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

Bill would put teachers under video surveillance

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

Jan. 14, 2022 by David Silverberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary: Big Brother in the classroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*  *  *

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

Education Committee

Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee

Secondary Education and Career Development Subcommittee

PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee

The full text of HB 1055 can be read here.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

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

Naples City Councilman Ray Christman. (Photo: Campaign)

Jan. 11, 2022 by David Silverberg

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

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

Candidates do not have party affiliations listed on the ballots.

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

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

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

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

Ian Rudnick (Photo: Campaign)

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

The target

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

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

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

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

The targeters

John Dugan (Photo: Campaign)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary: A very partisan non-partisan election

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

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

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

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

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

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

This election will have consequences on a variety of fronts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

Southwest Florida congressmen stay mum on mass shootings

Police outside the King Soopers grocery store where a shooting took place Monday, March 22, 2021, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

March 25, 2021 by David Silverberg

It should come as no surprise that Southwest Florida’s representatives in Congress have responded to Monday’s mass shooting in Colorado and last week’s shooting in Georgia mostly with silence.

Rep. Byron Donalds

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) retweeted a Boulder Police Department tribute to Officer Eric Talley, the policeman killed at the King Soopers market rampage. Donalds added: “Officer Talley embodied the spirit of a hero, and I pray his loved ones are comforted knowing he died a hero. Thank you to all the brave law enforcement officers who devote their lives to protecting communities across America.” He made no mention of the other victims, who were peacefully shopping when the shooting began.

Donalds was the only candidate of nine in his Republican primary to receive a full endorsement from the National Rifle Association (NRA). He touted his gun ownership in his campaign tagline (“I’m a strong, Trump-supporting, gun-owning, liberty-loving, pro-life, politically incorrect black man”).

Rep. Greg Steube

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), whose district runs from Punta Gorda to Venice to Lake Okeechobee, had not issued any statement of any kind as of this writing. He has long been a vocal gun ownership advocate. Almost exactly a year ago he introduced the End the Normalized Delay of Suppressors (ENDS) Act (HR 6126) to try to force the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to more quickly grant permits for the purchase of gun silencers so that killing can be done quietly. The bill was not even considered in committee. He has called for carrying guns on the House floor.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), whose district runs from western Collier County and Immokalee across the state to Hialeah in the east, has made no statement about the shootings as of this writing.

Having been in office since 2003, Diaz-Balart’s relationship with the gun violence issue is longer and more complex than that of his Southwest Florida colleagues. For most of his congressional career he was a reliable opponent of gun regulation, even to the point that former representative Gabby Giffords, a shooting survivor, publicly endorsed his Democratic opponent, Mary Barzee Flores, in 2018, after the killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

In 2019 Diaz-Balart bucked his party and the NRA and voted for the Bipartisan Background Checks Act. That bill required background checks for arms transfers between individuals, closing a major loophole in the gun trade. The bill passed the House but died in the Senate.

This year Diaz-Balart switched his vote and voted against the same bill when it was reintroduced. This time, he stated that while he still supported background checks, the bill was now too far left and was “an overly-partisan and extremist bill that fails to effectively address background checks and imposes measures that amount to clear government overreach.”

This year it passed the House on March 11 by a vote of 227 to 203 but its fate is uncertain in the Senate.

The past and the future

Given this record it was unsurprising that these representatives did not join the chorus of congressional lawmakers calling for new measures to curb the latest wave of American gun violence.

Theirs was not the reaction throughout Florida. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-22-Fla.), whose east coast district includes Parkland as well as Fort Lauderdale, where five people were killed in a random shooting at the airport in 2017, said that the Boulder shooting emphasized the need for action to curb gun violence.

“…That’s why we need to act,” he told CBS-4 television news in Miami. “And that’s why we can’t just shake our head and say that’s one more thing and move on and wait for the next one,” 

Deutch serves as the chief whip on the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, a group of more than 165 members of Congress who work on gun violence issues. He’s long supported a ban on assault-style weapons and broader background checks on gun purchases, measures also advocated by President Joe Biden.

Commentary: The Southwest Florida reaction

Nationally, the reaction to the shootings has been horrified denunciation by officials and private groups and there is new movement in Congress to take action to curb gun violence.

Locally, the reaction is far more muted. While the national chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense has issued numerous statements regarding the recent shootings, the local chapter has not made any public statements or taken any actions to date.

On the gun-saturated southwest coast of Florida, politically, not only is there no apparent urgency, there’s certainly no inclination by any elected official to propose or support gun restraints and no evident political incentive for taking any action at all.

But while expecting any kind of local legislative effort seems beyond hope, what is striking in the current instance is the resounding silence and complete indifference by local public figures toward the victims, their relatives and the survivors.

To date Southwest Florida has been spared any mass shooting. But guns are plentiful and opposition to restraint is fierce.

So if you hear popping while you’re shopping, get down, stay away from the source of the noise or open areas, try to leave if it’s safe and follow all orders from police.

Remember: You’re on your own. At least until 2022 you won’t get any help from your representatives in Congress.

And your surviving relatives shouldn’t wait for any thoughts or prayers from them, either.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Ivanka Trump comes to Southwest Florida selling faltering campaign

Financial record of Trump campaign makes for questionable investment.

Ivanka Trump promoting Goya beans. (Photo: Ivanka Trump Twitter)

Oct. 20, 2020 by David Silverberg

In a last-ditch effort to sway voters in what has in the past been a reliably Republican area, the election campaign of President Donald Trump is deploying First Daughter Ivanka Trump to Southwest Florida to shore up support and raise money.

A “Make America Great Again” rally that is sure to be a COVID superspreader event has now been officially scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 1:00 pm at Top Rocker Field at Six Bends in Fort Myers.

Ivanka Trump is also reportedly going to speak at a private, invitation-only fundraising event in Naples, according to a number of local news outlets. The unconfirmed location is reported to be at the Old Collier Golf Club. The cost of attending is reportedly $15,000 per person and $100,000 per table. However, this event cannot be confirmed through official campaign websites or statements.

The First Daughter’s blitz comes as the polling site gives Democratic candidate Joe Biden a 69 percent chance of carrying Florida with 51.1 percent of the popular vote, based on multiple polls. In 2016, Trump carried Florida with 49 percent of the vote, or a margin of 112,911 votes.

The Trump campaign money record

As exciting as having such a distinguished celebrity in Naples might be, those who are in the $15,000 per plate class might want to ask themselves before they fork over the cash: What am I donating to?

(And also: What can possibly be served for lunch that’s worth $15,000?)

From its outset the Trump campaign has been plagued by money woes. In a Sept. 7, 2020 New York Times article, “How Trump’s Billion-Dollar Campaign Lost Its Cash Advantage,” reporters Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman detailed a campaign of undisciplined spending that burned through hundreds of millions of dollars.

It also featured chaotic purchasing, erratic hiring and disorganized messaging all in the service of an unrestrained and volatile candidate.

Much of this can be laid at the feet of Brad Parscale, Trump’s initial campaign manager. It was Parscale who rode in a chauffeured car and flew on private planes, who decided to spend money on questionably effective advertising, including heavy investment in the Washington, DC media market primarily so that Trump could see his ads on local TV.

The article quotes Ed Rollins, a veteran Republican strategist who runs a small pro-Trump super political action committee, as saying: “If you spend $800 million and you’re 10 points behind, I think you’ve got to answer the question ‘What was the game plan?’” He accused Parscale of spending “like a drunken sailor,” and noted “I think a lot of money was spent when voters weren’t paying attention.”

Parscale has since been replaced by Bill Stepien, who has taken a lower profile and tightened spending. However, the campaign’s cash chaos has not ceased.

Another exposé of Trump campaign spending also appeared in September in The Atlantic, titled “Trump Is Running His Campaign Like He Ran His Businesses.” The article by David Graham noted, “The president is again profiting handsomely at the expense of those trusting enough to give him money.”

Graham wrote: “The Trump 2020 campaign seems to be running on the same principle as many of the president’s commercial endeavors: Trump gets richer, while other people’s money gets lit on fire. This was how some of the president’s real-estate ventures and casinos operated, and so it’s unsurprising that it’s how he’s chosen to run his campaign—and the country.”

Along those lines, in July the Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that seeks to advance “democracy through law,” filed an 82-page complaint with the Federal Election Commission charging that the campaign violated campaign finance law by illegally spending $170 million in disguised spending by “laundering the funds” through a variety of companies.

Commentary: The Shark Tank for real

Making a donation to a political campaign is a lot like investing in a business. As a donor you’re essentially investing in an outcome. You may be driven by ideological urges rather than profit, but many of the principles of effective donating and investing are the same.

Any investor knows the drill for evaluating a business pitch (and the public can see a version of it on the TV program Shark Tank): You look at the company’s business plan, its leadership and products, past performance if the company’s established or the founders’ past record if it’s a startup. You check references and media coverage. You examine the market and the needs and you try to peer out to the future to determine its prospects. Then you go through the spreadsheets to find errors or erroneous assumptions. In the end you make a bet—or not.

If the Trump presidency and campaign was a business investment opportunity, what would a potential investor see?

The company’s chief executive officer (CEO) is erratic, irascible, uncontrolled and uncontrollable but still overly controlling. He’s diseased and seemingly deranged. He’s been responsible for six previous bankruptcies and was cut off from established credit sources. He and his companies may be $1 billion in debt to unknown creditors. The company’s products are badly flawed and simply not working and demand for them has cratered. Its performance (the economy) has collapsed from bad management. An outside force (a pandemic) could have been mitigated or controlled early on but wasn’t because of poor assumptions and delusional reactions. The references are terrible, with former executives uniformly denouncing and exposing the CEO’s shortcomings and crimes. Other than the media controlled or co-opted by the CEO, coverage is uniformly and unrelentingly bad. The market is trending against the company with all market research indicating its competitor is going to dominate. The spreadsheets are unavailable or those provided are of very questionable reliability. The likely prospect is that a bankruptcy declaration will come Nov. 3.

This is the company that Ivanka Trump will be coming to Naples to sell on Wednesday.

People who can afford a $15,000 per plate meal did not qualify for sitting at that kind of table by being stupid.

But for those who buy in: Enjoy lunch.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Mike Bloomberg’s anti-Trump efforts continue in Florida and nationally

03-06-20 Bloomberg concessionMike Bloomberg gives his concession speech on Wednesday.    (Image: Mike Bloomberg 2020)

March 6, 2020 by David Silverberg

Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign may be over but he leaves a legacy in Florida and more specifically, Southwest Florida, that could pay important dividends in the state’s presidential primary on March 17—and in the general election and beyond.

Most immediately, Bloomberg has announced that he is forming a group to support Democratic efforts with offices in six key electoral states that he believes will determine the presidential election, according to The Washington Post.

One of these states is Florida. The others are Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Arizona and North Carolina.

As of this writing the group does not have a name pending its trademark application. In addition to supporting Democratic presidential efforts, the new organization could support down-ballot efforts in the US House and Senate. In 2018 Bloomberg gave $20 million to Democratic senatorial candidates and another group he founded, Independence USA, gave $38 million to House candidates.

If the report is correct and the organization does go into operation, it could provide a welcome boost to Florida Democrats.

But Bloomberg’s campaign may have boosted Democratic prospects in the Sunshine State in other ways.

In preparation for the Florida primary, Bloomberg flooded Florida’s airwaves with his campaign ads. In heavily Republican, highly Trumpist Southwest Florida, it was the first time that the region had seen such a blitz of television advertising with a Democratic, anti-Trump message.

Although designed primarily to elect Bloomberg, that advertising also laid the groundwork for future Democratic efforts, the first time a Democratic message was broadcast to broad swaths of people that include disaffected Republicans, Independents and non-party affiliated voters.

Bloomberg also opened 10 offices around Florida and these may now be used by the Biden campaign or Democrats in general. If they’re kept in operation past the primary they could serve a useful function in the general election campaign against Trump.

Commentary: The Bloomberg legacy

In the wake of his failed and very expensive presidential bid, it is not fashionable in the Democratic/liberal/leftist/progressive community to speak any praises of Michael Bloomberg. The comics have mocked him and pundits and former opponents are piling on—and that’s just among Democrats. President Donald Trump in his inimitable style has had to add undisguised gloating and personal insults based on physical appearance.

However, if objective American history is written after the 2020 election, historians are likely to be kinder to Bloomberg than his contemporaries. It’s worth standing back a moment to consider why.

Bloomberg understood the threat of Trump and Trumpism from the beginning—and fought the man and his madness.

Back in 2016, in his speech endorsing Hillary Clinton for president before the Democratic National Convention, Bloomberg warned that Trump was “a dangerous demagogue,” that “the richest thing about Donald Trump is his hypocrisy” and in his most memorable line said: “I’m a New Yorker and New Yorkers know a con when we see one!”

Bloomberg never stopped fighting Trumpism, even in his supposed retirement from politics after his third term as mayor of New York City.

While critics accuse Bloomberg of trying to buy the election, it’s worth remembering the situation when Bloomberg got into the race last November. Things were falling apart and the center could not hold, to use words from William Butler Yeats. Conventional wisdom was that former Vice President Joe Biden could not win the Democratic primary elections and Sen. Elizabeth Warren could not win the general election. The Democratic Party seemed set on a course that would lose the election to Donald Trump.

It was to provide a candidate who could bolster the moderate center and attract anti-Trumpers of all persuasions and most importantly, save democracy and defeat Trump that Bloomberg got into the race.

In his concession speech on Wednesday, March 4, Bloomberg acknowledged that the situation had changed. “I’ve always believed that defeating Donald’s Trump starts with uniting behind the candidate with the best shot to do it,” he said. “And after yesterday’s vote is clear, that candidate is my friend and a great American, Joe Biden.”

During his campaign Bloomberg kept the focus on the main threat, Donald Trump. He gave back on Twitter as good as he got from IMPOTUS and he concentrated his fire on the primary target.

Campaigns are necessarily about elevating an individual to godlike status in order to get him or her elected. Bloomberg’s campaign played up his competence and record but never inspired the cultlike adoration of the candidate that Donald Trump is doing in his election efforts. For all his efforts, Bloomberg lacked warmth and charisma, he did not perform well in his debate appearances and he never overcame the perceptions of himself as an interloper and a plutocrat.

In the end, though, Bloomberg’s race was all about defeating Trump and saving the country. Despite his failure as a presidential candidate, he may have contributed considerably to those ends both nationally and in Florida.

If Trump is defeated and America remains a democracy, Bloomberg’s money will have been well spent. Whether he’s liked personally or not, the nation will owe him a debt of gratitude.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Rep. Steube emerges as SWFL’s most ardent Trump defender

10-07-19 Cavuto-Steube FoxRep. Greg Steube appears on Neil Cavuto’s “Your World” show.

Oct. 7, 2019, by David Silverberg

Of Southwest Florida’s members of Congress, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), has emerged as President Donald Trump’s most vocal local defender and apologist.

Following the standard arguments used by Trump’s supporters, Steube argued on Fox News that Trump committed no crimes and does not deserve impeachment.

“…the Democrats will stop at nothing to impeach this president. And I think that’s very clear at this point,” Steube told Fox News host Neil Cavuto in an Oct. 4 interview. Denouncing what he called “the Russian collusion hoax,” Steube said “There is nothing in that transcript that I—that I have said—and I have read the transcript—that would be a high crime or a misdemeanor, that would be an impeachable offense. And none of the Democrats have articulated to me or to any of the American people what that specific crime, high crime or misdemeanor, would be.”

Steube reiterated those arguments in a second Fox interview on Oct. 6 when it emerged that a second whistleblower had come forward to support the allegations of the first.

Steube is a member of the House Oversight and Judiciary committees, which have jurisdiction over the impeachment inquiries now going forward. His mainly rural district covers most of Lehigh Acres, Port Charlotte, Venice and eastward as far as the northwestern shore of Lake Okeechobee.

Southwest Florida’s other two representatives, Reps. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), do not sit on committees of jurisdiction and have remained almost entirely silent about the affair. Rooney, a former US ambassador to the Vatican, sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

When it came to Trump’s Ukraine phone call, Rooney’s only comment to date was jurisdictional: He signed on to an October 2 letter issued by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-10-Texas), the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, complaining that the House Select Intelligence Committee was not allowing members of the Foreign Affairs Committee to be present when State Department officials were questioned about Trump’s Ukraine conversation.

(Commentary: Actually, because the House Select Intelligence Committee deals extensively in classified matters it usually does not allow members of other committees to attend its hearings, which are usually held in secret. In this instance, the Committee, chaired by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-28-Calif.), allowed one professional staff member from the Foreign Affairs Committee to attend).

Diaz-Balart has issued no statements and his office did not respond to inquiries about the issue.

This report will be updated as circumstances warrant.

Liberty lives in light

© 2019 by David Silverberg



“You’re not invited”—How the Rooney Roundtable went from success to mess, an analysis

04-30-19 Emergent Technologies Institute

Florida Gulf Coast University’s Emergent Technologies Institute where a closed discussion on harmful algae blooms is scheduled to take place on May 7.  (Photo: FGCU)

436 days (1 year, 2 months, 12 days) since Rep. Francis Rooney has met constituents in an open, public forum

May 4, 2019 by David Silverberg

It takes special effort to transform an impending success to an ongoing mess.

At the end of April, by all conventional measures, the roundtable discussion of harmful algal blooms organized by Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) was looking to be a great success.

He had pulled together all the key players, federal, state and local, who could actually do something about Southwest Florida’s water crisis. They were going to meet each other in the flesh and have a substantive discussion and perhaps reach some decisions. He had commitments that they would show up—no small feat! He had arranged a time and a venue in Southwest Florida. He was burnishing his credentials as a green Republican who cared about his local environment and getting kudos for it. He had the local media playing it up, simply accepting his press release.

But when that media started scheduling their actual coverage of the event, they discovered something startling: they weren’t invited. Neither was the public. For all the promotion, all the preliminary publicity they’d given this event, they were excluded.

Not only that but all the participants were public officials on the public payroll and they were going to conduct public business on vital matters. In a state with perhaps the most sweeping sunshine law in the country, Rooney had simply decided to lock the doors and keep the press and public out—and it seemed that his attendees, all public servants and many in publicly elected offices, were in on the game.

Now coverage of what we’ll call the Rooney Roundtable is a matter of intense public interest and an important point of contention—because if Rooney gets away with closing this matter of vital public importance, it means that the Florida Sunshine Law is a sham and doors will start slamming on the press and public in Southwest Florida and throughout the state in the future. When matters of vital public importance are discussed, no longer will the public know what’s being decided or done in their name or to them. The media, their eyes and ears, will be unconstitutionally blinded and muted.

This comes at a time of heightened awareness of government secretiveness at the national level over topics like the Robert Mueller report, the president’s tax returns and Russian election meddling. Rooney’s promise to hold a press conference after his roundtable smacks suspiciously of what will likely be a local replay of Attorney General William Barr’s deceptive summaries of Mueller’s findings. Rooney may summarize what was said at the roundtable but the public, who pays every attendee’s salary, will not know who said what or which agency each speaker represented. Overall, Rooney is appearing to be cut from the same secretive cloth as his hero and mentor, Donald Trump.

From a political perspective, Rooney’s insistence on secrecy has turned his roundtable from a triumph to a debacle. He now seems to be doing something illicit to the public rather than on their behalf. He has turned what was previously a largely supportive, supine and somnolent local media establishment against himself and the bitterness from this is likely to linger. Whether it will still be remembered next November is questionable. But if Rooney faces a primary challenge, which is likely, it will add fuel to his adversary’s fire.

Rookie mistakes

The most revealing thing about Rooney’s thinking was a statement he made that was quoted by NBC-2’s Dave Elias: “to obtain the participants we have, the forum must be private and technically oriented.”

The statement reveals that Rooney has still not made the mental transition from private businessman to public servant, nor does he understand the nature of public business.

In inviting public officials to his roundtable, Rooney assured some potential attendees—probably all—that their comments would be off the record and shielded from public scrutiny.

First, he did not have the power or authority to do that. There are no “private” government meetings. They’re either open or closed, public or classified. In private life and business he could do whatever he wanted. But every listed participant in Rooney’s Roundtable is a public official doing the public’s business on the public payroll dealing with a matter of vital public interest. As a congressman and public servant, Rooney had no authority to move this off the record and out of public sight. If he was going to do it behind closed doors he needed to declare it a classified meeting and meet all the standards and requirements for classification, which would mean that all participants would be sworn to secrecy and revealing the roundtable’s contents would become a federal crime.

Secondly, Rooney has argued that the roundtable does not violate Florida’s Sunshine Law because no two participating officials are from the same agency. It’s a nice bit of Jesuitical hair-splitting but the intent of the Sunshine Law is to open proceedings affecting the public to public scrutiny and this meeting more than meets the standard. Further, if Rooney is wrong, his attendees from Florida jurisdictions could be guilty of a crime and face a fine. If they’re elected officials they will be giving potential opponents ammunition in their next elections.

As for the contents of the roundtable being too technical for the press and public to understand, that’s just plain arrogance. Every Southwest Floridian has been living with the consequences of harmful algal blooms for over a year. There’s excellent, deep and widespread understanding of the issue, the forces surrounding it and the government mechanisms for dealing with it. If Rooney is saying the press and public are too stupid to understand this topic then he’s also saying they’re too stupid to understand any public issue and ultimately, that they’re too stupid to vote. This is an argument that has no merit whatsoever.

Rooney is accustomed to being the head of a major corporation, to holding board and operational meetings where his word is law and his decisions are final. Like another inexperienced businessman thrust into a high-profile public role, he’s unaccustomed to constitutional and legal restraints on his actions and to meeting public requirements. He’s accustomed to being a ruler, not a servant so he finds the role of serving the public uncomfortable and unfamiliar.

With his roundtable, Rooney is trying to have it both ways. He wants publicity and public credit for organizing it but doesn’t want it to be publicly open and he wants a crisp, decisive meeting that reaches firm decisions without the kind of public sunshine required by law.

What is more, he’s not terribly reflective. As he said in his remarks at The Alamo gun range and store in May 2018, “we need a nation of do-ers, not philosophers.” Well, he didn’t philosophize much or think this through and what he’s doing is putting his foot into a quagmire very, very deeply.

The options

So what can Rooney do now? Options include:

  • The right and best option: Declare the meeting open. Tell his attendees that he made a mistake and that press and public will be in attendance and the meeting is on the record. Those who can’t handle it will simply drop out. Then release an official text of the proceedings.
  • Cancel the whole thing permanently.
  • Cancel this session but regroup and try to do the same thing again, only the right way, perhaps under the auspices of Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) or the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, with those institutions setting the groundrules and guidelines and handling invitations. Another alternative is to hold a formal field hearing or a hearing in Washington, DC, following the rules of the House of Representatives. And, of course, keeping everything open to the press and public.
  • Plow ahead as planned and just hold the roundtable as a “private” gathering excluding the press and public. But remember—this is like plowing a field sowed with landmines. You never know which one is going to blow up. Rooney may get his roundtable as originally conceived but he jeopardizes the wellbeing of his participants, whether civil service or elected. Moreover, this course may work to Rooney’s own detriment in unforeseeable ways.

The aim of the Rooney Roundtable is commendable but the process of putting it together as currently planned was ignorant and inept from both procedural and political standpoints. Its execution may actually be illegal.

So far as this author knows the roundtable is still scheduled for Tuesday, May 7 at the Emergent Technologies Institute of FGCU, 16301 Innovation Lane, in Fort Myers, Fla., which is just off Alico Road, east of Route 75. It’s a good guess that invitees will start showing up between 8:00 am and 9:00 am. Whether anyone else gets in will be up to Francis Rooney.

The press and public should be there. Let’s see if there’s still sunshine in the Sunshine State.

Liberty lives in light

© 2019 by David Silverberg



Rooney reaches 1-year mark in avoiding constituents, town halls

05-31-17 Rep. Francis Rooney town hallRep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) at a May 31, 2017 town hall in Bonita Springs.   (Photo by author)

The Rooney roundup

365 days since Rep. Rooney has met constituents in an open, public forum

Feb. 22, 2019 by David Silverberg

Today, Feb. 22, marks one year since Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) has faced constituents in person in an open, public forum to hear their concerns and answer their questions.

It was on Feb. 22, 2018 that Rooney held his last two town hall meetings, one on Marco Island, the other in Fort Myers.

Since then he has refused to make any appearance where members of the public could attend to ask him questions about his policies and positions.

He also refused to debate his Democratic opponent, David Holden, during the run up to the midterm congressional election. The Collier County League of Women Voters invited both candidates to a debate, scheduled for Sept. 17. Rooney responded in a letter to the League that he had “no availability” on that date and “no future availability.”

He subsequently announced that he had no need to debate or make public appearances because “everyone knows my positions.”

In the year since his last town hall meetings Rooney has only spoken to small, invited groups in very controlled circumstances. On May 30, 2018 he spoke to an invitation-only audience at The Alamo gun range and store in Naples. That appearance was organized by the Florida Citizens Alliance, an advocacy organization critical of secular public education.

Rooney also joined President Donald Trump on stage at a rally in Hertz Arena in Estero on Halloween, Oct. 31, 2018, which was not an occasion for listening to constituent concerns. Trump praised Rooney for his “brutal” defense of the president and his policies. (In December 2017 Rooney called for a purge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to eliminate any anti-Trump elements in the leadership.)

Rooney was with then-Gov. Rick Scott (R) on his bus during his campaign for the US Senate when Scott turned and fled from red tide protesters in Venice and canceled a Naples campaign stop.

Rooney’s last town halls were contentious and combative. They were held only eight days after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. On Marco Island, when asked if he would support a semi-automatic weapons ban, Rooney replied: “How willing are we to throw the Constitution out the window?” The answer elicited angry shouts and catcalls.

In Fort Myers Rooney was confronted by six surviving students of the shooting. Though stating that “irresponsible people” shouldn’t have guns, his opposition to a ban or any other strong gun control measure led to jeers and angry shouts from the audience.

“Children are…dying at my school!” yelled Michael Weissman, who had graduated from the school the year before. “You are heartless!”

“I am for making sure that people who are dangerous don’t get guns in their hands,” Rooney said, to a chorus of boos. “I’m not voting to abdicate the Second Amendment.” Students from Naples and Palmetto Ridge high schools chanted: “Tell us Rooney how you dare, to put us all in the cross hairs” and “Close down the NRA; we don’t want it anyway.”

At the town hall meetings Rooney also refused to acknowledge constituent concerns about climate change. At a town hall on May 31, 2017 and then again at Marco Island on Feb. 22, 2018 he stated: “I think that there is very complex issues surrounding global warming. Sea levels have been rising since the ice age.”

Since his election in November 2016, all of Rooney’s town halls have been contentious as he has characterized the Affordable Care Act as “socialism,” deflected constituent concerns about Trump’s collusion with Russia and said the Environmental Protection Agency needed to be “reined in.”

Nonetheless, after a particularly intense meeting in Cape Coral on March 3, 2017, Rooney praised the importance of meeting constituents in town hall forums.

As he told the News-Press: “[Town hall meetings] are critically important because this is democracy at work. This is what our country is built on.”


Rooney acknowledges climate change for first time, breaks with Trump

For the first time since being elected to office, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), has publicly and officially acknowledged the reality of climate change.

The acknowledgment was buried at the bottom of a press release accompanying release of the The Southwest Florida Climate Metrics Survey by the Conservancy of Southwest Florida on Wednesday, Feb. 20.

“If there is any state whose people should be embracing the impacts of our changing climate, it’s Florida. We are the state most at risk for sea level rise than any,” Rooney stated in the release. “This survey proves climate change is an issue important to our voters and there is more we should do to protect ourselves from future impacts.”  [Emphasis ours.]

This is the first time Rooney has used the term “climate change” in public and acknowledged its reality.

In the past Rooney has always dodged acknowledging climate change or using the term, stating, as he did in multiple town halls, that sea levels have been rising since the ice age.

If in fact Rooney is acknowledging the reality of climate change he is breaking with President Donald Trump who as recently as Jan. 20 mocked the idea of global warming, tweeting amidst the plunge in temperatures caused by the polar vortex: “Wouldn’t be bad to have a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming right now!”


If Rooney is truly acknowledging climate change and a concern for the environment, there are ways to display the outward sign of his inward grace:

  1. He can publicly embrace America’s re-entry into the Paris Climate Agreement;
  2. He can endorse the Green New Deal to hold back carbon emissions and;
  3. He can hold an open, public town hall, explain his new position to his constituents and listen to their climatic concerns, which are amply documented in the Conservancy survey.

We shall see—but don’t hold your breath.

Liberty lives in light

Sworn in as governor, DeSantis pledges Trump-like agenda

01-08-2019 inauguration-8-696x464
Ron DeSantis is sworn in as Florida’s governor in Tallahassee on Jan. 8.

Jan. 9, 2019 by David Silverberg

Sworn in yesterday as the 46th governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis made his priorities known in his inaugural speech.

The speech followed fairly standard forms and showed little originality or new departures. As a protege and creature of President Donald Trump, DeSantis leaned heavily toward the Trumpist playbook. However, some items stood out as being of particular relevance to Southwest Florida.

  • In a rare departure from the Trumpist agenda, he acknowledged the importance of environmental stewardship, which is barely an afterthought for Trump and had previously held a low priority for Gov. Rick Scott. “For Florida, the quality of our water and environmental surroundings are foundational to our prosperity as a state—it doesn’t just drive tourism; it affects property values, anchors many local economies and is central to our quality of life. The water is part and parcel of Florida’s DNA. Protecting it is the smart thing to do; it’s also the right thing to do,” DeSantis said.
  • In discussing the environment, DeSantis waxed positively Churchillian in his promises: “We will fight toxic blue-green algae, we will fight discharges from Lake Okeechobee, we will fight red tide, we will fight for our fishermen, we will fight for our beaches, we will fight to restore our Everglades and we will never ever quit, we won’t be cowed and we won’t let the foot draggers stand in our way.” While he didn’t say he would never surrender, he did resolve “to leave Florida to God better than we found it” (which sounds as if it’s about to revert back to God sooner than we might prefer).
  • On education, he called for greater emphasis on vocational, technical and “skill-based” education, particularly in computer science and technology. He stated that “our education system needs to empower parents to choose the best possible school for their children”—a seeming endorsement of private, charter and for-profit schools, although he also said that educational opportunities “must extend to every Floridian regardless of race, color or creed.” If it was not a condemnation of public education neither was it a ringing endorsement.
  • On health care he stated: “The escalating cost of medical care, prescription drugs and health insurance has wreaked havoc on family budgets, priced many out of the market entirely, and has put significant stress on our state budget. The current system is riddled with perverse incentives, intrudes on the doctor-patient relationship and is mired in bureaucracy and red tape. The people of Florida deserve relief.” Presumably more specific plans to do this will be forthcoming in the days ahead.
  • He really came out swinging against the judiciary: “for far too long Florida has seen judges expand their power beyond proper constitutional bounds” he said and he vowed: “judicial activism ends, right here and right now. I will only appoint judges who understand the proper role of the courts is to apply the law and Constitution as written, not to legislate from the bench. The Constitution, not the judiciary, is supreme.”
  • He said he would stand with people in law enforcement and work to keep schools and communities safe, although there was not a hint of gun regulation. In supporting the rule of law, he vowed: “We won’t allow sanctuary cities. And we will stop incentivizing illegal immigration.”


None of this came as any surprise.

All Floridians should carefully watch DeSantis’ environmental policymaking and actions to see if he really means what he says on this issue and walks the walk. A good and easy starting point for DeSantis would be to publicly lift Rick Scott’s previous ban on use of the term “climate change” by state employees.

Supporters of public education need to very much monitor DeSantis’ education moves. The public education system is under threat and pressure from the for-profit education industry and the anti-public school movement.

Immigrants of all stripes and undocumented aliens can expect state crackdowns alongside the federal anti-immigration effort. This will primarily affect the state’s agricultural enterprises, including those in Southwest Florida. The loss of cheap, undocumented labor will probably result in rising food prices from the field to the fork. On this, it’s hard to discern any difference between DeSantis’ and Trump’s positions.

As for sanctuary cities, there are none in Florida. Only the Florida counties of Alachua and Clay have demurred from assisting federal enforcement actions, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, a restricted-immigration advocacy organization. DeSantis’ pledge was a solution in search of a problem.


It’s going to be a long four years.

Liberty lives in light