The Donalds Dossier: A deep dive into the PAC pool

Part 1: A look at the super and corporate PACs that elected Rep. Byron Donalds

Tim Ritchie (left) and other central Florida environmental activists protest the dangers of Mosaic mining “stacks” during a demonstration on May 7, 2019 at Florida Gulf Coast University. The Mosaic PAC was one of the contributors to Rep. Byron Donalds’ 2020 election campaign. (Photo: Author)

120 days Byron Donalds has been in office

May 3, 2021 by David Silverberg

“The PACs didn’t get me elected,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) said during a March 30 interview at Alfie Oakes’ Seed to Table market.

Rep. Byron Donalds

The remark invites much closer examination because Donalds was perhaps the candidate most dependent on political action committees (PACs) ever to run for federal office in Southwest Florida. And while PACs may not have cast votes themselves, their money made all the difference. This was certainly true in his primary race when he faced eight other Republican candidates, some of them better known and far better funded.

Further, an examination of Donalds’ PAC backing in the 2020 election cycle illuminates the positions he has taken on various issues and his priorities as a member of Congress.

A quick PAC primer

Anyone can form or join a PAC. At their most fundamental level, PACs are simply organizations of people who pool their money to support and contribute to candidates and political causes. However, they are independent of individual candidates’ election committees or political party organizations. They register with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and record their donations and expenditures according to its procedures.

PAC spending is legal and proper when done within the framework of federal campaign finance regulations. It is done under the oversight of the FEC and the filings are publicly available. This is a result of reforms enacted after the 1974 Watergate affair, when large sums of unknown provenance were used for illicit reasons.

PACs are not allowed to demand or request specific actions by a public official in return for specific contributions. Their spending is broader and more generalized.

The PAC contributions to Donalds’ campaign can be broken down into different categories: super PACs; corporate PACs from individual companies; trade and professional association PACs; leadership and candidate PACs from sitting officials or other candidates; party PACs from the Republican Party; and ideological PACs promoting a political position, in this case conservatism in general.

This article will examine super PAC and corporate PAC spending to elect Donalds. A future article will look at leadership, trade and ideological PACs.

The PAC spending reported in this article was based on public information and, to the best of this author’s ability to determine, was legal and compliant with existing law. No criminality or impropriety is alleged or implied.

Super PACs

Ever since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United vs. FEC decision, “super PACs” have been allowed to spend unlimited funds on issues rather than for the benefit of specific candidates. These super PACs are not allowed to coordinate their activities with candidate campaigns and must make their decisions independently.

That said, super PAC spending can considerably benefit a candidate and that was certainly the case with Donalds.

According to OpenSecrets.org, which tracks political spending based on FEC filings, Donalds benefitted from $1,153,991 in independent spending by conservative, ideologically-driven super PACs.

Of these the two most active were Club for Growth Action, which spent $1,383,647, and Americans for Prosperity Action, which spent $203,613 to indirectly benefit Donalds.

Both super PACs focused on conservative issues that benefited Donalds, particularly in the hotly contested primary contest when he was up against much better funded candidates.

While these were the most generous super PACs, some others worthy of note are the National Rifle Association ($4,451) and the NRA Institute for Legislative Action ($1,184), which advocate against gun restrictions, and the National Right to Life Victory Fund ($3,396), which opposes abortions.

Other super PACs indirectly contributing to Donalds’ election were, in descending order of contribution:

  • Honesty America Inc: $138,131
  • Concerned Conservatives Inc: $85,706
  • Protect Freedom PAC: $80,187
  • Trusted Conservatives: $46,138
  • American Liberty Fund: $37,553
  • New Journey PAC: $32,230
  • Conservative Outsider PAC: $17,769
  • Club for Growth: $9,272
  • Guardian Fund: $6,941
  • Friends of Mia Love PAC: $6,045
  • FreedomWorks for America: $2,500
  • House Freedom Fund: $1,486

Corporate PACs

According to the FEC, the Donalds campaign received donations from 39 corporate PACs directly to the campaign and so were subject to campaign finance limits.

Corporate PAC contributions are usually made with the intention of advancing business agendas, shaping regulation or legislation and ensuring access to a lawmaker.

These PACs can be grouped into subcategories.

Big sugar

The American Crystal Sugar Company PAC and the United States Sugar Corporation Employee Stock Ownership Plan PAC each contributed $5,000 to Donalds’ 2020 campaign.

Florida sugar companies have in the past worked to ensure continuation of sugar subsidies, ward off foreign competition and oppose labor and environmental regulations that could complicate or add cost to their operations.

Big oil

Exxon Mobil Corporation (Exxonmobil PAC) and Marathon Petroleum Corporation Employees PAC (MPAC) contributed $1,500 and $2,500 respectively to the Donalds campaign.

With potential reserves of oil in Florida beneath both public and private land as well as possible deposits offshore, Florida has long been of interest to oil companies. Environmental groups and organizations have opposed this exploration and exploitation because of its potential harm to the natural environment of Southwest Florida, especially the Everglades.

There is new legislation in the current Congress to prevent offshore oil exploration. While Donalds’ predecessor, Francis Rooney, was a leader in opposition to offshore oil exploitation, Donalds has followed the lead of Rep. Kathy Castor (D-14-Fla.) and Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-16-Fla.) who introduced the Florida Coastal Protection Act (House Resolution 2836) on April 26. (For past coverage of this issue see: “Trump, Biden and Florida’s Gulf shore oil war.”)

Big mining

The Donalds campaign received $1,000 from The Mosaic Company PAC (MOSAICPAC).

The Mosaic Company is a phosphate and potash mining company headquartered in Tampa. Its mining products are used extensively for agricultural fertilizer throughout Florida and the world.

This April, headlines appeared in Southwest Florida warning that a retention pond or “stack” full of contaminated water from mining operations was threatening to burst and flood the surrounding area at Piney Point, Fla., near Tampa. Engineers began frantically pumping millions of gallons of polluted water into Tampa Bay. This raised fears that pollution would lead to a severe red tide this summer and drift down to the Paradise Coast.

The stack was created by Mosaic’s mining operations, which had ceased at Piney Point in 2001, leaving the wastewater to sit in the stack.

While this year’s crisis has been declared over and the leaking stopped, it was not the first such leak from a Mosaic mining operation. The company successfully contained a 2019 leak but a 2016 sinkhole from mining operations threatened to pollute the Florida underground aquifer on which the population of the state depends for its drinking and irrigation water.

Big tobacco

Reynolds American Inc. PAC (RAI PAC) contributed $1,000 to the Donalds campaign. Reynolds American is an indirect, wholly owned subsidiary of British American Tobacco PLC and produces the Lucky Strike, Pall Mall, Newport, Camel, and American Spirit cigarette brands as well as Grizzly chewing tobacco, Vuse vapor products and Velo nicotine lozenges and pouches. Along with other tobacco products, its mentholated tobacco products may soon be banned by the federal government.

Other notable corporate PACs

Koch Industries, Inc. PAC (KOCHPAC) contributed $5,000 to the Donalds campaign during the 2020 election cycle. These are the companies owned by the well-known Koch brothers, Charles and David (who died in 2019). They funded a wide variety of extreme ideological causes and organizations.

(Two excellent books that delve into the Koch brothers’ activities and past are Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty by Daniel Schulman and Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer.)

Bloomin’ Brands, Inc. PAC contributed $5,000 to the Donalds campaign. Bloomin’ Brands is the company behind such well-known Southwest Florida restaurant franchises as Bonefish Grill, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar and Outback Steakhouse.

Publix Super Markets, Inc. Associates PAC, contributed $5,000, the most it gave to any Southwest Florida candidate. The Publix political role in Florida was covered in depth in The Paradise Progressive article “Publix: Where politics bring no pleasure.”

Other corporate PACs were, in descending order of contribution (the FEC lists some twice):

  • National Association Of Realtors PAC: $10,000
  • National Automobile Dealers Association PAC: $10,000
  • Nextera Energy, Inc. PAC: $8,000
  • American Bankers Association Pac (BANKPAC): $5,000
  • Deloitte PAC: $5,000
  • Nextera Energy, Inc. PAC: $5,000
  • The Geo Group, Inc. PAC: $5,000
  • AFLAC PAC: $3,500
  • LPL Financial LLC PAC: $3,500
  • AT&T Inc./Warnermedia LLC Federal PAC (AT&T/WARNERMEDIA FEDERAL PAC): $3,000
  • KPMG Partners/Principals And Employees PAC: $3,000
  • AFLAC PAC (AFLAC PAC): $2,500
  • American Bankers Association PAC (BANKPAC): $2,500
  • Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. PAC (ABC PAC): $2,500
  • Chubb Group Holdings Inc. PAC: $2,500
  • Comcast Corporation & NBCUniversal PAC – Federal: $2,500
  • JM Family Enterprises, Inc. PAC: $2,500
  • Regions Financial Corporation PAC: $2,500
  • United Parcel Service Inc. PAC: $2,500
  • Wells Fargo and Company Employee PAC (also known as Wells Fargo Employee PAC): $2,500
  • PriceWaterhouseCoopers PAC I: $2,000
  • Protective Life Corporation Federal PAC (PROTECTPAC): $2,000
  • The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Action Committee for Rural Electrification: $1,500
  • Akerman LLP PAC: $1,000
  • Discover Financial Services PAC: $1,000
  • Grayrobinson P.A. PAC: $1,000
  • Jackson Holdings LLC and Jackson National Life Insurance Company Separate Segregated Fund: $1,000
  • Liberty Mutual Insurance Company – PAC: $1,000
  • Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc. PAC (MMCPAC): $1,000
  • Protective Life Corporation Federal PAC (PROTECTPAC): $1,000
  • Rock Holdings Inc. PAC: $1,000
  • Teco Energy Inc. Employees’ PAC: $1,000

Analysis: Chicken or egg?

As is clear from the listings above, PACs played a major role in Byron Donalds’ election.

Donalds is an intensely ideological representative of the extreme right, so it’s hard to say to what degree PAC contributions shaped his public positions or to what degree his public positions attracted PAC contributions. It’s a chicken-and-egg question.

What is clear is that super PAC spending made him competitive in the primary but once he was the nominee and widely regarded as likely to win the general election, the corporate PACs jumped in, trying to ride on a candidate bandwagon they regarded as a sure bet. At that point their contributions were less important for fueling his campaign and more important for ensuring that their lobbyists would have a foot in the door of his congressional office—and that he would listen.

Certainly, Donalds’ disinterest in the 19th District’s local water and environmental issues, which was quite striking during his campaign, fit in well with the corporate interests of the sugar, mining and oil PACs, whose companies have caused pollution, destruction and despoliation in the past and may do so again in the future. That said, his cosponsorship of HR 2836 is commendable.

Nonetheless, while Donalds has taken some cosmetic actions toward showing attention to vital, local environmental issues, they have mostly been superficial and shallow, chiefly photo ops and grip-and-grins. As importantly, he has vocally and consistently opposed the relief bills that would speed distribution of vaccines to the people of the 19th District, provide them with financial relief amidst pandemic-related hardships, stimulate the local economy and improve the area’s infrastructure.

To date, the corporate and super PACs have largely gotten what they paid for: a member of Congress who has loudly championed commercial and ideological interests in pursuit of his own ambitions while overlooking local environmental and public health concerns—all while claiming his PAC donors have no effect on his thoughts, statements or actions.

554 days (1 year, 6 months, 5 days) to Election Day.

To come: The trade, leadership and ideological PACs behind Rep. Byron Donalds

The Paradise Progressive will be on hiatus until May 13.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

SWFL Democrats elated by Biden speech as Republicans fume

President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress last night, April 28. (Image: C-SPAN)

April 29, 2021 by David Silverberg

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.’”

Republican complaints

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.”
  • When Biden called for passage of the For the People Act, House Resolution (HR) 1, protecting voting rights, Donalds tweeted: “HR 1 is a disaster” and argued it would destroy Florida election laws.

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.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

The Donalds Dossier: Dissing donors, Dems and DC

Rep. Byron Donalds on the night of Feb. 27 denouncing the American Rescue Plan before the House vote passing it. Donalds admits he was under the influence of alcohol when he delivered his remarks. (Image: Rep. Byron Donalds/Twitter)

113 days Rep. Byron Donalds has been in office

April 26, 2019 by David Silverberg

April was a relatively undemanding month for Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.). At the beginning of the month Congress was closed for an Easter recess and there were no major votes.

But that didn’t mean there weren’t significant revelations to be had, of course—but this time Donalds himself supplied them.

Still, it was a month marked mostly by rhetoric and gestures rather than legislating or voting. He took a trip to the US border for photo ops and he needed to respond to the conviction of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. He maintained his reflexive drumbeat of criticism against President Joe Biden, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) and Democrats in general.

When it came to media availability, Donalds remained within the warm embrace of the right-wing echo chamber. Clearly he and his advisors have decided that the only voters he needs to reach are those who consume only the output of the extreme media. Also, he regards members of the established media as mere “knuckleheads,” to use his own term.

But while he gave no interviews to credible, objective media outlets that might challenge his views and pronouncements, that didn’t mean the interviews he gave couldn’t be revealing.

And one such interview stands out. It occurred on March 30 at the Seed to Table marketplace. It was on a program called Patriot Talk Show produced by independent, conservative journalist Brendon Leslie.

Donalds was relaxed, expansive and frank, talking among friends and with a sympathetic audience listening in. Controversial market owner Alfie Oakes was at the table inserting his comments and observations from time to time.  It provided a real window into Donalds’ thinking and perceptions of Congress and provided some interesting background into past events.

Dissing the donors

The Jan. 6 Trump insurrection and Capitol attack continue to reverberate, especially for what has been called the “Sedition Caucus” of Republicans who voted to decertify the election, of which Donalds was one. Political action committees (PACs) attached to major corporations suddenly recoiled in horror at the violence and criminality and chose to express their disapproval by defunding the Republicans who tried to overturn the elections.

“Look,” Donalds explained to Leslie and Oakes, “after January 6th a bunch of the corporations and the federal PACs said, ‘Oh, we’re not going to donate to these Republicans who voted to not certify the Electoral College.’

“So I was asked about it: ‘Byron, what do you think about the PACs drying up?’

“So? Like, I don’t care. The PACs didn’t get me elected. You people did. And I don’t care.”

The PACs didn’t get him elected? Donalds seems to have forgotten that it was PACs who made him a competitive candidate at all. That may come as a surprise to the PACs that not only funded his general election bid but his primary bid as well, such as the Mortgage Bankers Association PAC, or the Orthopaedic Surgeons PAC, or the Credit Union National Association PAC, or the National Association of Realtors PAC—and those were only in his primary race. Once he barely eked out a victory over eight other Republicans in the primary the PAC floodgates opened and the money poured in. And let’s not forget the major ideological donors like Club for Growth Action, which made him competitive against much better funded primary candidates like William Figlesthaler and Casey Askar. (A complete list of the PACs that supported Donalds can be seen here.)

Those donors might not demand a specific quid pro quo from the candidate they backed but they might reasonably expect a little respect.

But Donalds said he wasn’t worried about offending the PACs.

“And here’s one thing I know about lobbyists and companies,” he said. “When the Democrats do stupid things and push their stupid policies, they’ll be back. Because [the PACs are] going to be like: ‘Oh my gosh, these people are in charge, they’re crazy, we need help, what’re we going to do?’ They’re going to go see Republicans.”

Maybe they will. Then again, maybe they won’t. They may see Republicans—but they might not donate to them.


Speaking of Casey Askar

It may be long forgotten here in Southwest Florida but the lawsuit between Askar and Donalds continues.

Casey Askar

To recap: On Aug. 18, 2020, the day of the Republican congressional primary, a text message went out to Republican voters purportedly from Donalds, saying he was withdrawing from the race. The message was phony. Without presenting any hard evidence, Donalds accused Askar of sending it. Askar denied the accusation

On Nov. 11, Askar sued Donalds for defamation, seeking between $30,000 and $50,000 in damages.

The case has dragged on, with neither a settlement nor conclusion in sight. Askar is asking for a jury trial and his lawyer demanded that Donalds sit for a deposition in person. For his part, Askar’s lawyer objected to nearly every point made by Donald’s lawyer in what is called a “request for admissions,” in which both parties agree on the indisputable facts of the case.

On April 1 Judge Elizabeth Krier of the 20th Judicial Circuit held a proceeding to sort out these arguments and it was determined that Donalds would not have to sit for a deposition in person but would answer questions in writing. Askar’s lawyer would also have to answer questions and the answers from both parties were due on April 20th.

We’ll see where this goes from here but one place it isn’t going is away.


Unmasked and under the influence

While Donalds has now made several speeches on the floor of the House, his most prominent speech to date occurred on Feb. 27 when he appeared unmasked with his fellow Republican freshmen in the Crypt of the Capitol. He was there to denounce and oppose the first Democratic stimulus and pandemic relief bill, Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

In that speech he accused Democrats of passing the Plan out of fear of Speaker Pelosi and their need for support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee—not because of the deaths of over 500,000 Americans from COVID or the damage to the economy or the loss of paychecks.

In his Seed to Table interview, Donalds revealed that the speech was inspired by—Johnny Walker Black whiskey.

“I was in my office, it was like 11’o clock at night,” he recounted. “And, because at this point legislative business was over, so I was in my office and I had, y’know, Johnny Walker in my office and I was having a glass of Johnny Walker and a press conference was called and my team says, ‘Hey, you want to go to this press conference?’

“And I was like, ‘I don’t want to go.’

“And they were like, ‘Just go.’

“So I said, ‘fine,’ and I went and I forgot the mask, I left it in the desk and everybody’s got a mask on and I’m like, shoot, I don’t have a mask on, everybody’s going to be like, ‘the media’s here’—the Washington Post and the New York Times were like in the corner … so I just said ‘I’m going to leave it’ and it’s stupid because everybody in Congress has had a shot. They’ve either gotten COVID or they’ve gotten the shot, so why are we wearing masks in Congress when everybody else in the building, it’s just stupid.”

Donalds maintained that all congressional offices had doses of the vaccine, most of the staff had been inoculated and although members were required to wear masks on the House floor, it was unnecessary.

This discussion of masks needs to be put in context: Donalds vocally and vociferously opposed masking during the height of the pandemic, doing so during debates over masking mandates by city and county councils. He was being interviewed in front of Alfie Oakes, the virulently anti-mask activist who has called COVID a “hoax” and a “sham,” and he was sitting in a market that defiantly flaunts its opposition to masks and all COVID precautions. Donalds contracted COVID in October 2020 but recovered. On April 19 musician Ted Nugent announced that he had contracted COVID after playing an unmasked performance at Seed to Table seven days earlier before a densely-packed, unmasked audience estimated at 300.

Pelosi put the mask requirement in place on July 29, 2020 “as a sign of respect for the health, safety and well-being of others present in the chamber and surrounding areas.”

Continuing the interview about his speech from the Crypt: “So what happened was that number one, I was kind of tired; number two, Johnny Walker Black—y’all know; and number three, this was like: ‘This is what it is: I don’t have [a mask], it’s stupid, people have been vaccinated, all we’re doing, it’s really like a Potemkin village.’”

Just for laughs: Potemkin on the Potomac

Donalds’ comparison of Washington, DC to a Potemkin village led to the only truly funny—if unintentionally so—part of the interview, his version of history.

As he put it: “If people know what a Potemkin Village is, back from when the Nazis controlled East Germany and when they would let people come in, you would see the first street, past Checkpoint Charlie and everything would look normal and nice and they would say: ‘See, everything looks nice’ and then when you would go four or five or six streets back, that’s when you would see the disaster was there for the world to see if you got that far and what the Democrats like to do is they like to put a lot of Potemkin villages up… .”

People who have read history might spot mistakes. A minor quibble is that there was no East Germany during the Nazi era; that occurred after World War II.

But just for the record, Potemkin villages were named after a person: Grigory Potemkin, a Russian prince, general, diplomat, lover of Tsarina Catherine the Great and possibly her secret husband. In 1787, after Potemkin obtained the Crimea for Russia, Catherine took a grand journey down the Volga River to see it. To make all look well, Potemkin allegedly had portable village facades that looked prosperous and well-kept, constructed along her route so she could see them as she sailed by. These came to be known as “Potemkin villages” or потёмкинские деревни in Russian. A Wikipedia article on the subject can be read here and for further reference an excellent book on Catherine the Great is Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert Massie.

As for where Donalds got his version of “Potemkin villages,” perhaps his source was Johnny Walker.

Dissing the elders

Donalds is scornful of the established Republican leadership, although to be fair, he feels the same about the Democrats.

As he said: “The older members just get caught up in Washington-think and what’s going to happen at the Capitol Hill Club [the Republican Party headquarters] and what’s going on at the Capital Grille [a high-end steak house] or the next dinner or the next event, or what’s the media going to think? Or what company you want to make sure you say the right things, so they don’t get squishy,” he said.

He also sees a new generation of leaders emerging. “You’ve had a lot of members who have been there too long.  The new wave of members—and this is where I’m going to be consistent: it’s also bipartisan—you have new Democrats who are coming in, they don’t care about the status quo. And so I think as our politics evolve what you’re going to see is a new crop of leadership on both sides of the aisle. They’re not going to sound professional, they’re not going to say things like people like hearing from them in the past, it’s going to be raw, it’s going to be uncut, it’s going to be somewhat emotional but it’s going to be straight to the point but I think people will respect it.”

Indeed, they might respect it — or they might recoil from it.

Potential patriots or hopeless traitors?

The discussion of the length of service of the congressional leadership led to discussion of term limits and then a philosophical exchange between Oakes and Donalds about non-Trumpers, revealing that Donalds may be softening due to his time in Washington.

“Our politics is really suffering because everybody is in their feelings way too much, they take it way too seriously—and it’s serious, don’t get me wrong—people on both sides have forgotten that you got to have relationships with people on the other side of the aisle because we’re all Americans, we’re in this thing together and it’s important to debate hard, fight hard for what you believe in and I’m all about that,” said Donalds. “But at the same time you got to be able to see the world through their lens because once you can see the world through their lens, then you can help them to see how wrong they really are and you can help them to be conservatives anyway.”

At first Oakes agreed: “I agree 100 percent. We have liberals who work in this company. And I might tell them that they’re misguided but we’ve still got to love and respect them and we’ve got to treat everyone as human beings even if we don’t agree and that’s the only way we we’ll ever have a chance to bring them in.”

Donalds recounted sharing an elevator with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-14-NY) (AOC) during which she asked him: “Is everything going OK?”

Recalled Donalds: “I say, ‘It’s all good.’ She was cordial. She wasn’t disrespectful. It’s fine. She was like, ‘Fine, let me know if there’s anything I can do.’ And I said, ‘OK, I will but I don’t think there is.’”

But then, having related this warm and human exchange with a leading progressive Democrat, Donalds needed to assure listeners that he hadn’t gone squishy. “But they’re crazy,” he said next. “They’re not even liberalism any more, they’re leftists. What’s pushing their party now does not believe in individual liberties, it doesn’t believe in honest debate and disagreement. They want to silence, they want to control, they want to dictate and, really, they are the true Fascists in our politics. This is what the leftists have become and it’s really a terrible thing.”

That set off Oakes: “As I said before you got here, there’s … it’s not it’s not two parties now, it’s Republicans, it’s you’re either a patriot or a traitor and I know that we said there are other people are Americans but the values they represent are no longer American values. It’s really hard for me to respect them as Americans. They may be American-born, some of them, but it’s very difficult for me to call them Americans.”

So much for loving and respecting everyone! There was some further exchange about whether liberals were hopeless traitors (as Oakes seems to think) or potentially convertible conservatives (as Donalds argued).

One more small revelation came out of this exchange as Oakes denounced Biden and AOC: “…I see what the AOCs are doing, every single policy that I seen come out of the Biden administration is anti-American. Every single one. I’m watching them. They’re letting foreign vegetables come in… .” Of all the crimes of Joe Biden, allowing foreign vegetables enter the country to compete with Oakes Farms seemed a big one on Oakes’ list of grievances.

“I see what you’re trying to do,” he said of Donalds’ calls for converting the heathens, “but I’m also big on calling out the truth and what I see Biden doing and Harris and AOC doing to this country is not very American.”

Dissing DC

Donalds made clear that he doesn’t really like Washington, DC.

“…Even under COVID rules, Pelosi doesn’t have us to the Capitol very often,” he observed. “It’s a double-edged sword. Like to me, I like it. I want to be home in my district. I don’t want to be in DC all the time.

“First of all, being in DC kind of sucks. It’s much nicer down here. We’ve got beaches and boats.”

Well, if Donalds would rather be at home than in Washington, DC, that’s a problem that’s easily fixed.

516 days (1 year, 6 months, 13 days) to Election Day.

The complete Donalds interview can be viewed here. Donalds takes the stage at minute 42 in the hour-long video.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida counties, towns get dollar allocations from American Rescue Plan

On March 11, President Joe Biden signs the American Rescue Plan into law while Vice President Kamala Harris looks on. (Photo: White House)

April 7, 2021 by David Silverberg

On March 8, the amounts of funding being allocated to US states, counties and municipalities under the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan were released to the public by the US House Oversight Committee.

Among its many provisions, including the $1,400 checks to individuals and families, the American Rescue Plan is intended to help local governments hurt by the pandemic, the resulting economic slowdown and loss of revenue.

(The full list of allocations for the United States in an Excel spreadsheet can be downloaded here.)

Florida is slated to receive $17.6 billion, of which $10.2 billion will be going to the state government.

When the Plan was being considered in Congress, Republicans vociferously resisted passage of the legislation, especially the provision assisting state, county and municipal governments. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) has called on Florida’s governments to return the checks.

Southwest Florida

According to an April 4 article in the Naples Daily News,American Rescue Plan to bring more than $300M to Southwest Florida,” local officials in Lee and Collier counties have not yet decided how to spend their allocations and were unsure of the procedure for receiving the money.

What follows below are the amounts being allocated to the various counties and local governments under the Plan, arranged by Southwest Florida’s congressional districts. Because congressional districts overlap county lines, each county is listed only once even though the districts may include pieces of different counties.

All of Southwest Florida’s representatives in Congress voted against the Plan.

19th Congressional District

Rep. Byron Donalds

Represented by Rep. Byron Donalds (R).

The 19th Congressional District covers the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island and includes the most heavily populated areas of Lee and Collier counties.

Donalds denounced the American Rescue Plan in the House Budget Committee and on the floor of the House, calling it “nothing more than a liberal wish list.” 

Counties

  • Collier County: $74.65 million
  • Lee County: $149.45 million

Cities and towns

  • Bonita Springs: $25.06 million
  • Cape Coral: $26.87 million
  • Estero Village: $14.23 million
  • Everglades City: $.18 million
  • Fort Myers: $16 million
  • Fort Myers Beach: $2.98 million
  • Marco Island: $2.13 million
  • Naples: $9.28 million
  • Sanibel city: $3.11 million

25th Congressional District

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

Represented by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R).

The 25th Congressional District stretches from western Collier County east of the coast, includes all of Hendry County and a piece of northwestern Miami-Dade County.

Diaz-Balart called the American Rescue Plan “this fake COVID bill.” 

Counties

  • Hendry County: $8.15 million
  • Miami-Dade County: $526.93 million
  • Collier County: (already listed)

Cities and towns        

  • Clewiston: $3.37 million
  • Doral: $27.63 million
  • Hialeah: $70.61 million
  • LaBelle: $2.19 million

Immokalee is the largest population center in eastern Collier County. However, because it is an unincorporated community without a local government it is governed through Collier County and does not have a designated allocation.

17th Congressional District

Rep. Greg Steube

Represented by Rep. Greg Steube (R).

The 17th Congressional District is a huge district of over 6,300 square miles stretching from eastern Tampa Bay to the northwestern shore of Lake Okeechobee. It includes all of Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties, plus parts of Lee (northern Lehigh Acres), Polk and Sarasota counties. Municipalities include North Port, Punta Gorda, Venice, and Okeechobee.

Steube complained that with the Plan, “Democrats chose to turn our nation into a welfare state with more government handouts.”

Counties

  • Charlotte: $36.64 million
  • DeSoto: $7.37 million
  • Glades: $2.68 million
  • Hardee: $5.22 million
  • Highlands: $20.60 million
  • Okeechobee: $8.18 million
  • Lee (already provided)          
  • Polk: $140.57 million
  • Sarasota: $84.12 million

Towns and cities

  • North Port: $29.72 million
  • Punta Gorda: $8.56 million
  • Venice: $10.08 million
  • Okeechobee: $2.44 million

Port Charlotte in Charlotte County is an unincorporated entity governed by the county and so has no specific allocation.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

The Donalds Dossier: No rescue for Americans, defending the filibuster and fixating on the border

Rep. Byron Donalds calls for removing Capitol barriers and rebuilding them on the border. (Image: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

92 days Rep. Byron Donalds has been in office

582 days until Election Day 2022

April 5, 2021 by David Silverberg

Having tried and failed to stop President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan from assisting Americans to recover from the pandemic and receive vaccines, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has now turned his fire against the American Jobs Plan intended to restore America’s infrastructure.

Additionally, in the past month Donalds attempted to play the race card against Biden’s opposition to Georgia’s voter suppression law and defended the Senate filibuster. Along with the rest of the Republican caucus in Congress, he tried to politically exploit the immigration influx at the southern border and opposed a bipartisan solution to farm labor needs and the agricultural workforce.

All of these activities were rhetorical; legislatively, Donalds proposed a widely ignored alternative to the American Rescue Plan. His proposal to protect Southwest Florida from interruptions in harmful algal bloom monitoring remains in committee.

In terms of serving his district, Donalds held a series of photo opportunities to prove that he has not forgotten Southwest Florida. However, he held no town halls or public events allowing constituents unrestricted access or unfiltered questions of his policies or positions. His media appearances were only with right-wing media outlets where he did not face skeptical or challenging questions.

Opposing rescue and jobs

In some rare and remarkable reporting covering local governance, yesterday, April 4, five reporters from the Naples Daily News published details of the benefits that Southwest Florida cities and counties will receive from the American Rescue Plan—and they are significant.

The article, “American Rescue Plan to bring more than $300M to Southwest Florida,” investigated the amounts that local jurisdictions will be receiving and their internal debates on how to use it.

Whatever the outcome of the debates at the county and municipal level on how to spend the money, it is clear that the dollars will significantly assist Southwest Florida in its efforts to recover from the effects of the pandemic.

Donalds vociferously fought passage of the American Rescue Plan, which passed the House twice and the Senate and was signed into law on March 11.

With implementation of the American Rescue Plan under way, Donalds, along with the rest of the Republican Party, turned his fire against Biden’s effort to restore and improve American infrastructure, fight climate change and provide American jobs. They focused on the Made in America Tax Plan, decrying its proposal to raise the corporate tax rate from 21 to 28 percent and make the ultra-wealthy pay a fair share of taxes.

“Biden is BAD for business,” Donalds tweeted on April 2. “Under this Admin, the incentive of corporations to do business in America has diminished greatly as a result of Biden’s anti-economic growth agenda. Raising the corporate tax is just another America last policy being adopted by the Biden Admin.” (Editor’s note: that tweet should be read “America-last” as opposed to Trump’s “America First,” slogan, which Donalds supports.)

He also complained that the American Jobs Plan was the Green New Deal in disguise and would provide only 5 percent of its funding for roads, highways and bridges, work against the coal and natural gas industries (in favor of solar, wind and renewable energy sources) and end anti-union “right to work” laws.

And in an unintentional bit of irony, on March 29 Donalds marked Vietnam Veterans Day by tweeting “Florida is home to the second-largest number of Vietnam War veterans in the nation, many of whom live in SW Florida. Today and every day, we offer our immense gratitude & appreciation for their selfless service to our nation.”

The American Jobs Plan, which he is so loudly denouncing, provides $18 billion for upgrades and modernization to Veterans Administration facilities like those in Southwest Florida.

Defending the filibuster and voter suppression

The US House of Representatives and the US Senate operate as separate and distinct institutions by design; in fact, Thomas Jefferson wanted each to operate as though the other didn’t exist. Members of the House are prohibited by House rules from referring to the Senate by name in their debates and speeches; they can only refer to “the other chamber” and the same goes for senators. This is to reduce institutional friction and maintain institutional independence.

That’s why it was surprising to see Donalds defending the Senate filibuster. It’s a practice peculiar to the Senate; the House has nothing like it.

Donalds’ defense of the Senate filibuster came in the context of his defense of Georgia’s voter suppression law, which has otherwise been blasted across the country as a deliberate attempt to dampen voting by communities of color and reduce democratic participation. He called Democratic condemnation of the law “race baiting” and was moved to issue a distinct statement expressing his sense of outrage that Biden had called the Georgia law “Jim Crow in the 21st Century” and “an atrocity.”

(Fun fact: The longest continuous filibuster in Senate history was conducted by Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina (at the time a “Dixiecrat” Democrat but later a Republican), who in 1957 spoke continuously for 24 hours and 18 minutes in an effort to stop a civil rights bill guaranteeing Black voting rights.)

Biden, stated Donalds, was “irresponsibly injecting race and the travesty of Jim Crow to oppose the filibuster. Time after time, Democrats resort to the race card to shield them from having to answer for their hypocrisy and radical policies.” Considering that Biden had in the past opposed school busing along with southern segregationists, “that dark stain on our Republic is personal to me and many Black Americans like me.”

The For the People Act (House Resolution (HR) 1) is designed to combat voter suppression and ensure that elections remain open and accessible to all voters.

Donalds denounced it on the House floor and called it “the radical takeover of our elections.”

“Abolishing voter ID laws, ending signature verification, and putting into place taxpayer-funded campaigns is detrimental to every American’s right to a free and fair election and the harmful rhetoric of President Biden cannot evade this fact,” Donalds argued in his statement.

The For the People Act passed the House on March 3 despite Donalds’ “no” vote and is now in the Senate where it faces a Republican filibuster.

Immigration and the southern border

With little else to criticize and Biden actions to date proving overwhelmingly popular, Republicans have seized on the migrant influx at the southern US border as a point of attack. However, without Donald Trump whipping up a frenzy of fear and loathing of foreigners, Republican attacks have lacked the certain je ne sais quoi that Trump provided. By regarding migrants and refugees as human beings seeking safety and refuge rather than subhumans bent on rape and pillage, Biden is taking heat out of the Trumpist fire.

Donalds sought to remedy that. In keeping with the rest of the Republican caucus for the past two weeks he was fixated on the southern border.

“Instead of traveling back home to Delaware, Biden should head to our Southern Border immediately,” he tweeted on March 16. “Since taking office, illegal migrants, drug smugglers, & human traffickers have had their sights set on entering our country and Biden has given them the key. Secure our border, now.”

Donalds also posted a video of himself walking beside the temporary barriers protecting the US Capitol two days before they were scheduled to come down anyway and called for them to be dismantled and erected instead along the southern US border.

“…The Democrats actually do love walls, and they do love fencing—to protect them. But when it comes to our border, they don’t want any protection. Let’s take down these walls in D.C. and relocate them to our Southern Border,” he said in the March 19 video as he walked along the barrier.

The 19th Congressional District is not on the US territorial border and for most Southwest Floridians the only signs of the migrant influx are landscape workers mowing their lawns, replacing their roofs and agricultural laborers making their full dinner tables possible.

In another unintentional irony, when a bipartisan solution to the problem of undocumented seasonal agricultural workers—who are badly needed by local farm owners and growers—came before the House, Donalds voted against it.

And in a less amusing irony, the barriers were indeed removed. Then, last Friday, April 2, Capitol Police Officer William Evans was killed when Noah Green attacked him and another officer by driving his car into them—while they were protecting the Capitol.

Donalds of course issued an appropriate tribute.

Commentary: Past and prologue

Not all of Donalds’ initiatives in the last two weeks were negative. On March 17 he introduced his second piece of legislation, the Responsible and Effective Spending Cuts of Undesirable Expenditures (RESCUE) Act of 2021 (HR 1955), which is his answer to Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

Technically, the purpose of HR 1955 is “to temporarily modify the application of the sequester under the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010.”

That’s an interesting concept since there were complaints about pay-as-you-go budgeting and sequestration since the idea was introduced over 10 years ago. However, Donalds never submitted any text for the bill and it remains nothing more than a name and a number. An observer could be forgiven for concluding that this was not a serious piece of legislation but a bit of anti-Biden showboating.

Donalds has also been at pains to show that he is aware of his district. He and some of his staff took an airboat tour of the Everglades (which is actually outside the District boundaries), he and his family visited the Naples Botanical Garden (whose expansion was made possible by a generous donation from his predecessor, Francis Rooney), and he toured the Collier County Mosquito Control District headquarters, so he is cognizant of the local mosquitos.

Actually, for all this rhetorical sparring, this period has been something of a lull legislatively. Much of the initial heavy legislative lifting has already been done, with Donalds voting entirely against it.

But everyone should rest up: next up Biden will submit a new social program plan, the American Families Plan, and will submit his proposed budget for fiscal year 2022. That budget will feature implementation of the American Jobs Plan and corporate tax hikes to pay for it.

Donalds sits on the House Budget Committee, so this will be a chance for him to shine, as the Republican leadership and his PAC backers intended. No doubt he will have much to say, all of it negative. If past is prologue, he will be shallowly ideological, follow the party line and provide cover against any charges of Republican bias or prejudice. The 19th Congressional District will not play a large role in this.

The problem for Southwest Florida is that Donalds’ rigid right-wing orthodoxy and total rejection of relief, rebuilding and renewal will ensure that the region becomes an underfunded backwater while the rest of the nation moves forward to defeat the pandemic, boost employment and strengthen its infrastructure.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Bill aiding farmers and workers shows divide among Southwest Florida congressmen

Farm laborers load freshly picked produce. (Photo: Coalition of Immokalee Workers)

March 30, 2021 by David Silverberg

If you’re like most Americans, you celebrated National Agriculture Day last Tuesday, March 23, by eating.

However, if you forgot National Agriculture Day entirely you can be forgiven. It is, after all, an artificial holiday, dreamed up in 1973 by a trade association, the Agriculture Council of America, a non-profit 501c3 educational institution backed by some of the biggest corporate names in the US agriculture industry.

The folks who didn’t forget National Agriculture Day were politicians of all stripes who want to remain in the graces of the farming industry and its campaign contributions.

In Southwest Florida, a heavily agricultural area, all three of the region’s congressmen—Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.),  were careful to acknowledge National Agriculture Day on their Twitter feeds, the latter two adding bland bromides to the nation’s farmers.

But when it came to substance, they took very different—and very illuminating—actions.

The action in question was consideration of a bill this month that made fundamental changes to the way agriculture gets done in the United States.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 1603) was a sprawling bill that made fundamental changes to America’s agricultural workforce. It closed legal loopholes while maintaining a strong and healthy—and most of all, legal—labor force.

Among its many provisions, it created a Certified Agricultural Worker (CAW) status for farmworkers, effectively a guest worker program that was long needed. Farmworkers could apply, be verified and receive legal CAW status good for five and a half years, protecting them and their families from deportation, while weeding out people with criminal pasts. The existing H-2A visa status for foreign workers was improved to provide for better compliance by both workers and employers.

These changes would have a major impact on farmworkers in Southwest Florida, particularly in the heavily agricultural areas of Collier, Lee and Hendry counties. It provides a measure of legality and security for the many migrants from Mexico and Latin America while still assisting the growers.

According to Diaz-Balart, who was involved in formulating the bill, “my colleagues and I spent almost a year negotiating” and working on the bill, “painstakingly working out its provisions.” Diaz-Balart’s 25th district includes wide swaths of farmland across the interior of Florida and includes the town of Immokalee in Collier County, a center of the agricultural workforce population.

Diaz-Balart was one of the original cosponsors of the bill, which included 61 Republicans and Democrats. By the end of Democratic and Republican negotiations, what emerged was a “bipartisan, targeted labor solution [that] our agriculture industry needs. This removes opportunities to work illegally in the U.S., strengthens our border security, and ensures we have a reliable, legal workforce for our farms and ranches,” according to Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-4-Wash.).

Diaz-Balart hailed it as “a significant and necessary step once again toward finally solving the labor crisis facing our nation’s agriculture industry.”

In their interests

The bill’s provisions tightening legal eligibility to work in the United States and boosting enforcement of immigration status by the Department of Homeland Security should have delighted Rep. Byron Donalds.

Prior to his election to Congress last year Donalds represented the 80th Florida House District, which includes Immokalee and the agricultural areas around it, so he should be intimately familiar with its growers and workers and their needs. What is more, for weeks he had been hammering away at President Joe Biden’s administration for its handling of the migrant influx at the Southwest Border. HR 1603 addressed many of the legal problems at the destination end of that influx, reducing crime while maintaining the workforce Southwest Florida growers need.

Rep. Greg Steube too should have welcomed the bill. His sprawling district includes vast swaths of farmland stretching from the coast to Lake Okeechobee and includes Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties, plus northern Lehigh Acres in Lee County. Steube, like Donalds, had taken every available opportunity to attack the Biden administration’s handling of cross-border migration.

HR 1603 was fully bipartisan and addressed longstanding concerns of both parties, providing the humane and orderly treatment of farm workers prized by Democrats as well as the legal procedures and immigration security emphasized by Republicans, all while protecting both growers and workers. It was the kind of bipartisan cooperation in the interests of getting something substantive done that people so often say they want to see in Congress. It also had major beneficial implications for Florida.

On March 18, HR 1603 came up for a vote in the House of Representatives. It passed by a vote of 247 to 174. Of that vote, 217 Democrats voted for it as well as 30 Republicans.

Among those Republicans was Diaz-Balart.

And Byron Donalds and Greg Steube…voted against it.

Neither one bothered to issue a statement explaining his vote.

The bill has now gone to the Senate. Given that it is largely flying under the media radar and it’s a strongly bipartisan bill, it has a relatively good chance of passage.

Commentary

Both Donalds and Steube had a chance to benefit their districts, their state and the farms, businesses, workers and people they represent. But that would have involved casting a thoughtful, substantive, well-researched vote. It’s much easier to tweet hysterical attacks on border security, issue anti-immigrant broadsides and oppose any constructive compromises.

And, of course, both tweeted their celebrations of National Agriculture Day.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida congressmen stay mum on mass shootings

Police outside the King Soopers grocery store where a shooting took place Monday, March 22, 2021, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

March 25, 2021 by David Silverberg

It should come as no surprise that Southwest Florida’s representatives in Congress have responded to Monday’s mass shooting in Colorado and last week’s shooting in Georgia mostly with silence.

Rep. Byron Donalds

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) retweeted a Boulder Police Department tribute to Officer Eric Talley, the policeman killed at the King Soopers market rampage. Donalds added: “Officer Talley embodied the spirit of a hero, and I pray his loved ones are comforted knowing he died a hero. Thank you to all the brave law enforcement officers who devote their lives to protecting communities across America.” He made no mention of the other victims, who were peacefully shopping when the shooting began.

Donalds was the only candidate of nine in his Republican primary to receive a full endorsement from the National Rifle Association (NRA). He touted his gun ownership in his campaign tagline (“I’m a strong, Trump-supporting, gun-owning, liberty-loving, pro-life, politically incorrect black man”).

Rep. Greg Steube

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), whose district runs from Punta Gorda to Venice to Lake Okeechobee, had not issued any statement of any kind as of this writing. He has long been a vocal gun ownership advocate. Almost exactly a year ago he introduced the End the Normalized Delay of Suppressors (ENDS) Act (HR 6126) to try to force the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to more quickly grant permits for the purchase of gun silencers so that killing can be done quietly. The bill was not even considered in committee. He has called for carrying guns on the House floor.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), whose district runs from western Collier County and Immokalee across the state to Hialeah in the east, has made no statement about the shootings as of this writing.

Having been in office since 2003, Diaz-Balart’s relationship with the gun violence issue is longer and more complex than that of his Southwest Florida colleagues. For most of his congressional career he was a reliable opponent of gun regulation, even to the point that former representative Gabby Giffords, a shooting survivor, publicly endorsed his Democratic opponent, Mary Barzee Flores, in 2018, after the killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

In 2019 Diaz-Balart bucked his party and the NRA and voted for the Bipartisan Background Checks Act. That bill required background checks for arms transfers between individuals, closing a major loophole in the gun trade. The bill passed the House but died in the Senate.

This year Diaz-Balart switched his vote and voted against the same bill when it was reintroduced. This time, he stated that while he still supported background checks, the bill was now too far left and was “an overly-partisan and extremist bill that fails to effectively address background checks and imposes measures that amount to clear government overreach.”

This year it passed the House on March 11 by a vote of 227 to 203 but its fate is uncertain in the Senate.

The past and the future

Given this record it was unsurprising that these representatives did not join the chorus of congressional lawmakers calling for new measures to curb the latest wave of American gun violence.

Theirs was not the reaction throughout Florida. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-22-Fla.), whose east coast district includes Parkland as well as Fort Lauderdale, where five people were killed in a random shooting at the airport in 2017, said that the Boulder shooting emphasized the need for action to curb gun violence.

“…That’s why we need to act,” he told CBS-4 television news in Miami. “And that’s why we can’t just shake our head and say that’s one more thing and move on and wait for the next one,” 

Deutch serves as the chief whip on the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, a group of more than 165 members of Congress who work on gun violence issues. He’s long supported a ban on assault-style weapons and broader background checks on gun purchases, measures also advocated by President Joe Biden.

Commentary: The Southwest Florida reaction

Nationally, the reaction to the shootings has been horrified denunciation by officials and private groups and there is new movement in Congress to take action to curb gun violence.

Locally, the reaction is far more muted. While the national chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense has issued numerous statements regarding the recent shootings, the local chapter has not made any public statements or taken any actions to date.

On the gun-saturated southwest coast of Florida, politically, not only is there no apparent urgency, there’s certainly no inclination by any elected official to propose or support gun restraints and no evident political incentive for taking any action at all.

But while expecting any kind of local legislative effort seems beyond hope, what is striking in the current instance is the resounding silence and complete indifference by local public figures toward the victims, their relatives and the survivors.

To date Southwest Florida has been spared any mass shooting. But guns are plentiful and opposition to restraint is fierce.

So if you hear popping while you’re shopping, get down, stay away from the source of the noise or open areas, try to leave if it’s safe and follow all orders from police.

Remember: You’re on your own. At least until 2022 you won’t get any help from your representatives in Congress.

And your surviving relatives shouldn’t wait for any thoughts or prayers from them, either.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

The Donalds Dossier and DC Roundup: Donalds discovers his district; Steube denies gold to the blue

A sign at the entrance to Delnor-Wiggins State Park warns of red tide during the Big Bloom of 2018. (Photo: Author)

March 22, 2021 by David Silverberg

Updated March 24 with new Stafford Act link

Last week Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) took a break from his verbal attacks on President Joe Biden, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) and Democrats to actually pay attention to his district.

The attention came in the form of his first legislative proposal, a re-tread of a bill introduced in the previous Congress by his predecessor Francis Rooney, to ensure that the government keeps monitoring harmful algal blooms (HABs) even in the event of a government shutdown.

Donalds’ Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 1954) would, according to its official language, “amend the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998 to clarify that during a lapse in appropriations certain services relating to the Harmful Algal Bloom Operational Forecasting System are excepted services under the Anti-Deficiency Act.”

The need for the legislation became apparent during former President Donald Trump’s 35-day shutdown of the government from Dec. 22, 2018 to Jan. 25, 2019 in a battle with Congress over funding his border wall. Following 2018’s severe red tide off the Florida Gulf coast, Rooney tried to build a coordinated response to future HABs.

In June 2019 he introduced the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act (HR 3297) so that monitoring of HABs would not be interrupted. That bill gained 16 cosponsors, 12 Democrats and four Republicans. However, it never made it out of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

Donalds’ bill was introduced with six cosponsors. Four are Republicans: Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-1-Fla.), Bill Posey (R-8-Fla.), Anthony Gonzalez (R-16-Ohio), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.); and two Democrats: Reps. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-13-Mich.). Tlaib, a member of the liberal Democratic “squad,” also cosponsored Rooney’s bill.

Like its predecessor, Donalds’ bill has been referred to the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology as well as the Committee on Natural Resources.

Analysis: What to watch

Voters should watch to see if Donalds can move this bill out of its committees and onto the floor during the current session. While Rooney sat on the Science Committee, Donalds is not on either of the committees of jurisdiction, so his climb is steeper.

This will be especially interesting to see given his attacks on Pelosi. In the previous Congress, Pelosi advanced Rooney’s legislation on offshore oil drilling to full House consideration. She might not be equally inclined to move this legislation this time.

The need for this legislation is less urgent than it was under President Donald Trump, who thought little of shutting down the government as a negotiating tactic (or in a temper tantrum). With Democrats in charge of both houses of Congress and a sane president in the White House, the probability of a government shutdown, at least over the next four years, is far lower than in the past.

From a substantive standpoint, of far greater importance to Southwest Florida is another measure introduced by Rooney: amending the Stafford Act to include HABs.

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act defines which natural disasters are subject to federal emergency treatment. Algal blooms are not included. If Southwest Florida suffers another Big Bloom summer like 2018’s, the area’s governments, merchants and residents would be eligible for federal emergency funds and support if the Stafford Act is amended. Rooney tried to make this change with his Protecting Local Communities from Harmful Algal Blooms Act but it remained undone during his tenure. For Donalds, however, this kind of legislation might clash with his small-government, you’re-on-your-own ideology.

From a political standpoint, Donalds’ new HAB legislation may help close a gap that was threatening to widen into a vulnerability: his almost complete disinterest in the district and its needs. He received some minor, uncritical coverage of his bill in the local media, which was no doubt helpful to him in changing this perception.

On the record

Since our last Donalds Dossier, in major legislation Donalds toed the Republican Party line. He has:

Steube: No gold for the blue

Capitol Police try to hold back rioters during the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection.

In other action by a Southwest Florida representative, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), a vehement ever-Trumper and extreme conservative who represents the area from Punta Gorda to Venice and east to Okeechobee, chose to oppose honoring those who protected him during the Jan. 6 insurrection and attack on the Capitol building.

Steube’s action came after Pelosi proposed awarding three Congressional Gold Medals, Congress’ highest civilian honor, to the Capitol Police and the Washington, DC Metropolitan Police. The third medal, along with a plaque listing all the agencies that protected the Capitol that day, will be displayed in the Smithsonian Institution.

Pelosi’s sponsorship of the legislation was a rare move in the chamber, signifying its solemnity.

“January 6th was one of the darkest and deadliest days in American history,” Pelosi said in a speech on the floor.  “The waging of a violent insurrection against the United States Capitol and against our very democracy on that day was a profound horror that nearly defies comprehension.  That day, the country witnessed the gleeful desecration of our Temple of Democracy.”

While Jan. 6 was a day of “horror and heartbreak,” she said, “because of these courageous men and women, it was also a moment of extraordinary heroism.  That day the United States Capitol Police force put themselves between us and the violence.  They risked their safety and their lives for others with the utmost selflessness, and they did so because they were patriots – the type of Americans who heard the call to serve and answered it – putting country above self.” 

When the time came for a vote last Wednesday, March 17, Steube and 11 of his Republican colleagues didn’t agree. Instead, Steube blamed Pelosi for the insurrection and attack, saying in a statement:

“The unprecedented leadership failures of Speaker Pelosi, the U.S. Capitol Police Chief and the Sergeant at Arms put their officers, Members of Congress and the public at risk on January 6. They had the opportunity to call in the National Guard days before and refused to do so for ‘optics.’ There is no reason that Congress should now award the highest civilian medal to leaders who failed in protecting the Capitol, which led to their resignation and the shooting of an unarmed woman, just so Speaker Pelosi can check the box and say she supports law enforcement a week after Pelosi-led Democrats attacked the police by ending their qualified immunity and taking away their protective equipment.”

Rep. Greg Steube

Despite voting against the gold medals Steube maintained that he’s a “staunch defender” of law enforcement and opposed any movements to defund the police.

When the roll was called, the bill, HR 1085, passed by an overwhelming vote of 413 to 12, that included the Republican leadership.

In addition to Steube, the other nay votes were: Reps. Andy Biggs (R-5-Ariz.), Michael Cloud (R-27-Texas), Andrew Clyde (R-9-Ga.), Matt Gaetz (R-1-Fa.), Louis Gohmert (R-1-Texas), Bob Good (R-5-Va.), Lance Gooden (R-5-Texas), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-14-Ga.), Andy Harris (R-1-Md.), Thomas Massie (R-4-Ky.), John Rose (R-6-Tenn.).

Commentary

Steube’s vote in this matter is outrageous, disgusting and shameful. His rationale is absurd. His indifference to the deaths of the officer who lost his life, Brian Sicknick, and those who took their own lives subsequently is despicable. He has forfeited any legitimate claim—or future claim—to be a defender of law enforcement. He and his colleagues deserve to be called “the dirty dozen” for rejecting this recognition for the police officers who stood their ground against the most repulsive attack on the American government in history.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida reps follow party line in opposing American Rescue Plan, which passes House

House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi gavels an end to the vote approving the American Rescue Plan. (Image: C-SPAN)

March 10, 2021 by David Silverberg

The US House of Representatives today approved a Senate-amended version of the American Rescue Plan (House Resolution 1319) by an overwhelmingly party-line vote of 220 to 211.

It will be finalized by the signature of President Joe Biden, expected on Friday, March 12.

All Republicans and one Democrat voted against it: Rep. Jared Golden (D-2-Maine).

In keeping with the Republican Party position, all of Southwest Florida’s representatives voted against it as they had opposed it when it first passed the House on Feb. 27, and took the opportunity to denounce it anew.

The 628-page bill provides families with $1,400 in stimulus payments, speeds COVID vaccine distribution and extends unemployment benefits of $300 a week until Labor Day, Sept. 6.

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) denounced the bill in the Budget Committee and on the floor of the House when it was first introduced in February. Before the vote he announced: “Today, I will again vote in opposition to the non-COVID relief package Democrats are falsely claiming to be COVID-19 relief. My fellow @GOP colleagues and I have exposed the outrageous pork and erroneous spending incorporated in this bloated bill and the people deserve better.”

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) warned before the bill’s passage that: “If this fake #COVID bill becomes law Florida’s seniors will be hit with a $30.8B Medicare cut over 10 years. Also, under the new funding formula #FL will receive about $1.2B less in direct funding than they would have under the formula in past bipartisan COVID bills.”

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) complained: “Rather than stimulating the already healing economy, Democrats chose to turn our nation into a welfare state with more government handouts. This recent COVID ‘relief’ bill proves that there is no stopping their pursuit of socializing our workforce.”

In contrast, Democrats hailed the passage of the massive bill, the culmination of the efforts of Biden and House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.).

Pelosi called the day “historic” and “a day of fulfillment.”


Statement by President Joe Biden on the House Passage of the American Rescue Plan

For weeks now, an overwhelming percentage of Americans – Democrats, Independents, and Republicans – have made it clear they support the American Rescue Plan. Today, with final passage in the House of Representatives, their voice has been heard.

Now we move forward with the resources needed to vaccinate the nation. To get $1,400 in direct payments to 85 percent of American households. To expand coverage and help with lowering health care premiums. To give small businesses what they need to stay open. To expand unemployment insurance, provide food and nutrition assistance. To help keep a roof over people’s heads. To cut child poverty in half.

This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation – the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going – a fighting chance.

I want to thank all the members who voted for it, especially Speaker Pelosi, the finest and most capable speaker in the history of our nation. Once again, she has led into law an historic piece of legislation that addresses a major crisis and lifts up millions of Americans.

On Friday, I look forward to signing the American Rescue Plan into law at the White House – a people’s law at the people’s house.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

US Senate passes American Rescue Plan; amended bill expected to pass House next week

Rubio, Scott vote against bill with rest of Republicans; Donalds praises defunding Planned Parenthood

The US Capitol.

March 6, 2021 by David Silverberg

Today, shortly after noon, the United States Senate approved the American Rescue Plan (House Resolution 1319) by a party-line vote of 50 to 49.

Both of Florida’s Republican senators, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, voted against the bill along with the rest of the Republican caucus. One senator, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), did not vote.

The Senate worked through the night to consider and vote on numerous amendments following a demand by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) that the 628-page bill be read aloud in its entirety, an effort that added 12 hours to deliberations.

The amended bill now returns to the House of Representatives to be voted upon with the Senate amendments. The House is scheduled to reconvene at noon on Monday, March 8 and a vote may take place on Tuesday.

All of Southwest Florida’s members of Congress, Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), voted against the bill when it was first considered in the House last Saturday, Feb. 27. Their positions are not expected to change when it returns to the House. Donalds has strenuously spoken out against the bill on the House floor and in subsequent statements.

Immediately after the Senate vote today Donalds tweeted: “I am happy to see that PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] money will no longer be going to institutions like Margaret Sanger’s Planned Parenthood. Taxpayer dollars should never fund abortion on American soil or abroad.” He also expressed thanks to Democratic senators who rejected a minimum wage increase: “Thank you to the Senate Democrats who sided with Senate Republicans on rejecting the $15 minimum wage increase. Bernie, Pelosi, and Schumer want to run America like California, New York, and Vermont; let me remind them that there are 47 other states in our union.”

Among its many provisions, the $1.9 trillion spending bill provides for $1,400 in economic stimulus to American families, $300 in weekly unemployment benefits to workers affected by the pandemic until Sept. 6, funding for COVID vaccine distribution, and aid to state and local governments affected by the pandemic.

In her own statement following Senate passage House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.), stated: “Today is a day of great progress and promise for the American people, as the Democratic Senate has passed President Biden’s American Rescue Plan to save lives and livelihoods.”

She concluded: “The American Rescue Plan is a beacon of hope for America’s families and a sign that, as President Biden has promised: Help Is On The Way.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg