After an awful August, can September be better?

Pro and anti-maskers make their battle over a Lee County mask mandate physical at the Lee County Public Schools headquarters in Fort Myers on Monday, Aug. 30. (Image: NBC-2)

Sept. 1, 2021 by David Silverberg

Starting today Lee County students and teachers will be required to wear masks for the next 30 days, a mandate imposed by that county’s school superintendent, Kenneth Savage.

It comes after a judge’s ruling against the governor’s mask mandate ban and a tumultuous school board meeting at the School District of Lee County headquarters in Fort Myers on Monday, Aug. 30, that resulted in violence and arrests.

It’s just part of a changed landscape—biological, political and environmental—in Southwest Florida and around the nation following an awful August.

Might September be better? What are the prospects politically and environmentally?

It’s time to take a survey, or a “tour d’horizon,” to use a French military term, of the challenges likely to confront us in the month that now looms ahead. Forewarned is forearmed.

COVID and consequences

In August, COVID-19 and especially its Delta variant took the lives of 25,408 Americans, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. Of those, 4,900 were Floridians.

The change of the calendar will not alter the challenge of COVID. What is more, with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) executive order banning mask mandates having been overturned in court (although under appeal) the battle over school mask mandates will likely rage on.

A handful of significant local September dates loom as this situation proceeds.

  • Sept. 8: The Collier County Public School Board will hold its regularly monthly meeting. If a mask mandate has not already been imposed, the subject is likely to be discussed.
  • Sept. 14: The Lee County School Board will hold its regular monthly meeting and the mask mandate is likely to be debated again.
  • Sept. 30: Lee County public school officials and Board members will have to decide whether to renew the mandate.

Increasingly it appears that school authorities, simply cannot indulge and accommodate anti-mask and anti-vaxx parents and activists. With the danger to school-age children clear and present, mandates are being imposed by necessity regardless of the opposition by anti-mask parents—and the governor.

Another September date has significance beyond just Southwest Florida schools:

  • Sept. 20: Vaccination booster shots are expected to become widely available.

Climate and consequences

September is the most active month for hurricanes and tropical storms. Louisiana and the western Gulf coast are still digging out from Hurricane Ida and will be for months.

To date Florida has been spared the worst of the weather but there’s no telling if that will hold. It has been a very active Atlantic hurricane season.

Politically, natural disasters tend to favor incumbents if they handle them well. Floridians—in the Southwest and throughout the state—should watch their state and local officials’ response if the worst happens here. Are they focused, responsive and credible when the storm approaches? Do they sound the alarm responsibly with sufficient time for residents to prepare and evacuate? When the storm passes do they take action to aid the afflicted and work effectively with other governments (state and federal) to assist impacted areas?

In addition to the threat of storms, this year there is a red tide bloom that appears to be drifting southward from Tampa Bay. As of this writing it was reaching northern Lee County beaches and barrier islands.

Will the tide reach further south in September? There’s little that residents can do to stop it but business owners, restauranteurs and tourism-based enterprises need to prepare to cope with a blooming September. Local officials and representatives can prepare now to assist Lee, Collier and Charlotte county businesses if they’re hurt by the bloom.

Congress and consequences

For the US Congress, September is going to be a jam-packed month.

President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan and a $3.5 trillion budget already passed in the House will be moving toward final approval.

As part of its efforts to clean up the environment and combat climate change, the infrastructure bill holds promise of resources for Southwest Florida.

Southwest Florida Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) oppose both measures.  Donalds, who sits on the House Budget Committee, was particularly vocal in his opposition.

Two larger elements will complicate all congressional deliberations.

One is the fallout from the Afghanistan withdrawal. There is no doubt that the scenes of chaos and retreat will hurt Biden and impede passage of his domestic agenda. They have already created an opening for Republicans to attack him. Donalds and Steube joined a group of Republicans calling for Biden’s resignation, a publicity stunt that will go nowhere. (Interestingly, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) did not join the resignation movement.)

The other is the work of the United States House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack. As it proceeds with its investigation and hearings it will throw a spotlight on the events of Jan. 6, 2021, former President Donald Trump’s role in it and the role of his congressional allies.

None of the Southwest Florida congressmen appear to have played significant parts in the insurrection and attack on the Capitol, so they’re unlikely to be in the spotlight as enablers or accomplices. However, the involvement of other Southwest Floridians could emerge as the investigation continues.

Analysis: A better September?

For Southwest Florida, which is so far both intellectually and physically from Afghanistan and Washington, DC, the single overriding issue going into September is surviving and containing COVID. It is literally a matter of life and death.

A doctor attempting to attend the Lee County School Board meeting (right, in laboratory coat and mask) is shoved by an anti-mask protester. (Image: NBC-2)

As COVID has taken its relentless toll, the intensity and volume of COVID-precaution opponents has grown louder and more emotional. Ironically, as COVID-deniers are less able to rely on reason or data to oppose mask mandates, COVID precautions or vaccinations, they’re dialing up the fury to compensate. Instead of logic, they’ve offered rage; instead of argument, they’ve offered rants; instead of masking, they’re infecting.

If it were only their own lives at risk they could take their chances without harming others but they can’t. In ten days of school, 600 cases of new COVID infections were reported in Collier County, according to the Naples Daily News. A Lee County school system dashboard showed 2,655 cases, according to NBC-2 News.

The soaring rates of infection and the obstinate and increasingly emotional refusal of so many local residents to accept simple precautions like masks or vaccinations make the area a COVID Delta hotspot. In addition to the tragedy of the people who are going to be killed or permanently impaired by the disease, the area’s national reputation as a dangerous location is going to grow.

That reputation will have real, on-the-ground implications for the area’s businesses, tourism and hospitality.

September is usually a time when full-time residents flee the area. The heat is hottest, the storms are most likely and tourist season hasn’t started yet, so streets, restaurants and shops are largely deserted. For businesses, though, it’s also a time to start preparing for season.

If, under DeSantis, COVID continues to ravage Florida and if Southwest Florida’s COVID-deniers continue making as much noise as they are, the attractiveness of the Paradise Coast is likely to precipitously decline as a tourist destination and a place to do business.

On top of that, the hostility toward immigrants and efforts to curtail immigration that were begun during the Trump administration are bearing fruit, manifesting themselves in the labor shortage the area’s businesses are experiencing.

Add to that the likelihood of a major red tide bloom, the result of the Piney Point mining waste stack being pumped into Tampa Bay in April.

As of right now, far from a better September, Southwest Florida seems headed for a perfect storm of COVID, climate and controversy that will combine to hurt the area going into 2022.

But Southwest Florida residents and their leaders have some options: If they ignore the naysayers and anti-vaxxers, get vaccinated and receive booster shots, they might just flatten the COVID curve and at least make the region less of a hotspot.

If officials and local governments acknowledge the reality of climate change—which they are increasingly doing—they can prepare for the storms and algal blooms that are part of life in Southwest Florida. Preparedness, resilience and realism can go a long way toward mitigating the worst impacts of environmental instability.

If Southwest Florida’s representatives in Tallahassee and Washington, DC cease acting like two-dimensional, rigid, ideological cartoons and instead work for the actual good of their people and the region, they may actually win the state and federal support and assistance that the area needs to cope with the challenges ahead.

It’s a tall order and a lot of ifs. But hope springs eternal.

Liberty lives in light.

© 2021 by David Silverberg

FGCU wetlands expert Bill Mitsch hails Biden rollback of Trump water rule

Eminent scholar says SWFL waters to benefit from EPA, US Army rewrite

Eminent scholar Bill Mitsch is praising a new definition of US waters that will protect Southwest Florida waters and wetlands against pollution. (Photo: Facebook)

June 14, 2021 by David Silverberg

In an act directly benefiting Southwest Florida and its waters, President Joe Biden’s administration is rolling back a Trump-era rule allowing unregulated pollution of streams and rivers.

Bill Mitsch, eminent scholar and director of the Everglades Wetland Research Park at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), hailed the announcement, made last Wednesday, June 9.

“It’s a good move,” Mitsch told The Paradise Progressive in an interview. “I’m happy because it’s the right direction.”

In January 2020, Mitsch vehemently denounced a rule under President Donald Trump that relaxed restrictions on water pollution, calling it “a horrible setback for wetland protection in the USA” and saying its imposition was “the darkest day for Federal protection of wetlands since it first started 45 years ago.”

Michael Regan, EPA administrator, announces rollback of the Trump water rule . (Photo: AP)

Last week’s rollback announcement was made by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Army, which oversees the US Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps plays an outsized role in Southwest Florida water management.

“I’m delighted both agencies have stepped forward,” said Mitsch. “This, in my view, is a good turn for Southwest Florida and especially the Everglades.”

The EPA and Army will be revising the definition of waters of the United States (WOTUS) to “better protect our nation’s vital water resources that support public health, environmental protection, agricultural activity, and economic growth,” according to the announcement.

Under the Trump administration, WOTUS was redefined under the Navigable Waters Protection Rule to hold that the Clean Water Act did not apply to waters like streams, creeks and rivers that were not navigable or not adjacent to navigable waters.

Put another way, these waters could be subject to unregulated pollution and exploitation. This affected tens of thousands of waters throughout the United States. It was particularly harsh on Southwest Florida with its innumerable wetlands and arid regions like the Southwest United States.

“After reviewing the Navigable Waters Protection Rule as directed by President Biden, the EPA and Department of the Army have determined that this rule is leading to significant environmental degradation,” Michael Regan, the EPA administrator, stated in the press release announcing the rule change. “We are committed to establishing a durable definition of ‘waters of the United States’ based on Supreme Court precedent and drawing from the lessons learned from the current and previous regulations, as well as input from a wide array of stakeholders, so we can better protect our nation’s waters, foster economic growth, and support thriving communities.”

The EPA and Army will now start a process of remanding the Trump rule and redefining WOTUS, while restoring the water protections that existed prior to 2016. It will try to keep waters clean, use the latest scientific and climate change data, take into consideration practical needs and build on the experiences and input of water purity stakeholders.

From feds to Florida and the challenges ahead

Mitsch warned that while the Trump rule rollback was a major step in the right direction, it did not end the challenges to water purity, especially in Florida.

Mitsch has long experience with WOTUS and definitions of “wetlands” and “waters.” In the 1990s he worked with the federal government’s scientific bodies to define “wetlands” properly only to run up against Vice President Dan Quayle, who wanted the definition to favor builders and developers.

“This is déjà vu all over again for me,” said Mitsch. “It’s the same issue that keeps coming back. It’s quite contentious.”

“Waters” and “wetlands” have been officially defined twice before, according to Mitsch.

“I hope they don’t get on a third definition that’s political and not scientific. I hope they have the stamina to go through with it,” he said of current efforts. “There is no such thing as a [legitimate] political definition of a ‘wetland’—otherwise we might as well throw out all our scientific books.”

Mitsch is especially concerned that the state of Florida’s takeover of wetland permitting and environmental protection from the federal government will result in a degradation of Florida’s wetlands and waters. Authority for wetland permitting was transferred from the US EPA to Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection in December 2020 in one of the last official acts of the Trump administration.

“I’m very much afraid of Florida taking wetland management away from the feds. What the feds are doing is great but I’ve seen it before,” he said.  “There’s no question why [the state] wanted to take over water regulation, it was for development.” While he said he was discouraged that “the train is out of the station in Florida, I hope the momentum of this [new federal rule] spills into Florida somehow.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Water warning: The politics of red tide, algae and lessons from the Big Bloom

Demonstrators demanding action to combat red tide protest a campaign appearance by then-Gov. Rick Scott in Venice, Fla., in 2018. (Image: Indivisble SWFL)

May 26, 2021 by David Silverberg

–Updated May 27 with new link to Stafford Act

This summer Southwest Florida seems headed for a Big Bloom on the order of 2018’s disastrous summer.

Blue-green algae is flowing down the Caloosahatchee River as a result of Lake Okeechobee water releases.

Red tide is blooming in the Gulf of Mexico. This year there’s the added threat of blooms as a result of the dumping of millions of gallons of polluted water to relieve pressure on the Piney Point wastewater pond, or “stack” near Tampa. This has likely fed blooms in that area that could drift southward.

People living along the Caloosahatchee are already breathing the toxins and smelling the stench. Red tide alerts have been issued along the beaches.

All disasters—and harmful algal blooms (HABs) are disasters just as much as hurricanes—have political implications. What will be the political impact if there’s a big bloom this year? Were any lessons learned from 2018 and are they being applied? How will Southwest Florida’s politicians react this time around? And can anything be done differently—and better?

Recapping 2018

In 2018 Southwest Florida experienced an extremely heavy concentration of river algae and Gulf red tide at the same time. It went on for roughly a year, first appearing in October 2017 and then intensifying and peaking in the summer of 2018, finally breaking up in the late fall.

Red tide is naturally occurring in the Gulf and had appeared and broken up before without any major impact on the region. River algal blooms had been minor inconveniences. This was not expected to be any different.

But these blooms lingered and intensified. In contrast to 2017, which had seen Hurricane Irma and lesser storms in the region, there were no major storms in 2018, which may have allowed the blooms to fester. The extremely heavy rainfall of 2017 may have been a contributing factor. The precise relationship between tropical storms and algal blooms remains unclear.

The Big Bloom didn’t just ruin a few peoples’ beach time or boat trips; it was significantly damaging to the area’s economy. It became a national story that dampened tourism and reduced hotel occupancy. Based on surveys filled out by area businesses, 152 or 92 percent of surveyed business owners stated they had lost business due to the red tide in the Gulf. Of them, 126 or 76 percent stated they had lost $500,000 or more. Others estimated losses between $20,000 and $2,000.

The bloom was also a serious health hazard to those who lived along waterways and had no means of escape.

Authorities at all levels were slow to recognize the blooms as a disaster or their magnitude and respond in any way. In addition, it was an election year, so elected officials were distracted by their need to campaign.

At the federal level, Donald Trump was president so environmental issues were ignored or had a low priority.

Then-Gov. Rick Scott (R) was running for the Senate. He had been a strenuous denier of climate change and avoided dealing with environmental questions. Scott banished the term “climate change” from the official vocabulary in Florida state government.

Then-Rep. Francis Rooney, representing the area from Cape Coral to Marco Island in Congress, was largely engaged in supporting Scott while running his own re-election campaign, so he was distracted as well.

Furthermore, the area’s elected officials, media and a good portion of the politically active population simply denied or ignored the impact of overall climate change on the region and its possible role in the disaster.

While the bloom was at its worst in the summer and early fall of 2018, officials were largely helpless. No official edict or action could stop the bloom. While the voters would not allow the incumbent candidates to completely ignore it, candidates did their best to minimize it or distract voters away from it. Late in the crisis Scott declared an emergency and made a paltry $13 million available to the affected businesses.

After the election was over, Rooney took the lead in attempting some kind of response. In May 2019 he pulled together a conference of all the affected region’s elected officials and four relevant federal agencies to attempt a discussion of the HABs and future response. It was briefly attended by the new governor, Ron DeSantis (R), who in contrast to Scott, made environmental issues a priority.

Unfortunately, the conference, held at the Emergent Technologies Institute of Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), was closed to the public, so the full extent of its discussions, conclusions and decisions will never be known publicly.

Rooney did report out some of the discussion in an op-ed that ran in local newspapers under different titles.

After establishing that federal response to HABs was inadequate and uncoordinated with local authorities, participants concluded that the relevant federal agencies needed to be more aware of HABs as potential disasters and keep local jurisdictions informed of their formation and potential impacts. In addition to agencies that have direct, line responsibility in the event of a HAB like the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), other agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration and the Department of Housing and Urban Development had roles to play.

For his part Rooney introduced two pieces of legislation: one to classify HABs as major national disasters so that local businesses and residents would get disaster relief, and another to ensure that HAB monitoring and response were not interrupted by government shutdowns. Neither bill passed into law during the 116th Congress.

He also introduced changes to help with HABs to the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), the massive, comprehensive congressional bill that covers all water infrastructure, which was signed into law at the very end of 2020.

What’s different in 2021

There has been considerable change on many fronts since the Big Bloom of 2018 that may help with the response if there’s a big bloom this year.

Monitoring, reporting and information

A major, obvious change from 2018 is the amount of information available to the public on the state of algal blooms in general, which also translates into more information about local blooms. This is a vast improvement over 2018 when such information was either unavailable or fragmentary.

Government agencies and jurisdictions established websites on HABs after 2018.

(A full list of public links regarding Southwest Florida HABs is at the end of this article.)

This year there are also mechanisms for local jurisdictions to share information with federal agencies, enabling much better monitoring of HAB outbreaks and providing a much more comprehensive view of both national and local situations than was available in 2018.

Gubernatorial and state involvement

In 2018 then-Gov. Rick Scott’s hostility to environmental issues and solutions was infamous and came back to bite him during the Big Bloom.

Gov. Ron DeSantis got off to an early and very popular start when he took office in 2019. He dropped the hostility to science, creating the position of Chief Science Officer. He boosted funding for Everglades restoration and dismissed the South Florida Water Management District Board for a sweetheart lease with the sugar industry. He also dropped Scott’s prohibition on using the term “climate change.”

The DeSantis administration also established Protecting Florida Together, a Web portal for monitoring and communicating environmental and water quality information to the public. While heavily promoting the governor, it provides useful and presumably accurate data on the state of algal blooms and red tide.

This alteration in gubernatorial attitude is a sea change from 2018. Simply having a state administration that is aware of environmental issues can provide some public confidence that solutions are being sought, which was not previously the case.

Federal expertise

Another sea change was the transition from Donald Trump to Joe Biden, who ran a campaign that took environmentally-friendly positions on major issues. Since his inauguration Biden has made major efforts to boost environmentally-friendly policies and combat climate change.

Biden’s climate team is particularly expert in water issues. Michael Regan, the current EPA administrator, is especially familiar with HABs, having confronted a major bloom in North Carolina, where he served as secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality. In July 2019 he canoed the state’s rivers to see the bloom for himself.

If this year’s algal bloom rises to the level of EPA administrator for action, Southwest Florida officials will be working with an EPA head who intimately knows and understands the problem.

Upgrading and modernizing US drinking, wastewater and stormwater systems is a major aspect of Biden’s infrastructure proposal, the American Jobs Plan. While it may not directly impact this year’s blooms, over the longer term it will address the underlying conditions that lead to the blooms, hopefully mitigating or eliminating them. However, it is still in negotiation between the White House and congressional Republicans.

Locally, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has already attacked the plan as simply being the Green New Deal in disguise and for proposing new taxes on corporations and the extremely wealthy to pay for it.

Legislation

It is on the legislative front that there has been the least amount of progress in coping with HABs in general or this year’s potential bloom in particular.

In 2019 then-Rep. Francis Rooney proposed two pieces of legislation to deal with HABs: The most important one was the Protecting Local Communities from Harmful Algal Blooms Act, which consisted of a three-word amendment to The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, which would add HABs to the official roster of major disasters eligible for federal aid. This would make Southwest Florida businesses and residents eligible for a variety of federal support if businesses or livelihoods are damaged by a bloom.

Rooney’s bill went nowhere during his term in office and there is no renewal in the offing.

The second proposal was the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act, which would ensure that HAB monitoring by federal agencies would continue despite any government shutdowns, a situation less urgent than under Donald Trump. That bill too went nowhere during Rooney’s tenure. It was reintroduced by Donalds on March 17 as House Resolution 1954 and as of today it remains in committee awaiting consideration.

Legislation can’t stop a bloom while it’s happening—but it can mitigate the harm from one and protect people from indirect effects in the future. However, there has been no progress on this front to date and Southwest Florida will go into a 2021 bloom as unprotected legislatively as in 2018.

Analysis: Progress and challenges

Make no mistake: there has been progress on coping with algal blooms since 2018.

There’s been much more research into the nature and causes of blooms and efforts to mitigate their causes, like Lake Okeechobee pollution and phosphates flowing into local waterways.

A big step forward was the founding of the Water School at FGCU on March 22, 2019. This is a major addition to the university, dedicated to researching and examining all aspects of water. While still being developed it’s in a position to make a major contribution to fighting the blooms this year, providing timely and detailed information to officials at all levels and the public at large

In addition to the governmental and legislative measures, localities have been experimenting with technological fixes to contain or eliminate river algae. Public health authorities are far more aware of the health impacts of algal toxins and their dangers.

Even if this year’s bloom blossoms into a crisis on the order of 2018’s, politicians now have precedents to inform their behavior, unlike the example of Rick Scott, who as governor and a Senate candidate fled from red tide protesters in Venice during a campaign swing.

But the lessons of the past don’t just apply to political campaigning and the quest for higher office; they also have to assist in managing the disaster itself.

As a general rule, disasters favor incumbents. A sitting governor, mayor or public official can be seen as vigorous and commanding if he or she appears to take charge. But an official also has to deliver real results. People may not remember a good disaster response but they never forget a bad one.

For businesses, that means being assisted with disaster recovery funding, which is why amending the Stafford Act is so important.

And perhaps the greatest lessons to be taken away from the 2018 Big Bloom are the intangible ones: that big blooms are dangerous; they’re damaging; they really hurt people and businesses; they can be economically devastating; they need to be taken as seriously as any hurricane; they need to be monitored and, to as great an extent as possible, countered early; and all jurisdictions have to coordinate and cooperate in their responses.

Also, algal blooms, like the pandemic, don’t discriminate between political parties or persuasions. Algal toxins and their consequences affect everyone equally.

So Southwest Florida is somewhat better prepared and knowledgeable than it was in 2018 if there’s a big bloom this year.

But as always with disaster management, there’s still a long way to go.


Further resources:

Federal:

NOAA (Current conditions):

CDC (General information): Harmful Algal Bloom-Associated Illness

EPA (General information)

State:

Local:

Lee County

  • While Lee County has a red tide and algae bloom status website, it is badly out of date—in fact, it seems to have frozen in 2018 and refers to Rick Scott as governor. Nonetheless, for the record, it is at: https://www.leegov.com/waterqualityinfo.

Cape Coral

Collier County

City of Naples

  • While the Naples City website links to the Collier County information, it also provides a phone number for recorded updates on conditions in Collier County: (239) 252-2591.

Non-Profit, non-governmental advocacy organizations

For a deeper dive into the political aspects of disaster response see the book Masters of Disaster: The Political and Leadership Lessons of America’s Greatest Disasters on Amazon Kindle.

Liberty lives in light

©2021 by David Silverberg

The Donalds Dossier: A deep dive into the PAC pool

Part 1: A look at the super and corporate PACs that elected Rep. Byron Donalds

Tim Ritchie (left) and other central Florida environmental activists protest the dangers of Mosaic mining “stacks” during a demonstration on May 7, 2019 at Florida Gulf Coast University. The Mosaic PAC was one of the contributors to Rep. Byron Donalds’ 2020 election campaign. (Photo: Author)

120 days Byron Donalds has been in office

May 3, 2021 by David Silverberg

“The PACs didn’t get me elected,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) said during a March 30 interview at Alfie Oakes’ Seed to Table market.

Rep. Byron Donalds

The remark invites much closer examination because Donalds was perhaps the candidate most dependent on political action committees (PACs) ever to run for federal office in Southwest Florida. And while PACs may not have cast votes themselves, their money made all the difference. This was certainly true in his primary race when he faced eight other Republican candidates, some of them better known and far better funded.

Further, an examination of Donalds’ PAC backing in the 2020 election cycle illuminates the positions he has taken on various issues and his priorities as a member of Congress.

A quick PAC primer

Anyone can form or join a PAC. At their most fundamental level, PACs are simply organizations of people who pool their money to support and contribute to candidates and political causes. However, they are independent of individual candidates’ election committees or political party organizations. They register with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and record their donations and expenditures according to its procedures.

PAC spending is legal and proper when done within the framework of federal campaign finance regulations. It is done under the oversight of the FEC and the filings are publicly available. This is a result of reforms enacted after the 1974 Watergate affair, when large sums of unknown provenance were used for illicit reasons.

PACs are not allowed to demand or request specific actions by a public official in return for specific contributions. Their spending is broader and more generalized.

The PAC contributions to Donalds’ campaign can be broken down into different categories: super PACs; corporate PACs from individual companies; trade and professional association PACs; leadership and candidate PACs from sitting officials or other candidates; party PACs from the Republican Party; and ideological PACs promoting a political position, in this case conservatism in general.

This article will examine super PAC and corporate PAC spending to elect Donalds. A future article will look at leadership, trade and ideological PACs.

The PAC spending reported in this article was based on public information and, to the best of this author’s ability to determine, was legal and compliant with existing law. No criminality or impropriety is alleged or implied.

Super PACs

Ever since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United vs. FEC decision, “super PACs” have been allowed to spend unlimited funds on issues rather than for the benefit of specific candidates. These super PACs are not allowed to coordinate their activities with candidate campaigns and must make their decisions independently.

That said, super PAC spending can considerably benefit a candidate and that was certainly the case with Donalds.

According to OpenSecrets.org, which tracks political spending based on FEC filings, Donalds benefitted from $1,153,991 in independent spending by conservative, ideologically-driven super PACs.

Of these the two most active were Club for Growth Action, which spent $1,383,647, and Americans for Prosperity Action, which spent $203,613 to indirectly benefit Donalds.

Both super PACs focused on conservative issues that benefited Donalds, particularly in the hotly contested primary contest when he was up against much better funded candidates.

While these were the most generous super PACs, some others worthy of note are the National Rifle Association ($4,451) and the NRA Institute for Legislative Action ($1,184), which advocate against gun restrictions, and the National Right to Life Victory Fund ($3,396), which opposes abortions.

Other super PACs indirectly contributing to Donalds’ election were, in descending order of contribution:

  • Honesty America Inc: $138,131
  • Concerned Conservatives Inc: $85,706
  • Protect Freedom PAC: $80,187
  • Trusted Conservatives: $46,138
  • American Liberty Fund: $37,553
  • New Journey PAC: $32,230
  • Conservative Outsider PAC: $17,769
  • Club for Growth: $9,272
  • Guardian Fund: $6,941
  • Friends of Mia Love PAC: $6,045
  • FreedomWorks for America: $2,500
  • House Freedom Fund: $1,486

Corporate PACs

According to the FEC, the Donalds campaign received donations from 39 corporate PACs directly to the campaign and so were subject to campaign finance limits.

Corporate PAC contributions are usually made with the intention of advancing business agendas, shaping regulation or legislation and ensuring access to a lawmaker.

These PACs can be grouped into subcategories.

Big sugar

The American Crystal Sugar Company PAC and the United States Sugar Corporation Employee Stock Ownership Plan PAC each contributed $5,000 to Donalds’ 2020 campaign.

Florida sugar companies have in the past worked to ensure continuation of sugar subsidies, ward off foreign competition and oppose labor and environmental regulations that could complicate or add cost to their operations.

Big oil

Exxon Mobil Corporation (Exxonmobil PAC) and Marathon Petroleum Corporation Employees PAC (MPAC) contributed $1,500 and $2,500 respectively to the Donalds campaign.

With potential reserves of oil in Florida beneath both public and private land as well as possible deposits offshore, Florida has long been of interest to oil companies. Environmental groups and organizations have opposed this exploration and exploitation because of its potential harm to the natural environment of Southwest Florida, especially the Everglades.

There is new legislation in the current Congress to prevent offshore oil exploration. While Donalds’ predecessor, Francis Rooney, was a leader in opposition to offshore oil exploitation, Donalds has followed the lead of Rep. Kathy Castor (D-14-Fla.) and Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-16-Fla.) who introduced the Florida Coastal Protection Act (House Resolution 2836) on April 26. (For past coverage of this issue see: “Trump, Biden and Florida’s Gulf shore oil war.”)

Big mining

The Donalds campaign received $1,000 from The Mosaic Company PAC (MOSAICPAC).

The Mosaic Company is a phosphate and potash mining company headquartered in Tampa. Its mining products are used extensively for agricultural fertilizer throughout Florida and the world.

This April, headlines appeared in Southwest Florida warning that a retention pond or “stack” full of contaminated water from mining operations was threatening to burst and flood the surrounding area at Piney Point, Fla., near Tampa. Engineers began frantically pumping millions of gallons of polluted water into Tampa Bay. This raised fears that pollution would lead to a severe red tide this summer and drift down to the Paradise Coast.

The stack was created by Mosaic’s mining operations, which had ceased at Piney Point in 2001, leaving the wastewater to sit in the stack.

While this year’s crisis has been declared over and the leaking stopped, it was not the first such leak from a Mosaic mining operation. The company successfully contained a 2019 leak but a 2016 sinkhole from mining operations threatened to pollute the Florida underground aquifer on which the population of the state depends for its drinking and irrigation water.

Big tobacco

Reynolds American Inc. PAC (RAI PAC) contributed $1,000 to the Donalds campaign. Reynolds American is an indirect, wholly owned subsidiary of British American Tobacco PLC and produces the Lucky Strike, Pall Mall, Newport, Camel, and American Spirit cigarette brands as well as Grizzly chewing tobacco, Vuse vapor products and Velo nicotine lozenges and pouches. Along with other tobacco products, its mentholated tobacco products may soon be banned by the federal government.

Other notable corporate PACs

Koch Industries, Inc. PAC (KOCHPAC) contributed $5,000 to the Donalds campaign during the 2020 election cycle. These are the companies owned by the well-known Koch brothers, Charles and David (who died in 2019). They funded a wide variety of extreme ideological causes and organizations.

(Two excellent books that delve into the Koch brothers’ activities and past are Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty by Daniel Schulman and Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer.)

Bloomin’ Brands, Inc. PAC contributed $5,000 to the Donalds campaign. Bloomin’ Brands is the company behind such well-known Southwest Florida restaurant franchises as Bonefish Grill, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar and Outback Steakhouse.

Publix Super Markets, Inc. Associates PAC, contributed $5,000, the most it gave to any Southwest Florida candidate. The Publix political role in Florida was covered in depth in The Paradise Progressive article “Publix: Where politics bring no pleasure.”

Other corporate PACs were, in descending order of contribution (the FEC lists some twice):

  • National Association Of Realtors PAC: $10,000
  • National Automobile Dealers Association PAC: $10,000
  • Nextera Energy, Inc. PAC: $8,000
  • American Bankers Association Pac (BANKPAC): $5,000
  • Deloitte PAC: $5,000
  • Nextera Energy, Inc. PAC: $5,000
  • The Geo Group, Inc. PAC: $5,000
  • AFLAC PAC: $3,500
  • LPL Financial LLC PAC: $3,500
  • AT&T Inc./Warnermedia LLC Federal PAC (AT&T/WARNERMEDIA FEDERAL PAC): $3,000
  • KPMG Partners/Principals And Employees PAC: $3,000
  • AFLAC PAC (AFLAC PAC): $2,500
  • American Bankers Association PAC (BANKPAC): $2,500
  • Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. PAC (ABC PAC): $2,500
  • Chubb Group Holdings Inc. PAC: $2,500
  • Comcast Corporation & NBCUniversal PAC – Federal: $2,500
  • JM Family Enterprises, Inc. PAC: $2,500
  • Regions Financial Corporation PAC: $2,500
  • United Parcel Service Inc. PAC: $2,500
  • Wells Fargo and Company Employee PAC (also known as Wells Fargo Employee PAC): $2,500
  • PriceWaterhouseCoopers PAC I: $2,000
  • Protective Life Corporation Federal PAC (PROTECTPAC): $2,000
  • The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Action Committee for Rural Electrification: $1,500
  • Akerman LLP PAC: $1,000
  • Discover Financial Services PAC: $1,000
  • Grayrobinson P.A. PAC: $1,000
  • Jackson Holdings LLC and Jackson National Life Insurance Company Separate Segregated Fund: $1,000
  • Liberty Mutual Insurance Company – PAC: $1,000
  • Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc. PAC (MMCPAC): $1,000
  • Protective Life Corporation Federal PAC (PROTECTPAC): $1,000
  • Rock Holdings Inc. PAC: $1,000
  • Teco Energy Inc. Employees’ PAC: $1,000

Analysis: Chicken or egg?

As is clear from the listings above, PACs played a major role in Byron Donalds’ election.

Donalds is an intensely ideological representative of the extreme right, so it’s hard to say to what degree PAC contributions shaped his public positions or to what degree his public positions attracted PAC contributions. It’s a chicken-and-egg question.

What is clear is that super PAC spending made him competitive in the primary but once he was the nominee and widely regarded as likely to win the general election, the corporate PACs jumped in, trying to ride on a candidate bandwagon they regarded as a sure bet. At that point their contributions were less important for fueling his campaign and more important for ensuring that their lobbyists would have a foot in the door of his congressional office—and that he would listen.

Certainly, Donalds’ disinterest in the 19th District’s local water and environmental issues, which was quite striking during his campaign, fit in well with the corporate interests of the sugar, mining and oil PACs, whose companies have caused pollution, destruction and despoliation in the past and may do so again in the future. That said, his cosponsorship of HR 2836 is commendable.

Nonetheless, while Donalds has taken some cosmetic actions toward showing attention to vital, local environmental issues, they have mostly been superficial and shallow, chiefly photo ops and grip-and-grins. As importantly, he has vocally and consistently opposed the relief bills that would speed distribution of vaccines to the people of the 19th District, provide them with financial relief amidst pandemic-related hardships, stimulate the local economy and improve the area’s infrastructure.

To date, the corporate and super PACs have largely gotten what they paid for: a member of Congress who has loudly championed commercial and ideological interests in pursuit of his own ambitions while overlooking local environmental and public health concerns—all while claiming his PAC donors have no effect on his thoughts, statements or actions.

554 days (1 year, 6 months, 5 days) to Election Day.

To come: The trade, leadership and ideological PACs behind Rep. Byron Donalds

The Paradise Progressive will be on hiatus until May 13.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Biden action on climate change benefits Southwest Florida

A prime example of climate change and sea level rise in Southwest Florida. Above, experimental dome homes on Cape Romano near Marco Island when they were first built on dry land in 1980.
Below, the same structures in the same location in 2018 following intensifying hurricanes and sea level rise.

Jan. 28, 2021 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida stands to directly benefit from President Joe Biden’s latest initiatives on climate change and the environment.

Yesterday, Jan. 27, Biden issued the Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad a wide-ranging and comprehensive directive organizing his administration’s response to the climate change crisis. It assigned Cabinet secretaries specific tasks to establish a government-wide climate effort and structured the executive branch to “pursue action at home and abroad in order to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of that crisis and to seize the opportunity that tackling climate change presents.”

The measure immediately and directly affecting Southwest Florida and Florida in general is a pause on new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or offshore waters. Existing leases and permits will be subject to a “rigorous review.”

While not mentioning Florida or the Everglades specifically, the order effectively protects the region from oil exploration in environmentally sensitive federal Everglades areas and immediately off the coast, which has been a longstanding concern for local environmental activists.

In this the Biden measure joins an executive order issued by President Donald Trump in the waning days of his administration that extended an offshore drilling moratorium for 10 years to 2032. 

At the same time that the Biden order pauses fossil fuel exploration and exploitation, it aims to increase renewable energy production with “the goal of doubling offshore wind by 2030 while ensuring robust protection for our lands, waters, and biodiversity and creating good jobs.”

In the broadest sense the executive order will attempt to mitigate the human impact creating climate change and build resilience to face its effects. The United States will initiate the steps required to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, take aggressive action on a wide variety of fronts and review “harmful rollbacks of standards that protect our air, water, and communities,” according to a White House statement.

Florida is uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, with urban flooding and beach erosion due to sea level rise throughout the state as well as stronger and more damaging hurricanes.

Along the Southwest Florida coast climate change is a contributor to saltwater intrusion, beach erosion and storm damage as well as hotter and drier seasons contributing to wildfires and drought.

Full text of Section 208 of the Biden Executive Order covering oil development on public lands and offshore waters:

Sec. 208.  Oil and Natural Gas Development on Public Lands and in Offshore Waters.  To the extent consistent with applicable law, the Secretary of the Interior shall pause new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or in offshore waters pending completion of a comprehensive review and reconsideration of Federal oil and gas permitting and leasing practices in light of the Secretary of the Interior’s broad stewardship responsibilities over the public lands and in offshore waters, including potential climate and other impacts associated with oil and gas activities on public lands or in offshore waters.  The Secretary of the Interior shall complete that review in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Commerce, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Secretary of Energy.  In conducting this analysis, and to the extent consistent with applicable law, the Secretary of the Interior shall consider whether to adjust royalties associated with coal, oil, and gas resources extracted from public lands and offshore waters, or take other appropriate action, to account for corresponding climate costs.

Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Biden climate team is good news for Southwest Florida

President-elect Joe Biden announces his climate and energy team nominees at The Queen Theater in Wilmington Del., on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Dec. 23, 2020 by David Silverberg

When President-Elect Joe Biden introduced his new climate, energy and environmental team last Saturday, Dec. 19, he presented the nation with a group of veteran officials and activists who know the issues and, to a striking extent, understand water and the challenges surrounding it—and appreciate the water problems Florida faces.

The importance of this is not to be underestimated. Now, when Southwest Florida officials make their case for Everglades restoration funding or try to fight harmful algal blooms or try to reduce pollution in regional waterways, they’ll be talking to veteran experts in high places who know their water.

It’s a stark contrast with the years under President Donald Trump, when the Interior Department was headed by a fossil fuel industry lobbyist, when regulations were only good for being abolished and climate change was derided as a “Chinese hoax.”

Instead the new team’s experience and expertise bodes well for Southwest Florida’s waters.

Six top nominees were presented. Their backgrounds show extensive water-related experience.

Gina McCarthy, National Climate Advisor-designate.

Gina McCarthy (Photo: EPA)

Gina McCarthy headed the Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama and has 30 years of environmental activism under her belt.

After leaving the Obama administration she became an advisor to a private equity firm, Pegasus Capital Advisors, then became director of Harvard University’s Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment. In 2019 she was named president and chief executive officer of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the most consequential environmental activist organizations.

Under Biden, McCarthy will head a new White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy, a counterpart to John Kerry, former Secretary of State and presidential candidate, who has been named special climate envoy and will likely be reintegrating the United States back into the Paris Climate Agreement.

At the American Water Summit in Miami, Fla., in December 2016, McCarthy called water “one of the top public health and economic challenges now facing our country” and said: “We need to move away from the narrow 20th century view of water: as a place to dump waste; as something to just treat and send downstream in pipes; as only an expense for cities and a planning burden for communities. We need to accelerate the move to a 21st century view – where we see water as a finite and valuable asset, as a major economic driver, as essential to urban revitalization, as a centerpiece for innovative technology, and as a key focus of our efforts to build resilience.”

Ali Zaidi, Deputy National Climate Advisor-Designate

Ali Zaidi

An immigrant from Pakistan, Zaidi grew up outside Erie, Pennsylvania.

In the Obama White House, Zaidi served as Associate Director for Natural Resources, Energy, and Science at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB). He and his team helped execute economic and environmental policy on a wide array of policy, budget and management issues affecting $100 billion in funding. At OMB, he was responsible for implementing the presidential Climate Action Plan, which he helped design and draft. He was also a negotiator of the Paris Climate Agreement.

In a December 2016 posting on the White House website that looked back on a year’s progress on a water innovation strategy, Zaidi wrote: “Water supply challenges are felt around the world; in fact, water scarcity tops the World Economic Forum’s list of long-term risks to the health of the global economy.”

The response of the Obama administration—and Zaidi—was to formulate new tools and partner with the private sector to “develop and deploy the technologies and practices that both conserve water and generate new, clean supplies.” Doing this included laying out clear technical targets and mobilizing people, investors and technicians to achieve them. “The strategy focused on new cost-effective climate solutions to spur new American businesses and jobs,” he wrote.

At the time, Zaidi thought that the administration’s initiatives were having a measurable impact “and the momentum is irreversible.” That might have been overly optimistic given the four years of President Donald Trump’s administration.

 This time around Zaidi will have a lot of repair work to do before he can launch new initiatives—but Southwest Florida can be confident that he knows water and its importance.

Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior-designate

Deb Haaland (Photo: Deb Haaland for Congress)

Much of the focus on Rep. Deb Haaland (D-1-NM) has been on the fact that she would be the first Native American to serve as Interior Secretary. Of much more significance to Southwest Florida is the fact that in parched New Mexico, water is a precious commodity and Haaland has concentrated on the policies related to it.

Haaland is a 35th generation New Mexican of the Pueblo of Laguna. The daughter of a US Marine, she lived all over the United States, attending 13 different public schools during her education. She was long an environmental activist before being elected to Congress in 2018.

“Water is life. We must ensure the availability and integrity of this resource for generations to come,” she wrote in 2017 in her campaign for Congress. “Climate change is a national security threat and it should be treated as such. Just take a look what is happening in Florida, Houston and Puerto Rico.”

Haaland is anti-fracking and opposes offshore oil drilling, both key issues for Southwest Floridians. She will represent a complete change from current Interior Department policies, which Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) once characterized as “drill, baby, drill.”

Michael Regan, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator-Designate

Michael Regan (Photo: Karen Chavez, Citizen Times)

Currently Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Regan served in the EPA under both Democratic and Republican presidents. He received his degree in earth and environmental science from North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro and earned a master degree at George Washington University in Washington, DC.

“We will be driven by our convictions that every person in our great country has the right to clean air, clean water and a healthier life, no matter how much money they have in their pockets, the color of their skin or the community that they live in,” Regan said when he was introduced by Biden.

A North Carolina native, Regan’s top priority in that state was coal ash cleanup from energy operations. He negotiated a settlement with Duke Energy to clean up 80 million tons of coal ash. He also focused on climate resilience, sea level rise, reducing animal waste pollution from farming operations, chemical toxins in water and mudslides, according to The News & Observer of Raleigh, NC. He had to do this despite a 40 percent cut in DEQ personnel.

Last July, when a North Carolina river registered a major bacteria bloom, Regan took to the water himself, canoeing on the river and holding a discussion with local officials, businesspeople and activists, as reported in the local Citizen Times.

“We have a water quality issue in North Carolina. We have an infrastructure issue in NC,” Regan said. “We don’t want to lose our globally competitive position. We want to continue to grow economically. This is a moving train and we don’t plan to slow down. We have to continue moving forward in a smart way.”

The DEQ’s Water Resources Division oversees nearly 60,000 stream miles in North Carolina and maintains seven field offices. While Florida and North Carolina have different climates and water issues, Regan certainly knows the fundamentals of water management and policy.

Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy-Designate

Jennifer Granholm during the Flint, Mich., water crisis (Photo: CNN)

Jennifer Granholm served two terms as governor of Michigan from 2003 to 2011 and as the state’s attorney general prior to that.

As Energy Secretary, water and environment will not be her primary concerns. But that doesn’t mean she’s unfamiliar with water crises and challenges.

In 2014, when the city of Flint, Michigan changed its drinking water source, a failure to inhibit corrosion in its pipes led to severe lead poisoning among residents. It was a huge scandal. Granholm had long left office and was serving as a law professor at the University of California in Berkeley. But distance didn’t keep her from expressing some choice words for her Republican successor, Gov. Rick Snyder.

“I would want to see pedal to the metal, hair on fire action in Flint. And I think [Snyder], right now, can do that,” Granholm told The Detroit News when the crisis broke. “But if not, then I think somebody should come in who can look at [it] as the emergency that it is and move heaven and earth to get those pipes replaced.” She called on Snyder to move to Flint and live in one of the affected houses.

Brenda Mallory, Council on Environmental Quality Chair-Designate

Brenda Mallory

Established in 1970 by President Richard Nixon, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) plays a strategic and advisory role, helping to devise overall policy.

Biden has nominated Brenda Mallory to chair the CEQ. She served as its general counsel under Obama and is currently Director of Regulatory Policy at the Southern Environmental Law Center,

“Mallory brings deep and versatile expertise working directly with communities and partners across the public and private sectors to solve climate challenges and advance environmental protection and environmental justice,” Biden said in introducing her.

“Though she’s never had a high public profile, Mallory is widely considered to be one of the country’s top experts on environmental regulatory policy,” stated the National Resources Defense Council when she was named.

Analysis: Opportunity and promise

Under President Joe Biden, when Southwest Florida’s officials or representatives bring a water issue to the administration they can now be assured of a knowledgeable and likely sympathetic hearing by top officials. This is a major step forward for the region and one that should not be squandered by congressmen locked into a rigid, hostile ideological approach to the new administration.

There’s another opportunity for Southwest Florida presented by the new administration team and an environmentally sensitive Congress driven by science and aware of climate change.

The planned building of the FGCU Water School. (Art: FGCU)

It is just possible that the new Water School at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) would have a better chance than ever to become a recognized national center of excellence. Working with the new administration, it may just find its federal grant applications are given higher priority and its research may be applied more broadly.

Certainly, once the new administration takes office—and even before—it would behoove FGCU to reach out to the new team, invite them to FGCU to see the facilities, host some international conferences, integrate its work and research with national priorities and lobby vigorously for its own needs.

The expertise, activism and familiarity with water issues of Biden’s environmental team provide a source of hope and opportunity. After a long, dark time for Southwest Florida, its waters and those who care about them may finally feel some sunshine.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Roundup: COVID, masks and Byron Donalds; a ‘no’ to stimulus and QAnon; and a loud silence

Maskless State Rep. Byron Donalds and President Donald Trump in the Oval Office on Sept. 23. (Photo: White House by Joyce N. Boghasian)

Oct. 4, 2020 by David Silverberg

On Saturday, Oct. 3, in the wake of President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis and quarantine, Cindy Banyai, Democratic congressional candidate in the 19th Congressional District called on her opponent, Republican state Rep. Byron Donalds (R-80-Immokalee), to quarantine himself, having met with the president.

“Given the current skyrocketing rate of infection among White House staff and event attendees, and considering Mr. Donalds is still in the potential incubation period of 14 days, I think it would be in the best interest of our community if he quarantined until that window has passed,” she said in a statement. “He should also get tested for COVID-19 and release the results, so anyone he may have exposed to the virus in the interim can have the best information possible to take care of themselves and their loved ones. This is especially important because of Mr. Donalds’ stance against mask wearing, which is effective in reducing transmission rates of the virus.”

Donalds met with the president in Washington, DC on Sept. 23, where he was photographed in the Oval Office. He told the Fort Myers News-Press that he had been tested for the virus on Friday, Oct. 2, and the results were negative. He said he had also tested negative prior to his meeting with Trump.

“After you’ve had two negative tests within 10 days, that’s sufficient,” he told reporter Amy Bennett Williams. “I have no symptoms … That puts it to rest. I’m fine.”

“I was disappointed to see Mr. Donalds attend indoor events without social distancing or masks in Southwest Florida over the past week, including events after the announcement of the president testing positive for COVID19,” stated Banyai. “It seems like he is not taking the risk seriously and doesn’t care about the people in our community.”

Donalds has vociferously opposed mask mandates by local governments, arguing that mask wearing should be an individual decision. He appeared at the Cape Coral City Council to oppose masking when that body debated a mandate on July 6.

“You have no authority to mandate what people can put on their body. The fear people are having doesn’t justify it,” Donalds said at the time. “As a council, you have the solemn duty to vote this down and get back to common sense.”

On July 14, when the Collier County Commission first debated a mask mandate, Donalds argued it would put “extensive burdens” on local law enforcement.

“How are you going to have them enforce such a mandate?” he asked commissioners. “Who are they going to decide to enforce it on and who are they not going to enforce it on? There are major issues with such an order.” The commission ultimately voted in a mask mandate.

Donalds repeated his positions during his televised debate with Banyai on Sept. 28 at the studio of WGCU.

Donalds has not worn a mask at public events he has attended.

There is no indication that Donalds has changed his position on mask mandates given the president’s diagnosis and the spread of COVID-19 among high-level officials and presidential intimates.

On Oct. 2, The Paradise Progressive sent the following questions to the Byron Donalds for Congress campaign:

1. In light of the president’s contracting coronavirus, have you changed or altered your position against government mask mandates?

A. If you have made any changes, please state your current policy position.

2. What is your position on wearing masks in general?

No answer has been received to date.

President Donald Trump leaves the White House wearing a mask on is way to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Oct. 2.

No on stimulus, yes on QAnon

Southwest Florida congressional representatives, Reps. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) all voted against a second stimulus package in Congress last week.

Called the HEROES Act (House Resolution 925), the bill passed late Thursday, Oct. 1, by a vote of 214 to 207.

The bill provides $2.2 trillion in relief to people, businesses, states and local governments hard hit by the pandemic. It is a follow-on to a previous $3.4 trillion HEROES Act passed in May that propped up a badly damaged economy.

Passage of the bill occurred following a stalemate in talks between House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The administration had proposed a $1.6 trillion package and the two were unable to resolve their differences, so Pelosi proceeded with the House version.

None of the Southwest Florida congressmen issued statements explaining their votes.

The bill is not expected to make any progress in the Senate.

The same day, the House of Representatives passed House Resolution 1154, “Condemning QAnon and rejecting the conspiracy theories it promotes.”

While not a law, the bill explicitly condemned the online QAnon conspiracy theory as well as “all other groups and ideologies, from the far left to the far right, that contribute to the spread of unfounded conspiracy theories and that encourage Americans to destroy public and private property and attack law enforcement officers.” It called on federal agencies and the intelligence community to investigate and “uncover any foreign support, assistance, or online amplification QAnon receives.”

This bill passed by an overwhelming vote of 371 to 18.

Of Southwest Florida’s representatives, Diaz-Balart and Steube voted for it. Rooney was absent.

No endorsement here

On Sept. 29 the News-Press and on Oct. 4 the Naples Daily News published an op-ed by Rep. Francis Rooney and Michael Whittaker, a conservation activist, titled, “Climate is on the ballot in Florida this November.”

It argued that voters should elect environmental champions this November given the urgency of climate issues facing Southwest Florida. It made the case that political conservatives have to take the lead in devising market-based solutions to environmental threats.

“As constituents of Southwest Florida, when we head to the ballot box this fall, we need to remain vigilant and strong to ensure that our principles are upheld and our environment is protected,” they wrote.

Politically, what was most interesting about the op-ed was what it didn’t say: it didn’t endorse any candidates running and most especially did not mention Byron Daniels, whom Rooney might have been expected to anoint as a fellow Republican seeking to fill his seat. Rooney has not made any endorsements of any candidates to date.

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg

US House passes Water Resources Development Act; makes changes to SWFL water management, Lake O

US_Capitol_west_side 3-2-19

July 31, 2020 by David Silverberg

On Wednesday, July 29, the US House of Representatives passed the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), House Resolution 7575, by a voice vote.

A version of the bill having already been passed by the Senate, the bill now goes to President Donald Trump for his signature into law. Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) was a co-sponsor of the original bill.

The massive bill, which authorizes all water-related projects in the United States, has several sections directly related to Southwest Florida. (For earlier coverage of WRDA, see: “We tested SWFL candidates on their knowledge of a vital congressional issue. Here are the results.”)

In summary, the bill makes reforms to address problems raised by harmful algal blooms of the sort that plagued the area in 2018. At the time there were gaps in understanding and coordination among federal and state agencies; this bill addresses those.

It also tries to minimize the water releases from Lake Okeechobee (Lake O) that have been widely blamed for cyanobacteria blooms.

Lastly, it tries to speed work on the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP).

In particular:

  • The bill orders a study of harmful algal blooms, which have plagued Southwest Florida and were particularly severe in 2018. This will be a demonstration program to study their causes, detection, treatment and prevention. Lake Okeechobee will be a particular focus along with the Great Lakes, New Jersey, Louisiana and California.
  • Projects related to CERP have been dragging on for many years. The bill orders their expedited completion, in particular feasibility studies for the C-43 reservoir. If the Secretary of the Interior determines that a project is justified, he can proceed directly to preconstruction planning, engineering and design. In addition to CERP, the bill expedites projects in Arizona, California and another South Florida project, the C-111 canal, in southern Dade County. It also makes changes to earlier WRDAs to authorize a proposed reservoir south of the Everglades Agricultural Area.
  • When it comes to regulating water releases from Lake Okeechobee, the federal government will finally take into account levels of cyanobacteria and “evaluate the implications” of stopping the releases and “seek to minimize unnecessary releases to coastal estuaries”—which in the case of Southwest Florida means the Caloosahatchee River. The Department of Interior will also coordinate the efforts of federal and state agencies responsible for “monitoring, forecasting, and notification of cyanobacteria levels in Lake Okeechobee.”
  • In addition to minimizing potentially algae-blooming water releases, the Secretary of the Interior is now required to issue a monthly public report about the volumes and statistics of Lake O water releases.

Despite its other changes, the bill is careful to ensure that nothing changes from the current situation around the lake—known as the “savings clause.” As the bill puts it: “nothing shall be construed to authorize any new purpose for the management of Lake Okeechobee or authorize the Secretary to affect any existing authorized purpose, including flood protection and management of Lake Okeechobee to provide water supply for all authorized users.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

The White Walkers of Southwest Florida: Surveying the Republican policy platforms

07-29-20 WW SWFLThe White Walkers from Game of Thrones.      (Image: HBO)

July 30, 2020 by David Silverberg

Anyone who remembers HBO’s Game of Thrones remembers the White Walkers—the undead, unthinking zombies who marched mindlessly against the living, animated by the will of a single leader, the Night King.

No spoiler here—when the Night King was destroyed, so were all the White Walkers since none of them had minds of their own.

Now the White Walkers are in Southwest Florida—and nine of them are running for the Republican congressional nomination in the 19th Congressional District.

Something else that applies from Game of Thrones: the warning refrain “winter is coming.” Well, winter is coming to tropical Southwest Florida too.

Kneeling before Zod

Rick Wilson is a veteran Republican operative who claims to be “one of the handful of people your candidate or SuperPAC calls when it’s time to drop the big, nasty negative ads.” He’s managed numerous campaigns at a variety of levels. He makes no bones that he’ll do whatever it takes to win elections and he’s had plenty of victories. He’s smart, dangerous and wickedly witty.

He also loathes Donald Trump.

Wilson sees Trump’s cult as something different from the traditional Republicanism that he served and promoted.

Why? Because, he writes, “Trump’s Troll Party puts wild-eyed nationalist, anti-establishment ranting before the tenets of our constitutional Republic.” He continues: “All you have to do to stay in the good graces of this new political force is to swear Trump is always right. All you have to do is loathe with the fire of a million suns anyone who levies the slightest criticism of Trump. You must compromise everything you believe to praise and placate him. He is President for Life. Kneel before Zod.”

That’s from Wilson’s book, Everything Trump Touches Dies. It’s also what led Wilson to be one of the founders of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project.

As it happens, Wilson lives in Tampa. If he wanted proof of his thesis, he need go no further down the coast than the 19th Congressional District, where the entire thrust of the Republican primary race from Cape Coral to Marco Island has been for each candidate to outdo the other in his or her protestations of loyalty, fealty and obedience to Donald Trump.

Darren Aquino is “a real supporter of President Trump,” Byron Donalds is “incredibly proud to stand with President Trump,” Casey Askar will “always have the president’s back,” Dane Eagle is “a pro-Trump conservative,” William Figlesthaler will “will fully support President Trump and his America First agenda,” Randy Henderson will be “an ally to President Trump.” Daniel Kowal, will “stand with President Trump,” Christy McLaughlin will “lend unwavering support to President Trump,” Dan Severson wants to be “the Wingman Donald Trump deserves.”

In addition to their personal subservience to Donald Trump, all the candidates adhere to the Trumpist gospel of closed borders, gun ownership, denial of a woman’s right to choose, paranoid detestation of Democrats and immigrants and hatred of RINOs (Republicans In Name Only—i.e., any non-Trump Republican).

To go through the policy positions and propaganda of the nine Republican candidates for Congress in Southwest Florida is to tour an intellectual landscape so barren and arid that no idea can survive there.

They’re all ready to fight for Trump and the Trump agenda once they get to Congress in 2021.

But what happens if there’s no President Trump in 2021?

Will these White Walkers just collapse in a heap like their fictional counterparts when the Night King was destroyed? And worse, if one of them is elected and has no leader, will he or she have any notion what to do in the US Congress?

As noted in a previous post, the issues the next Congress confronts are likely to be much different from what candidates are running on now—far grimmer, more unforgiving and much more real.

So where do these Republicans stand on issues that the next Congress is really likely to face that affect Southwest Florida? We took a tour of the candidates’ websites where they post their most formal and detailed policy positions. This article is based on what we found there.

Southwest Florida is facing plenty of challenges. But let’s concentrate on three of the most compelling and urgent: plague, poverty and water.

This is the winter that is coming.

Plague

By the beginning of January 2021 when the new members of Congress take their oaths of office (assuming of course, that the United States remains a constitutional republic and not a Trumpist dictatorship) coronavirus is likely to remain virulent and active. A vaccine may have even been developed but as Dr. Anthony Fauci put it, “there is no guarantee — and anyone who has been involved in vaccinations will tell you — we’ll have a safe and effective vaccine.”

Given that Dr. William Figlesthaler is the only medical doctor in the Republican field, voters might have expected him to weigh in strongly and authoritatively on the greatest healthcare crisis of our time.

Initially, he did. On March 19 Figlesthaler announced he was suspending his campaign and opening a coronavirus hotline to concentrate on helping people cope with the then-mounting pandemic.

However, as a political novice, Figlesthaler didn’t realize that in political parlance, “suspending” a campaign means abandoning it. As a result, he had to unsuspend his campaign on March 27. (Candidates always “suspend” their campaigns when they are actually ending them in order to leave open the possibility of re-starting them again should circumstances permit.)

Since that time, Figlesthaler has not weighed in on the pandemic. He has been silent on mask mandates and health closures. He has only continued to reaffirm his loyalty to Trump, who kept dismissing or wishing away the crisis.

Also avoiding mention of COVID are Dane Eagle and Randy Henderson.

Of the other candidates, Casey Askar on his website states: “Our nation is at war, this is a public health crisis and a national defense issue. It’s important that we save lives, and that everyone does their part.” That said, NBC2’s Dave Elias reported Askar opposing a mask mandate in a July 9 interview.

Byron Donalds weighed in against Cape Coral imposing a mask mandate when the city debated the issue on July 6.

In contrast to those candidates avoiding the issue, the youngest candidate in the field, Ave Maria Law School graduate Christy McLaughlin, is vehemently and actively anti-closure and anti-mask, holding online anti-closure rallies and repeatedly denouncing mask mandates.

In a particular irony, McLaughlin made a point of appearing at Cape Coral’s mask mandate debate on July 6 where she told Fox4 News that she opposed the mandate: “We do have the personal responsibility and ability to make our own choices with the autonomy of our own bodies,” she said—a choice she would deny to women when it comes to abortion, given her rigidly anti-choice stance.

If a new coronavirus vaccine becomes available next year, the next scramble in Congress will be to fund its production and distribution. From a parochial perspective, all Florida representatives will have to do what they can to ensure that the state gets its share. Until now Trump has favored Florida and his pliant, handpicked governor by giving the state preferred access to the National Stockpile. But if there’s no Trump in office next year, the representative of the 19th District will have to be vigilant and active in monitoring and pursuing the vaccine for constituents and encouraging its production through votes in Congress.

To date, the candidates’ positions do not inspire confidence to that end.

Poverty

Southwest Florida will likely remain in an economic depression next year, along with the rest of the country. Tourism, hospitality, travel and seasonal retail are unlikely to recover quickly and if the pandemic is still raging, those sectors will remain depressed.

When it comes to the economy, the House of Representatives has passed repeated economic stimulus packages to help people with unemployment benefits and businesses with pandemic-related losses. Another such package is imminent. These have all been Democratic initiatives passed with Democratic majorities, with Southwest Florida representatives varying in their approval or, in the case of Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), being absent.

Where do the Republican candidates stand on economic support, both for the nation and Southwest Florida?

Askar and Figlesthaler both boast of their past business successes and say they will fight for the economy in the future, although they don’t give specifics. Askar praises Trump’s tax cuts and vows: “I will always pursue tax policies that create greater opportunities. Washington’s problem is not that it taxes too little, but that it spends too much”—cold comfort in a time of mass unemployment and economic cratering when government spending is the only relief for many people. In a detailed paper, however, (more below) he does acknowledge: “In fact, we may never be able to fully quantify the economic devastation resulting from COVID-19.”

Randy Henderson touts his economic successes as mayor of Fort Myers. Prior to the pandemic, the city had a 3.4 percent unemployment rate, 9 points lower than when he took office. Of the all the candidates, he is the only one who has been in an elected executive position where he could directly affect employment in his jurisdiction.

But that still doesn’t address future unemployment and what steps he could take as a member of Congress to reduce it. In fact, he states: “The federal government should never be in the business of creating jobs. Instead, we need to continue passing President Trump’s America First agenda to rebuild our economy by empowering the private sector and job creators.”

One might point out that it was President Trump’s policies in the face of the pandemic that got America into its current economic state in the first place. But that would be unkind.

Water

In Southwest Florida water issues and environmental challenges long preceded this election and will long follow it. It’s the one constant issue and one where physical realities and the iron laws of science can’t be wished away. Managing water is what makes human life possible in this tropical realm and so the candidates have had a lot of time to ponder it and offer detailed responses.

All the Republican candidates are all for water purity and pledge to fight for funding to achieve it, in varying degrees of detail. But it must be said, one candidate stands out above all the others: Casey Askar.

From a fairly dismissive and shallow position on water issues (as pointed out in the May 15 article, “The Curious Case of Casey Askar”), Askar has since posted the most detailed and researched position on water issues of all the Republican candidates. Someone in his campaign has done his or her homework.

In a paper titled “I will not allow Southwest Florida to go out of Business,” Askar ties water to the economic crisis, arguing that “lobbyists and career politicians in Washington, DC are seizing on the chaos from this unprecedented global pandemic to try to undo huge advancements for water quality in Southwest Florida. Put simply – I will not allow them to put Southwest Florida out of business.”

Askar’s proposals are very much in the general consensus on water issues. He calls for sending water south to the Everglades and protecting the integrity of the Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (which is misspelled “Manuel” in the paper) to prioritize the region’s health, economy and environment. He pledges to fight for completion of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and the storage reservoir south of the Everglades Agricultural Area. He also says he’ll fight for “commonsense operational change,” like sending more water south during the dry season.

Even if written by one of Askar’s campaign consultants, as is usually the case, the paper shows some thought, research and originality applied to a real local issue.

One hopes that the candidate has read it.

Winter arrives

On January 19, 2017, the United States was a healthy nation with a strong, if not spectacularly but steadily growing economy, relatively low unemployment, longstanding international alliances, robust trading relationships, declining crime, and smartly enforced borders. It had a diverse but harmonious population with a sense of unity, confidence in its institutions and trust in its government.

In his inauguration speech the next day, Donald Trump called this “American carnage.” In his view, America was exactly the opposite, a place where “the establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country,” an establishment whose victories were its own and not those of the people. America, he said, was a place of poverty, lost jobs, undefended borders, an education system that didn’t educate, crumbling infrastructure, foreign exploitation and a hollowed out economy.

In four years, Trump has turned his delusions from that day into the American reality. As the Lincoln Project puts it: today America is poorer, sicker and weaker.

This is the present and future that the Republican congressional candidates are vehemently vowing to preserve and protect if they’re elected.

It’s the world ruled by the Night King and his unthinking White Walkers.

And if the living give it their votes, it will be the world for the next four years and beyond.

Winter will have come to stay. Even in Southwest Florida.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

 

 

US House passes major enviro bill benefiting SWFL; Florida senators, representatives split

07-24-20 Everglades Nat Pk SrThe Everglades.       (Photo: National Park Service)

July 24, 2020 by David Silverberg.

On Wednesday, July 22, the US House of Representatives passed the Great American Outdoors Act (HR 1957) by a vote of 310 to 107.

The bill, originally introduced by the late Rep. John Lewis (D-5-Ga.), establishes a National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to fund deferred maintenance on public lands like national parks, reserves and refuges and makes ongoing funding permanent and reliable.

Major Southwest Florida national parks and tourist destinations like Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve will benefit from the infusion of funds for upgrades, improvements and repairs.

The money will come from half the revenue the government receives from energy development including both fossil fuel and renewable energy sources. It will fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the money supporting conservation efforts, permanently providing it with $900 million per year. A second part of the legislation provides $1.9 billion every year for five years for public lands maintenance.

Having now passed both the House and Senate, it is likely to be signed into law by President Donald Trump.

Florida representatives and senators split on the legislation.

The Senate version of the bill passed on June 17 by a vote of 73 to 25. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) voted for it, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) voted against it.

Among Southwest Florida’s representatives, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) voted for it, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) voted against it and Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) was absent.

All Florida Democrats voted for the bill, which reconciled both an earlier House version and the Senate version. In addition to Diaz-Balart, four Florida Republicans broke party ranks to approve it: Reps. Gus Bilirakis (12) Vern Buchanan (16), Brian Mast (18) and John Rutherford (4).

Rooney’s absence was ironic since he was a co-sponsor of the original legislation and actively promoted it.

“Ensuring that the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) receives appropriate and consistent funding is critical for the preservation of our nation’s parks and public lands,” he stated when the bill passed. “That is why I am a proud co-sponsor of the bipartisan Great American Outdoors Act. This landmark legislation will establish the National Parks and Public Land Restoration Fund to make funding for the LWCF permanent and mandatory.

“Southwest Florida is home to some of the most beautiful and treasured natural landscapes. Throughout my time in Congress, I have worked to make certain that SWFL is given the resources needed to maintain its environmental quality. The Great American Outdoors Act is an extended effort to do just that.”

There had been strong support for the legislation by conservation and environmental groups.

The Nature Conservancy, a global non-profit environmental organization based in Arlington, Va., also praised the bill’s passage.

“At a time when our country needs to create jobs and rebuild local economies while also protecting nature and places where everyone can recreate outdoors, the Great American Outdoors Act answers the call on all fronts,” stated Jennifer Morris, chief executive office of The Nature Conservancy.

Environment Florida, a non-profit conservation organization, applauded the passage.

“With today’s passage of this bill, we’re one step away from putting a lock and key on funding that has always been intended for conservation projects — yet consistently diverted to other purposes,” stated Wendy Wendlandt, acting president of a national network of environmental groups that includes Environment Florida. “We’re closer to adopting a new consciousness for today’s world, that our lives are made richer if surrounded by more nature, rather than more extracted resources. We applaud the House’s bipartisan passage of the Great American Outdoors Act and ask that President Trump sign this important bill.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg