As Hurricane Elsa churns her way across the Atlantic Ocean, storms of a different kind are brewing in Southwest Florida.
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:
July 3rd: Save Our Water Rally – 9 am-10 am – Fowler Street Bridge, Fort Myers
July 9th: a day in the life of Dr. Cindy Banyai – VIA FB LIVE
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 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.
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?
“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.
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.
Southwest Florida Democrats were elated by President Joe Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress last night, April 28, laying out a sweeping vision and comprehensive plans for national recovery and improvement.
Unsurprisingly, Republicans were less than thrilled.
“It’s so refreshing to have a president leading and serving the people, instead of fanning the flames of division and insurrection,” Cindy Banyai, Democratic candidate for Congress in the 19th Congressional District, observed in a message to The Paradise Progressive.
The address to Congress demonstrated the success of his first 100 days, which included administering 200 million vaccines, providing a needed economic stimulus and revealing a vision for the future, she said.
She particularly praised the unveiling of the American Families Plan to boost and support working families and the next generation.
“When we take care of kids, they can get on a meaningful path and we integrate more women into the workforce,” said Banyai. “Family leave, universal pre-kindergarten and access to community colleges just make sense for our economy. We must make these investments if we want to remain global economic leaders.”
She added: “I’d be remiss if I didn’t also say that I so was proud to have two women, Speaker Pelosi and Vice President Harris, on the dais behind President Biden during the joint address. I’m feeling so optimistic for the future of our country!”
Annisa Karim, chair of the Collier County Democratic Party, was similarly effusive. “President Biden made it clear that we must move forward together as a country,” she said. Moving forward, she pointed out, means investing in the future, making sure everyone is treated equally under the law and acting immediately on the climate crisis by leading development of alternative energy and training people for future jobs.
“I’m proud to have a President that cares for the people of this country and about how we interact with the global community,” she said. “Under President Biden, we can finally move forward together.”
Nationally, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.), who was seated on the dais behind Biden when he spoke, called the speech “a unifying message of resilience, resolve and hope.”
“As the President said,” she noted, “‘America is on the move again. Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength.’”
Unsurprisingly, Republican congressional representatives were dismissive.
Both Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), complained that Biden removed his mask to speak, which they argued violated rules against going unmasked on the House floor, and they vowed to go similarly unmasked in the future, risking a $5,000 fine.
Both also criticized the speech for paying insufficient attention to the southwest US border and the influx of migrants there.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) did not issue any comments regarding the speech.
Donalds tweeted his criticisms of the speech in real time. They largely followed Republican doctrine to date.
He attacked Biden’s infrastructure proposal: “The American Jobs Plan is a plan to spend trillions we don’t have on liberal policies we don’t need.”
When Biden called for major investment in American public education and teachers, Donalds tweeted: “You don’t improve the quality of education (or anything) by making it free. You improve quality through competition.” Donalds and his wife Erika have long been active in promoting charter and private schools. (See “Byron Donalds and the war against America’s schools.”)
When Biden said “My fellow Americans, trickle-down economics has never worked,” Donalds called it an outright falsehood: “Ok. That is a lie. Trickle down, supply side, or whatever you want to call it has always worked. It works far better than when politicians think they know better.”
Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) was similarly critical in a series of tweets:
“The Democrats’ ‘infrastructure’ package has nothing to do with real infrastructure. It’s an excuse to spend American taxpayer money on outrageous proposals related to climate change, supporting partisan unions, and increasing funding for schools that refuse to open.”
He also complained that the Biden administration was insufficiently hard on China and had emboldened Iran.
Nationally, House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-23-Calif.) tweeted: “This whole thing could have just been an email.”
Initial national public response to the speech was overwhelmingly favorable, according to polls conducted by CNN and CBS immediately after it was delivered.
In a remarkable change from last year, Florida’s 19th Congressional District, covering the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island, actually trended one percentage point more Democratic, according to the latest rating from the Cook Political Report.
For those who are into the inner intricacies of congressional politics, this is a big deal.
What makes it more remarkable is the fact that Southwest Florida’s two other congressional districts, the 17th and the 25th, became more Republican and conservative.
To put this development into context, some background may be helpful.
The Cook Report and the PVI
Charles Cook, a friendly, gregarious, lively man universally known as Charlie, hails from Shreveport, La. In the 1970s he served as a staffer for then-Senator J. Bennett Johnston, a Democrat and fellow Shreveporter. Afterward, he worked for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Policy Committee and served as a consulting pollster, advisor and as years went by, commentator for a variety of media outlets.
During his staff service Cook realized that there needed to be more comprehensive coverage of elections than was available at the time, particularly of House of Representatives races.
In 1984 he founded the Cook Political Report newsletter to track these races. Over the years the newsletter’s coverage grew and deepened. Its organization also grew, as well as its reputation for objective, professional and non-partisan analysis. Today Cook Report staffers interview prospective candidates as well as incumbents and get to intimately know the politics of each congressional district.
The New York Times once called the Cook Report “a newsletter that both parties regard as authoritative;” CBS News’ Bob Schieffer called it “the Bible of the political community” and Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal, characterized it as “the Picasso of election analysis.”
In 1997 Cook introduced the Partisan Voting Index (PVI), which rated the partisan leanings of each congressional district. Using the previous two presidential election results, it compared each congressional district’s political tilt to the rest of the nation.
As the Report puts it: “The index is an attempt to find an objective measurement of each congressional district and state. While other data such as the results of senatorial, gubernatorial, congressional and other local races can help fine-tune the exact partisan tilt of a particular district, those kinds of results don’t allow a comparison of districts across state lines. Only presidential results allow for total comparability.”
Under this system a district rated D+2 means that it voted two times more Democratic than the national average, whereas a rating of R+4 would be four times as Republican. A district can be rated as even if it is within a half point of the national average in either direction.
The PVI is constantly updated to take into account new election results and redistricting. On Thursday, April 15, the 2021 PVI was released, incorporating the results of the 2020 election.
The 19th Congressional District was one of only five in Florida that saw Democratic numbers rise in the Cook ratings.
District 1, which is represented by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R) moved 2 points in a Democratic direction, the 4th and 7th districts moved 3 points in a Democratic direction and the 10th rose 1 point.
Southwest Florida in context
Unsurprisingly, the three congressional districts that make up Southwest Florida—the 17th, 19th and 25th—remain deeply Republican.
But what was very surprising was the movement of the 19th toward the Democratic column.
Based on the results of the 2020 election, the 19th District went from R+13 to R+12, a Republican decline of one point.
This stands in stark contrast to the 17th, encompassing a huge swath of Southwest and Central Florida from Punta Gorda to Venice to northwest Lake Okeechobee. It went from R+13 to R+16. The 25th, reaching from eastern Collier County and Immokalee to Hialeah and Doral, went from R+4 to R+8.
So what accounts for the shift? The analysis accompanying release of the PVI does not focus on the 19th District but is national in nature. However, a number of factors provide some indication.
Democratic gains in the 2020 congressional race are the first factor.
The 2020 election in the 19th saw the election of Republican Byron Donalds with 61.3 percent or 272,440 votes to 38.7 percent or 172,146 votes for Democrat Cindy Banyai.
While Donalds won, it was by a lower percentage than fellow Republican Francis Rooney in 2018, or put another way, Democrats made steady, incremental gains. In the 2018 election Rooney won by 62.3 percent or 211,465 votes to David Holden’s 37.7 percent or 128,106 votes.
At the same time, Donald Trump’s percentages in the district basically remained stagnant from 2016 to 2020, rising by only a tenth of a percentage point, from 59.6 percent in 2016 to 59.7 percent in 2020.
The lack of polling with publicly available results in Southwest Florida means additional conclusions can only be speculative but some additional factors could be:
Older Republican-Trumpist voters could be exiting the rolls as a result of natural causes or the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. Southwest Florida, especially Collier County, has been a center of anti-masking and resistance to virus precautions, at times led by Byron Donalds who himself tested positive for COVID in October 2020 but recovered. Most recently Naples habitué, far-right musician and COVID denier Ted Nugent announced yesterday, April 19, that he had tested positive for COVID. On April 12 he played a gig before a closely-packed crowd of over 300 people at Seed to Table, a defiantly anti-mask supermarket in North Naples. Like Nugent, Trumpist voters may dismiss COVID as a “hoax” or a “sham” but the COVID virus is hardly dismissing them as potential victims.
More Democrats or liberal voters are moving permanently into the area as full-time residents. Acknowledgment of the arrival of Democratic northerners in the state was made by Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd at the signing of Florida’s “anti-riot” bill yesterday, April 19. As he put it: “We only want to share one thing as you move in, hundreds a day: Welcome to Florida, but don’t register to vote and vote the stupid way you did up North, or you’ll get what they got.” While the influx of northerners into the 19th Congressional District may not be huge, it may be telling in future elections.
Rep. Byron Donalds may be losing voter loyalty even in his largely Republican district after only four months in office.
For Democrat Cindy Banyai, Donalds’ 2020 opponent and declared candidate for 2022, the new PVI came as a welcome boost and a validation of her previous campaign.
“I’m very excited about it,” she told The Paradise Progressive. “That makes all of our efforts worthwhile. We’re really proud and I feel like the little engine that could; I have to keep pushing. It bodes well for ’22.
“Not only is the 19th in the top movers in Florida, we’re the one that spent the least amount of money to do it,” she pointed out. “We’ve had really solid fundraising and we’re getting a solid investment and we had a great team.”
According to her fundraising analysis, she said, she had an effective dollar-to-vote ratio and only spent $4.15 for every vote she was able to swing from Republican to Democratic, a very low cost. She also swung numerous precincts into the Democratic column, particularly on Sanibel and Pine Island. That, plus the fact that Democrats contested every ballot position, something that had not been true in previous elections, all contributed to the rating.
“The Cook ratings give two messages,” she said. “One is that we had a good candidate with a good team and our approach was on the right track. The second contradicts the narrative that Republicans are moving here to flee Democratic states. Their stories that everybody is leaving blue states like New York or California because of Democrats is a total crock.”
To see the entire Cook analysis of the 2021 PVI, click here.
To see an interactive map with all congressional districts and their ratings, click here.
GOP freshmen reps offer cooperation to Biden but Donalds missing from letter
Jan. 21, 2021 by David Silverberg
After only 18 days in Congress, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) already has a challenger when he next faces election in 2022—Democrat Cindy Banyai, who opposed him last year.
Banyai announced her candidacy late on Tuesday evening, the night before President Joe Biden was inaugurated.
“It would be my great honor to serve the people of Southwest Florida in Congress,” Banyai stated in her announcement. “We need someone who will work for our community, not participate in political charades that destabilize our country. If we want unity and a government that works, we need someone who will put the people first. I am proud to announce I am running for US House of Representatives Florida 19 again in 2022. It’s time to make Trump’s crony, Byron Donalds, a one-term Congressman.”
Banyai, who holds a doctorate from Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Japan, runs her own consultancy based in Fort Myers, Banyai Evaluation & Consulting, LLC, specializing in assisting non-profit organizations. She is also an adjunct professor in political science at Florida Gulf Coast University.
The Donalds record so far
Donalds’ most important policy vote to date was to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Banyai noted that Donalds’ vote “placed him in what some are calling the ‘Sedition Caucus’ for participating in Trump’s political theater that in part inspired the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6,” she stated. “Donalds ran on unwavering support for Trump and has demonstrated that is his priority in his early days in office, despite Trump’s incitement of the attack on the US Capitol. We need true servant leaders, not sycophants, and I am ready to serve.”
Donalds attended the inauguration of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris yesterday. However, he did not sign a letter from 17 Republican freshman representatives to Biden stating that “we are hopeful that – despite our ideological differences – we may work together on behalf of the American people we are each so fortunate to serve.”
Three members of the seven-member Republican “Freedom Force,” signed the letter. The “Freedom Force” is a Republican imitation of the Democratic “Squad” of four progressive representatives. The three signers were Reps. Stephanie Bice (R-5-Okla.), Carlos Gimenez (R-26-Fla.) and Nicole Malliotakis (R-11-NY).
“Of course Byron Donalds is not a signatory,” tweeted Banyai. “He went to the inauguration today, but it wasn’t because he is ready to put partisan politics aside and work for the people.”
As of this writing, Donalds had not made a statement on his decision not to sign the letter.
According to local media reports, Republicans in the heavily conservative district have been leaving the Party since the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, which could be a factor in the election.
Further, while the candidates will be running in what is now the 19th Congressional District, which covers the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island, by the time of the election the district’s boundaries may change as well as its number due to redistricting following the 2020 Census. The 2022 election could feature a significantly different population and area.
The letter from the Republican freshmen to President Joe Biden:
Southwest Florida Democrats are looking beyond the Sunshine State, focusing their efforts on Georgia where two races will determine the balance of power in the Senate that takes office in 2021.
The Georgia runoff election is scheduled for Jan. 5 and candidates are campaigning fiercely for the two seats, with Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock seeking to defeat Republican senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.
On Nov. 19, Democrat Cindy Banyai, who ran for Congress in Florida’s 19th Congressional District, announced that she had been named co-chair of the national United for Georgia organization.
“My role is to help promote fundraising for the on-the-ground local organizations who are connecting with the communities there for voter registration, get-out-the-vote, and persuasion,” she stated in response to questions from The Paradise Progressive. “I’m also working to recruit virtual volunteers for things like phonebanking and connecting the group with student volunteers to be part of their special intern program.”
United for Georgia was founded by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-15-Calif.) who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2019. It is part of his Remedy PAC (political action committee), which he founded “to change Congress and elect Democrats who will go big with the issues we tackle, be bold in the solutions we offer, and do good with the way we govern.”
Banyai said she was honored to serve as co-chair. “It’s so important to amplify the local leaders and organizations in their on-the-ground efforts to get voters excited about Ossoff and Warnock. National coalitions like United for Georgia do the most good by supporting local efforts and building strong networks to make long term change.”
She also believes that her work on behalf of the Georgia candidates will help in Southwest Florida.
“My involvement with United for Georgia is also a great opportunity to see the organizing efforts that brought a blue wave to Georgia,” she stated. “I’m looking forward to bringing these lessons back to make major changes to the business as usual efforts of the Florida Democratic Party.”
In Collier County, Annisa Karim, chair of the local Democratic Party called on Democrats to mobilize on behalf of Warnock and Ossof by doing phone banking.
“We know that President-elect Joe-Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will take their rightful places on January 20, 2021 but the make-up of the Senate is still unclear,” she announced in a Nov. 21, statement. “That means our work is not done.”
Updated 11:45 pm with state Senate District 27 results.
Republicans retained their control of Southwest Florida in the 2020 general election based on nearly complete results.
President Donald Trump took both Lee and Collier counties by 59.2 percent in Lee County and in Collier County with 62 percent to 37 percent with 58 of 60 precincts reporting.
Byron Donalds has won his bid to succeed Rep. Francis Rooney in the US Congress, in Lee County by a vote of 198,997 votes to Democrat Cindy Banyai’s 132,187, or 60 percent to 39.88 percent, better than any Democratic congressional candidate has previously done in Lee County.
In Collier County, Donalds won his bid by 68,996 to Banyai’s 36,471 votes or 65.4 percent to 34.6 percent with 34 of 35 precincts reporting.
In both Lee and Collier counties Republicans beat back all Democratic challenges on downballot offices.
In Lee County’s state Senate District 27, Republican Ray Rodrigues defeated Democrat Rachel Brown by 176,085 to 114,980 votes, or 60.5 to 39.5 percent. In Florida House District 76, Republican Adam Botana defeated Democrat Anselm Weber by 66,897votes to 35,147 or 65.56 percent to 34.44 percent.
In Collier County, Republican Lauren Melo defeated Laura Novosad in Florida House District 80 by 46,795 to 24,986 votes or 65.2 percent to 34.8 percent with 23 of 24 precincts reporting. In state House District 105, Republican David Borrero defeated Democrat Maureen Porras by 13,083 votes to 9,891 or 56.9 percent to 43.1 prcent. In House District 106 incumbent Republican Bob Rommel defeated Democrat Sara McFadden by 69,572 to 35,919 votes or 66 to 34 percent.
At the county level, in Lee County Ray Sandelli defeated Todd Truax for the County Board of Commissioners District 3 by 220,820 to 137,156 votes or 61.89 to 38.31 percent.
In Collier County Republican Rick LoCastro defeated John Jenkins by 31,049 to 14,106 or 68.8 percent to 41.2 percent for the Collier County Commission District 1, with all precincts reporting. In District 5, Republican William McDaniel won over Democrat David Turrubiartez with 19,622 to 11,394 votes or 59.5 to 34.5 percent, with 8 of 9 precincts reporting.
We all know that tomorrow, Nov. 3, will mark a momentous, historical day whose memory will be passed down for generations. While it may be the last day to vote and it’s when the votes are counted and the results announced, it won’t be the end of the journey. It will, however, be a major milestone and the start of a new phase of the American story.
At the presidential level the final arguments are being made and likely outcomes have been exhaustively polled.
But locally it’s worth asking a question that has largely been overlooked despite all the coverage and campaigning: What kind of representation would Southwest Florida and in particular the 19th Congressional District from Cape Coral to Marco Island, get in Congress if voters elect Democrat Cindy Banyai or Republican Byron Donalds?
While both candidates have made their stances on the issues clear in debates and campaign materials and voters have had plenty of time to evaluate their records and characters, it’s worth speculating how each would likely do the actual job of US Representative from Southwest Florida.
What the new Congress will face
Several massive issues will confront members of Congress the instant they begin work on Jan. 4:
The transition of power: If Trump refuses to accept clear results or if he incites insurrection or denies the legitimacy of the outcome, the transition of power at both the presidential and congressional levels could still be in dispute when the new Congress takes office. The newly elected members will have to assert their legitimacy and authority and this could be a battle that delays addressing other urgent needs.
The pandemic and healthcare: Biden and his team will have to immediately assess the state of the nation’s response to the pandemic and prepare measures to mitigate and respond to it. This will be complicated if the Affordable Care Act is struck down by the newly-conservative majority Supreme Court the week after the election. It will also be made more difficult if the outgoing Trump administration and the lame duck Senate actively sabotage or subvert US disease control efforts and a new pandemic response in an effort to deny Biden a “win.”
The economy: The US economy has been severely damaged by Trump’s inept pandemic response. In the past week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 6.47 percent for its worst week since March 20 because of the lack of a second stimulus package. In Southwest Florida the travel, hospitality and small retail businesses have been hammered by the overall fall in travel, both domestic and cross-border, and decline in leisure and tourism activities. With Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) re-opening the state despite the risk of virus-spreading activities, Florida’s infection rates are likely to spike even higher and affect its seasonal businesses.
Corruption: While attempting to restore basic government agencies crippled by the Trump administration (like the Postal Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), a new administration and Congress will have to investigate and root out corruption, fraud, waste, abuse and foreign interference invited and ingrained by the president and his circle. It will have to do this before it can proceed to new solutions and repairs.
Every indication to date is that Democrats will take the presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives—assuming that vote counting is done properly, efforts to suppress the vote on the ground and in the legal system are unsuccessful and the results are honestly presented and reported.
A Cindy Banyai win
If Cindy Banyai is elected, Southwest Florida will have a representative who will be in a likely majority in the House of Representatives. The importance of this cannot be overstated. It means that proposals and legislation she introduces will have a higher probability of making it through the legislative process all the way to the president’s desk and being signed into law.
Banyai’s chief challenge will be to make Southwest Florida’s priorities stand out amidst every other member’s competing priorities. However, Southwest Floridians had a preview of her response to a similar situation in her underdog campaign at both the primary and general election levels, where she showed a willingness to tackle seemingly overwhelming odds.
In her favor is the fact that she is a proven coalition-builder. By being in the majority her job will be easier in that she will face less resistance in forging alliances with fellow Democrats rather than trying to corral and motivate hostile Republicans to help win majorities for her proposals.
Given Southwest Florida’s environmental sensitivity, it will help that Banyai will be operating in a far more environmentally-friendly Congress and administration than previously. This will have an impact on issues critical to the region, in particular preserving the purity of its waters.
Much of her effectiveness will depend on her committee assignments. If she follows Rep. Francis Rooney’s lead in getting a seat on the environmental subcommittee of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, she will be in a position to help Southwest Florida’s water purification efforts.
In this she is likely to be aided by an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President Joe Biden that will be working to restore water protections stripped away during the Trump presidency. Such an EPA is likely to be more accommodating to Southwest Florida needs presented by a Democratic representative. This bodes well for obtaining steady, reliable Everglades restoration funding and advancing the projects of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. It will also likely help efforts to fight harmful algal blooms and pollution.
When it comes to offshore oil exploitation, Joe Biden has declared that he is opposed to new offshore oil drilling. This means that the Interior Department, which under Trump relentlessly sought to find ways to promote oil exploitation both on land and offshore, will instead be working to conserve the natural environment.
A Biden administration and a Democratic Congress will also be more helpful to Southwest Floridians and businesses economically hurt by the pandemic. A new stimulus bill will probably be passed fairly quickly and small businesses will get more assistance through paycheck protection and another round of funding. If the pandemic can be eased, travel and border restrictions can be relaxed, so Southwest Florida may see a resumption of the foreign tourism, especially from Canada, that sustains the local economy.
A Biden administration will also be friendlier to first responders and medical personnel, helping them obtain personal protective equipment and implementing rather than resisting experts’ advice in fighting the pandemic. Banyai will be able to assist in those efforts.
A Byron Donalds win
If Byron Donalds wins his race in the 19th District while the rest of the House of Representatives goes Democratic, he will be in the minority and in a diminished position to deliver anything for Southwest Florida.
Donalds will likely be elevated to a very high public profile position by the Republican leadership of the party and in Congress because, as he himself put it in his campaign: “I’m everything the fake news media says doesn’t exist: a Trump-supporting, liberty-loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man.” As such, he will probably be used by Republicans and the conservative movement to refute charges of racism and white supremacy.
However, as an unreconstructed and unapologetic Trumper, Donalds will be representing what will likely become an increasingly marginalized and discredited ideology. No doubt the Trumpers elected to the House will spend their time resisting Democratic initiatives, trying to roll back pandemic responses and obstructing efforts to enact police and social justice reforms. If after the inauguration Trump continues to fight a loss at the polls or refuses to accept the voters’ verdict, his congressional followers will likely waste their time in Congress bolstering his claims and fighting the election results, as they did with endless, failed, wasteful, symbolic roll call votes against the Affordable Care Act.
The Republican leadership will likely expect Donalds to take a leading role in these efforts and there’s no reason not to believe that he will comply. Nor is there any reason to expect he will launch individual initiatives apart from the ideological agenda of the organizations that supported him like Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity, the National Rifle Association and anti-abortion groups.
While giving him a high national profile, it will not put him in a good position to advance the kind of practical legislation that Southwest Florida needs (steady appropriations, environmental protection, labor and business support) or build bridges to the Democratic majority.
Much of Donalds’ effectiveness will depend on the committee assignments he gets and in the Republican caucus those assignments are determined by a member’s fundraising prowess for the party. If Donalds doesn’t meet his fundraising targets he’s likely to be shunted off to marginal or obscure committees where he can do Southwest Florida little good.
It is also likely that given his past history and his wife’s prominence in the charter school movement, Donalds will likely be making efforts to advance charter schools at the expense of public education in a Congress that will be strongly supportive of public schools.
Analysis: Mainstream or margin?
As it stands, since Southwest Florida is not a national center of population, industry, commerce or communications it has little clout in the halls of Congress based purely on its demographic and geographic attributes. It has been a politically peripheral district throughout its existence. Its vital interests are easily ignored or overlooked.
For this reason, the 19th Congressional District needs an especially active, aggressive and energetic representative to promote its interests at the federal level.
Regardless of what happens in the race for President and the makeup of the Senate, it is highly likely that the House will be overwhelmingly Democratic.
Election of an ideologically fringe representative, no matter how popular he may be with local conservative activists, will keep the 19th District at the margins of the national agenda and irrelevant to major national policies affecting it.
Clearly, election of Cindy Banyai, the Democratic candidate, will better serve the residents, businesses and the environment of Southwest Florida.
Today marks one week before the General Election and while there’s saturation media coverage of national politics, there’s little publicly available data to determine the exact state of play in Southwest Florida.
Still, the national situation provides some context, particularly when it comes to Southwest Florida’s premier federal electoral contest, the battle to fill the seat of retiring Republican Rep. Francis Rooney in the 19th Congressional District.
But it’s not just politics that tells this year’s story because the COVID-19 virus has a vote—and this year, it is exercising that franchise in Lee and Collier counties.
The battle in the 19th
In the 19th Congressional District, the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island, Cindy Banyai, Democratic candidate for Congress, has maintained a vigorous campaign schedule, is active on social media and has racked up numerous new endorsements.
“Things are going very well and we’re optimistic heading into the last week of the elections,” Banyai told The Paradise Progressive. “We had some very promising polling numbers come back and our team is running through the finish line.”
After testing positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 16, prior to President Donald Trump’s visit to Fort Myers, Byron Donalds, her Republican opponent, announced yesterday, Oct. 26, that he had tested negative for COVID-19 and positive for antibodies and would return to the campaign trail for the last week of campaigning.
Donalds has not been running any advertising and the outside political action committees like Club for Growth that powered his primary bid are nowhere in evidence now.
While Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka came to Southwest Florida to campaign, neither mentioned Donalds during their appearances nor did anything to boost his campaign. His website has not announced any new endorsements since the primary.
From Minnesota with love
On Saturday, Oct. 24, Banyai and other Fort Myers Democrats welcomed Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to Fort Myers for a get-out-the-vote rally and speech.
Klobuchar, who arrived in a massive Biden/Harris campaign bus, said in an interview with Fox4 News: “People should not assume that areas like this that have traditionally been Republican, that everyone thinks the same. A lot of people have decided: ‘I’m going to put my country first and maybe I don’t agree with everything Joe Biden says but he’s a good person and he has competence.’”
“It was great to hear from Sen. Klobuchar,” observed Banyai. “She gave us some insight on how to win hearts and minds across party lines.”
Since the Aug. 18 primary, Banyai has been endorsed by numerous individuals and organizations. Other Democratic candidates include Andrew Ellison, Democratic congressional candidate in the 17th Congressional District; Jacquelyn McMiller, Democratic candidate for mayor of Fort Myers; Sara McFadden, Democratic candidate for Florida House District 106; Joshua Lopez, Democratic candidate for Florida House District 77; Shawn Williams, Democratic candidate for Florida House District 78; and Todd Truax, Democratic candidate for Lee County Commissioner District 3.
Organizations endorsing her candidacy include: the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida; the Progressive Club of the Islands; the Democratic Women’s Club of Florida; the LGBTQ Democratic Caucus; the Lee County LGBTQA Democratic Caucus; Votewater.org; the Sunrise Movement; and America Youth Climate Action.
The broader context
If either local candidate is able to ride the coattails of the candidate at the top of the ticket, the advantage would seem to go to Banyai.
Nationally, former Vice President Joe Biden and running mate Kamala Harris have an 87 percent chance of winning the presidency, according to the website FiveThirtyEight.com’s Election Forecast. This site aggregates and analyzes numerous polls and data sources to reach its conclusions, making it more authoritative than just individual polls. What is more, rather than make hard predictions, FiveThirtyEight deals in probabilities, which is a much more reasonable way to project future outcomes.
Trump’s chances will likely also be hurt by the dizzying 615.19 point drop in the Dow Jones average that occurred yesterday on news that a compromise stimulus bill looked unlikely to be passed before the election.
Focusing on Southwest Florida’s Lee and Collier counties, 252,237 voters, or 51.56 percent of the electorate have voted in Lee County and 137,619 or 59.39 percent of voters have turned out in Collier County.
Ten days before the election, Collier County Democratic turnout was the highest in Florida, according to Florida Politics, and Democrats were turning out in record numbers in other traditionally Republican counties.
Likely to add to the urgency of Democratic voting was the Senate’s confirmation last night of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court in a rushed process to beat the election.
“Congratulations on our newest Justice, Amy Coney Barrett, on her confirmation to the United States Supreme Court,” tweeted Donalds following the confirmation. “Justice Barrett will honor the rule of law and uphold the Constitution.”
“It’s truly disappointing to see Senate Republicans ram through a Supreme Court nominee so close to the presidential election when they denied an early election year appointment to Obama,” Banyai told The Paradise Progressive. “We should be concerned not only with the record of Barrett, who puts corporations ahead of people and threatens women’s rights and equality, but the jeopardy our democracy is put in when we no longer have an unbiased judiciary.”
The impact of COVID
Beyond the normal political considerations of an election campaign, the COVID pandemic continues to have an impact on everything: daily life, campaigning, and political passions—as witness Donalds’ infection.
Florida is seeing a rise in new cases, despite official efforts to dampen the impact of the statistics.
As of this writing, the Florida Department of Health lists 771,989 cases in Florida and 16,449 deaths overall since the start of the pandemic.
With two largely unmasked gatherings to celebrate the visit to Fort Myers of Trump and then his daughter Ivanka, local COVID cases are likely to surge in the days ahead.
On Oct. 22, the Collier County Commission voted 3 to 2 to extend its mask mandate another six months. Donalds testified against the mandate when it was first considered in July. The Paradise Progressive reached out to the Donalds campaign to request his comment on the Commission’s latest decision but has not received a response.
Cindy Banyai, Democratic congressional candidate in Florida’s 19th Congressional District, blasted her opponent, Republican Byron Donalds, for potentially spreading COVID-19 at a largely maskless rally for Donald Trump in the Golden Gate area of Naples yesterday, Oct. 8.
“My opponent took part in this MAGA event in Naples today,” she tweeted. “Many people crowded together, hardly anyone wore a mask. We can pretend COVID-19 isn’t real or we can work to stop it. I acknowledge science, mitigate the risk, and work to protect the vulnerable.”
Donalds, who addressed the crowd of roughly 250 Trump supporters, said those not wearing masks believe in freedom, Dave Elias, political correspondent for NBC-2 News reported.
“You should not be ridiculed if you wear one or you choose not to wear one,” he said. Donalds has consistently opposed mask mandates.
The crowd at the Golden Gate Veterans of Foreign Wars hall (which is in the neighboring 25th Congressional District) was also addressed by Corey Lewandowski, the campaign manager fired by Trump in June 2016 for his erratic and divisive behavior, and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R), whose state is a current coronavirus hotspot, with 26,441 cases.
Banyai chose to drop a scheduled, in-person debate with Donalds at the Estero Republican Club last night due to the risk of catching coronavirus.
She said the Republican Club had refused to take basic safety measures like spacing out seats, requiring masks, doing temperature checks and putting partitions between the candidates.
“I was looking forward to connecting with members of our community and a lively exchange of ideas, but your health and that of my family, including my youngest daughter who has a history of health issues, are more important than any single event,” she stated. “The health and safety protocols requested are particularly important because Byron Donalds was potentially exposed to COVID19 during his recent visit with Trump. He has not released a secondary test to indicate he is in the clear. Mr. Donalds was also at a rally earlier today that did not observe pandemic public health measures.”
Yesterday Banyai also began running a paid advertisement on local television stations.
The night before, Banyai and Donalds had starkly different reactions to the debate between Vice President Mike Pence (R) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
“The moderator is doing a great job tonight. Just let the candidates speak. They will tell us who they are, and they have to answer for their records. The records of @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris is destructive of our economy and our country,” tweeted Donalds, who issued three tweets during the debate.
Banyai maintained a running commentary throughout the debate. “Seriously, Kamala channeled every woman whoever tried to get her point across while being interrupted by a lesser qualified man with #imspeaking,” she tweeted.
Southwest Florida congressional candidates Democrat Cindy Banyai and Republican Byron Donalds traded jabs last night, Sept. 28, in a broadcast debate that was civilized and substantive—a rarity in the age of President Donald Trump.
While neither candidate landed a knockout blow, Banyai hammered Donalds for his connection to and protection of Trump’s policies and approach.
This was particularly in evidence when it came to taxes.
“We should close loopholes, much as [those] we’re seeing with our president, Donald Trump having paid only $750 for the past two years in taxes,” she said. “That is unbelievable and unacceptable in a fair and just country.”
Both candidates are running for the seat in Florida’s 19th Congressional District, the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island.
WGCU sponsored the debate along with the Gannett Company newspapers, the News-Press of Fort Myers and the Naples Daily News of Naples. The candidates were questioned by Amy Bennett Williams, a reporter for the News-Press, and John Davis, a WGCU reporter and assistant news director. Julie Glenn, WGCU news director, moderated. Questions had been submitted by the public.
The candidates took starkly different positions on a variety of issues but also agreed on some matters, chiefly the need for environmental protection.
Summaries of the candidates’ statements, in the order they were raised and the candidates’ responses, follow:
Mask mandates: Donalds opposed mask mandates, arguing that the choice of whether to wear a mask is up to the individual and not local government to impose. Banyai called mask wearing a patriotic duty and likened the power of local government to mandate masks to setting traffic rules and speed limits.
Pandemic response: Donalds praised Trump for his coronavirus response to date. Banyai called Trump’s response “the biggest failure in history” and said the nation needs to pull together to fight the disease the way the Taiwanese government responded to the SARS epidemic in the early 2000s.
Continuing the environmental work of Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), the retiring congressman: Banyai called for coordinated action at the local, state and international levels to protect the environment and expressed support for the Florida Green New Deal. Donalds said science remains unsettled on the human role in climate change and warned that a Green New Deal would have a negative economic impact. He blamed the California wildfires on a failure to clean up forest floor brush.
Local environmental control: Donalds believed that environmental policies and regulations should be done at the state level. Banyai said that the state’s failure to act to protect the environment meant that local authority to establish environmental rulemaking was essential.
Steps to protect water purity: Banyai called for holding polluters accountable and supporting research on water quality like that done at the FGCU Water School. Donalds praised Trump’s and DeSantis’ actions to date.
Preventing oil exploitation off Florida’s shores: Both candidates supported continuing the current ban on oil exploitation in the Gulf of Mexico.
Land development: Both candidates called for responsible land use and federal support for conservation and local efforts to regulate land use. Donalds emphasized the need to protect property rights. While Banyai agreed that property rights need to be respected, she emphasized the public’s right to access common resources like beaches and called for participatory practices at the local level.
Taxes: Both candidates agreed on the need to simplify the tax code. Donalds is a supporter of a federal flat tax. Banyai called for closing loopholes and made the point that taxes not just an “input-output” form of financing, but a form of stakeholding in the government.
Balanced budget amendment: Banyai opposed a balanced budget amendment and called for policies and actions that would help people in need. Donalds favored a balanced budget amendment and said that it worked in Florida.
Education: Donalds said that “money should follow the child” and called for school choice. Banyai said that “public education is a public good and public dollars should remain in the public realm” and not be siphoned off by for-profit charter schools.
Affordable college education: Banyai called for investments to make public college education free. Donalds said that the government cannot “lend infinite money” for college education.
Amendment 2, raising the minimum wage: Donalds opposed it, Banyai supported it.
Attracting light industry and providing affordable housing: Both candidates expressed support for small business. Banyai said that Southwest Florida has a “donut economy” with small retail and service workers at the bottom and wealthy retirees at the top but without a healthy center. The local economy needs investment, grants and support for small business to fill in the middle, she said. Donalds called for diversifying the local economy in a sustainable way and maintaining a consistent business climate.
Extending the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP): Donalds supported extending PPP and blamed House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) for lack of progress in coming up with a second stimulus package. Banyai also supported extending PPP and a second package and blamed Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for lack of progress.
First, all concerned—the questioners, the moderator and the candidates—handled themselves with maturity and professionalism, which was a welcome relief. There were no insults or personal attacks, no emotionalism or melodrama, the time limits were respected and the candidates conducted a reasoned discussion that stuck to the issues. All are to be congratulated.
The debate was helped by not having a live audience to cheer or interrupt the dialogue.
The debate also marked a sea change from 2018 when Rep. Rooney simply refused to debate and his disdain was taken at face value by local media and civic groups, which didn’t challenge him.
All that said, the candidates’ policy differences were stark but unsurprising. Donalds is a Trumper and Banyai is a progressive. Nothing anyone said altered that reality.
From a progressive viewpoint (which is, after all, the viewpoint of The Paradise Progressive), Donalds’ praises of Donald Trump sounded absurd on their face and his Trumpism forced him into defending the indefensible.
He praised Trump’s coronavirus response, his support for environmental funding in Florida (which Trump initially shortchanged in 2019 and only relented after pressure from Florida officials), blamed the California wildfires on forest management practices (a Trump hallmark) rather than acknowledge the impact of climate change, lauded Trump’s environmental record (?!) and blamed Pelosi for the stalemate blocking new relief for people and businesses harmed by the pandemic. His longstanding opposition to local masking mandates echoes Trump’s opposition to protecting the American population from the coronavirus.
Donalds’ support for Trumpism overshadows and negates any more reasoned positions he may take on the limits of government authority and economic sustainability.
Banyai effectively riposted Donalds’ positions and did so emphatically and effectively. She had a good command of the facts, was well prepared and was an effective debater.
Neither candidate is likely to have swayed people whose minds are already made up. However, if undecided voters were watching, they got a very good sense of the two candidates and their strengths and positions.
The debate was particularly important for Banyai’s underdog campaign, giving her exposure that she does not otherwise get from paid advertising, in contrast to Donalds’ support from outside ideological super political action committees.
The true test of the results of the debate will be seen in the only poll that counts—the election.
Voting is now under way. Collier County sent out its mail-in ballots last week and as of this writing had received back over 4,000 ballots. Lee County is scheduled to send out its mail-in ballots today.