Rick Scott meets the Peter Principle

Has Florida’s junior senator reached his ‘level of incompetence?’

What has become the iconic photo of Rick Scott, taken in 2012. (Photo: Joe Skipper for Reuters)

Oct. 8, 2022 by David Silverberg

In 1969, Canadian educator Laurence Peter published the book The Peter Principle. In it he put forward the idea that capable people in hierarchical organizations tend to be promoted until they reach what he called their “level of incompetence.”

The Peter Principle has been a management byword ever since.

Today Floridians can see the Peter Principle in action in their junior senator, Richard Lynn “Rick” Scott.

After repeatedly laying out massive amounts of cash to win election as governor and senator in Florida, Scott has now reached a position in the United States Senate and the Republican Party where his judgment, his ideas and his results are questionable, to put it mildly. He’s proposing very extreme measures for the country that are being roundly rejected by his fellow Republicans, his prospects for success in guiding Republicans to a Senate majority dim by the day, and in the wake of Hurricane Ian he’s not even voting to help his state.

It certainly has all the markings of the Peter Principle in action, Florida Man version.

What’s more, despite all this, he clearly has his eyes on the presidency in 2024, which also marks the last year of his Senate term.

So, has Rick Scott reached his level of incompetence?

The cash cushion

Like so many Floridians, the 69-year-old Scott is a Midwestern transplant, having been born in Bloomington, Ill. He received his Bachelor degree at the University of Missouri and his law degree at Southern Methodist University in Texas.

After a stint in the Navy in the early 1970s he worked as a lawyer. In 1989 he was a co-founder of the Columbia Hospital Corporation to provide for-profit healthcare. With Scott as its chief executive officer (CEO) it merged with another company to become Columbia/HCA, the nation’s largest for-profit healthcare company.

But in 1997 Columbia/HCA became mired in scandal when federal agencies accused it of defrauding Medicare, Medicaid and other federal programs. Scott was questioned and invoked the Fifth Amendment 75 times. As a result of a federal lawsuit, Columbia/HCA admitted to the fraud and was forced to pay $1.7 billion in fines to the government. It was the largest settlement of its kind in American history. Although there were no criminal charges against him, Scott was forced to resign as CEO four months after the charges became public.

After a period as a venture capitalist Scott ran for governor of Florida in 2010 after Charles “Charlie” Crist chose to run for the US Senate rather than seek another term as governor.

Scott’s spending on his first political race broke all previous state campaign records. He poured $85 million into the race, more than $73 million of which was family money. The prior record had been held by Crist himself, when he spent $24.6 million in his 2006 gubernatorial bid, a sum that now seemed like a pittance.

Yet for all that spending Scott only narrowly defeated his primary opponent, then-Attorney General Bill McCollum, by 46.4 percent of the vote. His general election victory was even closer: Scott garnered 48.92 percent to Democrat Alex Sink’s 47.67 percent, a difference of only 61,550 votes. It was the closest Florida gubernatorial race since 1876.

In 2014 Scott’s re-election race against Crist cost him $12.8 million of his own money. Campaign finance laws in Florida changed after the 2010 race and so had national campaign finance laws in the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowing unrestricted issue-oriented campaign spending.

Between Scott’s contributions and outside spending groups, a study, “Campaign Spending and the 2014 Florida Gubernatorial Race” in the Journal of Florida Studies estimated Scott’s spending at $79 million, or $27.58 per vote, while the Crist campaign effort cost $47.74 million or $17.04 per vote.

Scott won this race too, by a narrow margin: 48.1 percent to Crist’s 47.1 percent, a difference of 64,145 votes.

“While this [spending] would win Scott the election, it would not do so by a larger margin than he won in 2010,” notes the study’s author, Harold Orndorff.

A full policy review of Scott’s term in office is beyond the scope of this essay but suffice to say it featured mostly extreme Republican conservative orthodoxy with a few Scott idiosyncrasies thrown in. Most notable was Scott’s absolute rejection of the idea of climate change to the point where the term was informally banned from use in his administration—and this in an environmentally sensitive state subject to the worst effects of global warming. The full impact—mostly deleterious—of his tenure is a book yet to be written.

Limited to two terms, Scott decided to run for the US Senate against incumbent Bill Nelson in 2018. Once again, he brought out the big bucks to do it, spending a record $64 million of his own money.

After an election so close it was in dispute for weeks and took two recounts, Scott was declared the winner by 50.1 percent to Nelson’s 49.9 percent, a hairsbreadth difference of 10,033 votes.

The lesson of this electoral history is that while Scott has won, it has always been at great expense and by very narrow margins.

Scott is not a natural politician. He doesn’t evoke feelings of warmth or goodwill. He doesn’t inspire great loyalty or allegiance. His policy prescriptions can be idiosyncratic but are mostly conventionally far right. In the days before Donald Trump he was the Donald Trump of Florida, winning over fringe conservatives but also getting enough votes of dutifully traditional mainstream Republicans to just barely put him over the finish line.

A flawed Florida model

There’s no denying or disputing Scott’s victories, no matter how narrow or expensive. He won the elections he entered. But these victories also seem peculiar to Florida, with its fragmented media markets and its distance and popular alienation from the federal government. It’s a land where most people are indifferent to policy, where retirees want to freeze time and where, as political consultant Rick Wilson once said, “everything north of I-4 is just Alabama with more guns.”

As Scott has shown through his vast cash outlays, a politician can buy elections in Florida. But now he’s also showing that his Florida model doesn’t necessarily translate into national success.

In 2020 Republican senators elected Scott to be chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He was charged with managing all the mechanics of electing a Republican Senate including finding candidates, raising money and aiding their campaigns.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate Minority Leader, was looking to Scott to make him Senate Majority Leader in 2023. With the party holding the presidency traditionally losing congressional seats in its first midterm election and with President Joe Biden having a low approval rating, Scott seemed to have the wind at his back and an easy path ahead.

Instead, as of this writing, Democrats are narrowly favored to keep the Senate (the website FiveThirtyEight.com puts their odds at 68 percent). Republican Senate candidates are foundering (every day seems to bring a new scandal or gaffe to Georgia’s Herschel Walker).

Even McConnell has complained. “I think there’s a probably a greater likelihood that the House flips than the Senate,” he said at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Kentucky in August. “Senate races are just different—they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.” It was widely seen as a swipe at Scott’s performance.

Scott for his part seemed to see the NRSC as just a springboard to the presidency. Wags have joked that NRSC really stands for National Rick Scott Campaign.

In defiance of McConnell, Scott, in consultation with Donald Trump, unveiled his own 12-point agenda in February called the “Commitment to America.” It would impose taxes on the poorest Americans and subject Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to five-year reauthorizations, with the possibility of termination. This directly threatens Florida’s many seniors dependent on these programs.

At a time when American states, counties and cities are still recovering from the COVID pandemic and natural disasters, Scott’s plan would cut off their federal funding. It would slash jobs for police, firefighters, teachers and other local public employees. Nationally, there are an estimated 795,000 police, 317,200 firefighters and 3.2 million teachers. All their jobs would be jeopardized. Ironically enough, Scott’s plan would defund the police.

At a time when pro-choice forces are energized and alarmed over the loss of the right to choose and are flocking to the Democratic Party, Scott dodged questions about his support for a proposal to impose a national abortion ban introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

But beyond the national campaigns and the future of the presidency, Scott has actually turned on his own state—and in its greatest hour of need.

After capably handling the onslaught of Hurricane Irma as governor in 2017, Scott failed abysmally as senator after the catastrophe of Hurricane Ian in 2022, which made landfall in Southwest Florida on Sept. 28.

Just two days later, on Sept. 30, when the Senate voted to fund the government until Dec. 16—which included roughly $20 billion in disaster relief funds for the country as a whole—Scott voted against the measure.

Not only was Scott’s vote striking given Florida’s distress, it was at odds with the rest of the Senate’s Republican caucus. The measure, the Continuing Appropriations and Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2023 (House Resolution 6833), also known as a continuing resolution or CR, was endorsed by McConnell and the Senate Republican leadership. Along with all the Democrats, 22 Republicans approved it and it passed the Senate by a lopsided vote of 72 to 25. (Florida’s other senator, Marco Rubio, was absent for the vote. The bill also passed the House by 230 to 201, with all 16 House Republicans from Florida voting against it. Biden signed it into law that day, just before the end of the federal fiscal year.)

It’s worth considering what would have happened had Scott’s negative vote succeeded. The federal government would have shut down. The Federal Emergency Management Agency would have halted operations just as it was getting into gear to help Southwest Florida. There would have been no urban search and rescue teams from other states flying into Florida to save people trapped under the rubble. There would have been no Coast Guard operations to help victims stranded by storm surge. There would have been no federal aid for housing, food, safety, security, or communications.

This is the kind of apocalypse Scott was voting for with his negative vote.

On Sept. 7, well before Hurricane Ian made landfall, Scott forcefully urged Republicans to reject the continuing resolution.

“Today I am urging every Republican to demand that Congress pass a clean CR that simply maintains current federal spending levels,” he declared in a statement. “We cannot cave to the demands of the Democrats carrying out an agenda led by a raving lunatic in the White House.”

That “raving lunatic” visited Southwest Florida on Wednesday, Oct. 5, to see the damage for himself. He pledged the full faith, credit and resources of the United States to help Florida—and especially Southwest Florida—recover and aid the people hurt by the storm.

Revealing the man

Now, all the doubts and criticism of Scott may be rendered moot by a smashing Republican Senate victory on Nov. 8 that vindicates his senatorial efforts.

Perhaps Republicans will win the Senate. Perhaps McConnell will become majority leader.  Perhaps Scott will be hailed as a political genius. Perhaps 2022 will pave the way for Scott’s 2024 nomination as president and his ultimate election to the White House. Perhaps Florida and Southwest Florida in particular will fully recover and rebuild without any federal help at all. Perhaps the disgrace and stigma of the Columbia/HCA fraud will be flushed down the river of history and Scott will be washed clean by the purifying waters of political power.

It could happen.

However, with exactly one month to go until the election that’s not the way it’s looking.

Instead, what appears to be happening is that a man who bought his elections in Florida has now come up against a much more complex political task than he ever faced before. Rather than easily manipulating a disinterested Florida electorate through television ads, Scott is fumblingly trying to juggle diverse and aroused populations throughout a vast country that he doesn’t really understand.

First Lady Michelle Obama once observed: “Being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.”

The same could be said for any high office. Each step up the ladder reveals a bit more about the person you are. With each step upward there are more people scrutinizing your flaws, more people critiquing your moves, and more people watching to see if you fall.

Rick Scott has climbed pretty high. Each step has revealed more about his capabilities and character. It’s been a very enlightening ascent for those bothering to watch. Scott obviously hopes to climb higher. But the ladder is swaying and there’s the pesky possibility that at his current step he may have reached as far as he’s able.

Has he reached his “level of incompetence?” It certainly seems so. However, on Nov. 8, with every vote for every Senate seat throughout the nation, Americans will decide for themselves.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Jim Huff, Congress and the courage to be civil

A new kind of Republican challenger is taking on Rep. Byron Donalds in the 19th Congressional District primary this August

Jim Huff on the job with the US Army Corps of Engineers. (Photo: Jim Huff for Congress campaign)

July 8, 2022 by David Silverberg

These days it takes courage to simply be civil.

It takes even more courage to run for public office and do it in a civilized way—a way that respects voters of all persuasions, avoids insults and hyperbole and relies on reason, rationality and professionalism.

And it takes enormous courage to do this as a Republican in Southwest Florida in a primary race against a sitting congressman who exploits fear and paranoia and extremism.

But Jim Huff has that courage.

Huff is seeking the Republican nomination for Congress in the 19th Congressional District, the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island. He is on the primary ballot against Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.).

His candidacy, he says, was the result of a culmination of factors. “In particular, I’d watch TV interviews with politicians where they were acting like they were in a high school drama. They were calling out other parties and calling out other people for their mistakes but never providing a solution.”

As he states on his website, “We cannot afford to sit back and watch any longer. We have to stand up for our freedoms before everything America stands for is squandered away.”

Huff, 38 and single, is a civil engineer who has been working on infrastructure and water-related projects in Florida his entire professional life. No candidate of any party has come to the political arena with the depth of technical knowledge and environmental expertise that Huff possesses. He not only understands the district, he understands what flows through it and what lies beneath it—literally.

Candidate Jim Huff. (Photo: Author)

In person he’s friendly, open and polite. He’s clearly new to politics but that also means he lacks the slick veneer of career politicians. Instead his bearing is that of a professional and his federal service has given him the experience of accomplishing a mission when assigned it.  When he disagrees on a point, it he does so rationally and civilly.

Until deciding to run for the 19th Congressional District seat Huff was a civil engineer with the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). As such he was prevented from engaging in political activity under the Hatch Act, a 1939 law prohibiting federal employees from partisan political activity. It meant he had to leave the Corps and couldn’t build a campaign before becoming a candidate in April so he has a lot of catching up to do.

He’s been doing that by walking through the neighborhoods he hopes to represent. “When I go door to door you get people who don’t want politicians,” he said in an interview with The Paradise Progressive. “Even within the Republican Party people tell me that we need to get back to core values and our politicians are out of touch.”

Huff is not intimidated by Donalds’ fundraising and incumbent advantages, observing: “Among the people I’ve talked to, the loyalty to Donalds is maybe 10 percent.”

He also thinks he can beat Donalds, saying: “If I didn’t think I could beat him I wouldn’t have spent $10,440 to get on the ballot.”

Florida transplant

Jim Huff during his days as an Eagle Scout. (Photo: Campaign)

Huff is originally from rural New Jersey, where he grew up, participating in the Boy Scouts and rising to the rank of Eagle Scout. He started working as a farm hand at age 15 and continued working while going to school before heading to Florida to attend the University of Florida at age 18. He didn’t stay there but during the summers began working for USACE starting as a laborer in the Field Exploration Unit.

He ultimately earned an associate degree in engineering from Santa Fe Community College and stayed with USACE, which brought him to Florida to work on Corps projects like the Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee, the Kissimmee River restoration, the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and the Picayune State Forest restoration.

His USACE experience prompted him to complete a Bachelor of Science degree from Florida Gulf Coast University, where he graduated magna cum laude. He also became involved in the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers where he oversaw community cleanup programs and reached out to students with STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

When he decided to run, he went in all the way: he quit his job, sold his house and dedicated himself to campaigning full time.

Mission-oriented

Huff with FGCU students at an Army Corps of Engineers project in Florida. (Photo: Campaign)

Huff’s engineering experience gave him an appreciation for the role of the federal government and especially federal funding in managing Southwest Florida’s environment and infrastructure. It was another factor in his decision to run.

When there’s money available, “Why shouldn’t we take that opportunity to establish pilot programs and studies?” he asks. Since federal funding is not for private businesses but for schools like FGCU’s Water School or USACE infrastructure improvement, there’s no reason not to get it. “If we don’t start with these pilot programs, how can we ever get there?” he asks.

He is particularly scornful of a bill Donalds co-sponsored, Protecting Local Communities from Harmful Algal Blooms Act (House Resolution 74), “I feel it was a cop-out,” he says. “It was a great title but it doesn’t do what the title says; it’s a reactive measure and will cost the taxpayers more money without providing improvement.”

That bill is in keeping with a past Donalds practice of introducing bills with elaborate titles but then never following up with content that actually does something. “In my personal opinion, that is a lot of what our politicians have turned to for popularity for their next election without following through,” Huff observes.

Huff was also disturbed by Donalds’ refusal to seek federal funding for district needs. “It gave me the realization of how much we’re losing in this community.” If elected Huff is determined to get every penny the District is entitled to receive from the federal government.

Republicanism and rationality

Huff is a lifelong Republican and his positions reflect the Party’s traditional mainstream approach and attitudes.

He says he has three main priorities as a candidate.

The first is to make politicians accountable. A key element of this is imposing term limits on members of Congress and enforcing existing ethics rules, which he thinks have been too laxly pursued. “If we allow people to get a pass, then essentially we do not have any rules,” he argues.

The second is to fight for clean water and bringing it to Southwest Florida either through ongoing efforts or new initiatives.

The third is to maintain a sense of professionalism. As he puts it: “I won’t say that’s something that every politician has lost but I will say as a whole, especially the ones we see on TV, we have lost our professionalism.” Examples of unprofessionalism he cites include House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) ripping up a copy of President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech and Trump refusing to attend President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

“You can go to any politician going on national TV and berating another politician or another party for their beliefs. So when I say ‘professionalism’ what I honestly think it is, is ‘know when to bite your tongue,’” he says.

On other issues, he supports law enforcement, a strong military, meeting veterans’ needs, reforming the immigration system and securing the borders, upholding free enterprise and protecting individual liberties.

Although a Second Amendment and lawful carrying supporter and an AR-15 gun owner, Huff is not a member of the National Rifle Association. As he puts it, he believes in taking steps in a reasonable direction to protect Americans without their having to surrender their rights to gun ownership.

Huff says properly administered “red flag” laws that enable law enforcement to take guns from people deemed a danger to themselves or others can protect the public. “It’s not a popular cause,” he acknowledges. “But it’s also something to consider, with education, that our own state has already implemented. Speaking to law enforcement, and also people who have gone through the red flag process themselves, it is effective [used] in the right way. Is it a bit of a nuisance for some? Yes, if falsely accused, sure, but in general we know it is helping our imperfect system.”

Huff is also avoiding being tied to corporate or industry political action committees (PACs).

This is based on personal experience. Like all candidates, Huff has received questionnaires from PACs asking about his positions in exchange for their support. To get PAC endorsements and money, a candidate has to accept the PAC’s position on issues.

“There’s always a line at the bottom with a pledge to support the PAC’s position,” he recounts. “The pledge ties my hands throughout my term. Even for the right cause, it’s too vague. I don’t want to open this up. I believe that interest groups are the problem.”

He explains: “My focus is to speak to the people. We need to support ourselves as a community first, and then take those principles and ideals to the federal level, not take our special interest groups and then feed that down the opposite direction.”

Huff has encountered numerous questions and challenges about his position on Trump’s contention that he won the 2020 election and the events of January 6, 2021, an event he missed watching on television in real time because he was working.

He stated his position in a Facebook post on June 23.

“To this day, I do not believe Donald Trump broke a law because it is likely he would have been arrested or indicted already and tried in a court of law for the law(s) he broke,” he wrote.  “HOWEVER, I KNOW LAWS WERE BROKEN THAT DAY AND THOSE COMMITTING THE CRIMES MUST BE HELD RESPONSIBLE.  I do believe Trump’s actions contributed to the mistaken expectations of those who did storm the capitol, that Trump would continue being President after their actions.  I support the prosecution of every individual found guilty of breaking the law that day, not to the fullest extent but to a reasonable extent given each’s specific circumstances.  You know what that’s called? Justice.”

He’s also skeptical of the proceedings of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, which he calls bad politics and more reality TV than a hearing. “I believe we all deserve the truth of details as to what happened factually, without bias to one point of view or the other,” he stated.

Restoring civility

One of the most voluntary acts a person can commit in life is running for public office. No one is forced to do it and the immediate reaction of most people to a new candidate is discouragement: the incumbent is always too entrenched, the cost of campaigning is always too high, the opponent’s coffers are always too full, the odds of winning are always too long.

So it takes courage to take that step and declare a candidacy, whether for dog catcher or school board or Congress.

Whether one agrees with Huff or not, he is undeniably showing courage by stepping forward against an incumbent who plays to the lowest common denominator.

He says that people have told him that even if he doesn’t win the Aug. 23 primary, he will be well positioned to run again “next time.” However, he says, “There is no plan for a next time. It’s always been a plan to get in, make an improvement and then go back to my career as an engineer, as a normal citizen. And I do believe a lot of people recognize if we had more people running for those reasons we would have a more effective government.”

Whatever one thinks of Huff’s candidacy, in a Southwest Florida district whose past Republican primary election campaigns have been awash in gunplay and insults and dirty tricks, it is definitely refreshing to have as a candidate someone who is a professional and a civil engineer—in every sense of the word “civil.”

Liberty lives in light

©2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

‘No mas’: Democratic lawyer Adam Gentle takes on Diaz-Balart in Florida’s 25th District

Democratic challenger Adam Gentle announces his candidacy for Congress against the backdrop of the Everglades. (Image: Adam Gentle for Congress campaign)

June 1, 2021 by David Silverberg

–Updated June 2 with inclusion of Golden Gate in district description

Last year Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) ran for re-election unopposed and—no surprise—won.

That jolted lawyer Adam Gentle.

“He’s an active threat to democracy,” Gentle says of the sitting congressman. “He voted to overturn the election. He’s not even protecting the fundamental form of our government. Having him run unopposed is unacceptable.”

On Monday, May 24, Gentle announced he was challenging Diaz-Balart to represent the 25th District in Congress.

At stake, says Gentle, is nothing less than the fate of democracy.

“This is an inflection point in our history,” he stated in his campaign announcement, issued in both English and Spanish. “Our failure to act now to address the causes of the January 6th insurrection will lead this nation down the same path as Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba.”

The 25th’s constituency knows whereof he speaks.

The District

The Florida 25th Congressional District.

The 25th District stretches from roughly Route 75 in Collier County and Golden Gate in the west, includes all of Hendry County and the towns of LaBelle, Clewiston, Immokalee and Ave Maria in its center to Hialeah and Doral in the east.

Of the 796,422 people in the District, 76 percent are Hispanic. While there are communities of immigrants from Nicaragua and Venezuela, 44 percent are Cuban-American, the highest percentage in the country. It’s one reason Diaz-Balart has held the seat since he took office in 2003.

But that doesn’t faze Gentle. “The vast majority of voters are bilingual,” he says. “I take it as an opportunity to connect.” He said he had good results when he addressed a group of Cuban American students. They were open to his message and moreover, “they told me that in their lives they had never had a Democratic candidate open a street office in Hialeah,” (104 Hialeah Dr.) where most Cuban-Americans are concentrated.

Gentle also believes that “kitchen-table issues” count for much more than ethnicity, particularly healthcare. As he puts it, “one party is doing much more for healthcare, while the other one just wants to get rid of it.”

The 25th District has a very high number of enrollees in the Affordable Care Act, according to Gentle. It’s a program that was particularly important to people during the worst months of the COVID pandemic—and as Gentle points out, “meanwhile, the current representative tried to eliminate it. Under this administration [the Biden administration] he’s tried to do it.”

Gentle believes that healthcare is a fundamental human right and no one should be forced to choose between paying for medications and affording food. Good healthcare is also important for safeguarding the people of the district from COVID and ensuring that everyone gets vaccinated.

Especially after the COVID pandemic he sees health as important for much more than just a basic commitment to wellbeing because, in his view, “healthy people create healthy democracies.”

But only the living can stay healthy and with the spate of gun violence in the country, life is at risk from random shootings. It all came home to the 25th District shortly after midnight on Saturday, May 29. Hialeah was rocked when three gunmen blasted a gathering there, killing two people and wounding over 20.

Three gunmen exit a car in Hialeah in a surveillance camera video released by police.

“After hearing the news out of Hialeah this morning, my heart is breaking for the families of those involved,” Gentle said when the news broke. “I’m praying for a swift recovery for those in the hospital. We must do more to help protect our communities from these needless acts of violence.”

As part of his platform Gentle was already calling for common-sense background checks for gun purchases and red flag laws to prevent the unfit from accessing guns. He supports a 14-day waiting period before gun purchases, investing in mental health care services and banning assault weapons with high capacity magazines.

As of this writing, Diaz-Balart hadn’t issued a statement on the shooting of any kind or even a tweet.

The candidate

Originally hailing from Essexville, Mich., Gentle is a 39-year-old lawyer whose career has taken him all over the world.

A graduate of Columbia University in New York and George Washington University in Washington, DC, where he earned his juris doctor degree, he worked for four years with the law firm of Baker Mackenzie in Washington.

Initially, Gentle pursued a career in the arts, traveling to Los Angeles, Calif., within days of his high school graduation and working with The Young Americans, a charitable group that seeks to promote international goodwill and understanding through music and the performance. It was an experience, he says, that exposed him to numerous cultures and peoples.

That international experience helped him in his law practice where he specialized in helping American companies comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. That law prohibits American companies from engaging in bribery or other forms of corruption when doing business overseas. Gentle gained experience in fighting corruption—and keeping American firms out of trouble—in countries like Russia, China, India and areas like Central Asia.

“Corruption,” he says, “is a force that destroys democracy.”

His experience, from running a paper route as a student to his work as a lawyer, made him a confirmed capitalist and determined to support business in the district. “It’s essential that we take action to protect our small businesses, our environment and our tourism industry,” he stated when he announced his candidacy.

Having seen real socialism overseas he’s dismissive of the favorite Republican tactic of smearing any opponent with the “socialist” label. “They’ve just weaponized words.  I’m a capitalist who supports the free market,” he says.

He’s also a democrat with both a small and big D, having seen autocratic governments elsewhere.  He was horrified by the mob attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6 and Diaz-Balart’s support for Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of a legally conducted and fairly counted election.

“I won’t stand on the sidelines and watch elected officials repeat proven lies to further their corrupt scheme,” he says. “They’ve tested our Constitution and the will of the American people. No mas.”

Gentle is openly gay and married to a Portuguese-speaking husband. He doesn’t see this as an impediment to his candidacy and he’s unafraid of his opponent trying to use it against him.

“I think if my being gay affects my performance in this race it will say a lot more about the other side’s attitudes than about anyone’s way of voting,” he says. “I was born at a time when I couldn’t imagine the life I have today. I have rights and privileges that I didn’t have when I was born. I think that unites us rather than divides us.”

The road ahead

Like all Florida Democrats, Gentle has a tough path to victory. The district is rated R+8 by the Cook Political Report Partisan Voting Index, meaning that it’s eight times more Republican than the national average.

Moreover, Trump made serious inroads into its population in the last election. In 2016 Trump barely edged out Hillary Clinton in the district, 49.6 percent to 47.4 percent. In 2020 he extended his reach, defeating Biden there by 61.4 percent to 37.9 percent.

But Gentle is determined and he’s not without resources. He is already fundraising for the long race ahead. He has a strong and knowledgeable senior advisor in Evelyn Pervez Vadia, an experienced political consultant and strategist who specializes in combating disinformation and reaching Latino voters.

He is paying attention to the western side of the district, which is often overlooked by Diaz-Balart. In February he attended a black heritage festival in LaBelle, the first time a candidate had appeared there. “Mario Diaz-Balart has never shown up there,” he pointed out. “You have to show people that you care about them.”

He regards the sugar industry with skepticism but not outright hostility: “My main concern with any industry is that taxpayers are not left holding the bag for their practices. If big sugar is polluting then it has to be cleaned up. We do need to make sure that the proper parties are held responsible.”

He supports the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and its funding, which he notes “needs to be reviewed constantly.”

When it comes to immigration, Gentle promotes the idea of American Migration Service Centers to prevent unmanageable migrant influxes. These would be attached to US consulates and embassies so that potential immigrants could be treated in an orderly and legal way. He argues that such centers would provide local jobs while freeing up border security resources so that border agents can concentrate on real threats like smuggling and crime.

Above all, Gentle is convinced that the district’s population is ready for a change, especially given the assault on democracy that he believes Diaz-Balart aided and abetted with his vote.

“It’s a fact that my opportunities and privileges have allowed me to travel all around the world both personally and professionally. I think there’s something awesome about the 25th and I’m excited to engage with different cultures and ways of life,” he says.

“My number one focus in Florida is that we’re protecting people to make sure they have food on the table and they’re treated with dignity and paid a living wage and have access to healthcare. This country has turned away from uncomfortable aspects of its life that we need to address. We need to get really honest, really fast.”

The only promise he makes is one that’s both hard and easy to fulfill at the same time: “I will never vote according to party dictates,” he says. “I will always vote in the interests of the people I represent.”

Visit Adam Gentle’s website here.

Adam Gentle’s announcement video can be viewed here.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Maureen Porras: Persisting for the neglected and forgotten

Maureen Porras (Photos: Maureen Porras campaign)

Sept. 25, 2020 by David Silverberg

It was July, 2018 when Maureen Porras, an immigration attorney, went with a client to the office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Miramar, Florida.

The client was a Nicaraguan immigrant father of two young children, married to an American citizen with medical conditions. As required, he periodically checked in with ICE. He had been informed that he was subject to deportation but wanted to request a humanitarian stay because of his wife’s condition, which was why Porras was with him that day.

Porras and the client met with the ICE agents, who were surprised to see an attorney there.

“I started to speak on his behalf,” she recalled to The Paradise Progressive. “They asked to take him to another room for questioning without counsel. I knew that if he went through that door alone, I would never see him again and he was going to be deported.”

Porras objected; she was going to be with him no matter what happened. Five uniformed ICE officers surrounded her. A supervisor was summoned. The atmosphere was grim and the officers demanding. At that time ICE was reputed to have physically abused attorneys.

But Porras persisted. “I refused to leave,” she recalled. “I caused a real scene. I felt the fear and the intimidation that immigrants are now facing. I knew that I had to stand up for my client. If I, as an attorney, couldn’t stand up for them, then who would? That experience, where you’re vulnerable, really made it clear that we need a change.”

Ultimately, they both left the ICE office together. Porras won a motion to reopen his case and it’s currently active before the immigration court—with a final hearing scheduled for 2022.

Porras called the incident “one of the most defining moments of my life.” It inspired her to run for the Florida House in the 105th District—to make the changes she says are needed.

The 105th District

Florida House District 105

The 105th stretches almost completely across the southern part of Florida. If it was mapped demographically, it would look like a barbell: population centers in the west (Naples Manor, Golden Gate and Lely Resort) then a long stretch of Everglades and population centers in the east (Miramar, Doral, Sweetwater and The Hammocks). It includes pieces of Collier, Miami Dade and just a bit of Broward counties and is mostly bounded on the north by the Alligator Alley portion of Interstate 75.

Based on the 2010 Census, the population of 157,369 was mostly Hispanic (69 percent) with a median age of 35 years and split evenly between men and women.

For the last two years, the 105th has been represented in Tallahassee by Ana Maria Rodriguez, a Republican who is now running for state Senate in the 35th Senate District.

Running against Porras is David Borrero, who describes himself as a “conservative Republican,” and serves as a commissioner of the city of Sweetwater.

Porras and her husband Caleb Johnston, a Florida state’s attorney, live in Doral on the east side of the district. While it’s a long trip from one end of the 105th to the other, Porras travels it at least twice a week to meet with voters and political groups.

“We’ve put in a lot of work in Collier County,” she says.

An American journey

Maureen Porras (center, in blue jacket) addresses a group on naturalization along with law enforcement officers.

Porras, who will be 32 years old on Oct. 23, was born in Managua, Nicaragua. Her mother left for the United States when Porras was 7 months old. Maureen followed when she was 7 years old. She received her US citizenship in 2008.

She attended public schools, which she says gave her a great appreciation for public education and made her a strong supporter of the institution. Indeed, she lists support for public education as a top issue.

“We have to support funding for public education and stop diverting money into charter schools,” she says. “My opponent proposes expanding charter schools.”

She graduated from Florida International University in Miami with a Bachelor degree in political science in 2010, graduating cum laude. She then earned her Juris Doctor degree from the Florida Coastal School of Law in 2014 and passed the Florida Bar the same year. While in law school, she worked in the Human and Immigrant Rights Clinic. There, she represented clients before the US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency and the Immigration Court. She was also president of the Immigration Law Society.

It was her immigration work that inspired her run for office. “I’m running to bring a voice to issues and people who are often neglected and forgotten,” she says.

Her platform could be characterized as mainstream progressive. On her website she lists support for public education, criminal justice reform, environmental protection, reproductive rights and immigrant protection as her top issues in that order.

In Tallahassee she says she’ll work to fix the broken unemployment benefits system.

When it comes to dealing with coronavirus, Porras says she would have supported calling a special session, which Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) opposed. She favors help to small businesses hurt by the pandemic and “making sure that loans and funds are spread equally across the state – not just in the governor’s backyard.” She characterizes DeSantis’ performance as “poor” given his lack of transparency in reporting COVID-19 infection rates, his failure to enforce public safety measures like mask wearing and social distancing and his early dismissal of the dangers of the virus.

As Porras campaigns around the district, she says she’s finding that her Nicaraguan origins are a considerable advantage. Sweetwater has the highest population of Nicaraguan-Americans in the country. “I’m making inroads with the Nicaraguan community,” she says. “I believe I would be the first Democratic Nicaraguan-American official elected to office.”

But she’s reaching out across the board, well beyond her ethnic community. “Most of the registered voters are independents. I’m not just reaching out to registered Republicans and Democrats; I’m reaching out to independents. You really do have to persuade them and I’m making progress.”

And she adds: “We have a good chance to win here.”

To learn more about Maureen Porras visit her website, Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Rachel Brown: Powering to the polls

Rachel Brown (Photo: Rachel Brown Campaign)

Sept. 10, 2020 by David Silverberg

Like many people, Rachel Brown’s politics and understanding of the world has evolved—but she’s had a lot further to go and started at an earlier age than most.

Born in 1994 and raised in Naples, Fla., Brown’s father made money selling guns at gun shows. She was raised in a house without air conditioning with Fox News blaring in the background. Until the third grade she was home schooled but then her mother, a teacher by profession, worked three jobs to afford the tuition to send her to private school at the Evangelical Christian School in Fort Myers.

It was an upbringing that might have produced a woman with narrow expectations, a limited perspective on the world and conservative political views.

Instead, today Brown is the progressive candidate for the Florida state Senate in District 27, determined to protect the district’s natural environment, ensure a decent life for its people and tackle the challenges that face them.

“I’m a liberal who comes from conservative roots,” she says. “I’m tired of my legislators ignoring issues like harmful algal blooms, the growing numbers of COVID-19 cases, and the massive homeless crisis on the rise.”

Center of gravity

State Senate District 27 includes Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Pine Island, Sanibel and Captiva. It is the center of population in Lee County. The Caloosahatchee River runs through it to its shoreline on the Gulf of Mexico.

Florida Senate District 27

The District is currently represented by Republican Sen. Elizabeth Benaquisto, who is term-limited and stepping down.

Benaquisto’s retirement set off a ferocious primary battle to succeed her between state House Reps. Ray Rodrigues (R-76-Fort Myers Beach) and Heather Fitzenhagen (R-78-Fort Myers), a battle so bitter they appeared in dueling TV ads firing guns, with the barely disguised implication they would gladly turn those guns on each other.

By then, Brown was already a declared candidate for the seat. She was approached by state Sen. Gary Farmer (D-34) the designated Senate minority leader, who urged Brown not to run so that Democrats could vote in an open Republican primary and elect the more moderate Fitzenhagen.

However, Brown refused, saying “How can I tell people I’ve marched with that I changed my mind, I’m not going to run, and they should go vote for a mediocre Republican instead who’s just going to take their taxes and use it for corporate handouts? And how can I take a backroom deal that represents the behavior I’m fighting to end?”

On Aug. 18 Rodrigues decisively defeated Fitzenhagen.

Given the past Republican nature of the District, the conventional wisdom is that it will remain the same.

Brown is determined to prove that assumption wrong. As her campaign slogan puts it: “Defy the norm!”

“Incredibly urgent”

After three years in private school, Brown attended Palmetto Ridge High School in Naples for a year and then began going part time to Florida Gulf Coast University, where she is still studying.

“I wasn’t planning to run for office before I got my degree,” she says. “But it’s incredibly urgent that I do it now.”

Brown is training as an environmental engineer and it was her sensitivity and understanding of the environment—and particularly the relationship of the District with its natural setting—that powered her run for office.

“Water quality is the big issue for everyone,” she observes. “Anyone in Southwest Florida has seen the degradation of our water and the algae blooms. My whole life I’ve heard folks that have been around longer than I have say that the water used to be a bright, beautiful crystal blue, not like the brown and black plumes we see today.”

“I believe every person should have a legal right to clean air and clean water; a right that citizens of District 27 do not currently have,” she says, adding that she’s ready to fight for that right in Tallahassee.

She’s also angry that important environmental legislation has repeatedly been put off or deferred by the state legislature.

“Every time they see an environmental group trying to do something good they try to stop it,” she says.

She’s particularly incensed by what she calls the deceptively named Clean Waterways Act, which has been signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

While the law puts in place a variety of water purity regulations and procedures, it also takes away the power of local governments to extend legal rights to plants, animals or bodies of water, so that their purity or health can be protected in court. Brown believes there needs to be an environmental bill of rights and says she will work to repeal the Act in order to pass a better alternative.

It’s mainly on these environmental issues that she most disagrees with her opponent. During the primary, Rodrigues was painted as a tool of the sugar industry around Lake Okeechobee, earning him the nickname “Sugar Ray.” Water from the lake is blamed for much of the pollution that flows down the Caloosahatchee River and dumps into the waters of the 27th District, clogging the canals of Cape Coral with algal mats and causing blue-green algae blooms along the river’s shores.

“He’s everything I am not,” says Brown. “He doesn’t seem to put the people of Lee County first.”

Stress tests

While the natural environment is critical to sustaining life and the 27th District’s economy, that life is under stress from the pandemic and the economy has been badly battered.

Nonetheless, Brown is optimistic: “I truly believe that a combination of individual and community efforts can make everyone’s lives better,” she says. “There are so many positive changes to be made when we work together.”

She points out that in Lee County the average cost of rent has increased by 19 percent since 2001 while the average income has gone up by only 4 percent, meaning that working people cannot keep up. She favors increasing the minimum wage to a livable level of $15 over six years. “If people aren’t making enough to live they’re going to need help,” she says.

She has seen homelessness in Lee County in person while working food service jobs. With the pandemic and economic crash she fears that homelessness is likely to increase and the county has to be ready for it.

People also need their healthcare, which she vows to protect, and she wants to expand Medicaid in the state.

Will she be branded a “socialist” for all this? Ironically, she points out, Rodrigues himself praised socialized healthcare. It came during a League of Women Voters forum when he commended Sweden’s approach to the COVID crisis by trying to develop herd immunity—covered by its socialized healthcare.

Brown also supports mask mandates to protect people from coronavirus.

Given her father’s past gun dealing, Brown says she’s comfortable with gun ownership as long as owners behave legally and responsibly. However, she feels they should be held liable for the use of their weapons. She really takes issue with Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

“Stand your ground as it is doesn’t do the job it was intended to do,” she argues. “It shouldn’t be allowed to be used in an offensive way.”

One issue that is close to her heart is that of infrastructure—good public transportation and safe streets—and for a very personal reason.

In 2004 her 12-year-old brother Eric was killed in a hit-and-run incident while he was riding his bicycle in Golden Gate Estates. Brown believes the culprit—who was never caught—was drunk or on drugs.

The incident made her determined to work for greater road safety. “We have a lack of city planning,” she notes. “A lot of the county is considered a rural environment but that’s just a way to excuse the lack of planning. We need better planning because then we’ll have safer roadways and fewer emissions.”

Her stance on infrastructure has won her an endorsement from Thomas Kanell, creator of ABetterLeeTran.com, a website advocating improved public transportation in Lee County. He called her “a courageous activist whose focus on the needs of everyday people and on preserving the environment is a fresh alternative from the money-driven politics that have characterized elections in our state.”

Her brother’s death also convinced Brown that alcohol and drugs need to be gotten off the streets. “Drug possession in and of itself is not the issue,” she maintains. “Driving under the influence of drugs and reckless driving in general is. Rather than busting people in their homes for drug consumption, we need to keep it off the roads.”

A public servant

Brown is fully aware that running as a Democrat in what has to date been a Republican district is a long, difficult battle against heavy odds. Her opponent is deep-rooted, backed by the Republican establishment and well-funded.

“At the start of my campaign, I innocently imagined a full paid staff; leaders of volunteer crews, managers, and social media people,” she recounts. “Now I realize that’s not going to happen.”

Instead, small donations have enabled her to order and distribute a hundred face masks and face shields. In addition to using social media she’s purchased yard signs and been able to produce a 30-second television advertisement. She’s planning to send out mailers.

In what she calls a game-changing development, a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee organization called Red to Blue is helping her with software and text message campaigning.

She’s been endorsed by other candidates like congressional candidate Cindy Banyai and Anselm Weber, running for the Florida House in District 76.

Interestingly enough, she’s also getting Republican help from supporters of Heather Fitzenhagen who were disgusted by Rodrigues’ primary campaign.

 “Many women are angered by Ray’s vicious campaign against Heather which ultimately lost her the primary,” she observes. “In order to win, I need support from all women and I’m delighted by those who have joined me.”

She acknowledges that “It’s hard being a grassroots candidate,” but adds, “I’m powering to the polls.”

Among the many promises and pledges that are made on the campaign trail, there’s one Brown is absolutely determined to keep: “My biggest celebration when I win will be to finally pay for air conditioning for my mother,” she says.

To learn more about Rachel Brown, visit her website, Facebook page or follow her on Twitter.

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg

Anselm Weber and the spirit of 76

Anselm Weber (Photo: Anselm Weber for Florida House District 76)

Sept. 3, 2020 by David Silverberg

When Anselm Weber, the Democratic candidate for Florida House District 76, talks about helping working people, he knows whereof he speaks: Like so many starting out in life he’s held jobs in fast food and convenience stores. At one point he sold hot sauce at the Pepper Palace in Sarasota.

“I’ve had a lot of jobs with little pay,” recalls the 24-year old Florida native and Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) graduate. “The highest pay I got was $10 an hour.”

He knows what it’s like to have money be tight. He lost his mother to a heart attack when he was 14 years old and was raised by his father, an adjunct professor at the University of Tampa.

His early jobs gave Weber a perspective on the world of work, the long hours, low pay and meager benefits and the needs of working people. Thanks to his history studies at FGCU, where he graduated this past December, he’s been able to put those experiences into a larger perspective.

One of Weber’s more recent jobs was with NextGen Florida, an offshoot of NextGen America, a progressive political organization founded by billionaire and former presidential Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer. There, Weber helped register voters and update their voting information, particularly on the Florida Southwest University campus where he engaged students and encouraged political participation.

“That experience helped confirm that more people felt the way I felt,” he recalled in an interview with The Paradise Progressive. “I was organizing a lot of young people. The ones who were engaged had a different worldview from those who were disengaged. Those didn’t feel incentivized.” Despite that, Weber believes his efforts helped over a thousand students.

Weber is now seeking to put that hands-on knowledge—of hard work and political activism—in the service of the people in Florida House District 76.

Water, water, everywhere

Florida House District 76

The 76th District encompasses the coast of Lee County. It starts at the northern Lee County line at Pine Island and includes Captiva and Sanibel Islands. On the mainland it includes Punta Rassa, Iona, Harlem Heights, Fort Myers Beach and Bonita Springs to the southern Lee County line.

Since 2012 the District has been represented in Tallahassee by Ray Rodrigues, a Republican politician who spent his previous career in Lee County positions. Rodrigues is term-limited and this year is running for the State Senate against Democrat Rachel Brown.

Water looms over all the District’s other physical attributes. Consisting of low-lying islands and coastal communities, it’s vulnerable to hurricanes, storm surges, sea level rise, erosion and all the ills of climate change. Polluted water from Lake Okeechobee dumps into San Carlos Bay and the Gulf, giving rise to red tide and toxic blue-green algae blooms. Here, climate change is not an abstraction; it’s a clear and present reality—and danger.

“We have 3 years left to stop a 1.5 degree rise in global temperatures, which is the threshold we cannot cross to stop massive climate catastrophe,” Weber’s written. “We have a plan for this in Florida. We are especially hard hit from sea level rise and increasingly harsher hurricanes. That is why several FL state candidates have come together and crafted a Green Jobs Program for Florida.”

Formally known as the Florida Climate and Economic Defense Initiative, the Green Jobs Program, of which Weber was a founder, will both combat climate change directly while also helping the District’s need for good-paying jobs, he argues.

But it’s not just the overall climate that presents a threat. The District’s water, Weber has written, “is constantly under assault.” Ray Rodrigues’ relationship with the sugar industry around Lake O brought him the most fire from his primary opponent, state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen (R-78-Fort Myers). She accused him of being a puppet of Big Sugar.

When it comes to upstream water polluters, Weber says, “we really have to go after them. If we find polluters we revoke the licenses of farms that are polluting and we get the companies to pay back for the pollution. I think we can go after these companies.”

He is calling for reforming the Clean Waterways Act to manage Lake O runoff and sequester its polluting carbon, phosphorous and nitrogen.

A stressful time

While protecting and preserving the District’s natural environment is vital, it’s helping its over 150,000 people that really drives Weber.

He’s running in an unusually challenging time. There’s the coronavirus pandemic, a devastating economic crash and the uncertain future of the businesses built on tourism, hospitality and seasonal influxes.  “People are struggling,” he says.

In Lee County rent increases have outstripped wages by 9 percent and with the economic crash 51 percent of renters nationwide are at risk of eviction, he points out.

“It’s abominable to throw people out of their homes while a pandemic is raging through our state. We need to keep the eye on the ball with this crisis. Working and poor Floridians are the most at risk because of this crisis,” he says.

“Before COVID-19, Florida had a 13 percent poverty rate and 56 percent of renters were spending 30 percent or more of their income on housing,” he has written. “The state minimum wage is $8.46, which is almost half of what a living wage is for Florida. Now with the harshest economic recession since the Great Depression, Florida is in desperation mode and we need people in office who will fight for working Floridians.”

What’s worse, all this is occurring at a time when people’s healthcare is under threat. President Donald Trump and his followers are relentlessly attempting to destroy the Affordable Care Act.

“I believe we need universal healthcare for the state of Florida,” Weber maintains. “We need to fight for universal healthcare for Florida so no one is foregoing essential medical needs simply because they can’t afford the out-of-pocket costs.”

He’s particularly incensed by the treatment of veterans’ healthcare needs. “The GOP in Florida refuses to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act,” he points out. “These men and women have served their country yet the GOP does not believe we should expand healthcare so our veterans can get the healthcare they need. I’ll fight for Medicaid expansion so no veteran goes without the healthcare they need.”

He’s also fully conscious that if elected one of the first issues he’s going to be facing will be participating in re-drawing the legislative maps based on the 2020 census. He’s calling for an end to gerrymandering and fair and equitable redistricting.

“We should district the state so the lines are proportional, fair and balanced,” he says. “I’m not in favor of Democrats doing the exact same gerrymandering as Republicans.”

Getting there

In the general election Weber is facing Adam Botana, from Bonita Springs, who calls himself a businessman although it’s unclear from his campaign website and social media postings exactly what business he’s in.

“Personally, he seems like a chummy guy. But he’s running on Trump’s agenda,” says Weber.

Botana, a first-time political candidate, is backed by corporate and ideological political action committees (PACs) like Novartis Finance Corporation, the Florida Beer Wholesalers Good Government Committee, the Associated Industries of Florida PAC and A Bold Future for Florida, a politically conservative PAC.

During Botana’s primary run his opponent, Jason Maughan, portrayed him as a wild party animal with a 2012 misdemeanor conviction for driving under the influence and seven reckless driving citations.

Adam Botana, as depicted in an ad by his primary opponent, Jason Maughan.

No one is hurling accusations at Weber—yet. But is he worried about being smeared with the “Socialist” label that Trump and his minions are throwing around?

“The Republicans say you’re a socialist if you’re picking up groceries for your grandma,” he laughs.

Weber is fully aware that he’s facing an uphill fight. The District has long voted Republican, is overwhelmingly white (83.5 percent) and older (29.6 percent between the ages of 60 and 74).

Nonetheless, these are extraordinary times and they may yield extraordinary results—and extraordinary change. In this he may be aided by his support for the top of the Democratic ticket.

“I’m voting for Joe Biden, no matter what,” he says. “I think he’s the best candidate right now.”

For Weber the experience of running for office has its highs and lows—but the ultimate goal justifies the effort.

“It is stressful. It’s a lot to deal with,” he admits. But “it’s really exhilarating to really engage with people. There are a lot of moving parts but it’s a worthwhile experience. This gives me a good place to be advocating for change in Florida.”

To learn more about Anselm Weber see his website or Facebook page.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Follow the money: Dan Severson’s finances and what they mean

02-17-20 Dan Severson 2010 own wordsDan Severson in a 2010 Minnesota appearance at which he stated: “Never let anybody say that we are a democracy. We are not a democracy.”       (Image: Minnesota Democratic-Farm-Labor Party)

Feb. 17, 2020 by David Silverberg

The campaign of Republican congressional candidate Dan Severson raised $107,531.14 in the fourth quarter of 2019, the fourth-highest amount of funds of all candidates in the 19th Congressional District, according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Of that amount, $101,500 came in the form of a loan from the candidate.

Otherwise, $3,950 came from just four contributors based in California, Minnesota, Alabama and Pennsylvania—none from Florida, other than what Severson contributed himself.

Severson spent $4,362.57. Of this, the largest amount, $2,250, was spent with Fort Myers consultant Diana Watt and her company Watt Political Consulting. However, that was before Watt and her team resigned from his campaign in early January, after State Rep. Byron Donalds (R-80-Immokalee) announced his candidacy.

The split between the candidate and the consultant came despite their shared adoration of President Donald Trump. Watt and her team issued nothing but praise for Severson as they departed.

“We hold Dan Severson and his wife, Cathy Jo, in the highest regard and wish them the very best,” Watt said, according to Florida Politics. Nathan Watt, deputy campaign manager, who also left, said: “Dan Severson has served his country with honor his entire life and is a wonderful example of a man obeying God’s call on his life.”

Otherwise, Severson’s expenditures covered miscellaneous campaign items like website hosting, event tickets, digital advertising and the like.

Analysis: What it means

This is a campaign that’s already on life support.

Other than the candidate’s loan to his own campaign, he has virtually no donors, no local base of support and his hired campaign team has abandoned him. Even after being one of the first of the eight Republican candidates to file in November after Rep. Francis Rooney’s retirement announcement, Severson still has little to no local name recognition and the evangelicals, veterans and Trumpers he was counting on as his base of support have plenty of other more established and well-known choices.

Severson has had a checkered political career. After serving as a naval fighter pilot for 22 years, he was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2002 and held the position until 2011, rising to the position of Minority Whip.

He ran for Minnesota’s secretary of state in 2014 and lost by 1 percent to Democrat-Farm-Labor (DFL) Party candidate Steve Simon.

In a time before Trump, Severson caused Trump-like outrage by leveling charges of voter suppression and fraud against Democrats, which Democrats countered were baseless lies. In particular, Severson charged that in the 2014 election of DFL Sen. Al Franken, military votes were deliberately not counted.

After a bizarre dueling press conference in the same room at the same time between Severson and his opponent that took place on Oct. 14, 2014,  reporter Doug Grow of the Minnesota Post was led to ask whether Severson’s antics were designed as a “desperate bid to tie himself to the military” and inflame Republican voters. In the end, it didn’t work.

Aged 65, Severson came to Southwest Florida to retire but contemplated running in the 19th Congressional District even before Rooney’s October retirement announcement—because he thought Rooney wasn’t conservative enough.

Severson is anti-choice, pro-gun, denies climate change and opposes Rooney’s proposal for a carbon tax. He is the most overtly religious of the Republican candidates, invoking God on Trump’s behalf.

Given the state of his campaign, he might want to save some of those prayers for himself.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

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02-17-20 A Very Stable Genius ad

 

 

 

Follow the money: Ford O’Connell’s finances and what they mean

02-12-20 Ford O'Connell on FoxFord O’Connell appearing on the Fox Business Network.

Feb. 12, 2020 by David Silverberg

The campaign of Republican congressional candidate Ford O’Connell raised $310,205 in the fourth quarter of 2019, the third-highest amount of funds of all candidates in the 19th Congressional District, according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Of that amount, $200,000 came in a loan to the campaign made by the candidate.

The other $110,205 was made in 139 separate donations. However, of these donations, 60 or 43 percent, were made through Winred, a conservative, online, pass-through political action committee (PAC) based in Arlington, Va.

Winred describes itself on its website as “a conduit PAC coupled with proven fundraising technology. The advanced lead optimization and donation platform increases engagement and maximizes your fundraising by leveraging a conservative ecosystem in the millions.” Put another way, users from any location can donate to any Republican candidate online.

As a result, $74,875 of O’Connell’s contributions came from anonymous donors outside the district. Of his total contributions, $44,100 came from Florida and of that, only $25,600 from 16 donors came from within the 19th Congressional District and all of those were from Naples.

As of Jan. 31, O’Connell had spent $3,173.03 on his campaign, all of it with Winred.

Analysis: What it means

O’Connell came late to this party, only filing his candidacy with the FEC on Dec. 6. He hasn’t had much time to fundraise or organize his campaign.

However, in early January he hired Sean Kempton as deputy campaign manager. Kempton, a graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University, served on the 2018 campaign of Gov. Ron Desantis (R) and later in his administration. One presumes that this means O’Connell will be trying to build a grassroots field operation.

As demonstrated by his fundraising, O’Connell doesn’t appear to have a network of local donors, so he is using online means to raise funds nationally.

O’Connell told the political website Ballotpedia that his three goals in office are: fighting for President Trump; protecting the quality of life in Southwest Florida (as he put it: “Southwest Florida first!”); and “draining the swamp.”

Accordingly, O’Connell’s platform is one of straight Trumpism and doesn’t deviate or vary from the Trumpist line. He deprecates Democrats, wants to protect national sovereignty from illegal immigrants, and boasts of being a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association.

The only way that O’Connell stands out from the other Trumper candidates in the 19th Congressional District to date is in the vehemence and volume of his Trumpism rather than its substance. O’Connell appears to be channeling his idol and adopting his campaign approach of personalizing his attacks, (“I have a feeling that some people might actually want to go back to Tallahassee rather than stay in this, what is going to be an epic dog fight,”—a shot at Dane Eagle), demonizing the opposition (“Democrats are the party of illegal immigration…”), and playing the apocalyptic paranoid card (“President Trump is our last hope for conservative governance for the foreseeable future in this country.”).

O’Connell’s attacks on immigration are ironic in light of his grandfather Henry Salvatori’s immigration from Italy to the United States, where he built a successful petroleum company, as well as the Irish origins of O’Connell’s name.

O’Connell’s only reference to a local issue is on his website where he pledges, “I will advocate and fight for the highest level of federal funding for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).” Otherwise, his issues are all national in scope.

Given that all his local donors were based in Naples, it appears that O’Connell doesn’t have any roots or organization in Fort Myers, Cape Coral or anywhere in Lee County.

Given the lateness of his entry, his lack of a ground game and his background in television punditry, it is most likely that O’Connell will hold his main fire until later in the season and then attempt a broadcast blitz, trying to overwhelm his opponents with television advertising. However, since broadcast purchasing can eat up a lot of money very fast he will have to do much better fundraising if he’s to have the resources to do that.

Substantively and from a policymaking stand point there’s nothing to distinguish O’Connell from the other Trumpers in the race. He has little local name recognition or roots in the community. He does have $200,000 worth of skin in the game—and it will be interesting to see what that can buy him in the 19th Congressional District.

Coming: Randy Henderson and the video that went viral

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Follow the money: Dane Eagle’s finances and what they mean

02-09-20 Dane Eagle Trump rallyDane Eagle speaks at a Trump rally.                                     (Photo: Dane Eagle for Congress campaign)

Feb. 10, 2020 by David Silverberg

The campaign of State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral) raised $423,095 in the fourth quarter of 2019, the second-highest amount of funds of all candidates in the 19th Congressional District, according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

What makes Eagle’s fundraising remarkable is that it consisted entirely of donations and no loans.

There were 237 donations to Eagle’s campaign, of which 11 came from committees and political action committees (PACs) rather than individuals. These PACs included the Florida Transportation Builders Association PAC, the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers PAC, Giving US Security PAC and the Universal Health Services Employee Good Government Fund.

One prominent Southwest Floridian who contributed was Sam Galloway Jr., the car dealer, who kicked in $5,000.

Also contributing was the Jeff Miller for Congress campaign. Miller is a former Republican representative for Florida’s 1st Congressional District in the Panhandle, a seat currently held by fellow Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz. While Gaetz has been an outspoken and aggressive supporter of President Donald Trump, he committed the heresy of voting to limit the president’s power to wage war on Iran.

Eagle’s donors were also from all over the United States, including Washington, DC, Pennsylvania and Alabama. While the vast majority were from Florida, they came from all over the state.

In this period Eagle’s campaign committee spent $47,758.17.

Much of this was spent on consultants. Like his fellow Republican competitor William Figlesthaler, Eagle is using Anedot, Baton Rouge, La., as his fundraising consultant. In addition he’s drawing on the expertise of Picotte and Porter, LLC, Jacksonville, Fla., for additional fundraising advice and assistance and TM Strategic Consulting, based in Fort Myers, which provided general political advice and branding expertise. The company is run by Terry Miller, a conservative political strategist.

Most expenses were for routine campaign requirements like videography, event logistics, software, advertising and the like.

Analysis: What it means

Eagle has been in state office since winning election in 2012 and has risen, at the remarkably young age of 36, to be acting House majority leader in the Florida legislature. This gives him a wide network of contacts and national connections, which he’s using for his campaign.

Based on the data in his FEC report, he’s running a professional, well-funded campaign that draws on established professional political expertise. His donor base is diverse and extensive, which demonstrates real grassroots support, most of it local.

Ideologically, Eagle is an extreme Trumper and has staked his claim on the far right edge of the Trump universe, which should serve him well with core Republican primary voters. He’s an active user of social media and his media to date fully reflects Trump’s rage and paranoia against Democrats and anyone who dares to disagree with the leader. He also shares Trump’s nasty and vicious absolutism. There’s no reason to believe that these are not Eagle’s genuine sentiments and outlook as well.

Uniquely, Eagle showed interest in a political career at an early age and served as deputy chief of staff to then-Gov. Charlie Crist (R) at the age of 24. He has shown that he can master legislation and legislative maneuvering. Unlike other candidates who have jumped into this race after—or during—other, non-political careers, Eagle is all politics, all the time.

Given his young age and early prominence, Eagle will likely be on the political scene for a long time unless he suddenly flames out—often an occupational hazard for young prodigies. Of the Republican candidates for Congress in the 19th District, he is at the moment the most formidable one.

Next: Ford O’Connell

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Follow the money: Figlesthaler’s finances and what they mean

02-05-20 Figlesthaler speechDr. William Figlesthaler delivers his own State of the Union address in a campaign video.       (Image: Dr. Fig for Congress campaign)

Feb. 6, 2020 by David Silverberg

Final 4th Quarter 2019 financial figures are out for the political campaigns in Southwest Florida’s 19th Congressional District, so it’s time to survey the standing of all 11 candidates.

But it’s not enough just to recount what candidates have reported to the Federal Election Commission. In a series of articles called “Follow the money,” The Paradise Progressive will analyze what the numbers mean for each campaign, what they tell us about each candidate’s popular support and how each candidate is positioned for the days ahead.

Because it’s such a crowded field these articles will appear singly as individual profiles.

We’ll look at candidates in the order of the amount of money they raised in 2019.

Willliam Figlesthaler

Republican Dr. William Figlesthaler is the top-funded candidate in the race for the House of Representatives in the 19th Congressional District.

This Naples-based urologist and first-time politician has the highest total of all candidates reporting their 2019 finances, with $536,295 in receipts.

However, of that amount the vast majority, $410,000, came in a loan to the campaign from the candidate. Otherwise, 37 other donors contributed to the campaign for both the primary and general elections in amounts starting at $3,000.

Virtually all donors are active or retired doctors or associated with the medical field. Additional donors are family members: his Russian-born wife Olga and relatives Karolina, Elizabeth and William Figlesthaler II. Figlesthaler also received $2,000 from the campaign committee of Rep. Greg Murphy (R-3-NC), a member of Congress and fellow urologist from North Carolina, where Figlesthaler did his residence.

Figlesthaler spent $29,541.35 in 2019. Most of that was spent on consultants for media and fundraising, a video and website development. However, he also came up with a unique and bizarre form of advertising: screens in the men’s urinals in Hertz Arena.

As men urinate on the red, white and blue-colored plastic screen at the bottom of the urinal, they can ask themselves the question printed on the screen: “Are you ready to drain the swamp?” and presumably somehow connect the Dr. Fig name on the screen to Figlesthaler.

The stunt certainly got Figlesthaler local TV air time and media coverage.

“Quite frankly, they’re pissed off,” Figlesthaler said of voters to NBC-2’s Dave Elias, who reported the urinal story on Jan. 20. “They’re tired of what’s going on in Washington.” And was this a good idea? “The mere fact we’re talking about it right now tells me it was probably a good idea,” he concluded.

Whether it changes anyone’s mind and convinces voters remains to be seen. It’s not clear whether there’s any equivalent promotion for the women’s lavatories, so essentially Figlesthaler ignored half the voting population.

Analysis

Politically, Figlesthaler is a straight out Trumper and undeviatingly follows the Trumpist line on all issues. He’s working off the 2016 angry voter meme and making the old “drain the swamp” slogan the centerpiece of his campaign—one now abandoned even by Trump. He’s anti-abortion. He plays up his lack of political experience or knowledge. The only local issue he addresses on his website is water purity—he’s all for it.

It appears that he was inspired or convinced by his fellow urologist Greg Murphy in North Carolina that with enough money a candidate with virtually no name recognition, legislative record or political experience could win a seat in Congress.

Given the amount of personal money he’s putting into his campaign and his array of media and political consultants Figlesthaler is running what should look to an outsider like a fairly professional campaign. Consultants include Anedot, Baton Rouge, La., for fundraising; Compliance Consulting, a global compliance firm; Landslyde Media Group, a single-person, Cape Coral-based consultancy; Southeastern Strategies, a marketing firm; and Lakeside Media, a video production company.

That said, there’s no indication that Figlesthaler has any field organization, volunteers or infrastructure or is making any effort in that direction.

Figlesthaler seems to have no knowledge or interest in local issues and he certainly has no established political base beyond his small circle of doctor friends and their spouses, who actually reside all over the state rather than in the District.

Given his medical background and medical-heavy donor base he could clearly weigh in on healthcare and medical issues. However, his website states only: “As a physician, I have served thousands of Southwest Florida patients. I have seen firsthand how government-controlled healthcare drives up costs and destroys patients’ quality of care. I will fight for a free market system that ensures competitive prices and quality of service.” In other words, he opposes the Affordable Care Act.

Figlesthaler’s is a shallow, highly ideological campaign focused on national themes and complete indifference to local issues. Also, his small donor list doesn’t indicate an enormous groundswell of grassroots support.

By most traditional measures, Figlesthaler would not be considered a serious candidate and this would simply be a vanity project. However, his initial personal investment and the resources at his command mean that he must be considered a contender. In this he is following the model of his idol, Donald Trump.

Such campaigns have succeeded in the 19th Congressional District before. However, if he wins, Figlesthaler seems set to join the parade of inexperienced, naïve Southwest Florida candidates who went to Washington and were disillusioned by the rigors and realities of legislating, ill-serving the interests of Southwest Florida.

Next: Dane Eagle

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg