Banyai emerges as leading pro-choice voice in Southwest Florida politics

Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai exhorts the crowd in Fort Myers, Fla., at a demonstration denouncing the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, this past Saturday, June 25. (Photo: Campaign)

June 27, 2022 by David Silverberg

In the wake of the US Supreme Court’s ruling last Friday, June 24, to overthrow the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion, Cindy Banyai, the Democratic candidate for Congress in the 19th Congressional District, has emerged as the leading political candidate supporting women’s choice in Southwest Florida.

All regional Republican officeholders and candidates are either on the record against choice, praised the decision or have not expressed an opinion.

In a lengthy statement issued the day of the decision in the case of Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Banyai stated: “The day we feared has come. Far right extremists have succeeded in stripping us of our rights. The partisan corruption of the Supreme Court has eroded trust in our institutions. The Dobbs ruling is yet another blow to our democracy and to freedom.”

Banyai, the mother of three, continued: “I believe we all deserve human dignity, to live life on our own terms. This means deciding when and where to have a family. Failing to recognize abortion as health care and the value of body autonomy will put lives in danger.

“The partisan corruption of the Supreme Court has eroded trust in our institutions. The Dobbs ruling is yet another blow to our democracy and to freedom.”

However, she exhorted her audience: “Do not lose hope, though. We must keep fighting—for our rights, for our children, and our democracy.”

Republican reaction

Given Southwest Florida’s Republican dominance, Banyai’s stance makes her the region’s only pro-choice political figure.

Banyai’s opponent, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), praised the Supreme Court’s ruling and has long been on the record against women’s choice, making it a fundamental part of his 2020 election campaign.

Among the region’s state legislators, state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Naples), the incoming president of the Florida Senate, was also quick to praise the Dobbs decision.

“I am grateful to see the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade. These defenders of the Constitution have given the states rights to do what is right. Here in Florida, we will continue to defend life,” she tweeted following the decision announcement.

While retiring state Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Fort Myers) has not issued a statement on the Dobbs decision, during his campaign for office in 2020 the nastiest charge that his supporters could hurl against his primary opponent, Heather Fitzenhagen, was that she supported choice, to the point that she was said to be a clone of House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.).

As of this writing, Jonathan Martin, head of the Lee County Republican Party and the primary candidate seeking to succeed Rodrigues in the newly-drawn 33rd Senate District, had not commented or stated a position on the Dobbs decision.

In Florida the defining legislation on choice was the Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality Act (House Bill (HB) 5), which put new restrictions on abortions in the state, prohibiting them after 15 weeks of pregnancy. It was approved by the House by a vote of 78 to 39 on Feb. 17, approved by the Senate by a vote of 23 to 15 on March 3 and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on April 14. It goes into effect this coming Friday, July 1.

Lee and Collier counties’ state representatives, all Republicans, voted for HB 5.

Statewide response

On a statewide basis the picture was different but predictable, with Republicans praising the decision and Democrats condemning it.

DeSantis issued a statement: “For nearly fifty years, the U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited virtually any meaningful pro-life protection, but this was not grounded in the text, history or structure of the Constitution. By properly interpreting the Constitution, the Dobbs majority has restored the people’s role in our republic and a sense of hope that every life counts. Florida will continue to defend its recently-enacted pro-life reforms against state court challenges, will work to expand pro-life protections, and will stand for life by promoting adoption, foster care and child welfare.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidates condemned the decision.

Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.): “Today’s Supreme Court decision to overturn nearly fifty years of progress by dismantling Roe v. Wade is shameful, harmful, and wrong. Without the protections of Roe, radical Republican governors and legislators, including those in Tallahassee, will now have the power to outlaw abortion entirely, regardless of the circumstances.”

State Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried: “This is a tragic day for women in America. The freedom to make our own choices about our lives, our bodies, and our healthcare is fundamental to our humanity. It’s absolutely devastating to have those rights taken away. It’s not an exaggeration to say that women and girls will die as a result of this decision.” She vowed: “In Florida, for now, we still have a provision in our state constitution that protects abortion rights – although that is in question as well. I promise that we will fight with everything we have to keep that from being overturned.”

Both of Florida’s Republican US senators praised the decision while Democratic senatorial candidate Val Demings condemned it.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

On momentous day, SWFL reps vote against final gun violence bill, praise fall of women’s choice

Protesters outside th e US Supreme Court yesterday. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Ted Eytan)

June 25, 2022 by David Silverberg

Yesterday, June 24, Southwest Florida’s representatives in Congress voted against the final version of a bill to dampen gun violence and had fulsome praise for the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and end the right to abortion.

Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) all voted against the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (Senate 2938), which imposes new restrictions on gun purchases, helps states establish “red flag” laws, funds mental health programs and increases school security. It was constructed as an amendment to a measure proposed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) renaming a court house in Tallahassee.

The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 234 to 193. Fourteen Republicans voted with the majority to approve the bill.

Having been approved by both chambers of Congress, the bill now goes to President Joe Biden for signature. (UPDATE: President Biden signed the bill into law this morning.)

While that vote was taken in the afternoon, at 11:00 am that morning the Supreme Court released its ruling in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization, striking down Roe v. Wade by a 5 to 4 vote.

Southwest Florida’s congressmen were quick to praise the Supreme Court ruling.

“Today, we saw the rule of law established under the Constitution prevail,” tweeted Donalds. “This monumental decision ends a once unconstitutional ruling riddled w/ judicial activism. Now the right to abortion rests in the hands of the people, where it belongs.”

“More than 63 million unborn children have been murdered by abortion since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973,” tweeted Steube. “I applaud the Supreme Court’s courageous decision today to reverse Roe v. Wade.”

“Today, the Supreme Court of the United States has applied sound constitutional principles to arrive at its opinion,” stated Diaz-Balart in a lengthy statement. “This decision is long overdue. The Supreme Court is to be commended.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

US Senate passes major gun reform bill; Fla. Sens. Scott, Rubio oppose; passage likely in House

The final vote on Senate 2938 last night. (Image: US Senate)

June 24, 2022 by David Silverberg

By a vote of 65 to 33, he United States Senate last night passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to make American communities safer (Senate 2938) by regulating gun sales and possession.

Both of Florida’s Republican senators, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, voted against the bill.

The bill now returns to the House of Representatives for final approval, which may occur as early as today.

In a bizarre bit of legislative maneuvering, the major provisions were tagged onto a bill that Rubio introduced in May renaming a US courthouse in Tallahassee after Joseph Woodrow Hatchett, a former US Appeals Court judge.

The bill expands criminal background checks for gun buyers, bars a larger group of domestic-violence offenders from being able to purchase firearms, and funds “red flag” programs that would allow authorities to seize guns from troubled individuals.

“Many are comparing the bill being considered in the Senate to what we did in FL. However, they aren’t the same at all,” stated Scott in a tweet explaining his vote.

In 2018, as governor, Scott signed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act, which went further than the Senate bill in restricting gun sales and establishing “red flag” provisions to allow seizure of guns from people considered a danger to themselves and others. Nonetheless, stated Scott, “The Senate bill is unacceptably weak on protecting due process & automatically restores gun rights to convicted domestic abusers. That’s why I can’t support it.”

As of this writing, Rubio had not issued a statement on any online platform explaining his vote.

Immediately after the 9:42 pm vote in the Senate, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) issued a statement: “On behalf of the House, we applaud the Senate for passing its gun violence prevention package on a strong bipartisan vote.

“Every day, gun violence steals lives and scars communities — and this crisis demands urgent action.  While we must do more, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act is a step forward that will help protect our children and save lives,” she stated.

“First thing tomorrow morning, the Rules Committee will meet to advance this life-saving legislation to the Floor.  When the Rules Committee finishes its business, we will head immediately to the Floor.  And we will send the bill to President Biden for his signature, with gratitude for his leadership.”

All of Southwest Florida’s members of Congress voted against the bill when it was first considered in the House.

Some indication of their likely votes came yesterday, June 23, after a Supreme Court decision striking down a New York restriction on concealed weapons. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) tweeted: “Today’s SCOTUS ruling is a massive win for our Republic and the Constitution that guides it. As Justice Thomas stated, the Second Amendment is NOT a second-class right, and this 6-3 ruling sets that in stone. DON’T TREAD ON ME & MY RIGHT TO KEEP & BEAR ARMS.”

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) similarly praised the Supreme Court decision.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) did not issue any statement.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

SWFL Democratic and Republican politicos react to Jan. 6 hearing

The Jan. 6 Committee hearing last night, June 9. (Photo: AP pool)

June 10, 2022 by David Silverberg

The first hearing of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, held last night, June 9, evoked starkly different reactions—though hardly surprising ones—among Southwest Florida Democrats and Republicans.

“This hearing was shocking. We knew so much, but the details are amazing,” tweeted Cindy Banyai, Democratic candidate for Congress in the 19th Congressional District. “My heart is aching and I am so angry at those who deny the severity of this clearly planned attack.”

Banyai maintained a real time Twitter commentary on the hearing as it unfolded.

“These hearings are a microcosm of the division in our country – some define what happened as seditious conspiracy, some as legitimate political discourse,” stated Annisa Karim, chair of the Collier County Democratic Party in a message to The Paradise Progressive.

Despite Republican characterization of the attack on the Capitol as “legitimate political discourse,” Karim pointed out that such discourse doesn’t include members of Congress fleeing for their lives, nooses displayed, or incitement to violence.

“We need to take our partisan hats off and watch these hearings as Americans to understand that our Democracy is fragile and it needs to be protected and defended against all enemies foreign and domestic,” she wrote.

On the Republican side, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) agreed in a tweet with Republican colleague Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-21-NY) that the hearings were a “witch hunt” but “I’ll add something else—[Americans] aren’t going to watch.”

Why wouldn’t Americans watch? “1. Tonight is Game 5 of the NHL playoffs. 2. Most Americans are more concerned with $5+ gas prices & skyrocketing grocery prices. 1/6 is for the history books, not an MSM [mainstream media]-sponsored DNC [Democratic National Committee] ad.

Rep. Mario Diaz (R-25-Fla.) was similarly dismissive. “Tonight’s J6 committee hearing is the most blatant attempt to distract the American people from the disastrous and failed policies of the Democratic Party,” he tweeted.

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) also followed the Party line, tweeting: “Rather than addressing all of the crises that Biden created for the American people, House Democrats will be putting on a professionally produced show tonight. This is a desperate attempt to shift attention away from the real issues.”

To come: More on the Jan. 6 committee investigation and Southwest Florida

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

SWFL congressmen vote against bill to prevent gun violence

Rep. Byron Donalds is interviewed by Ari Melber on MSNBC to explain his opposition to anti-gun violence legislation. (Image: MSNBC)

June 9, 2022 by David Silverberg

Last night, June 8, Southwest Florida’s congressmen voted against the Protecting Our Kids Act, intended to reduce the incidence of gun violence.

The bill, House Resolution (HR) 7910, passed by a vote of 223 to 204. It now goes to the Senate where a small, bipartisan group of senators are negotiating the terms of their own gun safety bill.

The vote on the House bill was complex because there were separate votes on each of its seven clauses, or titles, to determine if they would stay in the bill. This allowed members of Congress to reveal on the record which anti-violence measures they supported or opposed.

The vote followed a day of dramatic testimony from 11-year-old Uvalde, Texas massacre survivor Miah Cerrillo, Uvalde parents and the mother of a victim wounded in the Buffalo, NY massacre.

All seven titles in the bill passed with majority votes, as did the bill itself.

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who does not live in his district, voted against Title I, which raised the age for sales of semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21. He then sat out votes on Title II, which prohibits straw purchases of firearms and firearms trafficking, and Title III, which prohibits untraceable or “ghost” guns. He voted against Title IV, which requires safe storage of guns to protect children; Title V, which prohibits “bump stocks,” that allow semi-automatic weapons to function as automatic weapons; and Title VI, which prohibits high-capacity magazines.

He did, however, vote in favor of Title VII, which requires the Justice Department to file an annual report on the people who have been denied gun permits. The reports will include their “race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender, age, disability, average annual income, and English language proficiency, if available.”

He then voted against the bill in its entirety.

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), voted against all titles except Title VII, which requires the annual report. He also voted against the entire bill.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), like Steube, voted against all titles except Title VII, which requires the annual report. He too voted against the entire bill.

At an appearance Tuesday morning with Everytown for Gun Safety activists, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) asked: “Why would someone be against raising the age so that teenagers do not have AK-47s?  Why would someone not want protection in their home so that the children cannot have access – dangerously – to guns in a deadly way?  Why would we?  Why would we not side with our law enforcement and say these ghost guns are a danger to all of us in our society?”

She continued: “So, for the children, I say to our colleagues: we really don’t want to hear about your political survival.  Your political survival means nothing compared to the survival of our children.”

Immediately following the vote Donalds, who has a long record opposing gun safety and anti-violence bills in both the state legislature and Congress, issued a statement saying: “The knee-jerk proposals we are voting on today will do little to nothing to curb the infliction of heinous violence plaguing America committed by lawless maniacs hellbent on devaluing innocent life.” He called the effort to curb gun violence “an unabashed crusade on our Second Amendment” that “exposed the Democrat’s [sic] disdain and lack of respect for our fundamental rights established in our founding documents.”

Rep. Greg Steube slides a clip into his pistol while appearing remotely before a hearing on gun violence of the House Judiciary Committee. (Image: YouTube)

Steube, an ardent gun possession advocate who waved a loaded pistol during a remote appearance at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, tweeted, “Why are we punishing law-abiding Americans and taking away their Constitutional right to protect themselves because 0.3% of the population commits violent crimes? I won’t stand for it.” He joined Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-3-Colo.) and host Laura Ingraham on Fox News to denounce the measures.

As of this writing, Diaz-Balart, who has switched positions on gun-related issues in the past, had not issued a statement on his votes.

Another gun violence measure, The Federal Extreme Risk Protection Order Act (HR 2377) is expected to come up for a vote as early as today. This is essentially a national “red flag” law establishing procedures for “federal extreme risk protection orders” and is similar to Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Act, which was passed into law in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., massacre in 2018. These prohibit arms sales to people deemed a risk to themselves or others. Such people will be prohibited from possessing, shipping, transporting or receiving firearms.

In an appearance yesterday, June 8, on the Ari Melber show on MSNBC, Donalds expressed his opposition to red flag laws.

“There are serious Fifth Amendment, constitutional issues with red flag laws because essentially your property can be taken from you by a court of law without you being able to defend yourself in said court of law. Those are the constitutional issues with red flag laws,” he said.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

DeSantis budget cuts hit Cape Coral, Fort Myers Beach, Marco Island, Bonita Springs, Sanibel, Venice—Updated

Times Square in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., above, had $1 million for upgrades and improvements vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in actions announced yesterday. (Photo: City of Fort Myers Beach)

June 3, 2022 by David Silverberg

Updated June 4, with addition of Sanibel, Venice, Charlotte County Utilities and new totals

On Thursday, June 2, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) vetoed $7.825 million for projects in Southwest Florida communities.

The vetoes were part of an overall line-item cut that sliced $3.1 billion from the $109.9 billion state budget that takes effect on July 1 for the next fiscal year. The budget was the product of extensive legislative work and negotiation. (The full list of vetoes can be seen here.)

Of all of Southwest Florida’s communities, Cape Coral lost the most with $1.625 million in cuts. Those cuts were:

  • $1,000,000 for North Wellfield Expansion, a project to improve water treatment;  
  • $375,000 for a Tactical Intelligence and Analytics Center to improve police response times and fight crime;
  • $250,000 for boardwalk replacement at the Four Mile Cove Ecological Preserve along the shore of the Caloosahatchee River, so residents can enjoy the wild local environment.

Fort Myers Beach lost $1 million for Times Square renovation, a project to improve and upgrade the town’s prime gathering place, commercial center and tourist attraction.

Marco Island lost $1.5 million for the Marco Island South Water Treatment Plant West High Service Pump Station, which processes brackish well water into potable water for residents.

Bonita Springs lost $750,000 for Phase 2 of the Bonita Springs Community Park Baseball Complex, which builds on prior upgrades to landscaping, storm water management and pedestrian access.

Sanibel Island lost $100,000 for slough dredging and muck removal.

Venice lost $850,000 for a water treatment plant 2nd stage membrane phase 1.

Charlotte County Utilities lost $2 million for improving communications and cybersecurity.

Another regional recipient was not tied to a specific community: Fakahatchee Strand State Park lost a $3 million appropriation.

Some $350 million was taken from appropriations for unspecified grants and aids to local governments for water quality improvements and Everglades restoration.

The region may also feel indirect impacts from a $750,000 cut to training for the Florida Association of District School Superintendents and a $250,000 cut for teacher retention.

When DeSantis unveiled the vetoes at a press conference at The Villages, a retirement community northwest of Orlando, he did so in front of the Republican House and Senate leaders who had constructed the initial budget. He told them “that’s just the way it goes” as they applauded his vetoes of projects for the communities they represent.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

After week without announcement, Oakes Ag bid seems unlikely

Alfie Oakes on the Tucker Carlson show on April 28. (Image: BitChute)
 

May 27, 2022 by David Silverberg

After a week without an announcement of his candidacy, a bid for state Agriculture Commissioner by Alfie Oakes (Francis Alfred Oakes III) appears unlikely.

Last Wednesday, May 18, Oakes told The Paradise Progressive that he would decide by week’s end whether to run for state Agriculture Commissioner, a position being vacated by Democrat Nicole “Nikki” Fried, who is running for governor. During an April 28 interview at which he made his interest in the position known, he promised Fox News host Tucker Carlson that he would make the announcement on his show. As of this writing, no announcement has been made.

Oakes, an extremely conservative farmer and grocer based in Naples, did not respond to repeated calls and a text message from The Paradise Progressive.

As of today, May 27, there are 88 days until the Aug. 23 primary election, a very late date to mount any kind of campaign, especially a statewide one that would have to reach all of Florida.

The leading candidate for the seat is state Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-10-Citrus County), outgoing president of the state Senate and an egg farmer. In addition to endorsements from former president Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), in the past week Simpson was endorsed by anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and Florida Family Action, a politically conservative social action organization.

He has also been endorsed by the National Rifle Association and Unified Sportsmen of Florida as well as the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Police Benevolent Association.

In addition to Simpson the Florida Division of Elections lists six candidates for the office: Democrats Jacques “JR” Gaillot and Ryan Morales and Republicans James Shaw and Bob White. Businessman Chuck Nadd, although still listed, dropped out of the race when DeSantis endorsed Simpson.

Liberty lives in light

©2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

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

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

May 24, 2022 by David Silverberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opening questions

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

Collier County is no exception to this effort.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 38 percent debate

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

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

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

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

Rules and rebellion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary: Realism versus religion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*  *  *

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

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

SWFL reps vote to deny mothers baby formula

The final vote in the House of Reprentatives to provide funding for baby formula funding. (Image: C-SPAN)

May 19, 2022 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida’s congressional representatives voted last night to deny $28 million in funding for the emergency purchase of baby formula in the face of a nationwide shortage.

The bill, Infant Formula Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2022 (House Resolution 7790) passed the House of Representatives yesterday, May 18, at 9:36 pm by a vote of 231 to 192. All opponents were Republicans.

According to its official summary, the bill “provides appropriations for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to (1) address the current shortage of FDA-regulated infant formula and certain medical foods in the United States; and (2) prevent future shortages, including by taking the steps that are necessary to prevent fraudulent products from entering the US market.”

Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) all opposed the bill.

“It is essential that we ensure the federal government has the resources it needs to get baby formula back on the shelves,” said House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) in a floor statement urging passage.  “And as the President said, we want to do it quickly but we do not – we must do it safely, and we must do it with caution, so not so fast as not to be safe.” 

As of this writing, Donalds had not issued a statement explaining his vote. However, on May 13 he charged in an interview with The Floridian that the baby formula crisis “blew up in Joe Biden’s face” and criticized the administration for seeking aid to Ukraine when there was a formula shortage.

In his statement explaining his vote, Diaz-Balart tweeted, “The American people will not be fooled. House Democratic Leadership’s legislation DOES ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to put more baby formula on store shelves, or hold the FDA accountable. Instead, all it does is wastefully increase big government socialist bureaucracy.”

Steube was similarly scornful in a tweet: “Record inflation, no baby formula, war in Ukraine, invasion on our southern border, record crime in our communities, and what have Democrats focused on this week? UFO Hearings! Democrats are literally using UFOs to distract the American people from their incompetence.”

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

SWFL reps on Roe v. Wade leak; all have long-time anti-choice stances–Updated

Protesters gather outside the Supreme Court last night. (Photo: Reuters)

May 3, 2022 by David Silverberg

Updated 3:30 pm with statements from Rep. Byron Donalds, Cindy Banyai.

This story will be updated as more information and comment becomes available.

Southwest Florida’s elected representatives were slow to respond or comment on a draft Supreme Court opinion striking down the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

The draft opinion for the majority by Associate Justice Samuel Alito was made public by the news organization Politico at 8:32 pm last night. Chief Supreme Court Justice John Roberts confirmed its authenticity and announced an investigation to find the leaker.

In the opinion Alito argued that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division.” He calls for its complete overturn.

Of the region’s congressional delegation Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) was the first to comment on Twitter with three tweets starting at 7:41 am today.

“It is unfortunate that the news of the greatest victory for the Pro Life movement comes on the heels of one of the most profound breaches of trust the Court has ever seen,” he tweeted. “If the report is true, I am grateful that all of God’s children will now have a voice, and I am committed to ensuring that the leaker and their complicit partners in the media will be held accountable for their actions to the fullest extent,” he continued.

At 12:41 pm today Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), released a tweet and statement condemning the leak.

“Those liable for prematurely and irresponsibly unveiling this draft opinion have engaged in a historically dangerous political maneuver intended to intimidate Lady Justice and the Constitution that guides our Republic,” he tweeted.

In his formal statement he maintained that the leak was a crime and stated that America had fallen victim to “culture wars and clickbait journalism.”

In no statement, however, did he address the substance of overturning Roe v. Wade or a woman’s right to choose.

Cindy Banyai, a declared Democratic candidate for the 19th Congressional District, issued a statement saying “Conservative activist justices inappropriately appointed to the Supreme Court are about to send the United States back 50 years. The overturning of the right to medical privacy and abortion care should alarm all Americans.”

She continued: “I stand firmly in opposition to overturning the super precedent of Roe v. Wade. I believe people have the right to choose when and where to start a family. I believe people have a right to medical privacy and decisions about medical care should be made by a person and their medical practitioner, not pre-emptively made by the government.”

As of this writing Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) had not yet commented on any platform.

All of Southwest Florida’s Republican elected representatives ran on anti-choice platforms.

In his 2020 election bid, Donalds’ campaign tag line was: “I’m everything the fake news media says doesn’t exist: a Donald Trump-supporting, liberty-loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man.”

All of Southwest Florida’s state elected officials voted in favor of Florida’s “Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality” bill (House Bill 5), which was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on April 15. The law prohibits abortions after 15 weeks and makes no exceptions for rape or incest. It is slated to go into effect in July and will likely stand if the Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade before then.

Of Southwest Florida’s state senators, Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Naples) has consistently held an anti-choice position, telling Florida Politics in September 2021 that while she opposed abortion she was also uncomfortable with provisions of Texas’ anti-abortion law encouraging civil litigation against those providing or seeking abortions.

“I am pro-life but I am not pro-telling on your neighbors,” she said in a speech to the Argus Foundation in Sarasota at that time.

State Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Fort Myers) reaffirmed his anti-abortion position to the Fort Myers Beach Observer in February.

Asked about Florida’s then-pending anti-abortion bill, Rodrigues told the Observer, “I hope it passes”—as indeed it did.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!