Donalds, Steube re-pledge allegiance to Trump; Diaz Balart mum on arrest possibility

Byron Donalds embraces President Donald Trump at a 2019 awards ceremony in South Carolina. (Image: Donalds campaign)

March 20, 2023 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida congressional Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) rushed to support former President Donald Trump following his unverified claim that he might be arrested tomorrow, Tuesday, March 21.

As of this writing, Rep. Mario Diaz Balart (R-26-Fla.) had not weighed in on the possible arrest.

Trump alleged that he was going to be arrested in a posting on his Truth Social network on Saturday, March 18. “THE FAR & AWAY LEADING REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE & FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, WILL BE ARRESTED ON TUESDAY OF NEXT WEEK,” he wrote in all capital letters. “PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!”

Trump is under investigation in a wide variety of venues for numerous possible crimes and infractions. While in office he was impeached twice for misconduct, including inciting a riot on Jan. 6, 2021 aimed at overturning the election, overthrowing the US government and attacking his vice president.

Donalds, who also has an arrest record and who voted to overturn the 2020 election, built his congressional career on loyalty to Trump. He issued a lengthy statement on Sunday, March 19, denouncing the possible arrest.

“Unfortunately, our nation is increasingly mirroring the practices of authoritarian regimes and blatantly neglecting the Rule of Law established in our Constitution and the liberties long enshrined in the bedrock of our Republic,” he said in his statement. “Following recent reports of the imminent arrest of former President Donald J. Trump, it is clear that there is no light between the beacon of freedom in the world and the most oppressive regimes in history.”

Steube, who has been sidelined from Congress since his home accident on Jan. 18, issued a tweet on March 18: “Once again, the Left is weaponizing the government for their own political motivations,” he wrote. “They never learn. The American people will rally behind President Trump. We see right through it.”

To date there has been no verification of Trump’s impending arrest claims from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose office has been investigating whether Trump’s 2016 payment of $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels violated campaign finance laws.

In an e-mail sent to staffers and obtained by a number of media outlets, Bragg told staff that ““we do not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office or threaten the rule of law in New York.”

He continued: “Our law enforcement partners will ensure that any specific or credible threats against the office will be fully investigated and that the proper safeguards are in place so all 1,600 of us have a secure work environment.” He stated that the office was coordinating with the New York Police Department and Office of Court Administration to maintain security and added that “as with all of our investigations, we will continue to apply the law evenly and fairly, and speak publicly only when appropriate.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Reps. Donalds and Diaz Balart vote to allow pollution of SWFL waters

Fish killed by red tide on the beach in Naples, Fla., on March 6, 2023. (Image: NBC2 News)

March 14, 2023 by David Silverberg

Last Thursday, March 9, Southwest Florida congressional representatives voted to roll back protections and allow increased pollution, which would have a direct impact on the region’s waters.

The vote was on House Joint Resolution (HJRes) 27, which passed by a vote of 227 to 198, largely along party lines.

The resolution changed the definition of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) to potentially allow greater water pollution. It seeks to return to the status of regulation under former President Donald Trump.

Protecting the purity of water is a priority for Southwest Florida, which is currently suffering a major red tide bloom.

Both Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-26-Fla.) voted for the resolution. Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) did not vote, still absent due to an accident he suffered on Jan. 18. One Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-1-Pa.) voted against the resolution. Nine Democrats voted for it.

Neither Donalds nor Diaz Balart issued statements explaining their votes. Donalds did not mention his vote in his weekly newsletter to constituents.

The House action is unlikely to take effect given Democratic dominance in the Senate and a pledge by President Joe Biden to veto the Republican House measure if it reaches his desk.

The water issue

The Clean Water Act of 1972 regulates US waters to prevent pollution, giving primary enforcement responsibility to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In 2015, WOTUS was put in place under President Barack Obama to protect a variety of streams, rivers and wetlands that serve as sources for larger bodies of water, in an effort to reduce pollution. In particular, the rule covered water sources that run intermittently or underground. The rule particularly affected Southwest Florida whose streams and wetlands impact much larger bodies of water like the Caloosahatchee River and the Everglades.

In January 2020, President Donald Trump rolled back WOTUS with his own administration’s “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” which eliminated many of the previous protections. Developers and industries were no longer required to get permits under the Clean Water Act before dumping waste and pollutants like pesticides and fertilizers into water sources like creeks and streams. Essentially, the Trump administration held that if a body of water wasn’t “navigable” anti-pollution measures wouldn’t apply.

“I terminated one of the most ridiculous regulations of all: the last administration’s disastrous Waters of the United States rule,” Trump boasted when he ended the protections. “That was a rule that basically took your property away from you.”

“This is a horrible setback for wetland protection in the USA,” wrote Bill Mitsch, a globally recognized wetlands expert and eminent scholar and director of the Everglades Wetland Research Park at Florida Gulf Coast University at the time. (Mitsch has since retired.)

“I have followed this tug of war for all these years between those who appreciate the many ecosystem services that wetlands provide, including cleaning our waters, sequestering and permanently storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and providing the best habitat for hundreds of threatened and endangered species, and the industrial-scale agricultural, energy, and real estate giants” Mitsch wrote. “It has always been a David vs. Goliath [battle].”

In June 2021, President Joe Biden’s administration restored the previous anti-pollution restrictions of WOTUS. Both the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers made the announcement.

“It’s a good move,” Mitsch told The Paradise Progressive in an interview when the rule was reapplied. “I’m happy because it’s the right direction.”

Mitsch continued: “I’m delighted both agencies have stepped forward. This, in my view, is a good turn for Southwest Florida and especially the Everglades.”

With its vote last Thursday, the Republican-dominated US House voted to remove the Obama-Biden protections and allow Trump-era pollution.

Although the measure is unlikely to take effect, Southwest Florida’s waterways and wetlands remain under threat since the state took over the permitting process from the federal government in one of the Trump administration’s last acts.

“I’m very much afraid of Florida taking wetland management away from the feds. What the feds are doing is great but I’ve seen it before,” Mitsch said at the time.  “There’s no question why [the state] wanted to take over water regulation; it was for development.” 

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Calling all bloggers: Time to stop a Florida assault on free speech

Florida Sen. Jason Brodeur’s bill would require bloggers to register with the state

State Sen. Jason Brodeur explains his blogging registration bill. (Image: Twitter)

March 8, 2023 by David Silverberg

Updated, Sunday March 12 with new contact information for Sen. Jason Brodeur.

A Florida bill requiring bloggers to register with the state if they cover or comment on the governor, Cabinet officers or state legislators is sparking alarm and outrage.

It needs to be stopped and bloggers in Florida and around the world should immediately raise their voices against it.

The bill was introduced by state Sen. Jason Brodeur (R-10-Seminole and Orange counties).

Titled “An Act Relating to Information Dissemination” (Senate Bill (SB) 1316), the bill was filed on Feb. 28 in advance of the state legislature’s general session. It was referred to three committees for consideration: the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Appropriations Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice, and the Committee on Fiscal Policy.

The Florida legislature convened yesterday, March 7, for a 60-day session during which the bill may be considered.

(Editor’s Note: The Paradise Progressive and this author have a clear and obvious interest in this bill and its consideration. Nonetheless, that interest does not preclude factual coverage, analysis or commentary of the bill, its sponsor or its progress. The Paradise Progressive, which is supported by its author and reader donations, will continue to provide coverage, analysis and commentary on politics, especially related to the governance, representation and elections of Southwest Florida and the state as a whole as long as the United States Constitution and its Bill of Rights continue in force in Florida and the United States generally.)

The bill

The bill has two parts. (The full bill as introduced is available for download at the conclusion of this article.)

The first part has nothing to do with blogging. It amends an existing law for court sales of property (“judicial sales”), usually to pay debts in bankruptcy cases, so that the sale is posted on the Web for a specified time period. The second non-blogging clause establishes conditions and procedures for government publication of legally required notices.

It is in its third, entirely new, section that it tackles blogging.

As with all legislation, it first defines its terms.

A “blog” “means a website or webpage that hosts any blogger and is frequently updated with opinion, commentary, or business content. The term does not include the website of a newspaper or other similar publication.” A “blogger” is anyone submitting “a blog post to a blog.” A “blog post” is defined as “an individual webpage on a blog which contains an article, a story, or a series of stories.”

(Just for historical context, the word “blog” is a contraction of “Web log” that took hold in the early 1990s as the Internet gained popularity.)

It defines “Elected state officer” as the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Cabinet officer, or any member of the Legislature.

The key provision of the bill is in its second section: “If a blogger posts to a blog about an elected state officer and receives, or will receive, compensation for that post, the blogger must register with the appropriate office, as identified in paragraph (1)(f), within 5 days after the first post by the blogger which mentions an elected state officer.”

The two offices mentioned in the paragraph are the Office of Legislative Services and the Commission on Ethics. If a blogger mentions a member of the legislature, the blogger reports to the first office; if the blogger mentions an executive branch official the report is to the second.

Under the legislation, once registered, the blogger must file a monthly report within 10 days of the end of the month, with exceptions for weekends and holidays.

The reports have to include the person or entity that paid for the blog post and how much the blogger was paid (rounded to the nearest $10) as well as the website and website address where it was posted.

If the reports are not filed on time the blogger is subject to a fine of $25 per day that has to be paid within 30 days of being assessed. If the blog post was about a member of the legislature, the money goes into the Legislative Lobbyist Registration Trust Fund; if about an executive branch official, the Executive Branch Lobby Registration Trust Fund. If about both, then the payment goes to both. Bloggers can get a one-time waiver of the first fine but must report within 30 days of the first infraction.

Bloggers can appeal their fines and the bill sets out the procedures for such appeals through the courts. However, if the blogger doesn’t pay a fine within 100 days, he or she is subject to court action.

This law takes effect upon passage.

Brodeur’s defense

“Do you want to know the truth about the so-called ‘blogger’ bill?” a defensive-sounding Brodeur wrote in a March 5 tweet. “It brings the current pay-to-play scheme to light and gives voters clarity as to who is influencing their elected officials, JUST LIKE how we treat lobbyists. It’s an electioneering issue, not a free speech issue.”

He elaborated in a 1-minute, 48-second video interview with the Florida’s Conservative Voice blog posted to Twitter.

The clip posted by Brodeur started in response to a question. It bears quoting in full.

“The biggest thing that you pointed out is, it is for—only for—bloggers who are paid, compensated to influence or advocate on state elections. And this is really to get an electioneering thing and perhaps, I’m even open to it, even in the wrong place in the statute, because what we have out there today is a system by which someone can pay someone to write a story, publish it online and then use that in a mail piece as a site source when they’re making claims about an opponent. So what we want, is we want voters to be able to know—you can still do it, that is a mechanism by which candidates advertise. You can still do it, we just believe that voters have a right to know when somebody is being paid to advocate, like lobbyists. And so, if you believe, that we should have a state registry of lobbyists, so everybody knows who is trying to influence who, what is the difference between a paid blogger who writes about state government or a paid lobbyist who advocates for state government? One talks and one writes. And so my position on it would really be: ‘So look, listen, we’ll just get rid of the lobbying registration, then?’ Either way, I want to be consistent because if you’re being paid to advocate a position the public should be able to know who’s being paid and make a decision for themselves. So that’s all we’re trying to clean up, is really an electioneering issue.

“Now, what I think the media is getting wrong about it is—you know, I’ve gotten phone calls all day long about it, from Seattle to New York, literally—where people are going: ‘I hate you and you’re trying to ruin free speech, this is how Germany got everything wrong’—no, no, no, this is not a free speech issue, it’s a transparency issue and electioneering. It’s—so all I’m trying to do is say, ‘Treat paid bloggers just like you treat lobbyists.’ That’s it.” 

Brodeur may be particularly sensitive to hostile blogging and media coverage and especially hidden funding because his initial, razor-thin 2020 election was clouded by the presence of a “ghost candidate,” a non-party-affiliated candidate whose campaign was secretly funded by the Republican Party in an effort to siphon votes from the Democrat.

As detailed in the Nov. 4, 2022 article “Ghost of 2020 hangs over Jason Brodeur, Joy Goff-Marcil contest in SD 10,” by Jacob Ogles on the website Florida Politics, the ghost candidate, Jestine Iannotti, sent misleading mailers to voters bearing a stock photo of a black woman and succeeded in gaining 5,787 votes.

That was enough for Brodeur to win a squeaker of a victory over his opponent, Democrat Patricia Sigman, by a hairsbreadth 7,644 votes.

As Ogles wrote: “This year, prosecutors brought charges against Iannotti, consultant Eric Foglesong and Seminole County Republican Party Chair Ben Paris, who notably works for Brodeur at his day job running the Seminole Chamber of Commerce.

“Paris was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge in September, and both Iannotti and former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg both told investigators Brodeur knew about or was expected to support her candidacy. Brodeur has denied any knowledge of the scheme,” the article stated.

So apparently, when Brodeur discusses pay-to-play schemes and hidden funding, he knows whereof he speaks.

Reception and denunciation

The instant Brodeur’s bill came to light it attracted national media attention—and denunciation.

One of the first and most prominent people to react was former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is currently a retired resident of Naples, Fla.

“The idea that bloggers criticizing a politician should register with the government is insane,” Gingrich tweeted on Sunday, March 5. “It is an embarrassment that it is a Republican state legislator in Florida who introduced a bill to that effect. He should withdraw it immediately.”

Brodeur’s bill didn’t get any love from the governor it might ostensibly protect, either.

Asked about the bill in a press conference following his State of the State address yesterday, March 7, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) distanced himself from the proposal.

“That’s not anything that I’ve ever supported. I don’t support it, I’ve been very clear about what we are doing,” DeSantis said. 

He noted that “every person in the legislature can file bills” and “the Florida legislature, 120 of them in the House and however many, the 40 in the Senate, they have independent agency to be able to do things,” he said. “Like, I don’t control every single bill that has been filed or amendment, so just as we go through this session, please understand that.”

Uncounted and likely uncountable were the denunciations of the bill in online comments, tweets, postings and phone calls “from Seattle to New York” as Brodeur himself put it.

The National Review magazine, the venerable voice of conservative political reasoning, weighed in with a stinging headline that needed no elaboration: “Senator Jason Brodeur Is a Moron, but He’s a Solo Moron.”

“The bill is an unconstitutional, moronic disgrace, and the guy who wrote it, Senator Jason Brodeur of Seminole County, is an embarrassment to the GOP,” wrote Charles Cooke on March 2.

Other than Brodeur himself, defense of the bill was hard to come by, either online or as covered in the media.

Commentary: Putin would be proud

There are so many arguments to be made against SB 1316 that it’s hard to know where to begin.

SB 1316 is a clear and obvious attempt to suppress free speech in the state of Florida. It doesn’t just violate the First Amendment, it violates both its free speech and free press clauses.

In fact, Brodeur’s bill most closely resembles Russia’s “blogger’s law,” passed in 2014 and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin. That law requires any blogger with 3,000 or more followers to register with Roskomnadzor, Russia’s media oversight agency.

In American history it also harks back to the Sedition Act of 1798, which made it a crime for American citizens to “print, utter, or publish…any false, scandalous, and malicious writing” about the government. That law, along with Alien Acts aimed against immigrants, was largely directed against the new Democratic-Republican Party and Democratic-Republican newspapers were prosecuted under it. When Thomas Jefferson won the election of 1800 the acts were repealed or allowed to lapse and those prosecuted were pardoned. The whole period is considered a dark stain in American history and is often overlooked (and no doubt will never be taught in Florida schools).

SB 1316 walks in these notorious footsteps. Not only would it have a chilling effect on free speech, if it were to pass it would immediately be challenged in court where even a legal layman can see that it would lose.

But aside from railing against the bill itself, let’s take Brodeur at his own words that “It’s an electioneering issue, not a free speech issue.”

What Brodeur clearly doesn’t understand is that in a democracy every citizen has a right to electioneer and influence government, whether in person, in print or online. Brodeur apparently doesn’t see it this way. He thinks that advocacy occurs only among a paid lobbying class and that citizens expressing their opinions online are part of that class and need to be registered and regulated, regardless of the source of their funding.

He also doesn’t seem to understand the broader implications of his bill. At its most basic level it would give the state government a mechanism to suppress blogs—and all opinions—it didn’t like. This would apply to blogs and bloggers whether liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican.

It would be nearly impossible to police and enforcement would be intrusive, unconstitutional and expensive. Even if intended only for paid bloggers, the bill’s restrictions would ineluctably affect all blogs on all topics. It would affect blogs used for commercial, non-profit or simply informative purposes, stuntng legitimate commerce and obstructing myriad blog-based enterprises.

Brodeur seems not to understand that he introduced his bill at a moment when people fear that civil liberties and democracy in his state are under unprecedented assault. In Florida a Republican super-majority state house has begun a session in which each legislator is scrambling to prove him or herself more ideologically extreme than the competition. A former president who incited an anti-government insurrection is fighting for a comeback. The governor, effectively running for president on an extreme right platform, is at war with the national media and explicitly wants to overturn the landmark 1964 New York Times versus Sullivan case. Bills are being introduced to make defamation suits against the media easier and the state is emerging as a laboratory for repression, reaction and regression.

Into this state house full of flammable fumes Brodeur casually tossed the match of SB 1316. Did he or any other carbon-based life form imagine that there wouldn’t be an explosion of fear, outrage and alarm? Apparently not.

Beyond its political implications, SB 1316 reveals Brodeur as a singularly inept politician, someone unable to think through the full consequences of a proposal on a policy, political or constitutional level. He clearly thought through the procedural and punitive aspects of his legislation but beyond that narrow vista he had no perspective. Moreover, he appears to lack an understanding of democracy, freedom and advocacy—as well as a simple ability to read the room.

He shouldn’t be surprised that people are calling “from Seattle to New York” to oppose his bill.

Editorial: To the keyboards, bloggers!

It’s worth pointing out that this isn’t just an obscure proposal in what appears to be the increasingly insane state of Florida. If passed, it would set up a government mechanism to suppress online independent thought and the expression of opinion, which could then be applied nationally, especially if DeSantis wins the presidency in 2024. That, in turn could become a global template for Internet censorship and repression.

If Brodeur doesn’t have the good sense to withdraw his bill, it should be defeated. Every blogger who loves freedom can play a role—not just in Florida but everywhere from Singapore to San Francisco, Seattle to Saint Petersburg.

At the very least, people should make their opinions known to the key Florida legislators on the referred committees who have received this bill.

This is one case when the flap of a butterfly’s wings really could bring on a hurricane.

Sen. Jason Brodeur himself can be reached by e-mail through his offcial website, and clicking the e-mail button in the left column. He can also be reached by phone at his Tallahassee office at (850) 487-5010, at his district office at (407) 333-1802 and at his campaign office by phone or text at 1-407-752-0258.

Other senators can be reached by going to the Florida websites and clicking on the “Email this senator” button in the left-hand column:

Senate Judiciary Committee

Appropriations Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice

Committee on Fiscal Policy

A 9-page PDF of the submitted bill can be downloaded here.

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Florida Senate bill to decertify Democratic Party would decertify Republicans too

The Florida Capitol Building. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Feb. 28, 2023 by David Silverberg

A bill filed in the Florida Senate today, Feb. 28, intended to decertify the state’s Democratic Party, would have the ironic effect of also decertifying the Republican Party as well, leaving both parties to reconstitute themselves from the ground up.

The bill, The Ultimate Cancel Act, or Senate Bill (SB) 1248, would require the state’s Division of Elections to cancel “the filings of a political party, to include its registration and approved status as a political party, if the party’s platform has previously advocated for, or been in support of, slavery or involuntary servitude.”

Under the bill, once a party is decertified it would have be recertified “by filing a certificate showing the name of the organization and the names and addresses of its current officers, including the members of its executive committee, accompanied by a completed uniform statewide voter registration application as specified in S 97.052 for each of its current officers and members of its executive committee which reflects their affiliation with the proposed political party, and a copy of its constitution, bylaws, and rules and regulations.” It would then have to change its name to be “substantially different from the name of any other party previously registered with the department” and do so within six months of being decertified.

The bill was introduced by state Sen. Blaise Ingoglia (R-11-Citrus, Hernando and Sumter counties). He did not issue a public statement on the bill or its rationale.

Analysis: Unintended consequences

The bill, while alarming on first read, is really a bit of right-wing showboating, rather along the lines of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) transfer of asylum-seekers to Martha’s Vineyard last year.

Ironically enough, while clearly intending to make Florida a one-party state along the lines of North Korea, it would also have the effect of decertifying Ingoglia’s own Republican Party.

Clearly, Ingoglia intended to link today’s Democratic Party to its pre-Civil War predecessor, when it was the dominant party of the slaveholding South.

However, prior to the outbreak of war, the Republican Party also accepted slavery in the states where it existed.

This was clear in the Republican Party’s 1860 party platform when it declared, “That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the states, and especially the right of each state to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of powers on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depends; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any state or territory, no matter under what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.”

The Republican Party platform opposed expansion of slavery in territories which were not yet states admitted into the union, like Kansas. But the Party leaders did not want to embrace abolitionism and were willing to leave the institution alone where it was of long standing, i.e., they were “in support of, slavery or involuntary servitude” as defined by SB 1248.

It was not until the middle of the Civil War that President Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation—which was not a Party document.

So, far from making Florida a one-party Republican state, which is clearly Ingoglia’s intent, it would in fact make it a no-party state—which might just be an improvement.

In fact, SB 1248 is not a serious piece of legislation. If seriously considered, however, it may prove to be a serious waste of time.

With thanks to June Fletcher for her historical insight.

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Alfie Oakes targets the vote: The crucial 2024 race for Collier County Supervisor of Elections

In a January 2023 ceremony Collier County Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards leads staff and volunteers in an oath to uphold the US and state constitutions. (Photo: Collier County Supervisor of Elections (CCSE) office)

Feb. 21, 2023 by David Silverberg

The 2024 election will be dominated by the race for president—no matter which candidates run. But around the country another, county-level contest may be just as important.

Certainly that will be true in Collier County, Fla., because the outcome of this election could influence all voting—and the local state of democracy—into the indefinite future.

The position is Supervisor of Elections. In Collier County the post is currently held by Jennifer Edwards, who has served in the position since 2000.

Edwards is up for re-election in 2024. However, she told The Paradise Progressive she hasn’t decided whether to run for another term.

“I’ll decide in a few months,” she said.

Collier County Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards holds the laws of Florida governing election procedures and requirements. (Photo: Author)

Meanwhile, Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III, the outspokenly conservative, Trumpist farmer and grocer who is a significant local political player, has targeted the Supervisor of Elections position.

“I will be challenging the Superintendent of Elections to clean up and do away with computer calculations for voting,” he told The Paradise Progressive in an interview on Dec. 14. “We should have hand counts. In Europe they don’t take three weeks,” to reach a conclusion, he noted, referring to other elections around the United States that took long times to tabulate.

As for Edwards, he said, “I like Jennifer Edwards. I think she’s a little bit naïve and if you put her hand on the Bible, she would swear there is nothing corrupt going on there. I don’t think that’s true.”

The 2024 election is still one year and two months away. However, if the person elected Supervisor cannot be depended upon to accurately, neutrally and effectively count the votes in compliance with law, voters won’t ever again have confidence in the official outcome of any Collier County election, including intraparty elections like primaries.

That situation could get the county in trouble both with state and federal law and be a deadly blow for real democracy.

A legacy of stability

All of the election supervisors who held the office since its creation in 1965 gathered for this 2000 ribbon cutting. From left to right are Mary Morgan, Jennifer Edwards and Edna Cribb Santa. (Photo: CCSE)

In Collier County the position of Supervisor is a partisan, elected position with a term of four years. To date, county election supervisors have served long, non-controversial terms and there have only been three of them.

Collier County was created as a separate governing entity in 1923. It was served by a Supervisor of Registration of Electors before the office was changed to Supervisor of Elections in 1965. After serving four years as registrar, Edna Cribb Santa became the first Supervisor in 1965 and held the post for 16 years until 1981. She was followed by Mary Morgan, who served 19 years until 2000.

Edwards, a Republican, was appointed to the position to oversee the general election of 2000. She won election in her own right and has held the post ever since and was most recently re-elected in 2020.

A native of Kentucky, she received all her education including her bachelor and master degrees there. She moved to Collier County with her husband in 1984.

She entered county government in 1987 after a stint as a school teacher and served as a budget analyst, assistant to the county manager and director of human resources, and took over as Election Supervisor when Mary Morgan chose to step down.

She did this just in time to oversee Collier County’s part in the hugely controversial 2000 presidential election, which hinged on hanging chads, butterfly ballots and a nail-biting statewide recount, which was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court.

“I got to be part of the improvements over the years because the Florida legislature immediately started making improvements and making changes to help the voters in Florida,” she recalled of the experience.

Undismayed—and unsullied—Edwards continued on as Supervisor, expanding her expertise and won honors and additional credentials in election management. These included a state certification, a Master Florida Certified Elections Professional designation from the Florida Supervisors of Elections and certification as an Elections Registration Administrator from the Election Center, also known as the National Association of Election Officials. She received a Chancellor’s Certificate in Public Administration from the International Association of Government Officials.

She also stood out among her fellow state election supervisors, rising through the ranks of the state’s professional association, the Florida Supervisors of Elections, serving successively as the organization’s treasurer, secretary and president.

In addition she has been active in a wide variety of county civic and social groups.

During her terms in office there have never been any scandals, criminal investigations, or allegations of wrongdoing in Collier County elections. There were recounts of close elections but these were handled as part of the normal election process.

Also under Edwards’ tenure, Collier County continuously updated its technology to count the votes cast on paper ballots, in compliance with state law. Today it has rigorous, multilayered safeguards at all levels against errors, miscounts, tampering or fraud. It is equally equipped to process both in-person and mail-in ballots under strenuous security measures. It actively trains its election workers and volunteers in the latest procedures, regulations and technology. After every election a precinct is selected at random for an in-depth audit to evaluate the integrity of the vote.

In keeping with state law, Collier County has faithfully complied with Florida requirements for timely results reporting. That law (Title IX, Chapter 102.072) states that “Beginning at 7 p.m. on election day, the supervisor must, at least once every hour while actively counting, post on his or her website the number of vote-by-mail ballots that have been received and the number of vote-by-mail ballots that remain uncounted.” The county has always met that requirement.

Justin Vacca, Collier County vote by mail coordinator, operates the office’s sorting machine that separates mail-in ballots from other mail and organizes them for opening and tabulation. (Image: Author)

To date, Collier County voters have been able to have confidence in clean, accurately counted elections tabulated in a lawful and transparent manner, with results posted immediately and in real time.

Indeed, in the last election, all of Florida’s results were reported as soon as the polls closed and were widely accepted without argument. “People are actually looking at Florida and asking the question, why can’t these states be more like Florida?” Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said in the immediate wake of the 2022 midterm election. “The way Florida did it, I think, inspires confidence. I think that’s how elections should be run. We’re now being looked at as the state that did it right, and the state that these other states should emulate.”

 In a locked and secured storage facility, election services coordinators William Kocses and Jake Pirosseno join Supervisor Jennifer Edwards in examining ballot machines organized according to precinct. (Photo: Author)

A faith in disbelief

For all that, there remains an ingrained, unshakable disbelief in the voting process among some people, particularly 2020 election-denying subscribers to the Make America Great Again (MAGA) ideology.

In Southwest Florida the most outspoken of these is Alfie Oakes. After the 2020 election, which Trump won in Florida by 51 percent and which all parties accepted, Oakes joined a late wave of MAGA election skepticism.

In September 2021 he argued on Facebook that DeSantis had to audit the 2020 election in Florida: “in fact if he does NOT dig into this election fraud he will most certainly lose to Charlie Christ or even worse Nikki Fried,” Oakes warned. He stated that he had spent “hundreds of hours” on Florida election fraud and found possibly 900,000 stolen votes, penetration of all 67 Florida counties and Chinese hacking of Florida computer systems.

On the Alex Jones InfoWars show, Oakes offered DeSantis a $100,000 campaign contribution if he would sit down in person for two hours and listen to Oakes and his friends try to convince him to reopen the election count—this ten months after the election concluded. A DeSantis aide politely responded but declined.

In a more recent case of election denial, on Dec. 20, 2022, Mike Lindell, chief executive officer and owner of My Pillow, alleged a false Florida result in the midterm election, the outcome of which even Democrats don’t dispute.

In that election DeSantis won his race for governor by 59.4 percent, a truly decisive victory and Republicans swept virtually every office they contested.

Nonetheless, on his own show, Lindell said, “I don’t believe it,” referring to DeSantis’s major win in Miami-Dade County (which Lindell kept calling Dade County). “So it’s just going to show everybody — just like we always tell you about Democrats where they stole their elections … I’m going to find out if Dade County — what happened there.”

Lindell’s disbelief would seem to be in the service of former President Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy but it also shows both the stubborn persistence of election skepticism and its use for short-term political gain. (Since then, nothing further has been heard regarding Lindell’s allegations.)

Looking ahead to the 2024 election in Collier County, Oakes similarly remains convinced of improprieties and wants to stop electronic tabulation as a matter of principle.

“I’m not saying there isn’t a system that lends itself to corruption,” he told The Paradise Progressive. “We need to take the most strict measures. [Computerized counting] lends itself to massive fraud.”

Nor is Oakes convinced by Collier County’s otherwise clean record in this regard. “If I left the door to Seed to Table open for two years and nothing was stolen that still wouldn’t mean it was safe,” he said. “Overwhelmingly there’s a large population in our country who believe elections are compromised.”

Even the banking system has flaws, he noted. “So we have to come up with something we can have confidence in.”

People might dismiss these kinds of allegations, except that Oakes has his own record of electoral success behind him. In the last election, using his Citizens Awake Now Political Action Committee, all of his endorsed candidates won positions on the Collier County Board of Commissioners and the School Board, allowing them to dominate both bodies.

Edwards is unworried. “If somebody thinks they can come in here and do whatever they want to do, they can’t do it. There are Florida election laws that have been passed over the years and I take an oath and my staff takes an oath every year to uphold the US Constitution and the Florida Constitution. It’s very important for us.”

As for changing the election process, she pointed out that there’s an open and transparent procedure to adapt to new conditions. Each county is asked to submit suggestions for legislative changes. The state election supervisors association weighs in on electoral changes and actively lobbies the legislature.

After the experience of the contested 2000 presidential election, she said, “We follow Florida election law. We will continue to do that and I encourage folks to talk to their state legislators if they want elections conducted differently because they’ll have to get the law changed in Florida by the state legislature in order for their changes to become effective.”

As for the use of technology, “I think the advances we’ve made in technology goes without saying,” she argued. “I have worked in elections since punch cards and I’m seeing the improvements. And there are cross checks of everything we do and we do conduct an audit after every election and we never had a difference in results. The controls we have in place in my view confirms the accuracy of the equipment.”

Edwards also believes she has solid backing among Collier County Republicans, should she decide to run again.

This is confirmed by Diane Van Parys, president of Republican Women of SW Florida Federated, a First Vice President of the Florida Federation of Republican Women and a member of the Florida Fair Elections Coalition, an election reform organization. She has extensive experience in election monitoring and observance, not just in Florida but also in her previous residence in Georgia. There she says she observed numerous irregularities and questionable practices in large part due to completely computerized balloting, none of which have been present in Collier County where paper ballots are used.

When it comes to Edwards’ election management, “You can’t trip her up in terms of how she does things,” Van Parys said. “She has operated totally with integrity and in a non-partisan way. There are free and fair elections in Collier County. I can tell you that we have the best practices in the state for elections.”

While it is not certain that Edwards herself will be on the ballot in 2024, Melissa Blazier, Collier County’s chief deputy supervisor of elections, has expressed an interest in filling the role. Blazier has worked in the Supervisor’s office for 17 years and is both a Master Florida Certified Elections Professional and a Certified Elections/Registration Administrator.

Melissa Blazier (Photo: CCSE)

National push—and pushback

Collier County and Florida are just microcosmic instances of a national movement of election denial, which is being very deliberately stoked and incited.

Ever since President Donald Trump baselessly denied the results of the 2020 election, his MAGA followers have called into question the entire election process. Despite strenuous efforts by Trump and his lawyers, no court challenge, audit or recount turned up the supposedly massive fraud that he alleged. Even the hosts and commentators of Fox News, which did much to spread his accusations, didn’t believe them, as their private communications have revealed.

Nonetheless, based on the belief of widespread fraud and disbelief in the process as it’s currently constituted, MAGAs have been working to alter the process in their favor.

Legislatively, this has taken the form of Republican-dominated state legislatures and governors steadily restricting voting access and seeking to suppress the franchise to as great a degree as possible.

At the grassroots, election workers and volunteers have been physically threatened and verbally assaulted. Completely unfounded conspiracy theories and fabricated rumors have been spread about the election process, although this was less prevalent in 2022 than in 2020.

While not all supervisors are elected, as the country prepares for the 2024 election, there is a new national MAGA push to take over elected supervisor positions. The challenge is likely to be mounted at the primary level, especially among Republicans.

“The concerns about being primaried [are] absolutely on the mind of very dedicated and very middle-of-the-road, nonpartisan-functioning” election officials in Florida, said Mark Earley, the election supervisor in Leon County, Fla., and current president of the Florida Supervisors of Elections. He was quoted in a Feb. 1 Politico article, “Election officials ready themselves for the next wave of Trump followers,” which provides a national perspective on the effort.

Nationally, one of the most strenuous struggles is expected to take place in Maricopa County, Ariz., which was the focus of intense controversy in 2020 when Joe Biden narrowly won the county and state. Since then battles have embroiled its county commissioners and election officials. But similar battles are expected in places such as Colorado, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s former strategic advisor, who has advocated a “village-by-village” approach to taking political power, has told listeners of his “War Room” podcast that Democrats can only win elections if they steal them and argued that the only way to prevent that is “by taking over the election apparatus.”

But the election deniers don’t have a clear field; there is new resistance to the election denial cohort.

State election officials, legislators, civic groups and private citizens are pushing back against election-denying charges and allegations. Election procedures and security measures have been strengthened. Judges are showing less tolerance for baseless lawsuits and unfounded election challenges. The media—mainstream and otherwise—have become far more skeptical of election-denial disinformation and delusional charges.

It also appears that the vast majority of the American public simply don’t believe the accusations.  The fact that election-denying candidates did poorly in the 2022 midterms is evidence of that.

Polling data backs this up: “On the whole, it appears that a majority of Americans do believe in the integrity of the nation’s elections: An Oct. 3-20 [2022] poll conducted by Gallup showed that 63 percent of U.S. adults were at least somewhat confident ballots would be ‘accurately cast and counted’ in this year’s midterms,” wrote Zoha Qamar on the website

Another poll by Bright Line Watch, an academic group studying American democracy, found that confidence in the 2022 election results increased, even among skeptical Republicans.

So the news is not entirely threatening for democracy’s future. Normality and constitutionality seem to be reasserting themselves.

That applies in Collier County as well, whether Edwards runs again or not.

Voters should take note as the 2024 election season proceeds: as big and brassy and boisterous as a presidential election is, sometimes those quiet, overlooked down-ballot races are extremely important.

All elections are consequential but some are more consequential than others. And it is just possible that election of the Supervisor of Elections may be the most consequential of all.

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

SWFL’s stake: Biden protects Social Security in State of the Union speech—forcing raucous Republicans to agree

President Joe Biden addresses the joint session of Congress last night, Feb. 7. (Photo: White House)

Feb. 8, 2023, by David Silverberg

Updated 3:00 pm with statewide statistics and addition of “Commitment to America.”

Southwest Florida’s seniors were reassured last night, Feb. 7, that Social Security will continue uncut thanks to President Joe Biden’s skillful handling of Republican detractors during his State of the Union address.

“Some of my Republican friends want to take the economy hostage — I get it — unless I agree to their economic plans. All of you at home should know what those plans are,” he said at one point during the speech. “Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans, some Republicans, want Medicare and Social Security to sunset. I’m not saying it’s the majority.”

When Republicans booed and shouted out denials they had any plans to cut Social Security, he took that as support for Social Security and responded: “Folks — so folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right? They’re not to be — all right. We’ve got unanimity.”

He continued: “Social Security and Medicare are a lifeline for millions of seniors. Americans have to pay into them from the very first paycheck they started.

“So tonight, let’s all agree — and we apparently are — let’s stand up for seniors. Stand up and show them we will not cut Social Security. We will not cut Medicare.

“Those benefits belong to the American people. They earned it.

“And if anyone tries to cut Social Security, which apparently no one’s going to do, and if anyone tries to cut Medicare, I’ll stop them. I’ll veto it. And look, I’m not going to allow them to take away — be taken away.

“Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever. But apparently it’s not going to be a problem.”

The threatening record

Despite vehement denials, there are Republican proposals to end, or at least jeopardize, the continuation of Social Security and Medicare.

The chief antagonist is Florida’s own Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) who issued his 11-point “Rescue America” plan early last year. That plan would subject Social Security and Medicare to five-year reauthorizations, with the possibility that it could be terminated at any time. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) proposed subjecting the programs to annual renewals, making them even more precarious.

In the House, Rep. Kevin Hern (R-1-Okla.), the leader of the conservative Republican Study Committee, told The Washington Post in January that, “We have no choice but to make hard decisions,” when it came to cuts. Coming on top of Republican threats not to raise the debt ceiling, the remarks indicated a willingness to sacrifice Social Security. A House Republican “Commitment to America” called for cuts but was vague about its commitment to preserving Social Security and Medicare.

The debate over Social Security and Medicaid is particularly relevant in Southwest Florida.

As of January 2023, there were 548,533 Social Security recipients in all of Florida, of whom 224,920 were 65 years or older, according to the Social Security Administration.

As of January 2023, there were 548,533 Social Security recipients in all of Florida, of whom 224,920 were 65 years or older, according to the Social Security Administration.

In Collier County, out of a total 2021 population of 385,980 people, 29 percent were 65 years or older and 48 percent of them received Social Security benefits, according to the 2021 Profile of Older Floridians (the latest available).

Some 29 percent of the 2021 Lee County population of 787,976 was also 65 years and older, according to the US Census, and 12,547 received Social Security benefits, according to the Social Security Administration.

Since all these were 2021 figures, the numbers have probably gone up.

These are substantial segments of the Southwest Florida population and they would be devastated by cuts to Social Security and Medicare, especially given the increased needs in the wake of Hurricane Ian’s destruction.

Discussion of the debt ceiling and the future of the national budget will continue. However, for Southwest Florida seniors dependent on Social Security for their income and Medicare to pay their medical bills, their benefits now appear safe for the moment, thanks to an unruly consensus forged by the president in the midst of a State of the Union speech.

To see the entire 1-hour, 20-minute speech, click here.

To read the full text as published by The New York Times, click here.

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Can bill on harmful algal blooms make it all the way this time?

A sign warns of red tide at the entrance to Delnor-Wiggins State Park in Naples during the 2018 Big Bloom. (Photo: Author)

Jan. 17, 2023 by David Silverberg

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has announced that he has reintroduced the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act in the current Congress.

The bill ensures that federal agencies continue monitoring harmful algal blooms (HABs) like red tide even if there is a government shutdown. These agencies include the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

In its look at the year ahead, The Paradise Progressive strongly urged that the measure be introduced this year before any kind of government shutdown takes place.

As of this writing, the proposed bill had not yet received a number.

The bill is particularly important to Southwest Florida, which has been plagued with outbreaks of the naturally occurring red tide, which is fed by pollution.

“This bill utilizes federal resources for tackling the environmental and economic challenges brought on by HABs in Southwest Florida and throughout America,” Donalds announced in a Jan. 12 statement. “Over the last 60 years, these events have increased substantially––impacting local economies, our nation’s ecosystems, and the American people’s health.

It continued: “Safeguarding public health and our coastal ecosystems requires the collective collaboration of federal, state, and local governments. This necessary legislation bolsters the federal government’s role in combating HABs throughout the United States.”

The bill amends the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998.

The operative paragraph states: “Any services by an officer or employee under this chapter relating to web services and server processing for the Harmful Algal Bloom Operational Forecast System of the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shall be deemed, for purposes of Section 1342 of Title 31, United States Code, services for emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.”

The bill is especially important given the increased possibility of government shutdowns by the Republican House of Representatives.

The bill was first introduced in June 2019 by Rep. Francis Rooney who had organized a conclave of federal, state and local officials concerned about HABs, made more urgent by an acute and prolonged toxic bloom in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caloosahatchee River in 2018. (For a fuller account of the issue, see: “Water warning: The politics of red tide, algae and lessons from the Big Bloom.”)

That bill received bipartisan support, with 16 cosponsors, 11 Democrats and 5 Republicans. The Democrats included Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-13-Mich.) and then-Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.). Republicans included Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-1-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.). It advanced past the subcommittee stage to consideration by the full Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, in addition to the Committee on Natural Resources. However, it made no further progress.

Donalds reintroduced it in the 117th Congress following his 2020 election. At that time it garnered 9 cosponsors, 5 Republicans and 4 Democrats. However, it did not advance past the subcommittee stage.

Analysis: Looking ahead

Can Donalds actually shepherd this bill from subcommittee to full committee, to full House approval, to Senate consideration, to final approval by President Joe Biden?

Monitoring, preventing and coping with HABs is a vital issue for the health and wellbeing of Southwest Floridians, especially in the wake of Hurricane Ian. This measure is a small action that will nonetheless contribute to more advanced warnings of harmful blooms, even if there’s a government shutdown.

The handling of this legislation will demonstrate Donalds’ legislative capabilities to Southwest Floridians and the rest of Congress. It needs to be watched closely.

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

House approves $1.7 trillion spending bill, including disaster aid, despite ‘no’ votes from SWFL reps

The US Capitol with the congressional Christmas tree. (Photo: AoC)

Dec. 23, 2022 by David Silverberg

In an characteristically Grinchian gesture just before the Christmas holiday, Southwest Florida’s representatives voted against a $1.7 trillion spending bill that includes $27 billion for relief of communities like those in Southwest Florida afflicted by hurricanes and other natural disasters.

The 4,155-page bill, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (House Resolution 2617), passed today along a largely party line vote of 225 to 201. Nine Republicans voted for the bill. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-13-Mich.) voted “present” and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-14-NY) cast the sole Democratic vote against it.

The bill funded all the agencies of government and avoided a shutdown, which would have occurred had it been defeated.

Southwest Florida Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-26-Fla.) all voted against the bill.

On Thursday, Dec. 22, the Senate approved the bill on a bipartisan vote of 68 to 29, with Florida Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) opposing it.

 “As communities across the country work to rebuild after unprecedented natural disasters, this bill provides the urgently needed support to help families, small businesses, and entire towns and cities get back on their feet and repair damaged infrastructure,” stated Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-3-conn.) chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

In what she said was probably her last speech in the role she has played since 2018, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.), urged passage of the bill, noting that “We have a big bill here, because we have big needs for our country.”

She pointed out: “We have the largest defense appropriation ever and, again, to help us honor our oath of office to protect and defend and what the Constitution says: ‘provide for the common defense.’” Beyond its $858 billion for US defense, the bill also provided $45 billion for Ukraine.

Pelosi noted, “…This bill is about our heroes, honoring our heroes, our heroic veterans with a major increase in veterans’ health care,” and benefits for firefighters and first responders. It also helps working families with “critical investments for their health, housing, education, [and] economic well-being… .”

Republican resistance

Republicans fought the bill through its drafting, first passage through the House and passage through the Senate.

Echoing the Republican line against the bill, Donalds long inveighed against it in media appearances and on social media.

“Every Republican should be a NO on the omnibus spending bill,” he tweeted on Dec. 19. He criticized it for not focusing more narrowly on border security issues.

“I voted NO on the nearly 2 trillion dollar omnibus spending bill because I’m a CONSERVATIVE that doesn’t make bad deals with a party hellbent on bankrupting our nation while refusing to secure the border,” he tweeted after the bill passed. “I work for WE THE PEOPLE, not political gamesmanship.”

Steube also criticized what he said was insufficient border attention: “This steaming pile of omnibus prohibits DHS [Department of Homeland Security] from using funding to secure our border” he tweeted. “Meanwhile, Democrats (enabled by several Senate Republicans) are sending millions to Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Oman for their own ‘enhanced border security.’”

“Despite having months to work on the [Fiscal Year] 23 funding bill in good faith with House Republicans, this 4,000+ page spending package was drafted behind closed doors and released less than a week before government funding expires,” complained Diaz-Balart. “As the American people continue to suffer the consequences of this Administration’s reckless spending and wasteful economic policies, increasing non-defense discretionary spending on these radical left-wing policies will only further fuel and lengthen inflation.”

President Joe Biden is expected to swiftly sign the bill into law.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

SWFL reps oppose Respect for Marriage Act, which passes US House

Byron Donalds and his wife Erika on their wedding day in 2006. (Photo: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

Dec. 8, 2022 by David Silverberg

The Southwest Florida congressional delegation today voted against the Respect for Marriage Act (House Resolution 8404), which received final approval from the US House of Representatives at 11:11 am by a vote of 258 to 169, with one member, Rep. Burgess Owens (R-4-Utah), voting “present.”

The House vote approves an amended Senate version of the bill and sends the legislation to President Joe Biden for signature.

Southwest Florida Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-26-Fla.) all voted against the bill. Diaz-Balart switched his vote to “nay” from a “yea” vote when it first came up before the House in July.

Thirty-nine Republican representatives voted for the bill.

The bill codifies same-sex and interracial marriages into law. Specifically, it repeals and replaces state laws that don’t recognize marriages on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.

The bill was considered necessary by advocates following the Supreme Court decision, Dobbs, State Health Officer of the Mississippi Department Of Health, et al. v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization et al, in June, striking down women’s rights to abortions. In the wake of that decision, Justice Clarence Thomas expressed an opinion that other rights, for example, allowing same-sex marriage and contraception, should similarly be revisited.

“…Since the Supreme Court’s monstrous decision overturning Roe v. Wade, right-wing forces have set their sights on this basic, personal freedom,” stated House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) in a floor speech.  “In his concurring opinion, Clarence Thomas explicitly called on the Court to reconsider its ruling in Obergefell.  While his legal reasoning is twisted and not sound, we must take Justice Thomas at his word, and the hateful movement behind him at their word.”

She continued: “We must act now – on a bipartisan, bicameral basis – to combat bigoted extremism and uphold the inviolability of same-sex and interracial marriages.  Once signed into law, the Respect for Marriage Act will help prevent right-wing extremists from upending the lives of loving couples, traumatizing kids across the country and turning back the clock on hard-work progress.”

The bill is expected to swiftly be signed into law by President Joe Biden.

The Southwest Florida representatives’ positions echoed those taken when the bill first passed the House in July. It passed overwhelmingly in the Senate Tuesday, Nov. 29 by a vote of 61 to 36. Both Florida Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.), opposed the bill.

Because the bill was amended in the Senate, it had to be approved again in the House.

As of this writing none of the Southwest Florida representatives had issued statements explaining their votes.

However, in a Dec. 5 statement Diaz-Balart stated: “The concept of all states respecting other states’ decisions on marriage laws is deeply rooted in American jurisprudence and tradition. Similarly, our Founders understood that religious liberties are sacred and vulnerable, and must always be vigorously protected.

“My record shows that I am a long-standing advocate against discrimination of all types. I, however, cannot support any effort that undermines religious liberties by failing to provide legitimate safeguards for Faith-Based organizations that object based on their deeply-held religious beliefs.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

After Trump visit to Naples, Donalds mum on call to suspend Constitution

Rep. Byron Donalds and wife Erika promote “A Trump Classical Christmas” in a video posted Nov. 19. (Image: Twitter)

Dec. 6, 2022 by David Silverberg

Former President Donald Trump and former First Lady Melania Trump stealthily slipped into and out of Naples, Fla., Sunday night, Dec. 4.

“The event went off as planned and both President Trump and Melania attended and spoke,” Erika Donalds confirmed in response to questions from The Paradise Progressive.

The event’s location was kept secret to all but ticket holders and was closed to the press and public. The number of attendees has not been released.

The Trumps were in town to raise funds for “school choice” and to benefit Hurricane Ian victims. The event was mounted by the Classical Education Network, a private and charter school scholarship program in partnership with the Optima Foundation, an organization headed by Erika that helps set up and run private and charter schools.

The amount of funds raised has not been released. Tickets ranged from $30,000 for a family of four to $10,000 for individuals.

The event was heavily promoted by Erika and her husband Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) in the days leading up to it.

(Editor’s note: Because both Donalds were involved, this article will use first names on second reference rather than its usual practice of using just last names.)

“We’re just honored to have the former president and the former first lady join us so make sure you get your tickets and join us,” Byron said in a promotional video on Nov. 19.

Call for suspension

The event came a day after Trump called for suspension of the US Constitution.

On Saturday, Dec. 3, Trump posted on Truth Social, his social media platform: “So, with the revelation of MASSIVE & WIDESPREAD FRAUD & DECEPTION in working closely with Big Tech Companies, the DNC, & the Democrat Party, do you throw the Presidential Election Results of 2020 OUT and declare the RIGHTFUL WINNER, or do you have a NEW ELECTION? A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution. Our great “Founders” did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!”

As of this writing, Byron had not commented on Trump’s call for suspension of the Constitution.

Meanwhile, other Republican members of Congress and politicians condemned the remarks.

Rep. Mike Turner (R-10-Ohio), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, told the Associated Press he “vehemently” disagreed with and “absolutely” condemned the remarks, saying they should be a factor as Republicans decide who should lead their party in 2024.

“There is a political process that has to go forward before anybody is a frontrunner or anybody is even the candidate for the party,” he said. “I believe that people certainly are going to take into consideration a statement like this as they evaluate a candidate.”

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-At Large-Wy.) tweeted “No honest person can now deny that Trump is an enemy of the Constitution.”

“With the former President calling to throw aside the constitution, not a single conservative can legitimately support him, and not a single supporter can be called a conservative,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-6-Ill.) tweeted. “This is insane. Trump hates the constitution.”

Yesterday, Monday, Dec. 5, The Paradise Progressive reached out to Byron’s office for comment on Trump’s statement. Although the query was acknowledged, there was no answer.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!