Closing argument: Banyai for Congress, democracy for America

The Statue of Liberty. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Nov.4, 2022

Election Day is no longer the deciding day for elections; it’s really the day that votes are counted.

By the time the polls close on Tuesday night, large numbers of people will have already cast their ballots or mailed them in. Locally, as of this writing, 39 percent of voters have voted in Collier County, 38 percent in Lee County and 38 percent in Charlotte County.

So an argument made on the eve of Election Day is intended more for the record than the ballot box, more a monument for history than an effort to sway anyone still undecided. It may only be a warning. Nonetheless, it needs to be made.

This is even more important in the absence of any debate between congressional candidates. In Southwest Florida’s premier congressional race, that of the 19th Congressional District covering the coastal towns from Cape Coral to Marco Island, there will be no face-to-face encounter between the contenders, Democrat Cindy Banyai and incumbent Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.).

Debates, whatever their flaws, highlight politicians’ policies and records and force them to defend their actions and put forward their positions. Voters can evaluate them side-by-side. Due in large part to Hurricane Ian, Southwest Florida voters will not have the benefit of this kind of discussion.

But more broadly than any local race, as President Joe Biden pointed out in a speech on Tuesday, Nov. 2, this year’s election is a referendum on democracy itself.

While Americans may have legitimate differences of opinion expressed in this year’s election, Biden said, “there’s something else at stake, democracy itself. I’m not the only one who sees it. Recent polls have shown an overwhelming majority of Americans believe our democracy is at risk, that our democracy is under threat. They too see that democracy is on the ballot this year, and they’re deeply concerned about it.”

Banyai for Congress and the Donalds record

Cindy Banyai has been fighting for the people of Southwest Florida since she first declared her candidacy in July 2019. She fought then and continues to fight for women’s choice, a clean environment, pure water, secure Social Security, affordable housing and fact-based, sensible education for all school-aged children.

Importantly for a role in Congress, Banyai knows how to reach out to those of different opinions. She’s a coalition builder. She’s demonstrated this time and again. She knows and understands the federal government and would be an effective advocate for the people of Southwest Florida, especially now that they need an advocate in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

Ordinarily, an endorsement accentuates the positive in a candidate and ignores or minimizes the opponent. But in this instance it’s critical that Southwest Floridians understand and appreciate the nature of their current congressman and what they’re likely to get in the future if he’s reelected.

Donalds is one of the most unimaginative and ineffective members of Congress that this author has observed in over 30 years of watching and covering the Congress of the United States, both up close and from a distance.

Donalds comes across as a flat, two-dimensional ideologue who has sold his soul to Donald Trump and the MAGA movement in the pursuit of his personal ambition. He voted to overturn the 2020 election and deny its legitimate outcome. He has repeated Trump’s election lies. He opposed vaccinations and public health protections. He has supported voter suppression. He has mindlessly and vehemently regurgitated whatever Republican Party and Trumpist doctrines are being pushed at the moment without reflection or thought. He has no real interest in serving his district, the people in it or solving the problems that afflict it. He has pursued and advanced his wife’s anti-public education agenda and promoted private charter schools, involving himself, as a public official, in private litigation regarding that business.

Legislatively he is a failure. Not one of the 25 pieces of legislation he introduced advanced past the introductory phase. He couldn’t even get a commendation passed for the Everblades hockey team. Two of his most substantive pieces of legislation, the Protecting Communities from Harmful Algal Blooms Act and the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act, which really dealt with the environmental needs of the district, were reintroductions of legislation crafted by his predecessor, Francis Rooney. Under Donalds they went nowhere. Nor are his interests or prospects better for the 118th Congress.

If there is one core function representatives are expected to perform for their districts, it is to bring home the bacon. Constituents have every right to expect the people they elect to Congress to get them and the district something for the tax dollars they pay. No matter what their policy positions, no matter how they pose or expound on other matters, getting legitimate federal benefits is an essential responsibility of elected members of the House.

Donalds completely failed to pursue funding for the district through earmarks (funding designated for specific purposes) even though there was a proper, established, bipartisanly-formulated procedure for doing so. His neighbors to the north (Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and east (Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25 [since changed to 26] Fla.) both put in requests for $38 million and $12 million respectively. This money was requested to make critical infrastructure improvements. Donalds didn’t even ask.

Based on his past history and current practice the people of the 19th Congressional District have no reason to expect that Donalds will get them any of the funding they so desperately need or to which they are entitled. Indeed, in a Republican House of Representatives Donalds can be expected to be at the forefront of the attack on Social Security and any kind of funding and support for everyday people struggling to recover from disaster. He will likely vote against any kind of appropriations needed by the nation, any kind of help for its people, and any kinds of improvements or investments in its infrastructure. He will likely vote to shut down the government when such votes come up and he will likely vote to destroy America’s financial faith and credit in the world by holding the debt ceiling hostage.

He is also beholden to the very insurance industry with which hundreds of thousands of Southwest Floridians are contending, so they can expect no aid or comfort from him there.

Ideologically, Donalds thinks he’s going to ride the tiger of MAGA fanaticism and prejudice to higher positions within the Republican congressional caucus. But he’s fooling himself. History shows that extremist movements turn on their boosters—and fanatics always eat their own. For all his doctrinal slavishness, the day will come when Donalds is on the menu and he’ll wonder how he wound up on the plate.

That goes triple for Donalds’ patron, Donald Trump, who has never met an ally, supporter or friend he failed to betray.

Donalds will have to soon make a choice between Trump’s ambition and that of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), so he in his turn will likely have to decide which patron to forsake. Whichever way he goes, it won’t be pretty.

A man whose rise was made possible by such civil rights giants as the Rev. Martin Luther King and John R. Lewis and Supreme Court decisions like Brown vs. Board of Education and Loving vs. Virginia has sold his soul to those forces intent on rolling back women’s rights, civil rights and voting rights. They have other constitutional freedoms in their sights and will be pursuing them in the years to come. Donalds aided and abetted them in the past and likely will in the future but despite his complicity, these are the people who will crush him, sooner rather than later. And he doesn’t seem to know or care.

Donalds is bad for Southwest Florida, bad for its towns, cities and counties, bad for its people, bad for its seniors and bad for his district.

Voters have a vastly better alternative in Cindy Banyai.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Democracy on the line

One of the most profound democratic elections in American history occurred on Sept. 11, 2001.

It didn’t occur in a polling place or on a national stage. Rather, it occurred in the body of United Airlines Flight 93, scheduled to go from Newark, NJ to San Francisco, Calif.

The plane was taken over by Al Qaeda hijackers. The pilots were killed or incapacitated. Two terrorists took over the controls and locked themselves in the cockpit. Another stood outside the cabin door, wearing what appeared to be a suicide vest that he threatened to explode.

The 33 passengers and crew had seen the mayhem. They were in touch with friends and family on the ground. They knew that other planes had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York (another would crash into the Pentagon). They knew they were likely headed for death.

They caucused in the back of the plane to weigh the alternatives. Should they attack the hijackers or sit tight? They knew they were facing a life or death decision.

So they took a vote. They took a vote because that’s how Americans make decisions.

They voted to fight back and so they attacked the terrorist in the cabin and then used a serving cart to batter their way into the cockpit. There they struggled with the hijackers at the controls.

The plane crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Everyone died.

But by their action, those passengers and crew probably saved the United States Capitol building, which was one of the hijackers’ likely targets, along with the White House.

In that regard, the vote on Flight 93 was probably one of the most consequential in American history.

But it also illustrates the depth and pervasiveness of American democracy. When Americans need to chart a course, or make a decision, when their very lives are at stake, they vote and abide by the majority results.

As Biden said in his speech, “Too many people have sacrificed too much for too many years for us to walk away from the American project and democracy. Because we’ve enjoyed our freedoms for so long, it’s easy to think they’ll always be with us no matter what. But that isn’t true today. In our bones, we know democracy is at risk. But we also know this. It’s within our power, each and every one of us, to preserve our democracy.”

When those passengers voted, no one called the vote a sham. No one said it was rigged. No one refused to accept the outcome. No one lied that it had gone otherwise. They acted on their own behalf but also on behalf of the country and they did so by voting.

In America, democracy undergirds absolutely everything, every activity, not just in government. It’s what governs Americans’ daily behavior. It’s what gives Americans their rights. It pervades American commerce (think of shareholder votes in corporations). Even families put choices to a vote. It confers legitimacy on decisions great and small. It’s a way of life.

This is what’s at stake in this year’s elections. It is a shame and a horror that 20 years after 9/11, the fanatical followers of a twisted president attempted to end American democracy by attacking the sacred building that the passengers and crew of Flight 93 gave their lives to protect.

To vote against democracy in this year’s election is to kill those Americans all over again and complete the work of the terrorists on that day. Voting for anti-democratic candidates is bringing down a curtain of darkness on light, imposing tyranny on freedom, and eclipsing good with evil.

Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government—except for all the others that have been tried from time to time.”

Preserving democracy is the paramount issue this year—and every year to come. This year, when you vote, if you haven’t already, cast your ballot in memory of the passengers of Flight 93.

Do your part to preserve, protect and defend democracy, the Constitution and these United States. You’ll be preserving, protecting and defending yourself, your family and all that you hold sacred.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Endorsements: Recommendations for the General Election in Lee and Collier Counties

Oct. 17, 2022

Our elections are no longer “normal”—and this year’s general election is no exception.

Since the presidency of Donald Trump, each election has become a referendum on whether America will remain a democracy. That was especially true in the 2020 presidential election and it remains true in 2022.

At stake is the legislative branch of the American government and the state of Florida. Will America be governed by a party that supports checks and balances on executive power, respects the will of the majority of voters as expressed in elections, and honors its founding Constitution? Or will it be governed by a party wholly given to the worship of one man, which excuses his crimes and appetites, and is willing to replace its governing institutions with his whims, rages and prejudices?

These questions will be answered, not just at the national level, but at every level of government, from the counties, to cities to school boards.

So this year’s election is a referendum on the future and not just a judgment on individual candidates and propositions.

As has been stated in the past, it has always been the position of The Paradise Progressive that a media outlet covering politics has a duty to endorse. Following candidates and political developments on a regular basis provides insights and knowledge that need to be shared with voters. Whether the outlet is national or local television, online or print or even a simple blog, it is the obligation of independent media in a free society to help voters make an informed choice.

Further, it needs to be noted that while The Paradise Progressive has a progressive orientation, as its name implies, it is not affiliated with any particular party or governed by any party’s dictates. Its judgments are its own. That said, it does reference Democratic Party endorsements.

There are three criteria for The Paradise Progressive’s candidate endorsements:

1. Is the candidate qualified for the office he or she is seeking?

2. Can the candidate be relied upon to make clear, understandable, rational decisions based on facts, data, logic and science?

3. Does the candidate support the United States Constitution, the peaceful transition of power and—most of all—democracy?

In response to reader queries, below is a list of all Paradise Progressive endorsements for elected office statewide, in Collier and Lee counties, and in the 19th, 17th and 26th congressional districts that cover Southwest Florida.

Not all these races or candidates been covered in depth in Paradise Progressive postings or fully explained in editorials. Nor is this a complete list of offices up for election.

The offices are listed in the order that they appear on their respective ballots. They include races for non-partisan positions like judgeships and school boards, which are extremely important this year.

Where necessary, for example in judicial and constitutional matters, there is additional discussion.

State and federal offices

United States Senator

  • Val Demings

Representative Congressional District 19:

  • Cindy Banyai

Representative Congressional District 17:

  • Andrea Dorea Kale

Representative Congressional District 26:

  • Christine Olivo

Governor and Lieutenant Governor:

  • Charlie Crist and Karla Hernandez

Attorney General:

  • Aramis Ayala

Chief Financial Officer:

  • Adam Hattersley

Commissioner of Agriculture:

  • Naomi Esther Blemur

State senator, District 27:

  • Christopher Proia

State Representative, District 77:

  • Eric Englehart

State Representative, District 80:

  • Mitchel Schlayer

County offices

Lee County Board of Commissioners, District 5:

  • Matthew Wood

Collier County Board of Commissioners, District 2:

  • Bebe Kanter

Judicial elections

  • Judge Jorge Labarga – Yes
  • All others – No

The Lee and Collier County Democratic parties are recommending that voters vote “yes” to retain Jorge Labarga on the Florida Supreme Court and vote “no” on all others.

The Paradise Progressive concurs.

The reasoning for this vote is explained in the article: “How Florida Voters Could Fire Their Worst Supreme Court Justices In November,” by Matthew Henderson, a Florida-based attorney and policy analyst, writing in Balls & Strikes, a website of commentary and analysis on judicial affairs.

“If DeSantis wins re-election” Henderson writes, “…he can replace any justice the voters reject with another loyal conservative. If Crist wins, however, he can overhaul the court immediately.”

He continues: “Historically, voters have not paid much attention to retention elections; to date, no appellate judge or justice has ever lost one. But scrutiny of the state’s highest court has increased after controversies involving other DeSantis appointees. If even one justice gets close to being replaced, it puts the entire system into question unlike any time since the last time justices were unmasked as partisan hacks in the 1970s.”

Labarga, Henderson writes, “has distanced himself from his colleagues. Appointed by Crist in 2009, Labarga is conservative, but not as brazenly political as his colleagues.”

The other state Supreme Court judges on the ballot offer a stark contrast.

Charles Canaday, who has been on the court for 14 years, is a former Republican state representative and as a US congressman was an impeachment manager against President Bill Clinton in 1999.

Ricky Polston argued in favor of giving state money to religious charter schools despite the state Constitution forbidding it.

Jamie Grosshans, appointed in 2020 by DeSantis, “is the closest thing to an Amy Coney Barrett of Florida,” according to Henderson. As a law student she was “event coordinator for something called the Institute in Basic Life Principles, which turned out to be an actual cult teaching about the ungodliness of blue jeans. She then interned at the Claremont Institute, the conservative think tank that gave us Trump’s personal coup lawyer, John Eastman.” Eastman was the attorney who came up with the legal theory used in the attempt to overthrow the 2020 election.

John Couriel joined opinions making it harder to sue for wrongful deaths as a result of tobacco use and shielded corporate executives from depositions.

Given this record, a “no” vote for all Supreme Court judicial candidates other than Labarga is justified.

As Henderson puts it: “As conservative judges at all levels flex their muscles in courthouses across the country, Florida voters have the opportunity to evict a few of its own revanchist justices who think there are a few too many civil rights floating around.” 

School Boards

Lee County District 1:

  • Kathy Fanny

Lee County District 4:

  • Debbie Jordan

Lee County District 6:

  • Jada Langford Fleming

Collier County District 1:

  • Jory Westberry

Collier County District 3:

  • Jen Mitchell

Collier County District 5:

  • Roy Terry

Municipal elections

City of Bonita Springs City Council District 5

  • Jude Richvale

Constitutional Amendments

  • Amendment 1: Yes
  • Amendment 2: No
  • Amendment 3: Yes

Interestingly, the Lee and Collier County Democratic parties split on these measures, with Lee County’s party advocating “no, yes, yes” and Collier County’s party advocating “yes, no, no.”

Amendment 1 states that effective January 1, 2023, flood resistance improvements to a home will not be included in assessing properties for ad valorem [to value] tax purposes.

Advocates of Amendment 1 argue that it will both incentivize and reward homeowners who protect their properties from flooding. Critics point out that it will reduce the tax revenues for state and local governments.

This amendment overwhelmingly passed both the state House and Senate on a bipartisan basis, unanimously in the Senate. After Hurricane Ian showed the damage that flooding can do, Amendment 1 makes eminent sense for a Florida in the grip of climate change. It will benefit homeowners of all incomes and help build climate resilience. It should be passed.

Amendment 2 would abolish Florida’s Constitutional Revision Commission that meets every 20 years to consider constitutional changes.

Advocates argue this would protect Florida from ill-considered, vague or confusing and whimsical changes, while critics say that rather than abolishing it entirely, qualifications for sitting on the Commission can be tightened.

The idea of a periodic review of the Florida Constitution is a good one and the Commission should be kept. Amendments proposed by the Commission still have to be approved by voters. It also provides a source of new ideas in addition to the four others—citizen initiatives, constitutional conventions, the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, or legislative joint resolutions—available to Florida. This proposal should be rejected.

Amendment 3 gives the legislature the authority to grant an additional homestead tax exemption up to $50,000 to public employees. These include classroom teachers, law enforcement officers, correctional officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, child welfare services professionals, active duty members of the United States Armed Forces, and Florida National Guard members.

Advocates argue that these workers and servicemembers deserve a tax break given the nature of their jobs and duties. Critics point out that this measure would cost the state and localities $85.9 million starting the fiscal year after it passes. They argue that it also wouldn’t guarantee that these workers could find affordable housing and it sets a precedent of favoring one group or profession over another for taxation.

The critics have very valid points. However, Florida—and especially Southwest Florida—has great need for these workers so this incentive may be helpful.

The benefits of this amendment especially apply in the case of classroom teachers. After all the bile, hatred and denigration aimed at these public servants by extreme anti-public education fanatics including the governor, after all the restrictions proposed and imposed on them by the legislature and especially given their low pay and benefits, teachers deserve relief and support. There are few enough incentives for classroom teachers to work in Florida. What is more, numerous ideologically-driven school boards are poised to impose further restraints on classroom teaching. This is why electing good school boards are so vitally important in Southwest Florida and everywhere. (See school board endorsements, above.)

This amendment will go some way toward attracting new teachers to the state and retaining the ones already working in Florida. It will assist those who provide vital services in the public sector. It should be passed.

For a very complete, objective, non-partisan analysis of the constitutional amendments on the ballot, see the James Madison Institute’s 2022 Amendment Guide.

Cartoon by Andy Marlette.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Primary election endorsement summary for Southwest Florida

Aug. 16, 2022

Today marks one week until Primary Election Day, Aug. 23, in Collier and Lee counties. Early in-person voting is already available and mail-in ballots can be mailed or deposited in ballot intake stations (formerly known as drop-boxes) from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm at specific locations in Lee and Collier counties. (See Lee County’s list here and Collier County’s list here.)

In response to reader queries, below is a list of all Paradise Progressive endorsements for elected office. Not all have been fully explained in editorials. Nor is this a complete list of offices up for election.

The Paradise Progressive is a media outlet with a progressive slant, as the name implies. However, it is not affiliated with any single party nor does it follow any party’s dictates.

The endorsements below cover both parties. In a closed primary state like Florida only voters registered with their parties will get to vote in the party’s primary. Other elections, for example school board and judiciar are non-partisan races in which anyone of any party can vote.

There are three criteria for The Paradise Progressive’s endorsements:

1. Is the candidate qualified for the office he or she is seeking?

2. Can the candidate be relied upon to make clear, understandable, rational decisions based on facts, data, logic and science?

3. Does the candidate support the United States Constitution, the peaceful transition of power and—most of all—democracy?

These criteria transcend party or faction. Based on them, this is a summary of The Paradise Progressive’s endorsements, with links to those editorials that explain them in detail.

Democratic primary

Statewide

  • Senator: Val Demings
  • Governor: Nikki Fried

Endorsing the next Democratic governor

  • Attorney General: Daniel Uhlfelder
  • Commissioner of Agriculture: JR Gaillot

Republican Primary

19th Congressional District

  • Congress: Jim Huff

Editorial: Rep. Byron Donalds has failed Southwest Florida and can’t be allowed to do it again

Collier County Commission

  • District 2 Commissioner: Nancy Lewis
  • District 4 Commissioner: Penny Taylor

Endorsing Republican candidates for Collier Commission Districts 2 and 4

Non-partisan, Collier County judge

  • Judge: Pamela Barger

Endorsing a new judge for Collier County

Non-partisan, Collier County Board of Education

  • District 1: Jory Westberry
  • District 3: Jen Mitchell
  • District 5: Roy Terry

Non-partisan, Lee County Board of Education

  • District 1: Kathy Fanny
  • District 4: Debbie Jordan
  • District 5: Gwynetta Gittens
  • District 6: Tia Collin

Endorsing real education at the Collier and Lee county school boards—and rebuking anti-Semitism

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Endorsing a new judge for Collier County

Who will wield the gavel in Collier County’s courtroom?

Aug. 15, 2022

Judging candidates for judicial positions is notoriously difficult—and this year’s race for Collier County judge is no exception.

Judicial candidates are not like politicians who can make promises, take positions and adhere to specific ideologies. A judge is supposed to consider each case on its merits as it comes up, weigh it on the scales of the law and be objective, unbiased and equitable in decisionmaking.

This means that voters have to evaluate candidates on factors like temperament, experience and credentials.

This year, Collier County voters must consider two competing judicial candidates for county judge, Group 3. This group is a newly-created structure that will likely handle civil cases.

The candidates are Pamela Barger and Chris Brown.

Pamela Barger

Pamela Barger (Image: Campaign)

According to her official biography, Pamela Barger, 45, was born in Syracuse, NY and moved to Florida with her parents. She graduated from Pine Ridge Middle School and Barron Collier High School in Naples. She and her husband, Justin, live in Golden Gate Estates with her three children.

Barger earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Florida and her law degree in 2006 from the St. Thomas University School of Law, based in Miami Gardens.

For 13 years she served the 20th Judicial Circuit in Collier County as senior staff attorney, working with circuit and county judges. For the past two years she served as General Magistrate in Collier County, overseeing the Circuit Civil Division.

General magistrates are attorneys who perform many of the same functions as judges, like hearing evidence, administering oaths and ruling on routine motions. Unlike judges, though, they do not issue final decisions. Instead, they file reports to the circuit judges who make the ultimate ruling.

Barger was first tapped to serve as an interim magistrate for the Circuit Court’s civil division in the summer of 2012. On her website she states that it was during this stint that she “recognized the positive difference a judge can have on those who come before them as well as on the community as a whole.” She also states that the experience provided her with an understanding of the parties in the courtroom and “a vast understanding of the law and the insight to make effective judicial decisions.”

Barger provided some remarkable insights to Sparker’s Soapbox, a respected non-partisan blog, website and newsletter produced by Collier County resident Sandy Parker, which provides critical information to voters.

In answer to Parker’s questions, Barger revealed that what she regarded as one of her greatest legal accomplishments came in 2012 when she presided over the wage garnishment case of a defendant who had no lawyer, legal experience or even rudimentary knowledge of what he needed for his case. Even so, he provided the necessary documents and answered her questions.

“I was able to make a ruling that followed the law and granted this defendant’s request for relief from the overwhelmingly burdensome garnishment of his wages,” she recalled. “The relief on that defendant’s face when I made the ruling will stay with me for a lifetime.”

In another case, Barger worked with a newly-appointed judge to rule in a high-profile 6-victim murder case that had been in the system for nine years.

“My work on that case over nine years resulted in a 41-page sentencing order, where the judge ultimately decided to impose a sentence of death on each of the six counts of first-degree murder,” she stated. “The gravity of that decision and the process which the judge and I undertook has forever left its mark on not only me personally but also in shaping and sharpening my legal mind.”

Asked why voters should support her over her opponent, Barger replied: “My experience has afforded me the rare opportunity to work side by side with the judges of this county with behind-the-scenes access to watch how they analyze cases and learn what they look for and find important. I have earned their respect and trust with my sound advice, exceptional analysis and insight into legal issues.”

Chris Brown

Chris Brown (Photo: Campaign)

Christoper Brown, 49, came to Naples in 1983. He attended Shadowlawn Elementary School, Gulfivew Middle School, and graduated from Naples High School in 1991.

He earned his Bachelor degree with honors from the University of Florida in 1995 and his law degree from the University of Florida College of Law in 1999.

He and his wife live in Naples and have three children in the Collier County public schools. He’s religiously active, attending St. Ann Catholic Church in Naples and belonging to the Knights of Columbus. His wife is Presbyterian, so the family also attends Covenant Presbyterian Church.

According to the biography on his website, Brown began his legal career working as in-house counsel for a consulting firm. In 2002 he began practicing courtroom law in the 20th Circuit as an assistant public defender. He then began private practice in 2004 and two years later made partner in the firm Brown, Suarez, Rios & Weinberg in Naples, where he still practices.

Brown lists his criminal trial work as a major credential, including a number of “stand your ground” cases where he won acquittals. Asked by Parker to cite his proudest accomplishments, he wrote: “I cannot pinpoint any one case. I have represented thousands of folks and have tried over 150 cases. I have also argued dozens of appeals.  I guess I would point to the body of work and recognition of my peers and our judiciary that has resulted from 20+ years of effort, collectively, as my greatest accomplishment.”

When it came to his legal philosophy, Brown responded: “I am a firm believer in judicial restraint and the philosophy of Originalism.  A judge’s first fealty should be to the Florida and US constitutions.  Therefore, almost any legal decision I would be called on to make should be relatively straightforward as long as I consistently return to those first principles.”

Asked about his judicial role models, Brown replied: “On a national level I would start with the late, great Antonin Scalia as well as Justice Clarence Thomas.”

Brown is a member of the Federalist Society, the conservative association of lawyers and jurists. He’s also a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. He’s been endorsed by conservative farmer and grocer Alfie Oakes, state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples), and Crystal Kinzel, clerk of the county courts, among many others.

Why should voters support him?

“I believe the voters should pick me because of proven experience that is directly related to doing this job,” he replied. He had been endorsed because “I have the proven experience to step in and run a Collier County courtroom in a way the citizens deserve.”

Endorsement

In a recent campaign mailer, Brown pledged to voters that he would treat everyone entering court with dignity and respect, that he would approach his duties every day with humility and patience and that: “I WILL never make a ruling based on personal feelings or preconceived notions about a matter.”

That last pledge is very important because between the two candidates, Brown comes to the voters with a lot of ideological baggage: his membership in the Federalist Society and National Rifle Association memberships, in particular. His own adherence to Originalism and admiration for Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas indicates his very conservative judicial orientation.  

All this raises concerns about his ability to approach cases without being influenced by ideological orthodoxies. Collier County residents entering his courtroom would not have confidence in his neutrality, impartiality and objectivity. It also raises questions about how he might approach cases involving abortion, although he has not been asked directly about it.

In contrast, Pamela Barger is, from all outward indications, ideologically neutral as befits a judge.

In his campaign Brown makes much of the fact that he has been a trial lawyer. However, this is not necessarily a convincing credential for a judge who must referee a trial.

As Barger put it in answering Parker’s questions: “My opponent will tell you that he is the only qualified candidate because he is a trial attorney and I am not. But there is nothing magical about being a trial attorney that makes you qualified for judicial office. Trial attorneys only argue from one perspective, they do not approach matters from an impartial, unbiased point of view.”

By contrast, she wrote: “I have spent my entire legal career approaching matters from an unbiased, impartial view point.”  

Barger’s service as a magistrate has given her the experience necessary to effectively run an impartial, objective, fair courtroom and apply that impartiality and objectivity to whatever cases come before her.

Voters should elect Pamela Barger to be Collier County’s next Group 3 judge.

Early voting has already begun and continues until this Saturday, Aug. 20. Primary mail-in ballots can be mailed at any time. Primary Election Day is Tuesday, Aug. 23.

Pamela Barger in front of the Collier County Courthouse. (Image: Campaign)

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Endorsing Republican candidates for Collier County Commission Districts 2 and 4

Collier County districts 2 and 4. (Map: Board of Collier County Commissioners.)

Aug. 12, 2022

It may seem surprising that a website and blog launched as a result of the lack of coverage of Southwest Florida Democrats would make endorsements in a Republican primary race. However, over the years, The Paradise Progressive has gained a Republican readership—much to its author’s own astonishment.

These readers will be voting in the Republican primary this year and they and all voters merit recommendations in important local races.

As has been stated in the past, it has always been the position of The Paradise Progressive that a media outlet covering politics has a duty to endorse. Following candidates and political developments on a regular basis gives journalists insights and knowledge that need to be shared with voters. Whether the outlet is national or local, television, online or print or even a simple blog, it is the obligation of independent media in a free society to help voters make an informed choice. Any endorsement offends some people but that comes with taking a stand on anything.

Further, The Paradise Progressive endeavors to provide useful information to politically interested and active readers of all persuasions.

There is a clear cleavage in Southwest Florida’s Republican Party between extreme Make America Great Again (MAGA) Donald Trump Republicans and rational Abraham Lincoln Republicans.

Lincoln Republicans are denigrated by MAGAts as RINOs, Republicans in Name Only. But there’s no shame in upholding sanity, constitutionality and reasoned, sensible dialogue regardless of disagreements. As has been suggested here in the past, thinking Republicans should own their rationality, independence and intelligence with pride (and perhaps even make the rhino their mascot).

It is in that spirit that we endorse candidates in the Republican primary race for Collier County Commission in Districts 2 and 4.

Tough years

In past years the issues in Collier County Commission races have centered around the pace and extent of development and its impact on the environment and quality of life.

This is an ongoing, enduring issue and will continue to be so as more people move into the area and developers seek profit in accommodating them.

But over the past four years other concerns have impacted the area. In July 2021 extremists pushed a county ordinance that would have nullified federal law in Collier County. Among all the other damage it would have done, it would have cut the county off from federal grant programs, protection and aid in the event of disasters like hurricanes. It was defeated by a single vote.

The COVID pandemic created unprecedented tensions in Collier County. There was a clear and present need to uphold public health and protect county residents through masking and sensible measures. That led to a split between people who believed in science, reason and logic and those who dismissed the disease as a sham and a hoax that would simply disappear.

It didn’t disappear and county residents died, although we may never know the exact numbers with full certainty because of the unreliability of statistics issued by the state.

As this is written, new variants are on the rampage again. People who have been vaccinated and boosted can be confident that if they catch it the symptoms will be mild and passing. Fanatical anti-vaxxers still risk serious illness and death.

Any member of the Board of Collier County Commissioners has to confront crises like this one in a rational and thoughtful way. That is not what MAGA candidates offer.

So it is critical that any commissioner—of any party—believe in science and reason rather than fantasy and fanaticism. Ignorance, intolerance and insanity cannot be the basis for governing.

District 2

District 2 is the area from the Collier County-Lee County line in the north to Pine Ridge Road in the south and from the coast to Interstate 75 in the east.

For the past four years the district was served by Andy Solis, who declined to run this year.

Among the Republican candidates in the race for District 2 commissioner, Nancy Lewis stands out as a sensible candidate in the Lincoln tradition.

Nancy Lewis (Photo: Author)

Lewis has made rational, restrained growth the centerpiece of her campaign.

“People did not move to Collier County to find themselves living in another Miami,” she states on her campaign website. “If I’m elected, I plan to fight with every fiber of my being to engage in sensible, planned growth to protect the Collier way of life. I’m running to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.”

As part of her commitment to objective evaluation of developers’ plans, Lewis is refusing any contributions from corporate developers.

But more than this, Lewis has been deeply engaged in civic and community affairs since moving to the Naples area in 1991. She has a grasp of the minutia of county administration and budgeting and served as administrator of the Pelican Bay Property Owners Association and president of Naples Retirement Inc. She was a leader in the Save Vanderbilt Beach movement that opposed the construction of a truly massive and overwhelming building at Naples One.

Most of all, voters can have confidence that Lewis will serve all Collier County residents with thoughtfulness and reason, will listen to their concerns with sympathy and understanding and will vote on the County Commission with their best interests and the county in mind, regardless of their political persuasions.

District 4

District 4 runs from the coast to Interstate 75 in the east and from Pine Ridge Road and US 41 East in the north to Rattlesnake Road in the south. It includes the City of Naples. For the past four years, this district has been served by Penny Taylor.

Penny Taylor (Image: Campaign)

During her tenure the importance of her vote on the Collier County Board of Commissioners was demonstrated repeatedly. Nowhere was this truer than during the worst of the COVID pandemic.

In 2020 the severity of the COVID caseload and rising deaths in Collier County led county commissioners to consider a mask mandate to protect residents.

It was not popular and the Commission approached it with great trepidation and hesitancy. The Commission tried everything short of a mandate for as long as it could, like restrictions on beach access to cut down on crowds. Even as late as June, when much of the country was in lockdown and the virus was surging, they tried to rely on voluntary measures.

However, cases continued to mount. Initially, the Commission voted 3 to 2 to reject an ordinance imposing fines on businesses not using masks. It took a heated, 5-hour meeting to reach that decision, with Taylor voting in the majority.

But Taylor realized that failing to protect county residents was not a viable option. She called an emergency meeting the next week and changed her vote.

This was probably the most fraught and difficult stand that Taylor took during her tenure to date. It brought her scorn, hatred and threats from anti-maskers and COVID-deniers, some of whom are determined to this day to unseat her for these actions. For them it was a betrayal and an unconscionable reversal. Extreme conservative farmer and grocer Alfie Oakes accused her of selling out to corporate interests and the Chamber of Commerce.

But Taylor’s change of mind can be seen in a different light: as the action of someone open to data, facts and reason; someone recognizing reality and protecting the health and safety of all residents and businesses in Collier County.

Through all the stress, the tension and the emotion, Taylor has remained reasoned and restrained in this and other matters. To watch her patiently conduct meetings and keep order through grueling hours of often impassioned and conflicting testimony is to watch a real parliamentarian at work. Her commitment to deliberate discussion leading to logical conclusions is admirable.

Taylor has over 20 years of local government experience in a variety of roles and has consistently supported and defended efforts to protect the area’s water and environment. She has avoided extreme anti-development efforts while trying to keep development sensible and environmentally friendly.

For these reasons Penny Taylor should be re-elected to the position of District 4 commissioner and remain chair of the Collier County Board of Commissioners. The district and the county need someone who has been tempered by the fires of crisis and Penny Taylor is that person.

*  *  *

Again and again, the past four years in Collier County have shown the power of a single vote to make critical decisions on the county’s future.

In these instances they were the votes of county commissioners on the matters before them. But now that the election is upon us, the power of the vote goes to the people at large.

Whether Republican, Democrat or non-affiliated, every citizen should vote in this primary election.

Mail-in ballots are already being received. Early in-person voting begins Saturday, Aug. 13 and runs until Aug. 20 and can be done in person or at drop boxes. Primary Election Day is Tuesday, Aug. 23.

We’ve seen the danger of people trying to take away the power to vote. Those who don’t exercise it while they have it risk losing it forever.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Endorsing real education at the Collier and Lee county school boards—and rebuking anti-Semitism

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

Aug. 10, 2022

In Southwest Florida school board elections are supposed to be non-partisan—but that doesn’t mean they aren’t divisive.

That has never been truer than this year. School board elections in Southwest Florida and around the country have become battlefields even if the candidates don’t have party affiliations after their names.

Two world views, two philosophies, two complete universes are in conflict. One is the product of a secular, scientific Enlightenment and the other is based on religion, dogma and doctrine.

What’s really at stake in these school board elections is which worldview will mold the next generation of Florida’s youth. Will they go into the future equipped with the intellectual skills and knowledge to succeed in a complex, diverse, technological world? Or will they be shaped by an emotionally comforting but academically deficient cocoon from which they never emerge?

It’s against this backdrop that Southwest Florida voters should carefully choose which candidates will guide the region’s education.

In both counties early in-person voting begins Saturday, Aug. 13 (the last day to request a mail-in ballot) and runs until Saturday, Aug. 20. Primary Election Day is Tuesday, Aug. 23. Mail-in ballots are already arriving. If candidates receive over 50 percent of the vote in the primary they will be elected without having to run again in the general election.

Collier County

In Collier County the choice is absolutely clear: all incumbents should be returned to office.

That means electing Jory Westberry in District 1, Jen Mitchell in District 3 and Roy Terry in District 5.

Jory Westberry (Photo: CCPS)

This is not even a contest: these three educators have experience, credentials and a proven commitment to the education and the well-being of Collier County’s students. Their past efforts earned the Collier County School District an “A” rating from the Florida Department of Education for the fifth year in a row.

Jen Mitchell (Photo: Author)

None of the challengers have anything close to their qualifications to sit on the school board.

No challenger has shown an interest in or familiarity with the nuts and bolts of school system management, budgeting and decisionmaking, which is really what keeps a school district functioning.

Roy Terry (Photo: CCPS)

There’s no point in belaboring this. If Collier County students are going to be competently educated, Westberry, Mitchell and Terry need to be re-elected.

Lee County

There are similar stakes in Lee County’s school board race, where Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has reached down to support and fund his own favored candidates.

The candidates endorsed by the Lee County Democratic Party merit the support of Lee County voters.

They are:

  • District 1: Kathy Fanny
  • District 4: Debbie Jordan
  • District 5: Gwynetta Gittens
  • District 6: Tia Collin

On a disturbing note

One particular campaign incident merits special attention.

In the Collier County School Board race for the 5th District, candidate Tim Moshier’s campaign manager, Katiepaige Richards, posted an overtly anti-Semitic 7-second video on social media.

Katiepaige Richards, campaign manager for Tim Moshier, in her social media video.

With the text “j€w$ remixing the part where they’re not using p0rn0gr@phÿ as mind control” over the image, Richards mimes being a disc jockey scratching records while dancing. Her careful use of symbols in the text to avoid alerting community standards algorithms indicates that this was a very deliberate production and not something done casually.

Her reference is to a new anti-Semitic canard among the extreme right that, as Richards put it in a different tweet: “…Zionists use pornography as mind control for the population… for white people specifically… no one has yet to prove me wrong.” And in another post she stated that she’s “not a fan of zionists, degeneracy, vaccines or globalists.”

When asked about his campaign manager’s video at the opening of a new Republican Party headquarters, candidate Moshier told Naples Daily News reporter Rachel Heimann Mercader that “I don’t have a problem with it.”

Moshier has no educational credentials whatsoever. Before this he was just unqualified for a school board seat; his answer and indifference to bigotry make clear he’s unfit for any public office at all.

It’s just one more indication of the stakes and sensibilities in this year’s school board races—in Southwest Florida and across the country.

Liberty lives in light

©2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Endorsing the next Democratic governor

Rep. Charlie Crist and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

Aug. 10, 2022

Florida voters should have no doubt about the stakes of this year’s gubernatorial election.

What is being constructed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in Florida is a platform for his run for president in 2024. To do this, he is building in Florida the model of a DeSantis state along Trumpist lines.

It will be a state where there are no checks or balances on the governor’s pursuit of power, where science and data and truth and the health and well-being of residents are twisted or ignored in favor of politically-convenient fictions. It’s a place where extremism is embraced, intolerance enshrined and prejudice pursued.

And if this state of affairs succeeds in Florida in 2022, DeSantis will try to make it a model and take it national in 2024.

So the stakes in the Democratic gubernatorial primary go way beyond just the ambitions of two politicians seeking the nomination to take on DeSantis. It goes to the heart of preserving post-insurrection democracy.

When it comes to the gubernatorial ballot, every Democratic voter has to choose who is best capable of preserving democracy in Florida and the United States: Rep. Charles “Charlie” Crist (D-13-Fla.) or Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried.

The choice is the same kind that faced Democrats in the 2020 presidential nomination contest: should they go with a candidate of great experience, a proven track record, an older, white male who can attract moderate voters, seniors and perhaps disaffected Republicans and independents, or a newer, less proven, but more passionate and fiery candidate who also happens to be female? Is apparent electability more important than fervent commitment?  Does being right necessarily conflict with electoral success?

Early in-person voting in Lee and Collier counties begins Saturday, Aug. 13 (the last day to request a mail-in ballot) and runs until Saturday, Aug. 20. In Charlotte County it began on Aug. 8 and runs until Sunday, Aug. 21. Primary Election Day is Tuesday, Aug. 23. Mail-in ballots are already arriving.

This year both candidates bring great strengths to the contest and both face long odds against the incumbent.

The Crist chronicle

Crist, 66, brings long experience and knowledge, having served prior stints as governor, attorney general, education commissioner, and congressional representative. He is comfortable in Tallahassee and Washington, DC, as well as his own, native Tampa.

Although relatively low-key in manner, he is a formidable campaigner, having run in 10 races and won seven, not including primaries. He has an established fundraising network for this race and a significant bundle of heavyweight endorsements.

From a regional perspective, Crist is very familiar with Southwest Florida. As governor he brokered a deal to buy land owned by the US Sugar Corporation and use it to restore the Everglades system. At the time it was a bold and complex concept. Although its execution faced criticism and after Crist’s tenure it was never implemented as envisioned, it certainly moved in the right direction as far as the region’s environment was concerned. It also showed that such a deal could be done if approached with imagination and vigor and Crist was capable of conceiving such initiatives.

Another connection was less positive for Crist. It was in Fort Myers at a town hall meeting on Feb. 10, 2009 that his political world fell apart when he literally embraced the visiting President Barack Obama.

“It was the kind of hug I’d exchanged with thousands and thousands of Floridians over the years. I didn’t think a thing about it as it was happening,” Crist wrote in his memoir, The Party’s Over: How the Extreme Right Hijacked the GOP and I Became a Democrat. The hug “ended my viable life as a Republican politician. I would never have a future in my old party again.”

Since then Crist has run as an independent and a Democrat. It has led to charges of political opportunism and distrust about his commitment to any political principle.

But it can also be seen in a different way: as an ability to evolve and change and grow, especially as he left a Republican party that he characterized as having “pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they’ve proven incapable of governing for the people”—and this was before Donald Trump came on the political scene.

The Fried factor

In contrast to Crist there has never been any doubt about Nikki Fried’s loyalties or commitment to the Democratic Party.

Fried, 44, is the only Democrat to currently hold a statewide elected office. Prior to her 2018 election she had a lengthy career in the law both in public and private practice. She’s been a corporate lawyer, a public defender, a foreclosure defense real estate lawyer and a lobbyist, mainly for the medical marijuana industry.

Her current post is the first electoral position she’s held and she won it by a hairsbreadth margin of 6,753 votes—and that after two recounts.

She’s been widely identified with the effort to legalize medical marijuana, having seen the disproportionate impact of criminalization in black and poor communities. She’s argued for the economic benefits of a legal cannabis sector and actively tried to roll back legal barriers to its sale and use.

However, Fried has gone well beyond that one topic and as Commissioner of Agriculture has dealt with a wide variety of matters, as she must. Beyond the issues that politicians pick and choose she’s clear and unambiguous about the major ones: she’s emphatically pro-choice, she supports LGBTQ rights and she’s vigorously urging that gun violence be stopped by all means available.

But most striking has been her battle to stop the encroaching authoritarianism of the DeSantis administration. Isolated in an otherwise Republican Cabinet, ostracized by a rubberstamp Republican legislature, vilified and defamed, over the past four years Fried fought on in every way she could to maintain an open, secular inclusive government. She has called out the hypocrisy, the actual lies and the malicious disregard for Floridians’ health during the pandemic and denounced the governor’s every move to restrict voting rights and intellectual—and actual—freedom.

Endorsement

The overriding issue in this election is whether democracy will survive in Florida and, by extension, in the United States.

Anything else is mere commentary. Without democracy there can be no rights of any kind, there will be no freedom, there will be no liberty. Democracy is the fundamental bedrock on which everything else rests.

Nikki Fried, by demonstrating her persistence, her indefatigability, her devotion to constitutional government as well as her demonstrated care for the health, wealth and wellbeing of all Floridians, should serve as the next governor of the state of Florida.

From an old-school political standpoint, her candidacy may not present the most conventional choice. No doubt many undecided Floridians may be put off by the fact that she’s a woman and an outspoken democrat.

However, at a time when the very foundations of American politics and the Constitution are at risk her clear commitment to the ideals of the American experiment is what’s needed, especially in Florida where they’re most at risk.

As a candidate she has an immense task before her: if nominated she needs to unite Democrats, win over undecided voters and Republicans alienated from the Trumpist extremism of their party. She has to overcome DeSantis’ advantages in party organization and fundraising. She has to turn back a tide of fanaticism and reaction encroaching on Floridians’ lives, minds and fortunes.

Nonetheless, Fried seems up to the task. At the very core of this election there can be no doubt that Fried is a democrat with both an uppercase and a lowercase “d.”

Nikki Fried should be the next governor of the great state of Florida.

Commissioner Nikki Fried

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Editorial: The Naples Daily News is failing its readers and the community—but it could change

May 31, 2022: The last Naples Daily News daily Opinion page? (Photo: Author)

June 2, 2022

The decision announced yesterday, June 1, by the Naples Daily News to cease running weekday opinion pages in its print edition—and, apparently, online—removes an essential public forum from the citizens of Southwest Florida. By doing this the newspaper is failing democracy, its community and most of all, its readers. It’s an action that smacks of cowardice, abandonment and flight.

As the editors explained on the front page yesterday, June 1: “Recently, our company conducted research on how residents view opinion material published by our news outlets. What we learned is that our readers don’t want us to tell them what to think. You’ve grown weary of divisive political commentary that has no bearing on local issues, and as a result, we have worked to eliminate ‘one-sided editorials’ and syndicated national columns. But there is a healthy appetite for thoughtful local commentary, as well as respectful discussion on truly local issues in the form of letters to the editor.”

Frankly, that’s garbage. Of course there are strong opinions and divisiveness on both national and local issues. But it’s precisely in the pages of local newspapers—and media outlets of all types—that these opinions need to be aired and discussed.

And opinion pieces do not tell people what to think. They provide outside perspectives of what other people think so that readers can make up their own minds. Opinion pieces seek to inform and persuade, not dictate. Anyone who feels that a printed opinion is dictating what he or she should think is probably too feebleminded to be reading a newspaper in the first place.

Such feebleminded readers may think when the opinion pages are no longer published they’re not being indoctrinated by op-ed writers. But ceasing to publish opinion also cuts off the outlet for local voices, institutions and agencies that may have urgent or compelling messages for the community—or who simply inform readers of their good works.

What really appears to be behind this is a continuing cutback in the size and cost of the newspaper. It’s what’s behind the smaller size of the newspaper itself and its thinner stock. It’s what’s behind moving the printing to Sarasota and the design out of Florida. It’s what’s behind reducing the comics to two pages from three. It’s behind ceasing to publish on holidays (and so completely missing the big local story of the death of Eko the tiger at the Naples Zoo as it happened at New Year’s.)

Now management is eliminating two pages of opinion in the weekday edition. That means not having to pay for syndicated columnists and cartoonists or having to write original editorials or editing letters to the editor, or, for that matter, having to take a stand on any issue, local or national, that might make some readers uncomfortable.

As for eliminating “one-sided editorials,” that happened some time ago when Allen Bartlett retired as editorial page editor and the newspaper stopped publishing original editorials. Instead it substituted columns and op-eds, including one time a verbatim essay from the conservative Cato Institute, presented as an original editorial.

While saving costs and skirting controversy, ending original editorials was not a cost-free proposition. The newspaper no longer functioned as an independent, informed voice on local events and issues, surrendering its role as a knowledgeable outside observer.

At one time the letters to the editor page seemed absurdly broad. Virtually every letter submitted was published and covered every imaginable subject from the ordinary to the outrageous, from people giving thanks that their cats were rescued from trees to calls to impeach the president, no matter which one was in office. They could be ridiculous; they could be monotonous—and they could also be amusing and enlightening.

But an unfettered, daily letters to the editor column also provided the community with a safety valve and a connection that made readers feel it was their newspaper.

Importantly, the letters to the editor have provided a neutral, non-partisan forum for the airing of concerns, grievances, and most of all, reader opinion. If the concerns have become more national and even global in recent years, if they seem “divisive political commentary that has no bearing on local issues,” well, that’s what’s been on the minds of readers as driven by outside events. A letter to the editor in the Naples Daily News is indeed unlikely to move a president or deter a dictator but it’s at least an expression of a reader’s thinking and together these opinions can show the pulse of the community on important public topics.

Beyond providing a neutral ground for community expression, the opinion pages served as an open forum unbound by the stovepipes of digital media. There’s a huge cascade of opinion in digital and social media, from opinion-based websites to individual comments on Facebook and Twitter but the chief value of a generalized forum like the newspaper is that readers are exposed to opinions they might not otherwise see on their narrowly selected social media feeds or cable TV channels.

The decision to end the daily opinion pages promotes ignorance, prejudice and blinkered thinking—the exact opposite of responsible media’s mission in a democracy. And while there may be letters to the editor on the weekends, the daily ebb and flow of popular thought will be cut off, to the detriment of all, including the newspaper itself.

As it is, over the years the Naples Daily News has chosen not to cover politics in any way. Its last dedicated political reporter was Alexandria Glorioso, who left in 2017 to cover healthcare for Politico in Tallahassee. She was never replaced. The newspaper has simply ignored or avoided doing any original political reporting even while critical debate raged nationally, American democracy was nearly crushed and Southwest Florida was treated to one of the biggest brawls in local politics as a dozen candidates at one point fought for its congressional seat in 2020.

But nature abhors a vacuum. If the major, established media institution in Naples failed to do its job of informing the public of vital news of governance, representation and elections, others would take up the slack.

That’s what sparked creation of The Paradise Progressive, as it says in its About page. It also engendered a conservative counterpart. These digital outlets provide news, analysis and interpretation—as well as polemics and propaganda—from their partisan perspectives but the community is healthier intellectually and politically when there’s a neutral, objective institution defining the middle. If the right and left are to be balanced, there has to be a fulcrum at the center.

So what should the Naples Daily News do?

First, rescind the decision and restore the daily Opinion pages, including an open letters to the editor policy.

Secondly, if page count is the problem then drop the Business section and make it a daily Perspective section instead, even if it’s just a four-page folio. As it is, original local business and real estate reporting usually appears in the front news section. What appears in Business these days are weak syndicated feeds that have little or no local connection—and don’t attract advertising.

Third, get some backbone and restore original locally-oriented editorials, written and/or overseen by an Editorial Page Editor rather than a committee.

Fourth, invite some of the regular letter writers to become columnists to add locally-oriented, regular op-ed columns.

There’s no doubt that the Naples Daily News is in the same economic crunch as its print counterparts across the country. Print advertising is eroding in the face of cable and digital competition and the medium is declining. The prospect is in sight when a print edition won’t be published at all and the newspaper, if it survives in any form, will go all-digital.

But even with that prospect, the answer is not to become less relevant by cutting off an important public forum and weakening Southwest Florida’s already beleaguered democracy—especially on the eve of a critical election. The answer, rather, is to become more vital and more relevant, so that if the Naples Daily News does become just a website it will be an essential one in which the community has a voice and a stake.

As the Washington Post says, “democracy dies in darkness.” And as The Paradise Progressive says…

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Editorial: Rep. Byron Donalds has failed Southwest Florida and can’t be allowed to do it again

PBS reporter Lisa DeJardins interviews Rep. Byron Donalds on his refusal to request earmarks for his district. (Image: PBS Newshour)

March 16, 2022

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has utterly failed the people of Southwest Florida. He has done this defiantly, deliberately and knowingly and will do it again if returned to office.

By refusing to request any earmarks from Congress when he could have done so, he deprived the people of Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, Estero, Bonita Springs, Naples and Marco Island—the 19th Congressional District—of millions of dollars in improvements, resources and funding to which they and their communities were entirely entitled.

These people, like all Americans, pay their taxes. They have a right to get the benefits of what those taxes can buy. But Donalds, by his blind fanaticism and incompetence denied them those benefits. It is as though he reached into their pockets and stole their cash.

Getting these people, his constituents, their rightful benefits is his job. When everything else that comes with congressional office is stripped away, when all the titles are put aside and the campaign hoopla dies down and the media’s spotlights are turned off, a core function of a congressman is to get his constituents everything from the federal government to which they have a right.

In this, Rep. Byron Donalds has failed spectacularly.

It is not as though this is a man who doesn’t love money. He said so directly and brazenly when he went before the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) in Orlando: “Folks, I like money. Can we be honest about this? I like money!”

He loves money for himself, for sure. His fundraising is relentless and incessant. He loves the money from his corporate political action committees and has raised over $3 million for his 2022 campaign.

But when there was $1.5 trillion on the table for the benefit of Americans in their local communities, he refused to make even the slightest effort to get Southwest Florida what it was due. Indeed, he voted against the entire package.

His neighbor to the north wasn’t so shy: Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), a far right-wing conservative, requested $38 million in earmarks for the communities he represents. As a result, Lee County, among other recipients, stands to get $720,000 for managing a nature preserve.

His neighbor to the east wasn’t shy, either. Rep. Mario Diaz-Dalart (R-25-Fla.) submitted $12 million in earmark requests. Thanks to his efforts, Immokalee in Collier County will get badly needed sidewalks and Everglades City will get a new wastewater plant and pump station, finally repairing damage done by Hurricane Irma in 2017.

But the coastal communities of Southwest Florida in the 19th District will get nothing—nothing! Nada! Zip! Zilch! They will get nothing from the federal government to build resilience for climate change, nothing to make repairs to their infrastructure, nothing for improvements for their people in any way, shape or form.

All Byron Donalds had to do was ask. He was encouraged to ask. He had a clear and unambiguous way to ask. But he couldn’t be bothered.

As has been clear from the day he took office, Byron Donalds doesn’t care about his district. He doesn’t even live in its boundaries. On Election Day he can’t even vote for himself because the ballot he gets shows Diaz-Balart as his congressman.

For Donalds, the 19th District is nothing more than a stepping stone to higher office. His involvement in its affairs and the needs of its people has been halting and hesitant and only the result of outside prodding. In his weekly newsletters he counts his local activities under the heading “community engagement” as though drudgingly marking them off a checklist.

Instead, Donalds would rather play the cultural, ideological warrior. He’d rather slam President Joe Biden and Democrats than make any kind of constructive contribution. He’d rather disparage scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci than tend to the actual health and wellbeing of the people he represents. He’d rather take money from PACs than get Southwest Floridians the federal benefits they’re due. And he’d rather take the time to make endless rounds of fringe right-wing talk shows and bask in their hosts’ flattery and empty adulation than do the actual labor of working for his district and its constituents.

Surely, there were at least 10 worthy projects and priorities that Donalds could have submitted to Congress. Surely he could have asked for aid for the people whose homes were devastated by storms and tornadoes in Cape Coral. Surely, he could have gotten the City of Naples $900,000 to fix its sagging seawall. Surely there were new schools and roads that could have been built or repaired if he had the energy or imagination or willingness to just ask.

There’s no way to know how many millions of dollars Southwest Florida lost this year because of Donalds’ refusal to do his job—and this as the region comes out of the economic pain and damage caused by two years of pandemic.

This is not a culture war question. This is not part of the debate over wearing masks, or critical race theory or personal freedom. This is a clear, unambiguous, tangible issue of getting cold, hard cash and having enough of it to do what needs to be done.

But wait! There’s more!

Not only did Donalds refuse to submit earmarks this year because of his ideological blindness and rigidity but he will likely not submit them if he’s re-elected. In fact, it’s not certain that the opportunity to request earmarks will even present itself in the next Congress.

This may have been a once in a lifetime opportunity and he blew it.

For the sake of Southwest Florida, Donalds should not be returned to office for another term. If he is, he will doom Southwest Florida and the district he represents to perpetually lagging all the surrounding congressional districts—indeed, lagging the entire country—in getting its rightful and legitimate help from the federal government. He will turn the Paradise Coast into an eternal sucking swamp of expenses and needs without any aid from any outside agency.

The boundaries of the newly redistricted Florida have not yet been drawn; they’re hung up in litigation and contention between the governor and the legislature. It’s not clear that the 19th District will still be the 19th or where its lines will run by Election Day.

However, wherever the lines land, whatever the district that emerges, the people of Southwest Florida should be aware that Byron Donalds, if he runs for representative office, will not represent them effectively but will only represent himself.

What’s passed is past. But being forewarned is being forearmed for the future.

We sometimes forget that our elected representatives are our employees. As voters we hire them at election time, we pay their salaries with our taxes and when their contracts are up, we vote whether to renew them. They work for us.

Byron Donalds has not done his job. On November 8, his contract should not be renewed

* * *

To read full coverage of earmarks and Southwest Florida, see: “SWFL loses out on federal millions when Donalds won’t ask for cash.

Liberty lives in light

©2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

The Donalds Dossier: On MLK Day it’s time for Byron Donalds to support democracy

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Jan. 17, 2022

“The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by human beings for breaking down injustice and destroying the terrible walls which imprison people because they are different from others,” said Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

During his lifetime King worked tirelessly to expand the voting franchise and get people to exercise it. He called voting “the foundation stone of political action.”

But while today people commemorate King’s legacy and remember his contributions to the country, it’s also appropriate to acknowledge the irony of one of the major opponents of voting rights in Southwest Florida—Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.).

Donalds doesn’t even believe that the United States is a democracy. On January 6, the first anniversary of the insurrection at the US Capitol, Donalds tweeted: “We aren’t a Democracy. We are a Constitutional Republic.”

As though to ensure that voting rights don’t expand, during his time in Congress Donalds has consistently voted against measures to protect the franchise and ballot access.

In this Congress, Donalds voted against the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 4), and the For the People Act of 2021 (HR 1), both of which are aimed at protecting people’s voting rights (and both of which passed the House).

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

He defended the filibuster in the Senate even though the filibuster is a practice unique to that chamber and has nothing to do with the House of Representatives—and the threat of a filibuster is now being used to stop HR 1 in the Senate.

Rep. Byron Donalds campaigning in Georgia. (Photo: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

What is more, his defense of the filibuster came in the context of his defense of Georgia’s voter suppression law. When President Joe Biden denounced that law as “Jim Crow in the 21st Century” and “an atrocity,” Donalds argued that Biden was “irresponsibly injecting race and the travesty of Jim Crow to oppose the filibuster. Time after time, Democrats resort to the race card to shield them from having to answer for their hypocrisy and radical policies.”

He defended the Georgia law even further in a May 22, 2021 interview with The New York Times: “I think Georgia actually has a very good law. And frankly, it’s sad and, in my view, disgusting that the president referred to it as Jim Crow. It cheapens the history in our country with respect to actual Jim Crow, a disgusting relic of our past. And to try to equate that to what Georgia did, to me, is just completely illogical. It reeks of just the nastiest politics that you could ever want to bring up, to try to divide Americans and divide Georgians.”

He was also a vocal defender of Florida’s voter restriction law, arguing that, like Georgia’s law, “What it does is it actually makes our process cleaner” by reducing the number of drop-boxes and “ballot harvesting,” a practice of collecting mail-in ballots on behalf of other people, a practice outlawed in Florida prior to passage of the bill.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2022, Donalds tweeted: “Today, we don’t only celebrate the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we honor his life of sacrifice and dedication that led to America becoming a more perfect union. We are the nation we are today because of men like MLK, and we must keep his dream alive.”

Donalds can start honoring that dream by working to protect and expand voting, “the foundation stone of political action” and stop denouncing, suppressing and trying to restrict it.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

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