Now it’s personal: All those political TV ads and what they mean

07-13-20 Levitra football ad 3

07-13-20 Figlesthaler football 2Blasts from the past and present: Levitra Man and William Figlesthaler.    (Images: You Tube, Figlesthaler for Congress)

July 17, 2020 by David Silverberg

You’ve seen them—and seen them and seen them and seen them: the local political ads on television if you’re in the Cape Coral-Fort Myers-Naples media market.

We’re going into the home stretch before the primary on Aug. 18. Voting starts on Aug. 8 and people are already casting mail-in ballots.

As a result, the campaigning is getting harder, the attacks getting sharper and the ads are becoming more negative. With traditional face-to-face campaign tools like rallies, door-to-door canvassing and meet-and-greets unavailable due to the pandemic, this year’s election really rides on television advertising.

So while everyone can see the ads—in fact, they’re impossible to avoid in the 5 pm to 6:30 local news hours no matter how hard one tries—what are the dynamics behind them? Why are particular candidates using particular arguments and images? Why are they attacking particular opponents? Are the campaigns succeeding in their goals?

Well, you—the voter—be the judge.

And don’t forget: This article only covers the Republican rumble in the 19th Congressional District. There are good Democratic alternatives in every race.

PAC men: Casey Askar versus Byron Donalds

Who would have thought that state Rep. Byron Donalds (R-80-Immokalee) would emerge as a major player—or threaten the richest candidate, businessman Casey Askar?

The 2020 2nd quarter fundraising totals for the 19th Congressional District were released by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) yesterday, July 16. As of June 30, when the books were closed, Byron Donalds was third, having raised $778,962.94 and having $328,588.43 on hand. That put him well behind Casey Askar ($3,656,255.85 raised, $1,760,828.90 on hand) and William Figlesthaler ($1,986,420.40 raised, $709,435.00 on hand).

(The Paradise Progressive will be doing individual analyses of candidate’s financial reports in future articles.)

But Donalds’ campaign fundraising and totals don’t tell the whole story. He has a not-so-secret weapon: an endorsement and support from the Club for Growth Action, a Super Political Action Committee (PAC). Super PACs can spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of a cause or candidate as long as they don’t coordinate with the candidate’s campaign.

07-16-20 Byron Donalds Club for Growth ActionPro: Club for Growth Action’s ad in praise of Byron Donalds.      (Image: Club for Growth Action)

Club for Growth is not just any old conservative political organization. It touts itself as “the leading free-enterprise advocacy group in the nation, we win tough battles and we have an enormous influence on economic policy.”

In a 2016 Politico Magazine article, author Simon Van Zuylen-Wood characterized it as a “deep-pocketed interest group that is feared by Republicans who come into its cross hairs for supporting tax or spending hikes.” It claims membership of “250,000 pro-growth, limited government Americans who share in the belief that prosperity and opportunity come from economic freedom.”

No surprise, Democrats are not enchanted. “The Club For Growth has done an absolutely terrific job pushing reckless and extreme Republicans through primaries, thinning out an already out of touch and cash-strapped class of Republican recruits,” Robyn Patterson, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told The Hill.

Club for Growth Action is the Club’s spending arm and this year it chose to endorse and spend on behalf of Byron Donalds, the only Florida candidate and the only African American of the 49 candidates it is supporting.

Club for Growth Action’s intervention is what in military terms is called a “force multiplier.” It suddenly makes Donalds one of the best financed, if not the best financed candidate, in the race. Now, not only is he running his own ads touting his allegiance to Trump and his conservatism, he has outside ads backing him up, putting him on a par with the until-now richest candidate, Casey Askar.

Pretty clearly Askar—and/or his staff and consultants—are painfully aware of it too, because they’ve suddenly decided to go after Donalds with negative TV ads. To do this, they’ve focused on Donalds’ and the Club for Growth’s Achilles heel.

In a Republican primary race built on fanatical fealty to Donald Trump that allows no room for deviation or impurity, Club for Growth has a dark past: In 2016 it opposed Donald Trump. “There’s nothing conservative about Donald Trump,” one of its operatives stated at the time.

And what is Byron Donalds’ sin? His 1997 drug bust, which he himself acknowledges in his campaign video? An admitted acceptance of a bribe in 2000? Nah, that’s just water under the bridge. His real crime is political heresy, which the Askar opposition team uncovered: In the past, Byron Donalds didn’t support Trump! In fact, he thought Trump was something of a jerk and said so. Imagine! Impure thoughts!

In a television ad approved by Askar, he brings up Donalds’ past opposition to Trump and Donalds’ tweets disparaging Trump and expressing relief when Trump announced in 2011 that he wouldn’t be running.

A lengthier and more explicit video was issued by another Super PAC, Honesty America PAC, which identifies itself only as “conservative voters, frustrated with politicians who promote themselves and their ‘public service’ with no regard for the truth”—no names, no further identity on its website, and with a Twitter account that only activated in March. A search of FEC records reveals Honesty America Inc., a Super PAC based in Alexandria, Va., incorporated on April Fool’s Day, 2020 with David Satterfield, a professional campaign compliance consultant, as its treasurer.

07-16-20 Byron Donalds Never TrumperOriginal sin: Honesty America PAC’s anti-Donalds video.     (Image: Honesty America PAC)

Byron Donalds has responded with a video of his own called “Dishonest attacks by Casey Askar.”

In the video, Donalds says: “My opponent, Casey Askar has decided to attack me, not on my conservative record, which started here in Southwest Florida with the Tea Party movement and he’s not attacking me on my conservative record in the Florida legislature, where I have stood up even to my own party to protect your constitutional Second Amendment rights.” He then goes on to rebut the attacks, attributing them to youth or to his existence in the days prior to Trump’s time as a politician.

Askar himself is not immune to criticism and worse. An FEC complaint has been filed about the source of his $3 million loan to his campaign and a complaint to the state’s attorney charged that his Harvard Business School degree was bogus, a charge Askar is fighting with a lawsuit. But aside from these public attacks, a variety of campaign operatives of unknown provenance and motivation are peddling information about Askar behind the scenes. (For more, see “Sleaze, slime and slander: Southwest Florida’s summer in the swamp.”)

To a skeptical outsider, the charges and countercharges sound like a metaphysical argument among Inquisition judges over who should be burned at the stake. But in the real world, the heat is rising because the candidates are fighting over a shrinking share of undecided Republican voters who will determine the primary winner.

However, given the rising passion, politics and friction, both Askar and Donalds may spontaneously combust well before August 18.

Figlesthaler assumes human form

In his campaign ads Dr. William Figlesthaler has played different roles: He’s been the angry Dr. Zhivago populist in a white lab coat. He’s been the Knight Trumplar on his iron steed, doing battle with the goblins of the left. He’s been the Grim Reaper stalking down corridors like a crazed Jack Torrance in The Shining.

But viewers knew something had changed when he shaved off his signature five o’clock shadow and stopped snarling at the camera.

07-16-20 Fig shaven cropped
Say cheese: A newly shorn William Figlesthaler tries to smile.

In his first post-shave video, “A Legacy of Success,” issued on July 7, Figlesthaler touted his past successes in a way strongly reminiscent of Askar’s ads. He even tried to smile. Still, it was strange seeing him shorn and in the end his face seemed flat and featureless, like a botoxed balloon. (Bad lighting on that last shot, guys!)

In his latest video, Figlesthaler tries to be…human. It’s called “Just a Regular Guy.” After all his larger-than-life personas in his previous ads, this time he’s just a salt of the earth papa.

In the video he throws around a football in a field with a young boy—presumably his grandson—and he tells viewers he’s just a regular guy like everyone else.

The ad seemed eerily familiar to this viewer. Where had this scenario appeared before?

Does anyone remember back to 2003 and an ad for a drug called Levitra?

In that TV spot a middle-aged man enters a garage and sees an old football. He picks it up, goes in the backyard and throws it, trying to send it through the center of a tire hanging from a tree. At first he misses.

The narrator intones: “Sometimes you need a little help staying in the game.” The name of Levitra, a male enhancement drug, pops up. The ad, until then in black and white, suddenly goes to color.

Now the man has energy. He’s running around the backyard, throwing the football through the tire—again and again and again.

His wife (presumably?) comes to the door and sees him active and energetic. She joins him in the backyard. They’re happy, snuggly and kissy-faced.

It’s a metaphor!!! Get it?

07-13-20 Levitra football ad 2A newly energized Levitra Man makes a score.                      (Image: YouTube)

On the one hand the similarities between Figlesthaler’s ad and the Levitra ad (“Staying in the Game,” its proper title) might have been inadvertent. Perhaps his video production company is staffed by people too young to remember Levitra Man.

But “Just a Regular Guy” comes at a time when Figlesthaler’s campaign is being blasted as nothing more than a mid-life crisis on the website Freaky Fig, posted by…wait for it…Honesty America PAC, the same one attacking Byron Donalds to the advantage of Casey Askar.

Figlesthaler has pledged to keep fighting to the bitter end in the video “Everything I’ve Got.” He’s certainly staying in the game—financially.

Not to abandon objectivity or favor any particular campaign here, but maybe Figlesthaler would benefit from addressing genuine policy issues and the real legislative needs of Southwest Florida? He is, after all, running for the United States Congress. But understanding those would take work.

Meanwhile, as of today, there are 32 days until Primary Day.

And remember: There are Democrats to vote for in November.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

 

 

For the record: The candidates on whether to mask or not–UPDATED

07-11-20 Mask tantrum 5Dan Maples lashes out in a Fort Myers Costco when videoed without a mask.   (Image: Twitter)

July 12, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Updated at 5:30 pm with David Holden comment.

Mask madness has reached Southwest Florida.

Whether or not to wear a mask is no longer a question of a medical and hygienic precaution but a political statement, thanks to President Donald Trump’s politicization of the issue and stubborn refusal to set an example—before yesterday.

Of course, in Southwest Florida, a coronavirus hotspot, mask wearing has become a raw, emotional issue. It was in a Fort Myers Costco that Dan Maples had an anti-mask tantrum that went viral and cost him his job. Local towns and counties are debating mask mandates in meetings ringing with rage. Individual businesses have to decide whether to require customers to wear masks.

Where do the people who are seeking to represent Southwest Florida stand on masks and mandates?

The Paradise Progressive surveyed the tweets, websites, Facebook posts, news reports and statements of local congressional candidates regarding masks and compiled the following list of their positions—in addition to sending questions in direct messages. The results are presented here, for the record, along with some context. All names are listed by alphabetical order.

Democrats

Cindy Banyai: “Masks slow the spread of COVID19 and everyone should wear one when while they’re out and can’t social distance. With cases across Florida spiking and Lee Health system nearing 100% staff capacity we should all care about one another and wear a mask. It’s the most patriotic thing you could do right now–care about your fellow Americans.”

David Holden: “Since the vigorous resurgence of the virus around June 24th, I’ve been calling for a state-wide mask mandate. I believe that mandate should not be criminalized, as those penalties will only dig regular folks further in the hole–but I do know we need universal mask wearing and clear leadership. As ironic as it may seem, individual mask wearing will increase freedom as it will slow the spread and help us return to normal more quickly and safely.”

Republicans

Darren Aquino: Asked by NBC2’s Political Reporter Dave Elias in an interview broadcast on July 10, if the President should wear a mask, Aquino differed from Trump’s longstanding refusal and stated: “Different times, he should be, yeah. I would say he should put one on when it’s necessary.”

Casey Askar:  NBC2’s Dave Elias, reported on July 9 that Askar told him that Askar does not believe in wearing a mask in public and he doesn’t expect people to be forced to do so.

State Rep. Byron Donalds (R-80-Immokalee): Donalds told the Cape Coral City Council during its debate on a mask mandate: “Do not issue such an order when it is not clear you have the power to do so,” according to the News-Press.

State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral): Approvingly retweeted a July 7 tweet from Gov. Ron DeSantis (R): “I urge all Floridians to continue social distancing to help protect our state’s most vulnerable and slow the spread of #COVID19. Avoid the ‘Three Cs’ and high-risk environments. Wearing a facial covering when you can’t social distance may also help reduce transmission.”

Dr. William Figlesthaler: The only medical doctor among the candidates, Figlesthaler has not commented on mask-wearing on any of his platforms. Questions on the need for individuals to wear masks and mask mandates by local governments have been sent to his campaign e-mail address. As of this writing, no response has been received.

Mayor Randy Henderson: On July 9, following a vote of the Fort Myers City Council, Mayor Randy Henderson tweeted: “Today I proudly voted against a #MandatoryMasks policy for the @cityftmyers. Look, I agree with @realDonaldTrump – it is not feasible and a gross overreach of government. The individual must take responsibility for their health and respect others decision when they do the same.”

Daniel Kowal: No postings or positions on masks on his media platforms. As of this posting, no response to a direct question.

Christy McLaughlin: On July 7, at a Cape Coral City Council meeting on a mask mandate as reported by Fox4 News, where she went to oppose a mask mandate: “We do have the personal responsibility and ability to make our own choices with the autonomy of our own bodies.”

Daniel Severson: No postings or positions on masks on his media platforms. As of this posting, no response to a direct question.

Independent

Antonio Dumornay: In a July 8 Facebook post: “So people are happy about mandated mask 😷 to breathe in your own toxins (that you exhale called carbon dioxide) when only sick people need them! Like what are we doing!? Yes people get sick but your not sick.” As of this posting, no response has been received to a direct question for clarification of the post.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

 

Sleaze, slime and slander: Southwest Florida’s summer in the swamp

06-29-20 Fig and Hurley NBC2

Dr. William Figlesthaler and Matthew Hurley in happier times.  (Image: NBC2)

July 2, 2020 by David Silverberg

If you’ve been preoccupied with the resurgence of coronavirus in Florida, the breakdown of the state unemployment system, protests and reactions and the general collapse of civilization, you could be forgiven for overlooking the schemes and scandals of Southwest Florida’s local politics, of which there has been a bumper crop.

So here, for those who might have missed them and would like to catch up, is a roundup of some of the seamier stories that have burst on the airwaves and Internets this summer.

Figlesthaler’s news—fake and otherwise

This one belongs to political reporter Dave Elias of NBC2, who has been peeling back layers of denial and obfuscation toward something that may be much bigger and badder than first reported.

On June 22, Elias reported that Matthew Hurley, a campaign staffer with Dr. William Figlesthaler, a Republican congressional candidate in the 19th Congressional District, had been arrested for contempt of court charges in a business contract dispute unrelated to the campaign.

Figlesthaler denied that Hurley had been with the campaign. (“Local Congressional candidate denies affiliation with arrested man, despite contrary evidence.”) Hurley is also a partner in a political consulting firm—owned by his girlfriend, Rachel Schaff—called Southeastern Strategies that was hired by Figlesthaler (as confirmed by Federal Election Commission (FEC) financial reports).

Figlesthaler didn’t just deny that Hurley was with his campaign, he went all-Trump on Elias and the story. In a statement, he claimed to be “the overwhelming front runners (sic) in the race” (absolutely not true), accused NBC2 of being “fake news media [that] utilized lies and distortions to attack our campaign and promote their anti-Conservative, anti-Trump, anti-America message,” (that honor belongs only to The Paradise Progressive) and accused Elias of being “a long-time liberal activist, open borders proponent, and self-proclaimed Never Trumper” who attacks “real America First Conservatives” (totally untrue).

But the real essence of Figlesthaler’s attack and the person against whom he leveled real accusations was one of Elias’ on-air sources, a woman named JoAnn Debartolo.

“Elias’ only so-called ‘source’ in his hit piece was well known political extortionist JoAnn Debartolo,” Figlesthaler stated. “JoAnn has for years preyed on independently wealthy individuals to pay her personal bills and mortgage. In March of 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, JoAnn attempted to extort my campaign for more than $50,000 in cash. When I refused to pay her, she quickly aligned with one of my deep-pocketed opponents in an attempt to spread lies about our campaign.”

Debartolo is a long-time Collier County Republican activist who was approached to join Figlesthaler’s campaign and turned him down—and provided Elias with the proposed contract to prove it.

06-29-20 Roger Stone endorsement YouTube
Roger Stone endorses JoAnn Debartolo.  (Image: YouTube)

(Debartolo is on this year’s Republican Party primary ballot for the position of state committeewoman. On June 20, Roger Stone—yes, that Roger Stone—endorsed Debartalo as a “conservative Trump supporter” over her opponent in a 41-second YouTube video.)

Elias followed up his first story the next day, June 23, with one that provided even more evidence of Hurley’s relationship to the campaign: “Congressional candidate claims coverage of campaign member is ‘fake news’ despite piles of evidence.”

The story featured statements by competing Republican candidates Darren Aquino, Christy McLaughlin, Casey Askar and state Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral) attesting that they were all approached by Hurley on behalf of Figlesthaler’s campaign—either in Hurley’s capacity as a campaign worker or in an effort to get them to drop out (Aquino).

Elias’ report also revealed that: “Lawsuits show Hurley owes thousands of dollars in civil lawsuits and has not paid them. A judge has ordered them paid and an arrest document lists Figlesthaler’s campaign as a possible employer to garnish wages.”

As of this writing, there have been no further reports by Elias on the Figlesthaler-Hurley relationship. However, Elias had solid evidence for all his reporting and his work to date seems to hint at something deeper.

At the very least, Figlesthaler’s Trump-like reactions of blame, denial and accusation to the stories indicate the kind of congressman he would be if elected to represent Southwest Florida in the House of Representatives—and he’s running on a “drain the swamp” platform, no less.

Much more is likely to come on this story. Stay tuned!

The origins of Askar’s millions

07-01-20 FEC logoIn the 19th Congressional District race, businessman Casey Askar rocketed to the front of the Republican pack on the strength of a $3 million personal loan to his campaign.

But now it appears that $3 million may not have come out of his own pocket.

In a June 9 article, “Complaint alleges Casey Askar bankrolled with improper loan,” in Florida Politics, reporter Jacob Ogles detailed a FEC complaint alleging that Askar’s $3 million was actually a sweetheart, interest-free loan from Northern Bank and Trust.

The complaint was filed by Stan Carter, a conservative activist in St. James City (on the southern tip of Pine Island, in the 19th Congressional District). Carter told the FEC that the loan “reeks of fraud to the highest degree.”

While ostensibly a business loan made to several individuals, Carter suggested that it was really a personal loan by the bank’s president to Askar.

Kristin Davison, a consultant with the Askar campaign, told Ogles that the loan came from a line of credit Askar had through Northern Trust for years. Money was drawn from the account before Askar filed for Congress and he then loaned it to the campaign.

“The bank didn’t loan money to the campaign,” she said. “Casey has a line of credit. Those are his personal funds.”

The fact that the original business loan was made to several individuals meant that the money was not Askar’s alone to lend to his campaign, thus violating campaign finance rules, according to Carter.

“Of course, banks are conscious of the stringent regulations surrounding campaign finance, and they would be all the more conscious of those regulations when lending a figure as large as $3,000,000,” Carter wrote. “However, Northern Bank & Trust Company blatantly ignored these regulations. Why? Because Kousay ‘Casey’ Askar conspired with the President & CEO of Northern Bank & Trust Company, James Mawn, to receive the fraudulent loan.”

As Ogles put it in his article: “The FEC complaint itself focuses on Askar’s loan, suggesting a bank with no personal ties to Askar would never grant such a low-risk deal to a first-time political candidate and saying the way the money was directed into the campaign account was unlawful.”

Northern Bank & Trust did not return Ogles’ calls before the article’s publication.

In response to a question from The Paradise Progressive, a FEC official confirmed that the complaint had been received at the federal agency but FEC rules prohibited her from providing further details of the proceeding.

Carter’s complaint did highlight something that is now being used against Askar by his Republican opponents: his Iraqi immigrant origins and the fact that his birth name was Qusay (قصي or Kousay, as his critics prefer to spell it). Askar seems to be hitting back with a new video ad that again focuses on his faith and immigrant roots—and allegiance to Trump—called “Time to fight back.” It takes aim at the usual liberal targets—but also, it seems, his Republican tormentors.

Heather’s horror

No sooner had state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen (R-78-Fort Myers) abandoned her quest for the 19th Congressional District House seat and staked a claim on the state Senate seat representing the 27th District (basically, Lee County) than her opponents opened up with all guns blazing.

Her bid outraged fellow Republicans in the Florida Senate, who didn’t want her in a primary race against a fellow Republican, didn’t like her political moderation and thought she was too cozy with a powerful Democratic lawmaker.

The result was a 30-second TV ad whose female narrator intones: “Planned Parenthood’s favorite politician? Nancy Pelosi? Nope, Heather Fitzenhagen.” As this is said, Pelosi’s face morphs into Fitzenhagen’s. The ad attacks Fitzenhagen for a variety of conservative heresies like opposing Trump and being liberal but most particularly her stance on choice.

06-29-20 Pelosi morph 1

06-29-20 Pelosi morph 2

06-29-20 Pelosi morph 3The metamorphosis of Heather Fitzenhagen, according to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.     (Images: FRSCC)

Produced by Isaac Communications of Jacksonville, the ad is sponsored by the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which urges viewers to vote for Fitzenhagen’s primary opponent: State Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R-76-Sanibel, Pine Island, Fort Myers Beach, Bonita Springs). It’s also supported by state Sens. Debbie Mayfield (R-17) and Gayle Harrell, (R-83), all of whom approved it, as it says in the fine print at the end.

Whenever the ad runs on local television stations it’s paired with a 30-second pro-Rodrigues ad that touts his conservative credentials.

Despite the vitriol, an internal poll by the Fitzenhagen campaign showed her leading Rodrigues by 10 points, according to a June 22 Florida Politics article by Ogles: “Internal poll shows Heather Fitzenhagen with a double-digit lead on Ray Rodrigues.”

Of course there is a Democratic alternative to the 27th Senate District Republicans: Democrat Rachel Brown, a Naples native. And running for the seat Rodrigues is vacating is Democrat Anselm Weber. Both first-time candidates are campaigning as progressives trying to bring change to Southwest Florida.

Ogles reported on June 16 that state Sen. Gary Farmer (D-34) representing eastern Broward County, urged Brown not to run so that Democrats could vote in an open Republican primary and elect the more moderate Fitzenhagen. However, Brown refused.

“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?” Brown told Ogles. “And how can I take a backroom deal that represents the behavior I’m fighting to end?”

06-29-20 Rachel BrownDemocrats Rachel Brown and Anselm Weber.   (Photo: The Daily Kos)

McCarthyism makes a comeback

In case you didn’t enjoy the first round of McCarthyism when Sen. Joe Mc

07-01-20 Joseph_McCarthy
Sen. Joseph McCarthy

Carthy (R-Wis.) was active in the 1950s, or if you missed it entirely (like this author) you have a second chance to see it right here in Southwest Florida.

That’s because Darren Aquino, a retired actor formerly of New York and now a Republican congressional candidate, is raising the old “Communist” canard—and like McCarthy, is doing so without any basis in fact, evidence or truth.

Aquino’s far fringe campaign consists almost entirely of tweets leveling insults and spitting hate against everyone around him. He calls Casey Askar a “snake” because he’s an immigrant and not a “natural-born citizen” and Aquino wants to make immigrants ineligible to serve in Congress. He also thinks America is headed for civil war and it’s time to pick a side. He despises refugees, Democrats, and other fellow Republicans (he calls Dane Eagle a Republican in Name Only and Sen.Marco Rubio a Never-Trumper, etc.) He even wants Bubba Wallace thrown out of NASCAR. And, of course, WINK News is fake news in his eyes.

06-11-20 Darren Aquino
Darren Aquino  (Image: WINK News)

But Aquino’s “communist” attack was leveled against Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai, whom he first called a “socialist” but then decided to change into “communist” after she called for removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in downtown Fort Myers.

Aquino’s hysteria would be laughable on the face of it but on June 23 he went on to call for Florida Gulf Coast University to fire Banyai as an adjunct professor because of her views.

The attack is reminiscent of Joe McCarthy’s baseless personal smears and the professional price people paid when targeted by him and his assistant Roy Cohn. Aquino is the only SWFL candidate in any race who is attacking another candidate’s livelihood.

At the moment there’s no indication that anyone—including FGCU—is taking Aquino seriously.

Aquino’s bitter McCarthyist revival seems destined to end up in the dustbin of history. As Karl Marx once pointed out, history sometimes happens twice: “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

 

SWFL State of Play Today: Holden reveals endorsements; Banyai launches video

June 22, 2020 by David Silverberg

04-16-20 David Holden cropped
David Holden

Democratic congressional candidate David Holden has revealed a slew of Democratic endorsements in the primary race for the Florida 19th Congressional District race, according to a Holden campaign press release.

The endorsements include Javier Estevez, Democratic candidate running for Florida House District 105 (interior Collier and Miami-Dade counties) and Sara McFadden, Democratic candidate in Florida House District 106 (coastal Collier County).

Todd Truax, Holden’s rival in the 2018 congressional primary race, is now running for the Lee County Board of Commissioners District 3 (southern Lee County). Holden has endorsed Truax’s bid.

Holden also announced endorsements from two community activists: W. Earl Sparrow Jr., a community organizer in Lee County; and Crystal Johnson, president of the Community Forum Foundation, a Fort Myers-based non-profit foundation helping children and families.

Banyai drops new video

06-22-20 Banyai videoA scene in Cindy Banyai’s new video.       (Image: Banyai for Congress Campaign)

Cindy Banyai, a Democratic candidate in the 19th Congressional District, unveiled a new campaign video and advertisement on June 17.

The 1-minute, 6-second video, titled “Our Community,” introduces Banyai and touts her community commitment, family ties and intention “to bring the voice of the people of Southwest Florida” to Washington, DC.

Asked about his campaign’s plans for video ads, Holden told The Paradise Progressive that he intends to release ads following the Aug. 18 primary.

Coming soon: Paranoiapalooza

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

BREAKING NEWS ROUNDUP: Banyai gets Dem enviro endorsement; Fitzenhagen calls it quits

June 12, 2020 by David Silverberg.

06-02-20 Cindy Banyai serious
Cindy Banyai

The Democratic Environmental Caucus of Florida (DECF) has endorsed Democrat Cindy Banyai for Congress in the 19th Congressional District, according to an announcement made by her campaign.

The Caucus works to preserve Florida’s environment and support lawmakers and candidates who do the same.

“I’m honored to be recognized by the DCEF for my commitment to preserving our environment and our water in Southwest Florida,” Banyai told The Paradise Progressive. “I’ll continue to advocate for community participation in sustainable development and climate action in Congress as I have within the UN system.”

Fitzenhagen calls it quits

12-03-19 Heather Fitzenhagen
Heather Fitzenhagen

State Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen (R-78-Fort Myers) has dropped her bid for Congress in the 19th Congressional District and will instead seek a state Senate seat in the 27th District, for which she has already qualified.

The seat is seat currently held by State Sen. Lizabeth Benaquisto (R-27), who is retiring after reaching her term limit to take up a job as executive vice president at Hope Healthcare in Fort Myers. The seat is being sought by Democrat Rachel Brown and Republican State Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R-76-Estero).

Fitzenhagen’s withdrawal from the congressional race leaves nine Republicans running.

As of this writing, Fitzenhagen had not posted any statements online or on social media about her decision. She is no longer listed as a candidate on the state’s list of candidates for the 19th Congressional District but is listed as qualified for the 27th Senate District.


Today at 4:26 pm, The Paradise Progressive posed the following questions to State Rep. Fitzenhagen:

    1. Can you confirm that you are no longer seeking the 19th Congressional District seat?
    2. Have you issued a statement to that effect? (Don’t see anything on your website, Facebook page or Twitter)
    3. Are you seeking the District 27 State Senate seat?
    4. Are you endorsing another candidate?
    5. If so, whom?
    6. What do you plan to do with the campaign funds you have on hand?

As of this posting, no response had been received.


Republican Dr. William Figlesthaler issued a statement today thanking Fitzenhagen for her legislative service, saying: “For years, she has fought against both radicalized Democrats and establishment, do-nothing, Republicans in the Florida House.” He posted a 19-second video tribute to her on a webpage that requests donations to his own campaign.

As of March 31, Fitzenhagen had raised $110,790 for her campaign. According to a poll released on June 2 by Political Prowess Polling, only 3 percent of 800 Republicans likely to vote in the August 18 primary indicated they would vote for her.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

UPDATED: SWFL State of Play Today: Banyai vs. the bust; new poll numbers; and the battle of the walls

06-01-20 Robt. E. Lee protestProtesters at the Robert E. Lee statue–minus the bust–in Fort Myers yesterday, June 1.      (Image: WINK News)

June 2, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Updated at 3:20 pm with new link to post with additional details on poll.

Even sleepy, sweltering Southwest Florida is feeling the impact of the death of George Floyd, with protests in Fort Myers and normally quiet Naples. Now candidates in the 19th Congressional District race are reacting as well.

06-02-20 Cindy Banyai serious
Cindy Banyai

Democrat Cindy Banyai is calling for removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Fort Myers, a point of contention since the protests in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

“Fort Myers was a Union fort and the county was named after General Robert E. Lee as a direct affront to the victory of the United States over the confederate rebellion in the Civil War,” she wrote in a statement issued yesterday, June 1. “Robert E. Lee has no other affiliation with the area other than the honorary designation and the commission of the statue by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in 1966, a time period that coincides with the desegregation movement in the area.”

Though protesters gathered yesterday at the statue they found only the pedestal—the bust had been removed by Sons of the Confederacy to protect it.

In her statement, Banyai decried past racism. “Local, state, and national leaders have failed to protect our black communities.  Local leaders are more focused on helping themselves than helping the communities they serve, something I have seen repeatedly over the past decade as I have watched leaders disregard reports I have made on minority communities as nothing more than just a piece of paper that they use to cross off their checklists.  Politicians want to demean protesters, yet they don’t offer any solutions to the problems at hand of systemic racism and police brutality.”

Unsurprisingly, one Republican candidate took a different tack. “President @realDonaldTrump is right. Rioters dishonor the memory of George Floyd,” tweeted State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral) on Sunday, May 31.  “A president has a duty is to make sure Americans and their communities are safe. That’s why I know Mr. Trump will end the violence while protecting the 1st Amendment rights of protesters!”

That protection of protesters’ rights was not much in evidence yesterday during President Donald Trump’s walk from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church or in his call with governors.

Poll findings

06-01-20 Republican field CD19

Eagle’s fealty to Trump has been loud and extravagant but it hasn’t made much headway with Southwest Florida Republicans, according to a campaign poll obtained by The Paradise Progressive.

(A full report on the poll can be seen at: “Poll shows Aquino-Askar Republican congressional primary race; undecideds hold the key.”)

The poll found that the two leading primary candidates right now are businessman Casey Askar and former actor Darren Aquino, who each had 18 percent of the support of the sample. The next candidate was Dr. William Figlesthaler with 10 percent. Eagle came in fourth with 9 percent.

As a whole, incumbent elected officials in the running won only 30 percent of the total sample.

04-27-20 Darren Aquino WINK (2)
Darren Aquino

Aquino, who might ordinarily have been only a marginal candidate, has apparently seen his standing boosted by recent events. In a campaign that is primarily Internet-based, Aquino has increasingly used Trump-like insults. He accused Banyai of being a socialist and in a swipe at Askar called for only native-born Americans to be eligible for congressional seats.

The poll’s most important finding is that 27 percent of its sample fell in the “undecided” category. This is where the battle will be fought in the days ahead.

Askar and Figlesthaler seek closure–border closure

As far as the public is concerned the most obvious signs of political battle are in the dueling TV ads of Askar and Figlesthaler, the two wealthiest candidates.

06-02-20 Askar wall ad 2
Casey Askar in his new ad

On May 22 Askar unveiled his 30-second TV spot, “Once and for all,” calling for a suspension of immigration because of the COVID-19 pandemic, praising Trump for his immigration policies and re-stating Askar’s support for building a border wall.

“I’ll help President Trump finish the wall and control the border—once and for all,” says Askar at the end.

Not to be outdone in his opposition to immigration and loyalty to Trump, yesterday, June 1, Figlesthaler launched his own spot, “The Wall.” In it, he marches menacingly toward the camera and promises to end illegal immigration for all time.

06-02-20 Fig in wall ad
William Figlesthaler in his new ad

“In Congress I will fight for something new,” he says. “A massive wall along our southern border, one that will keep criminals, rapists and drug lords out for good.”

“Once and for all” and “out for good”—one might say that when it comes to immigration, both are offering a “final solution.”

 

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg

Early bettors, Figlesthaler channels Trump, an Eagle in the crosshairs–SWFL’s State of Play Today

04-14-20 Petition signing 2018A student signs a Florida ballot petition in pre-Coronavirus days of social intimacy, pens and paper. Petitions can now be submitted by e-mail.      (Photo: author)

April 15, 2020 by David Silverberg.

In pre-Coronavirus days, April 15 held the special significance of being tax filing day. This year, that deadline has been postponed. What has not been postponed, however, is the deadline for congressional candidates to file their quarterly campaign fundraising reports—and that day is today.

Once filed and posted on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) website, voters (and journalists) will get as real a look at the state of campaigns as it is possible to get, backed up by the force of law.

Last week, two candidates in the 19th Congressional District of Florida jumped the gun and issued press releases on their own fundraising prowess. State Rep. Byron Donalds (R-80-Immokalee) claimed he had raised $335,000 from 3,000 donors. Newcomer businessman Casey Askar claimed that he had raised $500,000 in just 11 days of campaigning.

Without the official FEC reports, it’s impossible for the public to verify these figures or see just how much of these fundraising totals are loans from the candidates to their own campaigns. For example, Republican William Figlesthaler’s campaign raised $536,295 in the last quarter of 2019, the highest amount of any District 19 candidate, but $410,000 of that came in a loan from the candidate himself.

Nonetheless, claiming the kinds of totals that Donalds and Askar announced last week helps keep their campaign publicity alive and has the potential to scare other candidates out of the game, like placing a big bet at a hand of poker.

On the air

The money raised by Askar and Donalds is clearly not scaring off Figlesthaler, who is the only candidate currently buying broadcast advertising time, although it’s questionable whether this is a wise move in April. It does put him ahead of the other candidates in raising his public profile at a time when no one can campaign in person but it’s debatable whether this springtime ad buy amidst the Coronavirus crisis will reach the Republicans who will be voting in August.

That said, from a policy perspective, Figlesthaler’s campaign remains very thin on substance.

Figlesthaler’s most recent video ad, “Make our economy great again,” airing on area stations, states that the Coronavirus pandemic “has left our economy in shambles—but Dr. Fig knows how to turn things around.” It then touts his past business prowess and record and vows that “in Congress, Dr. Fig will put that business expertise to use and help President Trump to make our economy great again.”

What the ad does not do is offer any specifics on how he’s going to do this but then again, that’s never the case with a 30-second spot. However, there are also no economic remedies offered on his website or Facebook page.

So on Monday, April 13, The Paradise Progressive reached out to Figlesthaler by e-mail to ask precisely what measures he would take as a member of Congress to aid Southwest Florida’s economy.

As of this posting no response had been received.

We’re not holding our breath—and neither should you.

Channeling Trump in an ‘epic dog fight’

With a dozen candidates in the 19th Congressional District race, nine of them Republicans, the contest among the nine Republicans was always going to be an “epic dog fight” as Republican candidate and Fox News pundit Ford O’Connell put it—before dropping out of the race himself.

Inspired by President Donald Trump himself, personal nastiness has indeed entered the 19th Congressional District Republican contest, although it is somewhat reduced by O’Connell’s departure.

Nonetheless, Figlesthaler proudly claims to “channel Trump” by calling Fort Myers Mayor Randy Henderson “shady.” As he declared in a Feb. 12 tweet: “Shady Mayor Randy @HendersonForFL is getting stomped so hard, even his own party is turning on him. Like most big liberal run towns, Fort Myers has gone to the dogs under Randy. The racial divide and crime under his leadership are disgusting.”

This was not Figlesthaler’s first Twitter insult. On Dec. 16 he called Florida House Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral) “sick.”

Eagle in the crosshairs

Figlesthaler’s insult has some history behind it. He was attacking Eagle for the latter’s receptivity to measures to halt gun violence while serving in the Florida House of Representatives.

It’s to be remembered that after the Feb. 14, 2018 Parkland, Florida high school shooting, the Florida legislature, where Eagle served as House majority leader, passed historic gun restrictions. The legislation raised the minimum age to purchase any firearm to 21 from 18; imposed a three-day waiting period on gun purchases; funded school police officers and mental health counselors; and allowed local school districts and sheriffs to arm some school personnel. It also banned bump stocks and gave law enforcement officers the authority to seek to seize weapons from people deemed unstable or dangerous.

Gun access advocates have never forgotten the heresy.

“Interesting that @DaneEagle sends tweets promoting the second amendment, but when @Mike2020 [Michael Bloomberg] and the anti-gun lobby come knocking, he is all ears. If Dane sold out our gun rights at the state level, imagine what he will do in DC. Sick,” tweeted Figlesthaler in December.

But while tweets may sting, money hurts.

There is only one SuperPAC active in the 19th Congressional District, according to the 2019 FEC filings—and it’s aimed squarely at Dane Eagle. (A Super Political Action Committee (PAC) is one that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on issues but not on individual candidate campaigns.)

That SuperPAC is called Drain the DC Swamp PAC and it is dedicated to Trumpism in all its incarnations.

“We support President Trump’s vision of a government of, by, and for the people,” states the PAC’s mission statement. “From protecting life to protecting our borders, we support those who fight for traditional values, our Constitution, and our Country.”

So how could Eagle, a staunch Trumper and fervent conservative, run afoul of a similarly oriented organization?

04-14-20 Dane Eagle betrayalA screen shot from Drain the DC Swamp PAC’s anti-Eagle video.

“Dane Eagle sold out Florida gun owners,” snarls one of the PAC’s video ads that was posted in December, shortly after Eagle announced his candidacy.

“Make sure Dane Eagle does not go to Congress. Florida’s 19th District needs a strong Constitutional Conservative – not Dane Eagle.” The ad accuses Eagle of buckling to Michael Bloomberg and betraying gun owners. It makes it seem as though Eagle alone was responsible for the gun legislation passed by the Florida Senate, House of Representatives and then-Gov. Rick Scott.

Words are one thing but the PAC put its money where its mouth was in the fourth quarter of 2019, spending $9,200 in digital and social media advertising to oppose him.

It’s interesting that Figlesthaler’s campaign theme is “drain the swamp” and so is the name of the PAC in question. But there’s no indication of the PAC doing anything in particular that favors Figlesthaler, aside from attacking his opponent.

It will also be interesting to see what, if anything, the PAC spent in the first quarter of 2020.

On or off the ballot

All this activity will be moot for many candidates if they don’t submit the petition signatures or pay the $10,044 ballot fee to the state’s Division of Elections.

Despite numerous complaints and appeals from candidates of both parties to delay, waive or reduce the deadline because of the Coronavirus emergency, the Division of Elections has remained mum. The original deadline was March 23 to submit the signatures. The Florida Department of State subsequently relaxed the requirement that petitions be on paper and signed in ink. It now allows e-mail submissions.

However, as of this writing, there is no evidence of any change in deadlines or fees.

Unless there is that change, the currently crowded District 19 race could be winnowed considerably before the August 18 primary.

Accommodating Coronavirus

There’s no doubt that the post-Coronavirus political world is a different place. Candidates have no choice but to move their campaign and fundraising operations online. Cindy Banyai and David Holden, the Democratic candidates, have held and keep holding tele-town halls and online meet-and-greets. Social media is becoming the main medium of the 2020 campaign—at least until the all-clear is sounded.

The next major milestone in the 19th District contest will come when the first quarter 2020 FEC reports are revealed. The fundraising totals those show and any decisions by the Florida Division of Elections will determine the shape of this year’s Southwest Florida political landscape.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Coronavirus aid, a new Republican in the 19th, Figlesthaler unsuspends, journalists unionize–SWFL’s state of play UPDATED

03-26-20 Pelosi enrolls Coronavirus bilHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi signs the Coronavirus support bill today.

March 27, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Updated at 6:12 pm with Trump signature and Republican candidate chart, also at 10:20 pm with Rooney and Steube tweets.

This afternoon the US House of Representatives approved the CARES Act, (HR 748) providing $2 trillion in relief for Americans and businesses hurt by the Coronavirus pandemic.

The measure passed on a near-unanimous voice vote, so the votes of Southwest Floridian representatives were not individually recorded. The measure had bipartisan support in both the Senate, where it passed 96-0, and the House and was endorsed by President Donald Trump. Trump signed it shortly after receiving it, enacting it into law.

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) praised Pelosi for the bill’s passage in a tweet: “Thank you
@SpeakerPelosi for moving the CARES Act quickly and safely through the House of Representatives, and for your work on this legislation. As Americans, we must come together to defeat this virus. #Coronavirus.”

However, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) still found cause for complaint.  “Explain to me how allocating $1 billion of taxpayer money to fund an Obama era program that provides discounted phone service for people will save lives? Pelosi put this in her COVID-19 response bill. She is exploiting this national crisis to push her politics!” he tweeted yesterday.

Nonetheless, Steube managed to eke out praise for Congress and the legislation itself in a pair of tweets once it passed. “This bill will provide assistance for families, small businesses, and health care providers working on the front line to combat the virus. Although not perfect, and there are many pieces of this legislation I do not support, I think it’s important for unemployed workers and small businesses to get economic relief now so that we can quickly get our economy back on track.”

New candidate in the 19th

As though we did not have excitement enough, yet another Republican candidate is aspiring to attain the 19th Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Francis Rooney.

This time it’s Michigan businessman Casey Askar. Askar filed on March 20 and sent out a press release stating that he felt called upon to serve the nation.

03-27-20 Casey Askar
Casey Askar

According to his announcement, Asker, a Christian born in Iraq, came to the United States at the age of 7, attended Oakland College, a school in southeastern, Michigan,  joined the US Marine Corps and then graduated from Harvard Business School.

Askar is a very busy entrepreneur. He started the Askar Family Office portfolio, which promotes food brand franchises. He distributes food to Askar Brands restaurants through ASC Foods. He’s involved in commercial real estate through Askar Properties and manages back office operations for franchisees. He’s also a franchisee for brands such as Church’s Chicken and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Askar doesn’t say if he lives in Southwest Florida full time or resides in District 19. His campaign committee’s mailing address is a post office box in Naples. Representatives are required to reside in the state they represent.

“My life is the embodiment of the American Dream,” Askar stated in his campaign announcement. “From fleeing tyrants in Iraq at the age of seven, to enlisting in the US Marines at eighteen, to watching President Donald Trump get elected president, I am so grateful for the life I have been able to build in my great country,”

Like all the Republican candidates in the 19th District, Askar is a passionate Trumper.

“Now, watching President Trump fight the rise of socialism and a world-wide pandemic, I feel called to serve again. America has given so much to me, my family, and my children, it’s time to give back and save our land of opportunity for future generations. Our country’s future is worth fighting for.” His campaign video shows Democratic politicians while it excoriates socialism

Other than his allegiance to Trump, Askar makes no mention of policy positions on any other issue and certainly doesn’t address local or environmental issues on his website, which only asks for donations. He lists no political or government experience.

Askar is the father of six children. He does not give his age in his campaign materials.

Askar’s entry brings the number of Republican congressional candidates to nine and keeps the total number of candidates at 12, with two Democrats and one Independent.

AQUINO, DARREN DIONE 1 REPUBLICAN PARTY AQUINO FOR CONGRESS
ASKAR, CASEY 2 REPUBLICAN PARTY CASEY ASKAR FOR CONGRESS
DONALDS, BYRON 3 REPUBLICAN PARTY BYRON DONALDS FOR CONGRESS
EAGLE, DANE 4 REPUBLICAN PARTY DANE EAGLE FOR CONGRESS
FIGLESTHALER, WILLIAM MATTHEW MD 5 REPUBLICAN PARTY WILLIAM FIGLESTHALER FOR CONGRESS
FITZENHAGEN, HEATHER 6 REPUBLICAN PARTY HEATHER FITZENHAGEN FOR CONGRESS
HENDERSON, RANDY 7 REPUBLICAN PARTY RANDY HENDERSON FOR CONGRESS
MCLAUGHLIN, CHRISTY 8 REPUBLICAN PARTY CHRISTY FOR CONGRESS
SEVERSON, DANIEL MARK 9 REPUBLICAN PARTY SEVERSON FOR CONGRESS
Republicans currently running for the 19th Congressional District seat and their campaign committees.

The number of Republicans running dropped by one when Ford O’Connell ended his campaign on March 19. Another candidate announced suspension of his campaign the same day, but…

The unsuspension of William Figlesthaler

On March 19 Dr. William Figlesthaler solemnly announced the temporary suspension of his congressional campaign and conversion of its phone lines to Coronavirus response hotlines.

“My team has worked tirelessly over the last couple of days to transition our campaign operations into a resource center designed to help the citizens of Southwest Florida navigate the multitude of resources available to help them through this time of uncertainty,” he stated in an announcement at the time.

Normally, temporary suspension of a campaign is code for “it’s over, folks,” but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. New Figlesthaler campaign ads are appearing on Southwest Florida television channels and there’s no indication of any slowdown in his media platforms.

Commentary: The suspension, such as it was, seems to have lasted a week— perhaps in keeping with President Trump’s view of the severity of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Figlesthaler has issued a video explaining his positions and, of course, his loyalty to President Trump.

03-27-20 Fig video
Dr. Fig battles the late Sen. John McCain.

In the video, against an inset of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), he denounces Democrats, whom he says “want socialized medicine,” then he turns to the other side, saying, “while establishment Republicans have failed to implement President trump’s aggressive free market solutions”—and he shows an inset of Republican Sen. John McCain—who died two years ago.

This is the “establishment Republican” Figlesthaler is running against: a dead American hero.

It will be interesting to see if he can win against live Republicans.

Petition deadline

Both Democratic and Republican candidates have been seeking a delay in Florida’s Monday, March 23rd deadline to turn in ballot petitions to get on the August 18 primary ballot. They argued that with the Coronavirus pandemic, it was impossible to collect petitions or canvass neighborhoods. The alternative to a petition drive is payment of a $10,044 fee.

On Tuesday, March 24, Laurel Lee, Florida’s secretary of state, issued a statement to Florida Politics: “As is always the case, the Florida Department of State will closely assess all conditions that affect the August and November elections, including any ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic. We, like you and the rest of the nation, are monitoring the coronavirus pandemic, and we will recommend any appropriate accommodations or decisions as we move closer to the election dates and understand more about the ongoing impact to our state.”

An inquiry to the Division of Elections by The Paradise Progressive received a response that a reply would be forthcoming.

If the state chooses not to waive or postpone the deadline or make some other accommodation for petitions, the congressional field of candidates in the 19th District could be considerably reduced.

Union vote for local journalists postponed

Political elections are not the only ones being affected by the Coronavirus pandemic; union elections are impacted too.

Since local print journalists have endured repeated layoffs and employment insecurity, back in February they decided to unionize.

“We, the journalists of the Naples Daily News, The News-Press, The Banner and the Marco Eagle, are unionizing,” they declared. “We want a seat at the table and a stable work environment where outstanding journalism matters most.”

03-27-20 SWFL News GuildMembers of the SWFL News Guild.       (Image: SWFL News Guild)

The Southwest Florida News Guild, a unit of the Newsguild-Communications Workers of America, was to have held its union election on Wednesday, March 25. However, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the National Labor Relations Board is putting off all union votes until April.

“Newspapers have reached a critical juncture as financial pressures and corporate mergers have decimated the staff of local newsrooms, including ours. A merger between our parent company, Gannett, and GateHouse Media will continue to gut our newsrooms. Even before the merger, we faced stagnant salaries, increased workloads, rising costs for health insurance, inadequate compensation for mileage and, most critically, the inability to retain many of our most talented peers,” the organizers stated.

“The Southwest Florida News Guild is being born from these conditions. Gannett has made bargaining as individual employees ineffective, which makes bargaining as a unit imperative. Collectively, we can fight for better pay, improved benefits and a diversity in our newsrooms that better reflects the communities we serve.”

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg

 

Banyai appeals, Holden goes virtual, and a revolution in Naples: SWFL’s State of Play today

03-20-20 Banyai petition appealCindy Banyai appeals to Gov. Ron DeSantis to extend the petition deadline.     (Image: @SWFLMom2020)

 March 20, 2020 by David Silverberg

Monday, March 23 marks the deadline for turning in petitions to get on the August primary ballot—unless Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and the Florida Division of Elections say it ain’t so.

That’s what 19th Congressional District Democratic candidate Cindy Banyai is hoping. She says candidates deserve an extension of the deadline because the Coronavirus crisis has made face-to-face petition gathering and door-to-door campaigning impossible.

But Banyai isn’t alone. In a March 18 letter to DeSantis, her appeal for a delay was joined by Gabriele Spuckes, chair of the Lee County Democratic Party and five other Florida Democratic congressional candidates: Adam Christensen of Florida’s 3rd Congressional District, Allen Ellison of the 17th, Kimberly Walker of the 12th, and Sakinah Lehtola and Christine Olivo, both of the 24th.

Banyai also made her appeal in a 4-second video on Twitter, in which she said directly to DeSantis: “Postpone the ballot petitions. We deserve a shot.” Adding in the letter, “we must take action to keep our election fair and balanced and to ensure the health and safety of the citizens of Florida.”

Under Florida election rules, by March 23 a candidate for federal office must submit petitions equal to 1 percent of a congressional district’s voting population, which comes to 5,052 signatures in the 19th Congressional District, or pay $10,044, the equivalent of 4 percent of a US representative’s salary.

As of this writing, Banyai told The Paradise Progressive that she had not heard back from the governor’s office or the Division of Elections and noted a new wrinkle: “I will add that the local supervisors of elections [offices] are closed. So we can’t even submit the petitions if we wanted to.”

Holden goes virtual

David Holden, the other Democrat seeking the 19th Congressional District’s seat, put his entire campaign on a digital footing and announced on March 12 that he was suspending face-to-face campaigning.

David Holden town hall portrait 2 3-21-18
David Holden

“To be clear,” he emphasized, “we are continuing our campaign, just with an abundance of caution.”

For Holden, going virtual means holding town halls, Qs&As and fundraising events by digital means. (A Holden virtual town hall meeting is scheduled for this evening, according to his campaign Facebook page.)

Most importantly, Holden announced that he was suspending petition collection but seeking donations to meet the $10,044 filing fee.

“Together we will get through this,” he vowed.

Allison Sardinas, Holden’s campaign manager, added further details.

“The technicalities of [going virtual] are several,” she pointed out in an e-mail. “One, our organizers are now focused on creating digital content and phone banking for various virtual events. We’re setting up town halls and virtual fundraisers as well as expanding out lists and digital presence.

“This also means that our staff meetings are held via Zoom and we skype into call time with David instead of providing call sheets for him in person. We’re also moving our house parties into the digital realm and fully utilizing the features [next generation platforms have] to offer to maximize contributions to our campaign.”

According to Sardinas, the Holden campaign is also focusing on turning out the vote and preparing for the possibility of a vote-by-mail-only election in November. Preparing a digital volunteer force now should serve the campaign later.

Republican response

With Coronavirus shutting down all face-to-face campaigning, one Republican congressional candidate dropped out of the race and one announced suspension of his campaign (tantamount to dropping out altogether), both yesterday, March 19.

Ford O’Connell, the bombastic Fox News pundit, announced the end of his campaign in a statement to followers.

William Figlesthaler, the Naples urologist, similarly issued a statement. However, Figlesthaler’s suspension was interesting because he had already begun running television commercials. Also, his was the highest financed campaign of all the 19th District candidates, thanks to a $410,000 loan from the candidate.


Commentary: We won’t have Figlesthaler’s urinal screens to pee on any more!


Figlesthaler’s suspension leaves State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral) as the best-financed candidate. Eagle hasn’t made any announcements regarding his campaign but has been frequently tweeting his support for President Trump despite the Coronavirus pandemic and the financial crash.

Analysis: Revolution in Naples City

On Election Day, Tuesday, March 17, the entire elected leadership of the City of Naples was voted out, with Teresa Heitman winning as mayor along with a completely new slate of city council members.

The election was non-partisan and there were many local issues that decided it. Nonetheless, Southwest Florida residents could see in this result a rising discontent and demand for complete change. If it’s so strong in a place as conservative and set in its ways as Naples, it just may be bigger in the region, the state and the country.

The blue wave could in fact turn out to be a blue tsunami.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Rooney misses virus vote; Steube seeks silencers; Banyai wants delay—SWFL Roundup, Coronavirus edition

03-11-20 CoronavirusA Coronavirus.           (Image: CDC)

March 13, 2020 by David Silverberg

The coronavirus crisis has elicited different responses from Southwest Florida’s elected officials and candidates—but they’ve also been busy on a variety of other fronts.

The most important measure taken in Congress regarding Coronavirus was passage of the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2020 (House Resolution (HR) 6074) providing $8.3 billion in funding to fight the disease.

The bill passed the House by a whopping 415 to 2 vote on Wednesday, March 4. Among the Southwest Florida delegation, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) did not vote on the measure. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) voted in favor. (The two “nay” votes were Reps. Andrew Biggs (R-5-Ariz.) and Ken Buck (R-4-Colo.)).

The bill was rushed over to the Senate where it passed the next day by an overwhelming margin of 96 to 1, with both Florida’s senators voting for it. (The lone opponent was Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)). Immediately thereafter, President Donald Trump signed it and it became Public Law 116-123.

Other than that major action, Southwest Florida reactions have varied.

Rep. Rooney: On March 3, Rooney posted a generic Coronavirus information page on his website but did not explain the reasons for his absence from the appropriations vote and all other votes since Feb. 26.

11-16-19 Francis_Rooney_official_congressional_photo cropped
Rep. Francis Rooney

In other matters, on March 4, Rooney’s Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act (House Resolution (HR) 3297) was unanimously passed by the environmental subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. The legislation exempts the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science from government shutdowns, an issue that arose during the 2019 government shutdown.

Interestingly, the bill now has 14 co-sponsors, 10 Democrats and 4 Republicans, with heavy support from the Florida delegation. It next needs to be passed by the full committee and sent on to the full House.

But Rooney’s mind was also on other matters. On March 9 Rooney’s op-ed, “The Electoral College is the Bedrock of Federalism,” was published by the conservative media platform, The Daily Caller.

12-19-19 Mario Diaz-Balart
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

Rep. Diaz-Balart: Diaz-Balart’s seat on the House Appropriations Committee affords him an active role in considering Coronavirus funding and he made the most of publicizing his vote for HR 6074. He also took credit when the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention announced its allocation of $27 million for Florida to fight the virus out of $560 million nationwide, part of the initial Coronavirus appropriation.

Rep. Steube: Steube tweeted out a list of links to get more information about the Coronavirus and let constituents know that the Capitol and House office buildings are closed due to Coronavirus. He voted for HR 6074.

12-13-19 Steube votes on impeachment
Rep. Greg Steube

Otherwise, his attention went from life-saving to life-taking. On March 5 Steube introduced a bill to speed approval of applications for gun silencers (technically known as suppressors) by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATFE). The ENDS Act (End the Normalized Delay of Suppressors Act) (HR 6126) would amend the tax code to give the ATFE a deadline of 90 days to decide whether to approve a suppressor application.

Steube argues that the ATFE is deliberately too slow in processing civilian applications for suppressors, which are used for silent killing. His bill would speed up the process and impose a deadline, getting more gun silencers into more hands more quickly.

“I have personally experienced the unnecessary delay of a suppressor application and as a member of Congress, I have met with many Floridians who have also experienced similar delays,” Steube complained in a press release. “A policy of delay, delay, delay is unacceptable and frankly violates the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners.”

In other activities, Steube proposed ensuring that veterans have access to state-approved marijuana and introduced an amendment to Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2020 (HR 5602) to include Antifa, the Black Hebrew Israelite movement and a group called Anti-Police to the list of white supremacist groups to be monitored for terrorist activities. The amendment was approved and passed by the Judiciary Committee.

Candidates

Coronavirus has made normal political activities like rallies, meetings and town halls nearly impossible—and canvassing and petition collecting are especially hard hit.

10-19-19 Cindy Banyai
Cindy Banyai

Cindy Banyai, Democratic congressional candidate, issued a call Wednesday, March 11 to delay the deadlines for petition submissions due to the Coronavirus, which is making face-to-face petition collection nearly impossible. Deadline to turn in the petitions is noon, March 23 for verification and April 20 to 24 is the general qualifying period.

To get on the federal ballot for Congress a candidate has to either pay $10,440 to the state of Florida or submit signatures equal to 1 percent of the district’s registered voters, which in the case of the 19th District comes to 5,052 signatures.

“By not waiving or extending the deadline for candidates to reach their petition numbers, you are effectively disenfranchising many grassroots-funded candidates who are unable to pay for the filings fees,” Banyai stated, directly addressing the Florida Department of State’s Election Division. “Governor DeSantis has already declared a state of emergency amid the spread of the coronavirus and he needs to step up to allow enough time for candidates to strategize about the next steps for their campaigns and ways to keep their communities safe.”

According to her statement, she is being funded by over 450 donors contributing about $50 each and she is refusing corporate or political action committee contributions. Since entering the race she intended to get on the ballot through petition signatures.

Among Republicans, State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral) on March 6 tweeted that there was no need to panic over the virus and urged caution: “Unfortunately we have confirmed that a Lee County resident who tested positive for COVID-19 has died. This is the 6th confirmed case in Florida & 1st in Lee County. While there is no need to panic, it is extremely important that all take the necessary precautions to reduce risk.”

He was also at pains to defend Trump from accusations that he was responsible for a virus-related stock market crash that has been called the “Trump slump,” tweeting yesterday, March 12:

“For those that are blaming @realDonaldTrump for the stock market dip, just ask yourselves this: Did Trump sell out our manufacturing jobs to China? The answer is no. Establishment Republicans & Democrats like Joe Biden did. This would be much worse if Biden was President.”

The lone medical doctor among the candidates seeking the 19th Congressional District seat, Republican Dr. William Figlesthaler, issued a statement on his Facebook page urging calm and praising Trump for his measures shutting off travel to Europe.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg