Christy McLaughlin, SWFL conservative activist, candidate, arrested for DUI, property damage – Updated

Nov. 28, 2022 by David Silverberg

Correction: This story corrects an earlier version based on an erroneous source. Updated Dec. 1 with precise location and new detail.

Christina “Christy” McLaughlin, 27, a two-time Republican congressional candidate and conservative activist, was arrested Friday, Nov. 25, and charged with driving under the inluence of alcohol (DUI) and damage to property, according to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO).

Christy McLaughlin (Photo: CCSO)

After refusing an alcohol test, McLaughlin bonded out of custody, according to CCSO.

The crash occurred at Immokalee Rd., and Lakeland Ave.

On Sunday, Nov. 27, at 2:51 pm, Mclaughlin posted on Facebook: “To my friends, I am fine.”

Political profile

In 2020, McLaughlin ran for Congress in the 19th Congressional District, the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island. She was defeated in the primary election.

In 2022 she sought the Republican nomination for Congress in the 23rd Congressional District in the Miami area, which includes the towns of Weston, Davie, Pembroke Pines, and Aventura. She was defeated by Joe Budd on Aug. 23 in a nine person race. (Budd was defeated in the general election by Democrat Jared Moskowitz.)

McLaughlin has been an advocate for extreme conservative causes. She hosted an event in Naples on Dec. 3, 2020 at which Enrique Tarrio, leader of the Proud Boys group, was an unannounced speaker.

Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio and Republican congressional candidate Christy McLaughlin (center) pose at The Mercato in Naples, Fla., on Dec. 3, 2020. (Photo: Facebook)

She also organized a Naples welcome party for conservative activist and operative Roger Stone on Jan. 3, 2021 that featured a heavy Proud Boys presence.

Christy McLaughlin welcomes Roger Stone to Naples on Jan. 3, 2021. (Photo: Facebook.)

She was present at the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection and riot at the US Capitol Building. In an op-ed she wrote for the Washington Times, she blamed the riot on leaders of the US Senate and House of Representatives.

 Christy McLaughlin addresses a crowd on the steps of the Supreme Court on Jan. 5, 2021. (Image: Christy McLaughlin/Facebook)

The Paradise Progressive reached out to McLaughlin by e-mail for this report but had not received a reply as of this writing.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Closing argument: Banyai for Congress, democracy for America

The Statue of Liberty. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Nov.4, 2022

Election Day is no longer the deciding day for elections; it’s really the day that votes are counted.

By the time the polls close on Tuesday night, large numbers of people will have already cast their ballots or mailed them in. Locally, as of this writing, 39 percent of voters have voted in Collier County, 38 percent in Lee County and 38 percent in Charlotte County.

So an argument made on the eve of Election Day is intended more for the record than the ballot box, more a monument for history than an effort to sway anyone still undecided. It may only be a warning. Nonetheless, it needs to be made.

This is even more important in the absence of any debate between congressional candidates. In Southwest Florida’s premier congressional race, that of the 19th Congressional District covering the coastal towns from Cape Coral to Marco Island, there will be no face-to-face encounter between the contenders, Democrat Cindy Banyai and incumbent Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.).

Debates, whatever their flaws, highlight politicians’ policies and records and force them to defend their actions and put forward their positions. Voters can evaluate them side-by-side. Due in large part to Hurricane Ian, Southwest Florida voters will not have the benefit of this kind of discussion.

But more broadly than any local race, as President Joe Biden pointed out in a speech on Tuesday, Nov. 2, this year’s election is a referendum on democracy itself.

While Americans may have legitimate differences of opinion expressed in this year’s election, Biden said, “there’s something else at stake, democracy itself. I’m not the only one who sees it. Recent polls have shown an overwhelming majority of Americans believe our democracy is at risk, that our democracy is under threat. They too see that democracy is on the ballot this year, and they’re deeply concerned about it.”

Banyai for Congress and the Donalds record

Cindy Banyai has been fighting for the people of Southwest Florida since she first declared her candidacy in July 2019. She fought then and continues to fight for women’s choice, a clean environment, pure water, secure Social Security, affordable housing and fact-based, sensible education for all school-aged children.

Importantly for a role in Congress, Banyai knows how to reach out to those of different opinions. She’s a coalition builder. She’s demonstrated this time and again. She knows and understands the federal government and would be an effective advocate for the people of Southwest Florida, especially now that they need an advocate in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

Ordinarily, an endorsement accentuates the positive in a candidate and ignores or minimizes the opponent. But in this instance it’s critical that Southwest Floridians understand and appreciate the nature of their current congressman and what they’re likely to get in the future if he’s reelected.

Donalds is one of the most unimaginative and ineffective members of Congress that this author has observed in over 30 years of watching and covering the Congress of the United States, both up close and from a distance.

Donalds comes across as a flat, two-dimensional ideologue who has sold his soul to Donald Trump and the MAGA movement in the pursuit of his personal ambition. He voted to overturn the 2020 election and deny its legitimate outcome. He has repeated Trump’s election lies. He opposed vaccinations and public health protections. He has supported voter suppression. He has mindlessly and vehemently regurgitated whatever Republican Party and Trumpist doctrines are being pushed at the moment without reflection or thought. He has no real interest in serving his district, the people in it or solving the problems that afflict it. He has pursued and advanced his wife’s anti-public education agenda and promoted private charter schools, involving himself, as a public official, in private litigation regarding that business.

Legislatively he is a failure. Not one of the 25 pieces of legislation he introduced advanced past the introductory phase. He couldn’t even get a commendation passed for the Everblades hockey team. Two of his most substantive pieces of legislation, the Protecting Communities from Harmful Algal Blooms Act and the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act, which really dealt with the environmental needs of the district, were reintroductions of legislation crafted by his predecessor, Francis Rooney. Under Donalds they went nowhere. Nor are his interests or prospects better for the 118th Congress.

If there is one core function representatives are expected to perform for their districts, it is to bring home the bacon. Constituents have every right to expect the people they elect to Congress to get them and the district something for the tax dollars they pay. No matter what their policy positions, no matter how they pose or expound on other matters, getting legitimate federal benefits is an essential responsibility of elected members of the House.

Donalds completely failed to pursue funding for the district through earmarks (funding designated for specific purposes) even though there was a proper, established, bipartisanly-formulated procedure for doing so. His neighbors to the north (Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and east (Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25 [since changed to 26] Fla.) both put in requests for $38 million and $12 million respectively. This money was requested to make critical infrastructure improvements. Donalds didn’t even ask.

Based on his past history and current practice the people of the 19th Congressional District have no reason to expect that Donalds will get them any of the funding they so desperately need or to which they are entitled. Indeed, in a Republican House of Representatives Donalds can be expected to be at the forefront of the attack on Social Security and any kind of funding and support for everyday people struggling to recover from disaster. He will likely vote against any kind of appropriations needed by the nation, any kind of help for its people, and any kinds of improvements or investments in its infrastructure. He will likely vote to shut down the government when such votes come up and he will likely vote to destroy America’s financial faith and credit in the world by holding the debt ceiling hostage.

He is also beholden to the very insurance industry with which hundreds of thousands of Southwest Floridians are contending, so they can expect no aid or comfort from him there.

Ideologically, Donalds thinks he’s going to ride the tiger of MAGA fanaticism and prejudice to higher positions within the Republican congressional caucus. But he’s fooling himself. History shows that extremist movements turn on their boosters—and fanatics always eat their own. For all his doctrinal slavishness, the day will come when Donalds is on the menu and he’ll wonder how he wound up on the plate.

That goes triple for Donalds’ patron, Donald Trump, who has never met an ally, supporter or friend he failed to betray.

Donalds will have to soon make a choice between Trump’s ambition and that of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), so he in his turn will likely have to decide which patron to forsake. Whichever way he goes, it won’t be pretty.

A man whose rise was made possible by such civil rights giants as the Rev. Martin Luther King and John R. Lewis and Supreme Court decisions like Brown vs. Board of Education and Loving vs. Virginia has sold his soul to those forces intent on rolling back women’s rights, civil rights and voting rights. They have other constitutional freedoms in their sights and will be pursuing them in the years to come. Donalds aided and abetted them in the past and likely will in the future but despite his complicity, these are the people who will crush him, sooner rather than later. And he doesn’t seem to know or care.

Donalds is bad for Southwest Florida, bad for its towns, cities and counties, bad for its people, bad for its seniors and bad for his district.

Voters have a vastly better alternative in Cindy Banyai.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Democracy on the line

One of the most profound democratic elections in American history occurred on Sept. 11, 2001.

It didn’t occur in a polling place or on a national stage. Rather, it occurred in the body of United Airlines Flight 93, scheduled to go from Newark, NJ to San Francisco, Calif.

The plane was taken over by Al Qaeda hijackers. The pilots were killed or incapacitated. Two terrorists took over the controls and locked themselves in the cockpit. Another stood outside the cabin door, wearing what appeared to be a suicide vest that he threatened to explode.

The 33 passengers and crew had seen the mayhem. They were in touch with friends and family on the ground. They knew that other planes had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York (another would crash into the Pentagon). They knew they were likely headed for death.

They caucused in the back of the plane to weigh the alternatives. Should they attack the hijackers or sit tight? They knew they were facing a life or death decision.

So they took a vote. They took a vote because that’s how Americans make decisions.

They voted to fight back and so they attacked the terrorist in the cabin and then used a serving cart to batter their way into the cockpit. There they struggled with the hijackers at the controls.

The plane crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Everyone died.

But by their action, those passengers and crew probably saved the United States Capitol building, which was one of the hijackers’ likely targets, along with the White House.

In that regard, the vote on Flight 93 was probably one of the most consequential in American history.

But it also illustrates the depth and pervasiveness of American democracy. When Americans need to chart a course, or make a decision, when their very lives are at stake, they vote and abide by the majority results.

As Biden said in his speech, “Too many people have sacrificed too much for too many years for us to walk away from the American project and democracy. Because we’ve enjoyed our freedoms for so long, it’s easy to think they’ll always be with us no matter what. But that isn’t true today. In our bones, we know democracy is at risk. But we also know this. It’s within our power, each and every one of us, to preserve our democracy.”

When those passengers voted, no one called the vote a sham. No one said it was rigged. No one refused to accept the outcome. No one lied that it had gone otherwise. They acted on their own behalf but also on behalf of the country and they did so by voting.

In America, democracy undergirds absolutely everything, every activity, not just in government. It’s what governs Americans’ daily behavior. It’s what gives Americans their rights. It pervades American commerce (think of shareholder votes in corporations). Even families put choices to a vote. It confers legitimacy on decisions great and small. It’s a way of life.

This is what’s at stake in this year’s elections. It is a shame and a horror that 20 years after 9/11, the fanatical followers of a twisted president attempted to end American democracy by attacking the sacred building that the passengers and crew of Flight 93 gave their lives to protect.

To vote against democracy in this year’s election is to kill those Americans all over again and complete the work of the terrorists on that day. Voting for anti-democratic candidates is bringing down a curtain of darkness on light, imposing tyranny on freedom, and eclipsing good with evil.

Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government—except for all the others that have been tried from time to time.”

Preserving democracy is the paramount issue this year—and every year to come. This year, when you vote, if you haven’t already, cast your ballot in memory of the passengers of Flight 93.

Do your part to preserve, protect and defend democracy, the Constitution and these United States. You’ll be preserving, protecting and defending yourself, your family and all that you hold sacred.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

The Donalds Dossier: Packing in the PAC cash for the midterms

Rep. Byron Donalds at CPAC on Feb. 25 of this year in Orlando. (Image: YouTube)

Sept. 13, 2022 by David Silverberg

“Folks, I like money,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) told a cheering crowd at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) convention in Orlando on Feb. 25 of this year. “Can we be honest about this? I like money!”

Indeed, he does. And Donalds is very good at raising it. This year he entered his general election campaign with $4.8 million (or exactly $4,805,548.69) in receipts, according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Donalds’ public fundraising appeals are insistent and incessant, stoking and exploiting fear and anxiety of Democrats, socialism, Dr. Anthony Fauci and all the ghosts, goblins and specters that keep extreme MAGA maniacs awake at night.

There’s no denying it—it works.

As of Aug. 8, $4 million ($4,036,842.37 to be exact) of Donalds’ contributions came from individuals and the efforts of Winred, a professional, conservative fundraising service.

But $325,302.41 came from a variety of political action committees (PACs) that are not so easily swayed by emotional appeals. These PACs represent a wide variety of industries, associations, corporations and fellow politicians. The biggest sectors contributing to Donalds’ primary and general election campaign are insurance, finance, banking and energy.

They are the organizations and businesses to which Donalds is beholden. Voters should be aware of the sources of this cash and its influence on his decisionmaking on Nov. 8 when they vote for him—or Democrat Cindy Banyai.

In 2021, after Donalds denied that he was influenced by his donors, The Paradise Progressive did a two-part analysis of his ideological and industry backers.

As the 2022 general election campaign season kicks into high gear, it’s time to take another look at Donalds’ corporate backers. These are the companies and industries whom he will be serving if returned to Congress in November.

Donalds sits on House committees and subcommittees that have a direct impact on these industries.

One is the House Oversight and Reform Committee where he sits on the Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee.

His other assignment is potentially even more impactful. On the House Small Business Committee, he sits on the Oversight, Investigations, and Regulations Subcommittee as well as the Economic Growth, Tax, and Capital Access Subcommittee.

These subcommittee assignments give him influence that attracts corporate contributions.

(Of note: none of the facts reported below allege illegality or criminality. They are activities reported to the FEC as required by campaign finance laws and regulations. All numbers are year-to-date figures as of Aug. 8.)

Big Insurance

The insurance industry is heavily regulated and generally unpopular in the public imagination (think of all those personal injury attorneys inveighing against greedy insurance companies in local television commercials).

Whether they agree with individual lawmakers’ policy positions or not, at the very least, it’s worth it to the insurance industry to invest in political campaigns to keep potential investigations and new regulations at bay.

Insurance-related PACs have been very good to Donalds, both trade associations and individual companies.

Over the past year, Donalds’ most generous contributor was the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies PAC, which contributed $22,000 to his general election campaign.

That was followed by the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors PAC, which contributed $10,000 to his primary election campaign.

The Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, Inc., PAC kicked in $8,500 to his general election campaign, while the American Council of Life Insurers PAC gave $2,500 to his primary campaign.

Individual insurance companies’ PACs contributed too:

  • The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. Federal PAC contributed $4,500 to his primary campaign.
  • Cigna Corp. PAC, which supported Donalds’ 2020 campaign, contributed $3,500 to his primary campaign this year.
  • New York Life Insurance Company PAC contributed $2,500 to his primary campaign.

Big finance

The financial industry is heavily affected by congressional actions, so Donalds received contributions from a variety of finance-related companies and trade associations:

Regions Financial Corporation PAC contributed $5,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign and $22,000 to his general election campaign.

ACPAC ACA International PAC (The Association of Credit and Collection Professionals) represents credit reporting and collection agencies. It contributed $5,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign and $10,000 to his general election campaign.

The Credit Union Legislative Action Council PAC of the Credit Union National Association gave $5,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign and $7,500 to his general election campaign.

Navient Corp., provides education loan management and business processing solutions. Its PAC contributed $5,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign. Perhaps not accidentally, Donalds was a ferocious critic of President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program. A large part of Navient’s business is managing and collecting existing student loans.

The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association PAC contributed $1,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign.

When it comes to investment-related associations and companies, Donalds has the backing of LPL Financial LLC PAC. LPL is a registered investment advisory firm that contributed $5,000 to his primary campaign and $7,500 to his general campaign.

In terms of investor-related associations, the Small Business Investor Alliance PAC contributed $4,000 to his primary campaign and the American Investment Council PAC contributed $2,500. The latter represents private equity investors who invest in companies that don’t offer shares on public stock exchanges. The move to private equity has been blamed by critics for looting otherwise healthy companies and harming workers.

Big Banking

Among banks, Community Bancshares of Mississippi Inc., PAC is the only individual bank PAC to contribute to Donalds, donating $3,000 to his primary campaign. Claiming to be one of the fastest growing banks in the southern United States, Community Bancshares, formerly Farmers and Merchants Bank, based in Brandon, Miss., claims $4.5 billion in assets, 54 offices, and over 850 personnel in four states.

While that may be the only individual contributing bank, that doesn’t mean the banking industry has overlooked Donalds.

The American Bankers Association PAC has been a particularly enthusiastic backer, kicking in $17,500 for the general election campaign.

Also contributing to the general election campaign was the Mortgage Bankers Association PAC, which contributed $10,000.

Another banking-related contributor was the Independent Community Bankers of America PAC, which contributed $3,000 to the primary campaign.

Big energy

Donalds doesn’t discriminate between money from fossil fuel and electric power companies—he takes money from both.

Marathon Petroleum Corporation Employees PAC contributed the largest allowable amount to Donalds’ general election campaign: $7,500.

Another fossil fuel and energy company, Valero Energy Corp. PAC, based in San Antonio, Texas, gave the next largest amount among the energy companies: $5,000 for Donalds’ primary campaign.

Nextera Energy Inc., claims to be the world’s largest utility company. Its PAC contributed $2,500 to Donalds’ primary campaign.

Duke Energy is an electric power and natural gas holding company headquartered in Charlotte, NC. Its PAC contributed $2,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign.

The PAC of the Tampa Electric Company (TECO) Energy Inc., Employees’ PAC, contributed $1,000 to Donalds’ primary election campaign.

All these were the PACs of individual companies. But in the energy sector, Donalds did receive a contribution from a single trade association: the Solar Energy Industries Association PAC contributed $1,000 to his primary campaign.

Big tobacco

Two major tobacco PACs contributed to Donalds’ campaigns:

The Swisher International Inc., PAC Fund is the PAC of Swisher International Inc., a tobacco company based in Jacksonville, Fla. Swisher has been in business since 1861 and according to its website, ships more than two billion cigars a year to more than 70 countries.

Altria Group, Inc. PAC is the PAC of one of the world’s largest producers and marketers of tobacco, cigarettes and related products. Altria companies include Philip Morris, US Smokeless Tobacco Co., and John Middleton, a producer of pipe and cigar tobacco.

Other PACs of note

In addition to these industries, some additional contributors stand out.

  • Koch Industries, Inc., PAC contributed $5,000 to the primary campaign. This is the company of the well-known and extremely conservative Koch brothers.
  • Florida Sugar Cane League PAC contributed $3,500 to the primary campaign. The sugar industry has been criticized for allegedly polluting Lake Okeechobee, a criticism sugar companies reject.
  • Publix Super Markets, Inc. Associates PAC contributed $1,000 to the primary campaign. (More about Publix’s political activities can be read here: “Publix: Where politics bring no pleasure.”)

A full list of Donalds’ PAC contributors can be seen on the FEC website and accessed here.

Liberty lives in light

©2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Jim Huff, Congress and the courage to be civil

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

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

July 8, 2022 by David Silverberg

These days it takes courage to simply be civil.

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

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

But Jim Huff has that courage.

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

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

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

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

Candidate Jim Huff. (Photo: Author)

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

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

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

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

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

Florida transplant

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

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

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

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

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

Mission-oriented

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republicanism and rationality

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

He says he has three main priorities as a candidate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restoring civility

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

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

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

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

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

Liberty lives in light

©2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

The Donalds Dossier: Putin’s pal; an address mess; and a legal laurel–Updated

Russian President Vladimir Putin (Photo: TASS)

May 17, 2022 by David Silverberg

Updated at 4:30 pm with additional bill details and Senate status.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t been getting much good news lately but surely he must have smiled when he saw that Southwest Florida’s own Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) had voted against aid for Ukraine.

The vote came last Tuesday, May 10, at 10:05 pm when the United States House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to grant Ukraine $40 billion to keep up its fight for democracy and independence, a fight that has inspired the world.

The Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2022 (House Bill 7691) passed by a vote of 368 to 57. Even 149 Republicans voted for the bill, among them Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and eight other Florida Republicans.

“Among other things, the bill provides appropriations for defense equipment, migration and refugee assistance, regulatory and technical support regarding nuclear power issues, emergency food assistance, economic assistance, and seizures of property related to the invasion,” according to its official summary.

“It’s about democracy versus a dictatorship,” argued House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) in favor of the bill. “Democracy must prevail. The Ukrainian people are fighting the fight for their democracy and, in doing so, for ours as well.”

“Ukrainians are fighting for their freedom and their future against Russia’s unprovoked and illegal war,” Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.) stated. “This vote makes clear that the US remains as committed as ever to supporting Ukraine in its fight for freedom and democracy. Slava Ukraine!”

By contrast, Donalds said in a statement: “While I’m a firm supporter of the Ukrainian defense, the American taxpayer shouldn’t bear the perpetual cost of this war.” He argued that “the $40 billion aid package I voted against is an unfunded commitment that shovels money blindly without proper accountability and opens the door for even more irresponsible funding. I supported the original multi-billion-dollar aid package, but we cannot continue down this reckless spending pattern bankrupting our nation,”

(It should be noted that there’s nothing “perpetual” about the aid package. It’s a one-time infusion to help Ukraine defend itself and assist Ukrainians victimized by the conflict.)

Oddly, Donalds failed to mention the vote in his newsletter recapping the week’s events.

To Donalds’ north in Southwest Florida, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), another far-right conservative who also opposed the package, complained that while he had voted for previous Ukraine funding: “Congress has not received a single report on how much of this funding was spent, if any, nor assurances that the funding even reached Ukraine. Today less than 6 hours before a vote, the Democrats dropped a massive, last-minute bill to send $40 billion more without any safeguards, assurances of use, or proof of a strategic plan for the US role in Ukraine.”

Somehow, the pictures of charred Russian tanks and equipment abandoned in retreat from Ukrainian territory might indicate that current aid is being put to very good use.

Following passage in the House the bill was sent to the Senate. Yesterday, May 16, senators voted 81 to 11 to proceed with the legislation and a final vote is expected this week, possibly as soon as tomorrow. Both of Florida’s Republican senators voted to proceed with the bill.

District delay

The extension of the 19th Congressional District boundaries to Santa Barbara Blvd. in Collier County under Gov. Ron DeSantis’ preferred congressional map. It includes Rep. Byron Donalds’ home address at the approximate location of the X. The red line denotes the existing boundary of the district. (Map: Florida Redistricting Committee)

Donalds will remain outside the district he represents if Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) favored congressional district map is invalidated by the courts, where it is now being considered.

A congressperson doesn’t have to live in the district he or she represents, only in the state. Donalds’ address of record is in the 25th Congressional District represented by Diaz-Balart. [Editor’s note: The precise address is not being posted here out of courtesy to Rep. Donalds.]

Traditionally, of course, it is best for the member of Congress to reside in the district. The representative can stay close to the people, personally share their concerns and keep an eye on the community’s needs and issues. It also gives the member credibility at election time.

Donalds, elected in 2020, has never resided in the 19th but he was handed a favor when DeSantis’ team redrew the Florida congressional map, rammed it through the legislature and DeSantis signed it into law on April 22. Instead of moving into the 19th, DeSantis moved the district’s borders to include Donalds.

This not only closed a campaign vulnerability for Donalds, it avoided a potentially damaging primary fight between Donalds and Diaz-Balart if Donalds had chosen to run in the 25th (re-numbered the 26th in the DeSantis map).

It was a neat solution for all concerned. However, with the DeSantis map thrown out in court and now up in the air as the judge’s ruling is appealed, it remains to be seen in which congressional district Donalds hangs his hat—which has never seemed to matter much to him anyway.

Court conquest

Donalds might have received a blow when the court threw out DeSantis’ map but a different court handed him a victory in his battle with former Republican congressional candidate, businessman Casey Askar.

Casey Askar

The case was initially scheduled to be tried before a jury on May 18. However, Judge Elizabeth Krier of the 20th Judicial Circuit handed down a ruling on April 14.

To recap: On primary election day, Aug. 18, 2020, a text message was sent to Republicans, allegedly from Donalds, saying that he had dropped out of the race. Donalds vehemently denied its authenticity and accused Askar of sending the false message.

However, Donalds provided no evidence and Askar denied the charge. On Nov. 16, 2020, Askar sued Donalds for defamation and libel, demanding $30,000 in damages.

After nearly a year and a half of legal wrangling and maneuvering—and legal expenses—Krier granted Donalds’ request for a summary judgment and dismissed Askar’s complaint.

“…Viewing the facts in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, there is no genuine issue of material fact as to the mandatory element of actual malice, and therefore Defendant Donalds is entitled to judgment as a matter of law,” Krier wrote.

Essentially, Askar had to prove that Donalds acted with malice against him, knowing his charges were untrue. What was more, Askar had to provide evidence to that effect. The bar for doing this is especially high when it comes to public political figures like political candidates.

Askar failed these tests, in Krier’s view. Donalds’ accusations against Askar were merely “opinions” she wrote. Donalds had made the accusations based on the belief that one of Askar’s consultants, Jeff Roe, had allegedly pulled this kind of trick in 2016 against Dr. Ben Carson in his presidential primary race against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Given that Askar failed to make his defamation case with “clear and convincing evidence,” Krier ruled against him.

Krier may soon rule that Askar has to pay all the attorney’s fees and court costs to Donalds for the litigation, which likely comes to quite a tidy sum. One hopes for Askar’s sake that the pizza business is booming.

Slava Ukraini! Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Florida Redistricting, Collier County and you

A presentation on new districts at the congressional, state and county levels made to the Collier County Democratic Party on May 11, 2022.

Hours before this scheduled presentation, Judge Layne Smith of Leon County, Fla., struck down the governor’s congressional redistricting map. The fate of Florida’s congressional districts remains undecided at this time.

Liberty lives in light

(c) 2022 by David Silverberg

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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

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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