The DeSantis dilemma

Florida’s governor has to turn the other cheek for the next two years

Gov. Ron DeSantis (Illustration: Donkey Hotey/Wikimedia Commons)

Nov. 19, 2022 by David Silverberg

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) of Florida wants everyone to just chill.

“We just finished this election, okay?” an exasperated DeSantis told a crowd during an appearance Wednesday, Nov. 16, in the devastated Lee County community of Matlacha. “People just need to chill out a little bit on some of this stuff, I mean seriously. We just ran an election.”

DeSantis was addressing the agitation caused by former President Donald Trump’s announcement of his 2024 presidential candidacy the night before.

DeSantis would certainly like everyone to chill out; it’s in his political interest. But that’s not likely for a number of reasons.

The terrible twos

Anyone who has ever been in the position of anticipating a future promotion contingent on someone else’s departure or retirement knows the feeling.

Imagine that you’ve been anointed the next chief executive or manager (or editor) of a business. The promotion seems nearly certain but there’s the tortuous interval until it occurs. Anything can upset the apple cart: you might screw things up with a dumb remark; your enemies or competitors are circling to stop you; your boss may change his mind; the whole situation may alter; or the company could go completely belly-up. What’s more, you still have to do your existing job well without any mistakes or foul-ups while carefully maneuvering toward your goal.

For DeSantis, the opportunity to be the Republican nominee—not president, nominee—is two years away and that is an agonizingly long time in politics.

Right now DeSantis is riding high off his undeniably overwhelming election victory. He’s being hailed as the leader of the national Republican Party, he’s being praised and lauded; he’s the golden child of the donor class.

DeSantis is at a peak. The problem is that the peak is two years too soon.

Because of his prominence, DeSantis is now everyone’s target: Democrats, Republicans, members of Congress, partisans of all kinds and just about anyone who doesn’t want to see him become president has him in their sights. He’s the guy to beat.

And there is one person who looms above and beyond all other rivals and impediments and lives a mere 420 miles away from Tallahassee in the same great sun-drenched state.

Donald vs. Ronald

No matter how much the media may dismiss him, Rupert Murdoch may diminish him, Ivanka may avoid him and Merrick Garland may indict him, it’s clear that in Donald Trump’s head he’s a real, serious and viable candidate for president in 2024.

For Trump, DeSantis appeared as a rival for a long time and he began taking potshots early, culminating in his “Ron DeSanctimonious” insult delivered on Nov. 5. Trump has threatened to release damaging information and called him “an average REPUBLICAN Governor with great Public Relations,” [capitalization, of course, his] which to Trump is a killing blow right there.

Given that a leopard can’t change his spots and Trump can’t tame his tongue, the public can expect Trump to keep intensifying his insults, his threats and his attacks as he tries to tear down the man who was once his apprentice but who now looms as his overlord. In fact, his fulminations are likely to intensify the more desperate he becomes. Indeed, Trump may succeed in peeling away some of DeSantis’ luster and turning some of the most fanatical Florida Trumpers against the governor.

No doubt DeSantis would like to answer in kind but he can’t, for several reasons.

One is that DeSantis is not an announced candidate for president and likely won’t be until the summer of 2024, when he formally gets the Republican nomination for president. Florida has a “resign to run law” that would require him to step down.

Title IX, Chapter 99, Section 99.012 of the Florida Statutes states:

(2) No person may qualify as a candidate for more than one public office, whether federal, state, district, county, or municipal, if the terms or any part thereof run concurrently with each other.

(3)(a) No officer may qualify as a candidate for another state, district, county, or municipal public office if the terms or any part thereof run concurrently with each other without resigning from the office he or she presently holds.

(b) The resignation is irrevocable.

Under current law, DeSantis can’t be both governor and presidential candidate, no matter how obvious his intention to seek the presidency.

However, given the long lead time to the presidential race and DeSantis’ absolute and unrestricted rule over a supine Florida legislature, it is not inconceivable that the legislature could change the law to benefit DeSantis before 2024.

Until that happens, though, DeSantis has to remain unannounced and just take the slings and arrows that his enemy hurls at him. No wonder he wants everyone to chill: it’s in his interest to avoid a presidential contest until the moment he steps onto the stage of the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee to accept the nomination in the late summer of 2024—and irrevocably resigns as governor of Florida.

Additionally, the presidential race will be a huge distraction from doing his day job for the next two years. As it stands, Trump is going to be throwing brickbats and abuse every hour of every day or at least whenever his attention turns to the governor. No matter how low Trump’s own status goes, DeSantis has to deal with Trump’s unrelenting efforts to seize the media spotlight and block his path to the presidency.

But DeSantis has his comforts. Trump will be tied up in investigations and possible criminal indictments, so he will be distracted by that. If DeSantis is lucky, Trump will self-destruct or implode or—rather unlikely—actually be punished for his transgressions. At the least he’ll be mired in legal proceedings. If all goes well, DeSantis will only have to sit back and watch.

So if DeSantis had his druthers, everyone would forget about the presidency until the most propitious possible moment in 2024.

Why wait?

George Conway, husband of Trump White House advisor Kellyanne Conway and a fierce Twitter critic of the president his wife served, has suggested that DeSantis just sit out the 2024 race and run in 2028. After all, DeSantis would only be 50 years old then, still in the prime of life.

While that makes sense from a purely political calculation, it overlooks several factors.

One is momentum. DeSantis right now is on a roll. He’s the great white hope, the favored alternative, the triumphant warrior and MAGA knight in shining armor. He’s Trumpism with a human face. For him to suddenly declare his disinterest in the coming contest would be to squander and dissipate all that energy and hope—which he might never recover. American history is littered with politicians who waited to seize their opportunity only to see their chances pass by.

Second, at the moment his likely presidential opponent is President Joe Biden who will be 81 years old in 2024. Biden has never achieved high approval ratings and is not likely to do so in the future. He will be further weakened by two years of unremitting investigations and attacks from House Republicans. If Biden is the candidate in 2024, he’s someone DeSantis has a reasonable chance of defeating. If DeSantis waits until 2028, there’s no telling who his opponent might be. Furthermore, given a volatile and increasingly unpredictable world, it’s difficult to anticipate the circumstances of the 2028 election.

Third, DeSantis won reelection with a massive war chest of $200 million. The donors who contributed to that fund weren’t just contributing to a governor of Florida; they were investing in the next president of the United States. Nor were they investing in a 2028 president, they were investing for two years from now. These donors are a powerful force in DeSantis’ base, if one that’s out of public sight. It’s hard to imagine that these donors aren’t encouraging and, when necessary, pressuring DeSantis to run—and those are voices DeSantis can’t ignore.

Lastly, DeSantis himself is not a wait-around kind of guy, no matter how calm he’s trying to be. He’s aggressive and impatient and willing to test boundaries.

For all these reasons, a DeSantis delay appears unlikely. It’s safe to bet that the contest is on for 2024.

The physical threat

Given Trump’s propensity for excusing, encouraging and inciting violence, this is an issue that has to be seriously considered in evaluating a Trump-DeSantis rivalry.

After all, Trump incited an insurrection at the US Capitol and encouraged a mob to try to lynch his Vice President. One of his adherents nearly killed Paul Pelosi with a hammer when he couldn’t break the kneecaps of the Speaker of the House. He’s also the man who said he could get away with shooting someone in the middle of New York’s Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters.

It is not beyond the realm of serious possibility that Trump could attempt to have DeSantis murdered or inspire his more ardent followers to attempt to kill the governor. Physical violence is always a danger in heated political contests but not since the Civil War has the threat been so immediate and real, with a prominent public individual encouraging it.

Clearly, DeSantis could be removed by physical means to Trump’s benefit. Until Trump makes a seemingly sincere, unambiguous and very public statement condemning and abhorring all violence, DeSantis and his entire family will be in danger from Trump and his extremist followers.

Given that he created a state military force answerable only to himself, one presumes that DeSantis’ “Flaetorian” Guard will keep him safe and whole for the next two years. But that safety and security is not to be taken for granted.

Taking the hits

So for the next two years DeSantis may have to be a bit of a punching bag rather than a boxer. He has to take the hits his main rival delivers without hitting back as an announced candidate. For a vigorous and aggressive politician, that’s hard to do. No doubt he’ll land some snide and snarky punches of his own. However, delivering a real knockout blow might offend the Trumper fanatics who will otherwise come to DeSantis’ corner if they have no other choice.  

It also bears remembering that while Trump may be the most prominent DeSantis rival he’s far from the only one. There’s also Gov. Greg Abbott (R) of Texas, with whom DeSantis has dueled using migrant asylum seekers as pawns. In his own state there’s the badly damaged Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), whose presidential ambitions could flare at any time. When Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) isn’t being booed at New York baseball games he’s either flying to Cancun or running for president. And there are others, hovering in the background like a swarm of mosquitos on a warm Florida evening.

It’s more than likely that DeSantis will be very active during the next two years. He won’t be overtly campaigning but expect him to be flying all over the country making speeches, raising money, building connections, endorsing candidates and campaigning without officially campaigning.

But it may not come to a knock-down, drag out battle. One plausible scenario is that Trump will give up his presidential ambitions and endorse DeSantis in return for a promise of a full presidential pardon of all crimes if DeSantis becomes president. However, that would require a rational calculation by Trump, for which he has not shown a proclivity to date.

All this also supposes some pretty big assumptions: that the United States will retain its current constitutional order; that elections will happen on time; that America will stay a democracy; that Florida won’t wash into the sea; and that war, famine, plague and death won’t end the world as we know it.

No one can really know for certain in advance. But it is fairly safe to say that in days to come Donald Trump will be as vile and bitter and vicious as he has always been and that Ronald DeSantis will still be as ambitious and dismissive and arrogant as he has proven so far.

At the very least it will make for a colorful fight card and give Floridians a ringside seat.

Although maybe, for once, DeSantis is right. Maybe it’s better to chill.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

When elephants battle: Trump, DeSantis and the future of the MAGAverse

Two elephants battle. (Photo: Tharindu Somarathna, Wikimedia Commons)

Nov. 12, 2022 by David Silverberg

There’s an old African proverb: “When the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.”

In Florida the elephants are braying and stomping. They’re about to clash in mortal combat. When they collide, it’s going to be painful to be underfoot.

One elephant, of course, is Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who resoundingly won his reelection bid as Florida governor and has done nothing to disguise his 2024 presidential ambitions.

The other is former President Donald Trump who may announce his own bid for the presidency on Tuesday, Nov. 15. He began disparaging his one-time protégé as “Ron DeSanctimonious” at a campaign rally on Saturday, Nov. 5.

Actually, the battle won’t be hard at all for Democrats, liberals and progressives who already reject both men. But Florida Republicans, MAGAts and Trumpers, especially in the deeply conservative far-right southwest corner of the state, are going to have to make a very tough decision.

Sen. Rick Scott

One Florida Man appears to have already made his choice. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), had presidential aspirations of his own. However, his less than stellar performance as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee overseeing the election of a Republican Senate seems to have dampened or extinguished that aspiration.

The evidence of this came when Trump endorsed Scott to be Senate Majority Leader in an interview Trump did on his airplane, which was published on Election Day.

Trump is seeking revenge against Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) who had the temerity to fix responsibility for the Jan. 6 insurrection on him.

“McConnell has been very bad for our nation,” Trump said. “He has been very bad for the Republican Party. I would be in favor of somebody else — McConnell has done a very bad job.”

Scott, said Trump, is a “likely candidate” for McConnell’s job in the event of a Trump 2024 victory.

“I think Rick Scott is a likely candidate — he hates the guy,” Trump said of Scott’s feelings towards McConnell. “He’s tough — he’s tough, and I think he would probably go for it. He’d have a lot of support.”

Scott’s presidential ambition only glowed in light of the possibility of Trump not seeking the presidency. Trump’s endorsement seems to indicate that Scott has put that ambition in abeyance.

As of this writing Scott had not issued a public statement regarding Trump’s remarks. He was still awaiting the results of the last nail-biting Senate races and faced the Dec. 6 Senate runoff election in Georgia.

But given Scott’s well-documented friction with DeSantis it certainly seems that this Florida Man has made his choice.

Rep. Byron Donalds

Rep. Byron Donalds, President Donald Trump and spouses in Naples, Fla., at a private fundraising event in December 2021. (Photo: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

Perhaps no one faces a bigger choice with more consequences than Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.).

Donalds was endorsed by Trump in December 2021 for his congressional reelection bid. From the beginning of his congressional campaign he made his loyalty to Trump part of his tagline: “I’m everything the fake news media says doesn’t exist: a Trump supporting, liberty loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man.”

At the same time, Donalds has been a supporter of DeSantis and has been sure to appear behind the governor in numerous photos and events. He has praised DeSantis’ handling of the COVID pandemic and his response to Hurricane Ian.

Donalds has ambitions of his own. Having won reelection, he now has his eye on the third slot in the Republican House caucus, head of the conference, and has formally announced his bid for the position. Ironically, the election for the position is scheduled on the same day as Trump’s expected announcement, Tuesday, Nov. 15.

In seeking the seat he is going against the current holder, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-21-NY), who is widely seen as overwhelmingly favored by her fellow Republicans, including the entire congressional leadership.

In this inside-player election, Trump’s endorsement carries considerable weight. Trump has snubbed Donalds before and once again, despite Donalds’ slavish loyalty he did it again in his airplane interview.

“I think she’s fantastic,” Trump said of Stefanik without mentioning Donalds, either forgetting or ignoring him.

To date, Donalds has not issued any statement reacting to Trump’s endorsement.

He did, however, issue a tweet on Saturday, Nov. 12, denying a report that he favored DeSantis over Trump in 2024. That came from Fox News personality Jacqui Heinrich who quoted a “House GOP source” as saying Donalds was saying that to Republican members of Congress in his bid to win the conference chair.

“I’m a big fan of Jacqui Heinrich’s reporting, but her ‘GOP source’ is lying,” Donalds tweeted in reply. “My only focus is Tuesday’s vote to become the next Chair of the GOP Conference.”

Alfie Oakes

Officially, the only public position that Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III, the grocer and farmer holds is that of Collier County Republican Party committeeman. However, following the midterm election, he is effectively the political boss of Collier County, Florida, since all his endorsed and funded candidates won their elections. They will likely follow his dictates in their policymaking when they take office in January.

Oakes has always been an ardent Trumper. After talking to Trump on a phone call on Dec. 22. 2020, Oakes posted: “I love our president and his family with every bit of my being! I love all that he has given for our country and all that he stands for! May God bless our great President Donald Trump, his family, his team and all of the 75 million patriots that support him!”

Oakes has also been a DeSantis supporter and has praised his performance as governor.

So which way will Oakes go this time? As of this writing, none of Alfie’s social media postings have made this clear. He also did not respond to a phone call from The Paradise Progressive.

Once Alfie makes his preference known, it should have an impact among his followers, both on social media and among his customers.

Whichever way he goes, one thing is certain, though. He can’t have it both ways.

A land with two capitals and two popes

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, the capital of the United States shifted to the great state of Florida—and that’s where it’s likely to stay for the next two years.

Of course, the regular, permanent seat of government and official capital is right where it has always been, in Washington, DC.

But the United States actually has two capitals.

Washington is just one. The second is the campaign capital. It’s wherever the hottest political action is at the moment. In presidential election years it’s wherever a caucus or primary or other event is deciding the next president of the United States.

For the next two years, Florida will be the campaign capital of the United States. It’s where the battles will take place. It’s the launching pad for two plausible presidential campaigns (or two-and-a-half if Rick Scott is included) and it’s where the media spotlight has turned and is likely to stay until the Republican nomination is clinched.

As of right now, the complete Republican dominance of the governorship, the legislature and the judiciary makes Florida a single-party polity under the absolute rule of Gov. Ron DeSantis (something The Paradise Progressive has characterized as “Florumpia”).

But like the supposedly universal Catholic Church in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Florumpia now has two popes. One is certainly bent on destroying the other for the heresy of being more popular, actually winning his election and failing to pay proper homage. The other pope is not going to accept this lying down.

For true believers in MAGAtism, this presents an enormous dilemma. It is one that is scheduled to culminate at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisc., in the summer of 2024.

But in the long time before then, true believers have to choose sides. Given Donald Trump’s unyielding, absolutist, demand for obedience, there is no middle path.

That’s what total fanaticism gets a true believer: total submission to another’s will or excommunication from sunshine into the eternal fires of Hell.

Or put another way: that’s what it feels like to be trampled by an elephant.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Reading the tea leaves from Southwest Florida’s primary election

I see a need to clean a cup in your future. (Photo: Author)

Aug. 26, 2022 by David Silverberg

Getting lessons from elections can be like reading tea leaves at the bottom of a cup—just about anything can be deduced from the dark, soggy jumble.

But elections have consequences and so discerning trends from voting patterns becomes important. And when democracy, governance and representation are on the line, making sense of it all becomes downright critical.

What is to be made of the primary elections held Tuesday, Aug. 23, in Southwest Florida? This analysis is based on official returns from the supervisors of elections in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties.

Turnout was low

As is to be expected in a late August primary in steamy Southwest Florida, turnout was low.

In Collier County, only 29.7 percent, of eligible voters turned out. In Lee County, that came to 26.57 percent of eligible voters. In Charlotte County, it was 26.77 percent.

This was down from 2020’s totals. In the last election cycle 36.3 percent of voters turned out for the primary in Collier County, 31.67 percent in Lee County and 21 percent for Charlotte County.

Then again, 2020 was a presidential election year, it was a referendum on Donald Trump’s presidency and it took place in the midst of a pandemic, so the intensity of the electorate was reflected in the primary.

Mail-in voting is here to stay—and favored by voters

In 2020, while mail-in balloting was hardly new, it was newly controversial and strenuously denounced by Trump.

But this year’s balloting seems to show that despite the denunciations and recently enacted restrictions on drop-boxes and verification, mail-in voting remains popular and widely used. This year, mail-in ballots accounted for 54 percent of Collier County ballots, 66 percent of Lee’s and 53 percent of Charlotte’s.

Clearly, legislative restrictions and increased complications placed in the way of easy mail-in balloting have not dampened enthusiasm for this form of voting.

What is more, this is an especially favored form of voting for the many Southwest Florida residents who are away during the days of August.

Did DeSantis make a difference for school board candidates?

In both Collier and Lee counties, the school board elections remain unresolved in all but one race where a candidate won an outright majority and thereby the election.

In an unprecedented move this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) reached down the ballot to endorse candidates in what are usually non-partisan elections. He aided candidates with publicity, cash and favorable mentions to advance his “education agenda.”

According to the non-profit website, Florida Phoenix, “of DeSantis’ 30 endorsed candidates, 19 appear to have won their races and five lost on primary night. The other six appear to be either in runoff situations or advancing to the general election based on election data and local coverage.”

Locally, in District 5 of the Lee County School Board, Armor Persons won with 54.85 percent of the vote.

The other local DeSantis-endorsed candidate was Sam Fisher in District 1. He came in with 43.34 percent of the vote, not enough to elect him outright. He will be facing incumbent Kathy Fanny, who took 30.91 percent of the vote.

This indicates that at least in Lee County, a DeSantis school board endorsement does not automatically result in a school board victory for the favored candidate.

That said, in District 1, Fisher did out-poll Fanny, who now must use the time until November to close the gap.

Thanks to DeSantis’ intervention, school board races are now actually part of the 2024 presidential campaign and one more mile marker on his road to the White House. His credibility is on the line for every candidate he endorses.

In Florida, school boards are not your parents’ sleepy, down-ballot elections any more.

Collier County school board incumbents have to up their game

All the Collier County school board races will be decided in the general election in November.

Interestingly, despite the MAGA (Make America Great Again) nature of some Collier County school board candidates, DeSantis did not endorse any of them.

This makes for what should be an intense and active race to November. The incumbents, Jory Westberry in District 1, Jen Mitchell in District 3 and Roy Terry in District 5 must use the next two months to energize and broaden their campaigns while their opponents, Jerry Rutherford, Kelly Lichter and Tim Moshier, will be doing the same.

The incumbents, all of whom have dedicated their lives and careers to education, have tended not to view their elections as the all-out political struggle their challengers did. For the most part, they continued to see the election as the relatively quiet ratification process it was in the past, interesting only to a small group of parents and professionals.

However, the school board election is now part of a much larger ideological struggle. If serious, sensible, secular education in Collier County is to be maintained, Westberry, Mitchell and Terry need to approach their races much more intently, raise more money—which their challengers are certainly doing—and become much more energetic.

The Moshier mess

Timothy Moshier’s Collier County school board campaign in District 5 deserves special attention following the revelation that Katie Paige Richards, who claimed to be his campaign manager, posted a blatantly anti-Semitic video on social media. When asked, Moshier initially stated that he had “no problem with it.”

When the story was covered in The Naples Daily News (NDN), Moshier’s response was to claim that she wasn’t his campaign manager and that his wife was Jewish (presumably absolving him of all responsibility). He and his lawyers demanded a retraction and threatened a lawsuit.

The Collier County Republican Party issued a statement to Republicans saying, “The NDN is using fake news and selective reporting of facts to destroy Tim. That way, they can assure a continued liberal majority on the Collier County School Board.” It added: “He will not allow last-minute and despicable assaults on his character by the NDN and leftists to defeat him.”

However, for all their defensiveness and outrage, neither Moshier nor the Party denounced anti-Semitism in principle or the lies propagated by Richards, who asserted that Jews are using their supposed control of the media to promote pornography to brainwash white males. Neither Richards, nor Moshier, nor the Collier County Republican Party has repudiated that slander or anti-Semitism in general.

It needs to be pointed out that Moshier, a trucking company executive, has no educational credentials or school administrative experience whatsoever. During a school board candidate panel on May 21st, he called for cuts in the Collier County school budget—at a time when the school district is struggling to retain and attract underpaid teachers among many other needs.

What a more sensible and less defensive county Republican Party might have been expected to do is issue a statement condemning anti-Semitism, saying it has no part in the Republican Party, that it’s un-American and un-patriotic and completely rebuking and repudiating Richards and her delusional allegations.

This case is still open.

The meaning of MAGA for Collier County

MAGA candidates Chris Hall and Daniel Kowal won their races for Collier County Board of Commissioners in districts 2 and 4.

Incumbent Penny Taylor was defeated in District 4. Hall will face Democrat Barbara “Bebe” Kanter in District 2 in the November election.

After Taylor’s defeat, Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III, the extremely conservative farmer and grocer and Republican committeeman who endorsed and backed both candidates, posted on Facebook: “Ding dong the witch is dead,” above a picture of Taylor, with the label, “Walking Dead auditions.”

Alfie Oakes’ post-election Facebook post of Collier County Commissioner Penny Taylor. (Image: Facebook)

“That was just in fun,” Oakes said of the post to The Paradise Progressive in a phone interview. “I wish her all the best. It doesn’t come with any ill-intent. I told her [at the time of the Collier County Commission vote in July 2020] that if she masked the people I would make it my purpose to defeat her.”

When Taylor voted to impose a county-wide mask mandate at the height of the pandemic, Oakes posted a picture of her and two other county commissioners in Nazi-esque helmets outside his Seed to Table market. He helped fund Hall and Kowal’s campaigns through the Citizens Awake Now Political Action Committee, of which he is president.

More substantively, the likely elections of Hall and Kowal will place a solid MAGA majority on the Collier County Board of Commissioners.

It’s difficult to say exactly how their election will impact the county’s development, infrastructure and budgeting, given that neither made those issues a priority in their campaigns.

According to Hall’s campaign website, “God, his word, love, and ways, (virtue) has to be reinstated in our nation, our states, our counties, and cities. It’s the only way America won’t fail.” He complained that Andy Solis, the outgoing commissioner, voted for mask mandates, shut down beaches during the pandemic, voted against a sanctuary ordinance for guns and one to nullify federal law and allowed businesses to require vaccinations.

Kowal, a former Collier County deputy sheriff, ran a campaign for Congress in 2020 that mostly consisted of a bare-bones website. This time he stated on his website he was running for commissioner because he is “Pro-Clean Water, Pro-Limited Government, Pro-Second Amendment, Pro-Law Enforcement, Pro-Life, Pro-Military.” He also states “I stand for clean water, safe streets and sustainable growth.”

With a MAGA majority on the county council, the county will no doubt be primed to resist any future public health measures that commissioners find inconvenient, no matter how compelling or immediate the threat.

At the very least, a MAGA-dominated Commission calls into question the handling of all the county’s relations with the federal government—and this on top of the DeSantis-dominated state government’s hostility to Washington, DC.

For Oakes, the election may close a chapter in his contentious relations with the county government.

“I just think that the people are speaking,” he said of the results. “They don’t want this wokeness, and they don’t want this radical liberalism.”

As for the results of the election benefiting himself and his business, he said that was not his primary motivation in supporting these candidates. “I’m just happy that the people in Collier County have candidates who uphold the Constitution and America first,” he said.

In statewide races, Southwest Florida tracked the rest of the state

The big statewide race that received the most attention was the contest in the Democratic Party to see whether Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.) or Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried would be nominated to challenge DeSantis.

Crist won that primary statewide by 59.71 percent to Fried’s 35.34 percent. This proved to be true locally as well, with Crist winning Collier County by 57.1 percent, Lee by 53.65 percent and Charlotte by 57.08 percent.

This contrasts with 2018 when regional Democrats favored more conservative candidates over the eventual statewide winner, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. It proved that Southwest Florida Democrats are more temperamentally conservative in contrast to their brethren elsewhere.

It would be very interesting to know if Southwest Florida Democratic women favored Fried over Crist in light of the two candidates’ battle over their respective commitments to women’s choice. Fried was counting on a female groundswell to lift her to the nomination. It didn’t happen statewide. Did it happen in Southwest Florida? What might the results mean for the general election on Nov. 8? Just how much will the overthrow of Roe v. Wade factor into people’s next ballot?

Regrettably, the official tallies don’t provide those answers since there’s no gender breakdown in the statistics. There’s a real need in this region for serious, sustained, professional public opinion polling with publicly reported results.

Until we get those kinds of scientific surveys we’ll just have to deduce what we can from the results that we get—and read whatever we can from the tea leaves in the bottoms of our cups.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Jim Huff, Congress and the courage to be civil

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

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

July 8, 2022 by David Silverberg

These days it takes courage to simply be civil.

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

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

But Jim Huff has that courage.

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

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

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

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

Candidate Jim Huff. (Photo: Author)

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

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

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

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

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

Florida transplant

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

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

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

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

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

Mission-oriented

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republicanism and rationality

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

He says he has three main priorities as a candidate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restoring civility

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

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

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

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

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

Liberty lives in light

©2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Banyai emerges as leading pro-choice voice in Southwest Florida politics

Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai exhorts the crowd in Fort Myers, Fla., at a demonstration denouncing the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, this past Saturday, June 25. (Photo: Campaign)

June 27, 2022 by David Silverberg

In the wake of the US Supreme Court’s ruling last Friday, June 24, to overthrow the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion, Cindy Banyai, the Democratic candidate for Congress in the 19th Congressional District, has emerged as the leading political candidate supporting women’s choice in Southwest Florida.

All regional Republican officeholders and candidates are either on the record against choice, praised the decision or have not expressed an opinion.

In a lengthy statement issued the day of the decision in the case of Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Banyai stated: “The day we feared has come. Far right extremists have succeeded in stripping us of our rights. The partisan corruption of the Supreme Court has eroded trust in our institutions. The Dobbs ruling is yet another blow to our democracy and to freedom.”

Banyai, the mother of three, continued: “I believe we all deserve human dignity, to live life on our own terms. This means deciding when and where to have a family. Failing to recognize abortion as health care and the value of body autonomy will put lives in danger.

“The partisan corruption of the Supreme Court has eroded trust in our institutions. The Dobbs ruling is yet another blow to our democracy and to freedom.”

However, she exhorted her audience: “Do not lose hope, though. We must keep fighting—for our rights, for our children, and our democracy.”

Republican reaction

Given Southwest Florida’s Republican dominance, Banyai’s stance makes her the region’s only pro-choice political figure.

Banyai’s opponent, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), praised the Supreme Court’s ruling and has long been on the record against women’s choice, making it a fundamental part of his 2020 election campaign.

Among the region’s state legislators, state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Naples), the incoming president of the Florida Senate, was also quick to praise the Dobbs decision.

“I am grateful to see the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade. These defenders of the Constitution have given the states rights to do what is right. Here in Florida, we will continue to defend life,” she tweeted following the decision announcement.

While retiring state Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Fort Myers) has not issued a statement on the Dobbs decision, during his campaign for office in 2020 the nastiest charge that his supporters could hurl against his primary opponent, Heather Fitzenhagen, was that she supported choice, to the point that she was said to be a clone of House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.).

As of this writing, Jonathan Martin, head of the Lee County Republican Party and the primary candidate seeking to succeed Rodrigues in the newly-drawn 33rd Senate District, had not commented or stated a position on the Dobbs decision.

In Florida the defining legislation on choice was the Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality Act (House Bill (HB) 5), which put new restrictions on abortions in the state, prohibiting them after 15 weeks of pregnancy. It was approved by the House by a vote of 78 to 39 on Feb. 17, approved by the Senate by a vote of 23 to 15 on March 3 and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on April 14. It goes into effect this coming Friday, July 1.

Lee and Collier counties’ state representatives, all Republicans, voted for HB 5.

Statewide response

On a statewide basis the picture was different but predictable, with Republicans praising the decision and Democrats condemning it.

DeSantis issued a statement: “For nearly fifty years, the U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited virtually any meaningful pro-life protection, but this was not grounded in the text, history or structure of the Constitution. By properly interpreting the Constitution, the Dobbs majority has restored the people’s role in our republic and a sense of hope that every life counts. Florida will continue to defend its recently-enacted pro-life reforms against state court challenges, will work to expand pro-life protections, and will stand for life by promoting adoption, foster care and child welfare.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidates condemned the decision.

Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.): “Today’s Supreme Court decision to overturn nearly fifty years of progress by dismantling Roe v. Wade is shameful, harmful, and wrong. Without the protections of Roe, radical Republican governors and legislators, including those in Tallahassee, will now have the power to outlaw abortion entirely, regardless of the circumstances.”

State Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried: “This is a tragic day for women in America. The freedom to make our own choices about our lives, our bodies, and our healthcare is fundamental to our humanity. It’s absolutely devastating to have those rights taken away. It’s not an exaggeration to say that women and girls will die as a result of this decision.” She vowed: “In Florida, for now, we still have a provision in our state constitution that protects abortion rights – although that is in question as well. I promise that we will fight with everything we have to keep that from being overturned.”

Both of Florida’s Republican US senators praised the decision while Democratic senatorial candidate Val Demings condemned it.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

After week without announcement, Oakes Ag bid seems unlikely

Alfie Oakes on the Tucker Carlson show on April 28. (Image: BitChute)
 

May 27, 2022 by David Silverberg

After a week without an announcement of his candidacy, a bid for state Agriculture Commissioner by Alfie Oakes (Francis Alfred Oakes III) appears unlikely.

Last Wednesday, May 18, Oakes told The Paradise Progressive that he would decide by week’s end whether to run for state Agriculture Commissioner, a position being vacated by Democrat Nicole “Nikki” Fried, who is running for governor. During an April 28 interview at which he made his interest in the position known, he promised Fox News host Tucker Carlson that he would make the announcement on his show. As of this writing, no announcement has been made.

Oakes, an extremely conservative farmer and grocer based in Naples, did not respond to repeated calls and a text message from The Paradise Progressive.

As of today, May 27, there are 88 days until the Aug. 23 primary election, a very late date to mount any kind of campaign, especially a statewide one that would have to reach all of Florida.

The leading candidate for the seat is state Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-10-Citrus County), outgoing president of the state Senate and an egg farmer. In addition to endorsements from former president Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), in the past week Simpson was endorsed by anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and Florida Family Action, a politically conservative social action organization.

He has also been endorsed by the National Rifle Association and Unified Sportsmen of Florida as well as the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Police Benevolent Association.

In addition to Simpson the Florida Division of Elections lists six candidates for the office: Democrats Jacques “JR” Gaillot and Ryan Morales and Republicans James Shaw and Bob White. Businessman Chuck Nadd, although still listed, dropped out of the race when DeSantis endorsed Simpson.

Liberty lives in light

©2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Alfie Oakes to decide whether to run for state Agriculture Commissioner

Alfie Oakes on the Tucker Carlson show on April 28. (Image: BitChute)

May 18, 2022 by David Silverberg

Alfie Oakes, the prominent and outspoken farmer and grocer based in Naples, Fla., known for his extremely conservative political views, will announce in one week whether he is running for state Agriculture Commissioner, he told The Paradise Progressive in an exclusive telephone interview today.

After announcing on April 28 that he was considering a run, Alfie (Francis Alfred Oakes III) told The Paradise Progressive he remains undecided about a bid.

“I likely won’t know for a week,” he said as he weighs his options. “It will be an uphill battle for sure.” In an interview the day before, he acknowledge that “it’s getting really late” to jump in the race.

Oakes is owner of the Seed to Table market and is president of the Citizens Awake Now Political Action Committee, which is backing conservative candidates in Southwest Florida. He is also a Collier County State Republican Committeeman for District 4.

If he ran, Oakes would be up against Wilton Simpson, president of the Florida state Senate, who has been endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and former President Donald Trump and is currently considered the leading contender for the position—but Oakes said he’s a weak candidate.

“He’s a pay-to-play guy,” he said.

In the telephone interview, yesterday, May 17, Oakes acknowledged that “it’s getting really late” to jump into the race. “I don’t know now if I’ll run or sit out this cycle. I haven’t made that determination.”

Oakes met with one of the current candidates for commissioner yesterday but said he had not decided whether to endorse.

Oakes revealed that he was thinking of running for Agriculture Commissioner in an April 28 interview with Fox News personality Tucker Carlson. Oakes was interviewed on the online Tucker Carlson Today show, which streamed on the alternative video platform, BitChute.

At the very end of the hour-long interview—minute 57:40—which chiefly covered Oakes’ commercial history and issues facing the farming business, Carlson asked Oakes about his political plans.

“Alfie Oakes, when you run for office and I hope you will, call and we’ll announce on our show,” said Carlson.

“Well, if I do, I will be blessed to come up here and I am thinking about it. I really thought about making a run for Commissioner or Agriculture for the state of Florida,” he said, adding, “I’ve given it a lot of thought.”

The position of Commissioner of Agriculture is an elected Cabinet position with a four-year term. The commissioner is fourth in line of succession to the governor after the lieutenant governor, attorney general, and chief financial officer.

The Commissioner is charged with supporting and regulating Florida’s agriculture industry, conserving soil and water resources, managing state forests, protecting consumers from unfair trade practices, and ensuring the safety and wholesomeness of food in the marketplace, according to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services website.

The current officeholder is Nicole “Nikki” Fried, who was elected in 2018 and is the only Democrat to hold statewide office. She is currently running for governor.

To date three candidates are seeking the office, according to the state Division of Elections. Ryan Morales, a businessman based in Clermont, is the only Democrat. In addition to Simpson, the other Republican candidates are Richard Earl Olle and James Shaw, a farmer. Another declared candidate, Chuck Napp, dropped out of the race when Simpson entered it.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is Naples no-show; sends video speech instead

Patriot Fest in Sugden Regional Park focuses on local candidates; urges political involvement

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (on screen at left) speaks to attendees of Patriot Fest in Naples’ Sugden Park on Saturday, March 19. (Photo: Author)

March 21, 2022 by David Silverberg

On Saturday, March 19, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-14-Ga.), the controversial right wing member of Congress promoted as the headliner for the third Patriot Fest held in Naples, Fla., did not appear in person as advertised, instead sending a pre-recorded video speech.

Greene’s speech was subdued and mainly urged listeners to get involved in politics at the local level, the chief theme of the gathering.

“Now, you know we have a problem in the Republican Party and those are the Republicans like Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham and all of the RINOs [Republicans in Name Only] who sell us out,” she said. “They only talk good on TV but they never follow through with the right actions. What I’m calling on all of you to do is, going into this election cycle, make sure you’re supporting good Republican candidates, America First candidates that you have vetted and that you know are going to do the job they say they’re going to do on the campaign trail but they will actually do it when they get to Washington.”

For the most part, Greene’s roughly 7-minute speech consisted of standard conservative orthodoxy. She denounced a lack of attention to the southern border, high inflation and gas prices and condemned what she saw as greater concern with the global economy than domestic economics.

Brendon Leslie, an independent conservative journalist, event organizer and master of ceremonies, attributed Greene’s absence to demonstrations, although no demonstrators were apparent outside Sugden Regional Park in east Naples during her address.

The festival at its height attracted perhaps 400 attendees in this author’s estimation. Alfie Oakes, the extremely conservative local farmer and grocer and key organizer of the event, announced that over 1,000 tickets were sold. General admission cost $25 and special access tickets cost $150. Food trucks provided food and tents promoted various candidates for office as well as consumer products.

Seventeen speakers were scheduled. Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno, although listed as a speaker, did not attend.

The main point of the festival was to showcase and promote local candidates supporting a far-right agenda and encourage political involvement by attendees.

This was driven home in a speech by Oakes.

“I want every single person who hears my voice to go out and find five other people to show up for the primary and make sure that they vote for strong people,” he exhorted the crowd. “Do your homework. The reason we’re in this situation right now is because we have not been doing our homework, we’re voting for whoever sounds good on TV, for whoever spends the most money to get name recognition and, unfortunately, those are almost always the wrong people.”

Oakes made the point that ideological fervor was the most important qualification for office.

“I don’t want to hear about what IQ someone has or what level of education someone has,” he said. “I graduated from North Fort Myers High School—a bunch of rednecks. Common sense and some back is all we need right now.”

He continued: “I want to get behind people that have backbone; that stand up, it’s the only way we’re going to take back this country, it’s the only chance. And school board is just a little microcosm of the same 535 [members of Congress] that are making the decisions. They just spent 1.5 trillion dollars in our federal government, the school board of Lee Country spends 2 billion dollars. If I were on the Lee County school board, I could put an extra billion dollars back into the taxpayer and get everybody probably a 300 percent better education, if you let a businessman run it. There’s so much corruption going on up there, it’s disgusting.”

Oakes said he would be collecting money for his Citizens Awake Now Political Action Committee and he endorsed candidates at the festival. In Lee County, this was Denise Nystrom for Lee County School Board District 6. Collier County School Board candidates were: Jerry Rutherford, District 1; Kelly Lichter, District 3; and Tim Moshier, District 5. For Collier County commission he endorsed Chris Hall for District 2; and Daniel Kowal for District 4.

Other candidates present at the festival included Anna Paulina Luna, who ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.) in the 2020 election and is running for the seat again and Drew Montez-Clark, who was collecting signatures to get on the ballot against Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) in the August 23 Republican primary.

Ukraine? What Ukraine?

During the proceedings Ukraine was only fleetingly mentioned. Greene noted the overseas crisis, although her focus was domestic: “While we all disagree with what Putin and Russia have done in Ukraine, we mourn for their people and their losses, we have got to urge our leaders to care about our country before it’s too late,” she said.

There was also concern expressed for the Jan. 6 rioters who are being prosecuted and convicted in increasing numbers.

Again, as Greene put it: “After several years of non-stop riots from Antifa leading into the summer of rage and BLM [Black Lives Matter] riots, we’re now seeing people being persecuted after going and walking around the Capitol on January 6th,” she said. “The Department of Justice is out of control. This is all the Democrats’ fault. Americans should always have their due process rights and never be treated like political prisoners of war.”

There were also numerous references to the need to preserve the United States as a Christian nation.

The crudest, most emotional—and loudest—speaker was musician Ted Nugent who led off the rally with an ear-splitting guitar rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.

The chief focus of Nugent’s speech was conservative voter apathy, although that was hardly the only target.

 “Worse than Democrats—if you can imagine—worse than the scourge of Marxist, Communist Liberalism, because that’s what it’s become, worse than that—you ready?” he roared.

A member of the audience shouted: “RINOs!”

Nugent responded: “RINOs are even worse, you’re right, because they have violated our faith in them. But worse than all that you can think of, worse than any of that, worse than doctor punk-ass Fauci, worse than Hillary Clinton, worse than Barack Obama and Eric Holder running illegal guns to Mexican gangs to kill my friend, Brian Terry, the Border Patrol agent from Michigan, worse than that—it’s hard to imagine worse than that! You know what’s worse than that? You had better take this home with you because Nancy Pelosi would like to thank you: people who think they stand up for the good of America and don’t even vote. Shame on you! Why don’t you just go up to a flag-draped coffin and piss on it? Is that a little harsh? Do you not need to hear this? If you don’t vote for the principles and the core belief that those soldiers and sailors and Marines and airmen have died for, then you’re worse than Nancy Pelosi because you invited her to bed.”

Analysis: Actually, a universal message

The atmosphere of Patriot Fest was a combination of country-western concert, county fair and political rally. The mood was upbeat and enthusiastic—and surprisingly un-angry among the crowd—but the underlying purpose was very serious.

Given its admission fee at the door, participants were already self-selected to be politically active, so despite the repeated exhortations this was not an apathetic crowd by any means. Attendance numbers did not necessarily indicate an overwhelming groundswell of popular commitment to this cause, the fervor of attendees notwithstanding.

However, the impact of that fervor is not to be underestimated. In relatively obscure down-ballot elections like school boards and county commissions, small numbers of committed voters and volunteers can make a big difference.

It needs to be remembered that while Oakes’ beliefs are sincere and intense he also has a big economic stake in the outcomes of these elections. He remains in litigation with the Lee County School Board over a contract with Oakes Farms that was canceled in 2020 following his public statements regarding George Floyd. He had a bitter dispute with the Collier County Commission over mask mandates that resulted in four lawsuits, all of which have now concluded in settlements or court defeats.

A change in school boards in both Lee and Collier counties and especially in the Collier County Commission could significantly alter the overall atmosphere and regulatory approach to his businesses.

However, there was also a universal message in this gathering that reached beyond partisanship—and that was the need for participation and activism by every citizen.

Of course, the speakers and organizers at Patriot Fest wanted attendees to get active and vote in order to implement their ideological program. But the opposition to inactivity and apathy applies to everyone, whether liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican—and especially to those who would defeat imposition of an extreme agenda.

As Oakes said: “This is a dire time. We’re not going to get another chance. This midterm 2022 election is the most crucial election of our lifetime. Don’t kid yourself.”

That’s perhaps overstating it a bit; after all, the 2020 election determined whether the United States would remain a democracy and independent of Russia. But he’s not wrong that the upcoming election is crucial, that its results will be significant and that it will be lost and won at the state, congressional, county and school board levels.

Greene, Oakes and the other Patriot Fest speakers may not have intended their message to include liberals, progressives, Democrats and RINOs but the idea that every citizen should be active, engaged and most of all, vote, applies to every American.

And that, after all, is what makes a true patriot.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

Banyai formally launches campaign, Donalds rejects infrastucture improvement: the SWFL state of play today

July 2, 2021 by David Silverberg

As Hurricane Elsa churns her way across the Atlantic Ocean, storms of a different kind are brewing in Southwest Florida.

Cindy Banyai (Photo: Banyai for Congress Campaign)

Even though the 2022 election is a year and a half away the wind is picking up as Cindy Banyai, last year’s Democratic candidate for the 19th Congressional District, formally launches her campaign against Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.).

Banyai is launching the campaign over the first 12 days of July with a variety of events.

Upcoming events to date are:

First endorsement

On June 21st Banyai announced the first endorsement of the campaign when she was endorsed by No Dem Left Behind, a Democratic organization that says it “has learned from experience that the most conservative districts in the country have Democratic candidates popular enough to beat a Republican opponent.”

The No Dem Left Behind logo.

The organization stated it was endorsing Banyai because she “is ready to roll up her sleeves and get to work, to be the voice in Washington D.C. for the people of her community.”

“This latest endorsement is a big step towards helping us change the narrative in Florida,” stated Banyai.

Donalds marks six months in office

July 3rd marks six months that Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has been in office.

In his most recent vote, Donalds voted against the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act (House Resolution (HR) 3684), which provides $550 billion for infrastructure and transportation improvements.

The bill passed the House yesterday, July 1, by a vote of 221 to 201.

In addition to Donalds, Southwest Florida’s other representatives, Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) voted against the bill.

Surfside collapse

In addition to voting against improving America’s infrastructure, Donalds took the time to attack Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm for daring to suggest that climate change might have had a role in the collapse of part of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida.

“I was appalled by [Jennifer Granholm’s] recent comments blaming sea level rise & climate change for the tragedy that has struck Surfside, FL. Stop using this disaster to fuel your political agenda,” he tweeted.

What was the terrible thing Granholm said?

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm

“We know that the seas are rising,” she said in an interview on CNN. “We know that we’re losing inches and inches of beach, it’s not just in Florida but all around. This is a phenomena that will continue. We’ll have to wait and see what the analysis is for this building but the issue about resiliency and making sure we adapt to this changing climate, that’s going to mean levees are going to have to be built, that means that sea walls need to be built, infrastructure needs to be built.”

Donalds was not unique in his ostentatious outrage over these comments. Conservative media are piling on—this in the wake of the condo collapse, the unprecedented heat dome over much of the country and the approach of Hurricane Elsa in the Atlantic.

It’s worth noting that while Donalds sent “thoughts and prayers” to the victims in Surfside, he voted against improving American infrastructure for the future.

Unfilled numbers

On June 24th, Donalds and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) introduced the Unnecessary Agency Regulations Reduction Act (HR 4132) “to consolidate or repeal unnecessary agency major rules, and for other purposes.”

However, in what has been a pattern, Donalds did not submit any text for the bill, just a name and number.

This means that the real work of legislation has not been done and there is no content, no thought and no substance to it. Nonetheless, Donalds was able to boast of a name and number in a press release.

A happy July 4th to all.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Publix: Where politics bring no pleasure

An in-depth look and analysis of the political past, present and future of the family and the franchise

A typical Publix supermarket near Jacksonville, Fla. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

April 15, 2021 by David Silverberg

Floridians know Publix as a grocery store and a giant chain of supermarkets—but increasingly they’re coming to know it as a political force.

That’s because Publix’s political involvement keeps popping into the public spotlight in embarrassing and usually not terribly flattering ways.

Just how much of a political force is Publix in Florida and nationally?  What is the nature of its political involvement and influence? What policies does it seek to influence or implement? Does it have an ideological agenda? And where is it headed?

Birth of a behemoth

George Jenkins, 1930

According to its official facts and figures, Publix was founded in 1930 in Winter Haven, Florida, by George Jenkins, who implemented a variety of new techniques and practices in his grocery business. In 1940 he mortgaged an orange grove he owned to open a state-of-the-art “food palace” that became a destination supermarket. Unable to physically expand during the Second World War because of construction restraints, he began buying other chains. After the war, Publix boomed with the rest of the economy—and with Florida.

Jenkins had seven children: Howard, David, Kenneth, Delores, Carol (now Barnett), Nancy and Julie (now Fancelli). He died in 1996 at age 88.

The first Publix location, taken in 2014. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Today Publix is a corporate behemoth with 1,270 stores in seven southeastern states. Of these, Florida has by far the largest number: 818. Georgia follows with 192 stores, then Alabama (80), South Carolina (63), North Carolina (49), Tennessee (49) and Virginia (19). The stores are supported by 11 manufacturing facilities and nine distribution centers. The entire corporation is headquartered in Lakeland, Fla.

Publix claims to be the largest employee-owned company in the United States and one of the 10 largest-volume supermarket chains in the country. It employs over 225,000 people and in 2019 had $38.1 billion in sales.

The Publix headquarters in Lakeland, Fla., 2012. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/John O’Neill)

Clearly, a corporation of this size interacts with government at all levels, handling everything from permitting to inspections to regulation to taxation and beyond. With interests in seven states, that interaction includes legislation and elections, with financial support to a wide variety of candidates.

Any corporation with 225,000 employees, huge economic clout, interaction with thousands of vendors and millions of shoppers on a daily basis is going to have immense influence, if not outright formal government power.

The public is already aware of Publix’s political power. In May, 2018 following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., protesters led by student David Hogg lay down in supermarket aisles to oppose donations to Adam Putnam, a Republican gubernatorial candidate and ardent National Rifle Association supporter. In response, Publix announced that was suspending its political contributions—at least for a while.

However, the most recent controversies are of a different nature and understanding them requires awareness of the distinction between the corporation and the family consisting of the descendants of George Jenkins.

The May 25, 2018 protest by Parkland students in Coral Springs, Fla., against Publix donations to gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam. As a result of the protest Publix immediately announced that it was suspending political contributions for a year. (Image: CBS4 Miami)

All in the family

Nationally, Publix exerts its influence by donating to candidates through its Publix Super Markets, Inc. Associates Political Action Committee (PAC). It does this through the legal mechanisms and procedures administered by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and state election finance bodies.

However, members of the Jenkins family can donate to whatever causes they wish and as long as they do not involve candidate campaigns, they are free from campaign finance restraints. Although they may not be acting with the knowledge or approval of the Publix corporation, they are usually linked to Publix if their names make the news.

On Jan. 30, the Wall Street Journal revealed that daughter Julie Jenkins Fancelli contributed $300,000 to support the “Save America” rally that turned into the riotous attack on the US Capitol building.

Julie Jenkins Fancelli

The Publix corporation was quick to distance itself from Fancelli’s contribution, issuing a tweet that day stating: “Mrs. Fancelli is not an employee of Publix Super Markets, and is neither involved in our business operations, nor does she represent the company in any way. We cannot comment on Mrs. Fancelli’s actions.

“The violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was a national tragedy. The deplorable actions that occurred that day do not represent the values, work or opinions of Publix Super Markets.”

The rally contribution was a personal donation by Fancelli, who has long been active in conservative Republican politics, according to OpenSecrets.org of the Center for Responsive Politics. According to that source, Fancelli was the 113th largest individual donor nationally during the 2020 election cycle, contributing $1,027,600 to Republicans.

In past elections, according to the FEC, she contributed to the 2012 presidential campaign of Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah). She also contributed to the US Senate campaigns of Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, the Republican National Committee and Republican organizations in Oklahoma, Massachusetts, Idaho and Vermont.

According to The Ledger newspaper based Lakeland, in 2020 Fancelli contributed $171,300 to a committee supporting President Donald Trump and her son, Gregory Fancelli, contributed $11,200 to a Trump-supporting committee.

Fancelli is not the only progeny of George Jenkins to make political contributions.

David Jenkins, the youngest son, who spent most of his adult life in San Francisco away from the family business, also contributed during the 2020 cycle—but his were perhaps obligatory $5 contributions to the official Publix PAC.

By contrast, daughter Carol Jenkins Barnett was deeply involved in the 2020 Georgia campaigns of Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue for the US Senate. The Carol Jenkins Barnett Family Trust gave $100,000 to a super PAC called the Keep America America Action Fund. The super PAC could spend unlimited amounts of money on issues rather than candidates and it pushed hard for a Republican victory in the Jan. 5 Georgia runoff elections. Barnett also contributed $100,000 in her own name to the Georgia Senate Battleground Fund, $10,000 to Perdue Victory Inc., $2,800 to the Perdue for Senate campaign and the same amount to the National Republican Senate Committee.

In North Carolina she contributed $2,800 to the re-election campaign of Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC).

Barnett had better luck in North Carolina than in Georgia: Tillis kept his seat while Loeffler and Perdue were defeated.

But the FEC filings only cover federal races. Jenkins family members and in-laws have contributed to numerous other state races and political causes. (More on that below.)

Publix PAC

Publix PAC’s political contributions by party. (Chart: Open Secrets)

The Publix PAC, in contrast to the family, is a structured, regulated, institutional organization that donates to candidates to advance the company’s interests, even if family members in management have a disproportionate say in its decisionmaking. (For example, Howard Jenkins served as chief executive officer of Publix from 1990 to 2001.)

“The Publix PAC is nonpartisan, and we strive to support pro-business candidates that foster free market principles,” Maria Brous, Publix’s director of communications, told the Ledger in a 2016 article. “Members of the Publix PAC meet and decide how to disperse its money.”

The 2018 Parkland shooting protests in Publix supermarkets forced a re-think of Publix PAC’s donations and it suspended them for a year. When they resumed in 2019 they were more balanced and bipartisan.

A review of 2020 election cycle FEC filings and a search of OpenSecrets.org reveal disciplined, commerce-motivated donations to a wide variety of candidates, PACs and partisan political organizations. The Republican and Democratic House and Senate campaign committees each received equal amounts of $30,000.

In the 2020 election cycle, the PAC spent a total of $531,700, of which $377,500 went to candidate campaigns (as opposed to going to other PACs or national party organizations).

While it contributed to candidates on both sides of the aisle, the giving was not equal: $237,000 or 62.78 percent went to Republicans while $140,500 or 37.22 percent went to Democrats.

The same rough percentage held true for Publix PAC’s donations to 88 House candidates, with giving split in favor of Republicans by 56.63 percent to 43.37 percent for Democrats. When it came to Senate candidates, though, the percentages were much more lopsided: in 24 Senate races, Publix PAC favored Republicans by 84.43 percent to 15.57 percent for Democrats.

Overall, the patterns of Publix PAC’s contributions during the 2020 cycle were fairly typical for a large corporation seeking to advance its commercial interests and maintain its influence in areas critical to its success. Its giving was selective and strategic, with what appear to be long-term goals in mind. It overwhelmingly favored incumbents rather than challengers or newcomers. It largely remained mainstream and there were no contributions to extremists like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-14-Ga.) or Lauren Boebert (R-3-Colo.). (It will be interesting to see if this pattern holds now that they’re incumbents.)

It is clear that both the family and the PAC had a deep stake in Georgia’s Senate election and contributed extensively to Loeffler and Perdue.

Interestingly, the PAC also made a heavy investment in North Carolina, where the chain is expanding, and gave heavily in state-level races.

Also, as noted previously, there is no evidence of direct investment in President Donald Trump’s campaign by the PAC, at least not to organizations bearing his name.

60 minutes of misery

The December Publix contributions to Friends of Ron DeSantis. (Image: 60 Minutes)

In December 2020 Publix made four $25,000 contributions to the Friends of Ron DeSantis committee, two on Dec. 7 and two on Dec. 31.

It was an unusual contribution, coming as it did between the 2020 election and long before the 2022 Florida gubernatorial election. Also, it is not clear whether the contributions came from the PAC or the company itself.

When Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) announced on Jan. 5 that Publix supermarkets would be distributing COVID vaccines, politicos and the media made an immediate connection to the political contributions.

The timing aroused suspicions. The law draws a fine line between political contributions for broad issues and individual candidate campaigns versus direct payments in return for specific official actions; in other words, a quid pro quo. The latter constitutes bribery.

In a Jan. 14 report on Spectrum News 13 in Orlando, Brous, the Publix publicist, denied that there had been any quid pro quo

Saying that while the company did not discuss political contributions, she stated it was “important that I clarify that the connection being implied is absolutely incorrect.

“As a Florida-based company with more than 750 pharmacies throughout the state, Publix is well-positioned to serve as a partner in distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to Florida’s residents,” Brous wrote in an e-mail to reporter Pete Reinwald. “Our large footprint, infrastructure and distribution network across the state, as well as our experience with administering the flu vaccine (and other vaccines) and online scheduling technology, gives us the capability to efficiently deploy the vaccine. That expertise is critically needed at this time.”

DeSantis spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice was equally adamant that there had been no quid pro quo: “the insinuation” of a connection between the contribution and the Publix vaccination program “is baseless and ridiculous,” she told the station.

But, as is said in the news trade, the story had “legs.” It just wouldn’t go away.

Combined with the fits and starts and controversies over the rest of Florida’s vaccine distribution, the Publix donation eventually caught the attention of CBS’ venerable news show, “60 Minutes.”

On April 5, “60 Minutes” reported on the Florida vaccine rollout in a segment titled “A Fair Shot,” produced by Oriana Zill de Granados and presented by correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi.

The segment looked at the totality of Florida’s vaccine distribution, focusing on its confusion and inequities. In due course it came to the Publix contributions.

“So why did the governor choose Publix?” asked Alfonsi. “Campaign finance reports obtained by 60 Minutes show that weeks before the governor’s announcement, Publix donated $100,000 to his political action committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis.  

“Julie Jenkins Fancelli, heiress to the Publix fortune, has given $55,000 to the governor’s PAC in the past. And in November, Fancelli’s brother-in-law, Hoyt R. Barnett, a retired Publix executive, donated $25,000. 

“Publix did not respond to our request for comment about the donations. 

“Governor DeSantis is up for re-election next year.”

Alfonsi interviewed state Rep. Omari Hardy (D-88-Palm Beach).

“I imagine Governor DeSantis’s office would say, ‘Look, we privatized the rollout because it’s more efficient and it works better,’” she said.

“It hasn’t worked better for people of color,” responded Hardy. “Before, I could call the public health director. She would answer my calls. But now if I want to get my constituents information about how to get this vaccine I have to call a lobbyist from Publix? That makes no sense. They’re not accountable to the public.”

Alfonsi pointed out that “Distributing vaccines is lucrative. Under federal guidelines, Publix, like any other private company, can charge Medicare $40 a shot to administer the vaccine.” 

DeSantis vehemently denied that Publix was selected based on its political contributions when confronted directly by Alfonsi at a press conference near Orlando.

“Publix, as you know, donated $100,000 to your campaign,” she said. “And then you rewarded them with the exclusive rights to distribute the vaccination in Palm Beach County.”

“So, first of all, that—what you’re saying is wrong,” responded DeSantis. “That’s—“

“How is that not pay-to-play?” she asked.

DeSantis continued: “—that—that’s a fake narrative. I met with the county mayor. I met with the administrator. I met with all the folks in Palm Beach County and I said, ‘Here’s some of the options. We can do more drive-thru sites. We can give more to hospitals. We can do the Publix.’ And they said, ‘We think that would be the easiest thing for our residents.’”

While Publix did not respond to “60 Minutes’” questions when it was doing its research, it did provide a statement after the story appeared:

“The irresponsible suggestion that there was a connection between campaign contributions made to Governor DeSantis and our willingness to join other pharmacies in support of the state’s vaccine distribution efforts is absolutely false and offensive. We are proud of our pharmacy associates for administering more than 1.5 million doses of vaccine to date and for joining other retailers in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia to do our part to help our communities emerge from the pandemic.”

Publix Super Markets

DeSantis and his administration have continued to vehemently deny that there was any quid pro quo. Jared Moskowitz, Florida’s emergency management director, emphatically denied the premise of the story and in a tweet said he told “60 Minutes” it was “bullshit.”

“I said this before and I’ll say it again,” he stated in another tweet. “[Publix] was recommended by [Florida Division of Emergency Management] and [Florida Department of Public Health] as the other pharmacies were not ready to start. Period! Full Stop! No one from the Governor’s office suggested Publix. It’s just absolute malarkey,”

The story came under fire from all sides, including from Democrats and fellow journalists. Florida newspaper editorials, right-wing media and even publications and news outlets overseas condemned it as “innuendo,” a “smear,” and “false.” Floridians finally had something to unite them.

For its part, “60 Minutes” issued a lengthy statement and explanation saying that it did its research and stood by its story.  

What was undeniable regardless of the substance of the story was that the political Publix had emerged into the national spotlight.


On Monday, April 12, The Paradise Progressive, as part of the research and due diligence for this article, reached out by e-mail to Maria Brous, Publix communications director, and Allison Penn, treasurer of the Publix PAC, asking the following questions:

  • How much of a political force is Publix in Florida and nationally?  
  • What is the nature of its political involvement and influence? 
  • What policies does it seek to influence or implement?
  • Does it have an ideological agenda and mission? 

Regarding the “60 Minutes” report, the e-mail posed the following questions:

  • What was the reason that Publix contributed $100,000 to the DeSantis campaign fund in December 2020?
  • Why were the contributions made at that particular time (between elections)?
  • Why were they made in those particular amounts?
  • Were the contributions made at the request of the DeSantis campaign committee or at the initiative of Publix?

To date, no acknowledgment or response has been received. None is expected.


Analysis: Publix in the public space

Pay-for-play?

One thing that must be said about the Publix contributions to Friends of Ron DeSantis: no one is covered in glory about this; not the journalism and not the response, which seemed clumsy and woefully inept.

How could any sentient observer fail to draw parallels between political donations made one month before a major announcement like the one of the vaccine rollouts at Publix supermarkets? How dense would people have to be not to conclude—however erroneously—that there was a relationship? This is what is known in political slang as “bad optics”—or in this case, spectacularly bad optics.

But for its part, “60 Minutes” failed to produce a smoking gun—or in this instance a smoking e-mail or a smoking source—that could definitively nail down a quid pro quo. It was as though they connected all the dots of a puzzle but just couldn’t draw the one line that finally completed the picture.

While the text of the segment was very careful in its presentation, its context was, as its critics charge, full of insinuation and implication rather than factual confirmation. If it had been less emphatic in its allegations it would have sacrificed its emotional impact but would have been more accurate.

This has given DeSantis the chance to play the part of the injured party and continue a Trumplike crusade against the media.

“I know corporate media thinks that they can just run over people,” DeSantis announced after the story aired. “You ain’t running over this governor. I’m punching back and I’m going to continue to do it until these smear merchants are held accountable.” He added, “That’s why nobody trusts corporate media. They are a disaster in what they are doing. They knew what they were doing was a lie.”

But DeSantis himself is hardly a paragon of truth and virtue. He has followed a Trumpist playbook throughout his governorship. While that approach may please hard-core, right-wing voters, as it did for Donald Trump, it also leads to questions about his own veracity and truthfulness in everything from the state of the pandemic, to the numbers of infections, to the distribution of vaccines. If he had a reputation for principle and probity, his protests would have more credibility. But that’s not a hallmark of his governance and his words of defiance sound like they came straight out of Donald Trump’s mouth.

As for Publix, it may have a policy against discussing political contributions but in this instance it badly needed to explain why these particular contributions were made at this particular time. Had its spokespeople done so, Publix might have at least made clear that there was no quid pro quo. To date, there has been no explanation of these contributions, assuming that they were made independently of any gubernatorial action—and Publix’s blanket denial, while impassioned, has been less effective than it might otherwise have been.

(One can only speculate that the contributions were made at the very end of the year to meet some tax or regulatory deadline or pump up the DeSantis campaign going into 2021.)

The “60 Minutes” report may be a blow to DeSantis and Publix but it’s not the main story. In fact, it’s only a sideshow.

The disappearing middle

Publix presents itself as a grocery and a supermarket. It certainly is that—but it is now also a political player and like it or not, it is increasingly being judged by political criteria and not just by the groceries it sells.

In days gone by, companies that wanted to be politically active but not offend large numbers of retail customers made their political preferences known through discreet financial contributions to favored causes and candidates. In a larger sense, they operated in an environment that treated political perspectives as intellectual differences of opinion that could be discussed and debated and reasonably resolved in a constitutional framework. They could work their political influence without losing consumer loyalty, damaging their brands or breaking the law.

This is what Donald Trump destroyed with his absolutism and zero-sum approach. He always judged the world as either pro or anti-Trump and treated every political conflict as an absolute win or an absolute loss. When he was declared the loser of the 2020 election he incited an insurrection to negate those results and criminally attempted to destroy the legislative branch of the United States government.

For corporations this approach eliminated the reasonable middle ground they used to be able to occupy. It has also eliminated their discreet application of influence. It is particularly hard on a large, consumer-based, center-right company like Publix that fit into a comfortable, bipartisan, pro-business middle ground.

That middle ground is now gone; Donald Trump shattered it.

Even with Trump out of office, the Trumpist zero-sum approach lingers. It can be seen in Georgia, where Republicans on the losing side of the 2020 election rewrote voting rules to suppress voting and with it, any possible future Democratic victories. That has put Georgia-based companies in a difficult spot and companies like Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines and Major League Baseball have taken highly publicized actions to express their disapproval.

Publix is in a particularly tough spot in the Peach State: it can’t just up and leave like Major League Baseball did, even if it so wished and it would be unwise for it to endorse suppression of democracy. Its Georgian stores and facilities are a major part of its business and it has to depend on consumer goodwill from all segments of society and political persuasions. At the same time both the company and the family were deeply involved in promoting a different outcome than they got in the runoff election, so the company’s political preferences are obvious to all. Both PAC and family have sensibly refrained from publicly expressing an opinion on the voter suppression law and no one, to this author’s ability to determine, is demanding that Publix take sides—yet.

Raising awareness and drawing distinctions

After the Fancelli donation to the Trump rally came to light there were some calls for a boycott of Publix stores in Florida but the talk has not amounted to anything to date. It did, however, throw into high relief the differences between the family and the PAC.

While the distinction between individual or family political activities and Publix PAC and corporate activities is very clear in legal and constitutional terms, it is not clear in the popular mind or in the media. When Fancelli’s personal donation was made public it was lumped together with the Publix corporation as was her and Hoyt Barnett’s contributions to DeSantis.

Two realities govern Publix’s politics. One is the distinction between the family and the corporation. This is especially important given that Publix is an employee-owned corporation, so economic measures like boycotts against the company hurt employees and employee-owners at the lowest rungs of the organization. If activists dislike a Publix action or position, they have to be very certain whether the action was taken by a family member as an individual or the company as a corporate entity. The same goes for future media coverage.

Secondly, in the past, outside of Lakeland, neither the media nor the public was paying particular attention to the family’s donations or activities. However, with the Trumpist hyper-politicization of all American life, people are doing so now. To the degree that Florida has a royal family the Jenkins family is it and like any royal family the behavior of one member affects the standing and perception of the institution as a whole. Now both the Jenkins and the PAC are in the national political spotlight—and staying there.

The future of Publix politics

For the sake of political shorthand the Publix corporation as an institution can be characterized as a Republican business establishment of the center-right. By and large the family can be characterized as hard-right Republican with Fancelli standing out as the family Trumper.

In a Florida context, both the family and the company are Republican pro-DeSantis.

In a Georgia context, the family is extremely conservative Republican. What else is one to make of a donation to an organization called “Keep America America?” (As opposed to what?)

There is no doubt that in doing what it really does—providing food, products and services to the public—Publix is one of the best supermarket chains in the country. It is by all accounts and observation a well-managed, well-organized, effective, conscientious institution that makes a real—and in the case of vaccines—vital contribution to the health and welfare of the communities where it operates.

Of necessity it has been involved in politics and when involved, regardless of what one thinks of its political orientation, it participated in a legal, responsible, constitutional way. After its 2018 pause, as a corporation its goals appear to be primarily commercial rather than ideological.

Will it stay that way? Only time will tell but it would be a wise course to follow.

As a political player Publix will continue having to ride political pressures and cope with tough stories and embarrassing incidents that potentially interfere with its core mission of providing food to the public. These are likely to multiply and intensify with time.

Publix is unlikely to ever go back to being just a supermarket again. In the future, shopping there may be a pleasure—but it will not be a carefree one.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg