Closing argument: Banyai for Congress, democracy for America

The Statue of Liberty. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Nov.4, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Banyai for Congress and the Donalds record

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voters have a vastly better alternative in Cindy Banyai.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Democracy on the line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Early voting active in Collier, Lee and Charlotte counties

Activists show support for their candidates outside the Headquarters building of the Collier County Public Library in Naples. Jen Mitchell, incumbent candidate seeking re-election for District 3 of the Collier County school board, is to the left in the green shirt. (Photo: Author)

Oct. 28, 2022 by David Silverberg

Voting is active and robust throughout Southwest Florida, according to county supervisors of elections.

In its first day of early in-person voting in Collier County, 6,132 ballots were cast at polling stations yesterday, Oct. 27. Combined with 36,630 mail-in ballots, Collier’s turnout is at 16.85 percent of 253,830 eligible voters. So far, 56.15 percent of the ballots were cast by registered Republicans, 25.84 percent by registered Democrats and 16.92 percent by non-party affiliated voters.

Early in-person voting in Lee and Charlotte counties has been under way since Monday.

In Lee County, turnout is running at 19.65 percent, with 18,779 votes cast in person and 83,006 ballots mailed in. Lee County has 518,035 eligible voters. Of ballots cast, 52.28 percent were from registered Republicans, 27.37 percent from registered Democrats and 19.11 percent from non-party affiliated voters.

Charlotte County has the highest turnout of the three coastal counties with 20.75 percent of 152,778 eligible voters having cast ballots so far. Of these, 9,395 votes were cast in person and 22,309 votes were mailed. According to the Supervisor’s office, 50.36 percent of ballots were from registered Republicans, 29.58 percent from Democrats and 18.14 percent from non-party affiliated voters.

Because of the damage and disruption caused by Hurricane Ian, early in-person voting in Lee and Charlotte counties continues until Nov. 7. In Collier County, it concludes on Nov. 5.

Times and locations for early in-person voting are posted on the respective supervisors’ websites.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Editorial: He’s got to go–NOW

Donald Trump returns from a failed rally in Tulsa, Okla., in June 2020. (Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP/Shutterstock).

Jan. 8, 2021

President Donald Trump must be removed from office immediately.

He is a danger to the United States, he is completely unfit for office and he appears to have lost the capacity for rational thought. He publicly engaged in sedition, incited a riot and arguably committed treason by trying to overthrow the rightful government of the United States. He cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of the country and he cannot be allowed to have any further authority over the vast, destructive powers of the United States military. He is actually a clear and present danger to all life on this planet.

It now appears that the Vice President and Cabinet will not remove him under Amendment 25 of the US Constitution. There is momentum in Congress to impeach him a second time and this time it could succeed in removing him. This might not seem necessary with only 12 days to go (as of this writing) but the threat is so great and his crimes so obvious that the effort should be made.

If he had any shred of decency, dignity or care for the country he would resign—but that is not likely from this sick and twisted man.

Southwest Florida’s role

The representatives and citizens of Southwest Florida did not cover themselves in glory during the current crisis.

Its congressional delegation—Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) all voted to overturn the election of President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-Elect Kamala Harris and negate the votes of 80 million Americans. Notwithstanding their protestations to the contrary, they attempted on a legal and procedural basis to accomplish what the rioters tried on a violent and physical basis: to stop the proper functioning of government, cancel the results of a legal election, overturn democracy and install autocratic rule at the behest of a would-be dictator.

Trump’s more extreme supporters from Southwest Florida traveled to Washington, DC to register their protest—and some illegally entered the Capitol and participated in the riot and rampage that occurred there.

Now, in the bizarre and delusional mythmaking that characterizes Trumpism, they are asserting that the rioters who invaded the Capitol and battled police were somehow not Trumpers, were disguised anarchists, were a small minority, were agents provocateurs.

This is straight out of the George Orwell book. In fact, to quote his novel, 1984: “The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.” Or, as Donald Trump himself said in 2018: “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,”

Anyone who watched the horrendous invasion of the Capitol simply knows that this wasn’t true. This was a mass riot by tens of thousands of people attacking the legislative branch of the United States government in its own home at the incitement of a delusional president who had been defeated in an election.

No amount of mythmaking and self-delusion will change that fact, whether the mythmakers are in Southwest Florida or anywhere else.

The Dec. 2, 2008 dedication of the Capitol Visitors Center. (Image: C-SPAN)

It’s worth noting that there is also a Southwest Florida connection to the physical building: it is the Capitol Visitors Center, the secure underground entrance to the Capitol Building where visitors are normally screened and which includes an extensive museum, offices and educational facilities. As the acting Architect of the Capitol put when it opened on Dec. 2, 2008, it is “a respectful and dignified way to enter the people’s house.” It was built by Manhattan Construction Co., owned by retired congressman and Naples resident Francis Rooney. Being underground, the Visitors Center did not appear to be a target of the rioters and there are no reports at this time of damage to it.

On a personal note: For many years, this author covered Congress and spent a great deal of time in the Capitol Building. In fact it was love and respect for the institution, particularly the House of Representatives, that inspired him to write a comprehensive citizens’ guide to Congress.

To go to work in or around the US Capitol Building and its complex each day is to be awestruck anew by its dignity and majesty. Every corridor and room has its hallowed past and reminders of the people who served this republic with distinction. The whole building is a physical expression of the greatest democratic experiment in history and inspires respect and reverence.

There is no single word to express this author’s feelings as he watched insane, raging rioters rampage down hallways he intimately knew, defile the floors of the House and Senate, saw police overwhelmed in the Capitol Crypt or watched a pitched battle in the magnificent Rotunda, the sacred space between the House and Senate. Like their ignorant leader these people had no reverence, no piety and no patriotism for what that building represents.

Now one knows how it must have felt when the barbarians overwhelmed the defenses of Rome and went on a rampage through its precincts in the year 410. And in the Jewish tradition, one suddenly gets the sense of the impact of the defilement of the sacred Temple in Jerusalem by pagan invaders.

In the case of the Jewish Temple, in the year 164 before the Common Era, Greek invaders were expelled and the Temple reconsecrated. It was this reconsecration that is commemorated by Hanukah (which means “dedication” in Hebrew), the Jewish festival of lights. The story is that a small supply of the Temple’s hallowed oil miraculously burned for eight days.

Perhaps in our current context it is also an important reminder for everyone that reconsecration can occur and that wounds can heal and vandalism be repaired—with dedication.

What’s next

The next stage of the American political drama will be played out in Washington among a handful of people with the institutional responsibilities for the functioning of government: the President, the Speaker of the House, the Senate majority and minority leaders and the bodies of the US House of Representatives and the Senate.

Citizens of the United States and Southwest Florida can make their lawful voices heard. They’ve already made their preferences known through their votes in the presidential election; it was this preference that Donald Trump attempted to steal.

Donald Trump has demonstrated that democracy and the machinery to implement it cannot be taken for granted; it has to be defended. Supporters of America’s democracy have acted and continue to act in a lawful and orderly fashion, in contrast to Trump and his followers, who have shown themselves riotous, seditious and disorderly.

Lawlessness and anarchy have to be suppressed and punished through legal, lawful means. The representatives of Southwest Florida have stated with their votes, actions and failure to criticize or condemn Donald Trump, which side they are on.

If America’s electoral machinery continues to function as intended, the next legal chance for citizens to make a difference will occur in two years when there is another election. In Florida, that election will include the office of governor, a senator and all representatives.

If America is to continue as a democracy, over the next two years lovers of democracy will have to mobilize, stay alert, be vigilant and active. The last election is over but the struggle continues. And as events at the Capitol demonstrated, everything—absolutely everything—remains at stake.

Liberty lives in light

©2021 by David Silverberg

Rep. Donalds reaffirms intention to decertify presidential election results

The freshman class of the 117th Congress. Rep. Byron Donalds is in the last row on the left. (Photo: US House)

Jan. 4, 2021 by David Silverberg

Despite release of a phone call in which President Donald Trump blatantly attempted to overturn the legitimate outcome of the 2020 presidential election, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has reaffirmed that he will vote to decertify those results when Congress votes on the results on Wednesday, Jan. 6.

“Every Floridian & American deserves to believe that our elections result from a transparent & lawful democratic process,” Donalds announced in a 10:53 am tweet this morning. “I’m proud to stand with @Kat_Cammack [Rep. Kat Cammack (R-3-Fla.)] & @BrianMastFL [Rep. Brian Mast (R-18-Fla.)] to object to the certification process on January 6th & restore faith in our election system.”

Donalds was sworn into office yesterday, Jan. 3, with the rest of the 117th Congress.

After taking the oath of office, Donalds voted with 208 other Republicans for Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-23-Calif.) for Speaker of the House. He was defeated by Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.), who won with 216 votes.

Both of Southwest Florida’s other representatives, Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), also voted for McCarthy.

Donalds’ affirmation of his challenge to the 2020 presidential election results follows release yesterday of an hour-long phone call between Trump and his lawyers and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and lawyer Ryan Germany. In the call Trump tried to bully, cajole and plead that Raffensperger illegally alter the certified, audited and recounted results of the Georgia election to make him the winner.

(A full transcript and the audio of the entire, hour-long call can be heard here.)

Donalds has not commented on the phone call, either in response to questions or on his media platforms, which now include an official website, a new official Facebook page and his official Twitter account.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Rep.-Elect Donalds says he will vote against election results when Congress meets Jan. 6

Byron Donalds embraces President Donald Trump at a 2019 conference.

Dec. 31, 2020 by David Silverberg

Rep.-Elect Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has announced that once sworn in as congressman, he will vote to decertify the results of the 2020 election.

