The inaction calculation: Why SWFL congressmen won’t act against gun violence

Students who survived the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., visit the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University in June 2018 to promote changes in gun laws and register voters. (Photo: Author)

May 31, 2022 by David Silverberg

It is only a matter of time before the next massacre of innocents at the hands of a crazed, heavily armed gunman. The massacre could occur any time, in any venue, anywhere in the United States.

Southwest Florida is certainly not immune: there are lots of guns here and plenty of addled people to wield them.

In the wake of the Uvalde, Texas elementary school massacre there is yet another cascade of calls to “do something”—i.e., to in some way stem the flood of high performance weapons used against unarmed people peacefully going about their business.

Any proposed solutions are certainly not going to come from Southwest Florida’s elected congressional representatives. After Uvalde, congressmen from Southwest Florida have made the usual, pro-forma expressions of sympathy for the victims’ families. But they are also already falling silent and if history is any guide they will vote in Congress against any kind of gun law reform. Then the public outrage will die down and life will return to “normal.”

It’s as predictable as the coming of hurricane season—there will be storms, there will be damage and there will be death—but all a person can do is hunker down and hope not to be hit.

In contrast to hurricanes, of course, gun regulation is a human construct that could be enacted. However, among the three congressmen who make up the Southwest Florida delegation, not only is there no inclination to make any changes, there is nothing in their records or public positions to indicate they will do anything except resist reform and parrot the talking points of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

An examination of their records makes this clear.

Rep. Byron Donalds

Rep. Byron Donalds

In the 19th Congressional District, which stretches along the coast from Cape Coral to Marco Island, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who does not live in the district, has made a major point of his pro-gun, pro-NRA positions. His 2020 campaign tag line was that “I’m everything the fake news media says doesn’t exist: a Trump-supporting, liberty-loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man.”

Donalds’ opposition to gun violence legislation goes back to his time before he entered Congress. In 2018 in the wake of the massacre in Parkland, Fla., as a state legislator from the 80th District, he voted against the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Act in the Florida legislature, which banned the sale of bump stocks, raised the age for gun purchases to 21 and established a three-day waiting period for all firearm sales.

In his 2020 congressional race Donalds received a full endorsement from the NRA and an A+ rating from the NRA Victory Fund, denoting that he had “an excellent voting record on all critical NRA issues.”

Since entering Congress Donalds has voted and spoken out against the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 1446) and voted against the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (HR 1620). (Both bills passed.) These votes earned him an A rating from the Gun Owners of America, an organization even more fervent in opposing reform than the NRA.

On May 24 immediately after the Uvalde massacre Donalds tweeted: “No family should have to bury their loved one because of the actions of a sick & deranged animal. Our nation is suffering from a mental health crisis that is plaguing our society & senselessly killing too many. Erika & I offer our deepest condolences to the victims of this attack.”

Rep. Greg Steube

Rep. Greg Steube

Another NRA A+ winner is Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), whose district stretches from Venice to the Lee County line and includes large swaths of six interior counties.

Steube has been a defender and active proponent of unrestricted gun access throughout his political career beginning in 2010 when he first ran for the Florida House of Representatives. There, he was a sponsor of House Bill 4001, which allowed the carrying of weapons, both openly and concealed, on college campuses in Florida. He was endorsed by the NRA during his 2016 race for the state Senate and then in 2018 when he ran for Congress.

In Congress, Steube opposed a 2020 Democratic effort to ban guns from the Capitol grounds and introduced a bill to speed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ approval of applications to buy gun silencers. In 2021 Steube, like Donalds, voted against the enhanced background checks and violence against women bills.

In keeping with NRA and conservative orthodoxy, Steube favors hardening schools rather than regulating guns to prevent shootings. On Friday, May 27, Steube signed on as a cosponsor of the School Resource Officer Assessment Act, a bill that would require a national assessment of the number and status of school resource officers across the country. The bill was originally introduced in 2018 by Rep. Clay Higgins (R-3-La.) after the Parkland, Fla., massacre. It passed the House and then died in the Senate. Higgins reintroduced it this year on May 26.

The day after the Uvalde shooting, Steube tweeted: “‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’ – Matthew 5:4. Keeping the students, families, and Uvalde community in my prayers during this horrific time.”

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

As Florida’s longest-serving member of Congress, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) has a more complex record on gun access and violence than his two Southwest Florida neighbors.

Representing a district that stretches from roughly from Interstate 75 in Collier County to Hialeah in the east and including huge stretches of virtually unpopulated Everglades and Big Cypress territory, Diaz-Balart’s focus has been on the Cuban-American and Hispanic populations that provide most of the population of his district.

Throughout his political career in the state House and in Congress, Diaz-Balart maintained an A rating from the NRA, accepted its financial contributions and largely followed its lead on gun-related legislation.

In the immediate wake of the murder of 17 students and teachers (and injuring of 17 others) at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018 nothing changed in Diaz-Balart’s positions. He continued to accept contributions from the NRA. So pro-gun was Diaz-Balart that after Parkland he was the focus of an effort to unseat him by former Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, the victim of a shooting at an Arizona mall in 2011.

As Giffords put it in her endorsement of his 2018 opponent, Democrat Mary Barzee Flores:

“Here are three facts that you should know about Diaz-Balart.

“Number one: he’s taken thousands of dollars from the NRA. More money than any other Florida member of Congress. He even took their money AFTER the Parkland school shooting. After seventeen children and their| educators were gunned down.

“Number two: Diaz-Balart gets an A rating from the NRA year after year.

“And number three: Diaz-Balart voted to weaken our gun laws, not strengthen them. Diaz-Balart even refuses to support common-sense solutions like requiring background checks on all gun sales.

“Nothing’s going to get done with Diaz Balart in the NRA’s pocket voting against our safety.”

Despite the criticism and the passions aroused by the Parkland shooting, Diaz-Balart handily won his 2018 election.  

However, he did shift slightly on gun legislation. In February 2019 he joined seven other Republicans to vote for the Bipartisan Background Check Act of 2019, which mandated background checks for private sales of guns. By voting for it, Diaz-Balart was defying both the NRA and the Republican congressional leadership. The bill passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 240 to 190 but died in the Senate.

The bill was revived after the 2020 election as HR 8 and it came up for a House vote in March 2021.

This time, though, Diaz-Balart had second thoughts and voted against it. As he explained his reversal in a press release, the first time it came up he had hoped there would be “serious negotiations” but “the radical left altered this bill and, in the process, made it far worse and indefensible.”

That bill passed the House on March 11, 2021 by a vote of 227 to 203. It is now in the Senate.

At the same time Diaz-Balart joined two Democrats in sponsoring another piece of legislation, the NICS [National Instant Criminal Background Check System] Denial Notification Act of 2021 (HR 1769). Under this bill if someone is denied a gun license because of a background check, local law enforcement agencies have to be notified by the Justice Department. The bill was introduced on March 10, 2021 and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee where it remains to this day.

Diaz-Balart’s momentary lapse from pro-gun orthodoxy did cost him a bit politically: His grade from the hard-core Gun Owners of America slipped to a C. In 2020 his grade from the NRA Political Victory Fund was A. The 2022 grade is not out yet but it will be interesting to see where he falls when it’s published.

Last Wednesday, May 25, in the immediate wake of the shootings in Uvalde, Diaz-Balart tweeted: “I’m devastated by the senseless shooting at Robb Elementary School that took 19 innocent lives. School safety must be at the forefront of our priorities in Congress. I pray for the families, staff, and students that were victims of this merciless act of violence.”

Commentary: Incentives, disincentives and death

The politicians in Southwest Florida and across the nation who have consistently and stubbornly opposed any kind of gun regulation reform have made two risk-and-reward calculations, one political and one social.

The political calculation is that there are many downsides and no rewards for making any change to gun laws.

It’s not only that the NRA opposes any changes; it is that its followers and one-issue gun owners will more effectively punish a politician for heresy than reform supporters will reward him for righteousness.

There was a clear example of this in the 2020 Republican congressional primary in the 19th District after Rep. Francis Rooney announced his retirement.

At that time all the Republican candidates were ostentatiously loyal Trumpers and gun rights advocates, vying to show the fervor of their fanaticism.

Dane Eagle of Cape Coral, a Florida House member, was the first person to declare his bid for the seat.

By all outward signs Eagle was a properly extreme conservative, Trumpist candidate, a rising star in the Florida Republican Party and at the outset by far the strongest candidate.

But Eagle had a vulnerability: he already had an extensive political career in Florida even at the precocious age of 36.

In the wake of the Parkland massacre the Florida legislature passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. The bill imposed a three-day waiting period for most purchases of long guns, raised the minimum age for gun purchases to 21 and banned possession of bump stocks. People deemed mentally unstable could have their guns confiscated under “red flag” provisions. It also created a program to arm school personnel and provided $400 million for school security and training.

It was quite unprecedented given Florida’s ingrained gun culture. It was a well-crafted bipartisan bill that embodied many of the reforms now being discussed nationally and for once Florida was in the vanguard of new ideas.

The bill passed with majorities in both the state House and Senate and was signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Scott on March 9, 2018, a mere 23 days after the Parkland massacre.

When Eagle ran for Congress in 2020 his opponents, outside advocacy groups and conservative political action committees were ferocious in blaming him personally for the bill. He was accused of “betrayal,” “selling out” and being a pawn of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. One television ad had him in a gunsight’s crosshairs and called him a “surprisingly liberal Republican.”  One opponent called him “sick” because of the law.

An attack ad against Dane Eagle during the 2020 Republican congressional primary race. (Image: Drain the DC Swamp PAC)

Eagle fought back with dark, paranoid, violent TV ads and videos that featured him firing guns in just about every one to show his love of weapons and loyalty to the pro-gun cause.

Dane Eagle takes aim to prove his love of guns in a 2020 campaign ad. (Image: Dane Eagle campaign)

But Eagle ultimately lost his primary bid to Byron Donalds. Just how large a role his supposed “betrayal” played in that defeat cannot be determined with certainty but the race was close.

That’s the nightmare Republican politicians face when they contemplate taking stands contrary to the NRA and it’s why they almost never do it. The gun voters will retaliate while the reformers aren’t cohesive and powerful enough to keep them in office—especially in Republican primaries. And that’s not to mention the pro-gun money on offer from gun industry-related political action committees and organizations.

Until there’s greater personal reward for voting for gun reform than punishment for voting against it, Republican politicians will continue to toe the NRA line and vie for its approval with ever more extreme legislation.

But there’s a second, social calculation that NRA-compliant politicians have made.

It is simply that the occasional random shooting and classroom massacre is just a price worth paying for unlimited public access to guns, industry profits and access to pro-gun votes and cash. In their view, by whatever imperfect means, society’s decision has been made and it has chosen to live with massacres in order to have guns.

Politicians have also calculated that with every massacre and mass murder the horror and the outrage and the grief will peak and then subside and be forgotten—but the cash and the threats and the votes of pro-gunners will always be there.

As for the children, the teachers, the shoppers, the churchgoers and the everyday citizens who might lose their lives to random gun violence—well, they’re just collateral damage.

It’s as though humans are a herd of buffalo on the old plains. The predators take down the weak, the sick or the slow—or in this case the innocent, the incautious and the unlucky. The herd takes note, and learns to live with the threat and the fear. Each member hopes that he or she won’t be the victim next time. Then the herd moves on—until it’s extinct.

In Southwest Florida this is especially true among Republican politicians, all of whose past statements and actions adhere to NRA doctrine—and in which they may actually, genuinely believe. But regardless of motivation, there has never been any apparent inclination nor is there any evident now, to take any action whatsoever to restrict or regulate guns. That is unlikely to change unless the next massacre occurs very close to home in Collier or Lee or Charlotte counties. Even then it would have to be a particularly dramatic and horrifying event to produce a transformation in thinking.

Of course, these are only the calculations within the locally-dominant Republican Party. There is an alternative. In Southwest Florida it is Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai who is running for Congress in the 19th Congressional District against Donalds.

Cindy Banyai

Banyai was calling for four immediate measures to curb gun violence well before Uvalde. She wants:

  • A federal moratorium on the production and import of high-powered and fast-firing weapons;
  • Incentives for the state to create local registration for existing firearms and new purchases, requiring initial and routine training on safety and use, and oversight of all weapons sales;
  • Annual recognition by the state of safe firearms owners and distributors;
  • Voluntary buy-backs for those wishing not to register.

When she learned of the Uvalde shootings, Banyai tweeted: “I am struck with the same sick sadness as when I learned of Sandy Hook. The community of Uvalde and the kids of Robb Elementary School deserved more than thoughts and prayers as a shooter ravaged them.” And subsequently, “I am sick and tired of living in fear of the gun crazed America the NRA fueled. I do not want to live in this carnage. I love our kids. There cannot be another Uvalde.”

Sadly, there are likely to be more Uvaldes as the year progresses and some may be even more bloody and horrific. But the mechanism for reform still exists through a peaceful, non-violent ballot and on Nov. 8, Election Day, maybe—just maybe—the citizens of Southwest Florida will exercise that right for the benefit of all.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

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Paranoiapalooza: SWFL’s Republican video wars

06-19-20 Dane Eagle with gunDane Eagle takes aim in his latest campaign video.           (Image: Dane Eagle for Congress)

June 24, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Antifa, rampaging Democrats and George Soros are banging at the gates, defiling churches and about to murder you in your bed—right here in Southwest Florida, this hotbed of anarchy and insurrection.

That, at least, is the impression three local Republican congressional candidates are creating with a blitz of videos released over the past two weeks by their campaigns.

The videos are now on the Internet, and while they haven’t yet been broadcast on local television, they may soon be.

All were clearly made during the initial days of outrage over the murder of George Floyd. All reflect President Donald Trump’s initial characterizations of the resulting protests.

Each is also in competition with the other, intended to differentiate its candidate from the nine candidates running for the seat of retiring Republican Rep. Francis Rooney in the 19th Congressional District, the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island.

Most of all, each video attempts to one-up the other, each displaying a mounting sense of extremism, hysteria and paranoia.

Casey Askar and “Home of the Brave”

06-22-20 Askar video
Casey Askar in his June 12 video.       (Image: Casey Askar for Congress)

Casey Askar started the stampede on June 12 with his 30-second video called, “Home of the Brave.”

It’s narrated by Askar, who intones over a variety of visuals: “Our president is under attack from the media, government bureaucrats and radical socialists and violent anarchists. They’re desperate to destroy him because in spite of all their lies and conspiracies, lockdowns and riots, President Trump is fighting to keep America the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Askar then appears and says he’s running for Congress “to stand with President Donald Trump” and pledges to “always have the president’s back.”

William Figlesthaler gives his all

06-22-20 Fig video
Dr. William Figlesthaler calls the Democratic Party “a criminal enterprise.”    (Image: Figlesthaler for Congress)

Apparently worried that he’d be left behind as a Trump defender, on June 14 Figlesthaler issued his latest 30-second spot. Titled “Everything I’ve got,” it tries to go at least one level better—or lower—than Askar’s ad.

After introducing himself, Figlesthaler says “America is “at its greatest crossroads yet,” over visuals of House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) ripping up Trump’s State of the Union speech.

Against a backdrop of rioting and burning buildings Figlesthaler continues: “The Democrat Party has transformed into a criminal enterprise that is destroying our country from within: trampling the Constitution, defunding our first responders and wreaking havoc on our churches and businesses.”

It’s not the time to send “weak leaders to Washington,” he says, and he’ll fight “the radical left” with “everything I’ve got—you can count on it.”

The video gives off a whiff of desperation; Figlesthaler seems not only committing to the political fight but committing to continue what appears to be a faltering political campaign right up to the end.

Dane Eagle on the firing line

06-22-20 Eagle video
Dane Eagle is ready to take his shot.               (Image: Dane Eagle for Congress)

On June 18, state Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral) entered the fray with his own march to the margins, a 1-minute video called “Stop Antifa.”

“Antifa terrorists have declared war on our country,” he declares. “They’re killing our police, looting our businesses, assaulting the elderly and burning our churches. To make matters worse, the Democrats are doing nothing to stop them. In fact, they’re doing just the opposite: Biden and Hollywood elites are bailing the terrorists out of jail. AOC and the squad are organizing the riots, and Nancy Pelosi is cheering them on.”

Eagle then introduces himself and says that he’s running for Congress “because we cannot continue to let the radical left continue to destroy our country.” He wants law and order, arrests of all Antifa terrorists, investigations of those who are funding them (with a picture of George Soros) and their sympathizers voted out of office (with a picture of a laughing Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi).

“If we do not do that, everything we love about America is at risk: our freedoms, our jobs, our safety—all of that—is at stake. I’m Dane Eagle and I approved this message,” he says amidst swelling music. Wearing ear and eye coverings, he then turns down a shooting range and squeezes off three shots from a pistol. The visual ends before the viewer can see the target or his marksmanship.

Analysis: Firing their shots

On the one hand, any thinking person might laugh off this kind of exaggeration as the hyperbole of a campaign season. To the best of anyone’s ability to determine, there’s no Antifa in Southwest Florida (at least none that’s been publicly identified), there’s been none of the isolated destruction that plagued early protests elsewhere and the initial outrage over the death of George Floyd is calming as serious people get to work on serious reforms.

Of course, that’s not what prompted these videos. There’s a strong element of one-upsmanship as each candidate tries to appeal to a very small base of likely Republican primary voters.

But they’re doing it by stoking paranoia and “hatred, prejudice and rage,” to use Donald Trump’s own words.

It’s also interesting that only Askar mentions Trump in his video. The other two mainly lash out at perceived enemies.

Of the three, the Eagle video is the most problematic because it literally ends with gunfire.

There are several elements at work here. One is that Eagle has had a gun problem since he announced his run for Congress in October of last year. Since he served as the Florida state House Majority Leader, he is blamed by pro-gun advocates for the gun restriction reforms passed in Florida in the wake of the Parkland mass shooting in 2018. He takes continuous fire from the right for passage of these reforms. He has been accused of bowing to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s push for gun violence reform and by implication taking his money.

As a result, he’s made a point of his support for gun ownership and always includes gunfire in his videos.

In his first, announcement video, the gunfire is peripheral and mentioned in passing.

11-25-19 Dane Eagle firing gun
Opening up with an automatic weapon in Dane Eagle’s first announcement video.    (Image: Dane Eagle for Congress)

But in his current video the hysteria builds to a crescendo and then Eagle blasts away. A clear inference can be made that he’s encouraging the shooting of the enemies he’s identified: protesters, Democrats and phantom terrorists. Nor is it a great leap of imagination to envision some impressionable souls following his example—except not on a gun range but at demonstrators or on a street.

Aside from this video’s potential incitement to gun violence, Eagle runs the risk of civil or criminal liability as an accessory before the fact if there’s a politically motivated shooting anywhere in Southwest Florida. It wouldn’t take much for a prosecutor or plaintiff to connect to Eagle if a perpetrator’s viewing of the video can be established.

This liability could also extend to local television stations should they run the video as a broadcast commercial. It might be a wise course for them to reject any such advertisement if offered.

Ultimately, all these videos and the entire tenor of the Republican primary campaign to date reflect the erosion of a common language for civilized political dialogue. This can entirely be laid at the feet of Donald Trump’s absolutist, brutalist, win-at-all-costs, demonizing, denigrating approach to politics. We see it at the national level and now we’re seeing it in Southwest Florida.

Of course, the ultimate outcome of this turkey shoot will arrive on Primary Election Day, Aug. 18.

Hopefully we can all get there without anyone being shot.

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg




Commentary: Outrageous words and the mini-Trumps of Southwest Florida

Trump addresses rally regarding Everglades cropped 10-23-16Donald Trump addresses a rally at the Collier County Fairgrounds, Oct. 23, 2016.   (Photo: Author)

June 12, 2020 by David Silverberg

Updated at 11:15 am with additional details.

When Seed to Table owner Alfie Oakes issued his now notorious 758-word screed on Facebook on Monday, June 8, it was remarkable how much he used familiar language, characterizing both COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter as “a hoax.”

Of course it is President Donald Trump who is infamous for labeling virtually anything he doesn’t like as a “hoax,” whether it’s an investigation into his Russian ties or coronavirus.

But Oakes’ use of Trumpist language was hardly unique. In fact, Trump’s usages are leaching down into Southwest Florida’s political language among those who are his greatest devotees.

But it’s not just Trump’s language that’s infecting Southwest Florida’s discourse, it’s also his behavior. His insults, his personalized attacks and his overall “hatred, prejudice and rage”—to use his own words—against people of different races, ethnicities and national origins as well as his political opponents is being aped by his admirers.

This is most pronounced in the crowded field of 10 Republicans jostling to replace Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.).

Where once politicians attempted to keep their campaign attacks impersonal as “just business” and focus on policy differences and their public records, Donald Trump upended that in 2016. He bulldozed his way into the presidency by making everything personal, using insults as a strategic weapon to beat down opponents and avoiding any rational discussion of substance.

Those traits have now reached Southwest Florida and the evidence is stark in the candidates’ campaign pronouncements as expressed on Twitter, also Trump’s favorite means of expression.

(In this posting I’ve helpfully highlighted the language that echoes the president’s usages. To check on all of Trump’s words as expressed in his tweets, nothing beats the searchable

Mini-Trumps for Congress

06-11-20 Darren Aquino
Darren Aquino

In the 19th Congressional District, Darren Aquino, a New York actor of Puerto Rican and Italian extraction who is polling surprisingly high despite his bare-bones, all-online campaign, has been combatively Trump-like in attacking Democrat Cindy Banyai as a “socialist”–but he reserves his real ire for fellow Republicans.

Like Trump, he’s aggressively anti-immigrant: “Many so called ‘refugees’ are really economic migrants looking to replace American workers,” he tweeted on June 8. “Refugee programs are also the easiest way for terrorists to come into this country. We need to end the refugee program. America has been taken advantage of for far too long.”

Aquino shares Trump’s xenophobic prejudices. He’s attacked fellow Republican Casey Askar for his foreign roots: “Money doesn’t buy you charisma or respect. Kousay/Casey Askar has all the money in the world, but he’s laughed at by his peers and the people he hires. He’s low energy and robotic. We can’t have Iraqi born citizens in Congress, they need to be natural born Americans,” he tweeted on June 8.

(During his 2016 campaign Trump repeatedly referred to former Florida governor Jeb Bush as “low energy” and attacked Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) for not being “natural born”—to say nothing of Trump’s attacks on President Barack Obama’s origins. However, what he really meant was “native born”–unless they were conceived in a test tube, all the candidates are “natural born.” It’s a distinction Trump has never absorbed.)

Aquino’s spite also extends to a sitting member of Congress: “I’m going to put forth legislation requiring all Congressmen be natural born citizens. This would remove Ilhan Omar from office, because she was born in Somalia,” he tweeted on June 10, adding for good measure in a comment: “We want a natural born American to beat Omar, not an Iraqi.” [Editor’s note: Changing the terms of congressional service would require a constitutional amendment.]

Like Trump, Aquino is trying to use religion to get elected as in this June 9 tweet: “America is GREAT because the men who created it were DEVOUT CHRISTIANS! WE NEED THAT SPIRIT AGAIN!”

06-02-20 Fig in wall ad
William Figlesthaler

Dr. William Figlesthaler has also thrown insults at his opponents. “Honestly, I am glad Shady Mayor Randy @HendersonForFL is running for Congress. At least it puts him out of office for good. Fort Myers needs a real leader. Someone who won’t allow the city to be run by gangsters and drug dealers,” he tweeted on Feb. 12.

He certainly has no respect for opponent State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Fla.): “@DaneEagle has never run a real race in his life. He has no clue what he is up against. @TerryMillerFL won’t be able to protect him this time. I will expose them both for the self-serving #NeverTrump RINOS they are,” he tweeted on Feb. 1.

The same day he added: “@DaneEagle is funded entirely by special interest that pay him to do his bidding. He is spineless and will sell himself out every time. My campaign and our base of real community leaders are going to match him dollar for dollar. I won’t let a sellout buy this seat.”

06-11-20 Dane Eagle
Dane Eagle

But Dane Eagle is no slouch in the Trump-like insult department: “The low IQ commentators at CNN just fired up the Republican base like never before,” he tweeted on Jan. 28 after a report that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had insulted a CNN reporter.

Nor is he free from Trump-like blaming. On May 14 he tweeted, “President Trump did not try to cover-up the virus. China did. Trump did not lie about human-to-human transmission. China did. Trump did not throw doctors in jail. China did. Instead of launching another witch hunt against @realDonaldTrump, let’s hold China accountable!”

Like Trump, Eagle shares the president’s solicitation for Michael Flynn, the disgraced and convicted former national security advisor: “All charges against General Michael Flynn should be dropped IMMEDIATELY! He was set up by deep state, treasonous actors. Everyone involved in this set up should be arrested and have the book thrown at them for what they did to this honorable man!” he tweeted on April 29.

The other seven Republican candidates either don’t have identifiable Twitter accounts or use Twitter to a far lesser extent. Their tweets are much more conventional and not as Trumpish as Aquino’s, Figlesthaler’s and Eagle’s. In their substance, however, all highlight their allegiance and obedience to Donald Trump and all he represents.

Byron Donalds and Antonio Dumornay

06-05-20 Byron Donalds
Byron Donalds

When it came to reacting to George Floyd’s killing and the resulting protests, two African American congressional candidates were faced with unique challenges and reacted in different ways. Ironically, both had been arrested in the past, giving them an intimate view of law enforcement.

State Rep. Byron Donalds (R-80-Immokalee) is a proudly Trumper Republican. His response was to tweet out a thoughtful, 2-minute, 7-second video statement on May 31.

“I want justice for George Floyd, but we can’t burn down our cities and small businesses—many black owned,” he said. “We can’t target our police officers, many of which are good. We must come together as a country to better our communities, not let anger push us towards anarchy. We’ve got to stop, America. We have to come together.”

06-05-20 Antonio Dumornay
Antonio Dumornay

Antonio Dumornay started his campaign as a Republican and then switched to Independent.  His June 2 video statement, titled “Accountability! It’s not rocket science,” was succinct and to the point: “The justice system must hold everyone accountable when they commit a crime, that’s what these protests are all about. When you hold everyone accountable, the race question seems to eliminate itself.”

He followed that up with another tweet on June 7, stating: “For the first time I am watching minorities react to the George Floyd BLM protests! People getting fired for their prejudice remarks and businesses still remain slow because owners don’t know how to SHUT THE HELL UP.” He included a sarcastic emoji and the line:  “did you just catch what I said! I like 2020.”

A reference to Alfie Oakes, perhaps?

When words matter

Political passions can be dangerous, as generations of Americans have learned.

Political differences have generated a civil war, riots, massacres and bombings. Among lawmakers and officials they’ve stoked duels, a beating on the floor of the Senate and shortly after independence a fight between two congressmen battling with a walking stick and a pair of fireplace tongs. (Interestingly, the fight had to do with the very first impeachment—of a senator—and, of course, involved Florida, then a colony of Spain.)

Throughout political life—and even in personal interactions—the civilized effort over time has been to reduce friction and respect everyone’s dignity. A large part of that effort has been to use language carefully—and those in public life know they have to be particularly careful in their speech.

It’s beyond obvious to say that Donald Trump isn’t part of this effort. He uses words to “totally dominate” everyone around him and the nation, whether verbally or on Twitter—and now his devotees are following his lead.

This is partially why there have been two gigantic waves of protest and reform during the three years of the Trump administration.

The first was the Women’s March and the “Me Too” movement. The second is the George Floyd protest and the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Both were and are uprisings of broad swaths of people who have been insulted, marginalized and dismissed by Donald Trump. It’s part of his ongoing, relentless verbal (and political) effort to diminish everyone but himself.

A great many people aren’t taking this abuse lying down. They’re rising up.

We’ll see if that outrage translates into retaliation in the voting booth. Donald Trump may pay a big price for his words and behavior in November. Around the nation and in Southwest Florida his mini-Trumps may pay their own prices sooner than that.

Whichever way things go, there’s no doubt about the ultimate lesson: lives and words matter.

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg







UPDATED: SWFL State of Play Today: Banyai vs. the bust; new poll numbers; and the battle of the walls

06-01-20 Robt. E. Lee protestProtesters at the Robert E. Lee statue–minus the bust–in Fort Myers yesterday, June 1.      (Image: WINK News)

June 2, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Updated at 3:20 pm with new link to post with additional details on poll.

Even sleepy, sweltering Southwest Florida is feeling the impact of the death of George Floyd, with protests in Fort Myers and normally quiet Naples. Now candidates in the 19th Congressional District race are reacting as well.

06-02-20 Cindy Banyai serious
Cindy Banyai

Democrat Cindy Banyai is calling for removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Fort Myers, a point of contention since the protests in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

“Fort Myers was a Union fort and the county was named after General Robert E. Lee as a direct affront to the victory of the United States over the confederate rebellion in the Civil War,” she wrote in a statement issued yesterday, June 1. “Robert E. Lee has no other affiliation with the area other than the honorary designation and the commission of the statue by the Sons of Confederate Veterans in 1966, a time period that coincides with the desegregation movement in the area.”

Though protesters gathered yesterday at the statue they found only the pedestal—the bust had been removed by Sons of the Confederacy to protect it.

In her statement, Banyai decried past racism. “Local, state, and national leaders have failed to protect our black communities.  Local leaders are more focused on helping themselves than helping the communities they serve, something I have seen repeatedly over the past decade as I have watched leaders disregard reports I have made on minority communities as nothing more than just a piece of paper that they use to cross off their checklists.  Politicians want to demean protesters, yet they don’t offer any solutions to the problems at hand of systemic racism and police brutality.”

Unsurprisingly, one Republican candidate took a different tack. “President @realDonaldTrump is right. Rioters dishonor the memory of George Floyd,” tweeted State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral) on Sunday, May 31.  “A president has a duty is to make sure Americans and their communities are safe. That’s why I know Mr. Trump will end the violence while protecting the 1st Amendment rights of protesters!”

That protection of protesters’ rights was not much in evidence yesterday during President Donald Trump’s walk from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church or in his call with governors.

Poll findings

06-01-20 Republican field CD19

Eagle’s fealty to Trump has been loud and extravagant but it hasn’t made much headway with Southwest Florida Republicans, according to a campaign poll obtained by The Paradise Progressive.

(A full report on the poll can be seen at: “Poll shows Aquino-Askar Republican congressional primary race; undecideds hold the key.”)

The poll found that the two leading primary candidates right now are businessman Casey Askar and former actor Darren Aquino, who each had 18 percent of the support of the sample. The next candidate was Dr. William Figlesthaler with 10 percent. Eagle came in fourth with 9 percent.

As a whole, incumbent elected officials in the running won only 30 percent of the total sample.

04-27-20 Darren Aquino WINK (2)
Darren Aquino

Aquino, who might ordinarily have been only a marginal candidate, has apparently seen his standing boosted by recent events. In a campaign that is primarily Internet-based, Aquino has increasingly used Trump-like insults. He accused Banyai of being a socialist and in a swipe at Askar called for only native-born Americans to be eligible for congressional seats.

The poll’s most important finding is that 27 percent of its sample fell in the “undecided” category. This is where the battle will be fought in the days ahead.

Askar and Figlesthaler seek closure–border closure

As far as the public is concerned the most obvious signs of political battle are in the dueling TV ads of Askar and Figlesthaler, the two wealthiest candidates.

06-02-20 Askar wall ad 2
Casey Askar in his new ad

On May 22 Askar unveiled his 30-second TV spot, “Once and for all,” calling for a suspension of immigration because of the COVID-19 pandemic, praising Trump for his immigration policies and re-stating Askar’s support for building a border wall.

“I’ll help President Trump finish the wall and control the border—once and for all,” says Askar at the end.

Not to be outdone in his opposition to immigration and loyalty to Trump, yesterday, June 1, Figlesthaler launched his own spot, “The Wall.” In it, he marches menacingly toward the camera and promises to end illegal immigration for all time.

06-02-20 Fig in wall ad
William Figlesthaler in his new ad

“In Congress I will fight for something new,” he says. “A massive wall along our southern border, one that will keep criminals, rapists and drug lords out for good.”

“Once and for all” and “out for good”—one might say that when it comes to immigration, both are offering a “final solution.”


Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg

Follow the money: Figlesthaler and the medicine men of SWFL

05-19-20 Fig on bikeDoctor without helmet: Dr. William Figlesthaler and his wife, Olga, get on their bike and ride.         (Image: Figlesthaler for Congress campaign)

May 21, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Updated with two-word correction at 12:20 pm.

In his most recent television commercial, Dr. William Figlesthaler, clad in leather, mounts his motorcycle and roars off as though in a GEICO commercial, thereby somehow proving that he’s qualified to represent Southwest Florida’s 19th Congressional District in the US Congress.

Figlesthaler calls the ad, “The Race is On” and indeed it is, as the August 18 Republican primary draws nearer. But an examination of the relative fundraising prowess of the various candidates—the only public measure of their respective positions—reveals Figlesthaler in second place, according to his 1st quarter financial report to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Leading the Republican pack is businessman Casey Askar who had, as of March 31, a war chest of $3,482,873.79.

But if Askar is the candidate of Collier County’s business elite (see “The Curious Case of Casey Askar”), then Figlesthaler is the candidate of SWFL’s medical establishment, which makes up the core of his support.

Despite their donations, Figlesthaler’s campaign is still largely dependent on the candidate’s personal loans.

During the reporting period, Figlesthaler loaned his campaign a total of $1,060,000 in five tranches between November 2019 and the end of the reporting period on March 31 of this year.

However, with the help of professional fundraisers like Anedot, a fundraising service based in Baton Rouge, La., Figlesthaler expanded his donor base. (To see The Paradise Progressive’s previous, Feb. 6 report on Figlesthaler’s finances see: “Follow the money: Figlesthaler’s finances and what they mean.”)

He raised $279,278.80 in 167 contributions in the first quarter, according to data processed by the FEC. That plus his loan gave him a war chest of $1,011,164.77.

Of Figlesthaler’s 167 primary election donations, 31 or roughly 19 percent, came from people in medical-related fields, primarily doctors, with a heavy representation of radiation oncologists and urologists. This does not include retired physicians and medical professionals.

One donor was Paige Kreegel, a fellow doctor, former Florida state representative and in 2012 a primary candidate in the 19th Congressional District, who kicked in $2,800 to the campaign.

Most prominently, Figlesthaler won the support of Reinhold Schmieding, president of Arthrex Inc., a medical device maker and the largest employer in Collier County, who to date has contributed the legal limit of $5,000 to the campaign.

Figlesthaler is now getting aid from medically-related political action committees (PACs) as well. The American Association of Clinical Urologists PAC (UROPAC) provided $500. The organization Friends to Elect Dr. Greg Murphy to Congress provided $2,000. (Rep. Greg Murphy (R-3-NC) is a fellow urologist and sitting member of Congress from North Carolina, where Figlesthaler did his residency.)

Another organization, Defend & Uphold Our Nation Now, contributed $500 to Figlesthaler’s campaign. This PAC is led by Rep. Neal Dunn (R-2-Fla.), a surgeon, and provides a convenient, legal cover for banking industry political contributions since it is overwhelmingly funded by the American Bankers Association, also known as BankPAC, according to the FEC.

Murphy of North Carolina, who apparently mentored and supports Figlesthaler, received $2,000 from that PAC. However, one recipient of the PAC’s largess, Republican candidate, Dan Donovan, a former representative from New York, returned a $1,000 contribution to the organization.

Figlesthaler also had to make a refund of his own during the quarter, returning $400 in contributions from a Fort Myers oncologist and his wife.

Of all 14 candidates running, Figlesthaler had the highest burn rate: $319,164.03 in expenditures. In addition to Anedot, Figlesthaler paid a wide variety of consultants for compliance, strategy, communications, advertising and media placement. He also has the most advertisements running of any candidate on local television.

Young Guns blazing

On April 28 Figlesthaler sent out an exuberant announcement: “Figlesthaler Selected to Lucrative NRCC ‘Young Guns’ Program,” making no secret of the real value he saw in being named to the Republican program, which seeks to increase the Republican portion of the US House of Representatives.

One of the main advantages of being in the Young Gun program is that it puts the candidate on a stage that may lead to campaign contributions, giving him or her exposure to the entire Republican funding network.

In that regard it can indeed be “lucrative,” as Figlesthaler points out.

Regrettably, FEC reports don’t designate which contributions may have come as a result of the Young Guns program, so it remains to be seen just how “lucrative” the program will be for Figlesthaler.

Four of the 10 Republicans running in the 19th Congressional District are in the Republican Young Guns program, which is led by House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, (R-23-Calif.) and the National Republican Congressional Committee.

There are three levels of Young Gunness: “On the Radar,” is the lowest, with the candidates running in competitive districts who have met standards of campaign organization and show potential for advancing to the next step. Both State Rep. Byron Donalds (R-80-Immokalee) and businessman Casey Askar are “On the Radar.”

The highest level is “Young Guns.” These people have met program goals, surpassed benchmarks and are likely to win. No Southwest Florida Republican has reached this level.

In the middle are “Contenders,” who, as the program’s website puts it: “have completed stringent program metrics and are on the path to developing a mature and competitive campaign operation.”  Contenders are in congressional seats that appear to lean Republican.

Here reside State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral) and Figlesthaler.

It’s ironic that these two should be Young Guns together since Figlesthaler has been sniping at Eagle for being less than gung-ho on gun ownership. Eagle has been taking fire since December for allegedly betraying gun owners by supporting post-Parkland gun reforms in the Florida legislature. Figlesthaler accused Eagle of being receptive to former presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg, who favors gun restrictions. Eagle shot back at Figlesthaler in an April 27 WINK-TV online debate, saying he thought Figlesthaler had been watching too much “fake news” on CNN.

The two will no doubt continue exchanging potshots.

At least on his motorcycle, Figlesthaler can remain a moving target.

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg


Has the Trump magic worn off — in SWFL and everywhere else?

05-10-20 Trump as wizard
The wizarding world of Donald Trump.             (Photo illustration: New York Magazine)

May 11, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Has Donald Trump’s magic finally worn off?

We’re not talking about his delusional magic that the coronavirus would simply disappear: “One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” Nor are we talking about the magic of beating impeachment: “the real defense, the real legal strategy, was a belief in Trump’s magical properties,” as Michael Wolff put it in his book Siege.

No, we’re talking about real magic, in the real world, with real results: The magical ability to get politicians elected.

Say what you will about the man, he has been able to pick and place his candidates in key Republican primary elections.

Nowhere has this magic worked more than in Florida, where Trump’s magic elected the governor in 2018.

In late 2017 Ron DeSantis was a two-term congressman who was losing a Republican primary race for governor to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Putnam looked like a lock, with strong fundraising and a long lead in the polls. But then Trump reached down, breaking party norms of not picking a favorite in a primary race, and chose to endorse DeSantis. Why? Perhaps it was DeSantis’ toddler appearing in a TV commercial building a border wall with toy blocks. Or maybe it was DeSantis’ slavish and extravagant Trumpism. Or, most likely, it was DeSantis’ charges that Putnum was insufficiently Trumpy.

Whatever it was, it worked. DeSantis went on to defeat Putnam in the primary and squeak into the governor’s seat.

Trump has intervened in other intra-party contests too: in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Indiana—even reaching way down the chain of command to oust the Ohio Republican Party chairman for opposing him.

Trump’s candidates won. His interventions and the blind loyalty of his most faithful followers made him the complete ruler of the Party.

Republican politicians know this. They’ve seen the magic. If they’re in a primary race, Trump can call it with a tweet.

But COVID-19 has been as resistant to Trump’s magic as it has been to hydroxychloroquine.

A historic precedent

There’s an example of a natural disaster bringing down a president who had ridden out other crises.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina barreled across Florida, the Gulf and slammed into the Mississippi coast, Louisiana and—most tellingly—New Orleans.

The city was devastated. The response was chaotic, ineffective and a disaster in itself. Federal agencies, the state government and the city’s leadership failed completely. Americans saw desperate, struggling people, abandoned without food or water and a hapless administration that couldn’t help them.

They also saw a president looking down from Air Force One, seemingly oblivious and above it all, apparently uncaring and ineffective.

For President George W. Bush, despite the many efforts he really did make in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the political tide turned against him.

“In a national catastrophe, the easiest person to blame is the president,” Bush later reflected in his book, Decision Points. “Katrina presented a political opportunity that some critics exploited for years. The aftermath of Katrina—combined with the collapse of Social Security reform and the drumbeat of violence in Iraq—made the fall of 2005 a damaging period in my presidency. Just a year earlier I had won reelection with more votes than any candidate in history. By the end of 2005, my political capital was gone. With my approval ratings plummeting, many Democrats—and some Republicans—concluded they would be better off opposing me than working together.”

That is the key. Politicians have to make a calculation: Is it more personally advantageous to work with the party’s leader, or against him?

By any objective measure, Donald Trump’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic has been truly disastrous. From ignoring and dismissing it when he could have prepared for it, to minimizing it as its toll mounted, to defying science and suggesting that ingesting bleach might defeat it, his actions are on a par with the Emperor Nero, not to mention George W. Bush. And he has presided over the greatest economic collapse since the Great Depression and an appalling and dizzying rise in unemployment.

Trump’s strategy for dealing with this has been to blame anyone and everyone else for the nation’s troubles: China for the virus, Democrats for the economy, governors for quarantines, Barack Obama for being alive and the media for reporting it all. The Republican Party has given up on trying to defend Trump’s actions, instead advising its candidates to blame China for everything.

It would take a powerful spell to get Americans to overlook their misery, fear and confusion and buy the Trump line. But Trump is betting that with enough money, relentless advertising and casting lots of blame it might just work and get him re-elected.

But will it continue to get his candidates elected?

Enchanted Southwest Florida

Southwest Florida’s 19th Congressional District has 10 Republican candidates jostling to be the area’s next representative in Congress (as has been well documented by The Paradise Progressive).

All are Trumpers desperately trying to show their true Trumpiness. One reason for this is that they are trying to appeal to the hard core Trumpers who will likely determine the outcome of the Republican primary on August 18.

But there is another factor: If Trump so decides, he could reach down and finish the primary race with a tweet endorsing a candidate, like he did for Ron DeSantis. That would certainly settle it for the Republican primary constituency and likely for the primary.

Right now it’s not clear that Trump has Southwest Florida on his mind or that he is inclined to intervene. He might decide to ignore all the traditional politicians and go with a dark horse—or not. He might ignore the rich amateurs and pick an unknown, leaving Casey Askar to light a cigar with his $3 million personal campaign loan or William Figlesthaler with a bunch of urinal screens and no place to put them.

If there’s any candidate who might seem likely to get a Trump endorsement it’s State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral). He was the first candidate in the race, he has a legislative record, he’s an ardent Trumper, he’s a known quantity, he’s a Republican Party “contender” and he even has a photograph with himself and Trump to prove that he’s at least met the man.

12-12-19 Eagle and Trump
State Rep. Dane Eagle, an unidentified man and Donald Trump in an undated photo from the Dane Eagle congressional campaign.

But whether this counts for anything with Trump is unknown and at this point unknowable. Trump hasn’t endorsed him. The problem with worshiping a thin-skinned, impulsive and mercurial god is that he may strike without provocation or warning or turn his favor on a whim. Certainly with Trump past performance is absolutely no predictor of future behavior.

Still, it’s safe to say that the Trump magic will probably work if he chooses to use it in Southwest Florida—at least with Republicans.

Beyond them, though, maybe not so much.

Faltering magic and the race to watch

The fact is that the Trump magic may work in Republican primaries but once he gets into the real world, he’s not so magical.

Despite endorsing candidates in Alabama’s 2017 Senate race and Kentucky’s 2019 governor’s race, Trump’s candidates lost. Republicans lost both Virginia’s House and Senate last year. Trump lost again in Wisconsin on April 7 when a conservative judge he backed, Dan Kelly, was beaten by liberal Judge Jill Karofsky. And, of course, Trump’s biggest electoral defeat came in 2018 when he lost the House of Representatives to Democrats despite his determined efforts.

The Trump magic will be tested again tomorrow, Tuesday, May 12, when Californians in the 25th Congressional District north of Los Angeles vote in a special election.

The district went for Trump in 2016, then flipped in 2018 and is judged “even” by the Cook Political Report, the bible of congressional political junkies.

The previous representative, Democrat Katie Hill, resigned in a sex scandal. Running to replace her is Democrat Christy Smith and Republican Mike Garcia.

Trump decided to jump into this one with both feet, emphatically endorsing Garcia, and charging that the election is “rigged” because the state installed an in-person voting site when most of the voting was supposed to be by mail–which he has also denounced as “rigged.”

Of course, regardless of the outcome, Republicans and Democrats will do what they always do: the winners will generalize the victory (it shows broad trends and is a death knell for the opposition) and the losers will narrow the defeat (it was due to peculiar factors in the district and the candidate).

Still, it may be an indication whether the Trump magic still has its powers and whether a pandemic, an economic crash, a devastated labor force and sheer, demonstrated incompetence has taken the enchantment from this inept and overwhelmed sorcerer’s apprentice.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

State of play: A GOP ‘Contender,’ Fitzenhagen’s finances, a Banyai announcement

02-20-20 Dane Eagle WGCUState Rep. Dane Eagle interviewed by WGCU.                      (Photo: Victoria Alvarez/WGCU-FM)

Feb. 21, 2020 by David Silverberg

In what is a virtual Party endorsement, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) on Wednesday, Feb. 19, named State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral) one of its national “Contenders.”

The Contenders are Republican congressional candidates singled out for special notice and support. Coming in the heat of sometimes contentious primary races, the program effectively amounts to a way for the national Republican Party to endorse a candidate without overtly intervening in an internal party contest.

Of the eight Republicans running for the seat in Southwest Florida’s 19th Congressional District, only Eagle was named a Contender. He was one of three Florida Republicans named to the program.

The Contender list is part of the NRCC’s “Young Guns” program, which develops candidates and requires them to work toward specific goals and meet election benchmarks. “Contender candidates have completed stringent program metrics and are on the path to developing a mature and competitive campaign operation,” according to the program’s website.

Thirty-five congressional candidates around the country were named Contenders, which is the second tier of the program. The first tier is called “On the radar,” which means that the candidates have come to the attention of the national party and have the potential to succeed in their races. Party donors can direct contributions to the candidates through the program.

“These hardworking candidates have proven their ability to run strong, competitive campaign operations,” stated Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-23-Calif.), the House minority leader. “We’re going to ensure these contenders are victorious in November by forcing their Democratic opponents to own their party’s radical socialist agenda.”

“I am incredibly thankful to Leader McCarthy for his hard work to make Congress red again and am honored to be on his list of Contenders,” Eagle stated on his website.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) does not have a similar program, although its Frontline program supports Democrats who won seats in 2018. However, No Democrat Left Behind, a coalition of groups supporting Democratic candidates running in heavily Republican districts, endorsed Democratic congressional Cindy Banyai in November.

Fitzenhagen’s finances and what they mean

12-04-19 Fitzenhagen headshot cropped
Heather Fitzenhagen

State Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen (R-78-Fort Myers) raised $31,550 in the last quarter of 2019, according to the Federal Election Commission.

Fitzenhagen was a latecomer to the contest, only filing her candidacy on Dec. 19, 2019.

All the money was raised in 24 donations and there were no loans. All but two of the donors were from Florida. The exceptions came from Texas and Colorado.

Fitzenhagen spent $1,158.75 during the period, all of it with Anedot, Baton Rouge, La., the fundraising consultant also being used by candidates William Figlethaler and Dane Eagle.

This completes The Paradise Progressive’s 4th quarter financial survey of the candidate FEC filings in the 19th Congressional District.  Republican candidates Darren Aquino and State Rep. Byron Donalds (R-80-Immokalee) and Independent Antonio Dumornay did not file any donations or expenditures. Democratic filings were covered in the article: Updated: O’Connell, Holden lead in 4th quarter fundraising in 19th Congressional District).

Banyai announces divorce

10-19-19 Cindy Banyai
Cindy Banyai

On Friday, Feb. 14, in a press release and announcement, Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai announced that she and her husband were separating prior to their divorce.

“Like all families, we’ve had our fair share of struggles,” she announced. “Unfortunately, my husband and I are separating as we prepare for our divorce.”

Banyai will still be running: “I fully plan to continue this campaign because the stakes are simply too high to pack it in now,” she stated. “I am sure that my ability to be a mother and be a candidate will be questioned, but that is just the unfortunate reality of being a woman in American politics.”

Banyai is the mother of three children, aged 10, 6 and 2. Her husband, Andrew, is executive director of the Lee County Legal Aid Society, a private, non-profit organization that provides free legal aid to low-income residents.

“I have had a lot of jobs throughout my life. I am a mother, a small business owner, and a candidate for Congress. Like millions of other women in America, I have to manage a delicate balance between my family, my business, as well as my campaign,” she stated. “This will no doubt be a difficult time for myself, my children, and our entire family. While I understand I am a public figure, due to my run for Congress, I hope that my opponents and the media will respect the privacy of myself and my family during this difficult time.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg





Follow the money: Dane Eagle’s finances and what they mean

02-09-20 Dane Eagle Trump rallyDane Eagle speaks at a Trump rally.                                     (Photo: Dane Eagle for Congress campaign)

Feb. 10, 2020 by David Silverberg

The campaign of State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral) raised $423,095 in the fourth quarter of 2019, the second-highest amount of funds of all candidates in the 19th Congressional District, according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

What makes Eagle’s fundraising remarkable is that it consisted entirely of donations and no loans.

There were 237 donations to Eagle’s campaign, of which 11 came from committees and political action committees (PACs) rather than individuals. These PACs included the Florida Transportation Builders Association PAC, the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers PAC, Giving US Security PAC and the Universal Health Services Employee Good Government Fund.

One prominent Southwest Floridian who contributed was Sam Galloway Jr., the car dealer, who kicked in $5,000.

Also contributing was the Jeff Miller for Congress campaign. Miller is a former Republican representative for Florida’s 1st Congressional District in the Panhandle, a seat currently held by fellow Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz. While Gaetz has been an outspoken and aggressive supporter of President Donald Trump, he committed the heresy of voting to limit the president’s power to wage war on Iran.

Eagle’s donors were also from all over the United States, including Washington, DC, Pennsylvania and Alabama. While the vast majority were from Florida, they came from all over the state.

In this period Eagle’s campaign committee spent $47,758.17.

Much of this was spent on consultants. Like his fellow Republican competitor William Figlesthaler, Eagle is using Anedot, Baton Rouge, La., as his fundraising consultant. In addition he’s drawing on the expertise of Picotte and Porter, LLC, Jacksonville, Fla., for additional fundraising advice and assistance and TM Strategic Consulting, based in Fort Myers, which provided general political advice and branding expertise. The company is run by Terry Miller, a conservative political strategist.

Most expenses were for routine campaign requirements like videography, event logistics, software, advertising and the like.

Analysis: What it means

Eagle has been in state office since winning election in 2012 and has risen, at the remarkably young age of 36, to be acting House majority leader in the Florida legislature. This gives him a wide network of contacts and national connections, which he’s using for his campaign.

Based on the data in his FEC report, he’s running a professional, well-funded campaign that draws on established professional political expertise. His donor base is diverse and extensive, which demonstrates real grassroots support, most of it local.

Ideologically, Eagle is an extreme Trumper and has staked his claim on the far right edge of the Trump universe, which should serve him well with core Republican primary voters. He’s an active user of social media and his media to date fully reflects Trump’s rage and paranoia against Democrats and anyone who dares to disagree with the leader. He also shares Trump’s nasty and vicious absolutism. There’s no reason to believe that these are not Eagle’s genuine sentiments and outlook as well.

Uniquely, Eagle showed interest in a political career at an early age and served as deputy chief of staff to then-Gov. Charlie Crist (R) at the age of 24. He has shown that he can master legislation and legislative maneuvering. Unlike other candidates who have jumped into this race after—or during—other, non-political careers, Eagle is all politics, all the time.

Given his young age and early prominence, Eagle will likely be on the political scene for a long time unless he suddenly flames out—often an occupational hazard for young prodigies. Of the Republican candidates for Congress in the 19th District, he is at the moment the most formidable one.

Next: Ford O’Connell

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

For the record: SWFL responses to Soleimani killing

Airstrike kills Iran's Quds force head, Iraqi PMU chiefIranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Quds Force, killed in a US drone strike in Iraq this morning.

Tracking official statements and positions by candidates and sitting officials is important for an informed electorate, so this year The Paradise Progressive will attempt to report official statements by Southwest Florida candidates and incumbents when major events break, in addition to its usual coverage.

Jan. 3, 2019 by David Silverberg

These are the official statements in reaction to the US killing of Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Iraq, as of noon today, expressed through Twitter or Facebook.

  • Of three SWFL incumbents, two made statements.
  • Of two Democratic candidates, one made a statement.
  • Of seven Republican candidates, three made statements.


Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.):

“Qassem Soleimani was an integral part of Iran’s terrorist regime and I applaud President Trump’s decisive action to bring him to justice. When I served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, many of my brothers and sisters in arms were killed by Iranian explosives at the direction of Seleimani. America, and the world, are safer now that his reign of terror has ended.”

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.):

“Soleimani plotted international acts of terrorism & has the blood of Americans & our allies on his hands. As the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds force, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, who operated within Iran. Soleimani was responsible for numerous terrorist acts, instability in the region, & violence. I commend the Trump Admin for ridding the world of this evil man, and for taking the steps necessary to protect Americans and our allies from the terrorist threat posed by Iran.”

Democratic congressional candidate

Cindy Banyai:

This is a troubling escalation. Do we want to go to war with Iran? This does not seem to be sound #foreignpolicy.

Republican congressional candidates (in alphabetical order)

Dane Eagle

“This decisive military action deals a blow to our chief adversary in the Middle East and will certainly save American lives. Very proud of our President, and once again disappointed in the Fake News for trying to portray this as anything other than an extraordinary victory.”


Ford O’Connell

“Thank you President Trump for not letting attacks against Americans go unanswered. Thank you for keeping America safe.”


Dan Severson

“The United States has an incredible intelligence apparatus that works hand in hand with the greatest military on earth. We are so fortunate to have a Commander in Chief like Donald J. Trump who acts swiftly and proportionally. Soleimani killed over 600 Americans and was the leader of terrorism sponsored by Iran. This was a good day for the United States of America.”


Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg




State of Play: The ‘epic dog fight’ starts; Dumornay goes indie; and Rommel and Simmons stay out of the game

12-12-19 O'Connell and EliasCongressional candidate Ford O’Connell talks to NBC2’s Dave Elias.

Dec. 13, 2019 by David Silverberg

This was a busy week in the race for Florida’s 19th Congressional District seat.

The ‘epic dog fight’ on the right begins

Rhetoric on the right began heating up as Republican candidates started vying to out-Trump each other in the race for the seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.).

Ford O’Connell, a Fox News analyst and commentator, filed his candidacy on Dec. 6 and immediately began blasting Rooney and loudly announcing his allegiance to Trump.

“When Francis Rooney didn’t talk in lockstep with Donald Trump, he not only let down the president, he let down the district,” O’Connell told NBC2’s Dave Elias in a Dec. 11 interview.

As for Rooney’s stated openness to hearing the evidence and making an independent decision, O’Connell said: “That’s a disgrace frankly! When he does that, he’s playing the Democrats and the media game.”

O’Connell continued: “It’s not just your allegiance to the president. You have to understand, I have spent the last three-plus years fighting for Donald Trump in the national media.”

And, in true, personalized Trump style, O’Connell took a shot at State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral): “I have a feeling that some people might actually want to go back to Tallahassee rather than stay in this, what is going to be an epic dog fight.”

Eagle countered with a barrage of photos showing him with Trump and a tweet yesterday, Dec. 12, stating: “We need representatives in Congress that will work with @realDonaldTrump, not obstruct him.

12-12-19 Eagle and Trump
An undated campaign photo from State Rep. Dane Eagle showing him with President Donald Trump. The other person on the left is unidentified.

“For two years, the Democrat controlled House has done nothing but obstruct (now trying to impeach) him. I’ll be one of the strongest fighters for the President when I get to Washington!”

Commentary: It’s hard to avoid noting that only dogs engage in dog fights.

Dumornay goes indie

Antonio Dumornay never appeared to fit into the Republican primary race for Rooney’s seat. On Nov. 30, he switched his party affiliation from Republican to independent.

11-27-19 Dumornay
Antonio Dumornay

“The Republican Party was key to bringing slavery to an end, and also with Civil Rights Movement, a lot for Republicans were key factors in legislation being passed, because they were facing Jim Crow laws in the South put in place by the Democratic Party,” Dumornay told Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics in an article appearing on Dec. 10. “Those are the values of the Republican Party that many in the public don’t know about.”

Dumornay called for a “Grand New Party” on his campaign website. But he felt he couldn’t run in what is rapidly turning into a high-priced race. He told Ogles that he believes he’s the only candidate running who makes less than $30,000 per year.

“I saw a lack of focus on people in this community who make less than $60,000 a year and those are the ones most affected in their living situation by cost of living increases, the trade war and everything becoming more expensive,” he told Ogles. “I’m simply a 9-to-5 working man looking to make a difference for the average American.”

If he meets all the requirements, he will appear on the general election ballot next November.

Standing pat

In what is already a crowded field, those who decide to stand pat have as much impact as those who jump in.

This week State Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples) announced that he would not run for this office. That leaves him facing Democratic activist Sara McFadden in the race for the 106th District seat.

Also declining to get in the game is Peter Simmons, Republican mayor of Bonita Springs. Simmons told Florida Daily that while he’d received an enormous number of messages and e-mails and appeals to get in the race, he wasn’t going to do so.

“I am flattered beyond words to be held in such high regard by so many friends, activists, business men and women, donors, and political organizations, however, for something that was not on my radar screen a few months ago – after consideration I am announcing that I will not be seeking the Republican nomination for United States Congress,” he stated.

Liberty lives in light

© 2019 by David Silverberg