The DeSantis dilemma

Florida’s governor has to turn the other cheek for the next two years

Gov. Ron DeSantis (Illustration: Donkey Hotey/Wikimedia Commons)

Nov. 19, 2022 by David Silverberg

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) of Florida wants everyone to just chill.

“We just finished this election, okay?” an exasperated DeSantis told a crowd during an appearance Wednesday, Nov. 16, in the devastated Lee County community of Matlacha. “People just need to chill out a little bit on some of this stuff, I mean seriously. We just ran an election.”

DeSantis was addressing the agitation caused by former President Donald Trump’s announcement of his 2024 presidential candidacy the night before.

DeSantis would certainly like everyone to chill out; it’s in his political interest. But that’s not likely for a number of reasons.

The terrible twos

Anyone who has ever been in the position of anticipating a future promotion contingent on someone else’s departure or retirement knows the feeling.

Imagine that you’ve been anointed the next chief executive or manager (or editor) of a business. The promotion seems nearly certain but there’s the tortuous interval until it occurs. Anything can upset the apple cart: you might screw things up with a dumb remark; your enemies or competitors are circling to stop you; your boss may change his mind; the whole situation may alter; or the company could go completely belly-up. What’s more, you still have to do your existing job well without any mistakes or foul-ups while carefully maneuvering toward your goal.

For DeSantis, the opportunity to be the Republican nominee—not president, nominee—is two years away and that is an agonizingly long time in politics.

Right now DeSantis is riding high off his undeniably overwhelming election victory. He’s being hailed as the leader of the national Republican Party, he’s being praised and lauded; he’s the golden child of the donor class.

DeSantis is at a peak. The problem is that the peak is two years too soon.

Because of his prominence, DeSantis is now everyone’s target: Democrats, Republicans, members of Congress, partisans of all kinds and just about anyone who doesn’t want to see him become president has him in their sights. He’s the guy to beat.

And there is one person who looms above and beyond all other rivals and impediments and lives a mere 420 miles away from Tallahassee in the same great sun-drenched state.

Donald vs. Ronald

No matter how much the media may dismiss him, Rupert Murdoch may diminish him, Ivanka may avoid him and Merrick Garland may indict him, it’s clear that in Donald Trump’s head he’s a real, serious and viable candidate for president in 2024.

For Trump, DeSantis appeared as a rival for a long time and he began taking potshots early, culminating in his “Ron DeSanctimonious” insult delivered on Nov. 5. Trump has threatened to release damaging information and called him “an average REPUBLICAN Governor with great Public Relations,” [capitalization, of course, his] which to Trump is a killing blow right there.

Given that a leopard can’t change his spots and Trump can’t tame his tongue, the public can expect Trump to keep intensifying his insults, his threats and his attacks as he tries to tear down the man who was once his apprentice but who now looms as his overlord. In fact, his fulminations are likely to intensify the more desperate he becomes. Indeed, Trump may succeed in peeling away some of DeSantis’ luster and turning some of the most fanatical Florida Trumpers against the governor.

No doubt DeSantis would like to answer in kind but he can’t, for several reasons.

One is that DeSantis is not an announced candidate for president and likely won’t be until the summer of 2024, when he formally gets the Republican nomination for president. Florida has a “resign to run law” that would require him to step down.

Title IX, Chapter 99, Section 99.012 of the Florida Statutes states:

(2) No person may qualify as a candidate for more than one public office, whether federal, state, district, county, or municipal, if the terms or any part thereof run concurrently with each other.

(3)(a) No officer may qualify as a candidate for another state, district, county, or municipal public office if the terms or any part thereof run concurrently with each other without resigning from the office he or she presently holds.

(b) The resignation is irrevocable.

Under current law, DeSantis can’t be both governor and presidential candidate, no matter how obvious his intention to seek the presidency.

However, given the long lead time to the presidential race and DeSantis’ absolute and unrestricted rule over a supine Florida legislature, it is not inconceivable that the legislature could change the law to benefit DeSantis before 2024.

Until that happens, though, DeSantis has to remain unannounced and just take the slings and arrows that his enemy hurls at him. No wonder he wants everyone to chill: it’s in his interest to avoid a presidential contest until the moment he steps onto the stage of the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee to accept the nomination in the late summer of 2024—and irrevocably resigns as governor of Florida.

Additionally, the presidential race will be a huge distraction from doing his day job for the next two years. As it stands, Trump is going to be throwing brickbats and abuse every hour of every day or at least whenever his attention turns to the governor. No matter how low Trump’s own status goes, DeSantis has to deal with Trump’s unrelenting efforts to seize the media spotlight and block his path to the presidency.

But DeSantis has his comforts. Trump will be tied up in investigations and possible criminal indictments, so he will be distracted by that. If DeSantis is lucky, Trump will self-destruct or implode or—rather unlikely—actually be punished for his transgressions. At the least he’ll be mired in legal proceedings. If all goes well, DeSantis will only have to sit back and watch.

So if DeSantis had his druthers, everyone would forget about the presidency until the most propitious possible moment in 2024.

Why wait?

George Conway, husband of Trump White House advisor Kellyanne Conway and a fierce Twitter critic of the president his wife served, has suggested that DeSantis just sit out the 2024 race and run in 2028. After all, DeSantis would only be 50 years old then, still in the prime of life.

While that makes sense from a purely political calculation, it overlooks several factors.

One is momentum. DeSantis right now is on a roll. He’s the great white hope, the favored alternative, the triumphant warrior and MAGA knight in shining armor. He’s Trumpism with a human face. For him to suddenly declare his disinterest in the coming contest would be to squander and dissipate all that energy and hope—which he might never recover. American history is littered with politicians who waited to seize their opportunity only to see their chances pass by.

Second, at the moment his likely presidential opponent is President Joe Biden who will be 81 years old in 2024. Biden has never achieved high approval ratings and is not likely to do so in the future. He will be further weakened by two years of unremitting investigations and attacks from House Republicans. If Biden is the candidate in 2024, he’s someone DeSantis has a reasonable chance of defeating. If DeSantis waits until 2028, there’s no telling who his opponent might be. Furthermore, given a volatile and increasingly unpredictable world, it’s difficult to anticipate the circumstances of the 2028 election.

Third, DeSantis won reelection with a massive war chest of $200 million. The donors who contributed to that fund weren’t just contributing to a governor of Florida; they were investing in the next president of the United States. Nor were they investing in a 2028 president, they were investing for two years from now. These donors are a powerful force in DeSantis’ base, if one that’s out of public sight. It’s hard to imagine that these donors aren’t encouraging and, when necessary, pressuring DeSantis to run—and those are voices DeSantis can’t ignore.

Lastly, DeSantis himself is not a wait-around kind of guy, no matter how calm he’s trying to be. He’s aggressive and impatient and willing to test boundaries.

For all these reasons, a DeSantis delay appears unlikely. It’s safe to bet that the contest is on for 2024.

The physical threat

Given Trump’s propensity for excusing, encouraging and inciting violence, this is an issue that has to be seriously considered in evaluating a Trump-DeSantis rivalry.

After all, Trump incited an insurrection at the US Capitol and encouraged a mob to try to lynch his Vice President. One of his adherents nearly killed Paul Pelosi with a hammer when he couldn’t break the kneecaps of the Speaker of the House. He’s also the man who said he could get away with shooting someone in the middle of New York’s Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters.

It is not beyond the realm of serious possibility that Trump could attempt to have DeSantis murdered or inspire his more ardent followers to attempt to kill the governor. Physical violence is always a danger in heated political contests but not since the Civil War has the threat been so immediate and real, with a prominent public individual encouraging it.

Clearly, DeSantis could be removed by physical means to Trump’s benefit. Until Trump makes a seemingly sincere, unambiguous and very public statement condemning and abhorring all violence, DeSantis and his entire family will be in danger from Trump and his extremist followers.

Given that he created a state military force answerable only to himself, one presumes that DeSantis’ “Flaetorian” Guard will keep him safe and whole for the next two years. But that safety and security is not to be taken for granted.

Taking the hits

So for the next two years DeSantis may have to be a bit of a punching bag rather than a boxer. He has to take the hits his main rival delivers without hitting back as an announced candidate. For a vigorous and aggressive politician, that’s hard to do. No doubt he’ll land some snide and snarky punches of his own. However, delivering a real knockout blow might offend the Trumper fanatics who will otherwise come to DeSantis’ corner if they have no other choice.  

It also bears remembering that while Trump may be the most prominent DeSantis rival he’s far from the only one. There’s also Gov. Greg Abbott (R) of Texas, with whom DeSantis has dueled using migrant asylum seekers as pawns. In his own state there’s the badly damaged Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), whose presidential ambitions could flare at any time. When Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) isn’t being booed at New York baseball games he’s either flying to Cancun or running for president. And there are others, hovering in the background like a swarm of mosquitos on a warm Florida evening.

It’s more than likely that DeSantis will be very active during the next two years. He won’t be overtly campaigning but expect him to be flying all over the country making speeches, raising money, building connections, endorsing candidates and campaigning without officially campaigning.

But it may not come to a knock-down, drag out battle. One plausible scenario is that Trump will give up his presidential ambitions and endorse DeSantis in return for a promise of a full presidential pardon of all crimes if DeSantis becomes president. However, that would require a rational calculation by Trump, for which he has not shown a proclivity to date.

All this also supposes some pretty big assumptions: that the United States will retain its current constitutional order; that elections will happen on time; that America will stay a democracy; that Florida won’t wash into the sea; and that war, famine, plague and death won’t end the world as we know it.

No one can really know for certain in advance. But it is fairly safe to say that in days to come Donald Trump will be as vile and bitter and vicious as he has always been and that Ronald DeSantis will still be as ambitious and dismissive and arrogant as he has proven so far.

At the very least it will make for a colorful fight card and give Floridians a ringside seat.

Although maybe, for once, DeSantis is right. Maybe it’s better to chill.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

When elephants battle: Trump, DeSantis and the future of the MAGAverse

Two elephants battle. (Photo: Tharindu Somarathna, Wikimedia Commons)

Nov. 12, 2022 by David Silverberg

There’s an old African proverb: “When the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.”

In Florida the elephants are braying and stomping. They’re about to clash in mortal combat. When they collide, it’s going to be painful to be underfoot.

One elephant, of course, is Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who resoundingly won his reelection bid as Florida governor and has done nothing to disguise his 2024 presidential ambitions.

The other is former President Donald Trump who may announce his own bid for the presidency on Tuesday, Nov. 15. He began disparaging his one-time protégé as “Ron DeSanctimonious” at a campaign rally on Saturday, Nov. 5.

Actually, the battle won’t be hard at all for Democrats, liberals and progressives who already reject both men. But Florida Republicans, MAGAts and Trumpers, especially in the deeply conservative far-right southwest corner of the state, are going to have to make a very tough decision.

Sen. Rick Scott

One Florida Man appears to have already made his choice. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), had presidential aspirations of his own. However, his less than stellar performance as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee overseeing the election of a Republican Senate seems to have dampened or extinguished that aspiration.

The evidence of this came when Trump endorsed Scott to be Senate Majority Leader in an interview Trump did on his airplane, which was published on Election Day.

Trump is seeking revenge against Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) who had the temerity to fix responsibility for the Jan. 6 insurrection on him.

“McConnell has been very bad for our nation,” Trump said. “He has been very bad for the Republican Party. I would be in favor of somebody else — McConnell has done a very bad job.”

Scott, said Trump, is a “likely candidate” for McConnell’s job in the event of a Trump 2024 victory.

“I think Rick Scott is a likely candidate — he hates the guy,” Trump said of Scott’s feelings towards McConnell. “He’s tough — he’s tough, and I think he would probably go for it. He’d have a lot of support.”

Scott’s presidential ambition only glowed in light of the possibility of Trump not seeking the presidency. Trump’s endorsement seems to indicate that Scott has put that ambition in abeyance.

As of this writing Scott had not issued a public statement regarding Trump’s remarks. He was still awaiting the results of the last nail-biting Senate races and faced the Dec. 6 Senate runoff election in Georgia.

But given Scott’s well-documented friction with DeSantis it certainly seems that this Florida Man has made his choice.

Rep. Byron Donalds

Rep. Byron Donalds, President Donald Trump and spouses in Naples, Fla., at a private fundraising event in December 2021. (Photo: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

Perhaps no one faces a bigger choice with more consequences than Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.).

Donalds was endorsed by Trump in December 2021 for his congressional reelection bid. From the beginning of his congressional campaign he made his loyalty to Trump part of his tagline: “I’m everything the fake news media says doesn’t exist: a Trump supporting, liberty loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man.”

At the same time, Donalds has been a supporter of DeSantis and has been sure to appear behind the governor in numerous photos and events. He has praised DeSantis’ handling of the COVID pandemic and his response to Hurricane Ian.

Donalds has ambitions of his own. Having won reelection, he now has his eye on the third slot in the Republican House caucus, head of the conference, and has formally announced his bid for the position. Ironically, the election for the position is scheduled on the same day as Trump’s expected announcement, Tuesday, Nov. 15.

In seeking the seat he is going against the current holder, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-21-NY), who is widely seen as overwhelmingly favored by her fellow Republicans, including the entire congressional leadership.

In this inside-player election, Trump’s endorsement carries considerable weight. Trump has snubbed Donalds before and once again, despite Donalds’ slavish loyalty he did it again in his airplane interview.

“I think she’s fantastic,” Trump said of Stefanik without mentioning Donalds, either forgetting or ignoring him.

To date, Donalds has not issued any statement reacting to Trump’s endorsement.

He did, however, issue a tweet on Saturday, Nov. 12, denying a report that he favored DeSantis over Trump in 2024. That came from Fox News personality Jacqui Heinrich who quoted a “House GOP source” as saying Donalds was saying that to Republican members of Congress in his bid to win the conference chair.

“I’m a big fan of Jacqui Heinrich’s reporting, but her ‘GOP source’ is lying,” Donalds tweeted in reply. “My only focus is Tuesday’s vote to become the next Chair of the GOP Conference.”

Alfie Oakes

Officially, the only public position that Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III, the grocer and farmer holds is that of Collier County Republican Party committeeman. However, following the midterm election, he is effectively the political boss of Collier County, Florida, since all his endorsed and funded candidates won their elections. They will likely follow his dictates in their policymaking when they take office in January.

Oakes has always been an ardent Trumper. After talking to Trump on a phone call on Dec. 22. 2020, Oakes posted: “I love our president and his family with every bit of my being! I love all that he has given for our country and all that he stands for! May God bless our great President Donald Trump, his family, his team and all of the 75 million patriots that support him!”

Oakes has also been a DeSantis supporter and has praised his performance as governor.

So which way will Oakes go this time? As of this writing, none of Alfie’s social media postings have made this clear. He also did not respond to a phone call from The Paradise Progressive.

Once Alfie makes his preference known, it should have an impact among his followers, both on social media and among his customers.

Whichever way he goes, one thing is certain, though. He can’t have it both ways.

A land with two capitals and two popes

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, the capital of the United States shifted to the great state of Florida—and that’s where it’s likely to stay for the next two years.

Of course, the regular, permanent seat of government and official capital is right where it has always been, in Washington, DC.

But the United States actually has two capitals.

Washington is just one. The second is the campaign capital. It’s wherever the hottest political action is at the moment. In presidential election years it’s wherever a caucus or primary or other event is deciding the next president of the United States.

For the next two years, Florida will be the campaign capital of the United States. It’s where the battles will take place. It’s the launching pad for two plausible presidential campaigns (or two-and-a-half if Rick Scott is included) and it’s where the media spotlight has turned and is likely to stay until the Republican nomination is clinched.

As of right now, the complete Republican dominance of the governorship, the legislature and the judiciary makes Florida a single-party polity under the absolute rule of Gov. Ron DeSantis (something The Paradise Progressive has characterized as “Florumpia”).

But like the supposedly universal Catholic Church in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Florumpia now has two popes. One is certainly bent on destroying the other for the heresy of being more popular, actually winning his election and failing to pay proper homage. The other pope is not going to accept this lying down.

For true believers in MAGAtism, this presents an enormous dilemma. It is one that is scheduled to culminate at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisc., in the summer of 2024.

But in the long time before then, true believers have to choose sides. Given Donald Trump’s unyielding, absolutist, demand for obedience, there is no middle path.

That’s what total fanaticism gets a true believer: total submission to another’s will or excommunication from sunshine into the eternal fires of Hell.

Or put another way: that’s what it feels like to be trampled by an elephant.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Election 2022: Red tide sweeps state, Southwest Florida—and what it means

Cartoon by Andy Marlette. (Creators Syndicate)

Nov. 8, 2022 by David Silverberg

On Election Day, Nov. 8, a red tide swept Florida and its Southwest region.

As of this writing, 11:00 pm, the national results for the House of Representatives and US Senate were not yet available.

In Southwest Florida, in what was hardly a surprising result, Republicans took all seats that they contested.

In the emotional, hotly-contested non-partisan election for Collier County School Board, incumbents Jory Westberry (District 1), Jen Mitchell (District 3), and Roy Terry (District 5) were all defeated, according to unofficial results from the county Supervisor of Elections.

Statewide, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) defeated Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.). Republicans also took all state Cabinet positions. In the contest for the US Senate seat, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) defeated Rep. Val Demings (D-10-Fla.).

Congressional contests

In the 19th Congressional District along the coast from Cape Coral to Marco Island, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) kept his seat, winning Collier County by 70 to 30 percent for Democrat Cindy Banyai and Lee County 67 percent to 33 percent.

In the area that includes Charlotte County, incumbent Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), retained his seat, defeating Democratic challenger Andrea Doria Kale by 70 to 30 percent.

In the newly renumbered District 26, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart beat Democratic challenger Christine Olivo 72 to 28 percent in Collier County.

Collier County

Come January, Collier County will be governed by two commissioners backed by extreme farmer and grocer Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III, who helped fund their campaigns through his Citizens Awake Now Political Action Committee.

In Collier County District 2, Oakes-backed Republican candidate Chris Hall defeated Democrat Barbara “Bebe” Kanter by 70 to 30 percent. In District 4, Dan Kowal won his seat in the August primary.

Republicans took all seats for the state legislature and Senate.

Lee County

In Lee County Republicans swept the county commission seats they sought. In the one contested race, District 5, the winner was Republican Mike Greenwell by 69 percent to Democrat Matthew Woods’ 31 percent.

Collier County School Board

In the unusually hotly contested Collier County School Board election, incumbent school board members Jory Westberry in District 1, Jen Mitchell in District 3 and Roy Terry in District 5 were all defeated. Jerry Rutherford won District 1 by 65 percent, Kelly Lichter won District 3 by 58 percent and Tim Moshier won District 5 by 60 percent.

Lee County School Board

Lee County will begin choosing its school superintendents through a popular vote under an initiative that passed 63 to 37 percent.

In the non-partisan School Board election, Sam Fisher won in District 1, Debbie Jordan won in District 4, and Jada Langford Fleming won in District 6.

Judges and amendments

All judges up for a vote retained their seats.

Statewide totals for the three constitutional amendments were not available at posting time.

Analysis: What’s likely next

The Trump-DeSantis Florida fight

The opening skirmishes of an epic battle between two vicious, disparaging and domineering personalities began just before the election.

On Sunday, Nov. 6, DeSantis was snubbed from attending a Trump rally with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in Miami.

At that rally, Trump gave DeSantis the nickname “DeSanctimonious,” a sure declaration of war (although one unlikely to resonate with MAGA followers who don’t know the word.)

But now, with DeSantis resoundingly returned to the governor’s mansion, it will be all-out war between the maestro and the protégé as they both struggle for the Republican nomination in 2024. As a World Series played between two New York teams is called a “subway series,” so this battle will be a “Florida fight” as the two state-based personalities vie for dominance.

This is likely to be the conflict the media focuses on for the next two years. Every move, every utterance, and likely every fart and burp from these two will be scrutinized and analyzed for its effect on the presidential race. Any other political news will be eclipsed. More importantly for Floridians, the fight will distract from the governing of the state as DeSantis gives his real attention to the presidential race.

It’s worth noting that Trump will be 78 years old on Election Day, Nov. 5, 2024 but he seems so full of bile and hate he’s unlikely to die before then, possibly the only thing that could head off this clash. He’s unlikely to be stopped by indictments, investigations or even convictions. He and fellow miscreants will be protected by Republicans in Congress and the states.

Southwest Florida’s swamp stomp

The DeSantis-Trump rivalry will reverberate throughout Florida as their respective adherents choose sides. Until now both men largely represented the same ideological agenda but the time has come to choose sides.

Beyond that rivalry, however, Florida’s extreme MAGA state legislators will likely lock in their advantages with further voter suppression, more voter restrictions and efforts to narrow the franchise in every way possible, aided by a completely politicized judiciary. The legislature, already a DeSantis rubber stamp, will become even more submissive, with Republican supermajorities that will do more than just uniformly endorse any DeSantis demand. They’ll be trying to boost his presidential chances and also ensure that neither Democrats nor any other party that might arise ever have the remotest chance of attaining office again. Florida will so effectively be a one-party state that even Kim Jong Un will be envious.

This is to say nothing of state legislative efforts to outlaw all abortion, which will likely happen regardless of the fate of a national ban.

Drilling down to local specifics, in Collier County, politics and policy are firmly in MAGA hands at the county level.

This could mean that MAGA radicals may try again to nullify federal law as they did with an ordinance originally introduced in July 2021. Then, the proposal failed by a single vote of the Board of Commissioners. If that ordinance or a version of it passes, Collier County would be cut off from all federal grants, aid and funding. In the event of another hurricane it would get no help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whose assistance was essential in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

County budgets will be facing mindless, unnecessary ideologically-driven cuts that will erode the quality of life and the efficiency of county services and infrastructure.

More particularly, county policy will likely reflect the preferences and priorities of Alfie Oakes. That will mean no public health restrictions regardless of circumstances or assistance in the event of a public health crisis like that of the COVID pandemic. It will also mean reduced to non-existent enforcement of county rules, regulations and ordinances he opposes.

The standard of education in Collier County is likely to take a nose-dive, driven by ideological and religious priorities, its budgets cut and new ideological restraints imposed on teachers and curriculum.

Also, with the School Board firmly in Oakes-backed hands, it is entirely possible that major school food contracts may be awarded to Oakes Farms, probably on a non-competitive basis.

Hard but not good

The voters have spoken and in Southwest Florida, the demographic preponderance of Republicans voting their registration ensured a sweeping victory.

Notably, given the results, no one who denied the results of the 2020 presidential election is yet arguing that this election was rigged or a sham or a fraud.

As the “Bard of Baltimore,” journalist HL Mencken, put it back in 1915: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.”

Indeed. The majority of Southwest Floridians and other Sunshine State voters seem to know what they want. They’ll be getting it “good and hard” for the next two years.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Endorsements: Recommendations for the General Election in Lee and Collier Counties

Oct. 17, 2022

Our elections are no longer “normal”—and this year’s general election is no exception.

Since the presidency of Donald Trump, each election has become a referendum on whether America will remain a democracy. That was especially true in the 2020 presidential election and it remains true in 2022.

At stake is the legislative branch of the American government and the state of Florida. Will America be governed by a party that supports checks and balances on executive power, respects the will of the majority of voters as expressed in elections, and honors its founding Constitution? Or will it be governed by a party wholly given to the worship of one man, which excuses his crimes and appetites, and is willing to replace its governing institutions with his whims, rages and prejudices?

These questions will be answered, not just at the national level, but at every level of government, from the counties, to cities to school boards.

So this year’s election is a referendum on the future and not just a judgment on individual candidates and propositions.

As has been stated in the past, it has always been the position of The Paradise Progressive that a media outlet covering politics has a duty to endorse. Following candidates and political developments on a regular basis provides insights and knowledge that need to be shared with voters. Whether the outlet is national or local television, online or print or even a simple blog, it is the obligation of independent media in a free society to help voters make an informed choice.

Further, it needs to be noted that while The Paradise Progressive has a progressive orientation, as its name implies, it is not affiliated with any particular party or governed by any party’s dictates. Its judgments are its own. That said, it does reference Democratic Party endorsements.

There are three criteria for The Paradise Progressive’s candidate endorsements:

1. Is the candidate qualified for the office he or she is seeking?

2. Can the candidate be relied upon to make clear, understandable, rational decisions based on facts, data, logic and science?

3. Does the candidate support the United States Constitution, the peaceful transition of power and—most of all—democracy?

In response to reader queries, below is a list of all Paradise Progressive endorsements for elected office statewide, in Collier and Lee counties, and in the 19th, 17th and 26th congressional districts that cover Southwest Florida.

Not all these races or candidates been covered in depth in Paradise Progressive postings or fully explained in editorials. Nor is this a complete list of offices up for election.

The offices are listed in the order that they appear on their respective ballots. They include races for non-partisan positions like judgeships and school boards, which are extremely important this year.

Where necessary, for example in judicial and constitutional matters, there is additional discussion.

State and federal offices

United States Senator

  • Val Demings

Representative Congressional District 19:

  • Cindy Banyai

Representative Congressional District 17:

  • Andrea Dorea Kale

Representative Congressional District 26:

  • Christine Olivo

Governor and Lieutenant Governor:

  • Charlie Crist and Karla Hernandez

Attorney General:

  • Aramis Ayala

Chief Financial Officer:

  • Adam Hattersley

Commissioner of Agriculture:

  • Naomi Esther Blemur

State senator, District 27:

  • Christopher Proia

State Representative, District 77:

  • Eric Englehart

State Representative, District 80:

  • Mitchel Schlayer

County offices

Lee County Board of Commissioners, District 5:

  • Matthew Wood

Collier County Board of Commissioners, District 2:

  • Bebe Kanter

Judicial elections

  • Judge Jorge Labarga – Yes
  • All others – No

The Lee and Collier County Democratic parties are recommending that voters vote “yes” to retain Jorge Labarga on the Florida Supreme Court and vote “no” on all others.

The Paradise Progressive concurs.

The reasoning for this vote is explained in the article: “How Florida Voters Could Fire Their Worst Supreme Court Justices In November,” by Matthew Henderson, a Florida-based attorney and policy analyst, writing in Balls & Strikes, a website of commentary and analysis on judicial affairs.

“If DeSantis wins re-election” Henderson writes, “…he can replace any justice the voters reject with another loyal conservative. If Crist wins, however, he can overhaul the court immediately.”

He continues: “Historically, voters have not paid much attention to retention elections; to date, no appellate judge or justice has ever lost one. But scrutiny of the state’s highest court has increased after controversies involving other DeSantis appointees. If even one justice gets close to being replaced, it puts the entire system into question unlike any time since the last time justices were unmasked as partisan hacks in the 1970s.”

Labarga, Henderson writes, “has distanced himself from his colleagues. Appointed by Crist in 2009, Labarga is conservative, but not as brazenly political as his colleagues.”

The other state Supreme Court judges on the ballot offer a stark contrast.

Charles Canaday, who has been on the court for 14 years, is a former Republican state representative and as a US congressman was an impeachment manager against President Bill Clinton in 1999.

Ricky Polston argued in favor of giving state money to religious charter schools despite the state Constitution forbidding it.

Jamie Grosshans, appointed in 2020 by DeSantis, “is the closest thing to an Amy Coney Barrett of Florida,” according to Henderson. As a law student she was “event coordinator for something called the Institute in Basic Life Principles, which turned out to be an actual cult teaching about the ungodliness of blue jeans. She then interned at the Claremont Institute, the conservative think tank that gave us Trump’s personal coup lawyer, John Eastman.” Eastman was the attorney who came up with the legal theory used in the attempt to overthrow the 2020 election.

John Couriel joined opinions making it harder to sue for wrongful deaths as a result of tobacco use and shielded corporate executives from depositions.

Given this record, a “no” vote for all Supreme Court judicial candidates other than Labarga is justified.

As Henderson puts it: “As conservative judges at all levels flex their muscles in courthouses across the country, Florida voters have the opportunity to evict a few of its own revanchist justices who think there are a few too many civil rights floating around.” 

School Boards

Lee County District 1:

  • Kathy Fanny

Lee County District 4:

  • Debbie Jordan

Lee County District 6:

  • Jada Langford Fleming

Collier County District 1:

  • Jory Westberry

Collier County District 3:

  • Jen Mitchell

Collier County District 5:

  • Roy Terry

Municipal elections

City of Bonita Springs City Council District 5

  • Jude Richvale

Constitutional Amendments

  • Amendment 1: Yes
  • Amendment 2: No
  • Amendment 3: Yes

Interestingly, the Lee and Collier County Democratic parties split on these measures, with Lee County’s party advocating “no, yes, yes” and Collier County’s party advocating “yes, no, no.”

Amendment 1 states that effective January 1, 2023, flood resistance improvements to a home will not be included in assessing properties for ad valorem [to value] tax purposes.

Advocates of Amendment 1 argue that it will both incentivize and reward homeowners who protect their properties from flooding. Critics point out that it will reduce the tax revenues for state and local governments.

This amendment overwhelmingly passed both the state House and Senate on a bipartisan basis, unanimously in the Senate. After Hurricane Ian showed the damage that flooding can do, Amendment 1 makes eminent sense for a Florida in the grip of climate change. It will benefit homeowners of all incomes and help build climate resilience. It should be passed.

Amendment 2 would abolish Florida’s Constitutional Revision Commission that meets every 20 years to consider constitutional changes.

Advocates argue this would protect Florida from ill-considered, vague or confusing and whimsical changes, while critics say that rather than abolishing it entirely, qualifications for sitting on the Commission can be tightened.

The idea of a periodic review of the Florida Constitution is a good one and the Commission should be kept. Amendments proposed by the Commission still have to be approved by voters. It also provides a source of new ideas in addition to the four others—citizen initiatives, constitutional conventions, the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, or legislative joint resolutions—available to Florida. This proposal should be rejected.

Amendment 3 gives the legislature the authority to grant an additional homestead tax exemption up to $50,000 to public employees. These include classroom teachers, law enforcement officers, correctional officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, child welfare services professionals, active duty members of the United States Armed Forces, and Florida National Guard members.

Advocates argue that these workers and servicemembers deserve a tax break given the nature of their jobs and duties. Critics point out that this measure would cost the state and localities $85.9 million starting the fiscal year after it passes. They argue that it also wouldn’t guarantee that these workers could find affordable housing and it sets a precedent of favoring one group or profession over another for taxation.

The critics have very valid points. However, Florida—and especially Southwest Florida—has great need for these workers so this incentive may be helpful.

The benefits of this amendment especially apply in the case of classroom teachers. After all the bile, hatred and denigration aimed at these public servants by extreme anti-public education fanatics including the governor, after all the restrictions proposed and imposed on them by the legislature and especially given their low pay and benefits, teachers deserve relief and support. There are few enough incentives for classroom teachers to work in Florida. What is more, numerous ideologically-driven school boards are poised to impose further restraints on classroom teaching. This is why electing good school boards are so vitally important in Southwest Florida and everywhere. (See school board endorsements, above.)

This amendment will go some way toward attracting new teachers to the state and retaining the ones already working in Florida. It will assist those who provide vital services in the public sector. It should be passed.

For a very complete, objective, non-partisan analysis of the constitutional amendments on the ballot, see the James Madison Institute’s 2022 Amendment Guide.

Cartoon by Andy Marlette.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Rick Scott meets the Peter Principle

Has Florida’s junior senator reached his ‘level of incompetence?’

What has become the iconic photo of Rick Scott, taken in 2012. (Photo: Joe Skipper for Reuters)

Oct. 8, 2022 by David Silverberg

In 1969, Canadian educator Laurence Peter published the book The Peter Principle. In it he put forward the idea that capable people in hierarchical organizations tend to be promoted until they reach what he called their “level of incompetence.”

The Peter Principle has been a management byword ever since.

Today Floridians can see the Peter Principle in action in their junior senator, Richard Lynn “Rick” Scott.

After repeatedly laying out massive amounts of cash to win election as governor and senator in Florida, Scott has now reached a position in the United States Senate and the Republican Party where his judgment, his ideas and his results are questionable, to put it mildly. He’s proposing very extreme measures for the country that are being roundly rejected by his fellow Republicans, his prospects for success in guiding Republicans to a Senate majority dim by the day, and in the wake of Hurricane Ian he’s not even voting to help his state.

It certainly has all the markings of the Peter Principle in action, Florida Man version.

What’s more, despite all this, he clearly has his eyes on the presidency in 2024, which also marks the last year of his Senate term.

So, has Rick Scott reached his level of incompetence?

The cash cushion

Like so many Floridians, the 69-year-old Scott is a Midwestern transplant, having been born in Bloomington, Ill. He received his Bachelor degree at the University of Missouri and his law degree at Southern Methodist University in Texas.

After a stint in the Navy in the early 1970s he worked as a lawyer. In 1989 he was a co-founder of the Columbia Hospital Corporation to provide for-profit healthcare. With Scott as its chief executive officer (CEO) it merged with another company to become Columbia/HCA, the nation’s largest for-profit healthcare company.

But in 1997 Columbia/HCA became mired in scandal when federal agencies accused it of defrauding Medicare, Medicaid and other federal programs. Scott was questioned and invoked the Fifth Amendment 75 times. As a result of a federal lawsuit, Columbia/HCA admitted to the fraud and was forced to pay $1.7 billion in fines to the government. It was the largest settlement of its kind in American history. Although there were no criminal charges against him, Scott was forced to resign as CEO four months after the charges became public.

After a period as a venture capitalist Scott ran for governor of Florida in 2010 after Charles “Charlie” Crist chose to run for the US Senate rather than seek another term as governor.

Scott’s spending on his first political race broke all previous state campaign records. He poured $85 million into the race, more than $73 million of which was family money. The prior record had been held by Crist himself, when he spent $24.6 million in his 2006 gubernatorial bid, a sum that now seemed like a pittance.

Yet for all that spending Scott only narrowly defeated his primary opponent, then-Attorney General Bill McCollum, by 46.4 percent of the vote. His general election victory was even closer: Scott garnered 48.92 percent to Democrat Alex Sink’s 47.67 percent, a difference of only 61,550 votes. It was the closest Florida gubernatorial race since 1876.

In 2014 Scott’s re-election race against Crist cost him $12.8 million of his own money. Campaign finance laws in Florida changed after the 2010 race and so had national campaign finance laws in the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowing unrestricted issue-oriented campaign spending.

Between Scott’s contributions and outside spending groups, a study, “Campaign Spending and the 2014 Florida Gubernatorial Race” in the Journal of Florida Studies estimated Scott’s spending at $79 million, or $27.58 per vote, while the Crist campaign effort cost $47.74 million or $17.04 per vote.

Scott won this race too, by a narrow margin: 48.1 percent to Crist’s 47.1 percent, a difference of 64,145 votes.

“While this [spending] would win Scott the election, it would not do so by a larger margin than he won in 2010,” notes the study’s author, Harold Orndorff.

A full policy review of Scott’s term in office is beyond the scope of this essay but suffice to say it featured mostly extreme Republican conservative orthodoxy with a few Scott idiosyncrasies thrown in. Most notable was Scott’s absolute rejection of the idea of climate change to the point where the term was informally banned from use in his administration—and this in an environmentally sensitive state subject to the worst effects of global warming. The full impact—mostly deleterious—of his tenure is a book yet to be written.

Limited to two terms, Scott decided to run for the US Senate against incumbent Bill Nelson in 2018. Once again, he brought out the big bucks to do it, spending a record $64 million of his own money.

After an election so close it was in dispute for weeks and took two recounts, Scott was declared the winner by 50.1 percent to Nelson’s 49.9 percent, a hairsbreadth difference of 10,033 votes.

The lesson of this electoral history is that while Scott has won, it has always been at great expense and by very narrow margins.

Scott is not a natural politician. He doesn’t evoke feelings of warmth or goodwill. He doesn’t inspire great loyalty or allegiance. His policy prescriptions can be idiosyncratic but are mostly conventionally far right. In the days before Donald Trump he was the Donald Trump of Florida, winning over fringe conservatives but also getting enough votes of dutifully traditional mainstream Republicans to just barely put him over the finish line.

A flawed Florida model

There’s no denying or disputing Scott’s victories, no matter how narrow or expensive. He won the elections he entered. But these victories also seem peculiar to Florida, with its fragmented media markets and its distance and popular alienation from the federal government. It’s a land where most people are indifferent to policy, where retirees want to freeze time and where, as political consultant Rick Wilson once said, “everything north of I-4 is just Alabama with more guns.”

As Scott has shown through his vast cash outlays, a politician can buy elections in Florida. But now he’s also showing that his Florida model doesn’t necessarily translate into national success.

In 2020 Republican senators elected Scott to be chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He was charged with managing all the mechanics of electing a Republican Senate including finding candidates, raising money and aiding their campaigns.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate Minority Leader, was looking to Scott to make him Senate Majority Leader in 2023. With the party holding the presidency traditionally losing congressional seats in its first midterm election and with President Joe Biden having a low approval rating, Scott seemed to have the wind at his back and an easy path ahead.

Instead, as of this writing, Democrats are narrowly favored to keep the Senate (the website FiveThirtyEight.com puts their odds at 68 percent). Republican Senate candidates are foundering (every day seems to bring a new scandal or gaffe to Georgia’s Herschel Walker).

Even McConnell has complained. “I think there’s a probably a greater likelihood that the House flips than the Senate,” he said at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Kentucky in August. “Senate races are just different—they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.” It was widely seen as a swipe at Scott’s performance.

Scott for his part seemed to see the NRSC as just a springboard to the presidency. Wags have joked that NRSC really stands for National Rick Scott Campaign.

In defiance of McConnell, Scott, in consultation with Donald Trump, unveiled his own 12-point agenda in February called the “Commitment to America.” It would impose taxes on the poorest Americans and subject Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to five-year reauthorizations, with the possibility of termination. This directly threatens Florida’s many seniors dependent on these programs.

At a time when American states, counties and cities are still recovering from the COVID pandemic and natural disasters, Scott’s plan would cut off their federal funding. It would slash jobs for police, firefighters, teachers and other local public employees. Nationally, there are an estimated 795,000 police, 317,200 firefighters and 3.2 million teachers. All their jobs would be jeopardized. Ironically enough, Scott’s plan would defund the police.

At a time when pro-choice forces are energized and alarmed over the loss of the right to choose and are flocking to the Democratic Party, Scott dodged questions about his support for a proposal to impose a national abortion ban introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

But beyond the national campaigns and the future of the presidency, Scott has actually turned on his own state—and in its greatest hour of need.

After capably handling the onslaught of Hurricane Irma as governor in 2017, Scott failed abysmally as senator after the catastrophe of Hurricane Ian in 2022, which made landfall in Southwest Florida on Sept. 28.

Just two days later, on Sept. 30, when the Senate voted to fund the government until Dec. 16—which included roughly $20 billion in disaster relief funds for the country as a whole—Scott voted against the measure.

Not only was Scott’s vote striking given Florida’s distress, it was at odds with the rest of the Senate’s Republican caucus. The measure, the Continuing Appropriations and Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2023 (House Resolution 6833), also known as a continuing resolution or CR, was endorsed by McConnell and the Senate Republican leadership. Along with all the Democrats, 22 Republicans approved it and it passed the Senate by a lopsided vote of 72 to 25. (Florida’s other senator, Marco Rubio, was absent for the vote. The bill also passed the House by 230 to 201, with all 16 House Republicans from Florida voting against it. Biden signed it into law that day, just before the end of the federal fiscal year.)

It’s worth considering what would have happened had Scott’s negative vote succeeded. The federal government would have shut down. The Federal Emergency Management Agency would have halted operations just as it was getting into gear to help Southwest Florida. There would have been no urban search and rescue teams from other states flying into Florida to save people trapped under the rubble. There would have been no Coast Guard operations to help victims stranded by storm surge. There would have been no federal aid for housing, food, safety, security, or communications.

This is the kind of apocalypse Scott was voting for with his negative vote.

On Sept. 7, well before Hurricane Ian made landfall, Scott forcefully urged Republicans to reject the continuing resolution.

“Today I am urging every Republican to demand that Congress pass a clean CR that simply maintains current federal spending levels,” he declared in a statement. “We cannot cave to the demands of the Democrats carrying out an agenda led by a raving lunatic in the White House.”

That “raving lunatic” visited Southwest Florida on Wednesday, Oct. 5, to see the damage for himself. He pledged the full faith, credit and resources of the United States to help Florida—and especially Southwest Florida—recover and aid the people hurt by the storm.

Revealing the man

Now, all the doubts and criticism of Scott may be rendered moot by a smashing Republican Senate victory on Nov. 8 that vindicates his senatorial efforts.

Perhaps Republicans will win the Senate. Perhaps McConnell will become majority leader.  Perhaps Scott will be hailed as a political genius. Perhaps 2022 will pave the way for Scott’s 2024 nomination as president and his ultimate election to the White House. Perhaps Florida and Southwest Florida in particular will fully recover and rebuild without any federal help at all. Perhaps the disgrace and stigma of the Columbia/HCA fraud will be flushed down the river of history and Scott will be washed clean by the purifying waters of political power.

It could happen.

However, with exactly one month to go until the election that’s not the way it’s looking.

Instead, what appears to be happening is that a man who bought his elections in Florida has now come up against a much more complex political task than he ever faced before. Rather than easily manipulating a disinterested Florida electorate through television ads, Scott is fumblingly trying to juggle diverse and aroused populations throughout a vast country that he doesn’t really understand.

First Lady Michelle Obama once observed: “Being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.”

The same could be said for any high office. Each step up the ladder reveals a bit more about the person you are. With each step upward there are more people scrutinizing your flaws, more people critiquing your moves, and more people watching to see if you fall.

Rick Scott has climbed pretty high. Each step has revealed more about his capabilities and character. It’s been a very enlightening ascent for those bothering to watch. Scott obviously hopes to climb higher. But the ladder is swaying and there’s the pesky possibility that at his current step he may have reached as far as he’s able.

Has he reached his “level of incompetence?” It certainly seems so. However, on Nov. 8, with every vote for every Senate seat throughout the nation, Americans will decide for themselves.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Reading the tea leaves from Southwest Florida’s primary election

I see a need to clean a cup in your future. (Photo: Author)

Aug. 26, 2022 by David Silverberg

Getting lessons from elections can be like reading tea leaves at the bottom of a cup—just about anything can be deduced from the dark, soggy jumble.

But elections have consequences and so discerning trends from voting patterns becomes important. And when democracy, governance and representation are on the line, making sense of it all becomes downright critical.

What is to be made of the primary elections held Tuesday, Aug. 23, in Southwest Florida? This analysis is based on official returns from the supervisors of elections in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties.

Turnout was low

As is to be expected in a late August primary in steamy Southwest Florida, turnout was low.

In Collier County, only 29.7 percent, of eligible voters turned out. In Lee County, that came to 26.57 percent of eligible voters. In Charlotte County, it was 26.77 percent.

This was down from 2020’s totals. In the last election cycle 36.3 percent of voters turned out for the primary in Collier County, 31.67 percent in Lee County and 21 percent for Charlotte County.

Then again, 2020 was a presidential election year, it was a referendum on Donald Trump’s presidency and it took place in the midst of a pandemic, so the intensity of the electorate was reflected in the primary.

Mail-in voting is here to stay—and favored by voters

In 2020, while mail-in balloting was hardly new, it was newly controversial and strenuously denounced by Trump.

But this year’s balloting seems to show that despite the denunciations and recently enacted restrictions on drop-boxes and verification, mail-in voting remains popular and widely used. This year, mail-in ballots accounted for 54 percent of Collier County ballots, 66 percent of Lee’s and 53 percent of Charlotte’s.

Clearly, legislative restrictions and increased complications placed in the way of easy mail-in balloting have not dampened enthusiasm for this form of voting.

What is more, this is an especially favored form of voting for the many Southwest Florida residents who are away during the days of August.

Did DeSantis make a difference for school board candidates?

In both Collier and Lee counties, the school board elections remain unresolved in all but one race where a candidate won an outright majority and thereby the election.

In an unprecedented move this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) reached down the ballot to endorse candidates in what are usually non-partisan elections. He aided candidates with publicity, cash and favorable mentions to advance his “education agenda.”

According to the non-profit website, Florida Phoenix, “of DeSantis’ 30 endorsed candidates, 19 appear to have won their races and five lost on primary night. The other six appear to be either in runoff situations or advancing to the general election based on election data and local coverage.”

Locally, in District 5 of the Lee County School Board, Armor Persons won with 54.85 percent of the vote.

The other local DeSantis-endorsed candidate was Sam Fisher in District 1. He came in with 43.34 percent of the vote, not enough to elect him outright. He will be facing incumbent Kathy Fanny, who took 30.91 percent of the vote.

This indicates that at least in Lee County, a DeSantis school board endorsement does not automatically result in a school board victory for the favored candidate.

That said, in District 1, Fisher did out-poll Fanny, who now must use the time until November to close the gap.

Thanks to DeSantis’ intervention, school board races are now actually part of the 2024 presidential campaign and one more mile marker on his road to the White House. His credibility is on the line for every candidate he endorses.

In Florida, school boards are not your parents’ sleepy, down-ballot elections any more.

Collier County school board incumbents have to up their game

All the Collier County school board races will be decided in the general election in November.

Interestingly, despite the MAGA (Make America Great Again) nature of some Collier County school board candidates, DeSantis did not endorse any of them.

This makes for what should be an intense and active race to November. The incumbents, Jory Westberry in District 1, Jen Mitchell in District 3 and Roy Terry in District 5 must use the next two months to energize and broaden their campaigns while their opponents, Jerry Rutherford, Kelly Lichter and Tim Moshier, will be doing the same.

The incumbents, all of whom have dedicated their lives and careers to education, have tended not to view their elections as the all-out political struggle their challengers did. For the most part, they continued to see the election as the relatively quiet ratification process it was in the past, interesting only to a small group of parents and professionals.

However, the school board election is now part of a much larger ideological struggle. If serious, sensible, secular education in Collier County is to be maintained, Westberry, Mitchell and Terry need to approach their races much more intently, raise more money—which their challengers are certainly doing—and become much more energetic.

The Moshier mess

Timothy Moshier’s Collier County school board campaign in District 5 deserves special attention following the revelation that Katie Paige Richards, who claimed to be his campaign manager, posted a blatantly anti-Semitic video on social media. When asked, Moshier initially stated that he had “no problem with it.”

When the story was covered in The Naples Daily News (NDN), Moshier’s response was to claim that she wasn’t his campaign manager and that his wife was Jewish (presumably absolving him of all responsibility). He and his lawyers demanded a retraction and threatened a lawsuit.

The Collier County Republican Party issued a statement to Republicans saying, “The NDN is using fake news and selective reporting of facts to destroy Tim. That way, they can assure a continued liberal majority on the Collier County School Board.” It added: “He will not allow last-minute and despicable assaults on his character by the NDN and leftists to defeat him.”

However, for all their defensiveness and outrage, neither Moshier nor the Party denounced anti-Semitism in principle or the lies propagated by Richards, who asserted that Jews are using their supposed control of the media to promote pornography to brainwash white males. Neither Richards, nor Moshier, nor the Collier County Republican Party has repudiated that slander or anti-Semitism in general.

It needs to be pointed out that Moshier, a trucking company executive, has no educational credentials or school administrative experience whatsoever. During a school board candidate panel on May 21st, he called for cuts in the Collier County school budget—at a time when the school district is struggling to retain and attract underpaid teachers among many other needs.

What a more sensible and less defensive county Republican Party might have been expected to do is issue a statement condemning anti-Semitism, saying it has no part in the Republican Party, that it’s un-American and un-patriotic and completely rebuking and repudiating Richards and her delusional allegations.

This case is still open.

The meaning of MAGA for Collier County

MAGA candidates Chris Hall and Daniel Kowal won their races for Collier County Board of Commissioners in districts 2 and 4.

Incumbent Penny Taylor was defeated in District 4. Hall will face Democrat Barbara “Bebe” Kanter in District 2 in the November election.

After Taylor’s defeat, Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III, the extremely conservative farmer and grocer and Republican committeeman who endorsed and backed both candidates, posted on Facebook: “Ding dong the witch is dead,” above a picture of Taylor, with the label, “Walking Dead auditions.”

Alfie Oakes’ post-election Facebook post of Collier County Commissioner Penny Taylor. (Image: Facebook)

“That was just in fun,” Oakes said of the post to The Paradise Progressive in a phone interview. “I wish her all the best. It doesn’t come with any ill-intent. I told her [at the time of the Collier County Commission vote in July 2020] that if she masked the people I would make it my purpose to defeat her.”

When Taylor voted to impose a county-wide mask mandate at the height of the pandemic, Oakes posted a picture of her and two other county commissioners in Nazi-esque helmets outside his Seed to Table market. He helped fund Hall and Kowal’s campaigns through the Citizens Awake Now Political Action Committee, of which he is president.

More substantively, the likely elections of Hall and Kowal will place a solid MAGA majority on the Collier County Board of Commissioners.

It’s difficult to say exactly how their election will impact the county’s development, infrastructure and budgeting, given that neither made those issues a priority in their campaigns.

According to Hall’s campaign website, “God, his word, love, and ways, (virtue) has to be reinstated in our nation, our states, our counties, and cities. It’s the only way America won’t fail.” He complained that Andy Solis, the outgoing commissioner, voted for mask mandates, shut down beaches during the pandemic, voted against a sanctuary ordinance for guns and one to nullify federal law and allowed businesses to require vaccinations.

Kowal, a former Collier County deputy sheriff, ran a campaign for Congress in 2020 that mostly consisted of a bare-bones website. This time he stated on his website he was running for commissioner because he is “Pro-Clean Water, Pro-Limited Government, Pro-Second Amendment, Pro-Law Enforcement, Pro-Life, Pro-Military.” He also states “I stand for clean water, safe streets and sustainable growth.”

With a MAGA majority on the county council, the county will no doubt be primed to resist any future public health measures that commissioners find inconvenient, no matter how compelling or immediate the threat.

At the very least, a MAGA-dominated Commission calls into question the handling of all the county’s relations with the federal government—and this on top of the DeSantis-dominated state government’s hostility to Washington, DC.

For Oakes, the election may close a chapter in his contentious relations with the county government.

“I just think that the people are speaking,” he said of the results. “They don’t want this wokeness, and they don’t want this radical liberalism.”

As for the results of the election benefiting himself and his business, he said that was not his primary motivation in supporting these candidates. “I’m just happy that the people in Collier County have candidates who uphold the Constitution and America first,” he said.

In statewide races, Southwest Florida tracked the rest of the state

The big statewide race that received the most attention was the contest in the Democratic Party to see whether Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.) or Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried would be nominated to challenge DeSantis.

Crist won that primary statewide by 59.71 percent to Fried’s 35.34 percent. This proved to be true locally as well, with Crist winning Collier County by 57.1 percent, Lee by 53.65 percent and Charlotte by 57.08 percent.

This contrasts with 2018 when regional Democrats favored more conservative candidates over the eventual statewide winner, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. It proved that Southwest Florida Democrats are more temperamentally conservative in contrast to their brethren elsewhere.

It would be very interesting to know if Southwest Florida Democratic women favored Fried over Crist in light of the two candidates’ battle over their respective commitments to women’s choice. Fried was counting on a female groundswell to lift her to the nomination. It didn’t happen statewide. Did it happen in Southwest Florida? What might the results mean for the general election on Nov. 8? Just how much will the overthrow of Roe v. Wade factor into people’s next ballot?

Regrettably, the official tallies don’t provide those answers since there’s no gender breakdown in the statistics. There’s a real need in this region for serious, sustained, professional public opinion polling with publicly reported results.

Until we get those kinds of scientific surveys we’ll just have to deduce what we can from the results that we get—and read whatever we can from the tea leaves in the bottoms of our cups.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Primary election sets up epic battles in November—Updated

Collier County Commission candidate Gerald Lefebvre and a supporter of school board incument Jen Mitchell outside the North Collier Park polling place yesterday. (Photo: Author)

Aug. 24, 2022 by David Silverberg

Updated with additional information on Congressional District 17, official counts from Lee County and spelling correction.

The Sunshine State and its southwest corner are headed into what will definitely be epic battles for key offices in the Nov. 8 general election.

Incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) will face Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.) for governor.

Incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio (R) will face Rep. Val Demings (D-10-Fla.) for United States Senator.

Incumbent Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) will face Aramis Ayala (D).

Republican Wilton Simpson will face Democrat Naomi Blemur for Agriculture Commissioner.

In the 19th Congressional District, incumbent Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) will be facing Democratic candidate Cindy Banyai.

In the new 26th Congressional District (formerly the 25th), incumbent Rep. Mario Diaz Balart (R) will face Democrat Christine Alexandria Olivo.

In the 17th Congressional District, incumbent Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) will face Democrat Andrea Doria Kale. The Republican primary in the 17th District was canceled when Steube ran unopposed.

Collier County

Collier County had all its precincts reported and the full election count completed by 8:08 pm.

In the race for Collier County Commissioner District 2, Chris Hall won his race with 50 percent of the vote and will face Democrat Barbara “Bebe” Kanter.

Daniel Kowal won his race for Collier County Commissioner District 4 with 42 percent of the vote, defeating incumbent Penny Taylor.

In the non-partisan school board races for districts 1, 3 and 5, no candidate won 50 percent of the vote plus one, meaning that all districts will be decided in the general election among the top two vote getters.

In District 1, incumbent Jory Westberry will face Jerry Rutherford.

In District 3, incumbent Jenn Mitchell will face Kelly Lichter.

In District 5, incumbent Roy Terry will face Timothy Moshier.

In the non-partisan election for County Judge Group 3, Chris Brown defeated Pamela Barger by 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent.

Lee County

According to official results from the Lee County Supervisor of Elections, in State House District 77, Tiffany Esposito defeated Ford O’Connell by 70.68 percent to 29.32 percent.

For the Lee County School Board, only Armor Persons made it over the 50 percent mark in District 5, with 54.85 percent of the vote.

Otherwise, in District 1, Sam Fisher will face Kathy Fanny in the general election.

In District 4, incumbent Debbie Jordan will face Dan Severson.

In District 6, Jada Lanford Fleming will face Denise Nystrom.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Primary election sets up epic battles in November

Voters cast their ballots in 2018. (Photo: Author)

Aug. 23, 2022 by David Silverberg

The Sunshine State and its southwest corner are headed into what will definitely be a rockin’ and rollin’ general election.

The results of the 2022 primary elections set up epic battles for key offices.

Incumbent Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) will face Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.) for governor.

Incumbent Sen. Marco Rubio (R) will face Rep. Val Demings (D-10-Fla.) for United States Senator.

With 56 percent of precincts reporting, incumbent Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) will face Aramis Ayala (D).

With 55 percent of precincts reporting, it appeared that Republican Wilton Simpson would face Democrat Naomi Blemur for Agriculture Commissioner.

In the 19th Congressional District, incumbent Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) will be facing Democratic candidate Cindy Banyai.

In the new 26th Congressional District (formerly the 25th), incumbent Rep. Mario Diaz Balart (R) will face Democrat Christine Alexandria Olivo.

Collier County

Collier County had all its precincts reported and the full election count completed by 8:08 pm.

In the race for Collier County Commissioner District 2, Chris Hall won his race with 50 percent of the vote and will face Democrat Barbara “Bebe” Kanter.

Daniel Kowal won his race for Collier County Commissioner District 4 with 42 percent of the vote, defeating incumbent Penny Taylor.

In the non-partisan school board races for districts 1, 3 and 5, no candidates won 50 percent of the vote plus one, meaning that all districts will be decided in the general election among the top two vote getters.

In District 1, incumbent Jory Westberry will face Jerry Rutherford.

In District 3, incumbent Jenn Mitchell will face Kelly Lichter.

In District 5, incumbent Roy Terry will face Timothy Moshier.

In the non-partisan election for County Judge Group 3, Chris Brown defeated Pamela Barger by 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent.

Lee County

The Lee County supervisor of elections had not posted official results as of this writing. However, WINK TV was reporting results as of 8:40 pm.

In State House District 77, Tiffany Esposito was leading Ford O’Connell by 71 to 29 percent.

For the Lee County School Board, only Armor Persons made it over the 50 percent mark in District 5, with 55 percent of the vote.

Otherwise, in District 1, Sam Fisher will face Kathy Fanny in the general election.

In District 4, incumbent Debbie Jordan will face Dan Severson.

In District 6, Jada Lanford Fleming will face Denise Nystrom.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Primary election endorsement summary for Southwest Florida

Aug. 16, 2022

Today marks one week until Primary Election Day, Aug. 23, in Collier and Lee counties. Early in-person voting is already available and mail-in ballots can be mailed or deposited in ballot intake stations (formerly known as drop-boxes) from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm at specific locations in Lee and Collier counties. (See Lee County’s list here and Collier County’s list here.)

In response to reader queries, below is a list of all Paradise Progressive endorsements for elected office. Not all have been fully explained in editorials. Nor is this a complete list of offices up for election.

The Paradise Progressive is a media outlet with a progressive slant, as the name implies. However, it is not affiliated with any single party nor does it follow any party’s dictates.

The endorsements below cover both parties. In a closed primary state like Florida only voters registered with their parties will get to vote in the party’s primary. Other elections, for example school board and judiciar are non-partisan races in which anyone of any party can vote.

There are three criteria for The Paradise Progressive’s endorsements:

1. Is the candidate qualified for the office he or she is seeking?

2. Can the candidate be relied upon to make clear, understandable, rational decisions based on facts, data, logic and science?

3. Does the candidate support the United States Constitution, the peaceful transition of power and—most of all—democracy?

These criteria transcend party or faction. Based on them, this is a summary of The Paradise Progressive’s endorsements, with links to those editorials that explain them in detail.

Democratic primary

Statewide

  • Senator: Val Demings
  • Governor: Nikki Fried

Endorsing the next Democratic governor

  • Attorney General: Daniel Uhlfelder
  • Commissioner of Agriculture: JR Gaillot

Republican Primary

19th Congressional District

  • Congress: Jim Huff

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

Collier County Commission

  • District 2 Commissioner: Nancy Lewis
  • District 4 Commissioner: Penny Taylor

Endorsing Republican candidates for Collier Commission Districts 2 and 4

Non-partisan, Collier County judge

  • Judge: Pamela Barger

Endorsing a new judge for Collier County

Non-partisan, Collier County Board of Education

  • District 1: Jory Westberry
  • District 3: Jen Mitchell
  • District 5: Roy Terry

Non-partisan, Lee County Board of Education

  • District 1: Kathy Fanny
  • District 4: Debbie Jordan
  • District 5: Gwynetta Gittens
  • District 6: Tia Collin

Endorsing real education at the Collier and Lee county school boards—and rebuking anti-Semitism

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Endorsing a new judge for Collier County

Who will wield the gavel in Collier County’s courtroom?

Aug. 15, 2022

Judging candidates for judicial positions is notoriously difficult—and this year’s race for Collier County judge is no exception.

Judicial candidates are not like politicians who can make promises, take positions and adhere to specific ideologies. A judge is supposed to consider each case on its merits as it comes up, weigh it on the scales of the law and be objective, unbiased and equitable in decisionmaking.

This means that voters have to evaluate candidates on factors like temperament, experience and credentials.

This year, Collier County voters must consider two competing judicial candidates for county judge, Group 3. This group is a newly-created structure that will likely handle civil cases.

The candidates are Pamela Barger and Chris Brown.

Pamela Barger

Pamela Barger (Image: Campaign)

According to her official biography, Pamela Barger, 45, was born in Syracuse, NY and moved to Florida with her parents. She graduated from Pine Ridge Middle School and Barron Collier High School in Naples. She and her husband, Justin, live in Golden Gate Estates with her three children.

Barger earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Florida and her law degree in 2006 from the St. Thomas University School of Law, based in Miami Gardens.

For 13 years she served the 20th Judicial Circuit in Collier County as senior staff attorney, working with circuit and county judges. For the past two years she served as General Magistrate in Collier County, overseeing the Circuit Civil Division.

General magistrates are attorneys who perform many of the same functions as judges, like hearing evidence, administering oaths and ruling on routine motions. Unlike judges, though, they do not issue final decisions. Instead, they file reports to the circuit judges who make the ultimate ruling.

Barger was first tapped to serve as an interim magistrate for the Circuit Court’s civil division in the summer of 2012. On her website she states that it was during this stint that she “recognized the positive difference a judge can have on those who come before them as well as on the community as a whole.” She also states that the experience provided her with an understanding of the parties in the courtroom and “a vast understanding of the law and the insight to make effective judicial decisions.”

Barger provided some remarkable insights to Sparker’s Soapbox, a respected non-partisan blog, website and newsletter produced by Collier County resident Sandy Parker, which provides critical information to voters.

In answer to Parker’s questions, Barger revealed that what she regarded as one of her greatest legal accomplishments came in 2012 when she presided over the wage garnishment case of a defendant who had no lawyer, legal experience or even rudimentary knowledge of what he needed for his case. Even so, he provided the necessary documents and answered her questions.

“I was able to make a ruling that followed the law and granted this defendant’s request for relief from the overwhelmingly burdensome garnishment of his wages,” she recalled. “The relief on that defendant’s face when I made the ruling will stay with me for a lifetime.”

In another case, Barger worked with a newly-appointed judge to rule in a high-profile 6-victim murder case that had been in the system for nine years.

“My work on that case over nine years resulted in a 41-page sentencing order, where the judge ultimately decided to impose a sentence of death on each of the six counts of first-degree murder,” she stated. “The gravity of that decision and the process which the judge and I undertook has forever left its mark on not only me personally but also in shaping and sharpening my legal mind.”

Asked why voters should support her over her opponent, Barger replied: “My experience has afforded me the rare opportunity to work side by side with the judges of this county with behind-the-scenes access to watch how they analyze cases and learn what they look for and find important. I have earned their respect and trust with my sound advice, exceptional analysis and insight into legal issues.”

Chris Brown

Chris Brown (Photo: Campaign)

Christoper Brown, 49, came to Naples in 1983. He attended Shadowlawn Elementary School, Gulfivew Middle School, and graduated from Naples High School in 1991.

He earned his Bachelor degree with honors from the University of Florida in 1995 and his law degree from the University of Florida College of Law in 1999.

He and his wife live in Naples and have three children in the Collier County public schools. He’s religiously active, attending St. Ann Catholic Church in Naples and belonging to the Knights of Columbus. His wife is Presbyterian, so the family also attends Covenant Presbyterian Church.

According to the biography on his website, Brown began his legal career working as in-house counsel for a consulting firm. In 2002 he began practicing courtroom law in the 20th Circuit as an assistant public defender. He then began private practice in 2004 and two years later made partner in the firm Brown, Suarez, Rios & Weinberg in Naples, where he still practices.

Brown lists his criminal trial work as a major credential, including a number of “stand your ground” cases where he won acquittals. Asked by Parker to cite his proudest accomplishments, he wrote: “I cannot pinpoint any one case. I have represented thousands of folks and have tried over 150 cases. I have also argued dozens of appeals.  I guess I would point to the body of work and recognition of my peers and our judiciary that has resulted from 20+ years of effort, collectively, as my greatest accomplishment.”

When it came to his legal philosophy, Brown responded: “I am a firm believer in judicial restraint and the philosophy of Originalism.  A judge’s first fealty should be to the Florida and US constitutions.  Therefore, almost any legal decision I would be called on to make should be relatively straightforward as long as I consistently return to those first principles.”

Asked about his judicial role models, Brown replied: “On a national level I would start with the late, great Antonin Scalia as well as Justice Clarence Thomas.”

Brown is a member of the Federalist Society, the conservative association of lawyers and jurists. He’s also a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. He’s been endorsed by conservative farmer and grocer Alfie Oakes, state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples), and Crystal Kinzel, clerk of the county courts, among many others.

Why should voters support him?

“I believe the voters should pick me because of proven experience that is directly related to doing this job,” he replied. He had been endorsed because “I have the proven experience to step in and run a Collier County courtroom in a way the citizens deserve.”

Endorsement

In a recent campaign mailer, Brown pledged to voters that he would treat everyone entering court with dignity and respect, that he would approach his duties every day with humility and patience and that: “I WILL never make a ruling based on personal feelings or preconceived notions about a matter.”

That last pledge is very important because between the two candidates, Brown comes to the voters with a lot of ideological baggage: his membership in the Federalist Society and National Rifle Association memberships, in particular. His own adherence to Originalism and admiration for Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas indicates his very conservative judicial orientation.  

All this raises concerns about his ability to approach cases without being influenced by ideological orthodoxies. Collier County residents entering his courtroom would not have confidence in his neutrality, impartiality and objectivity. It also raises questions about how he might approach cases involving abortion, although he has not been asked directly about it.

In contrast, Pamela Barger is, from all outward indications, ideologically neutral as befits a judge.

In his campaign Brown makes much of the fact that he has been a trial lawyer. However, this is not necessarily a convincing credential for a judge who must referee a trial.

As Barger put it in answering Parker’s questions: “My opponent will tell you that he is the only qualified candidate because he is a trial attorney and I am not. But there is nothing magical about being a trial attorney that makes you qualified for judicial office. Trial attorneys only argue from one perspective, they do not approach matters from an impartial, unbiased point of view.”

By contrast, she wrote: “I have spent my entire legal career approaching matters from an unbiased, impartial view point.”  

Barger’s service as a magistrate has given her the experience necessary to effectively run an impartial, objective, fair courtroom and apply that impartiality and objectivity to whatever cases come before her.

Voters should elect Pamela Barger to be Collier County’s next Group 3 judge.

Early voting has already begun and continues until this Saturday, Aug. 20. Primary mail-in ballots can be mailed at any time. Primary Election Day is Tuesday, Aug. 23.

Pamela Barger in front of the Collier County Courthouse. (Image: Campaign)

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!