Donalds made the announcement in a tweet at 12:42 pm today.

“Every Floridian and American deserves to believe that our elections result from a transparent and lawful democratic process,” he stated. “I will object to the certification process on January 6th and will ask legitimate questions to restore faith in our election system.” (Full statement below.)

Donalds and the rest of the 117th Congress are due to be sworn in next Wednesday, the same day the House of Representatives and the Senate are scheduled to certify the votes of the Electoral College in all the states, which established that President-Elect Joe Biden (D) had won the election. All legal challenges to the election results have been quashed in the courts.

To the best of this author’s ability to determine, Donalds is the first prospective House member to publicly state this position. In the Senate, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) has stated he will challenge the election, opening the prospect of a debate and contested vote despite Republican leadership reluctance to spark the fight.

Democrat Cindy Banyai, who ran against Donalds in the 2020 congressional election, was critical of his position.

“It’s so unfortunate that Southwest Florida will soon have a congressional representative who values our democratic processes so little that he’s willing to participate in this theater of the absurd,” she stated in a message to The Paradise Progressive. “It’s particularly hypocritical of Donalds to vote to decertify an election where he won office, especially with an outstanding FBI investigation into election interference because of the primary day texts and an active [Federal Elections Commission] complaint with evidence that he violated the straw donor ban to the tune of several hundreds of thousands of dollars. I wish he was more concerned with serving the people of our district than his political master.”

Full statement:

“On behalf of the people of Florida’s 19th Congressional District who elected me to serve them in Congress, I will object to the certification process on January 6th and will ask legitimate questions to restore faith in our election system. Unlike my Democratic colleagues, I refuse to turn a blind eye to the fact that several states, including the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, neglected the oath of their constitution and the United States Constitution by their failure to follow their election laws.

“Democrats in Congress seem to have lost their devotion to election integrity and security, but make no mistake, I will not waiver. A free and fair election is key to protecting our Constitutional Republic. Every Floridian and American deserves to believe that our elections result from a transparent and lawful democratic process. For this reason, I cannot in good faith vote to support the certification of the Electoral College results on January 6th.”

Rep.-Elect Byron Donalds

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

No need to secede: Welcome to Florumpia!

Data scientist Rebekah Jones surrenders to police when they come to search her Tallahassee house on Dec. 7. (Image: FDLE body camera)

Dec. 11, 2020 by David Silverberg

It’s almost official: tonight the Supreme Court turned down a Texas lawsuit to overthrow the results of the presidential election in four swing states. On Monday the electors of the Electoral College will—barring an act of God or outright sedition—certify Joe Biden as the next president of the United States and Kamala Harris as vice president.

But facts go down hard in Southwest Florida.

According to a recent poll by the firm Victory Insights of Naples, Fla., 53 percent of Southwest Florida Republicans are open to the idea of Florida seceding from the United States and forming its own country. Why? Because they think the results of the presidential election were fraudulent.

“Figuring out how many Republicans are open to secession is really saying how many Republicans will stick with President Trump until the end through thick and thin no matter what,” Ben Galbraith, the firm’s senior pollster, told Dave Elias, political reporter for NBC-2 News in Fort Myers, in a report that aired on Dec. 10

First, let it be said that Florida secession is a really stupid idea. This is the only state where a sitting governor committed suicide when secession didn’t succeed the first time in 1865. There have been all sorts of secession ideas since the Civil War and none of them have come to fruition. There’s no reason to expect that a second Florida secession would have any better success.

Moreover, as glad as the rest of the United States would be to get rid of Florida, independence is improbable, to say the least.

However, if Southwest Florida Republicans really want a Trumpist government, they have no need to secede at all. While President Donald Trump seems firmly on his way out of the presidency—unless he incites an armed rebellion to overturn the 2020 election results—the kind of autocratic, self-centered government he dreamed of creating nationally is being premiered in the great state of Florida even while it’s still part of the Union.

It’s a government that indulges Trump’s delusions, overlooks uncomfortable realities, ignores science and the health of its people, twists the facts and crushes dissent. It has the hallmarks of a dictatorship.

It’s something new. Let’s call it “Florumpia.”

And speaking seriously, unless opponents effectively mobilize, Trumpism may dominate the state government for a long time to come.

Florumpia is possible because Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and his handpicked administration has chosen to entirely follow the Trump playbook and adopt the Trump mindset on all things related to Florida. DeSantis is governing in true Trumpist fashion.

The signs are everywhere. When it comes to COVID, DeSantis is ignoring the pandemic, playing down its threat and not only refusing a statewide mask mandate to protect Floridians but making it impossible for localities to establish their own mandates.

As for respecting facts, reality and truth: dissident data scientist Rebekah Jones charged that the state Department of Health was fudging infection numbers to fit DeSantis’ policy goals. Her house has now been raided and searched in an act clearly intended not just to find the perpetrator of an internal e-mail urging state employees to speak out but to intimidate her into silence as well as anyone else who might challenge the DeSantis doctrine.

When it comes to Trump’s delusional denial of the results of the election, Florida joined the absurd Texas effort to completely overturn the vote of the American people. To this day, only two of the state’s Republican officeholders (Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Francis Rooney) have publicly accepted the election results.

When it comes to free and independent coverage of these developments DeSantis has adopted the Trump tactic of trying to discredit the media, blaming bad press on politicized, “agenda-driven” “corporate media.”

All of this might seem like temporary insanity that will pass when President-Elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20, but there are structural factors that point to Trumpanoia going deeper and lasting longer in this state than anywhere else in the country.

1. Trump will be in the house: Florida is now the official residence of Donald Trump and where he is likely to come to live after leaving the White House. The baleful influence of his physical presence in the state is not to be underestimated. As comedian Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of life is showing up.” Just by showing up in Florida, Trump will be able to have meetings, hold rallies and stay in the local media spotlight, if not the national one. He will be able to call on Trumpers in the state to hold protests, demonstrations and issue threats if there’s something he doesn’t like. Instead of having to pick up the phone to call DeSantis, he’ll be able to stroll into his office. And who’s going to keep him out?

2. A Republican state government: The 2020 election resulted in 78 Republican seats to 42 Democratic ones in the Florida state House and 24 Republican to 16 Democratic seats in the state Senate. With the one exception of Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, all state executive offices are held by Republicans. The state’s judges have been appointed by Republican governors since Jeb Bush took office in 1999. What is more, in Florida this is not Abraham Lincoln’s Republicanism, it’s Trump’s.

With only the feeblest checks and virtually no balances, Florumpia is a one-party state just as surely as North Korea—but with beaches and palm trees.

3. Gerrymandering: As if existing political forces didn’t weigh on the state enough, the fact of a totally Republican state government means that all legislative districts will be gerrymandered to favor Republicans based on the 2020 Census—ensuring Republican control for the next decade at least.

4. Florida Men: As Benito Mussolini could call on his Black Shirts and Adolf Hitler could call on his Brown Shirts, Trump can call on his MAGA red hats to sway the state to his will with the pliant complicity of the DeSantis administration. Around the country Trumpers have issued death threats against officials that Trump doesn’t like, most notably against election officials in Georgia and Michigan. As the Southwest Florida polls have demonstrated, he retains a mesmerized horde in the Sunshine State, which can be deployed now and in the future to obey his whims and orders. All it takes is a tweet—or, after Jan. 20, a Parler.

5. Dark money—and lots of it: In the month after Election Day, Nov. 3, Trump raised $207.5 million—on top of $288 million he’d raised since Oct. 15, according to The Washington Post. The total has likely gone up in the days since; between Oct. 15 and Nov. 23 he was bringing in $13 million per day thanks to relentless fundraising appeals, which have not slackened.

Some of the money is going to his lawsuits and efforts to overturn the election. Other sums are going to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, the Republican Party and his political action committee, Save America. This being Trump, vast amounts are likely pouring into his own pocket.

But a proportion of that money and other dark money will probably be turned into buying political power in Florida. Dark money from Trumpist contributors already affected local races in 2020, including one state senate race where a $1 million dark money contribution helped the Republican candidate win by only 32 votes. After Trump is out of office there is a very high likelihood that a good chunk of those dollars are going to be spent making sure that Florida and its officials don’t stray too far from Trumpist orthodoxy.

6. The launch pad: Just as Florida’s Cape Canaveral is the launch pad for American space missions, Florumpia will probably serve as the launch pad for Trump’s 2024 presidential bid. Assuming he stays alive and doesn’t have another bout of COVID or some other unforeseen obstacle, he will no doubt be bending all Republican thought, resources and personnel in the state to his election. It will not make for a lively or diverse political dialogue and Trump is unlikely to tolerate any dissent, disagreement or anyone else’s political ambitions.

The one-party record

Florida’s Democrats already have a hard row to hoe to simply stay viable and in the next two years that row is going to get rockier and steeper. The kind of political atmosphere that once applied largely in Southwest Florida is now going to be seen statewide. As Rick Wilson, the wise Lincoln Project Republican and consultant has said, “Florida, north of I-4, is basically Alabama with more guns” and Democrats “don’t understand this is not a blue state, it is a red state with a blue tip on the south end.” 

But one-party polities have their own weaknesses. They tend to be personality-driven, riven by factions and end up with purges and internal battles like Hitler’s “Night of the Long Knives” or Stalin’s show trials. The state’s Grand Old Party could fracture from its own internal stresses.

On top of this are Trump’s own pathologies, his impulsiveness and his tendency to turn on former allies and supporters. DeSantis would do well to study the experience of his neighbor to the north, Georgia’s Gov. Brian Kemp (R), once a Trump darling and now the focus of his wrath for daring to carry out the dictates of the law. Some day when Trump awakens in Mar-a-Lago with indigestion he may decide that DeSantis was the cause and DeSantis will pay the price.

Additionally, the devoted followers of the Great God Trump may find that their aversion to science, masking and anti-COVID precautions causes a significant thinning of their ranks before the next round of elections in 2022. They may hope for herd immunity but get herd culling instead.

So those who don’t believe Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, who are so fervent in their belief that not even the Electoral College can shake their faith and who are ready to bend a knee to a mad king have no need to secede from the United States. They have Florumpia, the land of sunshine and delusion.

It is, however, worth remembering the words of Fisher Ames, a congressman in the early years of the American republic. He once observed that “Monarchy is like a sleek craft, it sails along well until some bumbling captain runs it into the rocks. Democracy, on the other hand, is like a raft. It never goes down but, dammit, your feet are always wet.”

And remember this: when your ship sinks, it’s a raft that saves your life.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Diaz-Balart joins brief to overturn election; Rooney, Steube avoid it

The US Capitol.

Dec. 11, 2020 by David Silverberg

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) is the only Southwest Florida Republican to join 105 of his colleagues in an amicus brief supporting a Texas lawsuit attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Reps. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), a vociferous supporter of President Trump, have not joined the effort.

None of the Southwest Florida congressmen issued statements explaining their positions or actions.

Nine of the signers are from Florida.

Ninety Republican members of the House of Representatives did not sign on to the brief, including the leadership, with the exception of Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-1-La.). Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-2-Ind.), is not on the list due to a clerical error but tweeted that she supports the suit.

The lawsuit argues that election results in the key swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia are “riddled with an unprecedented number of serious allegations of fraud and irregularities” and should be invalidated. There have been no confirmed cases of widespread fraud in any state.

Officials in the four states named in the lawsuit have categorically rejected the claims of fraud or irregularities.

Although the lawsuit is being submitted directly to the Supreme Court, experts give it little chance of succeeding.

On Wednesday, Dec. 9, all 50 states and the District of Columbia certified the results of the election and the victory of President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-Elect Kamala Harris.

The Republican representatives joining the amicus brief are as follows, in alphabetical order:

  1. Rep. Ralph Abraham, La. 5
  2. Rep. Rick Allen, Ga. 12
  3. Rep. Jim Baird, Ind. 4
  4. Rep. Jim Banks, Ind. 3
  5. Rep. Jack Bergman, Mich. 1
  6. Rep. Andy Biggs, Ariz. 5
  7. Rep. Gus M. Bilirakis, Fla. 12
  8. Rep. Dan Bishop, N.C. 9
  9. Rep. Mike Bost, Ill. 12
  10. Rep. Kevin Brady, Tex. 8
  11. Rep. Mo Brooks, Ala. 5
  12. Rep. Ken Buck, Colo. 4
  13. Rep. Ted Budd, N.C. 13
  14. Rep. Tim Burchett, Tenn. 2
  15. Rep. Michael C. Burgess, Tex. 26
  16. Rep. Bradley Byrne, Ala. 1
  17. Rep. Ken Calvert, Calif. 42
  18. Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter, Ga. 1
  19. Rep. Ben Cline, Va. 6
  20. Rep. Michael Cloud, Tex. 27
  21. Rep. K. Michael Conaway, Tex 11
  22. Rep. Eric A. “Rick” Crawford, Ark. 1
  23. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, Tex. 2
  24. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, Fla. 25
  25. Rep. Jeff Duncan, S.C. 3
  26. Rep. Neal Dunn, Fla. 2
  27. Rep. Tom Emmer, Minn. 6
  28. Rep. Ron Estes, Kan. 4
  29. Rep. Drew Ferguson, Ga. 3
  30. Rep. Charles J. “Chuck” Fleischmann, Tenn. 3
  31. Rep. Bill Flores, Tex. 17
  32. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, Neb. 1
  33. Rep. Virginia Foxx, N.C. 5
  34. Rep. Russ Fulcher, Idaho 1
  35. Rep. Matt Gaetz, Fla. 1
  36. Rep. Greg Gianforte, Mont. At Large
  37. Rep. Bob Gibbs, Ohio 7
  38. Rep. Louie Gohmert, Tex. 1
  39. Rep. Lance Gooden, Tex. 5
  40. Rep. Sam Graves, Mo. 6
  41. Rep. Mark Green, Tenn. 7
  42. Rep. Michael Guest, Miss. 3
  43. Rep. Andy Harris, Md. 1
  44. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, Mo. 4
  45. Rep. Kevin Hern, Okla. 1
  46. Rep. Clay Higgins, La. 3
  47. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, Ind. 9
  48. Rep. Richard Hudson, N.C. 8
  49. Rep. Bill Huizenga, Mich. 2
  50. Rep. Bill Johnson, Ohio 6
  51. Rep. Mike Johnson, La. 4
  52. Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio 4
  53. Rep. John Joyce, Pa. 13
  54. Rep. Frederick B. Keller, Pa. 12
  55. Rep. Mike Kelly, Pa. 16
  56. Rep. Trent Kelly, Miss. 1
  57. Rep. Steve King, Iowa 4
  58. Rep. David Kustoff, Tenn. 8
  59. Rep. Darin LaHood, Ill. 18
  60. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, Calif. 1
  61. Rep. Doug Lamborn, Colo. 5
  62. Rep. Robert E. Latta, Ohio 5
  63. Rep. Debbie Lesko, Ariz. 8
  64. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, Mo. 3
  65. Rep. Kenny Marchant, Tex. 24
  66. Rep. Roger Marshall, Kan. 1
  67. Rep. Tom McClintock, Calif. 4
  68. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Wash. 5
  69. Rep. Dan Meuser, Pa. 9
  70. Rep. Carol Miller, W.Va. 3
  71. Rep. John Moolenaar, Mich. 4
  72. Rep. Alex Mooney, W.Va. 2
  73. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, Okla. 2
  74. Rep. Gregory F. Murphy, N.C. 3
  75. Rep. Dan Newhouse, Wash. 4
  76. Rep. Ralph Norman, S.C. 5
  77. Rep. Gary Palmer, Ala. 6
  78. Rep. Scott Perry, Pa. 10
  79. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, Pa. 14
  80. Rep. Tom Rice, S.C. 7
  81. Rep. John Rose, Tenn. 6
  82. Rep. David Rouzer, N.C. 7
  83. Rep. John Rutherford, Fla. 4
  84. Rep. Steve Scalise, La. 1
  85. Rep. Austin Scott, Ga. 8
  86. Rep. Mike Simpson, Idaho 2
  87. Rep. Adrian Smith, Neb. 3
  88. Rep. Jason T. Smith, Mo. 8
  89. Rep. Ross Spano, Fla. 15
  90. Rep. Elise Stefanik, N.Y. 21
  91. Rep. Glenn Thompson, Pa. 15
  92. Rep. Tom Tiffany, Wis. 7
  93. Rep. William Timmons, S.C. 4
  94. Rep. Ann Wagner, Mo. 2
  95. Rep. Tim Walberg, Mich. 7
  96. Rep. Michael Waltz, Fla. 6
  97. Rep. Randy Weber, Tex. 14
  98. Rep. Daniel Webster, Fla. 11
  99. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, Ohio 2
  100. Rep. Bruce Westerman, Ark. 4
  101. Rep. Roger Williams, Tex. 25
  102. Rep. Joe Wilson, S.C. 2
  103. Rep. Rob Wittman, Va. 1
  104. Rep. Ron Wright, Tex. 6
  105. Rep. Ted Yoho, Fla. 3
  106. Rep. Lee Zeldin, N.Y. 1

Liberty lives in light

(c) 2020 by David Silverberg

Guest Commentary: The Electoral College may be more critical than we all realize

Signing of the United States Constitution. (Painting:  Junius Brutus Stearns, 1856)

Nov. 27, 2020 by Tyler Skaathun

The 2020 election cycle had plenty of twists and turns and many of us still wonder if the race is at its end.

When I talk to Democrats, the answer is an obvious yes but many of Donald Trump’s supporters still claim that there is a path to victory for the President. The situation is made worse when he and his supporters claim that he won or that somehow he’ll stay in power even after new states certify their elections. As I write, the transition was just officially announced but these concerns are still atop of many Americans’ minds.

With Trump refusing to concede, I’ve had plenty of conversations with folks across South Florida who fear that somehow the election will be stolen from President-elect Joe Biden, and we already know that many conservatives feel that the election was conducted unfairly.

The whole fiasco of the President holding out leaves open questions about America’s checks and balances. In middle and high school we were taught that Congress has the power of the purse, the executive performs its namesake and executes the law, and the judicial system interprets the Constitution. But who is responsible if the President just decides that he’s going to stay in the White House?  Maybe this is a job for the Electoral College.

Many Americans have shown disdain for the institution for the simple reason that it may deprive the winner of the popular vote a victory. This causes a lot of confusion.

To briefly explain, a candidate must have the most electoral votes to win. But what is an electoral vote? According to the Constitution, each state gets the number of electors equal to the number of representatives and senators.  So, on Election Day, voters are telling state electors how to vote. Florida provides an example. It has 29 electoral votes, because it has 27 members of the House of Representatives and two Senators.  In order to win the White House, the winner must get the magic number of 270 electoral votes, because 270 is the majority of the 538 electoral votes available.

The system may seem strange when elections could just be determined by the popular vote.

There are many theories why the Founders created this system. One theory is that it was to give southern slave states more power in picking the president. The three-fifths clause of the Constitution is infamous for counting slaves as only three-fifths of a person. This artificially increased the population of slave states and gave them more seats in the House of Representatives and more electoral votes. As repulsive as the reasoning may seem now, some historians have argued that it was a necessary compromise to get the southern slave colonies to join the United States.

(In my view, I find it disgusting but they didn’t invite me to the Constitutional Convention.)

Another possibility was that the Electoral College would protect small states from big states. For example, Wyoming is the smallest state in terms of population, and needs every electoral vote it can get to be relevant in the presidential race. But the Electoral College gives it greater political power.

There are still a lot of problems with this theory. Small numbers of electors still render small states less relevant and big swing states will always be the key to a presidential election.

(Tangentially, many Floridians are asking why this year Florida didn’t get the attention it normally does in an election cycle. My personal theory is that the state was just not that important for the national Democratic strategy. Joe Biden did not need Florida’s electoral votes and there were no Senate seats up for election. He didn’t have to spend the time and resources when he could have gotten the necessary 270 votes elsewhere.)

The existing theories about the logic behind the Electoral College remain unsatisfying, since it doesn’t do what is allegedly supposed to do: protect small states or preserve slavery. Rather, I would argue that the Founders never thought the Electoral College would work the way it has ended up working.

If we look closely at the Constitution, we see that if there is a tie or a failure to get a majority of electoral votes, the House of Representative is supposed to pick the president from the top five winners of the Electoral College.

This seems odd because in modern politics we have never had a candidate not get a majority, or even five viable candidates at the same time. So why is it there unless they thought it would happen? I think that they thought it would happen. The Constitution was created before the two-party system and all those Founders in the same room writing it were possible candidates for president—and many of them tried. They thought there would always be many people trying to be president until the two-party system destroyed the idea. They assumed that Congress would have more power in picking the president than it ended up having.

If five viable candidates were running with strong regional backing, there was the possibility that none would get a majority and the House of Representatives would decide the winner, probably after much debate and a major compromise. In a way, it was a good idea because it forced different factions to work together in the national interest—something we could certainly use now.

Whether this was the Founders’ true intent, the Electoral College had another important function—stopping a would-be king. And to take it into the present day, it could stop a would-be dictator.

In the event of a dictator attempting to take over the country with support from some members of Congress and governors, the Electoral College just might provide the stopping point for the takeover, preventing him from declaring victory.

I fear that in the future we will see presidents who have lost more obviously than Donald Trump making far more drastic attempts to influence electoral outcomes. Perhaps democracy needs a place between the elected official and the people to ensure that no one takes too much power.

For all the talk of “faithless electors” and state legislatures determining the outcome, this year may be the first time that this kind of check is needed. Americans have always assumed that the outgoing president would leave with dignity and grace. That’s not the case this year.

Democracy is hard to maintain. Perhaps the Electoral College has more to do with maintaining it than we thought.

Tyler Skaathun is a veteran campaigner having worked on political campaigns in South Florida as a volunteer all the way up to senior campaign management. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in public administration. Outside of politics he focuses on a variety of volunteer projects to improve our community and promote the common good.

Liberty lives in light

Rep. Rooney congratulates Biden, calls for supporting the President-Elect and coming together

Nov. 7, 2020 by David Silverberg

Rep. Francis Rooney

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), is the first Southwest Florida Republican to congratulate President-Elect Joe Biden on his electoral victory, issuing the following statement on his Facebook page at 5:39 pm:

“Congratulations to President-elect Biden on a successful and hard fought campaign. All Americans need to come together in supporting President- elect Biden. Our nation will only be successful if the new administration is. We must work together to enact bipartisan legislation and solve the problems which our country faces – that is how our system of government works. We have more that unite us than divide us, and now that the heat of battle has drawn to a close we must come together for the betterment of all our citizens.”

Liberty lives in light

(c) 2020 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida’s ‘teachable moment’ and the 2020 election

A young Barack Obama teaches a class.

Nov. 6, 2020 by David Silverberg

President Barack Obama used to find “teachable moments” in his setbacks and disappointments. It’s a good way to approach the world. Avoiding or dismissing a defeat is unproductive and unhelpful. But making it a teachable moment, staring it in the face, objectively studying all its warts and ugliness, provides critical knowledge and ultimately, wisdom.

It’s always more pleasant to analyze the results of a victory rather than a defeat—but in some ways, it’s more important to examine a defeat because it holds more lessons for the future.

Although the presidential race, which is unresolved as of this writing, seems headed toward a victory for former Vice President Joe Biden, in Florida the race was pretty much a complete defeat for Democrats.

Donald Trump took the state, Republicans took the legislature, and incumbent Democratic stalwarts like Reps. Donna Shalala (D-27-Fla.) and Debby Murcarsel-Powell (D-26-Fla.) lost their seats. Republicans are crowing that Florida is no longer a purple state that can swing either way and is now “Trump country.” At the moment, they’re right.

In Southwest Florida, every Democratic candidate was defeated and by large margins.

So what are some of the lessons of this experience for the region’s Democrats, liberals and progressives?

Demographics are destiny

For the time being, SWFL is overwhelmingly Republican and will stay that way for a long time.

For years Republicans have outnumbered Democrats in Southwest Florida, whether those Republicans were long-residing Floridians or more recent Midwestern migrants who drove down once I-75 opened up in the 1970s.

The dominant population of Southwest Florida is politically conservative by habit as reflected in its party registration. This is also a function of age: 29 percent of the Lee County population is 65 and older as is 33 percent of Collier County. These are not people thirsting for revolutionary change.

The area’s dominant party affiliation may have altered from southern Democrat to Republican in the 1960s and from traditional Republican to Trumpist starting in 2016, but it is clear that the overwhelming sensibility is conservative—however “conservative” is defined.

That rightist allegiance—and infatuation with Donald Trump—was clearly not shaken despite the COVID pandemic, Trump’s threats to seniors’ Social Security and healthcare, his personal repulsiveness, his general incompetence and his catastrophic governance. Despite some Republican dissenters and the votes of independents, Southwest Florida voters overwhelmingly voted their registrations and so his hold continues.

With its critical victories, Republican dominance in Florida and Tallahassee seems set to continue for at least the next decade. This is the legislature that will redraw the maps after the Census. Florida is already gerrymandered to benefit Republicans. That will probably be intensified as the boundaries are refined to Republicans’ advantage with the aid of new digital tools. If those maps are too blatantly biased, Democrats will challenge them in court; however, they will be bringing those challenges to a politicized, ideologically conservative state judiciary, so not much relief can be expected there.

Certainly, Republican dominance for years to come can be expected in Southwest Florida, if not in the state as a whole.

This too shall pass

But like all things, this too shall pass—and demographics work both ways. Donald Trump won’t be president forever (or possibly not past Jan. 20) and the current Republican Boomer generation will leave the scene—sooner rather than later if they continue to refuse to wear masks. (And by the way, it’s worth noting that two prominent anti-maskers, Donald Trump and Byron Donalds, both contracted COVID-19 during this campaign.)

As Democrats pick themselves up, they have to adjust to the realization that the pursuit of democratic ideals and values in Southwest Florida is a marathon, not a sprint. Democrats, liberals and progressives need to start playing a long game, laying the groundwork for the future; organizing, thinking and cultivating the next generation of leaders.

In this there was some good news for Southwest Florida Democrats, not in the results but in their slate, which featured young, dynamic candidates like Anselm Weber, 24, who ran for Florida House District 76; Rachel Brown 25, who ran for Florida Senate District 27; and Maureen Porras, 31, who ran for House District 105. In Cape Coral, Jessica Cosden, 36, kept her seat on the Cape Coral City Council.

Congressional candidate Cindy Banyai is 40 years old—a veritable baby in Southwest Florida terms. She came from virtually nothing in terms of name recognition and is now on the local political map. She has many years of organizing, coalition-building and campaigning ahead of her—which will no doubt ultimately lead to electoral success.

To the north, in the 17th Congressional District, Democrat Allen Ellison, 40, also has many years ahead of him.

On the presidential level, the Democratic primary campaign revealed a whole echelon of talent and young, dynamic leaders. (See “The hidden story of the Democratic presidential primary–and the party’s future.”)

The Lee and Collier county Democratic parties will be examining their roles and activities and out of that examination will no doubt come new reforms and changes. It won’t be easy or bloodless but it will be essential. As it was, they went into the contest with better organization and dynamism than had been seen in previous contests.

On a more granular level, there is a tremendous need for better data collection about the Southwest Florida population. There is little to no systematic polling on any issue. This is a need not just in the political realm but for a great deal of decisionmaking and awareness of public attitudes on issues such as climate change, land development and conservation. Polls that were done during this election were done privately by individual candidates and only selective data was released to the public. Better data would help formulate better strategies, messaging and campaigning—and better governing in general.

The power of persistence

The great heroes and dissidents of history all have something in common—their persistence in their commitment to their ideals, values and goals no matter what the odds and setbacks.

From George Washington facing starvation and defeat at Valley Forge, to Nelson Mandela suffering 27 years in prison, to Andrei Sakharov, who labored against a seemingly insurmountable Soviet system, to Martin Luther King who fought entrenched segregation, all remained true to their ideals and values. There is the example of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), whose determination to speak on the floor of the US Senate won her what was both a rebuke and a plaudit from Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.): “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Most recently, we have the example of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who lost many battles on the Supreme Court. When she lost, she reflected, “I’m dejected, but only momentarily, when I can’t get the fifth vote for something I think is very important. But then you go on to the next challenge and you give it your all. You know that these important issues are not going to go away. They are going to come back again and again. There’ll be another time, another day.”

And as Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) said in his 1980 concession speech: “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg