say otherwise?”

Of course any school board has to follow the law and adhere to rationally and properly formulated rules. The presumption behind the question is that there will be a difference between “right” and “rules.” It’s a false assumption. Following the law and obeying the rules is what’s right and that’s what should be expected of school board members. Candidates can follow whatever they think is God’s law in their private lives but school board members have to adhere to state law in their official decisionmaking.

In a way it was a good thing that this was such a religiously-oriented forum because it put the religion issue on the table in the school board elections.

The fact is that the vast majority of school board work is much more mundane than this forum would suggest: managing contracts, evaluating contractors, approving purchases, dealing with personnel, budgeting, infrastructure maintenance, and overseeing the superintendent’s office are really the nuts and bolts of what a school board does and Collier County is no exception.

These are requirements that favor steadiness, experience and managerial ability rather than zealotry, faith and fervor.

A straw poll held at the end of the forum showed this audience’s preferences. They favored Rutherford in District 1, Lichter in District 3, and Moshier in District 5.

However, there are 91 days to the primary election and 168 days to the general election. A lot can happen in that time.

*  *  *

The next Collier County School Board candidate forum will take place on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, from 5:30 pm to 8:00 pm at the NABOR Conference Center, 1455 Pine Ridge Road, Naples. It is being hosted by Naples Better Government in partnership with the League of Women Voters, Collier Citizens Council, and Greater Naples Leadership. It will be broadcast on Collier Television CTV, Comcast 97, and Summit 98.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

The Donalds Dossier: Putin’s pal; an address mess; and a legal laurel–Updated

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo: TASS)

May 17, 2022 by David Silverberg

Updated at 4:30 pm with additional bill details and Senate status.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t been getting much good news lately but surely he must have smiled when he saw that Southwest Florida’s own Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) had voted against aid for Ukraine.

The vote came last Tuesday, May 10, at 10:05 pm when the United States House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to grant Ukraine $40 billion to keep up its fight for democracy and independence, a fight that has inspired the world.

The Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2022 (House Bill 7691) passed by a vote of 368 to 57. Even 149 Republicans voted for the bill, among them Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and eight other Florida Republicans.

“Among other things, the bill provides appropriations for defense equipment, migration and refugee assistance, regulatory and technical support regarding nuclear power issues, emergency food assistance, economic assistance, and seizures of property related to the invasion,” according to its official summary.

“It’s about democracy versus a dictatorship,” argued House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) in favor of the bill. “Democracy must prevail. The Ukrainian people are fighting the fight for their democracy and, in doing so, for ours as well.”

“Ukrainians are fighting for their freedom and their future against Russia’s unprovoked and illegal war,” Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.) stated. “This vote makes clear that the US remains as committed as ever to supporting Ukraine in its fight for freedom and democracy. Slava Ukraine!”

By contrast, Donalds said in a statement: “While I’m a firm supporter of the Ukrainian defense, the American taxpayer shouldn’t bear the perpetual cost of this war.” He argued that “the $40 billion aid package I voted against is an unfunded commitment that shovels money blindly without proper accountability and opens the door for even more irresponsible funding. I supported the original multi-billion-dollar aid package, but we cannot continue down this reckless spending pattern bankrupting our nation,”

(It should be noted that there’s nothing “perpetual” about the aid package. It’s a one-time infusion to help Ukraine defend itself and assist Ukrainians victimized by the conflict.)

Oddly, Donalds failed to mention the vote in his newsletter recapping the week’s events.

To Donalds’ north in Southwest Florida, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), another far-right conservative who also opposed the package, complained that while he had voted for previous Ukraine funding: “Congress has not received a single report on how much of this funding was spent, if any, nor assurances that the funding even reached Ukraine. Today less than 6 hours before a vote, the Democrats dropped a massive, last-minute bill to send $40 billion more without any safeguards, assurances of use, or proof of a strategic plan for the US role in Ukraine.”

Somehow, the pictures of charred Russian tanks and equipment abandoned in retreat from Ukrainian territory might indicate that current aid is being put to very good use.

Following passage in the House the bill was sent to the Senate. Yesterday, May 16, senators voted 81 to 11 to proceed with the legislation and a final vote is expected this week, possibly as soon as tomorrow. Both of Florida’s Republican senators voted to proceed with the bill.

District delay

The extension of the 19th Congressional District boundaries to Santa Barbara Blvd. in Collier County under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ preferred congressional map. It includes Rep. Byron Donalds’ home address at the approximate location of the X. The red line denotes the existing boundary of the district. (Map: Florida Redistricting Committee)

Donalds will remain outside the district he represents if Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) favored congressional district map is invalidated by the courts, where it is now being considered.

A congressperson doesn’t have to live in the district he or she represents, only in the state. Donalds’ address of record is in the 25th Congressional District represented by Diaz-Balart. [Editor’s note: The precise address is not being posted here out of courtesy to Rep. Donalds.]

Traditionally, of course, it is best for the member of Congress to reside in the district. The representative can stay close to the people, personally share their concerns and keep an eye on the community’s needs and issues. It also gives the member credibility at election time.

Donalds, elected in 2020, has never resided in the 19th but he was handed a favor when DeSantis’ team redrew the Florida congressional map, rammed it through the legislature and DeSantis signed it into law on April 22. Instead of moving into the 19th, DeSantis moved the district’s borders to include Donalds.

This not only closed a campaign vulnerability for Donalds, it avoided a potentially damaging primary fight between Donalds and Diaz-Balart if Donalds had chosen to run in the 25th (re-numbered the 26th in the DeSantis map).

It was a neat solution for all concerned. However, with the DeSantis map thrown out in court and now up in the air as the judge’s ruling is appealed, it remains to be seen in which congressional district Donalds hangs his hat—which has never seemed to matter much to him anyway.

Court conquest

Donalds might have received a blow when the court threw out DeSantis’ map but a different court handed him a victory in his battle with former Republican congressional candidate, businessman Casey Askar.

Casey Askar

The case was initially scheduled to be tried before a jury on May 18. However, Judge Elizabeth Krier of the 20th Judicial Circuit handed down a ruling on April 14.

To recap: On primary election day, Aug. 18, 2020, a text message was sent to Republicans, allegedly from Donalds, saying that he had dropped out of the race. Donalds vehemently denied its authenticity and accused Askar of sending the false message.

However, Donalds provided no evidence and Askar denied the charge. On Nov. 16, 2020, Askar sued Donalds for defamation and libel, demanding $30,000 in damages.

After nearly a year and a half of legal wrangling and maneuvering—and legal expenses—Krier granted Donalds’ request for a summary judgment and dismissed Askar’s complaint.

“…Viewing the facts in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, there is no genuine issue of material fact as to the mandatory element of actual malice, and therefore Defendant Donalds is entitled to judgment as a matter of law,” Krier wrote.

Essentially, Askar had to prove that Donalds acted with malice against him, knowing his charges were untrue. What was more, Askar had to provide evidence to that effect. The bar for doing this is especially high when it comes to public political figures like political candidates.

Askar failed these tests, in Krier’s view. Donalds’ accusations against Askar were merely “opinions” she wrote. Donalds had made the accusations based on the belief that one of Askar’s consultants, Jeff Roe, had allegedly pulled this kind of trick in 2016 against Dr. Ben Carson in his presidential primary race against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Given that Askar failed to make his defamation case with “clear and convincing evidence,” Krier ruled against him.

Krier may soon rule that Askar has to pay all the attorney’s fees and court costs to Donalds for the litigation, which likely comes to quite a tidy sum. One hopes for Askar’s sake that the pizza business is booming.

Slava Ukraini! Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Putin’s pawns and the price of gas in Southwest Florida

Cars line up to get gas in South Fort Myers, Fla., following the ban on Russian oil. (Image: NBC2)

March 11, 2021 by David Silverberg

There’s nothing quite like an outside threat to bring Americans together. After Dec. 7, 1941 or Sept. 11, 2001, Americans rallied to the country’s defense and dropped their domestic differences.

The United States is not in a shooting war with Russia right now but it is certainly in a conflict. Only this time, there’s no give in partisanship and Republicans are maneuvering to take advantage of the situation with an eye to the November midterm elections—especially in Southwest Florida.

With its embargo on purchases of Russian oil the United States is turning to Venezuela as a potential supplier, easing its decades-long tensions with the South American country and its opposition to its president, Nicolas Maduro.

This has created howls of protest from Florida Republicans, who sense an opening to expand their appeal to Florida’s Hispanic community, especially Venezuelan-Americans.

Their efforts can particularly be seen in the actions and statements of two Southwest Florida congressmen: Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.).

While dealing with two dictators at the same time is certainly not a comfortable position for a democracy, at the same time their partisan attacks on the administration display some glaring inconsistencies.

The Doral gambit

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Rep. Byron Donalds

Maintaining an anti-Maduro drumbeat is especially important for Diaz-Balart whose district includes the city of Doral, whose population of nearly 76,000 is as much as 28 percent Venezuelan-American, many of them exiles and refugees from Venezuela’s socialist regime.  

This week, Diaz-Balart was early and adamant in his denunciations of a US rapprochement with Venezuela.

His most articulated and detailed attack came Wednesday, March 9 in a Miami Herald op-ed titled “Biden would be wrong to support the tyrant in Venezuela to fight the tyrant in Russia.”

“If the Biden administration agrees to weaken sanctions against the murderous and anti-American Maduro dictatorship, it would shamelessly betray the Venezuelan people and the cause of freedom, as well as the national security interests of the United States,” he wrote. “Instead, the United States must pursue a policy that puts American values first, rather than trading one type of blood oil for another.”

Noting the energy ties between the West and Russia, Diaz-Balart argued: “We must pursue a policy of ironclad sanctions that prioritizes U.S. national security interests, human rights and freedom, rather than securing a bad deal with a different devil.”

The same day Diaz-Balart and Donalds sent a letter to President Joe Biden and Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm expressing their concerns about opening up relations with Maduro. They were joined by three other members: Carlos Gimenez (R-26-Fla.), Daniel Webster (R-11-Fla.) and Scott Franklin (R-15-Fla.). (Interestingly, Southwest Florida’s other member of Congress, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), who does not have a significant Hispanic constituency in his district, was not included.)

Clearly intended for constituent consumption rather than any genuine policy impact, the letter was predictably accusatory and insulting.

“Since taking office, your administration has engaged in a relentless crusade against America’s energy infrastructure, killing jobs and making us more reliant on adversaries such as the Iranians, Russians, and yes, the evil Maduro regime,” it alleged. “We are concerned that your administration supports Maduro over Midland, the Kremlin over Colorado, and the Ayatollah over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).”

The letter calls the reaching out to Venezuela “a slap in the face to the half a million Venezuelans that call America home who fled his vicious and failed socialist nation” and calls the gas crunch a “mounting Green New Deal policy induced energy crisis at home.” Lastly it urges “complete reversal of your harmful energy and foreign affairs policies.”

Just days prior, Donalds had been demanding a cutoff of Russian oil imports: “This is a no-brainer BAN RUSSIAN IMPORTS NOW!” he tweeted on March 7.

Analysis: Inconsistency, illogic and insecurity

In their attacks Diaz-Balart and Donalds are simply following a larger Republican playbook that is just designed to score points against the Biden administration rather than seriously shape policy.

This strategy was exposed and neatly summarized by Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank in a column titled: “Biden heeded Republicans’ pleas to ban Russian oil. Then they pounced.”

“For days, Republicans called for a ban on imports of Russian oil, a move that, while the right thing to do to counter Putin’s attack against Ukraine, would cause already high gas prices to rise even further,” wrote Milbank. “Biden did as Republicans wanted — and they responded by blaming his energy policies for spiking gas prices.”

He continued: “It’s not only that the charge is bogus — the current price of gas has virtually nothing to do with Biden’s energy policies — but that the Republican officials leveling it are sowing division at home and giving a rhetorical boost to the enemy at a perilous moment when national unity and sacrifice will be needed to prevail against Russia.”

Milbank didn’t focus on Diaz-Balart or Donalds but their particular attacks on the outreach to Venezuela after demanding a Russian oil cutoff while still lambasting the president for high oil prices, is in keeping with the overall Republican flight from logic. Milbank called it “a gusher of mendacity.”

“Blaming Biden for the spike in prices around Russia’s Ukraine invasion isn’t just false — it’s an assist to Putin that damages national security,” Milbank pointed out.

It’s also interesting to note that the stridency of Diaz-Balart’s and Donalds’ criticism of Biden seems to be in direct proportion to their lack of criticism of Putin and the invasion of Ukraine.

None of this should be surprising. After all, all Republican politicians including Diaz-Balart and Donalds are just pursuing short term electoral advantage rather than responsibly trying to help the country navigate between the shoals of plague, war and now a fuel famine. Still, at a time when Americans should be pulling together to face a common, unmistakable threat, their inconsistency and illogic is disheartening at the least. At worst it’s unpatriotic and gives aid and comfort to the enemy.

Or, as Milbank put it: “Fighting Russian aggression while avoiding World War III is hard enough. With Republicans acting in bad faith, it’s that much harder.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

Naples Rep. Bob Rommel pushes Big Brother in Florida classrooms–Updated

Bill would put teachers under video surveillance

State Rep. Bob Rommel of Naples. (Image: Tampa Bay 10 News)

Jan. 14, 2022 by David Silverberg

A bill to place video cameras in Florida classrooms to put teachers under full-time surveillance, introduced by state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples), had its initial reading on Tuesday, Jan. 11, the first day of the Florida legislative session.

House Bill (HB) 1055, Video Cameras in Public School Classrooms, “Authorizes school districts to adopt policy to place video cameras in public school classrooms; provides requirements for such policy; provides for viewing video recordings; provides DOE [Department of Education], school district, school, & certain employee responsibilities.” (A link to the full text of the bill is at the conclusion of this article.)

If passed in this legislative session the bill would take effect on July 1.

The bill has been referred to the Education and Employment Committee and its early learning and elementary education and secondary education and career development subcommittees, and the House Appropriations PreK-12 subcommittee.

Under the bill’s provisions a teacher would have to wear a microphone while teaching. Cameras would be installed in the front of classrooms. If a recording is interrupted in any way a written explanation must be filed. School principals would be the officials responsible for holding and administering the recordings and the bill specifies the circumstances under which recordings can be shared or deleted.

Rommel, who represents a legislative district running along coastal Collier County from Bonita Beach Road to Naples to Everglades City and Chokaloskee, was quoted in a television news interview saying, “Children are our most precious assets in the state of Florida and we should make sure we do everything we can to protect them and teachers too. There are incidents, a teacher/student incident, and we want to make sure we protect everyone in the classroom.”

He pointed out that “It’s not live-streamed. So, the teacher’s privacy and how they teach their class is not going to be infringed on.”

(Editor’s note: The Paradise Progressive reached out to Rommel’s office requesting a telephone interview on this subject. As of this writing the request has neither been answered nor acknowledged.)

HB 1055 immediately raised questions from the Florida Education Association (FEA), the largest teachers’ union in the state.

In a statement, Andrew Spar, FEA president, stated: “We have questions about this bill regarding parental rights and other issues. Could law enforcement or the district use the video to investigate a situation dealing with a student without parental knowledge? Can the video be used by law enforcement if a student harms another student or a school employee? Can a teacher use the recording to show that they did not get assistance in a timely manner after calling the office? Can it be used as evidence to show how effective a teacher is in the classroom?”

There is also nothing in the bill discussing the cost of the surveillance or funding for implementation.

A variety of interested parties are already lining up to lobby on the bill including the Lake County School Board, Hillsborough County Schools, and the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, although none had issued public statements on their positions as of this writing.

Yesterday, Jan. 13, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, weighed in on Twitter, stating: “omg no. Florida will not be a surveillance state!!!”

Commentary: Big Brother in the classroom

As though teachers are not under sufficient pressure now, between COVID, mask mandates, remote learning, school shootings, physical threats, anti-public education sentiment, charter school competition, and underfunding as well as low pay, low benefits and general lack of respect, under HB 1055 they would now be subject to constant surveillance in their classrooms.

“Morale is not high in education with teachers and this is just going to look to teachers as another way to catch them,” Angie Snow, an elementary educator in Hillsborough County, said in an interview broadcast on Tampa Bay 10 News. “An allegation is all it takes for a parent to get access and then there’s critiquing and criticizing of everything else.”

Indeed, the presumption behind HB 1055 appears to be that teachers are guilty of something and only the right video footage is needed to catch them.

With that in mind, HB 1055 has been carefully crafted to avoid appearing as part of the ideological assault on educators and school boards.

Although Rommel has espoused conservative, highly ideological views in all his campaigns and previous representation in Tallahassee, he’s couching this bill over concern about “incidents” in classrooms. These are defined in the bill as “an event, a circumstance, an act, or an omission that results in the abuse or neglect of a student” by another student or school employee. There have indeed been incidents of violence and altercations and even shootings in schools like Parkland.

But unlike police body cameras that routinely record footage of potentially violent, dangerous and evidentiary events, classrooms are—or should be—peaceful places. For the most part, what goes on in the vast majority of Florida classrooms the vast majority of the time is teaching and learning.

The extremely rare physical threat or altercation simply doesn’t justify the expense, the difficulty, and the complications—not to mention the simple indignity—of putting microphones on every teacher and installing video cameras in every classroom. If there’s an instance of violence and a security officer has to be called, his or her body camera should provide a sufficient record of any incident.

The real purpose of this legislation is to surveil teachers to punish them—or dangle the threat of punishment—for any heretical ideas they might impart in the classroom, with any party at all playing the role of accuser, inquisitor—and potentially, plaintiff.

HB 1055 fits in nicely with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed Anti-WOKE [Wrongs to our Kids and Employees] Act, giving anyone the ability to sue teachers for teaching critical race theory. Citing video evidence, no matter how far-fetched or flimsy, plaintiffs can head to court on any pretext to financially destroy underpaid teachers even if the plaintiff doesn’t win the case.

From a practical standpoint, there’s simply no need, on a daily, ongoing basis, to record every moment in every classroom—not to mention the Orwellian implications of constant monitoring.

While Rommel is at pains to note that camera footage would not be live-streamed and would have to be released by principals, the fact is that this bill is clearly driven by extreme opponents of classroom COVID precautions and content of which they disapprove—i.e., “wokeness” and critical race theory.

Indeed, in Naples, Rommel’s home district, the only praise for the bill has come from Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III, the farmer and grocer who in August on Facebook called for the “take down” of teachers’ unions by “force.” (Oakes subsequently stated in an interview with The Paradise Progressive that he meant only by legal means.)

“If these teachers have nothing to hide they shouldn’t mind!” he stated on Facebook on Jan. 1.

This is a bad idea and a bad bill that should not get past the subcommittee stage.

*  *  *

To register an opinion on HB 1055, contact the following legislators (e-mails can be sent through their linked pages):

Education Committee

Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee

Secondary Education and Career Development Subcommittee

PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee

The full text of HB 1055 can be read here.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!



A very partisan non-partisan election: The race for Naples City Council

Naples City Councilman Ray Christman. (Photo: Campaign)

Jan. 11, 2022 by David Silverberg

Voters in the City of Naples, Fla., will get an early preview of the nation’s electoral battles on Feb. 1 when they go to the polls to select three at-large councilmembers, who will represent the entire city, rather than specific districts, for the next four years.

Despite the officially non-partisan nature of the election, Councilmember Ray Christman is being targeted by rightist Republicans for defeat. The reason? At one time, they say, he was a registered Democrat, although he is now officially a non-party affiliated voter. The same goes for candidate Ian Rudnick.

Candidates do not have party affiliations listed on the ballots.

But this year’s partisan twist introduces the possibility that an otherwise open and welcoming Naples could see imposition of a far-right (for Naples) conservative agenda. Traditionally, municipal elections focus on very local issues like development, the environment, quality of life and economic growth.

It’s a test of the movement of Trumpism into the grassroots and its outcome could have an impact beyond just the Naples City limits.

There are 19,115 residents in the city, according to the 2020 Census. Of those, 16,497 are active voters eligible to cast ballots, according to the Collier County Supervisor of Elections.

In addition to Christman, Vice Mayor Terry Hutchison is seeking re-election. The other candidates for the three open seats are Rudnick, a retired Naples Police Force officer; Beth Petrunoff, a retired General Electric executive; and newcomer John Dugan.

Ian Rudnick (Photo: Campaign)

Under the city’s rules, the top vote getters will take the open seats. All candidates presented their positions at a forum hosted by the Gulf Shore Association of Condominiums, on Thursday, Jan. 6, covered by The Naples Daily News.

The target

Christman told the forum that his priorities were the same as they had been when he first ran: protecting the environment; managing development; sustaining quality of life; and maintaining a transparent, ethical and responsible government. He pledged to be open, communicative and represent the entire community. He expands on these positions in detail on his campaign website, Ray Christman for Naples City Council.

Christman has extensive credentials for municipal government. A native of Pittsburgh, Pa., he grew up in St. Petersburg, Fla. He attended Florida State University and received a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh and headed Pittsburgh’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, then served as Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Commerce.

He’s been deeply involved in technological development and environmental conservation, from his first job at the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy to his 2014 efforts to pass the Florida Water and Land Legacy Act, which now provides state funding for water and land protection. He worked to adopt a new City Ethics Code after an ethics commission was created by referendum. 

Amidst the COVID pandemic, he helped establish a city-based vaccination site to inoculate residents against the virus.

The targeters

John Dugan (Photo: Campaign)

Leading the charge against Christman is candidate John Dugan and a political action committee, Collier County Citizens Values Political Action Committee (CCCVPAC).

“Be informed, all Republican voters residing in the city need to vote to replace Raymond Christman,” states the CCCVPAC website. “He is a sitting City Councilor that was a registered Democrat until recently when [he] changed to be registered Non-Party Affiliated (not Republican). State election reports show his residence made donations to Democratic candidates running for Governor named Andrew Gillum and running for State Representative in District 105 Javier Estevez.”

Dugan was an at-large member of CCCVPAC before resigning on Aug. 31 to run for the City Council.

The PAC is currently headed by Russell Tuff, former chairman of the Collier County Republican Executive Committee. As CCCVPAC reveals on its website, Tuff has provided paid services to Dugan and to Michelle McLeod, a candidate for the Collier County Commission and a city council member ousted in the 2020 city election.

CCCVPAC says it has rated all the candidates based on “values” but in fact only Dugan filled out its questionnaire and received its only rating. The PAC recommends that voters vote only for Dugan.

“Only one candidate, John Dugan, completed our questionnaire,” states CCCVPAC. “Apparently, the other candidates did not want to be rated on our values. Since that is the case, although you can vote for up to three candidates, we are recommending you vote for only John Dugan, who wasn’t afraid to state his values up front and have them communicated to the community.”

When it comes to his platform, on his campaign website Dugan opposes COVID precautions like mask and vaccination mandates.

He states that “Growth is inevitable” and “When we take a No Growth position, we do not prepare adequately for projects that happen without proper planning which creates acrimony and problems that could have been avoided. We have a fiscal responsibility to allow redevelopment which increases city revenue while maintaining tax rates.” He also supports water infrastructure improvements and beach renourishment.

Dugan is originally from Boston, Mass., and graduated from Northeastern University with a major in accounting and a degree in business administration. He spent his career at Accenture, a management and technology consulting company headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, retiring as a partner in 2009.

CCCVPAC calls Dugan “a rock-solid Republican and not a ‘Party Switcher.’ He was instrumental in fundraising and getting out the vote for the Republican party during the last election cycle.”

Commentary: A very partisan non-partisan election

On March 17, 2020 Naples City voters threw out the mayor and three City Council members in a startling sweep of the city’s government.

In addition to the city’s purely local issues, the election results, coming on the same day as the Florida presidential preference primary, were viewed by some observers as a repudiation of President Donald Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic response and voter unhappiness with a very conservative status quo in the city.

CCCVPAC doesn’t see it that way. As it puts it on its website: “It is clear that the last City Council election could have had a better result for the Republican Party.  Two Non-Party Affiliated candidates were elected.  The final election vote tally showed 3,751 Republican did not vote – 44% of the City Republicans did not vote.  By Party, Republicans were the largest no shows on election day by more than 2000 votes!” [sic, capitalization and syntax theirs].

The fact, though, is that the Naples City Council election is supposed to be non-partisan. Prior to Trump’s hyper-politicization of all of American life this was largely the way business was conducted. While there might be differences of opinion on various decisions or courses of action, party labels were generally irrelevant to the conduct of the city’s business.

That has now changed and Dugan and CCCVPAC are kicking the partisanship up a notch. Their chief complaints against Christman and Rudnick have nothing to do with those candidates’ actual positions on city matters—their unforgiveable sin is that they were once registered Democrats and don’t march in lockstep to conservative Republican decrees. This betrays an intolerance of diverse viewpoints and an effort to impose a single, rigid ideological approach on the city’s government. It’s undemocratic—with a small “d.”

It’s also not the way to govern a city whose chief challenges have to do with local matters like infrastructure maintenance, water and environmental quality, growth management and tourist hospitality.

This election will have consequences on a variety of fronts.

For those Naples City residents who don’t want to see the imposition of a rightist ideology on the city and want to keep the Council focused on real issues affecting all its residents, the choice is very clear: Ray Christman should be returned to office and John Dugan should be defeated.

This will be an election decided by mobilization of supporters on each side.

Having an election in February is often very tough anywhere in the country where winter is usually at its worst. But in Naples the weather should be pleasantly warm and the sunshine abundant. Voting by mail eliminates the possibility of contamination by Omicron and even at the polling place, social distance and a mask make a difference. Besides, most sensible Naples voters have already gotten vaccinations and boosters for their protection.

As of Jan. 10, 680 mail-in ballots had already been cast, representing 4.12 percent of the electorate.

In-person voting will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 1. The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is 5 pm on Saturday, Jan. 22.

Early voting begins Wednesday, Jan. 26 and runs until Saturday, Jan. 29 from 10 am to 6 pm daily at two locations: the Norris Center in Cambier Park, 755 8th Avenue South, and the Supervisor of Elections Office at 3750 Enterprise Ave.

There will be drop-box locations for mail-in ballots at the Supervisor of Elections Office and the Norris Center (locations above), and at the Collier County Supervisor of Elections satellite office at 2335 Orange Blossom Drive.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

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