Primary election endorsement summary for Southwest Florida

Aug. 16, 2022

Today marks one week until Primary Election Day, Aug. 23, in Collier and Lee counties. Early in-person voting is already available and mail-in ballots can be mailed or deposited in ballot intake stations (formerly known as drop-boxes) from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm at specific locations in Lee and Collier counties. (See Lee County’s list here and Collier County’s list here.)

In response to reader queries, below is a list of all Paradise Progressive endorsements for elected office. Not all have been fully explained in editorials. Nor is this a complete list of offices up for election.

The Paradise Progressive is a media outlet with a progressive slant, as the name implies. However, it is not affiliated with any single party nor does it follow any party’s dictates.

The endorsements below cover both parties. In a closed primary state like Florida only voters registered with their parties will get to vote in the party’s primary. Other elections, for example school board and judiciar are non-partisan races in which anyone of any party can vote.

There are three criteria for The Paradise Progressive’s endorsements:

1. Is the candidate qualified for the office he or she is seeking?

2. Can the candidate be relied upon to make clear, understandable, rational decisions based on facts, data, logic and science?

3. Does the candidate support the United States Constitution, the peaceful transition of power and—most of all—democracy?

These criteria transcend party or faction. Based on them, this is a summary of The Paradise Progressive’s endorsements, with links to those editorials that explain them in detail.

Democratic primary

Statewide

  • Senator: Val Demings
  • Governor: Nikki Fried

Endorsing the next Democratic governor

  • Attorney General: Daniel Uhlfelder
  • Commissioner of Agriculture: JR Gaillot

Republican Primary

19th Congressional District

  • Congress: Jim Huff

Editorial: Rep. Byron Donalds has failed Southwest Florida and can’t be allowed to do it again

Collier County Commission

  • District 2 Commissioner: Nancy Lewis
  • District 4 Commissioner: Penny Taylor

Endorsing Republican candidates for Collier Commission Districts 2 and 4

Non-partisan, Collier County judge

  • Judge: Pamela Barger

Endorsing a new judge for Collier County

Non-partisan, Collier County Board of Education

  • District 1: Jory Westberry
  • District 3: Jen Mitchell
  • District 5: Roy Terry

Non-partisan, Lee County Board of Education

  • District 1: Kathy Fanny
  • District 4: Debbie Jordan
  • District 5: Gwynetta Gittens
  • District 6: Tia Collin

Endorsing real education at the Collier and Lee county school boards—and rebuking anti-Semitism

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Endorsing a new judge for Collier County

Who will wield the gavel in Collier County’s courtroom?

Aug. 15, 2022

Judging candidates for judicial positions is notoriously difficult—and this year’s race for Collier County judge is no exception.

Judicial candidates are not like politicians who can make promises, take positions and adhere to specific ideologies. A judge is supposed to consider each case on its merits as it comes up, weigh it on the scales of the law and be objective, unbiased and equitable in decisionmaking.

This means that voters have to evaluate candidates on factors like temperament, experience and credentials.

This year, Collier County voters must consider two competing judicial candidates for county judge, Group 3. This group is a newly-created structure that will likely handle civil cases.

The candidates are Pamela Barger and Chris Brown.

Pamela Barger

Pamela Barger (Image: Campaign)

According to her official biography, Pamela Barger, 45, was born in Syracuse, NY and moved to Florida with her parents. She graduated from Pine Ridge Middle School and Barron Collier High School in Naples. She and her husband, Justin, live in Golden Gate Estates with her three children.

Barger earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Florida and her law degree in 2006 from the St. Thomas University School of Law, based in Miami Gardens.

For 13 years she served the 20th Judicial Circuit in Collier County as senior staff attorney, working with circuit and county judges. For the past two years she served as General Magistrate in Collier County, overseeing the Circuit Civil Division.

General magistrates are attorneys who perform many of the same functions as judges, like hearing evidence, administering oaths and ruling on routine motions. Unlike judges, though, they do not issue final decisions. Instead, they file reports to the circuit judges who make the ultimate ruling.

Barger was first tapped to serve as an interim magistrate for the Circuit Court’s civil division in the summer of 2012. On her website she states that it was during this stint that she “recognized the positive difference a judge can have on those who come before them as well as on the community as a whole.” She also states that the experience provided her with an understanding of the parties in the courtroom and “a vast understanding of the law and the insight to make effective judicial decisions.”

Barger provided some remarkable insights to Sparker’s Soapbox, a respected non-partisan blog, website and newsletter produced by Collier County resident Sandy Parker, which provides critical information to voters.

In answer to Parker’s questions, Barger revealed that what she regarded as one of her greatest legal accomplishments came in 2012 when she presided over the wage garnishment case of a defendant who had no lawyer, legal experience or even rudimentary knowledge of what he needed for his case. Even so, he provided the necessary documents and answered her questions.

“I was able to make a ruling that followed the law and granted this defendant’s request for relief from the overwhelmingly burdensome garnishment of his wages,” she recalled. “The relief on that defendant’s face when I made the ruling will stay with me for a lifetime.”

In another case, Barger worked with a newly-appointed judge to rule in a high-profile 6-victim murder case that had been in the system for nine years.

“My work on that case over nine years resulted in a 41-page sentencing order, where the judge ultimately decided to impose a sentence of death on each of the six counts of first-degree murder,” she stated. “The gravity of that decision and the process which the judge and I undertook has forever left its mark on not only me personally but also in shaping and sharpening my legal mind.”

Asked why voters should support her over her opponent, Barger replied: “My experience has afforded me the rare opportunity to work side by side with the judges of this county with behind-the-scenes access to watch how they analyze cases and learn what they look for and find important. I have earned their respect and trust with my sound advice, exceptional analysis and insight into legal issues.”

Chris Brown

Chris Brown (Photo: Campaign)

Christoper Brown, 49, came to Naples in 1983. He attended Shadowlawn Elementary School, Gulfivew Middle School, and graduated from Naples High School in 1991.

He earned his Bachelor degree with honors from the University of Florida in 1995 and his law degree from the University of Florida College of Law in 1999.

He and his wife live in Naples and have three children in the Collier County public schools. He’s religiously active, attending St. Ann Catholic Church in Naples and belonging to the Knights of Columbus. His wife is Presbyterian, so the family also attends Covenant Presbyterian Church.

According to the biography on his website, Brown began his legal career working as in-house counsel for a consulting firm. In 2002 he began practicing courtroom law in the 20th Circuit as an assistant public defender. He then began private practice in 2004 and two years later made partner in the firm Brown, Suarez, Rios & Weinberg in Naples, where he still practices.

Brown lists his criminal trial work as a major credential, including a number of “stand your ground” cases where he won acquittals. Asked by Parker to cite his proudest accomplishments, he wrote: “I cannot pinpoint any one case. I have represented thousands of folks and have tried over 150 cases. I have also argued dozens of appeals.  I guess I would point to the body of work and recognition of my peers and our judiciary that has resulted from 20+ years of effort, collectively, as my greatest accomplishment.”

When it came to his legal philosophy, Brown responded: “I am a firm believer in judicial restraint and the philosophy of Originalism.  A judge’s first fealty should be to the Florida and US constitutions.  Therefore, almost any legal decision I would be called on to make should be relatively straightforward as long as I consistently return to those first principles.”

Asked about his judicial role models, Brown replied: “On a national level I would start with the late, great Antonin Scalia as well as Justice Clarence Thomas.”

Brown is a member of the Federalist Society, the conservative association of lawyers and jurists. He’s also a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. He’s been endorsed by conservative farmer and grocer Alfie Oakes, state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples), and Crystal Kinzel, clerk of the county courts, among many others.

Why should voters support him?

“I believe the voters should pick me because of proven experience that is directly related to doing this job,” he replied. He had been endorsed because “I have the proven experience to step in and run a Collier County courtroom in a way the citizens deserve.”

Endorsement

In a recent campaign mailer, Brown pledged to voters that he would treat everyone entering court with dignity and respect, that he would approach his duties every day with humility and patience and that: “I WILL never make a ruling based on personal feelings or preconceived notions about a matter.”

That last pledge is very important because between the two candidates, Brown comes to the voters with a lot of ideological baggage: his membership in the Federalist Society and National Rifle Association memberships, in particular. His own adherence to Originalism and admiration for Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas indicates his very conservative judicial orientation.  

All this raises concerns about his ability to approach cases without being influenced by ideological orthodoxies. Collier County residents entering his courtroom would not have confidence in his neutrality, impartiality and objectivity. It also raises questions about how he might approach cases involving abortion, although he has not been asked directly about it.

In contrast, Pamela Barger is, from all outward indications, ideologically neutral as befits a judge.

In his campaign Brown makes much of the fact that he has been a trial lawyer. However, this is not necessarily a convincing credential for a judge who must referee a trial.

As Barger put it in answering Parker’s questions: “My opponent will tell you that he is the only qualified candidate because he is a trial attorney and I am not. But there is nothing magical about being a trial attorney that makes you qualified for judicial office. Trial attorneys only argue from one perspective, they do not approach matters from an impartial, unbiased point of view.”

By contrast, she wrote: “I have spent my entire legal career approaching matters from an unbiased, impartial view point.”  

Barger’s service as a magistrate has given her the experience necessary to effectively run an impartial, objective, fair courtroom and apply that impartiality and objectivity to whatever cases come before her.

Voters should elect Pamela Barger to be Collier County’s next Group 3 judge.

Early voting has already begun and continues until this Saturday, Aug. 20. Primary mail-in ballots can be mailed at any time. Primary Election Day is Tuesday, Aug. 23.

Pamela Barger in front of the Collier County Courthouse. (Image: Campaign)

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Endorsing Republican candidates for Collier County Commission Districts 2 and 4

Collier County districts 2 and 4. (Map: Board of Collier County Commissioners.)

Aug. 12, 2022

It may seem surprising that a website and blog launched as a result of the lack of coverage of Southwest Florida Democrats would make endorsements in a Republican primary race. However, over the years, The Paradise Progressive has gained a Republican readership—much to its author’s own astonishment.

These readers will be voting in the Republican primary this year and they and all voters merit recommendations in important local races.

As has been stated in the past, it has always been the position of The Paradise Progressive that a media outlet covering politics has a duty to endorse. Following candidates and political developments on a regular basis gives journalists insights and knowledge that need to be shared with voters. Whether the outlet is national or local, television, online or print or even a simple blog, it is the obligation of independent media in a free society to help voters make an informed choice. Any endorsement offends some people but that comes with taking a stand on anything.

Further, The Paradise Progressive endeavors to provide useful information to politically interested and active readers of all persuasions.

There is a clear cleavage in Southwest Florida’s Republican Party between extreme Make America Great Again (MAGA) Donald Trump Republicans and rational Abraham Lincoln Republicans.

Lincoln Republicans are denigrated by MAGAts as RINOs, Republicans in Name Only. But there’s no shame in upholding sanity, constitutionality and reasoned, sensible dialogue regardless of disagreements. As has been suggested here in the past, thinking Republicans should own their rationality, independence and intelligence with pride (and perhaps even make the rhino their mascot).

It is in that spirit that we endorse candidates in the Republican primary race for Collier County Commission in Districts 2 and 4.

Tough years

In past years the issues in Collier County Commission races have centered around the pace and extent of development and its impact on the environment and quality of life.

This is an ongoing, enduring issue and will continue to be so as more people move into the area and developers seek profit in accommodating them.

But over the past four years other concerns have impacted the area. In July 2021 extremists pushed a county ordinance that would have nullified federal law in Collier County. Among all the other damage it would have done, it would have cut the county off from federal grant programs, protection and aid in the event of disasters like hurricanes. It was defeated by a single vote.

The COVID pandemic created unprecedented tensions in Collier County. There was a clear and present need to uphold public health and protect county residents through masking and sensible measures. That led to a split between people who believed in science, reason and logic and those who dismissed the disease as a sham and a hoax that would simply disappear.

It didn’t disappear and county residents died, although we may never know the exact numbers with full certainty because of the unreliability of statistics issued by the state.

As this is written, new variants are on the rampage again. People who have been vaccinated and boosted can be confident that if they catch it the symptoms will be mild and passing. Fanatical anti-vaxxers still risk serious illness and death.

Any member of the Board of Collier County Commissioners has to confront crises like this one in a rational and thoughtful way. That is not what MAGA candidates offer.

So it is critical that any commissioner—of any party—believe in science and reason rather than fantasy and fanaticism. Ignorance, intolerance and insanity cannot be the basis for governing.

District 2

District 2 is the area from the Collier County-Lee County line in the north to Pine Ridge Road in the south and from the coast to Interstate 75 in the east.

For the past four years the district was served by Andy Solis, who declined to run this year.

Among the Republican candidates in the race for District 2 commissioner, Nancy Lewis stands out as a sensible candidate in the Lincoln tradition.

Nancy Lewis (Photo: Author)

Lewis has made rational, restrained growth the centerpiece of her campaign.

“People did not move to Collier County to find themselves living in another Miami,” she states on her campaign website. “If I’m elected, I plan to fight with every fiber of my being to engage in sensible, planned growth to protect the Collier way of life. I’m running to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.”

As part of her commitment to objective evaluation of developers’ plans, Lewis is refusing any contributions from corporate developers.

But more than this, Lewis has been deeply engaged in civic and community affairs since moving to the Naples area in 1991. She has a grasp of the minutia of county administration and budgeting and served as administrator of the Pelican Bay Property Owners Association and president of Naples Retirement Inc. She was a leader in the Save Vanderbilt Beach movement that opposed the construction of a truly massive and overwhelming building at Naples One.

Most of all, voters can have confidence that Lewis will serve all Collier County residents with thoughtfulness and reason, will listen to their concerns with sympathy and understanding and will vote on the County Commission with their best interests and the county in mind, regardless of their political persuasions.

District 4

District 4 runs from the coast to Interstate 75 in the east and from Pine Ridge Road and US 41 East in the north to Rattlesnake Road in the south. It includes the City of Naples. For the past four years, this district has been served by Penny Taylor.

Penny Taylor (Image: Campaign)

During her tenure the importance of her vote on the Collier County Board of Commissioners was demonstrated repeatedly. Nowhere was this truer than during the worst of the COVID pandemic.

In 2020 the severity of the COVID caseload and rising deaths in Collier County led county commissioners to consider a mask mandate to protect residents.

It was not popular and the Commission approached it with great trepidation and hesitancy. The Commission tried everything short of a mandate for as long as it could, like restrictions on beach access to cut down on crowds. Even as late as June, when much of the country was in lockdown and the virus was surging, they tried to rely on voluntary measures.

However, cases continued to mount. Initially, the Commission voted 3 to 2 to reject an ordinance imposing fines on businesses not using masks. It took a heated, 5-hour meeting to reach that decision, with Taylor voting in the majority.

But Taylor realized that failing to protect county residents was not a viable option. She called an emergency meeting the next week and changed her vote.

This was probably the most fraught and difficult stand that Taylor took during her tenure to date. It brought her scorn, hatred and threats from anti-maskers and COVID-deniers, some of whom are determined to this day to unseat her for these actions. For them it was a betrayal and an unconscionable reversal. Extreme conservative farmer and grocer Alfie Oakes accused her of selling out to corporate interests and the Chamber of Commerce.

But Taylor’s change of mind can be seen in a different light: as the action of someone open to data, facts and reason; someone recognizing reality and protecting the health and safety of all residents and businesses in Collier County.

Through all the stress, the tension and the emotion, Taylor has remained reasoned and restrained in this and other matters. To watch her patiently conduct meetings and keep order through grueling hours of often impassioned and conflicting testimony is to watch a real parliamentarian at work. Her commitment to deliberate discussion leading to logical conclusions is admirable.

Taylor has over 20 years of local government experience in a variety of roles and has consistently supported and defended efforts to protect the area’s water and environment. She has avoided extreme anti-development efforts while trying to keep development sensible and environmentally friendly.

For these reasons Penny Taylor should be re-elected to the position of District 4 commissioner and remain chair of the Collier County Board of Commissioners. The district and the county need someone who has been tempered by the fires of crisis and Penny Taylor is that person.

*  *  *

Again and again, the past four years in Collier County have shown the power of a single vote to make critical decisions on the county’s future.

In these instances they were the votes of county commissioners on the matters before them. But now that the election is upon us, the power of the vote goes to the people at large.

Whether Republican, Democrat or non-affiliated, every citizen should vote in this primary election.

Mail-in ballots are already being received. Early in-person voting begins Saturday, Aug. 13 and runs until Aug. 20 and can be done in person or at drop boxes. Primary Election Day is Tuesday, Aug. 23.

We’ve seen the danger of people trying to take away the power to vote. Those who don’t exercise it while they have it risk losing it forever.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Endorsing real education at the Collier and Lee county school boards—and rebuking anti-Semitism

Candidates for Collier County School Board speak at a forum at the Destiny Church in Naples, Fla. on May 21. (Photo: Author)

Aug. 10, 2022

In Southwest Florida school board elections are supposed to be non-partisan—but that doesn’t mean they aren’t divisive.

That has never been truer than this year. School board elections in Southwest Florida and around the country have become battlefields even if the candidates don’t have party affiliations after their names.

Two world views, two philosophies, two complete universes are in conflict. One is the product of a secular, scientific Enlightenment and the other is based on religion, dogma and doctrine.

What’s really at stake in these school board elections is which worldview will mold the next generation of Florida’s youth. Will they go into the future equipped with the intellectual skills and knowledge to succeed in a complex, diverse, technological world? Or will they be shaped by an emotionally comforting but academically deficient cocoon from which they never emerge?

It’s against this backdrop that Southwest Florida voters should carefully choose which candidates will guide the region’s education.

In both counties early in-person voting begins Saturday, Aug. 13 (the last day to request a mail-in ballot) and runs until Saturday, Aug. 20. Primary Election Day is Tuesday, Aug. 23. Mail-in ballots are already arriving. If candidates receive over 50 percent of the vote in the primary they will be elected without having to run again in the general election.

Collier County

In Collier County the choice is absolutely clear: all incumbents should be returned to office.

That means electing Jory Westberry in District 1, Jen Mitchell in District 3 and Roy Terry in District 5.

Jory Westberry (Photo: CCPS)

This is not even a contest: these three educators have experience, credentials and a proven commitment to the education and the well-being of Collier County’s students. Their past efforts earned the Collier County School District an “A” rating from the Florida Department of Education for the fifth year in a row.

Jen Mitchell (Photo: Author)

None of the challengers have anything close to their qualifications to sit on the school board.

No challenger has shown an interest in or familiarity with the nuts and bolts of school system management, budgeting and decisionmaking, which is really what keeps a school district functioning.

Roy Terry (Photo: CCPS)

There’s no point in belaboring this. If Collier County students are going to be competently educated, Westberry, Mitchell and Terry need to be re-elected.

Lee County

There are similar stakes in Lee County’s school board race, where Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has reached down to support and fund his own favored candidates.

The candidates endorsed by the Lee County Democratic Party merit the support of Lee County voters.

They are:

  • District 1: Kathy Fanny
  • District 4: Debbie Jordan
  • District 5: Gwynetta Gittens
  • District 6: Tia Collin

On a disturbing note

One particular campaign incident merits special attention.

In the Collier County School Board race for the 5th District, candidate Tim Moshier’s campaign manager, Katiepaige Richards, posted an overtly anti-Semitic 7-second video on social media.

Katiepaige Richards, campaign manager for Tim Moshier, in her social media video.

With the text “j€w$ remixing the part where they’re not using p0rn0gr@phÿ as mind control” over the image, Richards mimes being a disc jockey scratching records while dancing. Her careful use of symbols in the text to avoid alerting community standards algorithms indicates that this was a very deliberate production and not something done casually.

Her reference is to a new anti-Semitic canard among the extreme right that, as Richards put it in a different tweet: “…Zionists use pornography as mind control for the population… for white people specifically… no one has yet to prove me wrong.” And in another post she stated that she’s “not a fan of zionists, degeneracy, vaccines or globalists.”

When asked about his campaign manager’s video at the opening of a new Republican Party headquarters, candidate Moshier told Naples Daily News reporter Rachel Heimann Mercader that “I don’t have a problem with it.”

Moshier has no educational credentials whatsoever. Before this he was just unqualified for a school board seat; his answer and indifference to bigotry make clear he’s unfit for any public office at all.

It’s just one more indication of the stakes and sensibilities in this year’s school board races—in Southwest Florida and across the country.

Liberty lives in light

©2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Candidates clash over classroom priorities, religious beliefs in Collier County School Board forum

Candidates for Collier County School Board at the Destiny Church in Naples, Fla. on May 21. (Photo: Author)

May 24, 2022 by David Silverberg

The differences between experienced, secular incumbents seeking re-election to the Collier County Board of Education and religiously-driven challengers were on full display this past Saturday, May 21, at a candidate forum held by the Christian Conservative Coalition at the Destiny Church in Naples.

The forum featured nine candidates for School Board seats for districts 1, 3 and 5, which are up for election this year in a non-partisan race. If candidates succeed in winning 50 percent plus one majorities in the Aug. 23 primary they will be elected, otherwise the election will be decided on Nov. 8.

About 100 people attended the two-hour forum, which featured candidates making opening statements then answering prepared questions from the moderator, Chad Taylor. Each candidate was given one minute to answer the question after being picked in random order.

In District 1 Jory Westberry is the incumbent board member. Opposing her are challengers Kimberly Boobyer, a golf teacher and coach, and Jerry Rutherford, a retired life insurance salesman and painting contractor.

In District 3, incumbent Jen Mitchell, the board’s chair, is up against challengers Kelly Lichter, a former teacher and charter school founder, and Jana Greer, a businesswoman.

In District 5, incumbent Roy Terry is facing challengers Tim Moshier, a former trucking company executive, and Ana Turino, an academic mentor.

The three incumbents all have extensive experience either on the board or in the education system. Terry has 44 years in the Collier County school system as a teacher, principal and coach; Mitchell noted her 25 years in Naples and her record since joining the board in 2018 of bringing up Collier County school standards; and Westberry cited her experience as a teacher, administrator and parent and grandparent of students in the county schools.

Opening questions

School boards across the country have gone from relatively quiet and obscure local government agencies to intense ideological battlegrounds in the aftermath of the pandemic, mask mandates, the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 insurrection. Steve Bannon, former strategic advisor to Presdient Donald Trump has stated that Trump believers will take back the country “village by village” at the local level, including school boards.

Collier County is no exception to this effort.

This forum emphasized religious differences. The Coalition’s promotion of the event promised “we will be asking the questions no one else has the courage to ask” and with three districts in play, “we have the POWER to gain the majority and change the liberal policies indoctrinating our children.” 

According to its website, the Coalition is an organization that seeks to mobilize Christian leaders and believers for political “projects, campaigns, and organizations.” It states: “We are about enlisting new conservative Christian ‘boots on the ground’ –  then training, motivating, and informing these believers in Christ via our email newsletter, special events, and monthly meetings,” (The organization’s Facebook page has 1,261 followers.)

The candidates knew they were playing to a religious audience, which may have intensified the zealotry of their responses, especially among the challengers, while incumbents answered from experience and knowledge of the system.

Given its religious setting and ideological hosting organization, the forum’s first three questions—and numerous questions thereafter—were heavily weighted toward emotional, hot-button issues.

When asked the first question, “Should biological males be allowed to compete in female sports?” all the candidates called for the separation of men and women in sports. However, given her experience, Mitchell pointed out that males and females have to be separated to comply with state law and Collier County is no exception.

Asked the second question, “What is your stance on abortion and how would it guide your school policies?” Mitchell noted that she was the result of her mother’s decision to keep her when abortion was an option, so she had a personal connection to the question. However, she also noted that in school, “It’s important to distinguish between information and teaching” and abortion is not part of the curriculum. Parents can opt their children out of instruction when sexual matters are discussed. Westberry also pointed out the school does not have a policy to teach abortion and Terry added that the only students who get the reproductive curricula are in eighth grade.

However, the challengers vied with each other to demonstrate the depth of their opposition to abortion. Boobyer cited her Catholic faith and said she wanted all abortion abolished. Turino called for abstinence and said she would not even “take puppies from dogs.” Greer said that abortion “absolutely should not be allowed” and all references to it in teaching materials should be removed. Lichter said she would ensure that there was no promotion of abortion or references to Planned Parenthood. Rutherford said that if a girl gets pregnant the school should inform the parents and there should be no teaching of abortion.

On the third question: “How should American exceptionalism and Marxism be taught in schools?” Mitchell pointed out that while existing textbooks emphasized American exceptionalism, the stories of Marxism and Fascism are also taught “because how else will students know just how exceptional we are?” Westberry agreed that American exceptionalism should be promoted and that when the histories of Marxism and other ideologies are taught, it “be taught at the appropriate grade level.” Terry, who noted his father’s service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, thought that students should understand the nature of Marxism.

The challengers were more emphatic. Turino wanted American exceptionalism taught “at kindergarten.” Marxism and communism, she argued, shouldn’t be taught before high school and then the failure of countries adhering to those ideologies should be emphasized. Rutherford too wanted Marxism taught as a failure. Moshier accused the current school administration of pushing Marxism. Boobyer not only wanted Marxism taught as evil along with the Holocaust but she made a point of calling for the teaching of flag etiquette. Greer wanted to make sure students did not “believe that socialism or Marxism is the way to go.”

The 38 percent debate

To the degree that the forum became a debate, it focused on a charge by Boobyer that the existing school board is ignoring 38 percent of Collier County students whom she said were failing math and reading.

Mitchell responded that that was simply “not true.” Rather, 38 percent were not at grade level. “To say they are failing is an insult to our students and teachers,” she said, pointedly noting that “we need to be respectful of one another.” Rather, she explained, the school system had achieved a record high 92.7 percent graduation rate, maintained an “A” district status for the last four years, and outperformed state standards in all 21 areas subject to tests, all this coming under her tenure.

Westberry also took issue with Boobyer’s 38 percent charge. “We have 91 different dialects spoken in school,” she said. “Some of the students come without any English at all. That we have only 38 percent [below grade level] is a miracle and a testament to what [teachers] do.”

Another brief point of contention came when Moshier, citing his experience running a trucking business and cutting back in bad times, said that he would cut the education budget “and put more money back in our pockets.” To which Terry replied: “Cut the budget? Tell us what you’re going to cut out” and listed a variety of schoolroom and extracurricular activities that while vital, might go under the knife in a broad and indiscriminate slicing.

Rules and rebellion

One question that went to the heart of the election race was: “Are you willing to take a stand for what is right even if the rules say otherwise?”

Unsurprisingly, all candidates said they would stand up for whatever is right and cited times when they stood up for principle.

However, the answers also revealed the secular-religious divide between them.

Terry noted many times when he had confronted the superintendent and said he could not support a particular activity. “My whole thought is if it’s not good for the students we shouldn’t be doing it,” he said. Mitchell said she had taken a stand opposing use of sexual materials unless parents approved. When it came to masking during the worst of the pandemic the board had followed health department directives, she pointed out, saying, “I uphold the Constitution and follow the law.” Westberry said: “I have proven I am willing to take a stand on things.”

But a number of challengers said they would follow a different law.

“I will always stand up for just laws under God’s law,” said Boobyer. Rutherford said he would stand for the law “unless it’s against God’s law. God’s law comes first.” Greer said she would “always stand up for the Biblical world view.”

Commentary: Realism versus religion

The next candidate forum for school board is on June 21, hosted by Naples Better Government, League of Women Voters, Collier Citizens Council, and Greater Naples Leadership. (Details at the end of this article.)

This event will be held in a non-religious setting and will likely revolve around less religiously driven questions.

It was clear from Saturday’s forum, however, that there is a strong religious element driving the challengers to the current school board. Particular examples of this were candidates Boobyer, Greer, Turino and Rutherford.

However, while decrying “indoctrination” of students with values of logical reasoning, free inquiry and critical thinking, they would seek to impose their own religious views on the school system if elected—in other words, true indoctrination in the sense of inculcating a doctrine.

But that raises the question of which doctrine: Catholic? Protestant? Evangelical? Imposing religious beliefs conjures the specter of doctrinal conflict. When they created the Constitution and Bill of Rights, the nation’s founders could look back on Europe’s previous 200 years of religious wars, massacres and persecutions. They wanted no part of that, which is why the first clause of the First Amendment prohibits establishment of a state religion and allows free exercise of faith. It’s what made America truly exceptional.

No question asked of the candidates at the forum put this in better perspective than: “Are you willing to take a stand for what is right even if the rules say otherwise?”

Of course any school board has to follow the law and adhere to rationally and properly formulated rules. The presumption behind the question is that there will be a difference between “right” and “rules.” It’s a false assumption. Following the law and obeying the rules is what’s right and that’s what should be expected of school board members. Candidates can follow whatever they think is God’s law in their private lives but school board members have to adhere to state law in their official decisionmaking.

In a way it was a good thing that this was such a religiously-oriented forum because it put the religion issue on the table in the school board elections.

The fact is that the vast majority of school board work is much more mundane than this forum would suggest: managing contracts, evaluating contractors, approving purchases, dealing with personnel, budgeting, infrastructure maintenance, and overseeing the superintendent’s office are really the nuts and bolts of what a school board does and Collier County is no exception.

These are requirements that favor steadiness, experience and managerial ability rather than zealotry, faith and fervor.

A straw poll held at the end of the forum showed this audience’s preferences. They favored Rutherford in District 1, Lichter in District 3, and Moshier in District 5.

However, there are 91 days to the primary election and 168 days to the general election. A lot can happen in that time.

*  *  *

The next Collier County School Board candidate forum will take place on Tuesday, June 21, 2022, from 5:30 pm to 8:00 pm at the NABOR Conference Center, 1455 Pine Ridge Road, Naples. It is being hosted by Naples Better Government in partnership with the League of Women Voters, Collier Citizens Council, and Greater Naples Leadership. It will be broadcast on Collier Television CTV, Comcast 97, and Summit 98.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Chunk of Cape Coral moved to new congressional district in Florida House draft maps

An overview of Southwest Florida congressional districts as proposed by the Florida House Redistricting Committee. (Map: House Redistricting Committee)

Dec. 2, 2021 by David Silverberg

–Updated at 3:00 pm with redistricting timeline.

A large chunk of Cape Coral would move from Florida’s 19th Congressional District into a newly re-named 18th Congressional District according to new draft redistricting maps released Monday, Nov. 29, by the Florida House Redistricting Committee.

The redistricting aims to create congressional districts of equal population throughout the state. The goal is to have 769,221 people in each district if possible. Florida must also accommodate a new 28th Congressional District.

Under existing boundaries, the 19th District is overpopulated by 65,791 people or .086 percent more than the ideal and so must lose population to surrounding districts. The question is: where?

The House proposal contrasts with maps released on Nov. 10 by the Florida Senate Redistricting Committee. Those drafts moved North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres into the existing 17th Congressional District.

Instead, both drafts released by the House committee (H000C8001 and H000C8003) take a piece of Cape Coral from the 19th and put it in a newly renumbered 18th District.

The new 18th

Cape Coral (left arrow) and parts of Lehigh Acres (right arrow) change congressional districts in new maps proposed by the Florida House Redistricting Committee. Red lines denote existing district boundaries. (Map: House Redistricting Committee; arrows, The Paradise Progressive.)

The new 18th would include Charlotte, Hendry, Glades, Highland, DeSoto, Hardee and Okeechobee counties with pieces of Sarasota and Lee counties—roughly the same territory as the current 17th.

The 18th would also get a chunk of Cape Coral from the Lee County line, down Burnt Store Rd., to SW Pine Island Ln. (Rt. 78) as far east as Del Prado Blvd., North, then to Hancock Bridge Pkwy., stopping just short of Rt. 41 (N. Cleveland Ave.). It then just follows the Caloosahatchee River east to Interstate 75.

In a gain for the 19th, the draft maps give a chunk of Lehigh Acres back to the 19th, although the bulk of it remains in the new 18th.

Collier County lines

Changes propsed for the 19th District in Collier County. Red lines denote existing district boundaries. (Map: House Redistricting Committee)

In the southern part of the 19th District, the 19th gains a bit along Golden Gate but then loses a chunk of East Naples including Lely, Naples Manor and Lely Resort.

It also loses some swampland further south—and the tiny community of Goodland, which would celebrate any future Buzzard Lope contests and mullet festivals in a newly re-numbered 26th District.

That 26th District largely keeps the shape of the previous 25th, spreading across Collier County, encompassing Immokalee and keeping Hialeah, its Cuban-American center of gravity and population.

Analysis: An F grade for the House

The two draft congressional maps from the state House Redistricting Committee have come under fire for their partisan gerrymandering.

H000C8003 (which is identical to H000C8001 as far as Southwest Florida is concerned) was given an overall grade of F from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, which found it significantly biased in favor of Republicans. The FiveThirtyEight.com redistricting tracker found it similarly biased, creating 15 Republican-leaning seats statewide, where before there had only been one.

Much of this bias takes place in the congressional districts on the east coast in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area where there are significant Democratic populations.

As far as Southwest Florida is concerned, cutting out a chunk of Cape Coral is less radically partisan than cutting out minority communities in North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres. Those changes were in the state Senate draft, which came under fire from Cindy Banyai, the Democratic congressional candidate in the 19th Congressional District.

From a partisan standpoint, the Cape Coral area being moved into a new district in the House drafts is mostly Republican anyway, so moving it into a new, heavily Republican 18th District won’t make that much of a difference.

It needs to be noted that in addition to the Senate and House drafts, there are proposals from individual Floridians who submitted maps, since the process was thrown open to the public.

A map submitted by Curtis Steffenson signficantly redraws congressional districts in Southwest Florida. Red lines denote existing boundaries. (Map: House Redistricing Committee)

A congressional map from Curtis Steffenson (P000C0054), released the same day as the House maps was much more radical in its redrawing than the committee maps, although not necessarily more partisan. It would significantly alter the 19th Congressional District, splitting Lee County in half and putting all of Collier County including Naples and Immokalee into a new 20th District that would go as far east as the county line.

It’s an interesting concept and demonstrates how flexible the lines can be. However, it is very uncertain how seriously the state legislature will be taking this and other draft maps submitted by the public.

All redistricting must be completed and finalized during the Florida legislative session that begins on Jan. 11, 2022 and before the candidate qualifying period beginning on June 13, 2022.


To register an opinion on potential redistricting, go to the state redistricting opinion form, here.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Draft redistricting maps move North Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres, into different congressional district

Other changes expand 19th District in Collier County

Southwest Florida congressional districts as drafted by the state Senate redistricting committee.

Nov. 14, 2021 by David Silverberg

–Updated at 5:00 pm with Rep. Byron Donalds’ home location.

North Fort Myers, including the River District, the Dunbar neighborhood, and a portion of Lehigh Acres, would change congressional districts under new draft redistricting maps.

Florida’s first four draft maps of new districts were released on Wednesday, Nov. 10, by the state Senate redistricting committee, headed Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Estero).

For the most part, the new maps leave Southwest Florida’s 17th, 19th and 25th congressional districts largely intact. The districts retain their existing numbering. No local congressmen were redistricted out of their seats or forced into runoff elections. All the districts remain overwhelmingly Republican based on voter registrations.

The big change for the state as a whole is the addition of a new congressional seat, the 28th. It is proposed, as expected, for the center of the state where population growth has been greatest.

While there was widespread trepidation—and expectation—that the new Florida maps would be radically biased in favor of Republicans that proved not to be the case.

When the maps were released, “they were surprisingly unaggressive,” wrote the website FiveThirtyEight.com. “Instead, they largely preserve Florida’s current congressional map, exhibiting only a mild Republican bias.”

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project, an impressively deep and thorough examination of redistricting across the country, gave them an overall grade of B, meaning “better than average for the category, but bias still exists.”

This article looks at the four draft maps for three US congressional districts in Southwest Florida and what they mean for voters. Subsequent articles will examine state Senate and House districts and other draft maps.

In all four draft maps released last week (S000C8002, S000C8004, S000C8006 and S000C8008) the boundaries for the 17th, 19th and 25th congressional districts that make up Southwest Florida remain largely the same.

There are, however, some important changes.

Northern borders

The existing 17th Congressional District.

The Florida Fair Districts amendments aim to keep districts as compact and contiguous as possible, following existing boundaries, like county lines. These maps largely do that.

The 17th District, represented by Rep. Greg Steube (R), is a huge, although largely rural, district encompassing Hardee, Desoto, Charlotte, Glades, Highlands, and Okeechobee counties, with chunks of Polk, Lee, and Sarasota counties.

In the new maps the 17th loses all its territory in Polk County, which goes to the newly-formed 28th Congressional District. It also gives up much of its Sarasota County territory to the 16th, although it keeps North Port and the whole town of Venice. But it gains territory in Lee County.

The northern border of the draft Congressional District 17 showing the change in Sarasota County. The red line denotes the existing boundary. (Map: Florida Senate Redistricting Committee)

North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres

The existing 19th Congressional District.

It is in North Fort Myers that there are big changes proposed as that community shifts from the 19th to the 17th.

The 19th District is represented by Rep. Byron Donalds (R), who lives two miles east of Rt. 75 in the 25th District.

In the new maps State Road 82 becomes the boundary between the 17th and the 19th until it reaches Rt. 75. Then everything—the River District, Buckingham, Tice, Dunbar, Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., as far south as Winkler Ave. and as far west as the Seminole Gulf railway—becomes part of the 17th.

The 19th may be losing a big chunk of North Fort Myers but it picks up Palmona Park across the Caloosahatchee River in Cape Coral.

In the past, most of Lehigh Acres was in the 17th District with a sliver in the 19th. That’s no longer true: the 17th takes all of Lehigh Acres as far south as State Road 82.

The draft map of the northern 19th Congressional District with North Fort Myers (left arrow) and Lehigh Acres (right arrow) moved into the 17th District. The red lines denote the current boundaries. (Map: Florida Senate Redistricting Committee)

Collier County

Since its drawing in 2010, the 19th District has resembled a railroad spike or a mushroom, with a bulbous north and a skinny south along the coast in its Collier County portion.

In the draft maps, that spike or stem widens slightly. Instead of Livingston Rd. in Collier County being the eastern end of the district, this map extends the line to Rt. 75, which makes much more sense as a boundary.

Between Vanderbilt Beach Rd. and Pine Ridge Rd., it also extends the district eastward to Logan Blvd. to include The Vineyards, which are now entirely in the district.

In its southern end, it stops following Rt. 75 and instead makes 32nd Ave. SW its boundary as far as Collier Blvd., where it goes straight south to Rt. 41 and encompasses Marco Island and Goodland as its most southeasterly community.

Where the 19th gains in Collier County the 25th loses, but not by much. The western edge of the 25th, represented by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R) retains Golden Gate and the unincorporated town of Immokalee and more or less keeps its existing shape. More important is the action on its more densely-populated eastern side where it gains population with Opa-Locka and slivers of Miami. However, it keeps its most important community, Hialeah, a Cuban-American stronghold.

Expansion of the 19th District in Collier County. The red line denotes the existing boundary. (Map: Florida Senate Redistricting Committee)

Analysis: Implications

Redistricting—or gerrymandering, if you don’t like the results—is always a delicate art. Drawing the lines can’t help but get partisan as they’re drafted.

In this case, the 19th District was overpopulated and had to lose population somewhere. It so happens that the state Senate drafters chose to take it out by removing minority, working class, somewhat Democratic communities.

Moving North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres into the 17th means the interests of those suburban communities will be subsumed by the majority rural and agricultural voters further north in Charlotte, Hardee, Desoto, Glades, Highlands, and Okeechobee counties.

In partisan terms, it means they can’t threaten Republican dominance in either the 19th or the 17th. But that was the way the existing lines were drawn anyway.

Assuming that redistricting proceeds smoothly and according to its assigned schedule, next year candidates will be campaigning in the newly drawn new districts. However, it’s difficult to see how the new lines could make much of a difference.

Currently, both the 19th and 17th districts are represented by extreme, radical right-wing Republican incumbent representatives, Donalds and Steube.

For residents of North Fort Myers that doesn’t mean much of a difference in being represented to policymakers in Washington, DC. For Black residents of the affected areas, Donalds not only has no interest in traditional Black concerns like civil rights and voting access, he is actively hostile to them. He has inveighed against critical race theory in schools and is part of the Republican culture wars chorus. He plays to his extreme conservative political action committee donors and a hard-right Trumpist base. Minority voters weren’t getting much representation anyway, so they aren’t losing much if he doesn’t represent them in 2022.

By contrast, his Democratic opponent, Cindy Banyai, is already campaigning vigorously on behalf of those communities. However, she’ll be deprived of potentially supportive voters if the maps change as drawn.

Nor will North Fort Myers residents get any representation if Steube wins re-election again. If anything, Steube is even more extreme than Donalds and would likely completely ignore those communities.

Steube was opposed in 2020 by Allen Ellison, whom he defeated 64 to 34 percent. This year Ellison is running for the US Senate seat of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). To date, Steube has no announced opponent.

In the 25th District, Diaz-Balart is running against Democrat Adam Gentle. Last year Diaz-Balart ran unopposed. Changes in the district lines would not seem to make much of a difference in the demographic makeup of the district.

It’s worth remembering that these are just draft maps. In addition to the state Senate committee’s proposals individuals have submitted proposed drafts. Also, the state House committee is expected to shortly submit its proposals.

People who want to weigh in can contact their representatives and Southwest Florida is fortunate in that Rodrigues, who oversees the whole redistricting effort, is a local state senator. Also, state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Naples) will be serving as Senate president next year and has a disproportionate say in the final redistricting.


To make your opinion of the draft maps known:

State Sen. Ray Rodrigues can be reached at

rodrigues.ray.web@flsenate.gov

(239) 338-2570

District Office

Suite 401
2000 Main Street
Fort Myers, FL   33901

State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo can be reached at

passidomo.kathleen.web@flsenate.gov

(239) 417-6205

District Office

Suite 203
3299 Tamiami Trail East
Naples, FL   34112

Liberty lives in light

(c) 2021 by David Silverberg

Pro and anti-choice demonstrators duel in contentious Naples protest

The demonstration at the outset of the event. (All photos: Author)

Oct. 2, 2021 by David Silverberg

On a day of national demonstrations in favor of the right of women to choose abortion, Naples, Fla., was treated to an unusually raucous and contentious rally by pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates.

There were no arrests, although individuals, particularly anti-abortionists, while staying non-violent, became aggressive at times. Demonstrators shouted dueling chants and anti-abortionists attempted to drown out scheduled pro-choice speakers.

The demonstration took place in front of the Collier County courthouse in the county government center at Airport Pulling Rd. and Route 41 and then moved to the sidewalk along Airport Pulling Rd.

At the scheduled start of the demonstration at 10 am, there were about 100 pro-choice demonstrators and 22 anti-abortion demonstrators present. Although the numbers swelled during the next two hours, the ratio of abortion opponents to supporters remained about the same. At its height perhaps a total of 300 to 400 people were in the crowd.

There was no separation between the demonstrators and police made no effort to keep them apart. According to one Collier County sheriff’s deputy, in the public space police were not authorized to keep the competing parties apart or intervene unless a crime was actively committed. Nor was a permit required for the “Mobilize and Defend Our Reproductive Rights” rally, so there was no need to enforce a permit’s requirements.

Pro and anti-choice demonstrators mix together as the rally proceeds.
An anti-abortionist weighs into the crowd to harangue demonstrators.
Collier County Sheriff’s deputies look on while the action unfolds.
Collier County teacher Corrie Vega recounts her experiences of sexual assault and harassment despite anti-abortion chants and heckling.
Rev. Tony Fisher of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Naples makes his speech despite anti-abortion heckling.
Pro-choice demonstrators line Airport Pulling Road after the rally on the Courthouse steps.

Liberty lives in light

(c) 2021 by David Silverberg

Texas-like abortion bill filed in Florida; pro-choice coalition to protest Oct. 2 at Collier County Courthouse

Demonstrations planned across the country

Pro-choice demonstrators protest in Naples, Fla., on May 21, 2019. (Photo: Author)

Sept. 23, 2021 by David Silverberg

The fight over women’s reproductive rights in Florida was joined yesterday, Sept. 22, when state House Bill (HB) 167, a Florida version of the Texas abortion prohibition law, was filed by Rep. Webster Barnaby (R-27-Volusia County) at 9:14 am.

As the bill’s summary states, it: “Requires physician to conduct test for, & inform woman seeking abortion of, presence of detectable fetal heartbeat; prohibits physician from performing or inducing abortion if fetal heartbeat is detected or if physician fails to conduct test to detect fetal heartbeat; provides exceptions; authorizes private civil cause of action for certain violations; provides for civil remedies & damages.”

State Rep. Webster Barnaby (Photo: Barnaby campaign)

Oddly, while the introduction caused an immediate storm of protest from pro-choice activists and Democrats, Barnaby himself was silent about the bill, neither issuing a statement explaining his action nor posting any comment on his social media platforms.

Pro-choice groups around the country were already organizing for a National Day of Action to Mobilize and Defend Reproductive Rights on Saturday, Oct. 2. In Florida, the group Florida Reproductive Freedom is organizing rallies in 13 cities throughout the state.

In Collier County a coalition of groups has called for a major demonstration at the Collier County Courthouse in Naples that Saturday, Oct. 2, at 10 am for two hours. (Full disclosure: The Paradise Progressive is a sponsor.)

The demonstration is intended to get elected officials to commit to reproductive freedom.

Scheduled speakers include Stephanie Fraim, chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida; Corrie Vega, a Collier County public school teacher and Rev. Tony Fisher of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Naples.

Angela Cisneros, co-founder of Collier NOW (National Organization for Women) and a scheduled speaker, stated: “We all desire to live a safe and healthy life, free to pursue our own paths. However, the types of bans passed in Texas and currently being framed here in Florida are in direct opposition to that premise. An abortion ban would be especially detrimental to those of us from communities with few resources that already face barriers to basic healthcare.”

State Senate prospects

The Florida Senate’s president, Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-10-Citrus and Hernando counties), may introduce similar legislation in that body.

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Collier County), the Senate Majority Leader and a possible Senate president in 2022, told Florida Politics after the Supreme Court let stand the Texas law that she is “pro-life but I am not pro-telling on your neighbors.”

Passidomo said in a speech to the Argus Foundation in Sarasota that she does not favor an exact “cut-and-paste” of the Texas law for Florida.

“There are provisions in there that don’t make sense,” she said. “We need to do what’s right for Florida.”

Passidomo stressed, however, that she is an anti-abortion legislator.

Poster for the Oct. 2 rally at the Collier County Courthouse.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

White House vaccine mandate for contractors puts Oakes Farms in crosshairs

Clouds are gathering over the Oakes Farm’s Seed to Table market. (Photo: Author)

Sept. 10, 2021 by David Silverberg

A new executive order issued by President Joe Biden requiring federal contractors to vaccinate their workforces will put pressure on “Alfie” Oakes, the fiercely anti-vaccination farmer, grocer and extreme conservative activist based in Naples, Fla., to protect his workforce from COVID-19.

Francis Alfred Oakes III claims to have 3,200 employees.

The order, Executive Order on Ensuring Adequate COVID Safety Protocols for Federal Contractors was issued yesterday, Sept. 9. (The full text of the order in a downloadable PDF is available at the end of this article.)

The order seeks “to promote economy and efficiency in procurement by contracting with sources that provide adequate COVID-19 safeguards for their workforce… .” This is being widely interpreted as mandating vaccinations for all workers on federal contracts.

While the order takes effect immediately, the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force, a government group providing federal agencies pandemic guidance, has until Sept. 24 to issue the terms, explanations of protocols and guidance to federal contractors. Federal agencies have until Oct. 8 to implement the guidance.

Oakes Farms has extensive and lucrative federal contracts, according to a Jan. 19, 2021 Naples Daily News article “Despite criticism and protests, Oakes Farms does big business with federal government,” by reporter Laura Layden.

According to the article, the company was awarded $70.2 million in the first quarter of the 2021 federal fiscal year based on contracts with the Agriculture, Defense and Justice departments. In 2017 it won a contract worth $40 million with the Defense Logistics Agency, a second contract with the same agency worth $46.8 million in 2018 and a third contract worth $45 million. In 2018 it won a contract to supply produce to the Bureau of Prisons in the Justice Department. It supplied boxes of produce to needy families under the 2020 Farmers to Families program of the Agriculture Department.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 Oakes has dismissed the virus as a “hoax” and a “sham.” He fought masking in Collier County, defying a county mandate and ignoring regulations. All fines for COVID violations were dismissed by an order of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), on Sept. 25, 2020.

Since the arrival of vaccines Oakes has been a prominent and vocal anti-vaxxer.

“…Our employees, no one died, zero of them died,” Oakes said in a speech to the conservative “We the People Fight Back” conference on Aug. 20 at the Naples Hilton, in Naples. “Very few of them got sick! The people that did get sick were only sick for four or five days. We did have a few people that were sick for a couple weeks but every flu season I get people that are sick for a couple of weeks.”

He continued: “So this is what I’ve seen. I’ve got no reason to lie about it. But we all did the right thing. We got plenty of sunlight, we didn’t obstruct our breathing, and we loved and had a good time. The government’s telling you, to go and stay in your house, stay out of the sun, put a mask on, take this vaccine that’s really nothing and it’s just beyond sad.”

Oakes has characterized vaccines as “Fauci’s poisonous cocktail” and stated that “plenty of sunlight, healthy eating and not stressing out” would result in a “100 percent success rate when you get the proper treatment Hydroxychloroquine and Ivermectin. The odds have not changed… anyone with a healthy immune system are [sic] much more likely to die getting struck by lightning.”

Oakes’ retail market, Seed to Table, gained national prominence in February for its anti-mask and COVID-denial policies.

Unmasked customers and cashiers in Seed to Table, February 2021. (Image: Twitter)

The new executive order requiring COVID precautions applies to all new federal contracts. However, it states that when it comes to existing contracts, “agencies are strongly encouraged, to the extent permitted by law, to ensure that the safety protocols required under those contracts and contract-like instruments are consistent with the requirements specified in section 2 of this order,” section 2 being the one providing guidance on safety measures and protocols.

The order’s requirements also apply to all of a business’ locations, so that would presumably also apply to retail as well as production sites: “This clause shall apply to any workplace locations (as specified by the Task Force Guidance) in which an individual is working on or in connection with a Federal Government contract or contract-like instrument…” it states.

(Editor’s note: Oakes’ reliance on “plenty of sunlight, healthy eating and not stressing out,” is an eerie echo of one response to the Black Death, the bubonic plague of the 14th century that took the lives of a third of Europeans. In her book A Distant Mirror, historian Barbara Tuchman writes that in one village: “villagers were seen dancing to drums and trumpets, and on being asked the reason, answered that, seeing their neighbors die day by day while their village remained immune, they believed they could keep the plague from entering ‘by the jollity that is in us. That is why we dance.’” Tuchman does not say if the village remained immune.)

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg