Southwest Florida congressional Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) rushed to support former President Donald Trump following his unverified claim that he might be arrested tomorrow, Tuesday, March 21.
As of this writing, Rep. Mario Diaz Balart (R-26-Fla.) had not weighed in on the possible arrest.
Trump alleged that he was going to be arrested in a posting on his Truth Social network on Saturday, March 18. “THE FAR & AWAY LEADING REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE & FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, WILL BE ARRESTED ON TUESDAY OF NEXT WEEK,” he wrote in all capital letters. “PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!”
Trump is under investigation in a wide variety of venues for numerous possible crimes and infractions. While in office he was impeached twice for misconduct, including inciting a riot on Jan. 6, 2021 aimed at overturning the election, overthrowing the US government and attacking his vice president.
Donalds, who also has an arrest record and who voted to overturn the 2020 election, built his congressional career on loyalty to Trump. He issued a lengthy statement on Sunday, March 19, denouncing the possible arrest.
“Unfortunately, our nation is increasingly mirroring the practices of authoritarian regimes and blatantly neglecting the Rule of Law established in our Constitution and the liberties long enshrined in the bedrock of our Republic,” he said in his statement. “Following recent reports of the imminent arrest of former President Donald J. Trump, it is clear that there is no light between the beacon of freedom in the world and the most oppressive regimes in history.”
Steube, who has been sidelined from Congress since his home accident on Jan. 18, issued a tweet on March 18: “Once again, the Left is weaponizing the government for their own political motivations,” he wrote. “They never learn. The American people will rally behind President Trump. We see right through it.”
To date there has been no verification of Trump’s impending arrest claims from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose office has been investigating whether Trump’s 2016 payment of $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels violated campaign finance laws.
In an e-mail sent to staffers and obtained by a number of media outlets, Bragg told staff that ““we do not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office or threaten the rule of law in New York.”
He continued: “Our law enforcement partners will ensure that any specific or credible threats against the office will be fully investigated and that the proper safeguards are in place so all 1,600 of us have a secure work environment.” He stated that the office was coordinating with the New York Police Department and Office of Court Administration to maintain security and added that “as with all of our investigations, we will continue to apply the law evenly and fairly, and speak publicly only when appropriate.”
The resolution changed the definition of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) to potentially allow greater water pollution. It seeks to return to the status of regulation under former President Donald Trump.
Protecting the purity of water is a priority for Southwest Florida, which is currently suffering a major red tide bloom.
Both Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-26-Fla.) voted for the resolution. Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) did not vote, still absent due to an accident he suffered on Jan. 18. One Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-1-Pa.) voted against the resolution. Nine Democrats voted for it.
Neither Donalds nor Diaz Balart issued statements explaining their votes. Donalds did not mention his vote in his weekly newsletter to constituents.
The House action is unlikely to take effect given Democratic dominance in the Senate and a pledge by President Joe Biden to veto the Republican House measure if it reaches his desk.
The water issue
The Clean Water Act of 1972 regulates US waters to prevent pollution, giving primary enforcement responsibility to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In 2015, WOTUS was put in place under President Barack Obama to protect a variety of streams, rivers and wetlands that serve as sources for larger bodies of water, in an effort to reduce pollution. In particular, the rule covered water sources that run intermittently or underground. The rule particularly affected Southwest Florida whose streams and wetlands impact much larger bodies of water like the Caloosahatchee River and the Everglades.
In January 2020, President Donald Trump rolled back WOTUS with his own administration’s “Navigable Waters Protection Rule,” which eliminated many of the previous protections. Developers and industries were no longer required to get permits under the Clean Water Act before dumping waste and pollutants like pesticides and fertilizers into water sources like creeks and streams. Essentially, the Trump administration held that if a body of water wasn’t “navigable” anti-pollution measures wouldn’t apply.
“I terminated one of the most ridiculous regulations of all: the last administration’s disastrous Waters of the United States rule,” Trump boasted when he ended the protections. “That was a rule that basically took your property away from you.”
“This is a horrible setback for wetland protection in the USA,” wrote Bill Mitsch, a globally recognized wetlands expert and eminent scholar and director of the Everglades Wetland Research Park at Florida Gulf Coast University at the time. (Mitsch has since retired.)
“I have followed this tug of war for all these years between those who appreciate the many ecosystem services that wetlands provide, including cleaning our waters, sequestering and permanently storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and providing the best habitat for hundreds of threatened and endangered species, and the industrial-scale agricultural, energy, and real estate giants” Mitsch wrote. “It has always been a David vs. Goliath [battle].”
In June 2021, President Joe Biden’s administration restored the previous anti-pollution restrictions of WOTUS. Both the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers made the announcement.
Mitsch continued: “I’m delighted both agencies have stepped forward. This, in my view, is a good turn for Southwest Florida and especially the Everglades.”
With its vote last Thursday, the Republican-dominated US House voted to remove the Obama-Biden protections and allow Trump-era pollution.
Although the measure is unlikely to take effect, Southwest Florida’s waterways and wetlands remain under threat since the state took over the permitting process from the federal government in one of the Trump administration’s last acts.
“I’m very much afraid of Florida taking wetland management away from the feds. What the feds are doing is great but I’ve seen it before,” Mitsch said at the time. “There’s no question why [the state] wanted to take over water regulation; it was for development.”
When my son was in middle school in Virginia he was assigned to read the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
I had never read the book. I knew of “Uncle Tom” as a derogatory insult but not the novel behind the epithet.
It was in our house. So I read it.
Now I know: Uncle Tom’s Cabin is the most powerful work of American fiction ever written.
It is searing, it is enlightening, it is deeply disturbing and even 170 years after it was published it is as controversial as it was on June 5, 1851, the day its first chapter appeared as a serial in the abolitionist newspaper The National Era.
Just how controversial it is could be seen on Jan. 19 of this year, when a copy arrived in the office of Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.).
Donalds was outraged. He took it as an insult and a challenge.
“Whoever sent this book did so w/ hate in their heart & the desire to depict me as a sellout,” he raged in a tweet.
Four days later he elaborated in a mass e-mail: “When my colleagues nominated me to be Speaker of the House earlier this month, the radical Left and the Fake New [sic] Media put a target on my back. They’ve already called me a white supremacist, a diversity statement, and a prop. Now, someone just mailed a copy of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s renowned book Uncle Tom’s Cabin to my congressional office. The hateful individual who sent it was trying to depict me as a sellout because I’m a black conservative who REFUSES to tow the Democrat party line.”
Then Donalds immediately sought to exploit the incident for fundraising purposes: “Let’s show them that their racist attack BACKFIRED with a surge of grassroots contributions to support my fight against the destructive far-Left agenda. Please make a contribution to help me defend myself from the Left’s racist attacks and fight back against the ruinous Biden-Harris agenda in the new Congress.”
(For the record and under oath: That copy was NOT sent by this author or The Paradise Progressive.)
Beyond its aspects as an insult, Uncle Tom’s Cabin raises a serious question for Florida given Gov. Ron DeSantis’ anti-woke crusade as well as state legislative efforts to craft a version of American history that doesn’t disturb or offend anyone—and Donalds’ own crusade against the teaching of critical race theory.
The question is: Can a 170-year old novel that is arguably an important part of American history even be taught in Florida schools now?
When President Abraham Lincoln met author Harriett Beecher Stowe in 1862 he’s reported to have said, “So this is the little lady who started this great war.”
While Stowe didn’t actually start the war (after all, she didn’t fire the first shot at Fort Sumter), the impact of her novel was indisputable.
Given the size of the audience at the time, Uncle Tom’s Cabin may have been the best-selling book in American history. By the end of the nineteenth century it was second in sales only to the Bible.
Its impact at the time of its publication was explosive. It put the issue of slavery on the front burner of American politics and discussion. It brought home to Americans slavery’s cruelty and inhumanity. It boosted abolitionism and discredited the pro-slavery intellectual arguments. It did this from its opening scene in which a young black child is about to be sold away from his mother so his master can pay off a debt.
The novel’s power comes from its vivid depiction of the impact of slavery on individuals and their responses to it. It portrayed slavery’s cruel twisting of the most fundamental human relationships, between parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, not just among blacks but among whites as well.
In a moving, compelling way, it revealed slaves as human beings with emotions and characters, with whom readers could identify. But its greater point was that slaves were Christians with Christian souls and were facing persecution for it.
Central to doing this is the character of Uncle Tom, an older slave who embodies fundamental Christian values of love, piety, forbearance, patience, self-sacrifice and humility—as well as conscience, empathy and ultimately, deep principle. It’s his commitment to Christian principles and faith that leads to his death at the hands of a brutal master, Simon Legree, a transplanted Yankee whose worst instincts are sharpened and encouraged by his embrace of slavery.
After serialization, the story was published as a book on March 20, 1852. It was an instant bestseller, so much so that the publisher had difficulty running the presses to keep up with demand. In the South it caused outrage and was denounced as false, or as it might be put contemporarily, “fake news.” One bookseller was hounded out of town for selling it and the book was banned in southern communities, the first such ban in the United States.
Long-suffering Uncle Tom was a controversial character from the time the work was published. Even at the outset he was criticized for his submissiveness and forbearance. In the 1960s as the civil rights movement gained momentum and sought to mobilize blacks to actively assert their rights, “Uncle Tom” became an epithet, shorthand for inactivism, indifference and passivity.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin can be said to have been the first “woke” novel—and “woke” in the literal sense that it woke Americans up to the nature of slavery.
Of course, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has declared Florida “the place where woke goes to die” and he is doing his best to kill whatever he considers to be “woke.”
On April 22, 2022 DeSantis signed House Bill 7, the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (WOKE) Act.
Promoted and pushed by DeSantis, the Stop WOKE Act, among other things, prohibits advocacy of any kind of discrimination in teaching. But it also prohibits teaching in which “An individual, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the individual played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.”
Part of the anti-woke effort, and the Anti-WOKE Act, is an attempt to banish the teaching of critical race theory (CRT). This is an academic theory that racial discrimination has pervasively shaped legal and social institutions. Largely confined to academia, CRT became a favored target of conservatives in the aftermath of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests.
Locally, Donalds has been an outspoken critic of CRT, denouncing it in the media and targeting the Collier County school system, warning educators at a press conference on Aug. 3, 2021 that they were being watched for any signs of it in classrooms.
“Those proposing this wicked curriculum would like to live in an America where every American is judged based on the color of their skin and not the content of their character, which, if I remember my history correctly, is the complete opposite of the teachings of Dr. King and decades of civil rights progress and commitment to creating a more perfect union,” he wrote. “Today, radical leftists are upending this longstanding American virtue to push this un-American and divisive agenda.”
He also cosponsored a bill in the last Congress, House Resolution 397, which declared CRT prejudicial. The bill never advanced past the introductory stage.
The Anti-WOKE Act has been blocked in court. On Nov. 10, 2022, Chief US District Judge Mark Walker halted its implementation in a 138-page opinion that denounced it for supposedly allowing academic freedom—but only for opinions of which the state government approved. “This is positively dystopian,” he wrote. The state is appealing the ruling.
On Jan. 18, the presidents of Florida’s college system issued a statement rejecting “the progressivist higher education indoctrination agenda,” and committing to “removing all woke positions and ideologies by February 1, 2023”—the beginning of Black History Month, according to the Florida Department of Education.
DeSantis and the state Department of Education took another step toward imposing their view of history when on Jan. 22 they disapproved of an advanced placement course in black history for Florida students.
“We wanted to give a comprehensive view of the culture, literature, historical development, political movements, social movements,” Christopher Tinson, the chair of the African American Studies department at Saint Louis University, who helped formulate the course, told National Public Radio.
DeSantis denounced the course and defended Florida’s decision to ban it. “We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them,” he said in a press conference on Jan. 23. He denounced the course for allegedly attempting to “indoctrinate” students and pursue a political agenda.
A place for Uncle Tom?
Between the Anti-WOKE Act and the effort to stamp out CRT, can Uncle Tom’s Cabin be taught in Florida schools? Can it even be mentioned in the state as part of American history?
After all, there is no book that is more likely to induce “guilt, anguish or other forms of psychological distress” than Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Indeed, that was what Harriet Beecher Stowe set out to do.
This particular topic hasn’t been high on anyone’s agenda to date, so there hasn’t been any real debate so far.
But how Uncle Tom’s Cabin is taught in Florida, or if it can even be mentioned, is an interesting litmus test of the state-imposed view of history. How far will DeSantis and his allies go to impose their own indoctrination on the state and its teachers and students? Will they even allow teaching the Civil War at all? That event made many people uncomfortable.
The fight in Florida is a complex one that involves principles of academic freedom and the propriety of legislating culture. It is also a question of whether the state will teach history that accords with facts or a version that might be called “fake history,” supporting a politician’s presidential ambitions and the prejudices of his followers. In all of this, producing students who can be considered educated and prepared for the world seems a secondary consideration.
In another great novel, 1984, the Party had as one of its central tenets: “He who controls the past controls the future: he who controls the present controls the past.”
As this year’s Black History Month dawns, the educational battle in Florida is over who will control the past and future. And Uncle Tom’s Cabin speaks to the core of that debate every bit as much today as it did 170 years ago.
In 1997, the book The Perfect Storm told the story of the fishing boat Andrea Gail, which sailed into weather that was a “perfect” combination of three different storms blending into one catastrophic tempest.
Today, Southwest Florida is facing a “perfect” fiscal storm that blends three political squalls into a single horrendous gale that could prove as devastating in its own way as Hurricane Ian.
This storm is not of Southwest Florida’s own making. It’s the result of extreme ideas and doctrines being pursued in the nation’s capital. Nor will it affect Southwest Florida alone; the entire nation and the world will also suffer if the worst comes to pass.
However, Southwest Florida has unique factors that will increase the impact of this fiscal hurricane if it reaches full strength.
It’s a classic case of political passions being blindly pursued without an appreciation for their impacts on the ground or on the lives of everyday citizens. It’s also an illustration of the ways national policy affects an area as remote from the center of power as Southwest Florida.
The trend is dangerous, damaging and needs to be stopped. Fortunately, it’s the result of decisions yet to be made. So it’s not a perfect storm—yet.
Storm 1: The debt limit
On Thursday, Jan. 19, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sent a letter to congressional leaders informing them that the United States had reached its statutory debt limit. Treasury would now take “extraordinary measures” to maintain the full faith and credit of the United States. However, those measures would only sustain the nation until June.
In the US House of Representatives, extreme Make America Great Again (MAGA) Republicans are insisting that raising the debt limit be accompanied by major concessions by the White House. House Speaker Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-23-Calif.) has largely followed their direction. President Joe Biden is maintaining that the United States paying its debts is a national obligation that transcends party politics and is refusing to treat it as a political football. If the House doesn’t act, the United States will go into default for the first time in its history. (A fuller explanation of the debt limit is at the end of this article.)
How would Southwest Floridians feel the impact of a US default? In a 2021 paper explaining the issue, White House economists pointed out that: “everyday households would be affected in a number of ways—from not receiving important social program payments like Social Security or housing assistance, to seeing increased interest rates on mortgages and credit card debt.”
In other words, everyone would get poorer—in Southwest Florida and everywhere.
Storm 2: Social Security
The Social Security program has been in Republican crosshairs since it was initiated in 1935. Eighty-eight years later, that hasn’t changed and the threat, if anything, has become more acute.
Most recently, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) issued a “Commitment to America” plan last year that would have subjected Social Security to five-year reauthorizations, meaning that it could be eliminated at any time. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) proposed renewing the reauthorization every year, making it even more precarious.
Given the age of its population, Southwest Florida’s seniors are particularly dependent on Social Security to maintain their fiscal viability. Some 3,984 Collier County residents and 12,547 Lee County residents were Social Security recipients as of December 2021, according to the Social Security Administration. Nationally, 65 million Americans receive Social Security benefits.
If Social Security is severely cut or eliminated—for example as a result of a federal default or a crippling deal on the debt limit—those seniors would lose a significant chunk of their income. That, in turn, would kick a major pillar out of the year-round local economy, depressing it further after the blow of Hurricane Ian.
Storm 3: Attacks on healthcare
Among the cuts being discussed are those to Medicare and Medicaid, the two major health insurance programs. No Republican has threatened these programs more than Scott, whose Commitment to America would have stripped Medicare of the right to negotiate drug prices and removed a $2,000 cap on out-of-pocket pharmacy expenses.
Given the age of its residents, cuts to these programs would disproportionately affect Southwest Florida’s population. In 2021 Collier County had 109,305 Medicare enrollees and Lee County 210,408, according to the Florida Department of Health.
If Republican-proposed cuts went through, not only would the recipients see an abrupt cut in their benefits but Southwest Florida’s otherwise robust healthcare system would face a sudden, drastic drop in its revenues, which in turn would affect the rest of the regional economy.
This would come on top of the physical devastation of Hurricane Ian—at a time when affected Southwest Floridians need all the help they can get with shelter and the basic necessities of life.
Commentary: Avoiding the storm
At this point there’s no telling how the discussions over the debt limit will play out. Even responsible Republicans are horrified by the prospect of an American default.
“America must never default — we never have, and we never will,” vowed Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) the Senate minority leader, in 2021.
Interestingly enough, even former President Donald Trump has warned against cutting Social Security and Medicare.
“Under no circumstances should Republicans vote to cut a single penny from Medicare or Social Security,” Trump warned in a two-minute video message posted online on Jan. 19. While otherwise attacking Biden, Democrats, immigrants and advocating cuts in other areas, he emphatically stated: “Do not cut the benefits our seniors worked for and paid for their entire lives. Save Social Security. Don’t destroy it!”
For once, both the former and current presidents are in agreement: “This is something that should be done without conditions, and we should not be taking hostage key programs that the American people really earned and care about — Social Security, Medicare, it should not be put in a hostage situation,” said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre yesterday, Jan. 23.
Locally, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has warned that cuts are coming. “Newsflash for the admin: We’re going to negotiate, we’re going to have meaningful spending cuts & we can talk about the debt ceiling,” stated Donalds in a tweet yesterday morning, Jan. 23. “We should end COVID-era overspending. We have to get our budget back on track! If they think they’ll be cutting some side deal they’re mistaken.”
Is there anything that a citizen opposed to this cataclysm can do about this? The measures for voter feedback and input are in place: contact lawmakers to make opinions known—in the case of Southwest Florida that’s Donalds and Reps. Mario Diaz Balart (R-26-Fla.), who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) (currently laid up due to a fall from his roof and not voting in Congress until he can return to Washington).
Even if e-mails, phone calls and letters don’t change members’ public stances it at least registers the opinions of their constituents and they have to take that into consideration as they stake their positions.
Also, members of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) have a powerful lobbying voice in Washington and active engagement with that organization can help shore up important programs of vital importance to seniors.
The impact of local officials on these matters should not be overlooked either. Officials like county executives and mayors are in contact with Washington lawmakers. If they know the importance of these programs to local residents and the fact that residents—and voters—are watching, that concern will percolate upward to congressional lawmakers. Local officials need to be pressed to make their positions known by issuing public letters to members of Congress stating the importance of programs like Social Security, Medicare and aid to the region and their jurisdictions.
Treasury Secretary Yellen’s “extraordinary measures” run out in June. If an agreement isn’t reached before then, the fiscal storm will hit and Southwest Florida will feel the brunt of it.
And that’s one storm that can’t be mitigated with hurricane shutters and extra bottles of water.
* * *
A brief primer on the debt limit
The “debt limit” or “debt ceiling” is the amount of debt that the United States is allowed to have outstanding. The “national debt” is all the money the United States has borrowed throughout its history. It incurs that debt when revenues, for example from taxes, don’t cover its needs and it issues bonds or sells securities to cover the shortfall. These are perfectly legal and well established means that all governments use to meet their needs.
Since its founding in 1776, the United States has always met its obligations. It has incurred debts but it has paid those debts on time and in full. Through war, depression and political change, this reliability and predictability has made the United States the foundation of the world financial system. People, institutions and other governments have been able to count on America honoring its promises (its “faith”) and making its payments (its “credit”).
The US national debt currently stands at $31.381 trillion and it needs to raise its statutory limit to cover payments on its debt. This is not discretionary; the full faith and credit of the United States depends on it meeting its obligations. Its creditors, which include other governments, are depending on its payments. If the United States fails to meet its obligations, the entire global financial system could collapse, setting off an international panic and bringing about a crash as terrible as that of 1929.
The debt limit must be raised by Congress. Since the debt limit was established by Congress in 1917, raising the limit to cover obligations already incurred through legislation has been a relatively routine and non-controversial matter. Congress passed appropriations legislation to spend money that must be covered by borrowing, now the United States would pay the obligations it had freely and deliberately incurred.
It was a practice based on a simple proposition: honorable people pay their debts and they do it on time and in full. As it was for individuals, so it is for the nation. Support for US solvency has been broad and bipartisan throughout its history.
However, because raising the debt limit is essential, it has become a political wedge in an effort to extract concessions, with the ultimate threat of allowing a US default.
This brinkmanship started in 2006 when Democrats—including then-Sen. Joe Biden—threatened to refuse to raise the limit to protest the ongoing war in Iraq and tax cuts for the wealthy by the administration of President George W. Bush. The refusal was meant as a gesture of protest, not an attempt to bring down the United States.
In 2011 and 2013 Republicans threatened to allow a default to force spending cuts by President Barack Obama. This time, the threat was more serious and a faction of Republicans was ready to accept default in order to get its way.
In all these cases compromises were found, the debt ceiling was raised and the United States met its obligations, although in 2011 the US credit rating was downgraded by the Standard & Poor’s rating service from AAA (outstanding) to AA+ (excellent), the first time in history that happened.
In 2023, the extremism, fanaticism and leverage of the MAGA faction in the House of Representatives, as well as the weakness of McCarthy Republicans, makes a default a much more serious and possible prospect than in the past.
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has announced that he has reintroduced the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act in the current Congress.
The bill ensures that federal agencies continue monitoring harmful algal blooms (HABs) like red tide even if there is a government shutdown. These agencies include the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.
In its look at the year ahead, The Paradise Progressive strongly urged that the measure be introduced this year before any kind of government shutdown takes place.
The bill is particularly important to Southwest Florida, which has been plagued with outbreaks of the naturally occurring red tide, which is fed by pollution.
“This bill utilizes federal resources for tackling the environmental and economic challenges brought on by HABs in Southwest Florida and throughout America,” Donalds announced in a Jan. 12 statement. “Over the last 60 years, these events have increased substantially––impacting local economies, our nation’s ecosystems, and the American people’s health.
It continued: “Safeguarding public health and our coastal ecosystems requires the collective collaboration of federal, state, and local governments. This necessary legislation bolsters the federal government’s role in combating HABs throughout the United States.”
The bill amends the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998.
The operative paragraph states: “Any services by an officer or employee under this chapter relating to web services and server processing for the Harmful Algal Bloom Operational Forecast System of the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shall be deemed, for purposes of Section 1342 of Title 31, United States Code, services for emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.”
The bill is especially important given the increased possibility of government shutdowns by the Republican House of Representatives.
The bill was first introduced in June 2019 by Rep. Francis Rooney who had organized a conclave of federal, state and local officials concerned about HABs, made more urgent by an acute and prolonged toxic bloom in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caloosahatchee River in 2018. (For a fuller account of the issue, see: “Water warning: The politics of red tide, algae and lessons from the Big Bloom.”)
That bill received bipartisan support, with 16 cosponsors, 11 Democrats and 5 Republicans. The Democrats included Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-13-Mich.) and then-Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.). Republicans included Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-1-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.). It advanced past the subcommittee stage to consideration by the full Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, in addition to the Committee on Natural Resources. However, it made no further progress.
Donalds reintroduced it in the 117th Congress following his 2020 election. At that time it garnered 9 cosponsors, 5 Republicans and 4 Democrats. However, it did not advance past the subcommittee stage.
Analysis: Looking ahead
Can Donalds actually shepherd this bill from subcommittee to full committee, to full House approval, to Senate consideration, to final approval by President Joe Biden?
Monitoring, preventing and coping with HABs is a vital issue for the health and wellbeing of Southwest Floridians, especially in the wake of Hurricane Ian. This measure is a small action that will nonetheless contribute to more advanced warnings of harmful blooms, even if there’s a government shutdown.
The handling of this legislation will demonstrate Donalds’ legislative capabilities to Southwest Floridians and the rest of Congress. It needs to be watched closely.
New Year’s parties are celebrations of hope that the year to come will be better than the year past; that problems will be solved, challenges met and new opportunities open.
But just what are the political challenges and events Southwest Florida, the Sunshine State and the nation are likely to face in 2023? As the immortal Yogi Berra once put it so well: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”
Tough as predicting is, existing trends provide some indication of where things are going and when it comes to politics, it’s wise to be ready for what’s ahead—or at least to brace for it.
Don vs. Ron vs. Joe
Are you already tired of hearing about the rivalry between former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ronald DeSantis (R)?
Well, too bad. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
This is the political story likely to dominate the year. It’s got everything: colorful characters, high stakes, nasty insults, personal rancor, fanatical partisans, absurdity galore, mentor vs. protégé, sorcerer vs. apprentice, and horse-race polling to generate headlines as each candidate pulls ahead or behind ever more exotic and narrow slices of the electorate.
What’s more, the rivalry will fill in the news gap between election years, when there’s usually little happening, so political reporters can always cover the contest when they’re on deadline and there’s nothing else to report.
As a result, every belch, snort and fart from these two will be analyzed and evaluated through a campaign lens.
At issue, of course, is the presidency and with it the future of the United States. That part is serious.
Integral to this story will be the indictment and prosecution of Trump for a long list of transgressions stretching back from before his presidency.
Not only has Trump now officially been accused of actual crimes: obstructing an official congressional proceeding; conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to make a false statement; and aiding an insurrection, but if tried and found guilty, he’s facing punishment. Whether this actually happens is already a major story and it won’t be resolved any time soon.
But beyond that question, the entire political establishment, both Democratic and Republican, the “deep state” and the mainstream media and a majority of voters don’t want him back and genuinely fear his possible return. They will do all they can to stop him. The fate of American democracy hangs in the balance.
Also, while it’s easy to forget the existence of Democrats in Florida, nationally they’re still a force to be reckoned with and the chief Democrat, President Joe Biden, has a big decision of his own to make: will he run again?
Expectations are that an announcement may come in February. If he announces another run, the media will focus on that. But if he chooses to retire there may be another Democratic stampede for the nomination as there was in 2020. If he decides to anoint a successor, the focus will be on the heir apparent, who, like DeSantis, will have to walk a narrow and difficult course for the next two years to preserve his or her viability. Or if he decides not to declare, the speculation will be prolonged for another year.
A more intense and exhausting drama than all this could not have been dreamed up by William Shakespeare. And all next year’s a stage.
Congress and revenge
Had the hoped-for Republican “red wave” materialized, Republican members of Congress would have taken revenge on Democrats in a thousand different ways. They would have pushed legislation to turn back the clock to implement the Make America Great Again (MAGA) agenda. They very well might have impeached President Joe Biden for the high crime of being a Democrat. They would have tried to undo or cover up the felonies of the insurrection and would have done all they could to exonerate, excuse and elevate Trump.
Republicans are still likely to try those things. Expect a cascade of House investigations in an effort to weaken and undermine the administration and Biden’s re-election. It will be a replay of Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s e-mails on steroids.
However, when it comes to substantive legislation, Democrats kept the Senate, meaning that no matter how extreme the proposals coming out of the House, none are likely to make it into law.
The United States has dealt with divided government before and some sessions were surprisingly productive. That doesn’t seem likely this time, though.
In the past, reasonable compromise was considered not just respectable but a strength of the American system. Trump, though, brought an absolutist, zero-sum, win-lose approach to government and politics. He infected his party and about half the population with that attitude. Until time passes and that fever burns off, much of the essential functioning of government could be stymied by political intransigence.
This could especially manifest itself in September when the new fiscal year appropriations must be approved. We could see a government shutdown—or shutdowns—at that time if House Republicans dig in.
The possibility of that happening means that measures to protect Southwest Florida need to be implemented before the showdown. In particular, Congress needs to pass the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act, which would ensure that federal activities monitoring and responding to harmful algal blooms like red tide will continue despite any shutdowns.
This legislation needs to be passed early, with bipartisan support. The bill was originally the idea and a priority of former Rep. Francis Rooney, who was unable to advance it.
Unfortunately, the key congressman on this legislation, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who introduced the bill in the last Congress, has shown little to no interest in it. Nor has he shown any legislative ability, so it has few prospects in the 118th Congress.
Unless someone in the Florida delegation is willing to pick up this cause and champion this legislation, Southwest Florida will be at the mercy of a deadlocked, recalcitrant Congress, which in turn will leave the region, literally, at the mercy of the tides.
DeSantis and the race to the right
The most dangerous kind of politician is the kind who actually believes what he says. Ron DeSantis appears to believe a lot of the extremism he espouses.
He has clearly decided that when it comes to policy he cannot allow himself to be outflanked on the right, either at home or nationally. No matter how absurd or illogical the premise he seems convinced that he must be leading the ideological charge—even if it’s headed over a cliff.
This led him to wage cultural war on science, education, vaccines, immigrants, gays and public health during 2022. It won him a resounding re-election in Florida. There’s no reason to expect any change in the next year.
In fact, it’s likely to intensify given his presidential ambitions and the rise of his rivals. For example, in September DeSantis generated headlines by spending state money to fly Venezuelan asylum-seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts without any prior notice or coordination. Potential presidential candidate Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) couldn’t let that go unanswered, so, in December he similarly bused Central and South American immigrants from Texas to Vice President Kamala Harris’ official residence in Washington, DC.
We’re likely to see a lot of such posturing in the year ahead, using people as pawns.
But it won’t just happen at the presidential level. In Florida, given the Republican supermajority in the legislature, the race to the right will be a dominant force there too. State legislators can be expected to prove their MAGA bona fides and curry favor with DeSantis and the far-right base by introducing ever more extreme measures.
One place where this is likely to express itself is in abortion. Last year Florida passed a 15-week abortion restriction. That’s unlikely to stand as state legislators vie to show the depth of their extremism. Anti-abortionists want a complete ban on abortion in the state. DeSantis has coyly stayed uncommitted. Republican legislators have no such restraints. A total abortion ban looms. And who’s going to stop them? Democrats? Certainly not Naples’ own Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Naples), who now presides over the state Senate.
Another area is education. DeSantis reached down into local school boards to endorse his own partisans. In the past year state legislators proposed their own measures and Southwest Florida representatives were in the lead. State Rep. Spencer Roach (R-76-Fort Myers) proposed making school board races overtly partisan. Rep. Bob Rommel (R-81-Naples) wanted to put video cameras in classrooms to monitor the dangerous teachers teaching there. In 2023 not only are we likely to see more such measures introduced, they’re likely to pass and be signed into law.
This kind of extremism is particularly manifest locally in Collier County where MAGA candidates now constitute a majority of the county school board. Jerry Rutherford (District 1) revealed after his election that he wants to impose corporal punishment to enforce more rigid and punitive conformity on students, a MAGA rallying cry.
Despite the outrage from parents who suddenly woke up to what they had elected, Rutherford was officially ensconced in his position as was the rest of the board. The Collier County school system, which was previously rated the gold standard for the state, is now likely to crater as dogma, discipline and docility take the place of education, enquiry and enlightenment as priorities for students.
Madness at the margins
One might think that all this success for MAGAism would satisfy its adherents. But exactly the opposite has proven to be true. The level of MAGA anger and rage is absolutely incandescent. Reflecting the fury of their increasingly cornered idol, Trump, MAGAs are lashing out in fury and their first target is the one closest at hand: moderate, traditional Republicans, the so called Republicans in Name Only, or RINOs.
MAGAs blame a less than fervent pro-Trump RINO establishment for the dissipation of the expected red wave. Their hatred is manifested in opposition to electing Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-23-Calif.) as Speaker of the House. In Florida they’ve made a determined push to take over county Republican executive committees.
Will this rage dissipate in 2023? This does not seem likely. In fact, it’s likely to increase.
While DeSantis and MAGAs dominate Florida, in the rest of the country MAGAism is being marginalized as people defend democracy. Trump’s big lie about a stolen 2020 election appears more and more delusional and threadbare every day. Only the truly incredulous can continue to believe it. Election deniers did notably poorly in the 2022 election. More losing conservative candidates conceded defeat than followed the examples of Trump or Arizona gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake in charging fraud. And the conspiracies behind the insurrection were exposed by the January 6th Committee.
MAGAism is gradually being pushed to the fringes of American political life, where it lived before the advent of Trump. For those committed to the creed, however, the sheer frustration, the looming powerlessness, and the futility of their feelings are fueling a bitterness that is truly amazing to behold.
The advance of Republican centrism, the marginalization of extremism and the defeat of MAGAism will be a trend to watch over the coming year, especially as the majority of Americans outside Florida embrace more normal, constitutional politics. But every setback, every defeat, every restraint will fuel MAGA “hatred, prejudice and rage,” as Trump once put it. How that resentment expresses itself, in Florida and elsewhere, will be the other part of this story in 2023.
The 2023 political agenda of Southwest Florida is already set but its creator was not any politician. Rather, it was a storm named Ian.
Hurricane Ian was a force beyond the capacity of any human to alter or stop. Its sheer devastation and destruction will influence Southwest Florida for many years, probably for a generation at least.
In the coming year all Southwest Florida politicians will have to cope with and contribute to the recovery of the region, regardless of their political beliefs. The need is real and continues to be urgent.
Officials at all levels can assist by getting the money for rebuilding that the region is entitled to receive from the state and the federal government and doing what they can to get more. However, the fanatical anti-federal, anti-government, anti-tax, anti-investment ideology most local politicians espouse will not help. Instead it will lead to more actions like the mass resignation of North Captiva firefighters who were denied a reasonable budget increase and so left the service.
Nor will the governor’s line-item vetoes of local funding requests or the refusal of members of Congress like Donalds to request earmarks help the region. Voters and the local mainstream media have to keep watch and ask: who is helping Southwest Florida recover? Who is helping it get the resources it needs? Who is shirking? Names need to be taken and asses kicked when necessary.
Hurricane Ian should have also completely put to rest any residual argument about the reality of climate change. Between ferocious storms like Ian, the Christmas bomb cyclone and fire, flooding and blizzards, climate change is here. No reasonable, sentient human can muster an argument to deny it. Politicians of all persuasions have to acknowledge it and prepare the coastal population for its effects.
Will Florida and its politicians finally acknowledge this? Their sense of reality needs critical scrutiny in the year ahead.
If they need a reminder they need look no further than the famous dome homes of Cape Romano. Built on solid ground in 1982, with every passing year the Gulf encroached and the waters rose around them. This year Hurricane Ian provided the coup d’grace. The homes are now completely under water.
Unless Floridians wake up, the rest of Florida will follow.
Beyond the abyss
If current trend lines are projected outward, Florida’s political future in 2023 looks like a dark, gaping sinkhole of ignorance, illness and intolerance.
But it doesn’t have to be this way and the story that proved it in 2022 took place half a world away from Florida and the United States.
When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022—a date that will live in infamy—Russian president Vladimir Putin expected the war to be over in two to three days.
The world didn’t have much greater expectations. Ukraine was outnumbered, had less than half the population of Russia, had far fewer resources and a weaker army and appeared to be a rickety, corrupt ex-Soviet colony presided over by a former comedian.
Instead, through patriotism, determination and astonishing courage, Ukraine, its president Volodomir Zelensky and its people fought for their lives and country—and are winning battles and may actually achieve a clear, just victory.
It’s unlikely to occur soon, however. When wars break out people often expect a quick resolution to what is clearly a terrible and painful conflict. That’s what happened at the outset of the American Civil War and the First World War.
However, if history is any guide, Putin’s war in Ukraine may last through 2023 and beyond—as long as Putin is in power. Both sides have too much at stake to give in.
But the Ukrainian case serves as an example to everyone facing apparent inevitability. Determination and courage do make a difference and can hold or turn back a seemingly unstoppable tide of tyranny despite overwhelming odds. It happened in the American Revolution and in Britain’s defiance of Nazi Germany in World War II.
In Florida and the United States in the coming year those who still put their faith in justice and democracy and enlightenment can look to Ukraine’s example for inspiration.
When it comes to human events it’s always wise to remember that humans can affect those events and alter their course. Nothing is set in stone until after it happens.
The San Francisco radio station KSAN used to have a tagline: “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own!”
So in 2023, to paraphrase KSAN: if you don’t like this future, go out and make one of your own.
In an characteristically Grinchian gesture just before the Christmas holiday, Southwest Florida’s representatives voted against a $1.7 trillion spending bill that includes $27 billion for relief of communities like those in Southwest Florida afflicted by hurricanes and other natural disasters.
The 4,155-page bill, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023 (House Resolution 2617), passed today along a largely party line vote of 225 to 201. Nine Republicans voted for the bill. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-13-Mich.) voted “present” and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-14-NY) cast the sole Democratic vote against it.
The bill funded all the agencies of government and avoided a shutdown, which would have occurred had it been defeated.
Southwest Florida Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-26-Fla.) all voted against the bill.
On Thursday, Dec. 22, the Senate approved the bill on a bipartisan vote of 68 to 29, with Florida Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) opposing it.
“As communities across the country work to rebuild after unprecedented natural disasters, this bill provides the urgently needed support to help families, small businesses, and entire towns and cities get back on their feet and repair damaged infrastructure,” stated Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-3-conn.) chair of the House Appropriations Committee.
In what she said was probably her last speech in the role she has played since 2018, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.), urged passage of the bill, noting that “We have a big bill here, because we have big needs for our country.”
She pointed out: “We have the largest defense appropriation ever and, again, to help us honor our oath of office to protect and defend and what the Constitution says: ‘provide for the common defense.’” Beyond its $858 billion for US defense, the bill also provided $45 billion for Ukraine.
Pelosi noted, “…This bill is about our heroes, honoring our heroes, our heroic veterans with a major increase in veterans’ health care,” and benefits for firefighters and first responders. It also helps working families with “critical investments for their health, housing, education, [and] economic well-being… .”
Republicans fought the bill through its drafting, first passage through the House and passage through the Senate.
Echoing the Republican line against the bill, Donalds long inveighed against it in media appearances and on social media.
“Every Republican should be a NO on the omnibus spending bill,” he tweeted on Dec. 19. He criticized it for not focusing more narrowly on border security issues.
“I voted NO on the nearly 2 trillion dollar omnibus spending bill because I’m a CONSERVATIVE that doesn’t make bad deals with a party hellbent on bankrupting our nation while refusing to secure the border,” he tweeted after the bill passed. “I work for WE THE PEOPLE, not political gamesmanship.”
Steube also criticized what he said was insufficient border attention: “This steaming pile of omnibus prohibits DHS [Department of Homeland Security] from using funding to secure our border” he tweeted. “Meanwhile, Democrats (enabled by several Senate Republicans) are sending millions to Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia and Oman for their own ‘enhanced border security.’”
“Despite having months to work on the [Fiscal Year] 23 funding bill in good faith with House Republicans, this 4,000+ page spending package was drafted behind closed doors and released less than a week before government funding expires,” complained Diaz-Balart. “As the American people continue to suffer the consequences of this Administration’s reckless spending and wasteful economic policies, increasing non-defense discretionary spending on these radical left-wing policies will only further fuel and lengthen inflation.”
President Joe Biden is expected to swiftly sign the bill into law.
The Southwest Florida congressional delegation today voted against the Respect for Marriage Act (House Resolution 8404), which received final approval from the US House of Representatives at 11:11 am by a vote of 258 to 169, with one member, Rep. Burgess Owens (R-4-Utah), voting “present.”
The House vote approves an amended Senate version of the bill and sends the legislation to President Joe Biden for signature.
Southwest Florida Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-26-Fla.) all voted against the bill. Diaz-Balart switched his vote to “nay” from a “yea” vote when it first came up before the House in July.
Thirty-nine Republican representatives voted for the bill.
The bill codifies same-sex and interracial marriages into law. Specifically, it repeals and replaces state laws that don’t recognize marriages on the basis of sex, race, ethnicity, or national origin.
The bill was considered necessary by advocates following the Supreme Court decision, Dobbs, State Health Officer of the Mississippi Department Of Health, et al. v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization et al, in June, striking down women’s rights to abortions. In the wake of that decision, Justice Clarence Thomas expressed an opinion that other rights, for example, allowing same-sex marriage and contraception, should similarly be revisited.
“…Since the Supreme Court’s monstrous decision overturning Roe v. Wade, right-wing forces have set their sights on this basic, personal freedom,” stated House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) in a floor speech. “In his concurring opinion, Clarence Thomas explicitly called on the Court to reconsider its ruling in Obergefell. While his legal reasoning is twisted and not sound, we must take Justice Thomas at his word, and the hateful movement behind him at their word.”
She continued: “We must act now – on a bipartisan, bicameral basis – to combat bigoted extremism and uphold the inviolability of same-sex and interracial marriages. Once signed into law, the Respect for Marriage Act will help prevent right-wing extremists from upending the lives of loving couples, traumatizing kids across the country and turning back the clock on hard-work progress.”
The bill is expected to swiftly be signed into law by President Joe Biden.
The Southwest Florida representatives’ positions echoed those taken when the bill first passed the House in July. It passed overwhelmingly in the Senate Tuesday, Nov. 29 by a vote of 61 to 36. Both Florida Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.), opposed the bill.
Because the bill was amended in the Senate, it had to be approved again in the House.
As of this writing none of the Southwest Florida representatives had issued statements explaining their votes.
However, in a Dec. 5 statement Diaz-Balart stated: “The concept of all states respecting other states’ decisions on marriage laws is deeply rooted in American jurisprudence and tradition. Similarly, our Founders understood that religious liberties are sacred and vulnerable, and must always be vigorously protected.
“My record shows that I am a long-standing advocate against discrimination of all types. I, however, cannot support any effort that undermines religious liberties by failing to provide legitimate safeguards for Faith-Based organizations that object based on their deeply-held religious beliefs.”
Former President Donald Trump and former First Lady Melania Trump stealthily slipped into and out of Naples, Fla., Sunday night, Dec. 4.
“The event went off as planned and both President Trump and Melania attended and spoke,” Erika Donalds confirmed in response to questions from The Paradise Progressive.
The event’s location was kept secret to all but ticket holders and was closed to the press and public. The number of attendees has not been released.
The Trumps were in town to raise funds for “school choice” and to benefit Hurricane Ian victims. The event was mounted by the Classical Education Network, a private and charter school scholarship program in partnership with the Optima Foundation, an organization headed by Erika that helps set up and run private and charter schools.
The amount of funds raised has not been released. Tickets ranged from $30,000 for a family of four to $10,000 for individuals.
The event was heavily promoted by Erika and her husband Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) in the days leading up to it.
(Editor’s note: Because both Donalds were involved, this article will use first names on second reference rather than its usual practice of using just last names.)
“We’re just honored to have the former president and the former first lady join us so make sure you get your tickets and join us,” Byron said in a promotional video on Nov. 19.
Call for suspension
The event came a day after Trump called for suspension of the US Constitution.
On Saturday, Dec. 3, Trump posted on Truth Social, his social media platform: “So, with the revelation of MASSIVE & WIDESPREAD FRAUD & DECEPTION in working closely with Big Tech Companies, the DNC, & the Democrat Party, do you throw the Presidential Election Results of 2020 OUT and declare the RIGHTFUL WINNER, or do you have a NEW ELECTION? A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution. Our great “Founders” did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!”
As of this writing, Byron had not commented on Trump’s call for suspension of the Constitution.
Rep. Mike Turner (R-10-Ohio), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, told the Associated Press he “vehemently” disagreed with and “absolutely” condemned the remarks, saying they should be a factor as Republicans decide who should lead their party in 2024.
“There is a political process that has to go forward before anybody is a frontrunner or anybody is even the candidate for the party,” he said. “I believe that people certainly are going to take into consideration a statement like this as they evaluate a candidate.”
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-At Large-Wy.) tweeted “No honest person can now deny that Trump is an enemy of the Constitution.”
“With the former President calling to throw aside the constitution, not a single conservative can legitimately support him, and not a single supporter can be called a conservative,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-6-Ill.) tweeted. “This is insane. Trump hates the constitution.”
Yesterday, Monday, Dec. 5, The Paradise Progressive reached out to Byron’s office for comment on Trump’s statement. Although the query was acknowledged, there was no answer.
Today Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-21-NY), the sitting chair of the House Republican Conference, crushed a challenge by Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) to take her seat by a vote of 144 to 44.
The House Republican Conference is the primary caucus and forum for communicating the Party’s message among Republican representatives. It also hosts the caucus’ meetings and is the third highest position in the House Republican hierarchy.
Donalds was the candidate of the House Freedom Caucus, an extreme, conservative, invitation-only group of Republican members.
Today’s vote was taken by the Republican members of the House who are organizing their caucus for the 118th Congress that takes office in January. While some members recommended that the vote be postponed until all House races were decided, sitting members chose to proceed anyway.
Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-23-Calif.) was endorsed for the position of Speaker of the House by a vote of 188 to 31 against challenger Rep. Andy Biggs (R-5-Ariz.). However, since the Speaker is considered leader of the entire House, the Speaker’s election takes a vote of the entire 435-member chamber when the new Congress takes office in January. The winner will need 218 votes.
By a voice vote, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-1-La.) won election as House Majority Leader, the highest position in the Republican caucus.
Rep. Tom Emmer (R-6-Minn.), chief of the Republican campaign team was elected House majority whip, the second highest position in the leadership.