By a vote of 31 to 4 the Florida Senate yesterday, Jan. 20, passed its version of Florida’s new congressional districts.
The new map makes only slight changes to Southwest Florida’s congressional districts but it does take a chunk of Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres out of the current 19th Congressional District and puts it in the 17th Congressional District to the north.
Those districts include considerable Black and Hispanic populations and dilute any potential Democratic voting blocks in the 19th, making both the 19th and 17th districts, already heavily Republican, even more so.
The Senate completely ignored a map submitted on behalf of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), which made radical changes to Florida’s congressional districts. DeSantis has indicated that he may veto the Senate map, since he has to sign off on any congressional boundary changes.
The Florida House has yet to weigh in with a final version of its congressional map.
The Senate map
The map approved yesterday by the Senate (S000C8040) largely keeps existing boundaries and numbers.
This map was chosen and shepherded through the committee process by Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Lee County) who chaired the Senate’s Reapportionment Committee.
From the outset, Rodrigues said he was committed to avoiding the experience of the 2010 redistricting, which was challenged in court and took six years to litigate before final maps were approved.
The initial round of maps proposed by the Senate received a “B” grade from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, an academic, non-partisan evaluation by Princeton University. It largely kept existing districts intact, while giving Florida its new 28th district. The B meant that the map was considered “better than average for the category, but bias still exists.”
As of this writing the new maps have not yet been graded by Princeton.
The Senate map keeps Fort Myers’ River District in the 19th and makes Park Ave. the boundary line between the 19th and the 17th in the west. State Road 82 becomes the boundary between the 17th and the 19th until it reaches Rt. 75 in the east.
It also puts the 19th District portion of Lehigh Acres solidly in the 17th.
The initial draft of this map was denounced by Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai. “This is gerrymandering,” she stated in a Nov. 19 press release. “Most of the people who are no longer in FL19 are minorities, our Black and Latino neighbors. It’s well known that this district has always been a giveaway to the Republicans, but this clear targeting of our communities of color should alarm everyone.”
The DeSantis map
The DeSantis proposal (P000C0079) largely follows county lines.
Under the DeSantis proposal, all of Lee County would constitute the 19th Congressional District. Collier County would constitute the bulk of a re-numbered 26th District, along with a chunk of Broward County as far east as Hialeah, the Cuban-American stronghold that provides the center of gravity for the current 25th District. A newly re-numbered 18th District would cover an immense swath of land including all of Charlotte County. Today, much of this area is contained in the 17th District.
It remains unclear whether the Senate or DeSantis maps will prevail when it comes to congressional districts. (The Senate also redrew state Senate districts. House districts will be redrawn by the state House. These do not need the governor’s signature to take effect.)
“We have submitted an alternative proposal, which we can support, that adheres to federal and state requirements, while working to increase district compactness, minimize county splits where feasible, and protect minority voting populations,” stated Christina Pushaw, the governor’s press secretary. “Because the governor must approve any congressional map passed by the Legislature, we wanted to provide our proposal as soon as possible and in a transparent manner.”
The controversies over the dueling maps will not center around Southwest Florida. The battles are emerging over heavily populated districts on the east coast in Democratic areas like Miami and Jacksonville. According to The Florida Phoenix, it appears “DeSantis’ proposed congressional map favors Republicans in 18 districts and Democrats in 10. Under the existing map, Republicans control 16 seats to the Democrats’ 11” whereas the “Senate draft contains 16 districts that went for Donald Trump two years ago and 12 likely to skew Democratic — a gain of one seat.”
Under the Senate map, existing representatives would remain largely in place, with Rep. Byron Donalds (R) representing the 19th, in which he does not reside, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R) representing the 25th, and Rep. Greg Steube (R) representing the 17th.
Under DeSantis’ map, Donalds would have to choose whether to run in a 19th District that’s even further from his home—meaning a dual commute to Lee County as well as Washington, DC—or stay where he lives in the 25th and face off against fellow Republican Diaz-Balart.
If Donalds decided not to run in the DeSantis 19th, it could open the door to a new contender of any party.
For his part, if Diaz-Balart decided to run in the DeSantis 26th District, he would suddenly have a population center to contend with in a relatively urbanized western part of his district. Until now, the western part of the 25th was barely populated and Diaz-Balart could concentrate his attentions on Hialeah and his Cuban-American constituents with the occasional trip out to Immokalee serving as a show of some degree of concern for western constituents.
Though the redistricting process is far from over, the Senate map has the greatest likelihood of passage, although DeSantis’ wild card could still change the outcome of the game.
Maps must be finalized by June 17 when candidates qualify to run in the new districts. They’re more likely to be finalized by March 11, the last scheduled day of the legislative session.
A large chunk of Cape Coral would move from Florida’s 19th Congressional District into a newly re-named 18th Congressional District according to new draft redistricting maps released Monday, Nov. 29, by the Florida House Redistricting Committee.
The redistricting aims to create congressional districts of equal population throughout the state. The goal is to have 769,221 people in each district if possible. Florida must also accommodate a new 28th Congressional District.
Under existing boundaries, the 19th District is overpopulated by 65,791 people or .086 percent more than the ideal and so must lose population to surrounding districts. The question is: where?
The House proposal contrasts with maps released on Nov. 10 by the Florida Senate Redistricting Committee. Those drafts moved North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres into the existing 17th Congressional District.
Instead, both drafts released by the House committee (H000C8001 and H000C8003) take a piece of Cape Coral from the 19th and put it in a newly renumbered 18th District.
The new 18th
The new 18th would include Charlotte, Hendry, Glades, Highland, DeSoto, Hardee and Okeechobee counties with pieces of Sarasota and Lee counties—roughly the same territory as the current 17th.
The 18th would also get a chunk of Cape Coral from the Lee County line, down Burnt Store Rd., to SW Pine Island Ln. (Rt. 78) as far east as Del Prado Blvd., North, then to Hancock Bridge Pkwy., stopping just short of Rt. 41 (N. Cleveland Ave.). It then just follows the Caloosahatchee River east to Interstate 75.
In a gain for the 19th, the draft maps give a chunk of Lehigh Acres back to the 19th, although the bulk of it remains in the new 18th.
Collier County lines
In the southern part of the 19th District, the 19th gains a bit along Golden Gate but then loses a chunk of East Naples including Lely, Naples Manor and Lely Resort.
It also loses some swampland further south—and the tiny community of Goodland, which would celebrate any future Buzzard Lope contests and mullet festivals in a newly re-numbered 26th District.
That 26th District largely keeps the shape of the previous 25th, spreading across Collier County, encompassing Immokalee and keeping Hialeah, its Cuban-American center of gravity and population.
Analysis: An F grade for the House
The two draft congressional maps from the state House Redistricting Committee have come under fire for their partisan gerrymandering.
H000C8003 (which is identical to H000C8001 as far as Southwest Florida is concerned) was given an overall grade of F from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, which found it significantly biased in favor of Republicans. The FiveThirtyEight.com redistricting tracker found it similarly biased, creating 15 Republican-leaning seats statewide, where before there had only been one.
Much of this bias takes place in the congressional districts on the east coast in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area where there are significant Democratic populations.
As far as Southwest Florida is concerned, cutting out a chunk of Cape Coral is less radically partisan than cutting out minority communities in North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres. Those changes were in the state Senate draft, which came under fire from Cindy Banyai, the Democratic congressional candidate in the 19th Congressional District.
From a partisan standpoint, the Cape Coral area being moved into a new district in the House drafts is mostly Republican anyway, so moving it into a new, heavily Republican 18th District won’t make that much of a difference.
It needs to be noted that in addition to the Senate and House drafts, there are proposals from individual Floridians who submitted maps, since the process was thrown open to the public.
A congressional map from Curtis Steffenson (P000C0054), released the same day as the House maps was much more radical in its redrawing than the committee maps, although not necessarily more partisan. It would significantly alter the 19th Congressional District, splitting Lee County in half and putting all of Collier County including Naples and Immokalee into a new 20th District that would go as far east as the county line.
It’s an interesting concept and demonstrates how flexible the lines can be. However, it is very uncertain how seriously the state legislature will be taking this and other draft maps submitted by the public.
All redistricting must be completed and finalized during the Florida legislative session that begins on Jan. 11, 2022 and before the candidate qualifying period beginning on June 13, 2022.
Highlights and impressions of the debate over a ‘Bill of Rights sanctuary’ ordinance
July 16, 2021 by David Silverberg
On Tuesday, July 13, Collier County, Florida, chose to remain part of the United States, by a single vote.
But as significantly, the County Commission also chose to unanimously reaffirm the county’s allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights by passing a positive resolution that stated: “The county commission of Collier County, Florida, reaffirms its loyalty, its patriotism and its allegiance to the United States Constitution, its Bill of Rights, its amendments and the duly constituted laws.”
All this would seem to be self-evident—but in Collier County, as in many other places around the nation, what was once self-evident is no longer.
By a vote of 3 to 2, the Commission rejected a “Bill of Rights sanctuary” ordinance that sought to nullify federal authority in the county.
Commission chair Penny Taylor (District 4) and commissioners Andy Solis (District 2) and Burt Saunders (District 3) voted against the ordinance. Commissioners Rick LoCastro (District 1) and William McDaniel Jr. (District 5), who introduced it, voted for it.
After dispatching the ordinance, the commissioners approved the resolution reaffirming allegiance to the Constitution.
The votes came after a marathon hearing session that started about 1 pm in the afternoon and stretched until 8:45 pm. At least 122 people requested speaking slots, providing input both in person and remotely.
Both those for and against the ordinance understood and appreciated its greater significance. It would have been the first such ordinance in Florida and proponents stated overtly that if it passed they were going to take it to Florida’s 66 other counties. From there it could have spread throughout the country. Opponents knew it had to be stopped. This wasn’t just about Collier County; it was about the future of the nation.
For the first time ever, a decision made in a Collier County Commission chamber could have changed the nation’s nature—and everyone knew it.
What follows are impressions from the session and the vote.
(Full disclosure:This author was one of the speakers opposing the ordinance and the drafter of the resolution reaffirming loyalty to the Constitution and Bill of Rights.)
Anyone who came to the meeting should have been prepared for all kinds of fireworks. As a sign of the drama to come, proponents, many wearing flag-related clothing and paraphernalia, were outside the Commission building bright and early before the session began with signs advocating a “yes” vote.
They had reason to be confident. A June 22 meeting when the Commission voted to consider the ordinance had gone their way. At that meeting the ordinance received the endorsement of the district’s congressman, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), and the county’s top law enforcement officer, Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. It was also endorsed by state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples) who sent a surrogate to express his support. At that meeting all the public speakers were in favor of the ordinance and not a single member of the public opposed it.
At the June meeting Commissioner McDaniel fulsomely introduced the ordinance and LoCastro made favorable remarks. Although Saunders said he wasn’t committed to the ordinance, he voted for its consideration and it seemed as though he could be swayed—or pressured—to vote in favor.
Other than the opponents who showed up this time, there was no reason to expect that the ordinance might not sail through on a similar 3 to 2 vote again. All the big guns lined up in their favor.
Nor did they just rely on their numbers or enthusiasm to get their way. Prior to this hearing they gathered in the hallway outside the Commission chamber to hold a prayer meeting and invoke Jesus’ assistance in swaying the commissioners.
But if there was any single bombshell dropped during the July 13 hearing, it came when County Attorney Jeffrey Klatzkow rose to provide his analysis of the legal and fiscal impacts of the ordinance.
Scholarly, legalistic and calm, Klatzkow delivered the news that the ordinance would strip institutional immunity from the county’s five commissioners, five constitutional officers and five school board members, as well as staff.
In other words, under the ordinance, if they carried out actions that aided the federal government in what was considered a violation of the Bill of Rights by an aggrieved party they could be personally sued. The plaintiff might not win in court but the defendants would have to pay court costs out of their own pockets.
“The big issue here is not going to be damages,” Klatzkow said. “It’s going to be attorney’s fees. There is an incentive for attorneys to bring actions under this because every hour they put in is an hour they can bill.”
It didn’t take much imagination to see where that could lead: commissioners and county officials could be sued into bankruptcy simply for making the county function through otherwise legal official actions.
Although Klatzkow didn’t say it, it was clear that the ordinance could bring the whole county to a halt and destroy the county government itself. In response to a question from Solis, Klatzkow mentioned that the Supervisor of Elections would be liable as a constitutional officer—and any observer could foresee lawsuits like this making elections impossible.
An observer could also see the impact of Klatzkow’s analysis sink in on the faces of the commissioners—but he wasn’t done yet.
Collier County, like virtually every jurisdiction in the country, relies on federal financial grants to pay for a wide variety of functions. But federal grants don’t come without strings; in this case with numerous rules and regulations governing oversight, receipt, performance and a wide variety of other requirements and conditions.
Klatzkow dramatically demonstrated just how many strings were attached by displaying five, single-spaced pages of rules and regulations that he projected to the chamber, one after the other.
If Collier County removed itself from federal jurisdiction it would lose all those grants, all that money, Klatzkow warned.
He didn’t say it aloud, but it was clear that passing the ordinance would beggar an otherwise affluent and prosperous county.
If Klatzkow wanted to make an impression, he certainly did.
Klatzkow’s presentation put the ordinance’s proponents on the defensive. It was clear from the presentations of the key advocates who followed Klatzkow that they had to move the commissioners away from contemplating the potentially devastating fiscal impact of passing the ordinance.
The first public speaker to try to do this was James Rosenberger, a tall, stooped county resident who launched the petition for the ordinance and gained 5,000 signatures. His tactic was to compare the ease and safety of the current commissioners with the revolutionaries who put their lives on the line to rebel against the British in 1776. They should do the same now, he argued, and ignore the possible unintended consequences of passing the ordinance.
“You can lead, follow or get out of the way,” he said, drawing on what he said was a firefighting mantra in his experience. “If you’re incapable of leading today maybe this job isn’t for you and I suggest along with ‘we the people’ that you get out of the way, step down and make room for someone who will lead us like our forefathers did almost 250 years ago.”
Having now threatened and insulted the people he was trying to convince, Rosenberger made way for his wife, Carol DiPaolo, who traced the origins of the nullification ordinance movement to a meeting of seven concerned friends from a variety of backgrounds. They had gathered to share their “concern, anxiety, fear and anger”—over measures like mask mandates, gun restrictions, and “President Biden and his pen.”
In the Spring, the group collected signatures to create a 2nd Amendment sanctuary in Collier County but were rebuffed by the county Commission. However they were contacted by Keith Flaugh of the conservative Florida Citizens Alliance and people from The Alamo gun range and store in Naples, whom they hadn’t previously known. With the aid of “prominent” Collier County supporters the nullification ordinance was drawn up and presented at the June 22 meeting. DiPaolo urged the commissioners to pass it now.
From DiPaolo onward, the proponents held the floor, with one exception: Undersheriff Col. Jim Bloom of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, who was standing in for Rambosk.
Bloom testified that the ordinance was enforceable like any other law in the county but when asked by Solis what procedure the office would follow to enforce it, he said the office would contact the state’s attorney to prosecute violations.
Bloom and Rambosk may not have intended it but that procedure set up an effective Catch-22, wherein they were seeking a higher authority to enforce and prosecute an essentially unconstitutional ordinance that didn’t recognize higher authority.
What was more, Solis said he had called the state’s attorney, who said his office had not been consulted about the ordinance.
But while Bloom’s answer introduced what was essentially an insurmountable “logic loop,” that did not deter Kristina Heuser, the lawyer who drew up the ordinance. She defended its legality.
She was followed by Flaugh, who drew a stark choice for the commissioners: “There seem to be the two factions,” he said. “Those who support the individual rights that you have sworn to protect and those who support an unfettered federal government in control of our everyday lives.”
He also gave commissioners a stark choice. “For anyone of you who decide to vote ‘no’ on this I urge you and suggest you have only one honorable course of action: to resign before you disgrace yourself any further.”
Subsequent proponents spoke on similar themes. State Rep. Rommel made an appearance to support the ordinance, saying he wanted his local sheriff in charge and alleging that the US Capitol Police were opening an office in Tampa to pursue people in Southwest Florida. He warned that the federal government was eroding God-given rights. “Anything less than unanimous agreement will be extremely disappointing,” he said to the Commission.
As the hours wore on the arguments grew louder and while not disorderly became less disciplined and more wide-ranging.
Proponent Beth Sherman used her time at the speaker’s lectern to launch a full-scale attack on vaccinations, anti-COVID measures and the local health system.
“We are living in a time of deceit and tyranny,” she said. “NCH [Naples Community Hospital] should not be allowed to provide medical data or advice to this community. They have been suppressing life-saving COVID treatments like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.” She accused Solis of supporting mandatory vaccinations, which he vehemently denied.
“There are people in this room being called insurrectionists,” she said. “Let me tell you that there is plenty of evidence that the FBI planned that as a false flag and it will come out because the truth always comes out.”
Lastly she warned the commissioners: “If you vote ‘no’ today, we the people kindly ask that you resign so that a true leader can fill your seat.”
Unlike the June 22 meeting when no opponents appeared, this time there was strong turnout by people opposed to the ordinance and opponents may have constituted a majority of the speakers.
Janet Hoffman, head of the Collier County League of Women Voters, spoke for the non-partisan organization when she announced that “We don’t support this ordinance. It suggests that Collier County officials pick and choose the laws they want to follow.”
While many residents spoke out against the ordinance, those who spoke most knowledgably were retired lawyers, some with experience in local affairs.
George Dondanville, an attorney with considerable government experience said, “I’ve never heard of anything like this ordinance. How am I going to do what I’m supposed to do under this ordinance?”
While proponents viewed objections as mere stumbling blocks to passage of the ordinance, Dondanville pointed out that “our stumbling block is our form of government. Our courts make those decisions. Your own attorney sitting over there says that this thing flies in the face of the Constitution. You can pass it if you want but you’re going to get into serious financial problems. Those aren’t scare tactics at all. Please don’t pass this.”
Retired attorney Robert Leher said: “The definition of an unlawful act in this ordinance has no ascertainable standard for what is unlawful” and he had “never seen a statute that was more poorly drafted.” He also warned that passing the ordinance would result in a drop in tourism and visitation because “people don’t want to come to a battlezone.”
“This is wrong in so many ways,” he concluded.
David Goldstein, a retired attorney who served the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Collier County, warned that “nothing empowers a county with the power to supersede federal law.”
David Millstein, a retired civil rights attorney who also taught civil rights law and served as former head of the Collier County ACLU, said he tried to put himself in the shoes of the county attorney trying to defend and implement it.
“This is an ordinance proposed by someone who doesn’t know constitutional law,” he said. “You can’t make an ordinance saying you’re not going to follow federal law. Why not make this an income tax sanctuary ordinance? It is so unconstitutional in so many ways I would say, ‘Let’s go out and have a beer and forget about this.’”
Speech before the Commission as delivered by the author:
“I am here today to urge you to reject this absurd, unconstitutional and completely unnecessary ordinance. This is frankly ridiculous on its face. There is simply no need for a separate Collier County sanctuary for the Bill of Rights because the United States of America is a sanctuary for the Bill of Rights. Our law is uniform, it is superseding and it is upheld.
This ordinance, this proposed ordinance, has so many problems between the principle and the practical that it is as full of holes as a piece of Swiss cheese. I mean, there are logic loops, you’re going to challenge federal law in what court after you’ve denied federal jurisdiction? There are so many things that simply don’t make sense.
In addition, talking very pragmatically, your lawyer has talked about the fact that this would open you all up to liability. I believe it opens up our sheriff and sheriff’s deputies also to liability. If they try to assert federal law they are liable to be sued.
There are all sorts of questions about federal investigations that might be going on in this county that might be disrupted or hindered.
There is also, you know, when have an Irma, or an Elsa or a Wilma hurricane, if we remove ourselves from federal law we’re not going to get the assistance and the support and the help that we need from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and this can run into many millions of dollars, as you all well know.
You cannot take yourself out of the jurisdiction of federal law.
Now, I like everyone else, am very concerned about the Constitution and upholding the Bill of Rights. I mean, we’ve had an insurrection.
(Laughter and catcalls from proponents, gaveled into order by Commissioner Taylor.)
There is a need to support the Constitution. This is easily done in this county.
Now, on all your desks you have a draft text of a resolution that reaffirms Collier County’s allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I urge you to pass that resolution. It is something you can do, it is something in your jurisdiction and it is something that I think every resident of Collier County can support.
This, I think, will address everybody’s problems and concerns with possible violations of the Bill of Rights. We can do that here.
The United States of America has faced rebellion, nullification, secession, sedition and insurrection and it has defeated them all.
Collier County does not need to join this sad parade of bad ideas, failed notions and absurd plots and make itself not only a laughingstock of the country but to take itself out of the rule of law, which is what this ordinance is proposing to do.
So in summation: defeat this ordinance—this should be rejected and I will hope that it will be rejected unanimously—and I urge you to pass a resolution reaffirming our allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
In the end, the Commission voted down the ordinance.
Solis said he was concerned about the role of the state’s attorney in making constitutional decisions when enforcing the ordinance. Taylor criticized the ordinance’s penalties, its unnecessariness, and the conflict it set up between supporting the ordinance or supporting the Constitution: “It’s almost like a trap,” she said. Saunders said that the solution to the concerns expressed by proponents was at the ballot box.
Both LoCastro and McDaniels argued that principle should prevail over any possible unintended consequences.
After the ordinance was defeated Taylor introduced the resolution reaffirming the county’s allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and it passed unanimously.
To the ballot box
As Winston Churchill said after the Al Alamein victory in World War II: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
So it was with this ordinance, which was like a spasm of Trumpism in its death throes.
It was clear from the proponents’ remarks that among them there is real “concern, anxiety, fear and anger,” as DiPaolo put it. Persistent fears mentioned by proponents were the possibility of mandatory vaccinations and that the Capitol Police were coming to Florida to hunt down people who had participated in what many regarded as a non-existent insurrection.
So much of their concern, anxiety, fear and anger was generated by an exaggerated hatred and suspicion of the US federal government fed by extremist media. Instead of seeing anti-COVID measures as common-sense, science-driven anti-disease precautions taken for the community’s good, the proponents viewed them as deliberately oppressive infringements on their personal lives and liberty. They clearly feel genuinely threatened by unfamiliar restrictions. What is more, several proponents characterized even the Commission’s authority to pass legislation as “tyrannical.”
But many of the proponents displayed a tyrannical streak of their own, threatening and bullying commissioners and insisting that a failure to vote their way result in resignation or disgrace.
The ordinance was an outgrowth of these concerns, anxieties, fears and anger as well as an insistent demand for obedience to the proponents’ will, all of it rendered into legalese. It was never viable as a law and would have been defeated in court after enormous delay, disruption and expense. It had the potential to seriously damage Collier County government and the county itself. And it could have harmed all of Florida and the nation had it spread.
The proponents are no doubt licking their wounds but the passion and paranoia that drove the ordinance remain, sustained by demagoguery and disinformation. Although one hopes that feelings will die down with time and the easing of the pandemic, the core activists will no doubt seek new outlets.
If the proponents stay within the law the next battle will be at the ballot box in 2022. The votes of the commissioners will no doubt be an issue in their election campaigns. The next election will see whether thoughtful people are in the majority in evaluating their records and accomplishments.
A major disappointment in all of this was the position of Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. A highly effective law enforcement leader, a respected professional and cutting edge technologist with experience as a city manager, his endorsement of an extreme ordinance of dubious enforceability calls his judgment into question. It also calls into question the ability of his office and officers to enforce the law impartially and apolitically. It creates a sad kernel of doubt about an otherwise unblemished and polished force. Like the ordinance itself, this was entirely unnecessary.
Although the struggle over rights and allegiances is not over, one can only hope that it plays itself out within the confines of the law and the institutions established by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to constructively channel such disagreements. As the nation goes on, so will the debate.
In 1787, after the Constitutional Convention completed its work, Benjamin Franklin told Americans that they had “a republic, if you can keep it.”
On Tuesday, July 13, 2021, Collier County chose to keep it.
In a remarkable change from last year, Florida’s 19th Congressional District, covering the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island, actually trended one percentage point more Democratic, according to the latest rating from the Cook Political Report.
For those who are into the inner intricacies of congressional politics, this is a big deal.
What makes it more remarkable is the fact that Southwest Florida’s two other congressional districts, the 17th and the 25th, became more Republican and conservative.
To put this development into context, some background may be helpful.
The Cook Report and the PVI
Charles Cook, a friendly, gregarious, lively man universally known as Charlie, hails from Shreveport, La. In the 1970s he served as a staffer for then-Senator J. Bennett Johnston, a Democrat and fellow Shreveporter. Afterward, he worked for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Policy Committee and served as a consulting pollster, advisor and as years went by, commentator for a variety of media outlets.
During his staff service Cook realized that there needed to be more comprehensive coverage of elections than was available at the time, particularly of House of Representatives races.
In 1984 he founded the Cook Political Report newsletter to track these races. Over the years the newsletter’s coverage grew and deepened. Its organization also grew, as well as its reputation for objective, professional and non-partisan analysis. Today Cook Report staffers interview prospective candidates as well as incumbents and get to intimately know the politics of each congressional district.
The New York Times once called the Cook Report “a newsletter that both parties regard as authoritative;” CBS News’ Bob Schieffer called it “the Bible of the political community” and Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal, characterized it as “the Picasso of election analysis.”
In 1997 Cook introduced the Partisan Voting Index (PVI), which rated the partisan leanings of each congressional district. Using the previous two presidential election results, it compared each congressional district’s political tilt to the rest of the nation.
As the Report puts it: “The index is an attempt to find an objective measurement of each congressional district and state. While other data such as the results of senatorial, gubernatorial, congressional and other local races can help fine-tune the exact partisan tilt of a particular district, those kinds of results don’t allow a comparison of districts across state lines. Only presidential results allow for total comparability.”
Under this system a district rated D+2 means that it voted two times more Democratic than the national average, whereas a rating of R+4 would be four times as Republican. A district can be rated as even if it is within a half point of the national average in either direction.
The PVI is constantly updated to take into account new election results and redistricting. On Thursday, April 15, the 2021 PVI was released, incorporating the results of the 2020 election.
The 19th Congressional District was one of only five in Florida that saw Democratic numbers rise in the Cook ratings.
District 1, which is represented by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R) moved 2 points in a Democratic direction, the 4th and 7th districts moved 3 points in a Democratic direction and the 10th rose 1 point.
Southwest Florida in context
Unsurprisingly, the three congressional districts that make up Southwest Florida—the 17th, 19th and 25th—remain deeply Republican.
But what was very surprising was the movement of the 19th toward the Democratic column.
Based on the results of the 2020 election, the 19th District went from R+13 to R+12, a Republican decline of one point.
This stands in stark contrast to the 17th, encompassing a huge swath of Southwest and Central Florida from Punta Gorda to Venice to northwest Lake Okeechobee. It went from R+13 to R+16. The 25th, reaching from eastern Collier County and Immokalee to Hialeah and Doral, went from R+4 to R+8.
So what accounts for the shift? The analysis accompanying release of the PVI does not focus on the 19th District but is national in nature. However, a number of factors provide some indication.
Democratic gains in the 2020 congressional race are the first factor.
The 2020 election in the 19th saw the election of Republican Byron Donalds with 61.3 percent or 272,440 votes to 38.7 percent or 172,146 votes for Democrat Cindy Banyai.
While Donalds won, it was by a lower percentage than fellow Republican Francis Rooney in 2018, or put another way, Democrats made steady, incremental gains. In the 2018 election Rooney won by 62.3 percent or 211,465 votes to David Holden’s 37.7 percent or 128,106 votes.
At the same time, Donald Trump’s percentages in the district basically remained stagnant from 2016 to 2020, rising by only a tenth of a percentage point, from 59.6 percent in 2016 to 59.7 percent in 2020.
The lack of polling with publicly available results in Southwest Florida means additional conclusions can only be speculative but some additional factors could be:
Older Republican-Trumpist voters could be exiting the rolls as a result of natural causes or the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. Southwest Florida, especially Collier County, has been a center of anti-masking and resistance to virus precautions, at times led by Byron Donalds who himself tested positive for COVID in October 2020 but recovered. Most recently Naples habitué, far-right musician and COVID denier Ted Nugent announced yesterday, April 19, that he had tested positive for COVID. On April 12 he played a gig before a closely-packed crowd of over 300 people at Seed to Table, a defiantly anti-mask supermarket in North Naples. Like Nugent, Trumpist voters may dismiss COVID as a “hoax” or a “sham” but the COVID virus is hardly dismissing them as potential victims.
More Democrats or liberal voters are moving permanently into the area as full-time residents. Acknowledgment of the arrival of Democratic northerners in the state was made by Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd at the signing of Florida’s “anti-riot” bill yesterday, April 19. As he put it: “We only want to share one thing as you move in, hundreds a day: Welcome to Florida, but don’t register to vote and vote the stupid way you did up North, or you’ll get what they got.” While the influx of northerners into the 19th Congressional District may not be huge, it may be telling in future elections.
Rep. Byron Donalds may be losing voter loyalty even in his largely Republican district after only four months in office.
For Democrat Cindy Banyai, Donalds’ 2020 opponent and declared candidate for 2022, the new PVI came as a welcome boost and a validation of her previous campaign.
“I’m very excited about it,” she told The Paradise Progressive. “That makes all of our efforts worthwhile. We’re really proud and I feel like the little engine that could; I have to keep pushing. It bodes well for ’22.
“Not only is the 19th in the top movers in Florida, we’re the one that spent the least amount of money to do it,” she pointed out. “We’ve had really solid fundraising and we’re getting a solid investment and we had a great team.”
According to her fundraising analysis, she said, she had an effective dollar-to-vote ratio and only spent $4.15 for every vote she was able to swing from Republican to Democratic, a very low cost. She also swung numerous precincts into the Democratic column, particularly on Sanibel and Pine Island. That, plus the fact that Democrats contested every ballot position, something that had not been true in previous elections, all contributed to the rating.
“The Cook ratings give two messages,” she said. “One is that we had a good candidate with a good team and our approach was on the right track. The second contradicts the narrative that Republicans are moving here to flee Democratic states. Their stories that everybody is leaving blue states like New York or California because of Democrats is a total crock.”
To see the entire Cook analysis of the 2021 PVI, click here.
To see an interactive map with all congressional districts and their ratings, click here.
On March 8, the amounts of funding being allocated to US states, counties and municipalities under the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan were released to the public by the US House Oversight Committee.
Among its many provisions, including the $1,400 checks to individuals and families, the American Rescue Plan is intended to help local governments hurt by the pandemic, the resulting economic slowdown and loss of revenue.
Florida is slated to receive $17.6 billion, of which $10.2 billion will be going to the state government.
When the Plan was being considered in Congress, Republicans vociferously resisted passage of the legislation, especially the provision assisting state, county and municipal governments. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) has called on Florida’s governments to return the checks.
What follows below are the amounts being allocated to the various counties and local governments under the Plan, arranged by Southwest Florida’s congressional districts. Because congressional districts overlap county lines, each county is listed only once even though the districts may include pieces of different counties.
All of Southwest Florida’s representatives in Congress voted against the Plan.
19th Congressional District
Represented by Rep. Byron Donalds (R).
The 19th Congressional District covers the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island and includes the most heavily populated areas of Lee and Collier counties.
Donalds denounced the American Rescue Plan in the House Budget Committee and on the floor of the House, calling it “nothing more than a liberal wish list.”
Collier County: $74.65 million
Lee County: $149.45 million
Cities and towns
Bonita Springs: $25.06 million
Cape Coral: $26.87 million
Estero Village: $14.23 million
Everglades City: $.18 million
Fort Myers: $16 million
Fort Myers Beach: $2.98 million
Marco Island: $2.13 million
Naples: $9.28 million
Sanibel city: $3.11 million
25th Congressional District
Represented by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R).
The 25th Congressional District stretches from western Collier County east of the coast, includes all of Hendry County and a piece of northwestern Miami-Dade County.
Diaz-Balart called the American Rescue Plan “this fake COVID bill.”
Hendry County: $8.15 million
Miami-Dade County: $526.93 million
Collier County: (already listed)
Cities and towns
Clewiston: $3.37 million
Doral: $27.63 million
Hialeah: $70.61 million
LaBelle: $2.19 million
Immokalee is the largest population center in eastern Collier County. However, because it is an unincorporated community without a local government it is governed through Collier County and does not have a designated allocation.
17th Congressional District
Represented by Rep. Greg Steube (R).
The 17th Congressional District is a huge district of over 6,300 square miles stretching from eastern Tampa Bay to the northwestern shore of Lake Okeechobee. It includes all of Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties, plus parts of Lee (northern Lehigh Acres), Polk and Sarasota counties. Municipalities include North Port, Punta Gorda, Venice, and Okeechobee.
Steube complained that with the Plan, “Democrats chose to turn our nation into a welfare state with more government handouts.”
Charlotte: $36.64 million
DeSoto: $7.37 million
Glades: $2.68 million
Hardee: $5.22 million
Highlands: $20.60 million
Okeechobee: $8.18 million
Lee (already provided)
Polk: $140.57 million
Sarasota: $84.12 million
Towns and cities
North Port: $29.72 million
Punta Gorda: $8.56 million
Venice: $10.08 million
Okeechobee: $2.44 million
Port Charlotte in Charlotte County is an unincorporated entity governed by the county and so has no specific allocation.
Southwest Florida stands to gain substantially from President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, unveiled yesterday, March 31, in Pittsburgh, Pa.
The plan proposes $2.2 trillion in infrastructure investments across the nation, funded by hikes in the tax rates of corporations and high-income individuals.
Southwest Florida’s Everglades is one of only two locations specifically mentioned by name in the Plan. The other is the Great Lakes.
“President Biden is calling on Congress to invest in protection from extreme wildfires, coastal resilience to sea-level rise and hurricanes, support for agricultural resources management and climate-smart technologies, and the protection and restoration of major land and water resources like Florida’s Everglades and the Great Lakes,” according to a White House fact sheet explaining details of the vast proposal.
The Plan weaves climate change solutions and environmental protection measures throughout its fabric, issues of particular importance to environmentally sensitive Southwest Florida.
“It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” Biden said in his speech yesterday unveiling the proposal. “It’s a once-in-a generation investment in America, unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the Interstate Highway System and the Space Race decades ago.
“Is it big? Yes. Is it bold? Yes. And we can get it done,” he said.
Aspects of the Plan that affect Southwest Florida include:
Upgrading and modernizing US drinking, wastewater and stormwater systems
Southwest Florida is particularly subject to pollution and contaminants in all its waters, particularly those flowing from Lake Okeechobee and down the Caloosahatchee River. While work is already underway on the projects of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, the American Jobs Plan would boost funding and support for other water-related measures throughout the region.
Making infrastructure more resilient
Southwest Florida’s vulnerability to hurricanes, which are increasing in intensity, as well as sea level rise and salt water intrusion have been well documented. The American Jobs Plan emphasizes resilience against climate change throughout its proposals.
According to the White House fact sheet, the Plan “will invest in vulnerable communities through a range of programs, including [the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s] Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program, [the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s] Community Development Block Grant program, new initiatives at the Department of Transportation, a bipartisan tax credit to provide incentives to low- and middle-income families and to small businesses to invest in disaster resilience, and transition and relocation assistance to support community-led transitions for the most vulnerable tribal communities.”
Putting the energy industry to work plugging orphan oil and gas wells and cleaning up abandoned mines
Southwest Florida has 395 abandoned oil wells in Lee, Collier and Hendry counties, Dee Ann Miller, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, told reporter June Fletcher of the Naples Daily News in 2014.
A Princeton University study found that “As casings corrode and old concrete used to plug them shrinks, the wells create pathways that allow methane, carbon dioxide, brine and other fluids to migrate ‘from deep subsurface formations into shallow groundwater aquifers.’”
This threatens Southwest Florida’s fragile source of clean, drinkable water. The Biden plan designates $16 billion for cleaning up the kind of capped wells, as well as abandoned mines, present in the region.
Mobilizing the next generation of conservation and resilience workers
The Plan proposes spending $16 billion on a new Civilian Climate Corps to “work conserving our public lands and waters, bolstering community resilience, and advancing environmental justice,” which will also create new jobs—including in Southwest Florida.
Modernizing schools and early learning facilities
With Southwest Florida’s population growing, new schools have been built or are planned, especially in Lee County. The Plan will support new facilities and upgrade older ones.
Upgrading Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals and federal buildings
The plan provides $18 billion for upgrades and modernization to VA facilities like those in Fort Myers and Cape Coral.
Expanding access to long-term care services under Medicaid and supporting caregiving jobs
Given Southwest Florida’s high proportion of aging seniors, the Plan’s proposal to expand access to home and community-based services to the elderly will have a particular impact. This includes providing benefits to at-home care workers who currently lack them.
In addition to these aspects that directly affect Southwest Florida, the American Jobs Plan envisions improvements and repairs to roads, bridges, tunnels and all forms of transportation. It also proposes building out broadband Internet access, extending it to underserved and rural communities. It would upgrade and expand affordable housing throughout the country.
The journey begins
Debate on the Plan and reaction to it are just beginning. The tax hike proposals, coming separately under the rubric “The Made in America Tax Plan,” which close a wide variety of loopholes and discourage companies from using offshore tax dodges, is already generating intense discussion that will likely rise to ferocious denunciation by Republicans and anti-taxers of all stripes.
“I start with one rule: No one — let me say it again — no one making under $400,000 will see their federal taxes go up. Period,” Biden said in Pittsburgh. “This is not about penalizing anyone. I have nothing against millionaires and billionaires. I believe in American capitalism. I want everyone to do well.”
In his speech he also reached out to Republican politicians: “Historically, infrastructure had been a bipartisan undertaking, many times led by Republicans,” Biden said. “And I don’t think you’ll find a Republican today in the House or Senate — maybe I’m wrong, gentlemen — who doesn’t think we have to improve our infrastructure. They know China and other countries are eating our lunch. So there’s no reason why it can’t be bipartisan again. The divisions of the moment shouldn’t stop us from doing the right thing for the future.”
Biden also claimed that he had overwhelming support from grassroots registered Republicans.
In the short term, the Plan’s proposals need to be turned into concrete legislation and begin making their way through the House of Representatives. The whole process will likely take months, although Biden is pushing to get it done as quickly as possible.
Next up will be Biden’s American Families Plan, which will be unveiled in the days ahead.
Coming next: SWFL reactions to the American Jobs Plan
Michael Flynn, former national security advisor and lieutenant general, tried to rally dispirited Trumpers with a message of continued effort and community engagement during a series of appearances in Southwest Florida last week.
Flynn also said he was looking for “America first” candidates for future races at the local and state levels to promote elements of Donald Trump’s previous agenda.
“This is a very interesting time for our country, to say the least,” he said in a brief address at a private home on Tuesday, March 9. “…Engage people. Get in people’s faces. Engage people. And I’m going to tell folks tomorrow, get out and engage their communities wherever they’re from. And maybe they’re from around here but as we carry our message, there are people from Michigan, people from Oregon. But we have to engage and I’m telling you, much, much more than we ever have in our lifetimes.”
In an online interview with Brendon Leslie, a local independent conservative blogger and netcaster, Flynn said, “We’re seeking candidates, people, who want to step up to the plate and run at the local level, at the state level,” who share his beliefs.
Flynn completed his tour of Southwest Florida last Thursday, March 11, just as he was facing a new investigation from the US Army Inspector General, according to The Washington Post.
Despite his affiliation with the discredited QAnon conspiracy theory, Flynn’s message was largely one of encouragement for demoralized followers of former President Donald Trump and recommitment to traditional conservative values.
Flynn addressed groups in Naples and Fort Myers in addition to a gathering at a private home. All gatherings were unmasked and ignored social distancing guidelines.
In Naples, Flynn spoke on the evening of Wednesday, March 10, at a gathering at the Naples Beach Hotel. Originally scheduled for Shula’s Steakhouse, the venue was changed when Shula’s management declined to host it. The event was made “secret” except to ticketholders.
That event was organized by Christy McLaughlin, a former Republican congressional primary candidate and conservative activist, who also organized an unannounced appearance by Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio in Naples on Dec. 3. Initially intended to benefit McLaughlin’s Constitutional Warriors Political Action Committee (PAC), the March 10 beneficiary was changed to something called SAVA-PAC, which is not registered with the Federal Election Commission.
In Fort Myers, Flynn spoke on Thursday, March 11 at the Ter-Tini’s event venue after the Roots Restaurant and Treehouse Rooftop Lounge in the Bell Tower Shops declined to host that gathering. As originally planned the Fort Myers event was organized by Red Pill Roadshow, a QAnon-promoting traveling show. This event venue was also concealed following the Treehouse cancellation and a report on it by NBC-2 News.
Flynn’s Fort Myers appearances were organized by The Florida Conservative blog, written by Michael Thompson, a Republican Party activist based in eastern Lee County. Initially intended to benefit a Florida Conservative PAC, a luncheon and benefit for veterans was added, with proceeds going to the Southwest Florida Heroes Foundation, Inc., a 501c3 non-profit corporation founded by Thompson to benefit first responders and veterans.
A consistent theme of all of Flynn’s remarks was the need for Trump believers to stay involved in their communities to spread their message and not surrender to demoralization.
In the essay, Flynn decried the “downward slide” of America based on “the shifting definitions of right and wrong blindly accepted by many Americans today.
“Our leaders would have us believe that these changing values are inevitable and that they are good. That is why they are called ‘progressive.’
“Yet to those of us who still believe in the immortal truths upon which America was founded, their so-called ‘progress’ is alarming, to say the least.”
Flynn argued that there is no alternative to the United States in terms of opportunity and freedom and that those who believe in it cannot retreat or disengage from continued effort.
“God enabled me to endure a years-long campaign by the left to destroy me and my family. They wanted me to serve as an example to anyone who would defy the entrenched bureaucrats of the swamp.” However, he wrote that he had emerged victorious.
Flynn attributed what he considered his victory to his religious faith and urged readers to “make faith an essential part of your battle strategy today.”
He also stressed the importance of family, friendship and fighting for conservative ideas.
“We need those who will stand against failed Marxist ideologies that have invaded the mainstream of our consciousness like a network of choking vines seeking to strangle the mighty American oak tree,” he wrote. He warned of the dangers of technological censorship, “cancel culture” and charged that opponents of conservatism want to force Americans into servitude, taxation, and “want to take our children from us, forcing them to look to Big Brother government.”
In that essay and in his Southwest Florida appearances, Flynn urged his audiences to stay engaged.
In a message to his followers on the Telegram messaging application that he sent out on March 10, Flynn was more blunt: “As I recently said, we need to get involved in our communities & ensure our system functions the way it is suppose to BECAUSE it broke down. Let’s stop kidding ourselves with shoulda-woulda-coulda-and instead get involved in our communities.”
It was not a Proud Boys celebration despite Christy McLaughlin’s past history of having Proud Boys show up invited but unannounced at an event she organized. (One alleged Proud Boy, Christopher Worrell, who was present at her Dec. 3 event in Naples, was arrested in East Naples on Friday, March 12, by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents for allegedly participating in the Jan. 6 insurrection.)
It was not a mindless repeat of the Big Lie that Trump won the election and had it stolen from him. In fact, it was not much about Trump at all, at least not by name.
Nor was it about the Jan. 6 insurrection, riot or attempted lynching of Vice President Mike Pence. Nor did it touch on the infamous White House meeting on Dec. 18 when Flynn was widely reported to have advocated that lawyer Sidney Powell be appointed a special counsel, that the US Army take over vote counting in five key swing counties and rerun the election and that martial law be imposed to invalidate the initial results. (Flynn maintains that is not what happened in an extensive interview with Western Journal.)
In fact, what is striking about his Southwest Florida trip is the degree of Trumpist demoralization that Flynn felt he needed to counter. In his Telegram message, Flynn told his followers: “I sense your frustrations. We are not giving up our pursuit for the truth.” In his March 9 remarks he told his audience: “I will tell you that you have to be positive. You have to fight tooth and nail. And I always tell people like, Abraham Lincoln, he just—I said this to Kim [a member of the audience]—that guy lost like seven races and he’s the greatest, you know, top three, maybe [presidents].” In his Western Journal article, which was addressed to a broader audience beyond Southwest Florida, he wrote, “Sadly, some will allow this alarm [over changes in America] to grow into defeatism. They will turn their faces away from the battle before us in hopes of finding a position to retreat to.”
Flynn’s Southwest Florida tour was part of the post-insurrection, post-presidency Trumpist rebuilding process that is strongly akin to Adolf Hitler’s post-putsch rebuilding of the Nazi Party. However, there was no advocacy of violence, no incitement to continued insurrection, no calls for any illegality that can be ascertained by this author. Ostensibly, Flynn was calling for a renewal of bedrock American values.
However, it needs to be remembered that Flynn, his professed allegiance to truth, justice and the American way notwithstanding, has quite a checkered record that belies his current conservative portrayal as a Trumpist martyr. After a military career in which he rose to the rank of lieutenant general, he was fired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency after two years. (Retired Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State Colin Powell stated: “I asked why Flynn got fired. Abusive with staff, didn’t listen, worked against policy, bad management, etc. He has been and was right-wing nutty every [sic] since.”). According to a Defense Department Inspector General report, before his 24-day stint as Trump’s National Security Advisor, Flynn allegedly received $530,000 in payments to serve as a foreign agent for Turkey without receiving Defense Department permission to do so, which may have violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause. He received $45,000 from RT, the official Russian television channel, to legitimize the channel by attending a dinner with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia and conversations with Russian officials, in particular Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. He pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, although he subsequently withdrew that plea. In the final days of the Trump administration, when Trump was trying to cancel the election results, he allegedly advocated overturning the election. The only reason he was free to speak in Southwest Florida was because he was pardoned by a president who was twice impeached.
For all that, Flynn, perhaps more than Donald Trump himself, realizes that meeting his ideological goals is a long game that will be built on grassroots organizing and local electoral engagement. He is taking the first steps in that direction.
In his interview with Brendon Leslie, Flynn made the observation that “There’s two sides to the truth. No, there’s actually three sides to the truth. There’s your truth. There’s my truth. And then there’s the truth itself.”
True enough. And in another insight, Flynn has written: “I was once told if we’re not careful, 2 percent of the passionate will control 98 percent of the indifferent 100 percent of the time.”
In Southwest Florida as much as anywhere else, that is absolutely true.
President Donald Trump’s sudden attack on the $900 billion coronavirus relief bill passed by the House and Senate on Monday, Dec. 21, deals severe blows to Southwest Florida and to the provisions that benefit the region.
Yesterday, Dec. 22, Trump, without warning congressional Republicans, issued a 9-minute, 53-second video on Twitter. In it he explained his reasons for trying to overturn the results of the presidential election and then denounced the laboriously negotiated and passed Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. The bill funds the US government through the next fiscal year but most importantly to most Americans suffering from the pandemic, it provides $600 in payments to those who have lost their jobs.
Equally important, it provided funding for COVID vaccine acquisition and distribution.
In his video, Trump called the bill “a disgrace,” attacked it for funding foreign aid and a variety of domestic purposes and demanded that it provide $2,000 for each American.
House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) immediately agreed to try to provide the $2,000, this after weeks of negotiations during which they struggled to get Republican negotiators to raise the relief amount from an original offer of $300 to $600.
“Republicans repeatedly refused to say what amount the President wanted for direct checks,” tweeted Pelosi. “At last, the President has agreed to $2,000—Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!”
The bill includes provisions directly affecting Southwest Florida that were inserted by Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.).
According to Diaz-Balart, the bill funds local infrastructure, school safety, Everglades restoration, agricultural support and housing programs for low-income families and the homeless. Patients are protected from surprise billing and, in a move of particularly local interest, the Moore Haven Lock and Dam on Lake Okeechobee is re-named in honor of Julian Keen, Jr., a Florida Wildlife Conservation officer who was killed in LaBelle in June while trying to stop a hit-and-run suspect. (The full text of Diaz-Balart’s statement is below.)
Of critical importance to Southwest Florida is the inclusion of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) in the bill. WRDA provides authorization for every water-related infrastructure project in the country and has been a particular focus of Rooney’s efforts.
When WRDA was finalized earlier in the month he stated: “Passage of WRDA is an important step in finally advancing the 68 Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) projects that have been previously approved. These projects will significantly reduce discharges to the Caloosahatchee, reduce the toxic algal blooms that have plagued us in previous years, and improve overall water quality in SWFL.”
As Rooney points out, the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee Watershed include 16 counties and 164 cities. They have a $2 trillion economic impact on the state and support $1.3 trillion, or 55 percent of the real estate value in Florida. Four dollars in economic benefits are produced for every dollar invested in the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee Watershed.
The bill that Congress passed includes $250 million for Everglades restoration for fiscal 2021.
Analysis: Coming up next
While Trump has not formally vetoed the appropriations bill, it is unclear what the next courses of action will be, since it cannot be finalized without his signature. As Pelosi noted, she may try to get a new version of the bill passed through “unanimous consent” in which all the members of the House agree to simply pass it without objection—dubious in this Congress.
Otherwise, the entire 5,593-page bill will have to be renegotiated and passed by both House and Senate before Dec. 29 when funding for the government runs out. If Congress cannot do that, the government will shut down and the results will be truly and fully catastrophic: vaccines will not be purchased or distributed, Americans will not get any financial pandemic relief and the economy is likely to crash. All this will come when coronavirus cases are peaking, Russia is hacking the US government without any resistance or defense at the highest level and Trump is continuing to resist and deny the outcome of the presidential election.
If Trump had objections to the bill while it was being negotiated he should have expressed them and his concerns would have been incorporated at an earlier stage. But that kind of involvement in governing and attention to detail is not his style and all reports are that he simply ignored it.
Southwest Floridians should make no mistake about this: they are directly affected by Trump’s incompetence, grandstanding and mismanagement. People who don’t get coronavirus care or the vaccine will die—likely in large numbers. But perhaps the chaos and distress he is causing is exactly what he intended.
Full statement on the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart following its passage:
“The FY2021 funding bill includes big wins for our nation and for Florida. This bill prioritizes funding to enhance our infrastructure, support our military and law enforcement, and strengthen our national security. In addition, school safety remains a top priority, Everglades Restoration receives a significant influx of funding, and programs that our farmers and growers rely on will continue. It also supports critical housing programs such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Homeless Assistance Grants.
“Attached to this bill are several legislative priorities, including an end to surprise billing—patients will now know the real cost of a scheduled procedure before it takes place. Additionally, this bill includes the final version of WRDA 2020, thereby ensuring the Moore Haven Lock and Dam is renamed in honor of fallen FWC Officer Julian Keen, Jr.
“We have already seen Florida capitalize on the programs these bills fund, and with its passage today, our state will continue to benefit from them moving forward.”
Incidents of voter intimidation are now being reported in Southwest Florida.
However, there are no clear guidelines to voters on how to respond. This posting will provide some recommendations based on general research, official information and past experience.
Voter intimidation and harassment with the aim of preventing voting is a federal crime and is defined as activities that “intimidate, threaten, or coerce, any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of such other person to vote or to vote as he may choose.”
The incidents to date
Yesterday, Oct. 21, local Democrats were among people in Florida and Alaska who reported e-mails reportedly from the far right Proud Boys organization telling people they were “in possession of all your information” and “You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) attributed the e-mails to Iranian interference and John Ratcliffe, director of national intelligence, told a press conference that both Russia and Iran had obtained voter information that could interfere in the election.
In Collier County, Jennifer Edwards, election supervisor, tweeted: “The Collier County Supervisor of Elections is aware of multiple instances of voter intimidation via email. We are in contact with & working in conjunction with our law enforcement partners at the local, state and federal level, including the FBI, DHS [Department of Homeland Security] & the FL Dept of State.
“If any individual engages in any form of voter intimidation, we will refer the case to state and federal law enforcement. We are committed to providing a safe and secure voting process for all voters. For more information, contact us at (239) 252-8683.”
Trish Robertson, public relations officer for the Collier County elections office, expanded on that to The Paradise Progressive. “…individuals who feel that they are being intimidated in Collier County should contact us right away,” she wrote in an e-mail. Usually, supporters of a party or candidate may just be too exuberant. However, if someone is overly aggressive after talking to an election officer, the office will reach out to the candidate or party to stop the activity. “If we still receive complaints we will contact local law enforcement. Very rarely do we call law enforcement,” she wrote.
As for clothing and paraphernalia at election sites, which some voters have complained is too partisan, “Locally, voters can wear campaign gear in the polling room (passive campaigning); however, they cannot cause a disruption to the voting process or actively campaign for a candidate within the non-solicitation zone.”
In Lee County a voter standing in line at the Bell Tower shops posted a description of an incident on Facebook:
“Ft Myers: election center workers just kicked a caravan of Trumpers off property,” she wrote yesterday afternoon. “They were driving around and around those of us standing in line. They had Trump flags and what-not all over their pickups, seemingly intimidating voters or riling up fellow supporters. Either way the people in charge gave them the boot and told them to stop.”
She elaborated that the polling place “was the one on [Route] 41 by Bell Tower. They [the Trumpers] never got out of their truck or anything but they were slow creeping past those of us standing outside in the line. The election people came RUNNING out, signaling ‘stop!’ stood in their path, pointed to the exit street, there was an exchange of words (I was too far away to hear) and then the lady again pointed to them towards the exit street and they left.”
How to respond
With all election interference, intimidation and suppression illegal at both the federal and state levels, digital, verbal or physical incidents should be immediately reported to three authorities:
The local police;
The election officials on site;
The Supervisor of Elections Office.
Digital threats or intimidation:
DO NOT open any attachments or links in a threatening or suspect e-mail.
Southwest Florida congressional candidates Democrat Cindy Banyai and Republican Byron Donalds traded jabs last night, Sept. 28, in a broadcast debate that was civilized and substantive—a rarity in the age of President Donald Trump.
While neither candidate landed a knockout blow, Banyai hammered Donalds for his connection to and protection of Trump’s policies and approach.
This was particularly in evidence when it came to taxes.
“We should close loopholes, much as [those] we’re seeing with our president, Donald Trump having paid only $750 for the past two years in taxes,” she said. “That is unbelievable and unacceptable in a fair and just country.”
Both candidates are running for the seat in Florida’s 19th Congressional District, the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island.
WGCU sponsored the debate along with the Gannett Company newspapers, the News-Press of Fort Myers and the Naples Daily News of Naples. The candidates were questioned by Amy Bennett Williams, a reporter for the News-Press, and John Davis, a WGCU reporter and assistant news director. Julie Glenn, WGCU news director, moderated. Questions had been submitted by the public.
The candidates took starkly different positions on a variety of issues but also agreed on some matters, chiefly the need for environmental protection.
Summaries of the candidates’ statements, in the order they were raised and the candidates’ responses, follow:
Mask mandates: Donalds opposed mask mandates, arguing that the choice of whether to wear a mask is up to the individual and not local government to impose. Banyai called mask wearing a patriotic duty and likened the power of local government to mandate masks to setting traffic rules and speed limits.
Pandemic response: Donalds praised Trump for his coronavirus response to date. Banyai called Trump’s response “the biggest failure in history” and said the nation needs to pull together to fight the disease the way the Taiwanese government responded to the SARS epidemic in the early 2000s.
Continuing the environmental work of Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), the retiring congressman: Banyai called for coordinated action at the local, state and international levels to protect the environment and expressed support for the Florida Green New Deal. Donalds said science remains unsettled on the human role in climate change and warned that a Green New Deal would have a negative economic impact. He blamed the California wildfires on a failure to clean up forest floor brush.
Local environmental control: Donalds believed that environmental policies and regulations should be done at the state level. Banyai said that the state’s failure to act to protect the environment meant that local authority to establish environmental rulemaking was essential.
Steps to protect water purity: Banyai called for holding polluters accountable and supporting research on water quality like that done at the FGCU Water School. Donalds praised Trump’s and DeSantis’ actions to date.
Preventing oil exploitation off Florida’s shores: Both candidates supported continuing the current ban on oil exploitation in the Gulf of Mexico.
Land development: Both candidates called for responsible land use and federal support for conservation and local efforts to regulate land use. Donalds emphasized the need to protect property rights. While Banyai agreed that property rights need to be respected, she emphasized the public’s right to access common resources like beaches and called for participatory practices at the local level.
Taxes: Both candidates agreed on the need to simplify the tax code. Donalds is a supporter of a federal flat tax. Banyai called for closing loopholes and made the point that taxes not just an “input-output” form of financing, but a form of stakeholding in the government.
Balanced budget amendment: Banyai opposed a balanced budget amendment and called for policies and actions that would help people in need. Donalds favored a balanced budget amendment and said that it worked in Florida.
Education: Donalds said that “money should follow the child” and called for school choice. Banyai said that “public education is a public good and public dollars should remain in the public realm” and not be siphoned off by for-profit charter schools.
Affordable college education: Banyai called for investments to make public college education free. Donalds said that the government cannot “lend infinite money” for college education.
Amendment 2, raising the minimum wage: Donalds opposed it, Banyai supported it.
Attracting light industry and providing affordable housing: Both candidates expressed support for small business. Banyai said that Southwest Florida has a “donut economy” with small retail and service workers at the bottom and wealthy retirees at the top but without a healthy center. The local economy needs investment, grants and support for small business to fill in the middle, she said. Donalds called for diversifying the local economy in a sustainable way and maintaining a consistent business climate.
Extending the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP): Donalds supported extending PPP and blamed House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) for lack of progress in coming up with a second stimulus package. Banyai also supported extending PPP and a second package and blamed Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for lack of progress.
First, all concerned—the questioners, the moderator and the candidates—handled themselves with maturity and professionalism, which was a welcome relief. There were no insults or personal attacks, no emotionalism or melodrama, the time limits were respected and the candidates conducted a reasoned discussion that stuck to the issues. All are to be congratulated.
The debate was helped by not having a live audience to cheer or interrupt the dialogue.
The debate also marked a sea change from 2018 when Rep. Rooney simply refused to debate and his disdain was taken at face value by local media and civic groups, which didn’t challenge him.
All that said, the candidates’ policy differences were stark but unsurprising. Donalds is a Trumper and Banyai is a progressive. Nothing anyone said altered that reality.
From a progressive viewpoint (which is, after all, the viewpoint of The Paradise Progressive), Donalds’ praises of Donald Trump sounded absurd on their face and his Trumpism forced him into defending the indefensible.
He praised Trump’s coronavirus response, his support for environmental funding in Florida (which Trump initially shortchanged in 2019 and only relented after pressure from Florida officials), blamed the California wildfires on forest management practices (a Trump hallmark) rather than acknowledge the impact of climate change, lauded Trump’s environmental record (?!) and blamed Pelosi for the stalemate blocking new relief for people and businesses harmed by the pandemic. His longstanding opposition to local masking mandates echoes Trump’s opposition to protecting the American population from the coronavirus.
Donalds’ support for Trumpism overshadows and negates any more reasoned positions he may take on the limits of government authority and economic sustainability.
Banyai effectively riposted Donalds’ positions and did so emphatically and effectively. She had a good command of the facts, was well prepared and was an effective debater.
Neither candidate is likely to have swayed people whose minds are already made up. However, if undecided voters were watching, they got a very good sense of the two candidates and their strengths and positions.
The debate was particularly important for Banyai’s underdog campaign, giving her exposure that she does not otherwise get from paid advertising, in contrast to Donalds’ support from outside ideological super political action committees.
The true test of the results of the debate will be seen in the only poll that counts—the election.
Voting is now under way. Collier County sent out its mail-in ballots last week and as of this writing had received back over 4,000 ballots. Lee County is scheduled to send out its mail-in ballots today.