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

 

 

Now it’s personal: All those political TV ads and what they mean

07-13-20 Levitra football ad 3

07-13-20 Figlesthaler football 2Blasts from the past and present: Levitra Man and William Figlesthaler.    (Images: You Tube, Figlesthaler for Congress)

July 17, 2020 by David Silverberg

You’ve seen them—and seen them and seen them and seen them: the local political ads on television if you’re in the Cape Coral-Fort Myers-Naples media market.

We’re going into the home stretch before the primary on Aug. 18. Voting starts on Aug. 8 and people are already casting mail-in ballots.

As a result, the campaigning is getting harder, the attacks getting sharper and the ads are becoming more negative. With traditional face-to-face campaign tools like rallies, door-to-door canvassing and meet-and-greets unavailable due to the pandemic, this year’s election really rides on television advertising.

So while everyone can see the ads—in fact, they’re impossible to avoid in the 5 pm to 6:30 local news hours no matter how hard one tries—what are the dynamics behind them? Why are particular candidates using particular arguments and images? Why are they attacking particular opponents? Are the campaigns succeeding in their goals?

Well, you—the voter—be the judge.

And don’t forget: This article only covers the Republican rumble in the 19th Congressional District. There are good Democratic alternatives in every race.

PAC men: Casey Askar versus Byron Donalds

Who would have thought that state Rep. Byron Donalds (R-80-Immokalee) would emerge as a major player—or threaten the richest candidate, businessman Casey Askar?

The 2020 2nd quarter fundraising totals for the 19th Congressional District were released by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) yesterday, July 16. As of June 30, when the books were closed, Byron Donalds was third, having raised $778,962.94 and having $328,588.43 on hand. That put him well behind Casey Askar ($3,656,255.85 raised, $1,760,828.90 on hand) and William Figlesthaler ($1,986,420.40 raised, $709,435.00 on hand).

(The Paradise Progressive will be doing individual analyses of candidate’s financial reports in future articles.)

But Donalds’ campaign fundraising and totals don’t tell the whole story. He has a not-so-secret weapon: an endorsement and support from the Club for Growth Action, a Super Political Action Committee (PAC). Super PACs can spend unlimited amounts of money on behalf of a cause or candidate as long as they don’t coordinate with the candidate’s campaign.

07-16-20 Byron Donalds Club for Growth ActionPro: Club for Growth Action’s ad in praise of Byron Donalds.      (Image: Club for Growth Action)

Club for Growth is not just any old conservative political organization. It touts itself as “the leading free-enterprise advocacy group in the nation, we win tough battles and we have an enormous influence on economic policy.”

In a 2016 Politico Magazine article, author Simon Van Zuylen-Wood characterized it as a “deep-pocketed interest group that is feared by Republicans who come into its cross hairs for supporting tax or spending hikes.” It claims membership of “250,000 pro-growth, limited government Americans who share in the belief that prosperity and opportunity come from economic freedom.”

No surprise, Democrats are not enchanted. “The Club For Growth has done an absolutely terrific job pushing reckless and extreme Republicans through primaries, thinning out an already out of touch and cash-strapped class of Republican recruits,” Robyn Patterson, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told The Hill.

Club for Growth Action is the Club’s spending arm and this year it chose to endorse and spend on behalf of Byron Donalds, the only Florida candidate and the only African American of the 49 candidates it is supporting.

Club for Growth Action’s intervention is what in military terms is called a “force multiplier.” It suddenly makes Donalds one of the best financed, if not the best financed candidate, in the race. Now, not only is he running his own ads touting his allegiance to Trump and his conservatism, he has outside ads backing him up, putting him on a par with the until-now richest candidate, Casey Askar.

Pretty clearly Askar—and/or his staff and consultants—are painfully aware of it too, because they’ve suddenly decided to go after Donalds with negative TV ads. To do this, they’ve focused on Donalds’ and the Club for Growth’s Achilles heel.

In a Republican primary race built on fanatical fealty to Donald Trump that allows no room for deviation or impurity, Club for Growth has a dark past: In 2016 it opposed Donald Trump. “There’s nothing conservative about Donald Trump,” one of its operatives stated at the time.

And what is Byron Donalds’ sin? His 1997 drug bust, which he himself acknowledges in his campaign video? An admitted acceptance of a bribe in 2000? Nah, that’s just water under the bridge. His real crime is political heresy, which the Askar opposition team uncovered: In the past, Byron Donalds didn’t support Trump! In fact, he thought Trump was something of a jerk and said so. Imagine! Impure thoughts!

In a television ad approved by Askar, he brings up Donalds’ past opposition to Trump and Donalds’ tweets disparaging Trump and expressing relief when Trump announced in 2011 that he wouldn’t be running.

A lengthier and more explicit video was issued by another Super PAC, Honesty America PAC, which identifies itself only as “conservative voters, frustrated with politicians who promote themselves and their ‘public service’ with no regard for the truth”—no names, no further identity on its website, and with a Twitter account that only activated in March. A search of FEC records reveals Honesty America Inc., a Super PAC based in Alexandria, Va., incorporated on April Fool’s Day, 2020 with David Satterfield, a professional campaign compliance consultant, as its treasurer.

07-16-20 Byron Donalds Never TrumperOriginal sin: Honesty America PAC’s anti-Donalds video.     (Image: Honesty America PAC)

Byron Donalds has responded with a video of his own called “Dishonest attacks by Casey Askar.”

In the video, Donalds says: “My opponent, Casey Askar has decided to attack me, not on my conservative record, which started here in Southwest Florida with the Tea Party movement and he’s not attacking me on my conservative record in the Florida legislature, where I have stood up even to my own party to protect your constitutional Second Amendment rights.” He then goes on to rebut the attacks, attributing them to youth or to his existence in the days prior to Trump’s time as a politician.

Askar himself is not immune to criticism and worse. An FEC complaint has been filed about the source of his $3 million loan to his campaign and a complaint to the state’s attorney charged that his Harvard Business School degree was bogus, a charge Askar is fighting with a lawsuit. But aside from these public attacks, a variety of campaign operatives of unknown provenance and motivation are peddling information about Askar behind the scenes. (For more, see “Sleaze, slime and slander: Southwest Florida’s summer in the swamp.”)

To a skeptical outsider, the charges and countercharges sound like a metaphysical argument among Inquisition judges over who should be burned at the stake. But in the real world, the heat is rising because the candidates are fighting over a shrinking share of undecided Republican voters who will determine the primary winner.

However, given the rising passion, politics and friction, both Askar and Donalds may spontaneously combust well before August 18.

Figlesthaler assumes human form

In his campaign ads Dr. William Figlesthaler has played different roles: He’s been the angry Dr. Zhivago populist in a white lab coat. He’s been the Knight Trumplar on his iron steed, doing battle with the goblins of the left. He’s been the Grim Reaper stalking down corridors like a crazed Jack Torrance in The Shining.

But viewers knew something had changed when he shaved off his signature five o’clock shadow and stopped snarling at the camera.

07-16-20 Fig shaven cropped
Say cheese: A newly shorn William Figlesthaler tries to smile.

In his first post-shave video, “A Legacy of Success,” issued on July 7, Figlesthaler touted his past successes in a way strongly reminiscent of Askar’s ads. He even tried to smile. Still, it was strange seeing him shorn and in the end his face seemed flat and featureless, like a botoxed balloon. (Bad lighting on that last shot, guys!)

In his latest video, Figlesthaler tries to be…human. It’s called “Just a Regular Guy.” After all his larger-than-life personas in his previous ads, this time he’s just a salt of the earth papa.

In the video he throws around a football in a field with a young boy—presumably his grandson—and he tells viewers he’s just a regular guy like everyone else.

The ad seemed eerily familiar to this viewer. Where had this scenario appeared before?

Does anyone remember back to 2003 and an ad for a drug called Levitra?

In that TV spot a middle-aged man enters a garage and sees an old football. He picks it up, goes in the backyard and throws it, trying to send it through the center of a tire hanging from a tree. At first he misses.

The narrator intones: “Sometimes you need a little help staying in the game.” The name of Levitra, a male enhancement drug, pops up. The ad, until then in black and white, suddenly goes to color.

Now the man has energy. He’s running around the backyard, throwing the football through the tire—again and again and again.

His wife (presumably?) comes to the door and sees him active and energetic. She joins him in the backyard. They’re happy, snuggly and kissy-faced.

It’s a metaphor!!! Get it?

07-13-20 Levitra football ad 2A newly energized Levitra Man makes a score.                      (Image: YouTube)

On the one hand the similarities between Figlesthaler’s ad and the Levitra ad (“Staying in the Game,” its proper title) might have been inadvertent. Perhaps his video production company is staffed by people too young to remember Levitra Man.

But “Just a Regular Guy” comes at a time when Figlesthaler’s campaign is being blasted as nothing more than a mid-life crisis on the website Freaky Fig, posted by…wait for it…Honesty America PAC, the same one attacking Byron Donalds to the advantage of Casey Askar.

Figlesthaler has pledged to keep fighting to the bitter end in the video “Everything I’ve Got.” He’s certainly staying in the game—financially.

Not to abandon objectivity or favor any particular campaign here, but maybe Figlesthaler would benefit from addressing genuine policy issues and the real legislative needs of Southwest Florida? He is, after all, running for the United States Congress. But understanding those would take work.

Meanwhile, as of today, there are 32 days until Primary Day.

And remember: There are Democrats to vote for in November.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

 

 

Sleaze, slime and slander: Southwest Florida’s summer in the swamp

06-29-20 Fig and Hurley NBC2

Dr. William Figlesthaler and Matthew Hurley in happier times.  (Image: NBC2)

July 2, 2020 by David Silverberg

If you’ve been preoccupied with the resurgence of coronavirus in Florida, the breakdown of the state unemployment system, protests and reactions and the general collapse of civilization, you could be forgiven for overlooking the schemes and scandals of Southwest Florida’s local politics, of which there has been a bumper crop.

So here, for those who might have missed them and would like to catch up, is a roundup of some of the seamier stories that have burst on the airwaves and Internets this summer.

Figlesthaler’s news—fake and otherwise

This one belongs to political reporter Dave Elias of NBC2, who has been peeling back layers of denial and obfuscation toward something that may be much bigger and badder than first reported.

On June 22, Elias reported that Matthew Hurley, a campaign staffer with Dr. William Figlesthaler, a Republican congressional candidate in the 19th Congressional District, had been arrested for contempt of court charges in a business contract dispute unrelated to the campaign.

Figlesthaler denied that Hurley had been with the campaign. (“Local Congressional candidate denies affiliation with arrested man, despite contrary evidence.”) Hurley is also a partner in a political consulting firm—owned by his girlfriend, Rachel Schaff—called Southeastern Strategies that was hired by Figlesthaler (as confirmed by Federal Election Commission (FEC) financial reports).

Figlesthaler didn’t just deny that Hurley was with his campaign, he went all-Trump on Elias and the story. In a statement, he claimed to be “the overwhelming front runners (sic) in the race” (absolutely not true), accused NBC2 of being “fake news media [that] utilized lies and distortions to attack our campaign and promote their anti-Conservative, anti-Trump, anti-America message,” (that honor belongs only to The Paradise Progressive) and accused Elias of being “a long-time liberal activist, open borders proponent, and self-proclaimed Never Trumper” who attacks “real America First Conservatives” (totally untrue).

But the real essence of Figlesthaler’s attack and the person against whom he leveled real accusations was one of Elias’ on-air sources, a woman named JoAnn Debartolo.

“Elias’ only so-called ‘source’ in his hit piece was well known political extortionist JoAnn Debartolo,” Figlesthaler stated. “JoAnn has for years preyed on independently wealthy individuals to pay her personal bills and mortgage. In March of 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, JoAnn attempted to extort my campaign for more than $50,000 in cash. When I refused to pay her, she quickly aligned with one of my deep-pocketed opponents in an attempt to spread lies about our campaign.”

Debartolo is a long-time Collier County Republican activist who was approached to join Figlesthaler’s campaign and turned him down—and provided Elias with the proposed contract to prove it.

06-29-20 Roger Stone endorsement YouTube
Roger Stone endorses JoAnn Debartolo.  (Image: YouTube)

(Debartolo is on this year’s Republican Party primary ballot for the position of state committeewoman. On June 20, Roger Stone—yes, that Roger Stone—endorsed Debartalo as a “conservative Trump supporter” over her opponent in a 41-second YouTube video.)

Elias followed up his first story the next day, June 23, with one that provided even more evidence of Hurley’s relationship to the campaign: “Congressional candidate claims coverage of campaign member is ‘fake news’ despite piles of evidence.”

The story featured statements by competing Republican candidates Darren Aquino, Christy McLaughlin, Casey Askar and state Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral) attesting that they were all approached by Hurley on behalf of Figlesthaler’s campaign—either in Hurley’s capacity as a campaign worker or in an effort to get them to drop out (Aquino).

Elias’ report also revealed that: “Lawsuits show Hurley owes thousands of dollars in civil lawsuits and has not paid them. A judge has ordered them paid and an arrest document lists Figlesthaler’s campaign as a possible employer to garnish wages.”

As of this writing, there have been no further reports by Elias on the Figlesthaler-Hurley relationship. However, Elias had solid evidence for all his reporting and his work to date seems to hint at something deeper.

At the very least, Figlesthaler’s Trump-like reactions of blame, denial and accusation to the stories indicate the kind of congressman he would be if elected to represent Southwest Florida in the House of Representatives—and he’s running on a “drain the swamp” platform, no less.

Much more is likely to come on this story. Stay tuned!

The origins of Askar’s millions

07-01-20 FEC logoIn the 19th Congressional District race, businessman Casey Askar rocketed to the front of the Republican pack on the strength of a $3 million personal loan to his campaign.

But now it appears that $3 million may not have come out of his own pocket.

In a June 9 article, “Complaint alleges Casey Askar bankrolled with improper loan,” in Florida Politics, reporter Jacob Ogles detailed a FEC complaint alleging that Askar’s $3 million was actually a sweetheart, interest-free loan from Northern Bank and Trust.

The complaint was filed by Stan Carter, a conservative activist in St. James City (on the southern tip of Pine Island, in the 19th Congressional District). Carter told the FEC that the loan “reeks of fraud to the highest degree.”

While ostensibly a business loan made to several individuals, Carter suggested that it was really a personal loan by the bank’s president to Askar.

Kristin Davison, a consultant with the Askar campaign, told Ogles that the loan came from a line of credit Askar had through Northern Trust for years. Money was drawn from the account before Askar filed for Congress and he then loaned it to the campaign.

“The bank didn’t loan money to the campaign,” she said. “Casey has a line of credit. Those are his personal funds.”

The fact that the original business loan was made to several individuals meant that the money was not Askar’s alone to lend to his campaign, thus violating campaign finance rules, according to Carter.

“Of course, banks are conscious of the stringent regulations surrounding campaign finance, and they would be all the more conscious of those regulations when lending a figure as large as $3,000,000,” Carter wrote. “However, Northern Bank & Trust Company blatantly ignored these regulations. Why? Because Kousay ‘Casey’ Askar conspired with the President & CEO of Northern Bank & Trust Company, James Mawn, to receive the fraudulent loan.”

As Ogles put it in his article: “The FEC complaint itself focuses on Askar’s loan, suggesting a bank with no personal ties to Askar would never grant such a low-risk deal to a first-time political candidate and saying the way the money was directed into the campaign account was unlawful.”

Northern Bank & Trust did not return Ogles’ calls before the article’s publication.

In response to a question from The Paradise Progressive, a FEC official confirmed that the complaint had been received at the federal agency but FEC rules prohibited her from providing further details of the proceeding.

Carter’s complaint did highlight something that is now being used against Askar by his Republican opponents: his Iraqi immigrant origins and the fact that his birth name was Qusay (قصي or Kousay, as his critics prefer to spell it). Askar seems to be hitting back with a new video ad that again focuses on his faith and immigrant roots—and allegiance to Trump—called “Time to fight back.” It takes aim at the usual liberal targets—but also, it seems, his Republican tormentors.

Heather’s horror

No sooner had state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen (R-78-Fort Myers) abandoned her quest for the 19th Congressional District House seat and staked a claim on the state Senate seat representing the 27th District (basically, Lee County) than her opponents opened up with all guns blazing.

Her bid outraged fellow Republicans in the Florida Senate, who didn’t want her in a primary race against a fellow Republican, didn’t like her political moderation and thought she was too cozy with a powerful Democratic lawmaker.

The result was a 30-second TV ad whose female narrator intones: “Planned Parenthood’s favorite politician? Nancy Pelosi? Nope, Heather Fitzenhagen.” As this is said, Pelosi’s face morphs into Fitzenhagen’s. The ad attacks Fitzenhagen for a variety of conservative heresies like opposing Trump and being liberal but most particularly her stance on choice.

06-29-20 Pelosi morph 1

06-29-20 Pelosi morph 2

06-29-20 Pelosi morph 3The metamorphosis of Heather Fitzenhagen, according to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.     (Images: FRSCC)

Produced by Isaac Communications of Jacksonville, the ad is sponsored by the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which urges viewers to vote for Fitzenhagen’s primary opponent: State Rep. Ray Rodrigues (R-76-Sanibel, Pine Island, Fort Myers Beach, Bonita Springs). It’s also supported by state Sens. Debbie Mayfield (R-17) and Gayle Harrell, (R-83), all of whom approved it, as it says in the fine print at the end.

Whenever the ad runs on local television stations it’s paired with a 30-second pro-Rodrigues ad that touts his conservative credentials.

Despite the vitriol, an internal poll by the Fitzenhagen campaign showed her leading Rodrigues by 10 points, according to a June 22 Florida Politics article by Ogles: “Internal poll shows Heather Fitzenhagen with a double-digit lead on Ray Rodrigues.”

Of course there is a Democratic alternative to the 27th Senate District Republicans: Democrat Rachel Brown, a Naples native. And running for the seat Rodrigues is vacating is Democrat Anselm Weber. Both first-time candidates are campaigning as progressives trying to bring change to Southwest Florida.

Ogles reported on June 16 that state Sen. Gary Farmer (D-34) representing eastern Broward County, urged Brown not to run so that Democrats could vote in an open Republican primary and elect the more moderate Fitzenhagen. However, Brown refused.

“How can I tell people I’ve marched with that I changed my mind, I’m not going to run, and they should go vote for a mediocre Republican instead who’s just going to take their taxes and use it for corporate handouts?” Brown told Ogles. “And how can I take a backroom deal that represents the behavior I’m fighting to end?”

06-29-20 Rachel BrownDemocrats Rachel Brown and Anselm Weber.   (Photo: The Daily Kos)

McCarthyism makes a comeback

In case you didn’t enjoy the first round of McCarthyism when Sen. Joe Mc

07-01-20 Joseph_McCarthy
Sen. Joseph McCarthy

Carthy (R-Wis.) was active in the 1950s, or if you missed it entirely (like this author) you have a second chance to see it right here in Southwest Florida.

That’s because Darren Aquino, a retired actor formerly of New York and now a Republican congressional candidate, is raising the old “Communist” canard—and like McCarthy, is doing so without any basis in fact, evidence or truth.

Aquino’s far fringe campaign consists almost entirely of tweets leveling insults and spitting hate against everyone around him. He calls Casey Askar a “snake” because he’s an immigrant and not a “natural-born citizen” and Aquino wants to make immigrants ineligible to serve in Congress. He also thinks America is headed for civil war and it’s time to pick a side. He despises refugees, Democrats, and other fellow Republicans (he calls Dane Eagle a Republican in Name Only and Sen.Marco Rubio a Never-Trumper, etc.) He even wants Bubba Wallace thrown out of NASCAR. And, of course, WINK News is fake news in his eyes.

06-11-20 Darren Aquino
Darren Aquino  (Image: WINK News)

But Aquino’s “communist” attack was leveled against Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai, whom he first called a “socialist” but then decided to change into “communist” after she called for removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in downtown Fort Myers.

Aquino’s hysteria would be laughable on the face of it but on June 23 he went on to call for Florida Gulf Coast University to fire Banyai as an adjunct professor because of her views.

The attack is reminiscent of Joe McCarthy’s baseless personal smears and the professional price people paid when targeted by him and his assistant Roy Cohn. Aquino is the only SWFL candidate in any race who is attacking another candidate’s livelihood.

At the moment there’s no indication that anyone—including FGCU—is taking Aquino seriously.

Aquino’s bitter McCarthyist revival seems destined to end up in the dustbin of history. As Karl Marx once pointed out, history sometimes happens twice: “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

 

Paranoiapalooza: SWFL’s Republican video wars

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

June 24, 2020 by David Silverberg.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Casey Askar and “Home of the Brave”

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

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

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

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

William Figlesthaler gives his all

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dane Eagle on the firing line

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

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

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

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

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

Analysis: Firing their shots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hopefully we can all get there without anyone being shot.

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg

 

 

 

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

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

June 12, 2020 by David Silverberg

Updated at 11:15 am with additional details.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mini-Trumps for Congress

06-11-20 Darren Aquino
Darren Aquino

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

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

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

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

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

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

06-02-20 Fig in wall ad
William Figlesthaler

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

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

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

06-11-20 Dane Eagle
Dane Eagle

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

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

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

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


Byron Donalds and Antonio Dumornay

06-05-20 Byron Donalds
Byron Donalds

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

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

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

06-05-20 Antonio Dumornay
Antonio Dumornay

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

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

A reference to Alfie Oakes, perhaps?


When words matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

June 2, 2020 by David Silverberg.

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

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

06-02-20 Cindy Banyai serious
Cindy Banyai

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poll findings

06-01-20 Republican field CD19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Askar and Figlesthaler seek closure–border closure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg

Follow the money: Figlesthaler and the medicine men of SWFL

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

May 21, 2020 by David Silverberg.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Young Guns blazing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The two will no doubt continue exchanging potshots.

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

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg

 

Coronavirus aid, a new Republican in the 19th, Figlesthaler unsuspends, journalists unionize–SWFL’s state of play UPDATED

03-26-20 Pelosi enrolls Coronavirus bilHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi signs the Coronavirus support bill today.

March 27, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Updated at 6:12 pm with Trump signature and Republican candidate chart, also at 10:20 pm with Rooney and Steube tweets.

This afternoon the US House of Representatives approved the CARES Act, (HR 748) providing $2 trillion in relief for Americans and businesses hurt by the Coronavirus pandemic.

The measure passed on a near-unanimous voice vote, so the votes of Southwest Floridian representatives were not individually recorded. The measure had bipartisan support in both the Senate, where it passed 96-0, and the House and was endorsed by President Donald Trump. Trump signed it shortly after receiving it, enacting it into law.

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) praised Pelosi for the bill’s passage in a tweet: “Thank you
@SpeakerPelosi for moving the CARES Act quickly and safely through the House of Representatives, and for your work on this legislation. As Americans, we must come together to defeat this virus. #Coronavirus.”

However, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) still found cause for complaint.  “Explain to me how allocating $1 billion of taxpayer money to fund an Obama era program that provides discounted phone service for people will save lives? Pelosi put this in her COVID-19 response bill. She is exploiting this national crisis to push her politics!” he tweeted yesterday.

Nonetheless, Steube managed to eke out praise for Congress and the legislation itself in a pair of tweets once it passed. “This bill will provide assistance for families, small businesses, and health care providers working on the front line to combat the virus. Although not perfect, and there are many pieces of this legislation I do not support, I think it’s important for unemployed workers and small businesses to get economic relief now so that we can quickly get our economy back on track.”

New candidate in the 19th

As though we did not have excitement enough, yet another Republican candidate is aspiring to attain the 19th Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Francis Rooney.

This time it’s Michigan businessman Casey Askar. Askar filed on March 20 and sent out a press release stating that he felt called upon to serve the nation.

03-27-20 Casey Askar
Casey Askar

According to his announcement, Asker, a Christian born in Iraq, came to the United States at the age of 7, attended Oakland College, a school in southeastern, Michigan,  joined the US Marine Corps and then graduated from Harvard Business School.

Askar is a very busy entrepreneur. He started the Askar Family Office portfolio, which promotes food brand franchises. He distributes food to Askar Brands restaurants through ASC Foods. He’s involved in commercial real estate through Askar Properties and manages back office operations for franchisees. He’s also a franchisee for brands such as Church’s Chicken and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Askar doesn’t say if he lives in Southwest Florida full time or resides in District 19. His campaign committee’s mailing address is a post office box in Naples. Representatives are required to reside in the state they represent.

“My life is the embodiment of the American Dream,” Askar stated in his campaign announcement. “From fleeing tyrants in Iraq at the age of seven, to enlisting in the US Marines at eighteen, to watching President Donald Trump get elected president, I am so grateful for the life I have been able to build in my great country,”

Like all the Republican candidates in the 19th District, Askar is a passionate Trumper.

“Now, watching President Trump fight the rise of socialism and a world-wide pandemic, I feel called to serve again. America has given so much to me, my family, and my children, it’s time to give back and save our land of opportunity for future generations. Our country’s future is worth fighting for.” His campaign video shows Democratic politicians while it excoriates socialism

Other than his allegiance to Trump, Askar makes no mention of policy positions on any other issue and certainly doesn’t address local or environmental issues on his website, which only asks for donations. He lists no political or government experience.

Askar is the father of six children. He does not give his age in his campaign materials.

Askar’s entry brings the number of Republican congressional candidates to nine and keeps the total number of candidates at 12, with two Democrats and one Independent.

AQUINO, DARREN DIONE 1 REPUBLICAN PARTY AQUINO FOR CONGRESS
ASKAR, CASEY 2 REPUBLICAN PARTY CASEY ASKAR FOR CONGRESS
DONALDS, BYRON 3 REPUBLICAN PARTY BYRON DONALDS FOR CONGRESS
EAGLE, DANE 4 REPUBLICAN PARTY DANE EAGLE FOR CONGRESS
FIGLESTHALER, WILLIAM MATTHEW MD 5 REPUBLICAN PARTY WILLIAM FIGLESTHALER FOR CONGRESS
FITZENHAGEN, HEATHER 6 REPUBLICAN PARTY HEATHER FITZENHAGEN FOR CONGRESS
HENDERSON, RANDY 7 REPUBLICAN PARTY RANDY HENDERSON FOR CONGRESS
MCLAUGHLIN, CHRISTY 8 REPUBLICAN PARTY CHRISTY FOR CONGRESS
SEVERSON, DANIEL MARK 9 REPUBLICAN PARTY SEVERSON FOR CONGRESS
Republicans currently running for the 19th Congressional District seat and their campaign committees.

The number of Republicans running dropped by one when Ford O’Connell ended his campaign on March 19. Another candidate announced suspension of his campaign the same day, but…

The unsuspension of William Figlesthaler

On March 19 Dr. William Figlesthaler solemnly announced the temporary suspension of his congressional campaign and conversion of its phone lines to Coronavirus response hotlines.

“My team has worked tirelessly over the last couple of days to transition our campaign operations into a resource center designed to help the citizens of Southwest Florida navigate the multitude of resources available to help them through this time of uncertainty,” he stated in an announcement at the time.

Normally, temporary suspension of a campaign is code for “it’s over, folks,” but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. New Figlesthaler campaign ads are appearing on Southwest Florida television channels and there’s no indication of any slowdown in his media platforms.

Commentary: The suspension, such as it was, seems to have lasted a week— perhaps in keeping with President Trump’s view of the severity of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Figlesthaler has issued a video explaining his positions and, of course, his loyalty to President Trump.

03-27-20 Fig video
Dr. Fig battles the late Sen. John McCain.

In the video, against an inset of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), he denounces Democrats, whom he says “want socialized medicine,” then he turns to the other side, saying, “while establishment Republicans have failed to implement President trump’s aggressive free market solutions”—and he shows an inset of Republican Sen. John McCain—who died two years ago.

This is the “establishment Republican” Figlesthaler is running against: a dead American hero.

It will be interesting to see if he can win against live Republicans.

Petition deadline

Both Democratic and Republican candidates have been seeking a delay in Florida’s Monday, March 23rd deadline to turn in ballot petitions to get on the August 18 primary ballot. They argued that with the Coronavirus pandemic, it was impossible to collect petitions or canvass neighborhoods. The alternative to a petition drive is payment of a $10,044 fee.

On Tuesday, March 24, Laurel Lee, Florida’s secretary of state, issued a statement to Florida Politics: “As is always the case, the Florida Department of State will closely assess all conditions that affect the August and November elections, including any ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic. We, like you and the rest of the nation, are monitoring the coronavirus pandemic, and we will recommend any appropriate accommodations or decisions as we move closer to the election dates and understand more about the ongoing impact to our state.”

An inquiry to the Division of Elections by The Paradise Progressive received a response that a reply would be forthcoming.

If the state chooses not to waive or postpone the deadline or make some other accommodation for petitions, the congressional field of candidates in the 19th District could be considerably reduced.

Union vote for local journalists postponed

Political elections are not the only ones being affected by the Coronavirus pandemic; union elections are impacted too.

Since local print journalists have endured repeated layoffs and employment insecurity, back in February they decided to unionize.

“We, the journalists of the Naples Daily News, The News-Press, The Banner and the Marco Eagle, are unionizing,” they declared. “We want a seat at the table and a stable work environment where outstanding journalism matters most.”

03-27-20 SWFL News GuildMembers of the SWFL News Guild.       (Image: SWFL News Guild)

The Southwest Florida News Guild, a unit of the Newsguild-Communications Workers of America, was to have held its union election on Wednesday, March 25. However, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the National Labor Relations Board is putting off all union votes until April.

“Newspapers have reached a critical juncture as financial pressures and corporate mergers have decimated the staff of local newsrooms, including ours. A merger between our parent company, Gannett, and GateHouse Media will continue to gut our newsrooms. Even before the merger, we faced stagnant salaries, increased workloads, rising costs for health insurance, inadequate compensation for mileage and, most critically, the inability to retain many of our most talented peers,” the organizers stated.

“The Southwest Florida News Guild is being born from these conditions. Gannett has made bargaining as individual employees ineffective, which makes bargaining as a unit imperative. Collectively, we can fight for better pay, improved benefits and a diversity in our newsrooms that better reflects the communities we serve.”

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg

 

BREAKING NEWS: Figlesthaler suspends campaign for 19th Congressional District seat

02-05-20 Figlesthaler speechDr. William Figlesthaler in a campaign video.

March 19, 2020 by David Silverberg

Dr. William Figlesthaler, a Republican candidate for Congress in the 19th Congressional District, the seat currently held by Rep. Francis Rooney, has announced suspension of his political campaign.

“This morning I made the difficult, but important decision to temporarily suspend our on-the-ground campaign activities moving forward,” Figlesthaler announced in a 12:15 pm tweet.

Figlesthaler, a Naples-based urologist, stated that he was launching a medical hotline and online help center.

Figlesthaler was the highest financed congressional campaign for the 19th District thanks to a $410,000 loan from the candidate.

The Figlesthaler suspension brings to 10 the number of candidates seeking Rooney’s seat: seven Republicans, two Democrats and one Independent.

Figlesthaler’s full statement follows below:

This morning I made the difficult, but important decision to temporarily suspend our on-the-ground campaign activities moving forward.

As a physician, I have seen first-hand how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected us all.

Over the last few months, we have built an incredibly talented and robust campaign team completely dedicated to winning this election.

My team has worked tirelessly over the last couple of days to transition our campaign operations into a resource center designed to help the citizens of Southwest Florida navigate the multitude of resources available to help them through this time of uncertainty.

Our entire campaign team will be focused on managing our “Need Help? Ask!” crisis hotline and resource center.

If you, or a loved one is in need of assistance or has questions regarding the virus or the fallout because of it, please do not hesitate to reach out.

Our team can be reached via phone at 239-424-9868 or online at NeedHelpAsk.com

I want to reiterate, America is the greatest and most resilient nation on Earth, and we will get through this.

Thank you, God Bless.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Follow the money: Figlesthaler’s finances and what they mean

02-05-20 Figlesthaler speechDr. William Figlesthaler delivers his own State of the Union address in a campaign video.       (Image: Dr. Fig for Congress campaign)

Feb. 6, 2020 by David Silverberg

Final 4th Quarter 2019 financial figures are out for the political campaigns in Southwest Florida’s 19th Congressional District, so it’s time to survey the standing of all 11 candidates.

But it’s not enough just to recount what candidates have reported to the Federal Election Commission. In a series of articles called “Follow the money,” The Paradise Progressive will analyze what the numbers mean for each campaign, what they tell us about each candidate’s popular support and how each candidate is positioned for the days ahead.

Because it’s such a crowded field these articles will appear singly as individual profiles.

We’ll look at candidates in the order of the amount of money they raised in 2019.

Willliam Figlesthaler

Republican Dr. William Figlesthaler is the top-funded candidate in the race for the House of Representatives in the 19th Congressional District.

This Naples-based urologist and first-time politician has the highest total of all candidates reporting their 2019 finances, with $536,295 in receipts.

However, of that amount the vast majority, $410,000, came in a loan to the campaign from the candidate. Otherwise, 37 other donors contributed to the campaign for both the primary and general elections in amounts starting at $3,000.

Virtually all donors are active or retired doctors or associated with the medical field. Additional donors are family members: his Russian-born wife Olga and relatives Karolina, Elizabeth and William Figlesthaler II. Figlesthaler also received $2,000 from the campaign committee of Rep. Greg Murphy (R-3-NC), a member of Congress and fellow urologist from North Carolina, where Figlesthaler did his residence.

Figlesthaler spent $29,541.35 in 2019. Most of that was spent on consultants for media and fundraising, a video and website development. However, he also came up with a unique and bizarre form of advertising: screens in the men’s urinals in Hertz Arena.

As men urinate on the red, white and blue-colored plastic screen at the bottom of the urinal, they can ask themselves the question printed on the screen: “Are you ready to drain the swamp?” and presumably somehow connect the Dr. Fig name on the screen to Figlesthaler.

The stunt certainly got Figlesthaler local TV air time and media coverage.

“Quite frankly, they’re pissed off,” Figlesthaler said of voters to NBC-2’s Dave Elias, who reported the urinal story on Jan. 20. “They’re tired of what’s going on in Washington.” And was this a good idea? “The mere fact we’re talking about it right now tells me it was probably a good idea,” he concluded.

Whether it changes anyone’s mind and convinces voters remains to be seen. It’s not clear whether there’s any equivalent promotion for the women’s lavatories, so essentially Figlesthaler ignored half the voting population.

Analysis

Politically, Figlesthaler is a straight out Trumper and undeviatingly follows the Trumpist line on all issues. He’s working off the 2016 angry voter meme and making the old “drain the swamp” slogan the centerpiece of his campaign—one now abandoned even by Trump. He’s anti-abortion. He plays up his lack of political experience or knowledge. The only local issue he addresses on his website is water purity—he’s all for it.

It appears that he was inspired or convinced by his fellow urologist Greg Murphy in North Carolina that with enough money a candidate with virtually no name recognition, legislative record or political experience could win a seat in Congress.

Given the amount of personal money he’s putting into his campaign and his array of media and political consultants Figlesthaler is running what should look to an outsider like a fairly professional campaign. Consultants include Anedot, Baton Rouge, La., for fundraising; Compliance Consulting, a global compliance firm; Landslyde Media Group, a single-person, Cape Coral-based consultancy; Southeastern Strategies, a marketing firm; and Lakeside Media, a video production company.

That said, there’s no indication that Figlesthaler has any field organization, volunteers or infrastructure or is making any effort in that direction.

Figlesthaler seems to have no knowledge or interest in local issues and he certainly has no established political base beyond his small circle of doctor friends and their spouses, who actually reside all over the state rather than in the District.

Given his medical background and medical-heavy donor base he could clearly weigh in on healthcare and medical issues. However, his website states only: “As a physician, I have served thousands of Southwest Florida patients. I have seen firsthand how government-controlled healthcare drives up costs and destroys patients’ quality of care. I will fight for a free market system that ensures competitive prices and quality of service.” In other words, he opposes the Affordable Care Act.

Figlesthaler’s is a shallow, highly ideological campaign focused on national themes and complete indifference to local issues. Also, his small donor list doesn’t indicate an enormous groundswell of grassroots support.

By most traditional measures, Figlesthaler would not be considered a serious candidate and this would simply be a vanity project. However, his initial personal investment and the resources at his command mean that he must be considered a contender. In this he is following the model of his idol, Donald Trump.

Such campaigns have succeeded in the 19th Congressional District before. However, if he wins, Figlesthaler seems set to join the parade of inexperienced, naïve Southwest Florida candidates who went to Washington and were disillusioned by the rigors and realities of legislating, ill-serving the interests of Southwest Florida.

Next: Dane Eagle

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg