Banyai hammers Donalds for defending Trump in WGCU debate

Candidates Cindy Banyai and Byron Donalds in last night’s WGCU debate. (Image: WGCU)

Sept. 29, 2020 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida congressional candidates Democrat Cindy Banyai and Republican Byron Donalds traded jabs last night, Sept. 28, in a broadcast debate that was civilized and substantive—a rarity in the age of President Donald Trump.

While neither candidate landed a knockout blow, Banyai hammered Donalds for his connection to and protection of Trump’s policies and approach.

This was particularly in evidence when it came to taxes.

“We should close loopholes, much as [those] we’re seeing with our president, Donald Trump having paid only $750 for the past two years in taxes,” she said. “That is unbelievable and unacceptable in a fair and just country.”

Both candidates are running for the seat in Florida’s 19th Congressional District, the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island.

The hour-long debate was conducted without an audience in the studio of public media station WGCU on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University. Reporters used questions previously submitted by the public. It can be seen in its entirety on the WGCU Facebook page.

WGCU sponsored the debate along with the Gannett Company newspapers, the News-Press of Fort Myers and the Naples Daily News of Naples. The candidates were questioned by Amy Bennett Williams, a reporter for the News-Press, and John Davis, a WGCU reporter and assistant news director. Julie Glenn, WGCU news director, moderated. Questions had been submitted by the public.

The candidates took starkly different positions on a variety of issues but also agreed on some matters, chiefly the need for environmental protection.

Summaries of the candidates’ statements, in the order they were raised and the candidates’ responses, follow:

Mask mandates: Donalds opposed mask mandates, arguing that the choice of whether to wear a mask is up to the individual and not local government to impose. Banyai called mask wearing a patriotic duty and likened the power of local government to mandate masks to setting traffic rules and speed limits.

Pandemic response: Donalds praised Trump for his coronavirus response to date. Banyai called Trump’s response “the biggest failure in history” and said the nation needs to pull together to fight the disease the way the Taiwanese government responded to the SARS epidemic in the early 2000s.

Continuing the environmental work of Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), the retiring congressman: Banyai called for coordinated action at the local, state and international levels to protect the environment and expressed support for the Florida Green New Deal. Donalds said science remains unsettled on the human role in climate change and warned that a Green New Deal would have a negative economic impact. He blamed the California wildfires on a failure to clean up forest floor brush.

Local environmental control: Donalds believed that environmental policies and regulations should be done at the state level. Banyai said that the state’s failure to act to protect the environment meant that local authority to establish environmental rulemaking was essential.

Steps to protect water purity: Banyai called for holding polluters accountable and supporting research on water quality like that done at the FGCU Water School. Donalds praised Trump’s and DeSantis’ actions to date.

Preventing oil exploitation off Florida’s shores: Both candidates supported continuing the current ban on oil exploitation in the Gulf of Mexico.

Land development: Both candidates called for responsible land use and federal support for conservation and local efforts to regulate land use. Donalds emphasized the need to protect property rights. While Banyai agreed that property rights need to be respected, she emphasized the public’s right to access common resources like beaches and called for participatory practices at the local level.

Taxes: Both candidates agreed on the need to simplify the tax code. Donalds is a supporter of a federal flat tax. Banyai called for closing loopholes and made the point that taxes not just an “input-output” form of financing, but a form of stakeholding in the government.

Balanced budget amendment: Banyai opposed a balanced budget amendment and called for policies and actions that would help people in need. Donalds favored a balanced budget amendment and said that it worked in Florida.

Education: Donalds said that “money should follow the child” and called for school choice. Banyai said that “public education is a public good and public dollars should remain in the public realm” and not be siphoned off by for-profit charter schools.

Affordable college education: Banyai called for investments to make public college education free. Donalds said that the government cannot “lend infinite money” for college education.

Amendment 2, raising the minimum wage: Donalds opposed it, Banyai supported it.

Attracting light industry and providing affordable housing: Both candidates expressed support for small business. Banyai said that Southwest Florida has a “donut economy” with small retail and service workers at the bottom and wealthy retirees at the top but without a healthy center. The local economy needs investment, grants and support for small business to fill in the middle, she said. Donalds called for diversifying the local economy in a sustainable way and maintaining a consistent business climate.

Extending the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP): Donalds supported extending PPP and blamed House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) for lack of progress in coming up with a second stimulus package. Banyai also supported extending PPP and a second package and blamed Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for lack of progress.


First, all concerned—the questioners, the moderator and the candidates—handled themselves with maturity and professionalism, which was a welcome relief. There were no insults or personal attacks, no emotionalism or melodrama, the time limits were respected and the candidates conducted a reasoned discussion that stuck to the issues. All are to be congratulated.

The debate was helped by not having a live audience to cheer or interrupt the dialogue.

The debate also marked a sea change from 2018 when Rep. Rooney simply refused to debate and his disdain was taken at face value by local media and civic groups, which didn’t challenge him.

All that said, the candidates’ policy differences were stark but unsurprising. Donalds is a Trumper and Banyai is a progressive. Nothing anyone said altered that reality.

From a progressive viewpoint (which is, after all, the viewpoint of The Paradise Progressive), Donalds’ praises of Donald Trump sounded absurd on their face and his Trumpism forced him into defending the indefensible.

He praised Trump’s coronavirus response, his support for environmental funding in Florida (which Trump initially shortchanged in 2019 and only relented after pressure from Florida officials), blamed the California wildfires on forest management practices (a Trump hallmark) rather than acknowledge the impact of climate change, lauded Trump’s environmental record (?!) and blamed Pelosi for the stalemate blocking new relief for people and businesses harmed by the pandemic. His longstanding opposition to local masking mandates echoes Trump’s opposition to protecting the American population from the coronavirus.

Donalds’ support for Trumpism overshadows and negates any more reasoned positions he may take on the limits of government authority and economic sustainability.

Banyai effectively riposted Donalds’ positions and did so emphatically and effectively. She had a good command of the facts, was well prepared and was an effective debater.

Neither candidate is likely to have swayed people whose minds are already made up. However, if undecided voters were watching, they got a very good sense of the two candidates and their strengths and positions.

The debate was particularly important for Banyai’s underdog campaign, giving her exposure that she does not otherwise get from paid advertising, in contrast to Donalds’ support from outside ideological super political action committees.

The true test of the results of the debate will be seen in the only poll that counts—the election.

Voting is now under way. Collier County sent out its mail-in ballots last week and as of this writing had received back over 4,000 ballots. Lee County is scheduled to send out its mail-in ballots today.

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg

BREAKING NEWS: Banyai, Donalds to meet in WGCU debate

The WGCU studio building on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University. (Photo: WGCU)

Sept. 11, 2020 by David Silverberg

Public television station WGCU will be hosting a debate between 19th Congressional District candidates Democrat Cindy Banyai and Republican Byron Donalds.

The debate will be held on Monday, Sept. 28 from 8 to 9 pm. It will be televised from the WGCU studios on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University.

The debate is also being sponsored by the News-Press and Naples Daily News of Gannet’s USA Today Network.

In addition to the television and radio broadcasts on WGCU-TV and WGCU 90.1 FM, the debate will be streamed on, and

The debate will be moderated by Julie Glenn, the news director of WGCU Public Media. Questioners will be Amy Bennett Williams of Gannett and John Davis of WGCU.

The debate marks a stark contrast from the congressional race in 2018 when Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) told the League of Women Voters that he had “no availability” for a debate with opposing candidate Democrat David Holden and would have “no future availability” because “everyone knows my positions.”

Despite protests from Holden and his campaign, local media accepted the refusal and no debate or discussion of his record or positions was ever held.

Banyai and Donalds have already held one debate, on Aug. 21 at the Cantina 109 bar and grill in Gulf Coast Town Center.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Banyai, Donalds meet in first general election debate

Congressional candidates Republican Byron Donalds and Democrat Cindy Banyai debate at Cantina 109 in Fort Myers on Friday, Aug. 21. (Image: author via Facebook)

Aug. 24, 2020 by David Silverberg

It was raucous, impassioned, informal and there was barely any advance notice, but on Friday, Aug. 21, 19th Congressional District candidates Democrat Cindy Banyai and Republican Byron Donalds held their first debate.

The candidates met in person at Cantina 109, a Mexican restaurant and bar in the Gulf Coast Town Center before a live audience. The moderator was Brendon Leslie, anchor of Beach Talk Radio, a podcasting station that operates weekly from Fort Myers Beach over Facebook.

The debate, which was streamed live, was loosely structured, with the moderator drawing on questions from the audience and electronic feeds. Whichever candidate raised his or her hand first was the first to speak. The candidates had three minutes to make statements, followed by one-minute replies. The entire debate ran 1 hour and 47 minutes with breaks and covered an extensive array of topics.

In summary, both candidates held their ideological grounds, and differed deeply

A key debate point was the role of government.

“I’m working to make a Southwest Florida where the sun shines on everyone,” said Banyai, who explained that she was “bringing people into the process, the process of governance, the process of budgeting and making sure the voice of ordinary people is just as listened to and valued as much as those of politicians and CEOs.”

Donalds made a major point of limiting the role of government and he cited mask mandates, which he opposes, as a prime example.

“If you look at mask mandates that have been happening around Southwest Florida, I have been at virtually every county commission meeting that has existed,” he said.

“I tell them I have a stand that I am concerned for our citizens. I get that. I totally do,” he continued. “But does a city government have the legal authority to tell citizens that they must wear a mask? The answer is no—they have never been granted the legal authority. I understand it’s a pandemic. I know that citizens are concerned for their health and they should. But that’s not the question. The question is should government officials be allowed to create powers out of thin air because if you give government officials the ability to do it in a crisis they will keep that ability any other time that is convenient. That is not respective [sic] of American government.”

Both candidates cited the economy as a top issue, with Banyai saying that in Congress she would fight for investment and stimulus and jobs programs to benefit Southwest Florida and would support aid for small businesses.

Donalds also named support of the economy as a key issue but his solution relied on President Donald Trump: “Our next president will be Trump,” he said, and “his tax code will bring back jobs from overseas and we’ll have jobs in America.”

On the pandemic, Donalds said he was encouraged by the number of people recovering from coronavirus. Banyai stated that while she was encouraged, she was still upset by the 170,000 Florida cases that she called “a testament to the failure” of the federal and state government to respond.

In response to a question about the Second Amendment, Banyai said she supports it and “I am not touching the Second Amendment. I’m here to protect the Constitution in all its parts. I’m also a Moms Demand Action advocate.”

She added: “We can be here and talk about the Constitution but I am also here to protect women and families from wanton violence. I would like to see things like bump stocks eliminated, high-power weapons not brought to market, because we don’t need them. Let’s keep them in the hands of people who can use them, like our military.” She also expressed concern about weapons in the hands of people committing acts of domestic violence.


Ultimately, what may have been most important about the debate was the fact that it took place at all, demonstrating that both candidates are willing to submit their ideas to each other and the public.

This is a stark contrast from 2018 when Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) simply told the League of Women Voters that he had “no future availability” to debate and “everyone knows my positions”—and Southwest Florida civic groups and media accepted this at face value.

This election is already clearly different and there will likely be more formal debates in the future. It’s unclear whether this debate reached much further than the people in the cantina and the few who may have tuned in on Facebook.

The candidates certainly didn’t convince each other of anything although there were areas of agreement on the need to assist the economy and protect the environment and water—although here Donalds credited Trump with funding Everglades restoration when in fact the President initially shortchanged it and only relented under pressure from the entire Florida congressional delegation.

The divide here, as in so many other things, is President Donald Trump. Donalds staunchly and repeatedly praised Trump and his works.

In her closing remarks, Banyai put this in perspective: “We have a choice here between someone who has pledged their undying loyalty to the community and to the people and does not have any financial backers who are going to sway that and somebody who wants to hitch their wagon to Donald Trump and all his failures. So that is what is really on the ballot here. Are you going to help the people of Southwest Florida or do you want more crises after crises after crises? I am ready to fight for ordinary people,” she said.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Democratic congressional candidates make their cases in online WINK-TV debate

05-19-20 Dem WINK debateWINK News reporter Morgan Ryner and Democratic candidates David Holden and Cindy Banyai in yesterday’s online debate.      (Image: WINK-TV)

May 19, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Florida Congressional District 19 Democratic candidates Cindy Banyai and David Holden conducted an electronic debate yesterday, moderated by Morgan Rynor, WINK News TV reporter and weekend anchor.

The full 31-minute debate is posted on the WINK website under the headline “District 19 Democratic candidates debate.”

The debate follows a Republican debate conducted by Rynor on April 27, which is available on the WINK News website. Coverage of the Republican debate on the website is more detailed and extensive than the Democratic version.

In addition to opening and closing statements, the candidates were asked six questions:

  1. How does a Democrat make a mark in a heavily Republican district?

Banyai pointed out that she is a fighter who will oppose bullies. Holden said Democrats would present a united front and work together regardless of their differences.

  1. What has Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) done right and what would the candidates do differently?

Holden said DeSantis had done a disappointing job after early promise and his loyalty to President Donald Trump had hurt his coronavirus response. Banyai pointed to Desantis’ loyalty to President Trump as the reason for his inadequate coronavirus and unemployment system response.

  1. For what issues would the candidates cross party lines?

Banyai named climate change and healthcare. Holden named the environment.

  1. If Trump is re-elected how would the candidates work with him?

Holden expressed hope this was a fantasy question and said he would try to find common ground without sacrificing core Democratic values. Banyai called herself “a constitutional fundamentalist” and said Congress had to take back power it had ceded to the presidency.

  1. How can the District avoid another red tide/algae bloom crisis like 2018’s?

Banyai said she would hold polluters accountable and fight for water research funding. Holden called for a systematic change that emphasizes science and expertise.

  1. How can healthcare be made more affordable?

Holden said that healthcare is a human right and the Affordable Care Act should be improved. Banyai called for a different model of healthcare and cited the Japanese system that ensures low-cost healthcare outside of employer plans.

“We absolutely need servant leadership in this region” said Banyai in her closing statement. “The people are most important here; not the powerful, not the people who want to cement over the environment, not the ones who want to line their pockets because of education reform. It’s people serving people.”

“I am appalled by the lack of concern, the lack of empathy and the lack of real thought by the Republican candidates about what is best for this district, not just in the midst of this crisis but in the face of a number of critical problems that we face as a people,” Holden said in his closing statement. After the primary, he said, “We will join together to flip this district.”

“Cindy and I are going to fight our fight, we’re going to make our case, the voters will decide in August and then we will work together as Democrats to win this seat,” he vowed.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg








WINK News schedules Democratic congressional debate for Monday, May 18

05-13-20 Morgan Rynor debateWINK News reporter and weekend anchor Morgan Rynor conducts the online Republican debate on April 27, 2020.                                 (Screen capture: WINK News)

May 13, 2020 by David Silverberg.

WINK-TV, Ft. Myers, has scheduled a debate between the Democratic candidates running in the 19th Congressional District.

Today WINK-TV reporter and weekend anchor Morgan Rynor notified the David Holden and Cindy Banyai campaigns that she will be holding a half hour debate between them on Monday, May 18 from 11:00 am to 11:30 am.

The debate will be held on the Zoom video conferencing application.

The debate was scheduled after WINK held an online debate with Republican 19th District congressional candidates on April 27 without inviting Democrats. A portion of the Republican debate was broadcast on the nightly newscast and the full debate posted on the WINK News application.

“It’s very encouraging that WINK News has decided to host a Democratic candidate forum,” candidate Cindy Banyai told The Paradise Progressive. “I knew demonstrating solidarity across the party would amplify our voice and I’m proud to have led the effort. I’m looking forward to seeing other Southwest Florida media outlets step up to host candidate forums that include Democrats and more reporting on the parties that is balanced.”

“This is an important position even though this is a Republican area,” said Democratic candidate David Holden. “We’re going to have a vigorous discussion by all sides.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg