DeSantis congressional map largely leaves SWFL districts intact, splits Immokalee

An overview of the congressional district map being proposed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. (Map: Florida Redistricting)

April 19, 2022 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida’s congressional district boundaries will experience only minor tweaks under the redistricting map (P000C0109) submitted by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), which is expected to be enacted under a special legislative session opening today.

A bitter fight has emerged over the disposition of the 5th Congressional District in the panhandle. DeSantis’ map would eliminate the district represented by Rep. Al Lawson (D-5-Fla.) by splitting it into two new districts, 2 and 3, that would likely vote Republican. Democrats are charging that through deliberate gerrymandering in this district and others, DeSantis is trying to wipe out Black representation in Florida. DeSantis has argued that his map is racially neutral.

Also, DeSantis’ map creates 20 Republican districts to Democrats’ eight, ensuring majority Republican representation in Congress for the next decade and favorably positioning him to take Florida’s Electoral College vote if he runs in 2024.

DeSantis vetoed the legislature’s proposed map and instead insisted on passage of his own, a very unusual move given that redistricting is usually in the legislative domain.

An earlier map proposed by DeSantis was very radical in its changes for Southwest Florida, making Lee County its own congressional district and significantly altering the 19th and 25th districts. The new map, submitted by J. Alex Kelly, DeSantis’ deputy chief of staff, is less sweeping for this region.

The DeSantis map, which is likely to be enacted, makes changes to the three districts that constitute Southwest Florida. Some changes are minor, others substantial. All have electoral implications but would remain majority Republican districts.

The new 19th

Changes to North Fort Myers (left arrow) and Lehigh Acres (right arrow), both of which move into the 17th District under the DeSantis map. Red lines denote existing district boundaries.

Changes to the 19th District, the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island, are relatively minor and the district keeps its existing number.

The DeSantis map takes a bit of territory out of North Fort Myers and moves it and all of Lehigh Acres into the 17th District. However, unlike other past proposed maps, minority neighborhoods in Fort Myers, like Dunbar, remain within the 19th.

In Collier County, the DeSantis 19th extends the district boundary to Rt. 75 and as far east as Santa Barbara Blvd. between Pine Ridge Rd. and Golden Gate Pkwy., so it now encompasses Village Walk, Livingston Walk, Wyndemere and parts of Golden Gate.

This change would put the home of Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) in the district. Until now he has been representing it while living in Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s district.

The Collier County portion of the DeSantis map. Red lines denote existing district boundaries. Blue lines are county borders.

The severed 17th

The DeSantis 17th, which splits the existing district into two. Red lines denote existing boundaries.

The 17th District, currently represented by Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) would be substantially reduced and under the DeSantis plan would extend roughly from the Lee County line north to Sarasota and would include sections of North Fort Myers and all of Lehigh Acres.

Much of the 17th’s former interior area—which is very lightly populated—would be transferred to a newly drawn 18th Congressional District, which would include DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Okeechobee, Glades and Hendry County and include part of the unincorporated Collier County town of Immokalee.

The renumbered 26th and the splitting of Immokalee

The new 26th District. Red lines denote existing boundaries.

The old 25th District represented by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart would now be renumbered the 26th and would lose largely unpopulated territory it formerly had in Hendry County. Its center of gravity would still be in the east in the Cuban-American stronghold of Hialeah.

Interestingly, the unincorporated town of Immokalee in Collier County, which was previously in Diaz-Balart’s district, would now be split down the middle between the 26th and the new 18th along North 15th St., and State Road 845.

The town of Immokalee, split down the middle between two congressional districts.

Analysis: The DeSantis implications

For Southwest Florida the most significant change from the DeSantis map is moving Donalds into the 19th District so he doesn’t have to change domiciles and he eliminates a potential electoral vulnerability. Otherwise, the racial, ethnic and partisan makeup of the region stays largely the same and favors the incumbents and the Republican Party.

The division of Immokalee is particularly unfortunate for that low-income community of roughly 20,000 people. The largely Hispanic town of mostly seasonal farmworkers was at the far edge of Diaz-Balart’s district but he would visit it occasionally and he requested $987,000 in federal earmarked funds for sidewalk and drainage improvements. Now, with it divided between districts, it’s likely to be neglected by both congresspeople in whose districts it falls.

The DeSantis map has raised vehement protests from Democrats and charges of racism since it eliminates districts with black representation in the north and around Orlando. Democrats are vowing to challenge it in court, which was exactly the outcome that Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Fort Myers) worked hard to avoid when he headed the state Senate Redistricting Committee.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

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

PBS reporter Lisa DeJardins interviews Rep. Byron Donalds on his refusal to request earmarks for his district. (Image: PBS Newshour)

March 16, 2022

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has utterly failed the people of Southwest Florida. He has done this defiantly, deliberately and knowingly and will do it again if returned to office.

By refusing to request any earmarks from Congress when he could have done so, he deprived the people of Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, Estero, Bonita Springs, Naples and Marco Island—the 19th Congressional District—of millions of dollars in improvements, resources and funding to which they and their communities were entirely entitled.

These people, like all Americans, pay their taxes. They have a right to get the benefits of what those taxes can buy. But Donalds, by his blind fanaticism and incompetence denied them those benefits. It is as though he reached into their pockets and stole their cash.

Getting these people, his constituents, their rightful benefits is his job. When everything else that comes with congressional office is stripped away, when all the titles are put aside and the campaign hoopla dies down and the media’s spotlights are turned off, a core function of a congressman is to get his constituents everything from the federal government to which they have a right.

In this, Rep. Byron Donalds has failed spectacularly.

It is not as though this is a man who doesn’t love money. He said so directly and brazenly when he went before the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) in Orlando: “Folks, I like money. Can we be honest about this? I like money!”

He loves money for himself, for sure. His fundraising is relentless and incessant. He loves the money from his corporate political action committees and has raised over $3 million for his 2022 campaign.

But when there was $1.5 trillion on the table for the benefit of Americans in their local communities, he refused to make even the slightest effort to get Southwest Florida what it was due. Indeed, he voted against the entire package.

His neighbor to the north wasn’t so shy: Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), a far right-wing conservative, requested $38 million in earmarks for the communities he represents. As a result, Lee County, among other recipients, stands to get $720,000 for managing a nature preserve.

His neighbor to the east wasn’t shy, either. Rep. Mario Diaz-Dalart (R-25-Fla.) submitted $12 million in earmark requests. Thanks to his efforts, Immokalee in Collier County will get badly needed sidewalks and Everglades City will get a new wastewater plant and pump station, finally repairing damage done by Hurricane Irma in 2017.

But the coastal communities of Southwest Florida in the 19th District will get nothing—nothing! Nada! Zip! Zilch! They will get nothing from the federal government to build resilience for climate change, nothing to make repairs to their infrastructure, nothing for improvements for their people in any way, shape or form.

All Byron Donalds had to do was ask. He was encouraged to ask. He had a clear and unambiguous way to ask. But he couldn’t be bothered.

As has been clear from the day he took office, Byron Donalds doesn’t care about his district. He doesn’t even live in its boundaries. On Election Day he can’t even vote for himself because the ballot he gets shows Diaz-Balart as his congressman.

For Donalds, the 19th District is nothing more than a stepping stone to higher office. His involvement in its affairs and the needs of its people has been halting and hesitant and only the result of outside prodding. In his weekly newsletters he counts his local activities under the heading “community engagement” as though drudgingly marking them off a checklist.

Instead, Donalds would rather play the cultural, ideological warrior. He’d rather slam President Joe Biden and Democrats than make any kind of constructive contribution. He’d rather disparage scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci than tend to the actual health and wellbeing of the people he represents. He’d rather take money from PACs than get Southwest Floridians the federal benefits they’re due. And he’d rather take the time to make endless rounds of fringe right-wing talk shows and bask in their hosts’ flattery and empty adulation than do the actual labor of working for his district and its constituents.

Surely, there were at least 10 worthy projects and priorities that Donalds could have submitted to Congress. Surely he could have asked for aid for the people whose homes were devastated by storms and tornadoes in Cape Coral. Surely, he could have gotten the City of Naples $900,000 to fix its sagging seawall. Surely there were new schools and roads that could have been built or repaired if he had the energy or imagination or willingness to just ask.

There’s no way to know how many millions of dollars Southwest Florida lost this year because of Donalds’ refusal to do his job—and this as the region comes out of the economic pain and damage caused by two years of pandemic.

This is not a culture war question. This is not part of the debate over wearing masks, or critical race theory or personal freedom. This is a clear, unambiguous, tangible issue of getting cold, hard cash and having enough of it to do what needs to be done.

But wait! There’s more!

Not only did Donalds refuse to submit earmarks this year because of his ideological blindness and rigidity but he will likely not submit them if he’s re-elected. In fact, it’s not certain that the opportunity to request earmarks will even present itself in the next Congress.

This may have been a once in a lifetime opportunity and he blew it.

For the sake of Southwest Florida, Donalds should not be returned to office for another term. If he is, he will doom Southwest Florida and the district he represents to perpetually lagging all the surrounding congressional districts—indeed, lagging the entire country—in getting its rightful and legitimate help from the federal government. He will turn the Paradise Coast into an eternal sucking swamp of expenses and needs without any aid from any outside agency.

The boundaries of the newly redistricted Florida have not yet been drawn; they’re hung up in litigation and contention between the governor and the legislature. It’s not clear that the 19th District will still be the 19th or where its lines will run by Election Day.

However, wherever the lines land, whatever the district that emerges, the people of Southwest Florida should be aware that Byron Donalds, if he runs for representative office, will not represent them effectively but will only represent himself.

What’s passed is past. But being forewarned is being forearmed for the future.

We sometimes forget that our elected representatives are our employees. As voters we hire them at election time, we pay their salaries with our taxes and when their contracts are up, we vote whether to renew them. They work for us.

Byron Donalds has not done his job. On November 8, his contract should not be renewed

* * *

To read full coverage of earmarks and Southwest Florida, see: “SWFL loses out on federal millions when Donalds won’t ask for cash.

Liberty lives in light

©2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

SWFL loses out on federal millions when Donalds won’t ask for cash

Diaz-Balart, Steube seek money for Everglades City, Immokalee, Lee County

President Joe Biden signs the Consolidated Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2022 in the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus in Washington, Tuesday, March 15, 2022. (Photo: AP /Patrick Semansky)

March 16, 2022 by David Silverberg

Yesterday, March 15, President Joe Biden signed a $1.5 trillion spending bill covering government expenditures for the next fiscal year.

Ukraine will receive $13.6 billion. Billions of dollars will be provided for all federal agencies, public schools, healthcare, housing, child care, climate change, veterans, police and a host of other causes including specific projects in towns, counties and states across the country.

But amidst all this, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, Estero, Bonita Springs, Naples and Marco Island won’t see a dime.

That’s because Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), whose district covers those towns, refused to request any money for them even though he had the opportunity and was encouraged to ask for it.

Such requests are called “earmarks.”

In contrast to Donalds, Southwest Florida’s other representatives energetically pursued the money available for their districts.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) requested nearly $12 million in earmarks for his district, the area roughly from Rt. 75 in the west to Hialeah in the east including Immokalee and Golden Gate in Collier County.

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) requested nearly $38 million for projects in his district covering six counties including Charlotte and parts of three others, including Lee.

To fully appreciate and understand the consequences of Donalds’ refusal to request funding for his district, a brief explanation of the nature and history of earmarks is in order.

A quick primer on earmarks

When it comes to cattle and hogs, an “earmark” is a distinctive cut on an animal’s ear that designates it as some human’s personal property.

When it comes to budgeting and management, “earmark” means money set aside for a special purpose.

And when it comes to the Congress of the United States, an earmark is money intended for a specific use in a particular member’s state or district.

For years, congressional earmarks were in disrepute. Everyone made them but there were abuses, sometimes spectacular.

For example, in 2005, when Alaskans proposed a bridge between the town Ketchikan and tiny Gravina Island, the powerful Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) inserted a $225 million earmark to fund what came to be known as the “bridge to nowhere.” It was seen to be the most egregious example of pork barrel earmark spending. (The opposition was so strong that the bridge has not been built to this day.)

Many of the earmarks were made in the dead of night, slipped into enormous, must-pass appropriations bills at the last minute, without hearings or notice, using obscure or confusing language. Members didn’t have to identify themselves as requesting the earmarks or clearly state their purpose.

What was more, the possibility of their passing depended on the clout of the members seeking them. Powerful representatives or senators sitting on key committees had a much better chance of getting their earmarks included or approved than freshmen or back-benchers.

Yet for all the abuses and allegations of waste, earmarks played an important role in aiding local communities. Congressional representatives understood their local communities’ very specific needs and could seek funding to meet them.

Further, earmarks were a way for taxpayers to get a return for the taxes they paid. After all, taxes are not a one-way street. The taxpayer pays into a collective pot—in this case the federal treasury—but has a right to expect and receive government benefits and services in return. Earmarks made by a local representative were a way to get those benefits down to the grassroots. While the abuses got all the attention, many of the local needs were legitimate and pressing.

The abusive aspects of earmarks and the clamor against them led Congress to reform its earmark process beginning in 2007. In 2009 members of Congress had to post their earmark requests online along with a signed letter certifying that they and their immediate families had no direct financial interest in the earmark.

In the 2010 election, Republicans took control of the House and banned earmarks within their caucus. In 2011 President Barack Obama furthered the anti-earmark movement in his State of the Union address by threatening to veto any spending bill that contained earmarks. Then, in February of that year, earmarks were formally banned by the entire Congress.

Last year Congress lifted the ban on earmarks for the 2022 fiscal year. It started with Democrats recognizing the urgent and desperate needs of local communities as a result of the pandemic. The House and Senate appropriations committees invited members to make earmark requests. In the House, these earmarks were called “Community Project Funding” and in the Senate, “Congressionally-Directed Spending.”

To prevent abuses, new rules govern earmarks: They must be posted online, be searchable, fully explained, the members have to certify that they and their families have no financial interest in them, and members must provide evidence of community support for the project. From an administrative standpoint, for-profit entities can’t receive earmarks and members were limited to 10 requests. The overall percentage of earmarks in spending bills was limited. To further ensure compliance, all earmarks are audited by the Government Accountability Office.

The change to allowing earmarks again did not happen painlessly. Republicans in particular had to wrestle with the legacy of their anti-government spending creed. Almost exactly a year ago the Republican caucus held a vote that, unusually for them, was closed and secret. The result was a decision to bring back earmarks by a vote of 102 to 84.

And so earmarks have returned.

Earmarks and Southwest Florida

Few Republican members expressed as much torment in accepting earmarks as Rep. Greg Steube. In fact, so excruciating was the change for him that Steube was the poster child for Republican angst in a May 5, 2021 article on the subject called “GOP’s earmark schism evident in ‘earmark’ disclosures: The return of home-state projects has many Republicans pitching for funds,” in the congressional newspaper, Roll Call.

On March 10, 2021, Steube was a signatory to a Republican letter urging top Democrats not to bring back earmarks.

“Nothing epitomizes what is wrong with Washington more than pork-barrel spending in the form of congressional earmarks,” stated the letter, signed by 35 Republican representatives and senators.

Nonetheless, when earmarks were approved, Steube dug right in. In fact, so vigorous was his earmarking that he came up with 11 projects—one more than permitted—for his district. His requests were:

  • $720,000 for Lee County to implement best management practices at the Bob Janes Preserve Restoration Project (the reserve is a massive 5,620 acre nature preserve north of the Caloosahatchee River on a portion of the former Babcock Ranch);
  • $500,000 for the Army Corps of Engineers in Jacksonville to study shoreline erosion in Charlotte County;
  • $3.2 million for Charlotte County to convert 2,135 septic lots to sewer systems to reduce water pollution;
  • $3.5 million for North Port to build a child advocacy center;
  • $2 million for DeSoto County to use sewer rather than septic systems in new developments;
  • $1.5 million for the Florida Endowment Foundation for Florida’s Graduates in Flagler Beach to help at-risk youth;
  • $1 million for the Okeechobee Utility Authority to convert septic tanks to sewer systems on Treasure Island to reduce water pollution;
  • $1 million for Sarasota County to lower the risks of water delivery disruption to residents;
  • $2.5 million for the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge sections of the Intracoastal Waterway;
  • $21 million for Charlotte County to widen Harborview Road;
  • $1 million for Sarasota County to widen the River Road Regional Interstate Connector.

A much more experienced legislator than the two-term Steube, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was far less tormented by the notion of earmarks and celebrated passage of the spending bill.

“This year’s spending package is a tremendous win for our nation’s defense priorities and national security interests,” he stated when the bill passed. Praising the money spent on defense and $14 billion in aid to Ukraine, he noted: “Although not perfect, these bills are a huge win for Republicans who were successful in eliminating left-wing, radical policies while prioritizing funding to enhance our infrastructure, reinforce our military, strengthen our national security, bolster school safety initiatives, and support our nation’s veterans.”

Diaz-Balart was not shy in making his earmark requests:

  • $3 million for Everglades City to build a new wastewater plant;
  • $2 million for Everglades City to replace the Chokoloskee Master Pump Station;
  • $750,000 for Miami Dade County to install new sewer systems for Doral and Sweetwater;
  • $1 million for Miami-Dade County to extend water mains;
  • $987,000 for Collier County to build sidewalks and drainage in Immokalee;
  • $999,858 for Clewiston to improve portions of Ventura Avenue;
  • $500,000 for Hendry County to rehabilitate and improve the Harlem Academy;
  • $1.135 million for Florida International University in Miami to establish the Aquarius Coral Reef Observatory.

In the final bill, Diaz-Balart had something to crow about when his requests were granted:

“I am especially proud of the $5 million secured for much-needed infrastructure improvements to a wastewater treatment plant and master pump station in Everglades City and Chokoloskee, which were both damaged after Hurricane Irma,” he stated. “In addition to funding for infrastructure projects in Sweetwater, Doral, Immokalee, Clewiston, and Harlem.”

Donalds’ denial

Donalds chose not to submit any earmark requests. When asked by PBS Newshour’s Lisa DeJardins, why not, he replied: “We don’t have any money. Like, we are deficit-spending in Washington, DC.” When she pointed out that earmarks have a long history and have done good for communities, Donalds replied: “With all due respect to my colleagues who’ve been up there longer, I’m here now. And so my job isn’t to look at what has always happened.”

When the entire bill came up for a vote, Donalds voted against it.

Donalds was not the only Republican to eschew earmarks. Of 435 members of the House, 332 submitted earmark requests and 103 did not. (Interestingly, five of the seven freshmen members of the Republican “Freedom Force,” the conservative Republican answer to the Democratic “Squad,” of which Donalds was a founding member, requested earmarks. Only Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-20-Ind.) joined Donalds in not making any requests.)

The change to allow earmarks is not necessarily permanent and could be changed in the next Congress, so members who didn’t have their requests granted may not get a second chance to get funding in 2023.

(For commentary on Donalds’ refusal to seek funding for his district, see: “Editorial: Byron Donalds has failed Southwest Florida and can’t be allowed to do it again.”)

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!

Banyai blasts gerrymander proposal for Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres

Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai denounces a gerrymandering proposal to NBC-2’s Dave Elias. (Image: NBC-2)

Nov. 22, 2021 by David Silverberg

Cindy Banyai, Democratic congressional candidate for the 19th Congressional District, on Friday, Nov. 19, blasted draft redistricting maps from the Florida Senate that cut Fort Myers in two and moved Lehigh Acres fully into a neighboring district.

“This is gerrymandering,” stated Banyai in a press release. “Most of the people who are no longer in FL19 are minorities, our Black and Latino neighbors. It’s well known that this district has always been a giveaway to the Republicans, but this clear targeting of our communities of color should alarm everyone.”

The 19th Congressional District runs along the coast from Cape Coral to Marco Island and inland about as far as Route 75.

Under new draft maps released by the state Senate Committee on Redistricting, North Fort Myers, the Dunbar neighborhood, the old town River District, Tice and, to the east, all of Lehigh Acres would move from the 19th District to the northern 17th District. (To read a detailed analysis of the draft maps’ impact on Southwest Florida, see “Draft redistricting maps move North Fort Myers, Lehigh Acres, into different congressional district.”)

A state Senate redistricting draft map moves North Fort Myers (left arrow) and all of Lehigh Acres (right arrow) into the 17th Congressional District. (Map: Senate Redistricting Committee; arrows, The Paradise Progressive.)

There were four draft maps released by the Committee on Nov. 10: S000C8002, S000C8004, S000C8006 and S000C8008.

Banyai pointed out that all the maps move the urban portions of Fort Myers into a mainly rural district.

“I think there is no doubt that it is absolutely a point to move democratic voters out of Florida 19,” Banyai told NBC-2’s political reporter, Dave Elias, in a report last Friday, Nov. 19. “This district has been sold out and considered a red district and they don’t really care what the voting population of Southwest Florida thinks.”

She raised four objections to the draft maps.

“Including part of Fort Myers and Lehigh in FL17 goes against the concept of compactness, given the size of FL17,” she stated.

“Additionally, the Dunbar community in Fort Myers, and Lehigh have high non-white populations. Lehigh has a 64% minority population, while the City of Fort Myers has a 51% minority population. Moving Lehigh and part of the City of Fort Myers out of FL19 has decreased the Black population of FL19 by a third, from 6% to 4% of the total population, in a district with a Black population that was below the state (15.6%) and county (8.2%) percentages.”

She pointed out: “All configurations of FL19 presented by the Florida Senate Committee on Reapportionment favor the White populations of Southwest Florida, whilst splitting and diluting the power of the people of color.”

Also, she noted, splitting the city of Fort Myers violates a concept of keeping “communities of interest” together. The new boundaries follow small residential roads rather than major thoroughfares and would cut up the city and move cohesive neighborhoods like Dunbar and majority Black neighborhoods surrounding Safety Hill.

“These areas of Lee County should be put into the same Congressional district. Putting coastal Collier and Lee Counties together favors the wealthy, White elite and marginalizes communities of color across Southwest Florida by lumping them into the largely rural districts of FL17 and FL25,” she argued.

She continued: “I encourage everyone to review all maps in this redistricting process and to stand up for your community. We cannot let politicians carve out communities they don’t like and ping-pong them around the state. Black and Brown voices should not be marginalized to score political points.”

When Elias polled people in Fort Myers about their potential new congressman (Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.)) should they be moved out of the 19th District, none recognized him.

“I’m not aware of the name. I’m in touch with local politics and never heard the name,” Randy Carry, a resident of North Fort Myers, told Elias when he showed him Steube’s picture. “I’ve never even seen his face.”


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

Florida legislature opens redistricting process to all

The Republigator, a Florida salute to Elkanah Tisdale and his original Gerrymander cartoon, showing Florida after the 2010 redistricting. (Illustration by the author © 2021.)

Sept. 27, 2021 by David Silverberg

Do you think you can draw better political maps than the state legislators in Tallahassee?

Now you can get your chance.

A new website, Florida Redistricting, launched Monday, Sept. 20, gives anyone who cares to use it the opportunity to recommend re-jiggering the state’s political boundaries based on 2020 Census data.

It’s a remarkable experiment in citizen participation and a striking change from past redistricting done in dark, smoke-filled rooms out of public sight.

Of course, while citizens can make plenty of suggestions it will be the legislature that finally decides how the maps will be drawn.

Still, for a state that has increasingly pulled the curtain on its vaunted principles of sunshine in government, it is an exceptional departure from the past. It brings a bit of light to a process that is unglamorous but essential—and determines the partisan balance of power for the decade to come.

The process

Redistricting actually consists of two processes: redistricting (redrawing district lines) and reapportionment (redistributing congressional seats among the states).  

Next year Florida gets one new seat in Congress based on its increase in population since 2010. That new district is expected to be in the high-growth area of Orlando or somewhere along the I-4 corridor.

The original cartoon that gave rise to the term “gerrymander.

Traditionally, redistricting is colloquially known as the process whereby politicians choose their voters, so voters will likely choose them at election time. It has been manipulated since the beginning of the American republic—and even before, in colonial times. In 1812 it gave rise to the term “gerrymander” after Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry so manipulated the state’s district maps to his political advantage that what emerged was a salamander-like creature immortalized in a newspaper cartoon.

Republicans have been past masters of drawing lines to favor their party. This was highlighted in January 2020, after the death of Republican redistricting consultant Thomas Hofeller. His daughter Stephanie made public the contents of four external hard drives and 18 thumb drives from her father’s office, revealing his detailed gerrymandering work. While he was based in North Carolina, he had clients all over the country and participated in Florida’s redistricting.

In 2010 two constitutional amendments, 5 and 6, were on the ballot in Florida. Amendment 5 covered legislative districts, amendment 6 covered congressional districts and both were known as the Fair Districts Amendments.

Both amendments required that: “districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.”

In the 2010 election both amendments passed with 63 percent of the vote, despite vehement opposition from the state’s Republican lawmakers. (Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) joined a lawsuit to block their implementation, which failed.)

Despite the amendments, Florida’s 2010 maps were drawn by consultants and political operatives who maneuvered behind the scenes to push Republican dominance. The lines were so elaborately gerrymandered when the maps were revealed that fair districts supporters sued to overturn them.

A “group of Republican political consultants did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process,” ruled Judge Terry Lewis of the 2nd Judicial Circuit in 2014. “They made a mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting” and “went to great lengths to conceal from the public their plan,” and “managed to taint the redistricting process and the resulting map with improper partisan intent.”

It took five years of litigation to finally end the disputes, during which two elections took place.

Carving up Southwest Florida

Southwest Florida’s congressional districts—17, 19 and 25—were clearly the products of these labors, diluting any potential Democratic blocs of voters to favor Republican hegemony. (For more, see the 2019 articles: “Gerrymandering comes home to Southwest Florida” and “A tale of two swamps: Why Southwest Florida can’t keep its congressmen.”)

This year state Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Estero), who heads the state Senate’s reapportionment committee, is promising that the process will be open, fair and transparent and meet both the spirit and letter of Florida’s Fair Districts Amendments.

“We are taking steps to safeguard against the kind of shadow process that occurred in the last cycle,” Rodrigues said during the first meeting of his committee on Monday, Sept. 20. “We will protect our process against the ‘astroturfing’ that occurred in the past, where partisan political operatives from both parties wrote scripts and recruited speakers to advocate for certain plans or district configurations to create a false impression of a widespread grassroots movement.”

He added: “Fortunately, we now have the insight into both the judiciary’s expanded scope of review, and how courts have interpreted and applied the constitutional standards related to redistricting. I intend for this committee to conduct the process in a manner that is consistent with case law that developed during the last decade that is beyond reproach and free from any hint of unconstitutional intent.”

How they break down

According to the 2020 Census, Florida gained 2,736,877 people over the last ten years and now has a population of 21,538,187.

In Southwest Florida, Lee County gained 142,068 residents, reaching a population of 760,822. Collier County gained 54,232 people to reach a total population of 375,752. Charlotte County gained 26,869 people to reach a total of 186,847.

The redistricting effort will try to bring the new districts into line with ideal population levels while meeting Fair Districting criteria. Since all of Southwest Florida gained population above the ideal, most—but not all—its districts are considered “overpopulated.”

Congressional districts

Southwest Florida’s congressional districts. (Map: FloridaRedistricting.gov)

Ideally, each Florida congressional district should have 769,221 people in it, a gain of 72,876 from last time.

According to the data from FloridaRedistricting.gov, in Southwest Florida the current congressional districts break down as follows:

  • District 17: With a total population of 779,955 people, it has 10,734 or .014 percent people more than the ideal number.
  • District 19: With a total population of 835,012 people, it has 65,791 or .086 percent more people than the ideal number.
  • District 25: With a total population of 771,434 people, it has 2,213 or .003 percent more people than the ideal number.

To find your congressional district, click here.

Southwest Florida Senate districts

Southwest Florida’s state Senate districts. (Map: FloridaRedistricting.gov)

Senate districts should ideally have a population of 538,455 people.

The two main Senate districts covering Southwest Florida are 27 and 28.

  • District 27 has 579,819 people, 41,364 or .077 percent more than the ideal.
  • District 28 has 563,557 people, 25,102 or .047 percent more than the ideal.

To find your Florida Senate district, click here.

Southwest Florida House districts

Southwest Florida state House districts. (Map: FloridaRedistricting.gov)

State House districts should have 179,485 people.

  • District 76: With 180,111 people, it has 626 or .003 percent more people than the ideal.
  • District 77: With 197,485 people, it has 17,997 or .1 percent more people than the ideal.
  • District 78: With 193,526 people, it has 14,041 or .078 percent more people than the ideal.
  • District 79: With 189,703 people, it has 10,218 or .057 percent more people than the ideal.
  • District 80: With 188,858 people, it has 9.373 or .052 percent more people than the ideal.
  • District 105: With 176,959 people it has 2,526 or .014 percent fewer people than the ideal.
  • District 106: With 164,757 people it has 14,728 or.082 percent fewer people than the ideal.

To find your Florida House district, click here.

Can it really happen?

In its effort to be inclusive, the Florida legislature is giving residents the opportunity to draw their own maps and recommend changes.

It’s a chance people should seize by going to the website.

To submit maps and recommendations a user has to create an account on the website. The site has a quick-start guide to walk users through the process.

Once in, users can fiddle with the maps to their heart’s content and send recommendations to the legislature.

It’s a remarkable innovation in participatory democracy. Time, however, is of the essence. The legislative redistricting session convenes on Jan. 11 of next year and it must complete its work by the time it adjourns on March 11. Without a doubt, it will be a contentious session.

After that, there will presumably be newly-drawn districts. By June 11, candidates will qualify to run for office. Then the party primaries will take place on Aug. 23 and the general election on Nov. 8.

Can this experiment in popular participation actually result in fairly drawn, politically neutral boundaries?

Obviously, it remains to be seen. In 2010 the Fair Districting Amendments passed overwhelmingly but the maps that came out were gerrymandered anyway. Florida always seems to have a way of ignoring or circumventing its most popular constitutional amendments.

Coming out of the gate, though, Rodrigues’ intentions seem good if his words are taken at face value.

If this experiment works Florida could become a national model of fair districting. This time, if citizens are alert, engaged and determined, maybe—just maybe—Florida for once might abide by its own constitution and put to rest the gerrymander, or, in this case, the Republigator.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

SWFL Roundup: Texas mess reactions; reps rated in new democracy index

Collier County, Fla., residents demonstrate for women’s choice on May 21, 2019. (Photo: Author)

Sept. 6, 2021 by David Silvererg

Last week Southwest Florida’s congressmen were very vocal in condemning President Joe Biden and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. But they fell strangely silent on the issue of women’s choice when the Supreme Court let stand a Texas law effectively outlawing abortion.

Of the area’s three members of Congress, only Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), whose district covers Punta Gorda north to Venice, commented on the issue and did so indirectly.

When the chief executive officer of Whole Women’s Health, which bills itself as “a privately-owned, feminist healthcare management company” based in Austin, Texas, tweeted on Aug. 31 that the clinic would continue providing abortions right up until the moment the law went into effect, Steube responded on Twitter with a Biblical quotation from the prophet Jeremiah (1:5): “What about the child, who is living in the womb that is about to be murdered, is that not a loved one?”

(Editor’s note: Steube’s citation is not at all what the Old Testament passage states. In it the prophet Jeremiah says that God chose him to be a prophet before his birth. As stated in the King James version: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”)

Steube has consistently voted to restrict women’s choice from the time he began serving the Florida House of Representatives in 2011. During his time in Congress starting in 2019, he received a zero rating from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, a pro-choice lobbying group, based on six key votes.

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who represents the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island, has always advertised himself as “A Trump supporting, liberty loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man,” so his position on choice is known. There were no key votes on choice-related bills since he took office on Jan. 3 of this year, so he remains unrated by Planned Parenthood Action Fund. As of this writing he had not commented on the Texas law on any platform.

By contrast, Cindy Banyai, his Democratic challenger, issued a lengthy statement.

“Many of us are still reeling from the attacks on one of our most basic civil rights—the right to decide if we are going to be a parent,” she stated. “For decades, Republicans and their far-right extremist allies have attacked women and tried everything they can to keep us from being able to control what happens to our lives and bodies.”

She continued: “My America does not impose forced birth on women and then attack them when they struggle to provide for their families. This isn’t about doing anything other than imposing the choice of fundamentalists on women, fundamentalists who don’t care about the consequences to the mother or the child. We are better than this, and now we must rise to the moment.”

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), whose district goes from eastern Collier County to Hialeah in the east, has been in the House of Representatives since 2003. He has a 3 percent rating from Planned Parenthood Action Fund based on 31 votes. He too had not commented on the Texas law as of this writing.

His challenger, Democrat Adam Gentle, however, had a strong reaction.

“I am sick and tired of women’s health being a political, judicial football,” he told The Paradise Progressive.  “Healthcare isn’t a sport.  We must codify a woman’s right to choose into our federal law.  We can and we must.”

So far there have been no publicly-available polls of attitudes toward abortion in Southwest Florida. But according to reporting on the website FiveThirtyEight, the US public largely opposes overturning the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, ensuring a woman’s right to choose.

In the article “Why Texas’s Abortion Law May Go Too Far For Most Americans,” senior writer Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux writes that “For decades, Americans have broadly opposed overturning Roe v. Wade — despite escalating attempts by anti-abortion advocates to turn public opinion against legal abortion.”  

Americans have consistently supported upholding Roe v. Wade. (Chart: FiveThirtyEight)

Certainly, when the Georgia legislature passed a Texas-like bill in 2019 it galvanized pro-choice forces there and contributed to that state’s turn toward the Democratic Party in the 2020 election.

“The heartbeat bill was the thing that made them jump” into the Democratic Party column, according to Georgian resident Jen Jordan. (The law was ruled unconstitutional in 2020 and never took effect.)

The same could occur in Florida and nationally as the assault on women’s choice proceeds. “For better or worse, Americans’ views on when abortion should be legal will probably get a lot clearer,” writes Thomson-DeVeaux.

It will also be harder and harder for Southwest Florida representatives to maintain their silence.

New democracy index

FiveThirtyEight has also produced a new metric measuring the degree to which representatives and senators support democracy based on their congressional votes. Users can look up the actions of any member of Congress.

The tool is unveiled in the article “Which Senators and Representatives Vote in Favor of Democracy?

The article by Laura Bronner looks at two 2021 measures of commitment to democracy: a “bare bones” metric based on six votes “limited to basic requirements like free and, in theory, fair elections and other measures that help safeguard democracy.” A more expansive metric is based on 18 votes and “everything in the first category, but also includes bills that expand civil liberties and who has political power.” This is not based on party affiliation or support for Biden but on those specific votes.

Readers can look up their representatives and senators and see where they fall on the democratic spectrum.

It may not be a surprise, but all three of Southwest Florida’s representatives clock in at 0 percent for bare-bones support for democracy.

The more expansive definition yields different results, however. Diaz-Balart has a 31.6 percent rating while Donalds and Steube both voted for democratic measures only 5.3 percent of the time.

Not mentioned in the FiveThirtyEight article is that Donalds has been prominent and vocal in supporting Florida’s legislative efforts to restrict voting access and praised Georgia’s passage of its voter suppression law.

Florida’s two Republican senators yield very different results. Sen. Marco Rubio voted 50 percent of the time in favor of the six key bare-bones democratic measures and 42.9 percent in favor of the 18 more expansive measures. Sen. Rick Scott voted for 25 percent of the bare-bones measures and 28.6 percent in favor of the more expansive proposals.

A happy and restful Labor Day to all.

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

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