Former President Donald Trump and former First Lady Melania Trump are scheduled to come to Naples, Fla., on Dec. 4 for a fundraising event, titled “A Trump Classical Christmas.”
The event will take place at 7 pm at an undisclosed location that is “30 minutes from Southwest Florida International Airport – Fort Myers (RSW); approximately 15 minutes from the Naples Botanical Garden; approximately 15 minutes from downtown Naples,” according to the organizers. Details will only be released to ticket purchasers.
Family tickets are $30,000, which allows a family of four access to the party and a single picture with the Trumps. Couples get a single picture with the Trumps for $20,000 and individual tickets with a single picture cost $10,000.
The event is being mounted by the Classical Education Network, a private and charter school scholarship program. It is partnering with the Optima Foundation, an organization headed by Erika Donalds, wife of Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) that helps set up and run private and charter schools.
According to the event’s website, “Proceeds will fund new school choice options and provide additional support to our incredible educators who are shaping the minds and hearts of future American leaders, primarily in the Fort Myers area ravaged by Hurricane Ian. A portion will also be allocated to assisting hurricane victims across the SWFL community.”
The event is closed to the public and media. Secret Service background checks will be conducted on all guests, who must also surrender their mobile phones at the door. The Trumps will also not be signing any autographs. “Please leave all items at home – nothing will be allowed past security at the venue,” the announcement warns.
The event was announced by Donalds in a tweet today, Nov. 20: “Without education, there is no freedom,” he wrote. “Meet the Trumps for a holiday celebration in Naples on Dec. 4th to advance the freedom of school choice.”
Full disclosure: The author is the drafter of the resolution described below.
The Collier County, Florida, Board of Commissioners will be taking up a resolution condemning bigotry, hate crimes and anti-Semitism at its next general meeting next Tuesday, Sept. 27.
The resolution is officially on the meeting’s agenda as item 10A, although that could be changed if deemed necessary by the county manager. The general business portion of the meeting begins at 10:00 am.
In its operative paragraph the resolution condemns anti-Semitism, discrimination, prejudice and hate. It states that the county resolves to pursue and prosecute hate crimes against people, property and institutions and, to paraphrase President George Washington, “will provide to bigotry no sanction and to persecution no assistance.”
(The full text is below.)
Commissioner Bill McDaniel (R-District 5) and chair of the Board, is expected to introduce the resolution.
Although the resolution is an expression of opinion rather than an ordinance imposing penalties, it nonetheless puts the county on the record opposing all forms of hatred, bigotry and discrimination.
In its entirety the resolution states:
WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida is an open and welcoming place to residents, guests and visitors from all over the world; and
WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida adheres to the laws and regulations and upholds the Constitution and Amendments of the United States of America; and
WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida provides equal justice under law and protection to all law-abiding residents and visitors; and
WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida supports democracy and democratic forms of government; and
WHEREAS, Collier County, Florida abhors bigotry, discrimination, prejudice and all forms of hate against all people regardless of faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation or national origin.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED THAT THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF COLLIER COUNTY, FLORIDA: condemns anti-Semitism in all forms and expressions; condemns all forms of discrimination, prejudice and hate against any person or group of people regardless of faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation or national origin; condemns any call to violence or use of violence for any purpose at any time; and resolves to actively and vigorously oppose, investigate and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any advocacy of violence, acts of violence or crimes manifesting hatred against any person, property or institution based on faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation or national origin, and will provide to bigotry no sanction and to persecution no assistance.
The Board of Commissioners will be meeting at 9:00 am on the third floor of the Collier County Government Center, 3299 Tamiami Trail East in Naples. Public petition speakers are limited to ten minutes and general address speakers to 3 minutes.
“Folks, I like money,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) told a cheering crowd at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) convention in Orlando on Feb. 25 of this year. “Can we be honest about this? I like money!”
Indeed, he does. And Donalds is very good at raising it. This year he entered his general election campaign with $4.8 million (or exactly $4,805,548.69) in receipts, according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).
Donalds’ public fundraising appeals are insistent and incessant, stoking and exploiting fear and anxiety of Democrats, socialism, Dr. Anthony Fauci and all the ghosts, goblins and specters that keep extreme MAGA maniacs awake at night.
There’s no denying it—it works.
As of Aug. 8, $4 million ($4,036,842.37 to be exact) of Donalds’ contributions came from individuals and the efforts of Winred, a professional, conservative fundraising service.
But $325,302.41 came from a variety of political action committees (PACs) that are not so easily swayed by emotional appeals. These PACs represent a wide variety of industries, associations, corporations and fellow politicians. The biggest sectors contributing to Donalds’ primary and general election campaign are insurance, finance, banking and energy.
They are the organizations and businesses to which Donalds is beholden. Voters should be aware of the sources of this cash and its influence on his decisionmaking on Nov. 8 when they vote for him—or Democrat Cindy Banyai.
In 2021, after Donalds denied that he was influenced by his donors, The Paradise Progressive did a two-part analysis of his ideological and industry backers.
As the 2022 general election campaign season kicks into high gear, it’s time to take another look at Donalds’ corporate backers. These are the companies and industries whom he will be serving if returned to Congress in November.
Donalds sits on House committees and subcommittees that have a direct impact on these industries.
These subcommittee assignments give him influence that attracts corporate contributions.
(Of note: none of the facts reported below allege illegality or criminality. They are activities reported to the FEC as required by campaign finance laws and regulations. All numbers are year-to-date figures as of Aug. 8.)
The insurance industry is heavily regulated and generally unpopular in the public imagination (think of all those personal injury attorneys inveighing against greedy insurance companies in local television commercials).
Whether they agree with individual lawmakers’ policy positions or not, at the very least, it’s worth it to the insurance industry to invest in political campaigns to keep potential investigations and new regulations at bay.
Insurance-related PACs have been very good to Donalds, both trade associations and individual companies.
Over the past year, Donalds’ most generous contributor was the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies PAC, which contributed $22,000 to his general election campaign.
That was followed by the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors PAC, which contributed $10,000 to his primary election campaign.
The Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, Inc., PAC kicked in $8,500 to his general election campaign, while the American Council of Life Insurers PAC gave $2,500 to his primary campaign.
The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. Federal PAC contributed $4,500 to his primary campaign.
Cigna Corp. PAC, which supported Donalds’ 2020 campaign, contributed $3,500 to his primary campaign this year.
New York Life Insurance Company PAC contributed $2,500 to his primary campaign.
The financial industry is heavily affected by congressional actions, so Donalds received contributions from a variety of finance-related companies and trade associations:
Regions Financial Corporation PAC contributed $5,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign and $22,000 to his general election campaign.
ACPAC ACA International PAC (The Association of Credit and Collection Professionals) represents credit reporting and collection agencies. It contributed $5,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign and $10,000 to his general election campaign.
The Credit Union Legislative Action Council PAC of the Credit Union National Association gave $5,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign and $7,500 to his general election campaign.
Navient Corp., provides education loan management and business processing solutions. Its PAC contributed $5,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign. Perhaps not accidentally, Donalds was a ferocious critic of President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program. A large part of Navient’s business is managing and collecting existing student loans.
The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association PAC contributed $1,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign.
When it comes to investment-related associations and companies, Donalds has the backing of LPL Financial LLC PAC. LPL is a registered investment advisory firm that contributed $5,000 to his primary campaign and $7,500 to his general campaign.
In terms of investor-related associations, the Small Business Investor Alliance PAC contributed $4,000 to his primary campaign and the American Investment Council PAC contributed $2,500. The latter represents private equity investors who invest in companies that don’t offer shares on public stock exchanges. The move to private equity has been blamed by critics for looting otherwise healthy companies and harming workers.
Among banks, Community Bancshares of Mississippi Inc., PAC is the only individual bank PAC to contribute to Donalds, donating $3,000 to his primary campaign. Claiming to be one of the fastest growing banks in the southern United States, Community Bancshares, formerly Farmers and Merchants Bank, based in Brandon, Miss., claims $4.5 billion in assets, 54 offices, and over 850 personnel in four states.
While that may be the only individual contributing bank, that doesn’t mean the banking industry has overlooked Donalds.
The American Bankers Association PAC has been a particularly enthusiastic backer, kicking in $17,500 for the general election campaign.
Also contributing to the general election campaign was the Mortgage Bankers Association PAC, which contributed $10,000.
Another banking-related contributor was the Independent Community Bankers of America PAC, which contributed $3,000 to the primary campaign.
Donalds doesn’t discriminate between money from fossil fuel and electric power companies—he takes money from both.
Marathon Petroleum Corporation Employees PAC contributed the largest allowable amount to Donalds’ general election campaign: $7,500.
Another fossil fuel and energy company, Valero Energy Corp. PAC, based in San Antonio, Texas, gave the next largest amount among the energy companies: $5,000 for Donalds’ primary campaign.
Nextera Energy Inc., claims to be the world’s largest utility company. Its PAC contributed $2,500 to Donalds’ primary campaign.
Duke Energy is an electric power and natural gas holding company headquartered in Charlotte, NC. Its PAC contributed $2,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign.
The PAC of the Tampa Electric Company (TECO) Energy Inc., Employees’ PAC, contributed $1,000 to Donalds’ primary election campaign.
All these were the PACs of individual companies. But in the energy sector, Donalds did receive a contribution from a single trade association: the Solar Energy Industries Association PAC contributed $1,000 to his primary campaign.
Two major tobacco PACs contributed to Donalds’ campaigns:
The Swisher International Inc., PAC Fund is the PAC of Swisher International Inc., a tobacco company based in Jacksonville, Fla. Swisher has been in business since 1861 and according to its website, ships more than two billion cigars a year to more than 70 countries.
Altria Group, Inc. PAC is the PAC of one of the world’s largest producers and marketers of tobacco, cigarettes and related products. Altria companies include Philip Morris, US Smokeless Tobacco Co., and John Middleton, a producer of pipe and cigar tobacco.
Other PACs of note
In addition to these industries, some additional contributors stand out.
Koch Industries, Inc., PAC contributed $5,000 to the primary campaign. This is the company of the well-known and extremely conservative Koch brothers.
Florida Sugar Cane League PAC contributed $3,500 to the primary campaign. The sugar industry has been criticized for allegedly polluting Lake Okeechobee, a criticism sugar companies reject.
Tomorrow, Tuesday, June 21, Collier County, Florida, will have its only formal, neutrally-moderated forum for all candidates running for three places on the Collier County School Board.
The in-person forum will be at the Naples Conference Center in the Naples Board of Realtors building, 1455 Pine Ridge Road at 5:30 pm. It will be netcast and streamed by public television station WGCU at WGCU.org and covered by both the Fort Myers News-Press and the Naples Daily News.
The forum is being sponsored by a spectrum of mainstream, good-government organizations: the League of Women Voters, the Collier Citizens Council and Greater Naples Leadership.
The primary election is scheduled for Aug. 23, with early voting beginning on Aug. 13. Candidates will win if they receive 50 percent of the vote plus one. If not, they will proceed to the general election on Nov. 8.
Given the intensity of interest and the passions that have been generated over education governance during the past two years, this forum has a significance way beyond the usual specialized and relatively obscure contest that it has been in the past.
The policies, oversight and administration of education now constitute a battlefield between competing worldviews and political agendas. In addition, although school board elections are non-partisan, the Collier County Republican Party has weighed in with endorsements, as have other groups and individuals.
It is this clash of worldviews, their implications for Collier County public education and the likely impact on students’ minds that voters should monitor and evaluate as they watch this forum.
From an analytic standpoint, this year’s slate of candidates can be divided into three categories: educators, newcomers and ideologues.
The educators are already serving the Board of Education. All are running on their records and expertise, which collectively is quite considerable. All have spent time in different educational positions, from teachers to administrators. Further, all have experience with the nuts and bolts of school system administration, from budgeting, to purchasing, to contracting, to personnel management, which is really what represents the bulk of school board duties.
But more importantly, all represent a service-oriented, secular, objective, apolitical approach to public education.
District 1: Jory Westberry
District 1 covers Lely Elementary, Lely High, Manatee Elementary, Manatee Middle, Marco Island Academy, Marco Island Charter Middle, Parkside Elementary, Shadowlawn Elementary, and Tommie Barfield Elementary.
Originally from Wyoming before moving to Naples in 1989, Westberry, vice chair of the school board, has a long history in education. In addition to undergraduate and master degrees in education she holds a doctorate in educational administration with honors from the University of Miami. She’s served as both an elementary and middle school teacher, and is a winner of the prestigious Golden Apple Teacher award. She went into administration and served as an assistant principal and principal at Tommie Barfield Elementary for 14 years. After retirement she mentored new teachers through the C-Certs Program.
Westberry was elected to the board in 2018 when she ran unopposed. But this year she’s facing two challengers.
“Over the past months there has been a vocal minority that disrupts school board meetings, not only in Collier County, but coordinated across the US, ostensibly to make changes in policies and procedures,” she states on her campaign website. “However, most of the policies and procedures they want to change are controlled by the State of Florida, the Florida Department of Education and the federal government. I will follow the laws.”
Westberry is promising continuity and says she wants to work with “a fully functional Board” and calls for flexibility, communications, trust and support for teachers to “continue to make positive progress.”
District 3: Jen Mitchell
District 3 consists of BridgePrep Academy of Collier, Calusa Park Elementary, Golden Gate Elementary, Golden Gate Middle, Golden Gate High, Golden Terrace Elementary, Gulf Coast High, Laurel Oak Elementary, Mike Davis Elementary, Oakridge Middle, and Vineyards Elementary.
Originally from Lafayette, Indiana, Mitchell, chair of the school board, has lived in Naples for the past 21 years. She has a degree in elementary education from Purdue University and taught for a year at Naples Park Elementary. She remained home as a full-time mother after having her first child but was active in a variety of educational advisory boards and committees. She returned to the workforce in 2014 as a real estate agent before running and being elected to the school board in 2018.
Mitchell is relying on her school board record in her run for re-election. Her message rests firmly on the nuts and bolts of school administration. She points to a district strategic plan that she helped draft, expanded career and technical education options for students, raising grades and testing results, sound financial management and budgeting that has passed numerous audits and increased teacher pay and raised standards.
Weathering the two previous years of pandemic was perhaps Mitchell’s greatest achievement and also point of vulnerability. The school system faced challenges that were daunting by any standard: pivoting to online learning, steering through debates over masking and mandates, and even ensuring that students were fed properly.
“While districts around the country were throwing in the towel, we were innovating to create opportunities and to ensure the best possible learning outcomes for our students, which continues today,” she writes on her campaign website.
It was precisely the battles over mask mandates that first generated the most heat at school boards in Southwest Florida and created the wave of opposition that continues today. Exactly one year ago on June 21, after an initial mandate, the board unanimously voted to make masks optional for the next school year.
Essentially, Mitchell wants to continue the work she has already done and take it up a notch. “We need a school board that will continue to set politics and personal agendas aside, collaborate, and focus on the nearly 48,000 students who are counting on us to get it right,” she states.
District 5: Roy Terry
District 5 consists of Bethune Education Center, Big Cypress Elementary, Collier Charter Academy, Corkscrew Elementary, Corkscrew Middle, Cypress Palm Middle, Eden Park Elementary, Estates Elementary, Everglades City School, Highlands Elementary, Immokalee Middle, Immokalee High, Immokalee Technical Center, Lake Trafford Elementary, Naples Classical Academy, Palmetto Elementary, Palmetto Ridge High, Pinecrest Elementary, RCMA Immokalee Community Academy, Sabal Palm Elementary, and Village Oaks Elementary.
Originally from Maryland, Terry received his master’s degree in education from Colorado State University and began working as a teacher in Baltimore, Md., before moving to Naples. For the past 35 years he’s held every position in the education system, from teacher to assistant principal to principal before joining the school board. He was extensively involved in athletics, serving as a coach and athletic director and winning numerous “coach of the year” awards in baseball and football.
Terry has extensive experience with the physical complexities of Collier County’s education system. He supervised and designed Lely High School’s athletic field renovation and helped to plan, design, and supervise construction of Palmetto Ridge High School.
In running this year, Terry is seeking his fourth term on the board. He’s seen a lot of controversy and challenges during that time and he’s looking for a constructive approach and cooperation among school board members.
One is Arthur Boyer. A native of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Boyer has lived the past 30 years in Immokalee. He has a doctorate in education from Argosy University and has been involved in educational activities in and around Immokalee for the past 18 years. During the worst of the pandemic, he organized a free virtual tutoring program for students that attracted other educators and helped students.
On his campaign website, Boyer calls for equitable education, a commitment to special education, teacher recognition and support, parental involvement and classrooms that reflect the whole community.
“Collier County Public School should consider a learner-driven education system,” he states. “CCPS Policies should reflect the vision, the challenges, the assets, and the best interests of Collier County.”
Jacqualene “Jackie” Keay is also seeking the seat in District 5.
Born in the Bahamas, Keay moved to Naples as a young child and graduated from Lely High School in 1988. She served in the US Army, living in Germany for 17 years before returning to Southwest Florida in 2015. With a master’s degree in psychology, she homeschooled her children for 10 years and taught for two years at Mason Classical Academy. She’s been deeply involved in community organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Empty Bowls and served on the board of Audubon Western Everglades.
“My aim is to motivate informed understanding by connecting the parents, educators, and elected officials,” she states on her campaign website. “Our mission will be to ensure our students have the education, skills, and tools needed to compete for and secure jobs in the global world.”
The other challengers for seats on the Collier County school board this year are driven by ideological passions, whether religious or political.
The challenger with the most educational experience is Kelly Lichter, who is running in District 3. She served as a high school teacher and founded Mason Classical Academy charter school and from 2014 to 2018 sat on the Collier County School Board.
At that time Lichter and fellow board member Erika Donalds aggressively pushed charter schools, which though private, were under the oversight of the board.
As reported by the Naples Daily News, during her tenure, “Lichter has frequently engaged in shouting matches during board meetings, prompting negative feedback from education advocates online, at board meetings and in the Naples Daily News opinion and Letters to the Editor sections.” The same article stated that “…Lichter received criticism for sending emails to other board members accusing them of collusion and lying.”
Lichter also had a falling out with Erika Donalds, wife of Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), accusing her and others of what she said appeared to be “an unlawful and hostile takeover of Mason Classical Academy, Inc.”
Lichter’s positions on school board issues include ending the teaching of “socialist dogma” like “social justice, transgender bathrooms, global warming, climate change, Critical Race Theory.”
She’s been endorsed by the Collier County Republican Party, Patriot Parents, the Christian Conservative Coalition, Rogan O’Hadley, whose stage name is “DC Draino,” and conservative farmer and grocer Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III.
(During a speech at Patriot Fest on March 19 in Naples’ Sugden Park, Oakes gave his criteria for school board endorsements: “I don’t want to hear about what IQ someone has or what level of education someone has,” he said. “Common sense and some back is all we need right now.”)
Among the other ideologically-driven challengers Jerry Rutherford, an insurancesalesman and painter,is running in District 1. Rutherford has been attending school board meetings for 35 years. His slogan is “rectitude, reliability, resilience” and on his campaign website he states (capitalization his) that “Constitutionalism, Acknowledgement of Natural Law in the affairs of Government, and traditional American Culture need to be returned to the classrooms of Collier County, Florida,”
When he endorsed Rutherford at Patriot Fest, Oakes noted that while Rutherford might be too old to know how to use a computer, Thomas Jefferson also didn’t know how to use a computer.
Also running in District 1 is Kimberly Boobyer, a golf teacher and coach, who states on her campaign website: “I am a conservative, Christian mother who believes in civic responsibility, and taking action” and wants to restore the education system “to its former glory.”
Jana Greer is a candidate in District 3. She’s a businesswoman who states on her campaign website that “While the radical left continues to push their agenda onto our children, we need a bold conservative School Board to stand up for our values.”
In District 5 Timothy Moshier, a former trucking company executive, is running on a platform of ensuring that schools teach “what really matters.” Interestingly, while his campaign website is entirely dedicated to himself, it has nothing at all related to education, the schools or his vision, positions or solutions on school board issues. Moshier has been endorsed by the Collier County Republican Party and Alfie Oakes.
Also running in District 5 is Ana Turina, whose slogan on her campaign website is “Dedication, Passion, Rectitud” [sic, as spelled]. She states that she wants to be the protector of parental rights and keep “inappropriate materials, media and [critical race theory] out of our schools!”
Analysis: Education or indoctrination?
Traditionally, public education in the United States was more or less based on Enlightenment ideals of promoting independent critical thinking, democratic values, objectivity and respect for facts and science in a secular environment.
For a long time this approach in public education has been under attack but never more so than since the presidency of Donald Trump. The counter argument now is that such values represent “indoctrination” and need to be countered. In Florida no organization has promoted this idea more than the Florida Citizens Alliance, which argues that “Florida children are being indoctrinated in a public school system that undermines their individual rights and destroys our nation’s founding principles and family values.”
It seems as though the critics can’t believe that a young person’s own rational thought, objective observation and sense of fairness could lead to a liberal political outlook. Clearly, in their minds, that’s impossible because any sane person would naturally be politically conservative. They suspect there’s a culprit at work and that culprit is public school “indoctrination.”
In the past the arguments over education might have remained confined to educational circles but two years of pandemic and fights over mask mandates and lockdowns, a sense that ideologically-driven parents were not being heeded and the hyper-politicization of all American life has sharpened the divides over education.
But it’s also clear that in this Collier County election there is a stark difference between the incumbent educators with experience and expertise and challengers who are fueled by passion, doctrine and ideology. The latter seem more focused on restricting students’ minds than broadening them.
One has to wonder what kind of people Collier County’s public schools would produce if the ideologues have their way.
These will be the underlying—and overt—issues that can be expected to be aired at the forum tomorrow night.
Whatever else that forum may be, at the very least, it shouldn’t be boring.
The decision announced yesterday, June 1, by the Naples Daily News to cease running weekday opinion pages in its print edition—and, apparently, online—removes an essential public forum from the citizens of Southwest Florida. By doing this the newspaper is failing democracy, its community and most of all, its readers. It’s an action that smacks of cowardice, abandonment and flight.
As the editors explained on the front page yesterday, June 1: “Recently, our company conducted research on how residents view opinion material published by our news outlets. What we learned is that our readers don’t want us to tell them what to think. You’ve grown weary of divisive political commentary that has no bearing on local issues, and as a result, we have worked to eliminate ‘one-sided editorials’ and syndicated national columns. But there is a healthy appetite for thoughtful local commentary, as well as respectful discussion on truly local issues in the form of letters to the editor.”
Frankly, that’s garbage. Of course there are strong opinions and divisiveness on both national and local issues. But it’s precisely in the pages of local newspapers—and media outlets of all types—that these opinions need to be aired and discussed.
And opinion pieces do not tell people what to think. They provide outside perspectives of what other people think so that readers can make up their own minds. Opinion pieces seek to inform and persuade, not dictate. Anyone who feels that a printed opinion is dictating what he or she should think is probably too feebleminded to be reading a newspaper in the first place.
Such feebleminded readers may think when the opinion pages are no longer published they’re not being indoctrinated by op-ed writers. But ceasing to publish opinion also cuts off the outlet for local voices, institutions and agencies that may have urgent or compelling messages for the community—or who simply inform readers of their good works.
What really appears to be behind this is a continuing cutback in the size and cost of the newspaper. It’s what’s behind the smaller size of the newspaper itself and its thinner stock. It’s what’s behind moving the printing to Sarasota and the design out of Florida. It’s what’s behind reducing the comics to two pages from three. It’s behind ceasing to publish on holidays (and so completely missing the big local story of the death of Eko the tiger at the Naples Zoo as it happened at New Year’s.)
Now management is eliminating two pages of opinion in the weekday edition. That means not having to pay for syndicated columnists and cartoonists or having to write original editorials or editing letters to the editor, or, for that matter, having to take a stand on any issue, local or national, that might make some readers uncomfortable.
As for eliminating “one-sided editorials,” that happened some time ago when Allen Bartlett retired as editorial page editor and the newspaper stopped publishing original editorials. Instead it substituted columns and op-eds, including one time a verbatim essay from the conservative Cato Institute, presented as an original editorial.
While saving costs and skirting controversy, ending original editorials was not a cost-free proposition. The newspaper no longer functioned as an independent, informed voice on local events and issues, surrendering its role as a knowledgeable outside observer.
At one time the letters to the editor page seemed absurdly broad. Virtually every letter submitted was published and covered every imaginable subject from the ordinary to the outrageous, from people giving thanks that their cats were rescued from trees to calls to impeach the president, no matter which one was in office. They could be ridiculous; they could be monotonous—and they could also be amusing and enlightening.
But an unfettered, daily letters to the editor column also provided the community with a safety valve and a connection that made readers feel it was their newspaper.
Importantly, the letters to the editor have provided a neutral, non-partisan forum for the airing of concerns, grievances, and most of all, reader opinion. If the concerns have become more national and even global in recent years, if they seem “divisive political commentary that has no bearing on local issues,” well, that’s what’s been on the minds of readers as driven by outside events. A letter to the editor in the Naples Daily News is indeed unlikely to move a president or deter a dictator but it’s at least an expression of a reader’s thinking and together these opinions can show the pulse of the community on important public topics.
Beyond providing a neutral ground for community expression, the opinion pages served as an open forum unbound by the stovepipes of digital media. There’s a huge cascade of opinion in digital and social media, from opinion-based websites to individual comments on Facebook and Twitter but the chief value of a generalized forum like the newspaper is that readers are exposed to opinions they might not otherwise see on their narrowly selected social media feeds or cable TV channels.
The decision to end the daily opinion pages promotes ignorance, prejudice and blinkered thinking—the exact opposite of responsible media’s mission in a democracy. And while there may be letters to the editor on the weekends, the daily ebb and flow of popular thought will be cut off, to the detriment of all, including the newspaper itself.
As it is, over the years the Naples Daily News has chosen not to cover politics in any way. Its last dedicated political reporter was Alexandria Glorioso, who left in 2017 to cover healthcare for Politico in Tallahassee. She was never replaced. The newspaper has simply ignored or avoided doing any original political reporting even while critical debate raged nationally, American democracy was nearly crushed and Southwest Florida was treated to one of the biggest brawls in local politics as a dozen candidates at one point fought for its congressional seat in 2020.
But nature abhors a vacuum. If the major, established media institution in Naples failed to do its job of informing the public of vital news of governance, representation and elections, others would take up the slack.
That’s what sparked creation of The Paradise Progressive, as it says in its About page. It also engendered a conservative counterpart. These digital outlets provide news, analysis and interpretation—as well as polemics and propaganda—from their partisan perspectives but the community is healthier intellectually and politically when there’s a neutral, objective institution defining the middle. If the right and left are to be balanced, there has to be a fulcrum at the center.
So what should the Naples Daily News do?
First, rescind the decision and restore the daily Opinion pages, including an open letters to the editor policy.
Secondly, if page count is the problem then drop the Business section and make it a daily Perspective section instead, even if it’s just a four-page folio. As it is, original local business and real estate reporting usually appears in the front news section. What appears in Business these days are weak syndicated feeds that have little or no local connection—and don’t attract advertising.
Third, get some backbone and restore original locally-oriented editorials, written and/or overseen by an Editorial Page Editor rather than a committee.
Fourth, invite some of the regular letter writers to become columnists to add locally-oriented, regular op-ed columns.
There’s no doubt that the Naples Daily News is in the same economic crunch as its print counterparts across the country. Print advertising is eroding in the face of cable and digital competition and the medium is declining. The prospect is in sight when a print edition won’t be published at all and the newspaper, if it survives in any form, will go all-digital.
But even with that prospect, the answer is not to become less relevant by cutting off an important public forum and weakening Southwest Florida’s already beleaguered democracy—especially on the eve of a critical election. The answer, rather, is to become more vital and more relevant, so that if the Naples Daily News does become just a website it will be an essential one in which the community has a voice and a stake.
As the Washington Post says, “democracy dies in darkness.” And as The Paradise Progressive says…
A vision of Florida’s future? The dome homes of Cape Romano off the coast of Southwest Florida. When built in 1979 they were on solid land. (Photo: Andy Morfrew/Wikimedia Commons)
Jan. 3, 2022 by David Silverberg
At the end of every year, most newspapers and media outlets like to do retrospectives on the year past. They’re easy to do, especially with a skeleton crew: just go into the archives, pull out a bunch of the past year’s photographs or stories, slap them together, throw them at the readers or viewers and then staff can relax and party for the New Year. Or better yet, when it comes to a supposedly “daily” newspaper, don’t print any editions at all.
What’s much harder to do is look ahead at the year to come and try to determine, however imperfectly, what the big stories will be.
That takes some thought and effort but it’s much more valuable and helpful in setting a course through the fog of the future.
Although there will be surprises and any projection is necessarily speculative, there are a number of big issues in the nation and Southwest Florida that are likely to dominate 2022.
Democracy vs. autocracy
Donald Trump may no longer be president but the impact of his tenure lives on. Just how much will he and his cultists continue to influence events this year?
Although the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection and coup failed, the effort to impose autocratic, anti-democratic rule continues at the state and local levels as Trumpist politicians push to create mechanisms to invalidate election results they don’t like.
Nowhere is this truer than in Florida where Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is playing to the most extreme elements of his base as he tries to ensure his own re-election and mount a presidential bid in 2024. He also has to outdo his other potential presidential hopefuls, most notably Texas’ Gov. Greg Abbott (R).
In Florida, the race is on to produce the most extreme, radical right measures both by DeSantis and members of Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature.
Examples of this include DeSantis’ 2022 $5.7 million budget proposal for an Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Department of State to investigate election crimes and allegations. In another time and in other hands, this might seem like a politically neutral and straightforward law enforcement agency, if a redundant and unnecessary one. However, given the past year’s efforts in Florida to narrow voting options and the continuing influence of Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him, it could have more sinister purposes, like invalidating or discarding legitimate election results.
DeSantis is also proposing creation of a Florida State Guard, which would be wholly subject to his will and authority. The Florida National Guard, by contrast, can be called up for national duty and is answerable to the US Department of Defense in addition to the governor.
These efforts, combined with DeSantis’ past assaults on local autonomy and decisionmaking and his anti-protest legislation, are moving Florida toward a virtual autocracy separate and unequal from the rest of the United States.
The question for 2022 is: will they advance and succeed? Or can both legislative and grassroots opposition and resistance preserve democratic government?
The state of the pandemic
The world will still be in a state of pandemic in 2022, although vaccines to prevent COVID and therapeutics to treat it are coming on line and are likely to keep being introduced. However, given COVID’s ability to mutate, new variants are also likely to keep emerging, so the pandemic is unlikely to be at an official end.
Globally, vaccines will be making their way to the poorer and more remote populations on earth.
In Florida and especially in Southwest Florida, vaccination rates are high. However, there’s no reason to believe that anti-vaccine sentiment and COVID-precaution resistance will slacken. Further, as President Joe Biden attempts to defeat the pandemic by mandating and encouraging vaccines, Republican states are trying to thwart mandates in court. At the grassroots, as rational arguments fail, anti-vaxxers are resisting COVID precautions in increasingly emotional and extreme ways, potentially including violence.
In Southwest Florida the political balance may change in favor of science as anti-vaxxers and COVID-deniers sicken and die off. This will reduce their numbers and their political influence. As their influence wanes that of pro-science realists should rise—but it’s not necessarily clear that realistic, pro-science sentiment will automatically translate into equal and opposite political power.
This year will reveal whether the DeSantis COVID gamble pays off. He has bet that resisting and impeding COVID precautions in favor of unrestrained economic growth will result in political success at the polls.
Will Floridians forget or overlook the cost in lives and health at election time? It’s a result that will only be revealed in November.
Choice and anti-choice
Abortion will be a gigantic issue in 2022. Anti-choicers are hoping that a conservative majority on the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade and abortion will be outlawed.
A Supreme Court ruling on a Mississippi law outlawing abortion is expected in June. There may be a ruling on Texas’ ban on abortions before then. If Roe is overturned, a number of Republican state legislatures are poised to enact their own bans based on the Texas model and Florida is one of these.
If House Bill 167 passes the Florida legislature, it will inaugurate an environment of civil vigilantism as individual citizens sue anyone suspected of aiding or performing abortions. It’s hard to imagine anything more polarizing, more divisive or more destructive both at the state level and grassroots, as neighbor turns on neighbor.
By the same token, the threat to safe abortion access may galvanize political activism by pro-choice supporters regardless of political party. That was the situation in Georgia in 2020 when a fetal heartbeat bill was passed and signed into law, only to be thrown out in court. Politically, the issue helped turn the state blue.
This year, if Roe is struck down, millions of women may turn against an anti-choice Republican Party and mobilize to enact reproductive rights legislation.
What will be the reaction if Florida follows Texas’ lead and enacts an abortion ban?
Whichever way it goes, abortion will be a sleeping but volcanic issue this year. It will erupt when court decisions are announced. It has the potential to completely reshape the political landscape.
Elections and redistricting
All other issues and debates will play out against the backdrop of a midterm election. Nationally, voters will be selecting 36 governors, 34 senators and the entire House of Representatives.
The national story will center on whether Democrats can keep the House of Representatives and their razor-thin majority in the Senate. In the past, the opposition party has usually made gains in the first midterm after a presidential election. That is widely expected to happen again this year.
In Florida, DeSantis is up for re-election as is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), all state senators, all state representatives and county and municipal officials.
DeSantis is a base politician, in every sense of the word “base.” He doesn’t try to appeal to all Floridians but has clearly decided that his victory will be won by pandering to his most extreme and ignorant supporters—including Donald Trump. His actions reveal that he is calculating that this will give him sufficient support to keep him in office and provide a platform for the presidency in 2024.
Trump, however, is a jealous god and has lately been denigrating his protégé, whom he apparently sees as a potential threat for 2024 and getting too big for his britches. DeSantis may face a Trump-incited primary on the right from Roger Stone, the previously convicted and pardoned political trickster and activist, who lives in Fort Lauderdale.
If the Stone primary challenge does indeed materialize, it will make for one of the great political stories of 2022.
The primary action on the Democratic side will be between the three candidates for the Party’s gubernatorial nomination: Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.), a former governor; Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide Democratic officeholder; and state Sen. Annette Taddeo (D-40-Miami.). This battle will be resolved on primary election day, Aug. 23.
On the Senate side Rep. Val Demings (D-10-Fla.), is currently the leading contender to take on Rubio, although Allen Ellison, who previously ran in the 17th Congressional District, is also seeking the Party’s nomination.
In Southwest Florida Democrat Cindy Banyai is pursuing a rematch with Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.). Currently, no other Democrat is contesting her candidacy.
The congressional and state elections will be occurring in newly-redrawn districts and the exact boundaries of all districts, congressional, state and local, will be a major factor in determining the political orientation of the state for the next decade. The Republican-dominated legislature, which begins meeting on Jan. 11, must finalize the state’s maps by June 13, when candidates qualify for the new districts.
If the maps are overly gerrymandered they will be subject to court challenges. In 2010 court challenges were so numerous and complex that maps weren’t finalized for six years. This year state Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Fort Myers), who heads the Senate redistricting committee, has publicly stated that he wants to avoid a repeat of that experience by drawing fair maps at the outset.
Whether the final maps approved by the legislature are in fact fairly drawn and meet the terms of Florida’s Fair Districts Amendment, will be a major question in 2022.
Battle over schools
School boards were once sleepy and relatively obscure institutions of government and education was a quiet area of governance.
That all changed over the past two years. With schools attempting to keep students, teachers and employees safe with mask and vaccine mandates despite vocal opposition from COVID-denying parents as well as right-wing hysteria over the teaching of critical race theory, school board elections have become pointed ideological battlegrounds. Frustrated Trumpers are determined to impose ideological restrictions on teaching and curriculum and use school boards as grassroots stepping stones to achieving power.
In Virginia the 2021 gubernatorial race turned on the question of parental control of curriculum, resulting in a Republican victory. Across the country Republicans will be trying to duplicate that success by making education a major focus of their campaigns. The resulting battle is already fierce and poised to become fiercer. It has erupted at the grassroots as school board members have been physically threatened and Attorney General Merrick Garland’s mobilization of law enforcement assets to protect school board members was denounced by right wing politicians and pundits as threatening parents.
This is prominently playing out in Florida. DeSantis has proposed the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees [WOKE] Act to prohibit critical race theory teaching and allow parents to sue school board members and teachers. Locally, state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples) has proposed putting cameras in all classrooms to monitor teachers. Local grocer, farmer and conservative extremist Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes, has demanded that teachers’ unions be “taken down” by “force.”
The school board elections of 2022 will not be what were once considered normal, non-partisan contests. They will be extreme, passionate, heavily politicized, bare-knuckled ideological battles. The outcome of these elections will determine whether students, teachers and school employees are kept safe from the pandemic, whether teachers are able to teach free of surveillance and liability, and whether the lessons imparted to students encourage open inquiry and critical thinking or narrow, ideologically-driven indoctrination.
Climate change—natural and political
The past year was one that saw some of the most extreme weather on record, clearly driven by a changing climate. Biden’s infrastructure plan had some measures to address these changes and build resilience in the face of what is sure to be climatic changes ahead. However, a major initiative to halt climate change is stalled along with the rest of his Build Back Better plan.
Climate change is the issue that undergirds—and overhangs—every other human endeavor. That was true in 2021, it will be true in 2022 and it will be true for the rest of the life of the human race and the planet.
Florida was extraordinarily lucky last year, avoiding the worst of the storms, wildfires, droughts and heat waves that plagued the rest of the United States.
Locally, Southwest Florida got a taste of climate change-driven weather when an EF-1 tornado touched down in Cape Coral on Dec. 21, damaging homes and businesses.
“What I’ve found is, people when they start talking about things like global warming, they typically use that as a pretext to do a bunch of left-wing things that they would want to do anyways. We’re not doing any left-wing stuff,” DeSantis said to audience cheers.
“Be very careful of people trying to smuggle in their ideology. They say they support our coastline, or they say they support, you know, some, you know, difference, our water, environment. And maybe they do, but they’re also trying to do a lot of other things,” he said.
This does not bode well for the governor or legislature addressing climate change impacts this year. Still, even the most extreme climate change-deniers are having a hard time dismissing it entirely.
Reducing or resisting the effects of climate change will be the big sleeper issue of 2022, providing a backdrop to all other political issues as the year proceeds. If there is a major, catastrophic event like a very destructive hurricane—or multiple hurricanes—DeSantis and his minions may have to acknowledge that the urgency of climate change transcends petty party politics.
Beyond the realm of prediction
It is 311 days from New Year’s Day to Election Day this year. A lot can happen that can’t be anticipated or predicted.
In past years a midterm election might seem to be a routine, relatively sleepy event of low voter turnout and intense interest only to wonks, nerds and politicos.
But the stakes are now very high and the dangers considerable. As long as Trumpism continues to threaten democracy and the future of the United States, nothing is routine any more.
The world, America, Florida and Florida’s southwest region are facing unprecedented perils. But as long as America is still an election-driven democracy, every individual has a say in how those perils are addressed.
That precious vote is a citizen’s right and obligation—and it can no longer be taken for granted.
The US House of Representatives voted today, by 229 to 202, to hold Stephen Bannon in contempt of Congress for refusing to obey a congressional subpoena requiring him to testify about his role in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection and attack on the US Capitol.
All of Southwest Florida’s congressional representatives—Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.)—voted against the resolution, thereby allowing Bannon to flout the law.
Bannon was former President Donald Trump’s chief strategist and senior advisor for 210 days from January 20 to August 18, 2017. Prior to and on Jan. 6, 2021 he is believed to have played a key role in orchestrating the riot, insurrection and attempted coup. He was subpoenaed to testify by the House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the United States Capitol but refused to obey the subpoena. Now that he has been found in contempt he may be prosecuted by attorneys from the Department of Justice.
“While [former White House Chief of Staff Mark] Meadows and [former chief of staff to the then-acting Secretary of Defense Kash] Patel are, so far, engaging with the Select Committee, Mr. Bannon has indicated that he will try to hide behind vague references to privileges of the former President. The Select Committee fully expects all of these witnesses to comply with our demands for both documents and deposition testimony,” stated the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-2-Miss.), and vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-at large-Wy.), on Oct. 8.
“Though the Select Committee welcomes good-faith engagement with witnesses seeking to cooperate with our investigation, we will not allow any witness to defy a lawful subpoena or attempt to run out the clock, and we will swiftly consider advancing a criminal contempt of Congress referral,” they stated.
As of this writing none of Southwest Florida’s congressmen had issued statements or explanations for their votes, although they actively tweeted on unrelated matters. They joined 199 of their Republican colleagues in voting against House Resolution 730. Nine Republicans voted for the resolution including Cheney. The House Republican leadership urged all Republican members to oppose the resolution.
The charges against Bannon were contained in House Report 117-152 from the Select Committee, which stated in its operative paragraphs:
Resolved, That Stephen K. Bannon shall be found to be in
contempt of Congress for failure to comply with a congressional
Resolved, That pursuant to 2 U.S.C. Sec. Sec. 192 and 194,
the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall certify the
report of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th
Attack on the United States Capitol, detailing the refusal of
Stephen K. Bannon to produce documents or appear for a
deposition before the Select Committee to Investigate the
January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol as directed by
subpoena, to the United States Attorney for the District of
Columbia, to the end that Mr. Bannon be proceeded against in
the manner and form provided by law.
Resolved, That the Speaker of the House shall otherwise
take all appropriate action to enforce the subpoena.
SWFL congressmen on insurrection day
At the time of the insurrection all of Southwest Florida’s congressmen were shaken and appalled by the violence and threats to themselves and the institution.
“On my fourth day as a United States Congressman, I followed Capitol staff into a safe room with a gas mask in hand rather than representing my constituents,” recounted Donalds in a statement issued at 10:09 pm the night of the insurrection, after the rioters had been evicted from the building. He called the rioters “lawless vigilantes” and denounced their actions as “thuggery.”
During the worst moments of the protest Donalds condemned the violence: “Americans have the right to peacefully protest & demand their government works for them—that doesn’t mean we resort to violence. Rule of law must stand during our nation’s brightest & darkest hours & that includes right now. We are better than this. There is no place for anarchy,” he tweeted at 2:49 pm in the midst of the attack.
“I witnessed our law enforcement officers being injured, gassed from their own tear gas and afraid for their lives as they attempted to hold the line,” recalled Steube in his own statement. “I and three other Members were barricaded in a room surrounded by demonstrators until the hallway was clear for us to get out.” At 5:39 pm he decried the actions and called them “completely unacceptable.”
On Jan. 6 Diaz-Balart issued a statement in both English and Spanish at 5:23 pm saying that the violence undermined the nation’s values and principles and lawbreakers should face the full consequences of their actions.
The House report and resolution now goes to the Department of Justice for prosecution.
Highlights and impressions of the debate over a ‘Bill of Rights sanctuary’ ordinance
July 16, 2021 by David Silverberg
On Tuesday, July 13, Collier County, Florida, chose to remain part of the United States, by a single vote.
But as significantly, the County Commission also chose to unanimously reaffirm the county’s allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights by passing a positive resolution that stated: “The county commission of Collier County, Florida, reaffirms its loyalty, its patriotism and its allegiance to the United States Constitution, its Bill of Rights, its amendments and the duly constituted laws.”
All this would seem to be self-evident—but in Collier County, as in many other places around the nation, what was once self-evident is no longer.
By a vote of 3 to 2, the Commission rejected a “Bill of Rights sanctuary” ordinance that sought to nullify federal authority in the county.
Commission chair Penny Taylor (District 4) and commissioners Andy Solis (District 2) and Burt Saunders (District 3) voted against the ordinance. Commissioners Rick LoCastro (District 1) and William McDaniel Jr. (District 5), who introduced it, voted for it.
After dispatching the ordinance, the commissioners approved the resolution reaffirming allegiance to the Constitution.
The votes came after a marathon hearing session that started about 1 pm in the afternoon and stretched until 8:45 pm. At least 122 people requested speaking slots, providing input both in person and remotely.
Both those for and against the ordinance understood and appreciated its greater significance. It would have been the first such ordinance in Florida and proponents stated overtly that if it passed they were going to take it to Florida’s 66 other counties. From there it could have spread throughout the country. Opponents knew it had to be stopped. This wasn’t just about Collier County; it was about the future of the nation.
For the first time ever, a decision made in a Collier County Commission chamber could have changed the nation’s nature—and everyone knew it.
What follows are impressions from the session and the vote.
(Full disclosure:This author was one of the speakers opposing the ordinance and the drafter of the resolution reaffirming loyalty to the Constitution and Bill of Rights.)
Anyone who came to the meeting should have been prepared for all kinds of fireworks. As a sign of the drama to come, proponents, many wearing flag-related clothing and paraphernalia, were outside the Commission building bright and early before the session began with signs advocating a “yes” vote.
They had reason to be confident. A June 22 meeting when the Commission voted to consider the ordinance had gone their way. At that meeting the ordinance received the endorsement of the district’s congressman, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), and the county’s top law enforcement officer, Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. It was also endorsed by state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples) who sent a surrogate to express his support. At that meeting all the public speakers were in favor of the ordinance and not a single member of the public opposed it.
At the June meeting Commissioner McDaniel fulsomely introduced the ordinance and LoCastro made favorable remarks. Although Saunders said he wasn’t committed to the ordinance, he voted for its consideration and it seemed as though he could be swayed—or pressured—to vote in favor.
Other than the opponents who showed up this time, there was no reason to expect that the ordinance might not sail through on a similar 3 to 2 vote again. All the big guns lined up in their favor.
Nor did they just rely on their numbers or enthusiasm to get their way. Prior to this hearing they gathered in the hallway outside the Commission chamber to hold a prayer meeting and invoke Jesus’ assistance in swaying the commissioners.
But if there was any single bombshell dropped during the July 13 hearing, it came when County Attorney Jeffrey Klatzkow rose to provide his analysis of the legal and fiscal impacts of the ordinance.
Scholarly, legalistic and calm, Klatzkow delivered the news that the ordinance would strip institutional immunity from the county’s five commissioners, five constitutional officers and five school board members, as well as staff.
In other words, under the ordinance, if they carried out actions that aided the federal government in what was considered a violation of the Bill of Rights by an aggrieved party they could be personally sued. The plaintiff might not win in court but the defendants would have to pay court costs out of their own pockets.
“The big issue here is not going to be damages,” Klatzkow said. “It’s going to be attorney’s fees. There is an incentive for attorneys to bring actions under this because every hour they put in is an hour they can bill.”
It didn’t take much imagination to see where that could lead: commissioners and county officials could be sued into bankruptcy simply for making the county function through otherwise legal official actions.
Although Klatzkow didn’t say it, it was clear that the ordinance could bring the whole county to a halt and destroy the county government itself. In response to a question from Solis, Klatzkow mentioned that the Supervisor of Elections would be liable as a constitutional officer—and any observer could foresee lawsuits like this making elections impossible.
An observer could also see the impact of Klatzkow’s analysis sink in on the faces of the commissioners—but he wasn’t done yet.
Collier County, like virtually every jurisdiction in the country, relies on federal financial grants to pay for a wide variety of functions. But federal grants don’t come without strings; in this case with numerous rules and regulations governing oversight, receipt, performance and a wide variety of other requirements and conditions.
Klatzkow dramatically demonstrated just how many strings were attached by displaying five, single-spaced pages of rules and regulations that he projected to the chamber, one after the other.
If Collier County removed itself from federal jurisdiction it would lose all those grants, all that money, Klatzkow warned.
He didn’t say it aloud, but it was clear that passing the ordinance would beggar an otherwise affluent and prosperous county.
If Klatzkow wanted to make an impression, he certainly did.
Klatzkow’s presentation put the ordinance’s proponents on the defensive. It was clear from the presentations of the key advocates who followed Klatzkow that they had to move the commissioners away from contemplating the potentially devastating fiscal impact of passing the ordinance.
The first public speaker to try to do this was James Rosenberger, a tall, stooped county resident who launched the petition for the ordinance and gained 5,000 signatures. His tactic was to compare the ease and safety of the current commissioners with the revolutionaries who put their lives on the line to rebel against the British in 1776. They should do the same now, he argued, and ignore the possible unintended consequences of passing the ordinance.
“You can lead, follow or get out of the way,” he said, drawing on what he said was a firefighting mantra in his experience. “If you’re incapable of leading today maybe this job isn’t for you and I suggest along with ‘we the people’ that you get out of the way, step down and make room for someone who will lead us like our forefathers did almost 250 years ago.”
Having now threatened and insulted the people he was trying to convince, Rosenberger made way for his wife, Carol DiPaolo, who traced the origins of the nullification ordinance movement to a meeting of seven concerned friends from a variety of backgrounds. They had gathered to share their “concern, anxiety, fear and anger”—over measures like mask mandates, gun restrictions, and “President Biden and his pen.”
In the Spring, the group collected signatures to create a 2nd Amendment sanctuary in Collier County but were rebuffed by the county Commission. However they were contacted by Keith Flaugh of the conservative Florida Citizens Alliance and people from The Alamo gun range and store in Naples, whom they hadn’t previously known. With the aid of “prominent” Collier County supporters the nullification ordinance was drawn up and presented at the June 22 meeting. DiPaolo urged the commissioners to pass it now.
From DiPaolo onward, the proponents held the floor, with one exception: Undersheriff Col. Jim Bloom of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, who was standing in for Rambosk.
Bloom testified that the ordinance was enforceable like any other law in the county but when asked by Solis what procedure the office would follow to enforce it, he said the office would contact the state’s attorney to prosecute violations.
Bloom and Rambosk may not have intended it but that procedure set up an effective Catch-22, wherein they were seeking a higher authority to enforce and prosecute an essentially unconstitutional ordinance that didn’t recognize higher authority.
What was more, Solis said he had called the state’s attorney, who said his office had not been consulted about the ordinance.
But while Bloom’s answer introduced what was essentially an insurmountable “logic loop,” that did not deter Kristina Heuser, the lawyer who drew up the ordinance. She defended its legality.
She was followed by Flaugh, who drew a stark choice for the commissioners: “There seem to be the two factions,” he said. “Those who support the individual rights that you have sworn to protect and those who support an unfettered federal government in control of our everyday lives.”
He also gave commissioners a stark choice. “For anyone of you who decide to vote ‘no’ on this I urge you and suggest you have only one honorable course of action: to resign before you disgrace yourself any further.”
Subsequent proponents spoke on similar themes. State Rep. Rommel made an appearance to support the ordinance, saying he wanted his local sheriff in charge and alleging that the US Capitol Police were opening an office in Tampa to pursue people in Southwest Florida. He warned that the federal government was eroding God-given rights. “Anything less than unanimous agreement will be extremely disappointing,” he said to the Commission.
As the hours wore on the arguments grew louder and while not disorderly became less disciplined and more wide-ranging.
Proponent Beth Sherman used her time at the speaker’s lectern to launch a full-scale attack on vaccinations, anti-COVID measures and the local health system.
“We are living in a time of deceit and tyranny,” she said. “NCH [Naples Community Hospital] should not be allowed to provide medical data or advice to this community. They have been suppressing life-saving COVID treatments like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.” She accused Solis of supporting mandatory vaccinations, which he vehemently denied.
“There are people in this room being called insurrectionists,” she said. “Let me tell you that there is plenty of evidence that the FBI planned that as a false flag and it will come out because the truth always comes out.”
Lastly she warned the commissioners: “If you vote ‘no’ today, we the people kindly ask that you resign so that a true leader can fill your seat.”
Unlike the June 22 meeting when no opponents appeared, this time there was strong turnout by people opposed to the ordinance and opponents may have constituted a majority of the speakers.
Janet Hoffman, head of the Collier County League of Women Voters, spoke for the non-partisan organization when she announced that “We don’t support this ordinance. It suggests that Collier County officials pick and choose the laws they want to follow.”
While many residents spoke out against the ordinance, those who spoke most knowledgably were retired lawyers, some with experience in local affairs.
George Dondanville, an attorney with considerable government experience said, “I’ve never heard of anything like this ordinance. How am I going to do what I’m supposed to do under this ordinance?”
While proponents viewed objections as mere stumbling blocks to passage of the ordinance, Dondanville pointed out that “our stumbling block is our form of government. Our courts make those decisions. Your own attorney sitting over there says that this thing flies in the face of the Constitution. You can pass it if you want but you’re going to get into serious financial problems. Those aren’t scare tactics at all. Please don’t pass this.”
Retired attorney Robert Leher said: “The definition of an unlawful act in this ordinance has no ascertainable standard for what is unlawful” and he had “never seen a statute that was more poorly drafted.” He also warned that passing the ordinance would result in a drop in tourism and visitation because “people don’t want to come to a battlezone.”
“This is wrong in so many ways,” he concluded.
David Goldstein, a retired attorney who served the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Collier County, warned that “nothing empowers a county with the power to supersede federal law.”
David Millstein, a retired civil rights attorney who also taught civil rights law and served as former head of the Collier County ACLU, said he tried to put himself in the shoes of the county attorney trying to defend and implement it.
“This is an ordinance proposed by someone who doesn’t know constitutional law,” he said. “You can’t make an ordinance saying you’re not going to follow federal law. Why not make this an income tax sanctuary ordinance? It is so unconstitutional in so many ways I would say, ‘Let’s go out and have a beer and forget about this.’”
Speech before the Commission as delivered by the author:
“I am here today to urge you to reject this absurd, unconstitutional and completely unnecessary ordinance. This is frankly ridiculous on its face. There is simply no need for a separate Collier County sanctuary for the Bill of Rights because the United States of America is a sanctuary for the Bill of Rights. Our law is uniform, it is superseding and it is upheld.
This ordinance, this proposed ordinance, has so many problems between the principle and the practical that it is as full of holes as a piece of Swiss cheese. I mean, there are logic loops, you’re going to challenge federal law in what court after you’ve denied federal jurisdiction? There are so many things that simply don’t make sense.
In addition, talking very pragmatically, your lawyer has talked about the fact that this would open you all up to liability. I believe it opens up our sheriff and sheriff’s deputies also to liability. If they try to assert federal law they are liable to be sued.
There are all sorts of questions about federal investigations that might be going on in this county that might be disrupted or hindered.
There is also, you know, when have an Irma, or an Elsa or a Wilma hurricane, if we remove ourselves from federal law we’re not going to get the assistance and the support and the help that we need from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and this can run into many millions of dollars, as you all well know.
You cannot take yourself out of the jurisdiction of federal law.
Now, I like everyone else, am very concerned about the Constitution and upholding the Bill of Rights. I mean, we’ve had an insurrection.
(Laughter and catcalls from proponents, gaveled into order by Commissioner Taylor.)
There is a need to support the Constitution. This is easily done in this county.
Now, on all your desks you have a draft text of a resolution that reaffirms Collier County’s allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I urge you to pass that resolution. It is something you can do, it is something in your jurisdiction and it is something that I think every resident of Collier County can support.
This, I think, will address everybody’s problems and concerns with possible violations of the Bill of Rights. We can do that here.
The United States of America has faced rebellion, nullification, secession, sedition and insurrection and it has defeated them all.
Collier County does not need to join this sad parade of bad ideas, failed notions and absurd plots and make itself not only a laughingstock of the country but to take itself out of the rule of law, which is what this ordinance is proposing to do.
So in summation: defeat this ordinance—this should be rejected and I will hope that it will be rejected unanimously—and I urge you to pass a resolution reaffirming our allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
In the end, the Commission voted down the ordinance.
Solis said he was concerned about the role of the state’s attorney in making constitutional decisions when enforcing the ordinance. Taylor criticized the ordinance’s penalties, its unnecessariness, and the conflict it set up between supporting the ordinance or supporting the Constitution: “It’s almost like a trap,” she said. Saunders said that the solution to the concerns expressed by proponents was at the ballot box.
Both LoCastro and McDaniels argued that principle should prevail over any possible unintended consequences.
After the ordinance was defeated Taylor introduced the resolution reaffirming the county’s allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and it passed unanimously.
To the ballot box
As Winston Churchill said after the Al Alamein victory in World War II: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
So it was with this ordinance, which was like a spasm of Trumpism in its death throes.
It was clear from the proponents’ remarks that among them there is real “concern, anxiety, fear and anger,” as DiPaolo put it. Persistent fears mentioned by proponents were the possibility of mandatory vaccinations and that the Capitol Police were coming to Florida to hunt down people who had participated in what many regarded as a non-existent insurrection.
So much of their concern, anxiety, fear and anger was generated by an exaggerated hatred and suspicion of the US federal government fed by extremist media. Instead of seeing anti-COVID measures as common-sense, science-driven anti-disease precautions taken for the community’s good, the proponents viewed them as deliberately oppressive infringements on their personal lives and liberty. They clearly feel genuinely threatened by unfamiliar restrictions. What is more, several proponents characterized even the Commission’s authority to pass legislation as “tyrannical.”
But many of the proponents displayed a tyrannical streak of their own, threatening and bullying commissioners and insisting that a failure to vote their way result in resignation or disgrace.
The ordinance was an outgrowth of these concerns, anxieties, fears and anger as well as an insistent demand for obedience to the proponents’ will, all of it rendered into legalese. It was never viable as a law and would have been defeated in court after enormous delay, disruption and expense. It had the potential to seriously damage Collier County government and the county itself. And it could have harmed all of Florida and the nation had it spread.
The proponents are no doubt licking their wounds but the passion and paranoia that drove the ordinance remain, sustained by demagoguery and disinformation. Although one hopes that feelings will die down with time and the easing of the pandemic, the core activists will no doubt seek new outlets.
If the proponents stay within the law the next battle will be at the ballot box in 2022. The votes of the commissioners will no doubt be an issue in their election campaigns. The next election will see whether thoughtful people are in the majority in evaluating their records and accomplishments.
A major disappointment in all of this was the position of Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. A highly effective law enforcement leader, a respected professional and cutting edge technologist with experience as a city manager, his endorsement of an extreme ordinance of dubious enforceability calls his judgment into question. It also calls into question the ability of his office and officers to enforce the law impartially and apolitically. It creates a sad kernel of doubt about an otherwise unblemished and polished force. Like the ordinance itself, this was entirely unnecessary.
Although the struggle over rights and allegiances is not over, one can only hope that it plays itself out within the confines of the law and the institutions established by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to constructively channel such disagreements. As the nation goes on, so will the debate.
In 1787, after the Constitutional Convention completed its work, Benjamin Franklin told Americans that they had “a republic, if you can keep it.”
On Tuesday, July 13, 2021, Collier County chose to keep it.
Southwest Florida Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) were two of only 62 members of the US House of Representatives to oppose passage of a bill today calling for aggressive investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, especially those against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI).
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) voted in favor of the bill.
The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act (Senate 937), passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 364 to 62. Support for the bill was heavily bipartisan, with all Democrats and 147 Republicans voting for it. The 62 opponents were all Republicans.
It passed the Senate on April 22 by a vote of 94 to 1, with only Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) opposing it. Both of Florida’s Republican senators, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, voted for it.
The bill now goes to President Joe Biden for signature.
The bill was prompted by a spate of blatant, unprovoked violent hate crimes against Asian Americans fueled in large part by President Donald Trump’s vitriol against China and Chinese during the worst months of the pandemic.
It calls for the Department of Justice (DoJ) to prioritize and expedite investigations of anti-AAPI hate crimes and to issue guidance to local and state law enforcement agencies to do the same. It provides for better data collection on hate crimes, improves education related to them and creates financial grants to raise awareness, prevent and respond to them.
The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act was introduced on March 23 by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). “Today, Congress sends a powerful, united message that we stand in solidarity with the AAPI community as we confront an epidemic of racism and intolerance,” she stated following the House passage.
Neither Donalds, Steube nor Diaz-Balart issued statements explaining their votes in the immediate wake of the the bill’s passage.
Despite a mob attack on the United States Capitol yesterday, Jan. 6, incited by President Donald Trump, when the roll was called all of Southwest Florida’s congressional representatives voted to aid and abet the president’s effort to overturn the 2020 election.
The roll call vote by the House of Representatives occurred at 3:00 am this morning. The motion was on objections raised to certifying the Electoral College results from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Had the objection been sustained the Electoral College vote would have been rejected and the election overturned.
While Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) voted to sustain the objection, it was defeated by a vote of 282 to 138.
At 3:26 am this morning, Vice President Mike Pence certified that Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had won the 2020 presidential election by an Electoral College vote of 306 to 232.
Evolution of the day
Yesterday morning saw SWFL’s representatives confidently preparing to overturn the election through legal, procedural means.
“I’m walking into the Capitol to sign the objection to the Electoral College certification. It’s important we always uphold our laws and our Constitution, no matter what,” tweeted Donalds at 11:17 am.
“I’m objecting to the electoral votes of GA, PA, WI and MI,” tweeted Steube at 11:23 am. “If we fail to challenge the blatant improprieties that have marred the 2020 election, we let honest votes go uncounted. Anything less would fail our country now and into the future.”
The representatives were entering the Capitol at the same time a pro-Trump rally was taking place at the Ellipse in front of the White House. Trump addressed the rally and told rally-goers “we’re going to walk down and I’ll be there with you,” and “you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated, lawfully slated. I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard.” (Trump did not march to the Capitol.)
The Trumpers then marched from the area of the White House to the Capitol, which they attacked throughout the afternoon, breaching the perimeter and vandalizing the interior of the building before being evicted in the evening.
“On my fourth day as a United States Congressman, I followed Capitol staff into a safe room with a gas mask in hand rather than representing my constituents,” recounted Donalds in a statement on the events.
“I witnessed our law enforcement officers being injured, gassed from their own tear gas and afraid for their lives as they attempted to hold the line,” recalled Steube in his own statement. “I and three other Members were barricaded in a room surrounded by demonstrators until the hallway was clear for us to get out.” Steube expressed thanks to Kim Campbell with the House Sergeant at Arms office, Officer Reginald Cleveland of the Capitol Police and two other officers barricaded in the room.
During the worst moments of the protest Donalds condemned the violence: “Americans have the right to peacefully protest & demand their government works for them—that doesn’t mean we resort to violence. Rule of law must stand during our nation’s brightest & darkest hours & that includes right now. We are better than this. There is no place for anarchy,” he tweeted at 2:49 pm.
Once the violence was over, the rioters were ejected and the Capitol secured in the evening all three representatives condemned the violence.
Diaz-Balart issued a statement in both English and Spanish at 5:23 pm saying that the violence undermined the nation’s values and principles and lawbreakers should face the full consequences of their actions. At 5:39 pm Steube condemned the actions and called them “completely unacceptable.”
At 10:09 pm in a lengthy statement, Donalds called the rioters “lawless vigilantes” and condemned their actions as “thuggery.” Nonetheless, he tweeted, “they will not alter my decision to object to the Electoral College certification.”
None of the members criticized or condemned Trump for his role in inciting the assault.
In contrast, retired congressman Francis Rooney issued his own statement on Facebook as the violence peaked at 3:49 pm: “All of America should be saddened and sickened by today’s events at the US Capitol,” he wrote. “President Trump is complicit in inciting violence to contest an election that is over and adjudicated. This must stop now.”