A bill to place video cameras in Florida classrooms to put teachers under full-time surveillance, introduced by state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples), had its initial reading on Tuesday, Jan. 11, the first day of the Florida legislative session.
House Bill (HB) 1055, Video Cameras in Public School Classrooms, “Authorizes school districts to adopt policy to place video cameras in public school classrooms; provides requirements for such policy; provides for viewing video recordings; provides DOE [Department of Education], school district, school, & certain employee responsibilities.” (A link to the full text of the bill is at the conclusion of this article.)
If passed in this legislative session the bill would take effect on July 1.
The bill has been referred to the Education and Employment Committee and its early learning and elementary education and secondary education and career development subcommittees, and the House Appropriations PreK-12 subcommittee.
Under the bill’s provisions a teacher would have to wear a microphone while teaching. Cameras would be installed in the front of classrooms. If a recording is interrupted in any way a written explanation must be filed. School principals would be the officials responsible for holding and administering the recordings and the bill specifies the circumstances under which recordings can be shared or deleted.
Rommel, who represents a legislative district running along coastal Collier County from Bonita Beach Road to Naples to Everglades City and Chokaloskee, was quoted in a television news interview saying, “Children are our most precious assets in the state of Florida and we should make sure we do everything we can to protect them and teachers too. There are incidents, a teacher/student incident, and we want to make sure we protect everyone in the classroom.”
He pointed out that “It’s not live-streamed. So, the teacher’s privacy and how they teach their class is not going to be infringed on.”
(Editor’s note: The Paradise Progressive reached out to Rommel’s office requesting a telephone interview on this subject. As of this writing the request has neither been answered nor acknowledged.)
HB 1055 immediately raised questions from the Florida Education Association (FEA), the largest teachers’ union in the state.
In a statement, Andrew Spar, FEA president, stated: “We have questions about this bill regarding parental rights and other issues. Could law enforcement or the district use the video to investigate a situation dealing with a student without parental knowledge? Can the video be used by law enforcement if a student harms another student or a school employee? Can a teacher use the recording to show that they did not get assistance in a timely manner after calling the office? Can it be used as evidence to show how effective a teacher is in the classroom?”
There is also nothing in the bill discussing the cost of the surveillance or funding for implementation.
A variety of interested parties are already lining up to lobby on the bill including the Lake County School Board, Hillsborough County Schools, and the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, although none had issued public statements on their positions as of this writing.
Yesterday, Jan. 13, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, weighed in on Twitter, stating: “omg no. Florida will not be a surveillance state!!!”
Commentary: Big Brother in the classroom
As though teachers are not under sufficient pressure now, between COVID, mask mandates, remote learning, school shootings, physical threats, anti-public education sentiment, charter school competition, and underfunding as well as low pay, low benefits and general lack of respect, under HB 1055 they would now be subject to constant surveillance in their classrooms.
“Morale is not high in education with teachers and this is just going to look to teachers as another way to catch them,” Angie Snow, an elementary educator in Hillsborough County, said in an interview broadcast on Tampa Bay 10 News. “An allegation is all it takes for a parent to get access and then there’s critiquing and criticizing of everything else.”
Indeed, the presumption behind HB 1055 appears to be that teachers are guilty of something and only the right video footage is needed to catch them.
With that in mind, HB 1055 has been carefully crafted to avoid appearing as part of the ideological assault on educators and school boards.
Although Rommel has espoused conservative, highly ideological views in all his campaigns and previous representation in Tallahassee, he’s couching this bill over concern about “incidents” in classrooms. These are defined in the bill as “an event, a circumstance, an act, or an omission that results in the abuse or neglect of a student” by another student or school employee. There have indeed been incidents of violence and altercations and even shootings in schools like Parkland.
But unlike police body cameras that routinely record footage of potentially violent, dangerous and evidentiary events, classrooms are—or should be—peaceful places. For the most part, what goes on in the vast majority of Florida classrooms the vast majority of the time is teaching and learning.
The extremely rare physical threat or altercation simply doesn’t justify the expense, the difficulty, and the complications—not to mention the simple indignity—of putting microphones on every teacher and installing video cameras in every classroom. If there’s an instance of violence and a security officer has to be called, his or her body camera should provide a sufficient record of any incident.
The real purpose of this legislation is to surveil teachers to punish them—or dangle the threat of punishment—for any heretical ideas they might impart in the classroom, with any party at all playing the role of accuser, inquisitor—and potentially, plaintiff.
HB 1055 fits in nicely with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ proposed Anti-WOKE [Wrongs to our Kids and Employees] Act, giving anyone the ability to sue teachers for teaching critical race theory. Citing video evidence, no matter how far-fetched or flimsy, plaintiffs can head to court on any pretext to financially destroy underpaid teachers even if the plaintiff doesn’t win the case.
From a practical standpoint, there’s simply no need, on a daily, ongoing basis, to record every moment in every classroom—not to mention the Orwellian implications of constant monitoring.
While Rommel is at pains to note that camera footage would not be live-streamed and would have to be released by principals, the fact is that this bill is clearly driven by extreme opponents of classroom COVID precautions and content of which they disapprove—i.e., “wokeness” and critical race theory.
Indeed, in Naples, Rommel’s home district, the only praise for the bill has come from Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III, the farmer and grocer who in August on Facebook called for the “take down” of teachers’ unions by “force.” (Oakes subsequently stated in an interview with The Paradise Progressive that he meant only by legal means.)
“If these teachers have nothing to hide they shouldn’t mind!” he stated on Facebook on Jan. 1.
This is a bad idea and a bad bill that should not get past the subcommittee stage.
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To register an opinion on HB 1055, contact the following legislators (e-mails can be sent through their linked pages):
Mr. Speaker, Mr. President, members of the Legislature and fellow citizens:
Welcome to Florumpia, a state of unreason, unreality and unrealism!
While so many around the country have followed science, sense and sentience, Florumpia is proud to be enlightenment’s graveyard.
In Florumpia we’re determined to prevent safeguards to people’s health and safety, to encourage and spread COVID to the greatest degree possible, to endanger our kids in schools and on the streets and as much as possible prevent free thought and inquiry in classrooms.
Florumpia seeks to become the proud dumping ground for ignorance, infection, and delusion, from a losing president who refuses to admit his defeat to anti-vaxxers who want to return to a time before understanding of germs.
Florumpia is a knowledge-free state. We reject all pandemic precautions. We reject all rules, from complying with state constitutional amendments to signaling lane changes.
Florumpia stands as a rock in a stone age! And with our stone tools we will build the future.
Thanks to an authoritarian, unconstitutional federal government, our treasury is full of money approved by Democrats in Congress and the evil President Joe Biden, from the Paycheck Protection Plan, to the COVID relief plan, to support for state governments to infrastructure improvements. With this money so recklessly poured into our state coffers, I will create a special office to invalidate election results I don’t like and a Florumpian military force answerable only to me.
In our classrooms we will stamp out any free or independent thought or critical thinking by our teachers, who will be under constant surveillance and subject to lawsuits by any aggrieved party whatsoever. We will purge all curricula of unpleasantness or discomfort. In Florumpia there have never been any wars with Native Americans nor slavery nor discrimination nor lynchings and no teacher will dare teach otherwise.
We will bring our universities to heel and prevent our professors from thinking any thoughts unapproved by me. They will labor as they should, like mute and mechanical field hands.
Speaking of field hands, we will be closing our borders to all but approved Florumpians, who will pick our crops and repair our roofs and mow our lawns and serve our food in restaurants. If that drives prices beyond what Florumpians want to pay or creates a labor shortage that closes down businesses and hurts the economy we will blame it on Joe Biden.
We will crush dissent expressed in peaceful demonstrations. In our streets, Florumpians can run over any demonstrator if the demonstrator is supporting the wrong cause. Those kinds of drivers will get a pass; all others will be jailed and held guilty until proven innocent.
When it comes to law enforcement we stand with sheriffs like Polk County’s Grady Judd who put it so well: “We only want to share one thing as you move in, hundreds a day. Welcome to Florida, but don’t register to vote and vote the stupid way you did up north, or you’ll get what they got.” We will prevent any kind of what we consider stupid voting. Efforts by stupid individuals to get stupid voters to vote stupidly will be crushed. Only our kind of stupidity will prevail!
Our elections will be carefully monitored and audited to yield only results I like—including my re-election. We will gerrymander districts to ensure only Republican outcomes and prevent anything other than a Republican majority in any election, ever. We will make Florumpia the one-party state it should be.
We will prevent any forms of fact-checking, truth-telling or lie-preventing by social media platforms and actively promote falsehoods ranging from altered COVID statistics to The Big Lie of the 2020 election.
We will encourage the massive accumulation of guns by all right-thinking Florumpians and ensure that Florumpia is a fully armed society unbound by any limits on weaponry—and certainly not restrained by a well-regulated militia.
But while we endanger the lives of already-born Florumpians with guns and germs we will prevent women from having the right to choose their own health options. We will make Florumpia the leading unsafe abortion capital of the world, allowing me to surpass that charlatan, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, as the king of the back alley abortion promoters.
We memorialize the Surfside building collapse and applaud the first responders who answered the call but we will protect campaign-contributing builders and developers by reducing their liability for future catastrophes.
Speaking of Surfside, that sad incident brings me to a final, indisputable and absolutely true observation: “…You never know what tomorrow will bring. Don’t take anything for granted and make the most out of each and every day.”
A vision of Florida’s future? The dome homes of Cape Romano off the coast of Southwest Florida. When built in 1979 they were on solid land. (Photo: Andy Morfrew/Wikimedia Commons)
Jan. 3, 2022 by David Silverberg
At the end of every year, most newspapers and media outlets like to do retrospectives on the year past. They’re easy to do, especially with a skeleton crew: just go into the archives, pull out a bunch of the past year’s photographs or stories, slap them together, throw them at the readers or viewers and then staff can relax and party for the New Year. Or better yet, when it comes to a supposedly “daily” newspaper, don’t print any editions at all.
What’s much harder to do is look ahead at the year to come and try to determine, however imperfectly, what the big stories will be.
That takes some thought and effort but it’s much more valuable and helpful in setting a course through the fog of the future.
Although there will be surprises and any projection is necessarily speculative, there are a number of big issues in the nation and Southwest Florida that are likely to dominate 2022.
Democracy vs. autocracy
Donald Trump may no longer be president but the impact of his tenure lives on. Just how much will he and his cultists continue to influence events this year?
Although the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection and coup failed, the effort to impose autocratic, anti-democratic rule continues at the state and local levels as Trumpist politicians push to create mechanisms to invalidate election results they don’t like.
Nowhere is this truer than in Florida where Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is playing to the most extreme elements of his base as he tries to ensure his own re-election and mount a presidential bid in 2024. He also has to outdo his other potential presidential hopefuls, most notably Texas’ Gov. Greg Abbott (R).
In Florida, the race is on to produce the most extreme, radical right measures both by DeSantis and members of Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature.
Examples of this include DeSantis’ 2022 $5.7 million budget proposal for an Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Department of State to investigate election crimes and allegations. In another time and in other hands, this might seem like a politically neutral and straightforward law enforcement agency, if a redundant and unnecessary one. However, given the past year’s efforts in Florida to narrow voting options and the continuing influence of Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him, it could have more sinister purposes, like invalidating or discarding legitimate election results.
DeSantis is also proposing creation of a Florida State Guard, which would be wholly subject to his will and authority. The Florida National Guard, by contrast, can be called up for national duty and is answerable to the US Department of Defense in addition to the governor.
These efforts, combined with DeSantis’ past assaults on local autonomy and decisionmaking and his anti-protest legislation, are moving Florida toward a virtual autocracy separate and unequal from the rest of the United States.
The question for 2022 is: will they advance and succeed? Or can both legislative and grassroots opposition and resistance preserve democratic government?
The state of the pandemic
The world will still be in a state of pandemic in 2022, although vaccines to prevent COVID and therapeutics to treat it are coming on line and are likely to keep being introduced. However, given COVID’s ability to mutate, new variants are also likely to keep emerging, so the pandemic is unlikely to be at an official end.
Globally, vaccines will be making their way to the poorer and more remote populations on earth.
In Florida and especially in Southwest Florida, vaccination rates are high. However, there’s no reason to believe that anti-vaccine sentiment and COVID-precaution resistance will slacken. Further, as President Joe Biden attempts to defeat the pandemic by mandating and encouraging vaccines, Republican states are trying to thwart mandates in court. At the grassroots, as rational arguments fail, anti-vaxxers are resisting COVID precautions in increasingly emotional and extreme ways, potentially including violence.
In Southwest Florida the political balance may change in favor of science as anti-vaxxers and COVID-deniers sicken and die off. This will reduce their numbers and their political influence. As their influence wanes that of pro-science realists should rise—but it’s not necessarily clear that realistic, pro-science sentiment will automatically translate into equal and opposite political power.
This year will reveal whether the DeSantis COVID gamble pays off. He has bet that resisting and impeding COVID precautions in favor of unrestrained economic growth will result in political success at the polls.
Will Floridians forget or overlook the cost in lives and health at election time? It’s a result that will only be revealed in November.
Choice and anti-choice
Abortion will be a gigantic issue in 2022. Anti-choicers are hoping that a conservative majority on the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade and abortion will be outlawed.
A Supreme Court ruling on a Mississippi law outlawing abortion is expected in June. There may be a ruling on Texas’ ban on abortions before then. If Roe is overturned, a number of Republican state legislatures are poised to enact their own bans based on the Texas model and Florida is one of these.
If House Bill 167 passes the Florida legislature, it will inaugurate an environment of civil vigilantism as individual citizens sue anyone suspected of aiding or performing abortions. It’s hard to imagine anything more polarizing, more divisive or more destructive both at the state level and grassroots, as neighbor turns on neighbor.
By the same token, the threat to safe abortion access may galvanize political activism by pro-choice supporters regardless of political party. That was the situation in Georgia in 2020 when a fetal heartbeat bill was passed and signed into law, only to be thrown out in court. Politically, the issue helped turn the state blue.
This year, if Roe is struck down, millions of women may turn against an anti-choice Republican Party and mobilize to enact reproductive rights legislation.
What will be the reaction if Florida follows Texas’ lead and enacts an abortion ban?
Whichever way it goes, abortion will be a sleeping but volcanic issue this year. It will erupt when court decisions are announced. It has the potential to completely reshape the political landscape.
Elections and redistricting
All other issues and debates will play out against the backdrop of a midterm election. Nationally, voters will be selecting 36 governors, 34 senators and the entire House of Representatives.
The national story will center on whether Democrats can keep the House of Representatives and their razor-thin majority in the Senate. In the past, the opposition party has usually made gains in the first midterm after a presidential election. That is widely expected to happen again this year.
In Florida, DeSantis is up for re-election as is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), all state senators, all state representatives and county and municipal officials.
DeSantis is a base politician, in every sense of the word “base.” He doesn’t try to appeal to all Floridians but has clearly decided that his victory will be won by pandering to his most extreme and ignorant supporters—including Donald Trump. His actions reveal that he is calculating that this will give him sufficient support to keep him in office and provide a platform for the presidency in 2024.
Trump, however, is a jealous god and has lately been denigrating his protégé, whom he apparently sees as a potential threat for 2024 and getting too big for his britches. DeSantis may face a Trump-incited primary on the right from Roger Stone, the previously convicted and pardoned political trickster and activist, who lives in Fort Lauderdale.
If the Stone primary challenge does indeed materialize, it will make for one of the great political stories of 2022.
The primary action on the Democratic side will be between the three candidates for the Party’s gubernatorial nomination: Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.), a former governor; Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide Democratic officeholder; and state Sen. Annette Taddeo (D-40-Miami.). This battle will be resolved on primary election day, Aug. 23.
On the Senate side Rep. Val Demings (D-10-Fla.), is currently the leading contender to take on Rubio, although Allen Ellison, who previously ran in the 17th Congressional District, is also seeking the Party’s nomination.
In Southwest Florida Democrat Cindy Banyai is pursuing a rematch with Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.). Currently, no other Democrat is contesting her candidacy.
The congressional and state elections will be occurring in newly-redrawn districts and the exact boundaries of all districts, congressional, state and local, will be a major factor in determining the political orientation of the state for the next decade. The Republican-dominated legislature, which begins meeting on Jan. 11, must finalize the state’s maps by June 13, when candidates qualify for the new districts.
If the maps are overly gerrymandered they will be subject to court challenges. In 2010 court challenges were so numerous and complex that maps weren’t finalized for six years. This year state Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Fort Myers), who heads the Senate redistricting committee, has publicly stated that he wants to avoid a repeat of that experience by drawing fair maps at the outset.
Whether the final maps approved by the legislature are in fact fairly drawn and meet the terms of Florida’s Fair Districts Amendment, will be a major question in 2022.
Battle over schools
School boards were once sleepy and relatively obscure institutions of government and education was a quiet area of governance.
That all changed over the past two years. With schools attempting to keep students, teachers and employees safe with mask and vaccine mandates despite vocal opposition from COVID-denying parents as well as right-wing hysteria over the teaching of critical race theory, school board elections have become pointed ideological battlegrounds. Frustrated Trumpers are determined to impose ideological restrictions on teaching and curriculum and use school boards as grassroots stepping stones to achieving power.
In Virginia the 2021 gubernatorial race turned on the question of parental control of curriculum, resulting in a Republican victory. Across the country Republicans will be trying to duplicate that success by making education a major focus of their campaigns. The resulting battle is already fierce and poised to become fiercer. It has erupted at the grassroots as school board members have been physically threatened and Attorney General Merrick Garland’s mobilization of law enforcement assets to protect school board members was denounced by right wing politicians and pundits as threatening parents.
This is prominently playing out in Florida. DeSantis has proposed the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees [WOKE] Act to prohibit critical race theory teaching and allow parents to sue school board members and teachers. Locally, state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples) has proposed putting cameras in all classrooms to monitor teachers. Local grocer, farmer and conservative extremist Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes, has demanded that teachers’ unions be “taken down” by “force.”
The school board elections of 2022 will not be what were once considered normal, non-partisan contests. They will be extreme, passionate, heavily politicized, bare-knuckled ideological battles. The outcome of these elections will determine whether students, teachers and school employees are kept safe from the pandemic, whether teachers are able to teach free of surveillance and liability, and whether the lessons imparted to students encourage open inquiry and critical thinking or narrow, ideologically-driven indoctrination.
Climate change—natural and political
The past year was one that saw some of the most extreme weather on record, clearly driven by a changing climate. Biden’s infrastructure plan had some measures to address these changes and build resilience in the face of what is sure to be climatic changes ahead. However, a major initiative to halt climate change is stalled along with the rest of his Build Back Better plan.
Climate change is the issue that undergirds—and overhangs—every other human endeavor. That was true in 2021, it will be true in 2022 and it will be true for the rest of the life of the human race and the planet.
Florida was extraordinarily lucky last year, avoiding the worst of the storms, wildfires, droughts and heat waves that plagued the rest of the United States.
Locally, Southwest Florida got a taste of climate change-driven weather when an EF-1 tornado touched down in Cape Coral on Dec. 21, damaging homes and businesses.
“What I’ve found is, people when they start talking about things like global warming, they typically use that as a pretext to do a bunch of left-wing things that they would want to do anyways. We’re not doing any left-wing stuff,” DeSantis said to audience cheers.
“Be very careful of people trying to smuggle in their ideology. They say they support our coastline, or they say they support, you know, some, you know, difference, our water, environment. And maybe they do, but they’re also trying to do a lot of other things,” he said.
This does not bode well for the governor or legislature addressing climate change impacts this year. Still, even the most extreme climate change-deniers are having a hard time dismissing it entirely.
Reducing or resisting the effects of climate change will be the big sleeper issue of 2022, providing a backdrop to all other political issues as the year proceeds. If there is a major, catastrophic event like a very destructive hurricane—or multiple hurricanes—DeSantis and his minions may have to acknowledge that the urgency of climate change transcends petty party politics.
Beyond the realm of prediction
It is 311 days from New Year’s Day to Election Day this year. A lot can happen that can’t be anticipated or predicted.
In past years a midterm election might seem to be a routine, relatively sleepy event of low voter turnout and intense interest only to wonks, nerds and politicos.
But the stakes are now very high and the dangers considerable. As long as Trumpism continues to threaten democracy and the future of the United States, nothing is routine any more.
The world, America, Florida and Florida’s southwest region are facing unprecedented perils. But as long as America is still an election-driven democracy, every individual has a say in how those perils are addressed.
That precious vote is a citizen’s right and obligation—and it can no longer be taken for granted.
Improved patient navigation, offshore options being considered
Dec. 29, 2021 by David Silverberg
With major challenges to women’s health choices looming in the new year, Planned Parenthood of Florida is already preparing to adapt to a changed political and legal landscape, according to Stephanie Fraim, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.
The changes include renewed and vigorous lobbying of relevant legislators and preparations to serve women’s health needs throughout the region.
Fraim spoke at a “Voices for Planned Parenthood—Let’s Get Loud!” gathering in Bonita Springs on Dec. 7. (Full disclosure: the author was a speaker on a panel at the event.)
“As you know Florida is poised to put in place whatever restrictions the Supreme Court puts in place whether that is a six-week Texas ban or the 15-week ban we heard arguments on last Wednesday or an overturning of Roe,” said Fraim.
“…Make no mistake, [anti-choice advocates] are clearly looking to the legislature to restrict access to abortion care and this legislature and this governor have our rights clearly in their sights,” she told the audience. “Of course we will fight every [anti-choice] law that Florida tries to implement.”
Fraim said Planned Parenthood would be fighting attempts to restrict choice on two fronts. The first was legislative and legal.
“As I said, we’re going to challenge the law that impacts our care but the real battle is going to happen at the ballot box. Right? We need people in our state house and Capitol that actually care about women and people’s health care.”
Fraim urged her listeners to get involved politically, support the Planned Parenthood Action Fund political action committee and in particular to express support for state Rep. Ben Diamond (D-68-St. Petersburg) and Sen. Lori Berman (D-31-Palm Beach County) who on Nov. 23 sponsored the Reproductive Health Care Protection Act (House Bill 709 and Senate Bill 1036) to protect women’s health care.
“On the second front, caring for our patients, getting them care and getting them to care, we will continue as Planned Parenthood to provide every bit of reproductive health care we’ve always provided and provide abortion care up to whatever the law allows, whether that’s six weeks or 15 weeks,” she said. “And, we are at the beginning stages of building one of the largest patient navigation systems in the state, connecting it to one of the largest patient navigation systems in the country.”
Planned Parenthood is putting together teams to help patients get to the health care services they need, she explained. As an example, Planned Parenthood clinics in Oklahoma saw a 500 percent increase in patients when Texas passed its restrictive anti-choice law. Florida’s Planned Parenthood is seeing an increase in Texas patients as well.
“If we lose the right here [in Florida], we will turn that and begin moving patients out of the state to where they need to go,” she said.
As an additional option, “we are thinking about a boat off the east coast of Florida. We seriously are.” A boat could legally provide women’s health services in international waters. Fraim said she had been contacted by a pilot with a float plane who could ferry patients to any vessel.
“I know, it’s horrifying,” she acknowledged. “But this really isn’t a ban on abortion, it’s a ban on safe abortion.”
A Supreme Court decision on Mississippi’s abortion ban is expected in June of next year. A challenge to Texas’ ban on abortions is ongoing, although on Dec. 10 the Supreme Court allowed it to remain in force.
In the meantime Planned Parenthood is actively seeking financial support. Until Dec. 31 all donations up to $500,000 will be doubled, thanks to a matching grant provided by an anonymous donor.
Publix heiress Carol Jenkins Barnett, an active funder of conservative political causes, especially in Georgia, passed away on Tuesday, Dec. 7, at the age of 65.
“It is with great sadness that Publix Super Markets shares the passing of Carol Jenkins Barnett, former chair and president of Publix Super Markets Charities,” the company stated in a press release issued the next day. “In 2016, she was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease.”
Barnett was deeply involved in the 2020 Georgia campaigns of Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue for the US Senate. The Carol Jenkins Barnett Family Trust gave $100,000 to a super political action committee (PAC) called the Keep America America Action Fund. The super PAC could spend unlimited amounts of money on issues rather than candidates and it pushed hard for a Republican victory in the Jan. 5 Georgia runoff elections.
Both Loeffler and Perdue lost their races in Georgia. Perdue is now running as a Trumpist candidate in the Georgia Republican gubernatorial primary against current Gov. Brian Kemp.
Barnett also contributed $100,000 in her own name to the Georgia Senate Battleground Fund, $10,000 to Purdue Victory Inc., $2,800 to the Purdue for Senate campaign and the same amount to the National Republican Senate Committee, headed by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.).
In North Carolina she contributed $2,800 to the re-election campaign of Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), who succeeded in keeping his seat.
Barnett was a daughter of the chain’s founder, George Jenkins. According to the press release she was born and raised in Lakeland, Fla., the company’s headquarters. She began working in the Publix chain in 1972 as a cashier at the Grove Park Shopping Center in Lakeland and later worked in Publix’s corporate marketing research and development department. In 1983, she was elected to the Publix board of directors where she served for 33 years. Her net worth was $2.1 billion, according to a 2020 Forbes magazine estimate.
She was active in philanthropic and charitable work, contributing to organizations such as United Way, Florida Partnership for School Readiness, and Family Fundamentals. She became president and chair of Publix Super Markets Charities, an outgrowth of a charitable foundation launched by George Jenkins in 1966.
When it comes to elections, winners tend to generalize while losers tend to specify.
That’s what’s happening as a result of the Virginia election where Republican Glenn Youngkin beat Democrat Terry McAuliffe by 51 to 48 percent.
But does what happened in the Commonwealth of Virginia necessarily translate into a precursor for the State of Florida?
Republicans, nationally and locally, are generalizing the vote as a referendum on President Joe Biden and portraying it as a harbinger of the 2022 election.
“…I do think this wave is building. I think it was strong last night. But I think it’s going to keep building all the way into 2022,” Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said in an interview on the program Fox & Friends yesterday.
“I think people are rebelling against what the Democratic Party stands for nowadays,” he said. “The never-ending mandates and restrictions because of COVID, using our school systems for leftist indoctrination rather than high-quality education, and then the Biden regime’s failures from Afghanistan to the southern border, gas prices, inflation, supply chain.”
Local Republican Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who initially tweeted a mocking message to the Democratic National Committee that he subsequently deleted, later settled on a blander pronouncement: “Virginians sent a clear message to Democrats: Parents belong in the classroom, stop teaching division, enough with the radical spending, & no more mandates!”
There’s no sugarcoating this defeat for Democrats nationally: It was a big, unexpected blow and it hurt.
As the Republicans generalized its implications, so Democrats tried to focus on the specific reasons McAuliffe lost.
During a candidate debate in which Youngkin questioned McAuliffe’s veto of legislation banning “sexually explicit” content in school curriculum (Toni Morrison’s novel Beloved) “out of McAuliffe’s mouth tumbled these words: ‘I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they can teach.’
“And that’s what done it,” writes Michael Tomasky in The New Republic. “A day later, those words became an attack ad, and McAuliffe was forced to play defense from that moment on.”
DeSantis on a roll
As DeSantis pointed out, the Youngkin victory is a good omen for him.
DeSantis is undeniably in a strong position as he conducts his primary race for gubernatorial re-election and his—at this point—secondary race for president in 2024.
That Democrats are anxious is indisputable; that DeSantis is “unbeatable” is overstating the case.
In fact, Democrats do have some resources and determination, as the article pointed out.
“The election’s not happening tomorrow, there is still time for the tide to turn,” state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-47-Orlando) told Gary Fineout, the article’s author. “But obviously it needs to be an all-hands-on-deck situation right now.”
Manny Diaz, chair of the Florida Democratic Party, took issue with the article’s premise. “We’re in Florida. We lost the last governor’s race by 30,000 votes against the same character,” he said. “In politics, a year is an eternity. There’s nothing that leads me to believe DeSantis is unbeatable.” He also noted that it’s “unbelievable we’re having a conversation a year out” about a DeSantis victory.
Against DeSantis’ advantages are his liabilities: strenuous, determined efforts to block all forms of COVID protections; attacks on local school boards that have tried to protect schoolchildren, and the resulting COVID death toll in Florida—currently at 59,670, according to The New York Times, despite all the governor’s attempts to conceal or obscure state statistics.
Also, it’s being widely noted that a key to Youngkin’s success was his keeping Donald Trump at arm’s length, something noted in another Lincoln Project video, “Ungrateful.”
Another observer who emphasized Youngkin’s distance from Trump was Rep. Liz Cheney (R-at large-Wy.), who tweeted: “Congratulations to @GlennYoungkin for a great victory last night. Winning back suburban moms and independent voters, he demonstrated Republican values and competence, not conspiracy theories and lies, win elections.”
Ironically, DeSantis’ slavish Trumpism may prove a disadvantage next year. His difficulty may come from—of all people—his idol and mentor, Donald Trump. Trump is a jealous god and DeSantis’ popularity among the Republican faithful is already bringing down the divine wrath. He seems to feel a need to cut him down in his youth before he can really mount a challenge to Trump’s own nomination bid.
The anti-Trump Lincoln Project noted this in one of its cutting videos, called “Sad!”
Other than Trump’s jealousy of DeSantis, there’s little to no daylight between the maestro and the apprentice. Floridians would be getting a committed Trumper if they re-elect DeSantis in 2022, although that would certainly give some Floridians joy.
Weirdly, DeSantis may face a primary challenge on the right from Roger Stone, the convicted and then Trump-pardoned political trickster and activist who told Dave Elias of NBC2 in Fort Myers that he might run in order to conduct an audit of the 2020 election in Florida. He could be a surrogate for Trump himself in the 2022 Florida race.
But the final arbiter of the 2022 election may not be human at all: COVID is still active and deadly even though the numbers are declining, thanks to widespread vaccinations. DeSantis is on record and running as an anti-mandate, anti-precaution candidate.
If, however, DeSantis and the anti-vaxxers block vaccination mandates for schoolchildren and there is an outbreak that kills large numbers of them, Florida parents might—just might—put the blame at the feet of DeSantis and anti-vaxx Republicans. It is a horrible outcome but one being invited by the anti-vaxxers’ gamble.
Finding a strategy
Still, expecting victory based on an opponent’s stumbles is not a strategy.
The problem for Democrats in Florida and nationally is that they are a political party competing with a cult.
A cult, when it’s strong, has some decided advantages: it has a single leader, its followers obey unthinkingly, and it has a clear, simple message based on a few unmistakable tenets.
This is the state of the Republican Party today. Even with Trump somewhat sidelined, the Republican Party is still a cult of personality, worshipping Trump and his clear, simple message of, in his words, “hatred, prejudice and rage.”
Nowhere is this truer than in Florida, where the man resides and the governor is his closest acolyte.
In comparison to this Democrats, as is more characteristic of a political party, are diverse, contentious and sometimes chaotic. While they entertain a wide spectrum of ideas there’s no one personality imposing intellectual uniformity. Sometimes that can be a disadvantage at the voting booth.
Actually, the Democratic Party does have some clear tenets: inclusion for all, concern for humanity, determination to forge a better future and commitment to democracy. But while the Democratic Party stays within the law and argues policies, Trumpist Republicans pursue power at all costs. There is no hypocrisy too great, no mental gymnastic too convoluted, no legal barrier too high to impede this raw pursuit of power. And if elections don’t go their way they’re willing to overturn them through violence and then condone it, as the January 6th insurrection demonstrated.
Trumpist Republicans also have the advantage in that theirs is an emotional movement, riding on hatred, prejudice and rage but also fear and outrage, much of it generated by pandemic restrictions but finding expression against their long-time targets of Biden, Democrats and governing institutions like school boards.
This is neither new nor surprising. After every disaster there is a search for human scapegoats, sometimes very strange ones. For example, after the Johnstown Flood of 1889, survivors scapegoated Hungarian immigrants; after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 city residents’ wrath fell on a tiny Japanese community; after the great 1927 Mississippi flood there was a horrendous wave of lynchings and murders of Black people in the affected southern states. It is as though people, having suffered at the hands of nature, must find human victims.
We are now coming through the disaster of the pandemic, which, though receding, is still with us. After four years of Donald Trump’s routinely lying, scapegoating and deflecting blame as a standard operating procedure, his cult is now primed to channel all its pandemic frustrations against Biden and the government working so hard to defeat the disease. The resulting program is clear: hatred of Biden and opposition to all restrictions, rules or Democratic ideas.
As of right now, the political landscape is decidedly headed in the Republican direction, boosted by the victory in Virginia and the close call in New Jersey.
For Democrats who stay within the bounds of law and the Constitution the solution will always be the same: more and better organizing, more energetic campaigning, greater voter registration, sharper messaging, more programs and policies that benefit people and an appeal to reason and good sense.
There is also this to remember: a victory is sweet but a defeat sharpens the mind and energizes the effort.
As Thomas Paine put it in the darkest days of the American Revolution after a string of Continental defeats: “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Do you think you can draw better political maps than the state legislators in Tallahassee?
Now you can get your chance.
A new website, Florida Redistricting, launched Monday, Sept. 20, gives anyone who cares to use it the opportunity to recommend re-jiggering the state’s political boundaries based on 2020 Census data.
It’s a remarkable experiment in citizen participation and a striking change from past redistricting done in dark, smoke-filled rooms out of public sight.
Of course, while citizens can make plenty of suggestions it will be the legislature that finally decides how the maps will be drawn.
Still, for a state that has increasingly pulled the curtain on its vaunted principles of sunshine in government, it is an exceptional departure from the past. It brings a bit of light to a process that is unglamorous but essential—and determines the partisan balance of power for the decade to come.
Redistricting actually consists of two processes: redistricting (redrawing district lines) and reapportionment (redistributing congressional seats among the states).
Next year Florida gets one new seat in Congress based on its increase in population since 2010. That new district is expected to be in the high-growth area of Orlando or somewhere along the I-4 corridor.
Traditionally, redistricting is colloquially known as the process whereby politicians choose their voters, so voters will likely choose them at election time. It has been manipulated since the beginning of the American republic—and even before, in colonial times. In 1812 it gave rise to the term “gerrymander” after Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry so manipulated the state’s district maps to his political advantage that what emerged was a salamander-like creature immortalized in a newspaper cartoon.
Republicans have been past masters of drawing lines to favor their party. This was highlighted in January 2020, after the death of Republican redistricting consultant Thomas Hofeller. His daughter Stephanie made public the contents of four external hard drives and 18 thumb drives from her father’s office, revealing his detailed gerrymandering work. While he was based in North Carolina, he had clients all over the country and participated in Florida’s redistricting.
In 2010 two constitutional amendments, 5 and 6, were on the ballot in Florida. Amendment 5 covered legislative districts, amendment 6 covered congressional districts and both were known as the Fair Districts Amendments.
Both amendments required that: “districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.”
In the 2010 election both amendments passed with 63 percent of the vote, despite vehement opposition from the state’s Republican lawmakers. (Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) joined a lawsuit to block their implementation, which failed.)
Despite the amendments, Florida’s 2010 maps were drawn by consultants and political operatives who maneuvered behind the scenes to push Republican dominance. The lines were so elaborately gerrymandered when the maps were revealed that fair districts supporters sued to overturn them.
A “group of Republican political consultants did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process,” ruled Judge Terry Lewis of the 2nd Judicial Circuit in 2014. “They made a mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting” and “went to great lengths to conceal from the public their plan,” and “managed to taint the redistricting process and the resulting map with improper partisan intent.”
It took five years of litigation to finally end the disputes, during which two elections took place.
This year state Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Estero), who heads the state Senate’s reapportionment committee, is promising that the process will be open, fair and transparent and meet both the spirit and letter of Florida’s Fair Districts Amendments.
“We are taking steps to safeguard against the kind of shadow process that occurred in the last cycle,” Rodrigues said during the first meeting of his committee on Monday, Sept. 20. “We will protect our process against the ‘astroturfing’ that occurred in the past, where partisan political operatives from both parties wrote scripts and recruited speakers to advocate for certain plans or district configurations to create a false impression of a widespread grassroots movement.”
He added: “Fortunately, we now have the insight into both the judiciary’s expanded scope of review, and how courts have interpreted and applied the constitutional standards related to redistricting. I intend for this committee to conduct the process in a manner that is consistent with case law that developed during the last decade that is beyond reproach and free from any hint of unconstitutional intent.”
How they break down
According to the 2020 Census, Florida gained 2,736,877 people over the last ten years and now has a population of 21,538,187.
In Southwest Florida, Lee County gained 142,068 residents, reaching a population of 760,822. Collier County gained 54,232 people to reach a total population of 375,752. Charlotte County gained 26,869 people to reach a total of 186,847.
The redistricting effort will try to bring the new districts into line with ideal population levels while meeting Fair Districting criteria. Since all of Southwest Florida gained population above the ideal, most—but not all—its districts are considered “overpopulated.”
Ideally, each Florida congressional district should have 769,221 people in it, a gain of 72,876 from last time.
According to the data from FloridaRedistricting.gov, in Southwest Florida the current congressional districts break down as follows:
District 17: With a total population of 779,955 people, it has 10,734 or .014 percent people more than the ideal number.
District 19: With a total population of 835,012 people, it has 65,791 or .086 percent more people than the ideal number.
District 25: With a total population of 771,434 people, it has 2,213 or .003 percent more people than the ideal number.
Once in, users can fiddle with the maps to their heart’s content and send recommendations to the legislature.
It’s a remarkable innovation in participatory democracy. Time, however, is of the essence. The legislative redistricting session convenes on Jan. 11 of next year and it must complete its work by the time it adjourns on March 11. Without a doubt, it will be a contentious session.
After that, there will presumably be newly-drawn districts. By June 11, candidates will qualify to run for office. Then the party primaries will take place on Aug. 23 and the general election on Nov. 8.
Can this experiment in popular participation actually result in fairly drawn, politically neutral boundaries?
Obviously, it remains to be seen. In 2010 the Fair Districting Amendments passed overwhelmingly but the maps that came out were gerrymandered anyway. Florida always seems to have a way of ignoring or circumventing its most popular constitutional amendments.
Coming out of the gate, though, Rodrigues’ intentions seem good if his words are taken at face value.
If this experiment works Florida could become a national model of fair districting. This time, if citizens are alert, engaged and determined, maybe—just maybe—Florida for once might abide by its own constitution and put to rest the gerrymander, or, in this case, the Republigator.
The fight over women’s reproductive rights in Florida was joined yesterday, Sept. 22, when state House Bill (HB) 167, a Florida version of the Texas abortion prohibition law, was filed by Rep. Webster Barnaby (R-27-Volusia County) at 9:14 am.
As the bill’s summary states, it: “Requires physician to conduct test for, & inform woman seeking abortion of, presence of detectable fetal heartbeat; prohibits physician from performing or inducing abortion if fetal heartbeat is detected or if physician fails to conduct test to detect fetal heartbeat; provides exceptions; authorizes private civil cause of action for certain violations; provides for civil remedies & damages.”
Oddly, while the introduction caused an immediate storm of protest from pro-choice activists and Democrats, Barnaby himself was silent about the bill, neither issuing a statement explaining his action nor posting any comment on his social media platforms.
Pro-choice groups around the country were already organizing for a National Day of Action to Mobilize and Defend Reproductive Rights on Saturday, Oct. 2. In Florida, the group Florida Reproductive Freedom is organizing rallies in 13 cities throughout the state.
In Collier County a coalition of groups has called for a major demonstration at the Collier County Courthouse in Naples that Saturday, Oct. 2, at 10 am for two hours. (Full disclosure: The Paradise Progressive is a sponsor.)
The demonstration is intended to get elected officials to commit to reproductive freedom.
Scheduled speakers include Stephanie Fraim, chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida; Corrie Vega, a Collier County public school teacher and Rev. Tony Fisher of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greater Naples.
Angela Cisneros, co-founder of Collier NOW (National Organization for Women) and a scheduled speaker, stated: “We all desire to live a safe and healthy life, free to pursue our own paths. However, the types of bans passed in Texas and currently being framed here in Florida are in direct opposition to that premise. An abortion ban would be especially detrimental to those of us from communities with few resources that already face barriers to basic healthcare.”
State Senate prospects
The Florida Senate’s president, Sen. Wilton Simpson (R-10-Citrus and Hernando counties), may introduce similar legislation in that body.
Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Collier County), the Senate Majority Leader and a possible Senate president in 2022, told Florida Politics after the Supreme Court let stand the Texas law that she is “pro-life but I am not pro-telling on your neighbors.”
Passidomo said in a speech to the Argus Foundation in Sarasota that she does not favor an exact “cut-and-paste” of the Texas law for Florida.
“There are provisions in there that don’t make sense,” she said. “We need to do what’s right for Florida.”
Passidomo stressed, however, that she is an anti-abortion legislator.
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s smashing victory in California’s recall election has sparked hope in the hearts of some Floridians that a similar effort can be mounted in Florida to recall Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
Florida is hardly alone in this. Only 19 states have gubernatorial recall provisions.
Nationally, the US Constitution has no provisions for recalls of any kind. A president can be removed following impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors but otherwise he’s in office for the length of his term.
It’s not as though Floridians are not expressing their displeasure with DeSantis’ governing. A Change.org petition to recall DeSantis had 93,609 signatures as of this writing. A MoveOn.org recall petition had 8,913 signatures.
However, the next real opportunity to recall DeSantis comes on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022.
The silly season that isn’t
The days before an election are often referred to as “silly season.” It’s when politicians say and do strange and often outlandish things to get elected.
While the election is still a year and nearly two months away, “silly season” is well under way, only right now there’s nothing funny about it due to the COVID pandemic.
A sensible, center-governing politician of any party or persuasion might ordinarily be expected to throw some rhetorical bones to the more rabid dogs in his following, sometimes tossing some real red meat as well. But when it comes to the nuts and bolts of ensuring the health, welfare and prosperity of those in his jurisdiction, decisions have to be driven to some extent by reason, reality and logic.
That’s not happening in Florida. In rhetoric and action, DeSantis is proving a hard-right, extreme, Trumpist governor who is matching extreme rhetoric with extreme action. At every level he appears to be governing for the sake, and at the direction, of a hard-core, fanatical, minority base. In matters of life and death he’s not only offering up COVID-denying rhetoric, he’s actively impeding and obstructing science-based measures like masking and vaccinations and attacking those who do try to implement them, like local school districts.
This includes his ban on school mask mandates, on vaccination “passports,” threats to withhold salaries of school officials who defy his ban in order to protect children, appeals of a court order challenging his ban, threats to fine Florida cities that impose a vaccine mandate on their workers, attacks on federal COVID-prevention mandates and silence in the face of false claims and disinformation about vaccines and COVID precautions.
In a Sept. 14 editorial, The Washington Postcharacterized his actions as “a jaw-dropping level of cynicism.”
It stated: “Mr. DeSantis harbors national political ambitions. But what he’s displaying here is crass opportunism and disregard for the greater good. As he stokes the ignorance and misguided impulses of some in the Republican base, he is acting against the very tools needed to save lives and stop the pandemic.”
The former president may not be directing DeSantis but DeSantis is closely following the Trumpist playbook, from threats and intimidation to impose his will down to the denial and dismissal of the COVID-19 threat and indifference to its consequences.
Leaching down to Lee County
The DeSantis method and Trumpist playbook are not only playing out in the state capital but like Trumpism itself, are leaching down into local nooks and crannies at the local level.
Case in point is the Lee County School District. When Judge John Cooper of the 2nd Judicial Circuit of Florida overturned the governor’s school mask ban on Sept. 2, Lee County School Superintendent Ken Savage was free to impose a mask mandate to last the month of September.
However, when the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals stayed Cooper’s order and left the ban in place, Savage felt he was compelled to allow parents to opt out and so he did beginning on Sept. 14.
“Given the legal landscape, I am appealing to your humanity and sense of community,” Savage wrote in a letter to the community. “With approximately 500 COVID-19 patients isolated within our local hospital system, and a 101 percent staffed bed capacity over the weekend, remember that these aren’t just numbers. These are people. These are your neighbors, your family, your friends, your co-workers. I choose to believe that the vast majority of our community are reasonable, caring people who want this surge to end as quickly as possible and would willingly volunteer to wear masks as an additional measure to protect each other from harm.”
He concluded: “I implore you to prove your commitment to each other by getting vaccinated, wearing a mask, and following other safety protocols to help us get through this surge together. I will never underestimate our community’s ability to show love and compassion for each other.”
Savage’s civilized faith in the love, compassion and reason of his community was admirable but hardly reciprocated. Demonstrations against the mask mandate brought out shoving matches by mask opponents in front of the School District headquarters and heated rhetoric inside its council room.
On a political basis it provided an opportunity for state Rep. Spencer Roach (R-79-Buckingham) to send a letter to Savage demanding an end to the mask mandate or face a Roach call to DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran for his firing.
In fact the Lee County School District had to allow a temporary, court-imposed, opt-out option. As Savage wrote in his letter to parents: “…last Friday, the 1st District Court of Appeal instituted a stay, which means the Florida Department of Education can continue to enforce its interpretation of the parental opt out until this matter is ultimately resolved.” As a result, an opt-out provision had to be instituted for students, although not for employees.
The Lee County retreat was hailed by local conservatives and anti-maskers as a huge victory for their cause.
Roach’s gesture certainly rebounded to his benefit with the anti-mask constituency, prompting them to credit him for the change in Lee County policy. As a bit of political sleight of hand, it was deftly done.
Roach’s grandstanding is just one example of the kind of maneuvering that will be increasing across the board in Florida as the clock ticks toward Election Day.
Why are they acting this way?
Florida is now in the grip of a governing party for whom the lives of Floridians are not even a secondary consideration. The clear calculation is that serving the extreme anti-vaxx, anti-mask, COVID-denying base is the formula for success at the polls.
But is that true? In California it clearly was not. Californians overwhelmingly rejected the Trumpist mantra.
So far, the polling—at least the publicly available polling—is paltry in Florida but it would seem to indicate that the silent majority of Floridians support mask and vaccination mandates and COVID precautions.
The poll found that by 60 to 35 percent, Floridians supported requiring masks in schools. By 68 to 27 percent they believed that local school officials should be free to make the decision. What was more, 69 percent to 25 percent thought DeSantis’ withholding of school salaries to force compliance was a bad idea—and that finding applied across the political spectrum.
“As COVID-19 makes a frightening resurgence, it’s Tallahassee vs. the teaching institutions,” stated Tim Malloy, a Quinnipiac polling analyst. “Thumbs down from Floridians on DeSantis’ ban on mask requirements in public schools. Thumbs down on DeSantis’ call to freeze pay of administrators who mandate mask wearing. And he gets scant support from fellow Republicans on penalizing the school leaders who defy him.”
Regrettably, more granular data from Southwest Florida is not publicly available.
If most Floridians don’t approve of the DeSantis/Trump approach to handling the pandemic and this could prove politically damaging, why are DeSantis and other Florida Republicans sticking so stubbornly to policies and positions that are killing Floridians and endangering their children?
Five reasons immediately suggest themselves:
They’re true believers. DeSantis, Roach and other Republicans truly believe the anti-mask, anti-vaccination, disease-denying ideology. This is not just an act, it is not just a pose, and it is a real, heartfelt opposition to COVID precautions. In this it mirrors Donald Trump’s own reaction to the COVID pandemic as president. As for the deaths and infections resulting from this stance, in their minds that’s just collateral damage. In some ways a true-believing politician is more dangerous than a cynical one—at least a cynic can be swayed by reason, self-interest or constituent needs.
It will help them win the next election. DeSantis and the Republicans believe that the strength of the COVID-denying base is sufficient to help them win the election in 2022 and possibly 2024. This also applies down the line in congressional, county and municipal elections. As result they’re pandering to its prejudices and extremism.
It will all be forgotten by next November. Politicians and the public know that voters have short memories. No doubt DeSantis and the Republicans are calculating that by November 2022 the pandemic will be a bad dream that voters are eager to forget—at least the ones that are still alive.
There’s a presidential race on. Certainly at the gubernatorial level, DeSantis has long been running for the presidential nod in 2024. In the Republican Party he has to compete with the likes of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in a race to the rim of reason. These candidates must prove themselves sufficiently fanatical to win over the hard-core militants and walk in the footsteps of Donald Trump—who might himself overturn their calculations by demanding the Party’s nomination in 2024.
The extremists are louder. Without data, sense or logic, COVID-deniers and anti-vaxxers are using volume to fight efforts to stem the pandemic. They’re loud, threatening and they turn out in numbers at demonstrations like the ones at the Lee County School Board. It makes an impression on television and certainly impacts school board members and local officials. It is also what some politicians heed and fear to contradict.
The COVID-deniers, anti-vaxxers and Republican politicians frame the debate over masks and vaccinations as one of personal choice versus government overreach. But what they overlook or ignore is the nature of the disease itself. They regard this as one more political issue that can be dealt with on a human timetable and at human discretion.
However, COVID is not subject to human whims or desires. It is literally a force of nature that operates on its own timetable and according to its own imperatives. As humans—and especially as Americans—we’re accustomed to imposing our will on nature; this is a case of nature forcing us to adapt to it. DeSantis and the Republicans have not made that mental adjustment.
Politically, all this will play out in the next election. It’s clear: those Floridians who believe in science, who don’t want their school-age children used as pawns, who prefer to adapt to real-world conditions rather than impose comforting delusions on reality, will have to be more active, determined and mobilized than their opponents and show up in greater numbers.
And that is the only way to recall a governor of Florida.
Highlights and impressions of the debate over a ‘Bill of Rights sanctuary’ ordinance
July 16, 2021 by David Silverberg
On Tuesday, July 13, Collier County, Florida, chose to remain part of the United States, by a single vote.
But as significantly, the County Commission also chose to unanimously reaffirm the county’s allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights by passing a positive resolution that stated: “The county commission of Collier County, Florida, reaffirms its loyalty, its patriotism and its allegiance to the United States Constitution, its Bill of Rights, its amendments and the duly constituted laws.”
All this would seem to be self-evident—but in Collier County, as in many other places around the nation, what was once self-evident is no longer.
By a vote of 3 to 2, the Commission rejected a “Bill of Rights sanctuary” ordinance that sought to nullify federal authority in the county.
Commission chair Penny Taylor (District 4) and commissioners Andy Solis (District 2) and Burt Saunders (District 3) voted against the ordinance. Commissioners Rick LoCastro (District 1) and William McDaniel Jr. (District 5), who introduced it, voted for it.
After dispatching the ordinance, the commissioners approved the resolution reaffirming allegiance to the Constitution.
The votes came after a marathon hearing session that started about 1 pm in the afternoon and stretched until 8:45 pm. At least 122 people requested speaking slots, providing input both in person and remotely.
Both those for and against the ordinance understood and appreciated its greater significance. It would have been the first such ordinance in Florida and proponents stated overtly that if it passed they were going to take it to Florida’s 66 other counties. From there it could have spread throughout the country. Opponents knew it had to be stopped. This wasn’t just about Collier County; it was about the future of the nation.
For the first time ever, a decision made in a Collier County Commission chamber could have changed the nation’s nature—and everyone knew it.
What follows are impressions from the session and the vote.
(Full disclosure:This author was one of the speakers opposing the ordinance and the drafter of the resolution reaffirming loyalty to the Constitution and Bill of Rights.)
Anyone who came to the meeting should have been prepared for all kinds of fireworks. As a sign of the drama to come, proponents, many wearing flag-related clothing and paraphernalia, were outside the Commission building bright and early before the session began with signs advocating a “yes” vote.
They had reason to be confident. A June 22 meeting when the Commission voted to consider the ordinance had gone their way. At that meeting the ordinance received the endorsement of the district’s congressman, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), and the county’s top law enforcement officer, Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. It was also endorsed by state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples) who sent a surrogate to express his support. At that meeting all the public speakers were in favor of the ordinance and not a single member of the public opposed it.
At the June meeting Commissioner McDaniel fulsomely introduced the ordinance and LoCastro made favorable remarks. Although Saunders said he wasn’t committed to the ordinance, he voted for its consideration and it seemed as though he could be swayed—or pressured—to vote in favor.
Other than the opponents who showed up this time, there was no reason to expect that the ordinance might not sail through on a similar 3 to 2 vote again. All the big guns lined up in their favor.
Nor did they just rely on their numbers or enthusiasm to get their way. Prior to this hearing they gathered in the hallway outside the Commission chamber to hold a prayer meeting and invoke Jesus’ assistance in swaying the commissioners.
But if there was any single bombshell dropped during the July 13 hearing, it came when County Attorney Jeffrey Klatzkow rose to provide his analysis of the legal and fiscal impacts of the ordinance.
Scholarly, legalistic and calm, Klatzkow delivered the news that the ordinance would strip institutional immunity from the county’s five commissioners, five constitutional officers and five school board members, as well as staff.
In other words, under the ordinance, if they carried out actions that aided the federal government in what was considered a violation of the Bill of Rights by an aggrieved party they could be personally sued. The plaintiff might not win in court but the defendants would have to pay court costs out of their own pockets.
“The big issue here is not going to be damages,” Klatzkow said. “It’s going to be attorney’s fees. There is an incentive for attorneys to bring actions under this because every hour they put in is an hour they can bill.”
It didn’t take much imagination to see where that could lead: commissioners and county officials could be sued into bankruptcy simply for making the county function through otherwise legal official actions.
Although Klatzkow didn’t say it, it was clear that the ordinance could bring the whole county to a halt and destroy the county government itself. In response to a question from Solis, Klatzkow mentioned that the Supervisor of Elections would be liable as a constitutional officer—and any observer could foresee lawsuits like this making elections impossible.
An observer could also see the impact of Klatzkow’s analysis sink in on the faces of the commissioners—but he wasn’t done yet.
Collier County, like virtually every jurisdiction in the country, relies on federal financial grants to pay for a wide variety of functions. But federal grants don’t come without strings; in this case with numerous rules and regulations governing oversight, receipt, performance and a wide variety of other requirements and conditions.
Klatzkow dramatically demonstrated just how many strings were attached by displaying five, single-spaced pages of rules and regulations that he projected to the chamber, one after the other.
If Collier County removed itself from federal jurisdiction it would lose all those grants, all that money, Klatzkow warned.
He didn’t say it aloud, but it was clear that passing the ordinance would beggar an otherwise affluent and prosperous county.
If Klatzkow wanted to make an impression, he certainly did.
Klatzkow’s presentation put the ordinance’s proponents on the defensive. It was clear from the presentations of the key advocates who followed Klatzkow that they had to move the commissioners away from contemplating the potentially devastating fiscal impact of passing the ordinance.
The first public speaker to try to do this was James Rosenberger, a tall, stooped county resident who launched the petition for the ordinance and gained 5,000 signatures. His tactic was to compare the ease and safety of the current commissioners with the revolutionaries who put their lives on the line to rebel against the British in 1776. They should do the same now, he argued, and ignore the possible unintended consequences of passing the ordinance.
“You can lead, follow or get out of the way,” he said, drawing on what he said was a firefighting mantra in his experience. “If you’re incapable of leading today maybe this job isn’t for you and I suggest along with ‘we the people’ that you get out of the way, step down and make room for someone who will lead us like our forefathers did almost 250 years ago.”
Having now threatened and insulted the people he was trying to convince, Rosenberger made way for his wife, Carol DiPaolo, who traced the origins of the nullification ordinance movement to a meeting of seven concerned friends from a variety of backgrounds. They had gathered to share their “concern, anxiety, fear and anger”—over measures like mask mandates, gun restrictions, and “President Biden and his pen.”
In the Spring, the group collected signatures to create a 2nd Amendment sanctuary in Collier County but were rebuffed by the county Commission. However they were contacted by Keith Flaugh of the conservative Florida Citizens Alliance and people from The Alamo gun range and store in Naples, whom they hadn’t previously known. With the aid of “prominent” Collier County supporters the nullification ordinance was drawn up and presented at the June 22 meeting. DiPaolo urged the commissioners to pass it now.
From DiPaolo onward, the proponents held the floor, with one exception: Undersheriff Col. Jim Bloom of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, who was standing in for Rambosk.
Bloom testified that the ordinance was enforceable like any other law in the county but when asked by Solis what procedure the office would follow to enforce it, he said the office would contact the state’s attorney to prosecute violations.
Bloom and Rambosk may not have intended it but that procedure set up an effective Catch-22, wherein they were seeking a higher authority to enforce and prosecute an essentially unconstitutional ordinance that didn’t recognize higher authority.
What was more, Solis said he had called the state’s attorney, who said his office had not been consulted about the ordinance.
But while Bloom’s answer introduced what was essentially an insurmountable “logic loop,” that did not deter Kristina Heuser, the lawyer who drew up the ordinance. She defended its legality.
She was followed by Flaugh, who drew a stark choice for the commissioners: “There seem to be the two factions,” he said. “Those who support the individual rights that you have sworn to protect and those who support an unfettered federal government in control of our everyday lives.”
He also gave commissioners a stark choice. “For anyone of you who decide to vote ‘no’ on this I urge you and suggest you have only one honorable course of action: to resign before you disgrace yourself any further.”
Subsequent proponents spoke on similar themes. State Rep. Rommel made an appearance to support the ordinance, saying he wanted his local sheriff in charge and alleging that the US Capitol Police were opening an office in Tampa to pursue people in Southwest Florida. He warned that the federal government was eroding God-given rights. “Anything less than unanimous agreement will be extremely disappointing,” he said to the Commission.
As the hours wore on the arguments grew louder and while not disorderly became less disciplined and more wide-ranging.
Proponent Beth Sherman used her time at the speaker’s lectern to launch a full-scale attack on vaccinations, anti-COVID measures and the local health system.
“We are living in a time of deceit and tyranny,” she said. “NCH [Naples Community Hospital] should not be allowed to provide medical data or advice to this community. They have been suppressing life-saving COVID treatments like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.” She accused Solis of supporting mandatory vaccinations, which he vehemently denied.
“There are people in this room being called insurrectionists,” she said. “Let me tell you that there is plenty of evidence that the FBI planned that as a false flag and it will come out because the truth always comes out.”
Lastly she warned the commissioners: “If you vote ‘no’ today, we the people kindly ask that you resign so that a true leader can fill your seat.”
Unlike the June 22 meeting when no opponents appeared, this time there was strong turnout by people opposed to the ordinance and opponents may have constituted a majority of the speakers.
Janet Hoffman, head of the Collier County League of Women Voters, spoke for the non-partisan organization when she announced that “We don’t support this ordinance. It suggests that Collier County officials pick and choose the laws they want to follow.”
While many residents spoke out against the ordinance, those who spoke most knowledgably were retired lawyers, some with experience in local affairs.
George Dondanville, an attorney with considerable government experience said, “I’ve never heard of anything like this ordinance. How am I going to do what I’m supposed to do under this ordinance?”
While proponents viewed objections as mere stumbling blocks to passage of the ordinance, Dondanville pointed out that “our stumbling block is our form of government. Our courts make those decisions. Your own attorney sitting over there says that this thing flies in the face of the Constitution. You can pass it if you want but you’re going to get into serious financial problems. Those aren’t scare tactics at all. Please don’t pass this.”
Retired attorney Robert Leher said: “The definition of an unlawful act in this ordinance has no ascertainable standard for what is unlawful” and he had “never seen a statute that was more poorly drafted.” He also warned that passing the ordinance would result in a drop in tourism and visitation because “people don’t want to come to a battlezone.”
“This is wrong in so many ways,” he concluded.
David Goldstein, a retired attorney who served the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Collier County, warned that “nothing empowers a county with the power to supersede federal law.”
David Millstein, a retired civil rights attorney who also taught civil rights law and served as former head of the Collier County ACLU, said he tried to put himself in the shoes of the county attorney trying to defend and implement it.
“This is an ordinance proposed by someone who doesn’t know constitutional law,” he said. “You can’t make an ordinance saying you’re not going to follow federal law. Why not make this an income tax sanctuary ordinance? It is so unconstitutional in so many ways I would say, ‘Let’s go out and have a beer and forget about this.’”
Speech before the Commission as delivered by the author:
“I am here today to urge you to reject this absurd, unconstitutional and completely unnecessary ordinance. This is frankly ridiculous on its face. There is simply no need for a separate Collier County sanctuary for the Bill of Rights because the United States of America is a sanctuary for the Bill of Rights. Our law is uniform, it is superseding and it is upheld.
This ordinance, this proposed ordinance, has so many problems between the principle and the practical that it is as full of holes as a piece of Swiss cheese. I mean, there are logic loops, you’re going to challenge federal law in what court after you’ve denied federal jurisdiction? There are so many things that simply don’t make sense.
In addition, talking very pragmatically, your lawyer has talked about the fact that this would open you all up to liability. I believe it opens up our sheriff and sheriff’s deputies also to liability. If they try to assert federal law they are liable to be sued.
There are all sorts of questions about federal investigations that might be going on in this county that might be disrupted or hindered.
There is also, you know, when have an Irma, or an Elsa or a Wilma hurricane, if we remove ourselves from federal law we’re not going to get the assistance and the support and the help that we need from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and this can run into many millions of dollars, as you all well know.
You cannot take yourself out of the jurisdiction of federal law.
Now, I like everyone else, am very concerned about the Constitution and upholding the Bill of Rights. I mean, we’ve had an insurrection.
(Laughter and catcalls from proponents, gaveled into order by Commissioner Taylor.)
There is a need to support the Constitution. This is easily done in this county.
Now, on all your desks you have a draft text of a resolution that reaffirms Collier County’s allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I urge you to pass that resolution. It is something you can do, it is something in your jurisdiction and it is something that I think every resident of Collier County can support.
This, I think, will address everybody’s problems and concerns with possible violations of the Bill of Rights. We can do that here.
The United States of America has faced rebellion, nullification, secession, sedition and insurrection and it has defeated them all.
Collier County does not need to join this sad parade of bad ideas, failed notions and absurd plots and make itself not only a laughingstock of the country but to take itself out of the rule of law, which is what this ordinance is proposing to do.
So in summation: defeat this ordinance—this should be rejected and I will hope that it will be rejected unanimously—and I urge you to pass a resolution reaffirming our allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
In the end, the Commission voted down the ordinance.
Solis said he was concerned about the role of the state’s attorney in making constitutional decisions when enforcing the ordinance. Taylor criticized the ordinance’s penalties, its unnecessariness, and the conflict it set up between supporting the ordinance or supporting the Constitution: “It’s almost like a trap,” she said. Saunders said that the solution to the concerns expressed by proponents was at the ballot box.
Both LoCastro and McDaniels argued that principle should prevail over any possible unintended consequences.
After the ordinance was defeated Taylor introduced the resolution reaffirming the county’s allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and it passed unanimously.
To the ballot box
As Winston Churchill said after the Al Alamein victory in World War II: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
So it was with this ordinance, which was like a spasm of Trumpism in its death throes.
It was clear from the proponents’ remarks that among them there is real “concern, anxiety, fear and anger,” as DiPaolo put it. Persistent fears mentioned by proponents were the possibility of mandatory vaccinations and that the Capitol Police were coming to Florida to hunt down people who had participated in what many regarded as a non-existent insurrection.
So much of their concern, anxiety, fear and anger was generated by an exaggerated hatred and suspicion of the US federal government fed by extremist media. Instead of seeing anti-COVID measures as common-sense, science-driven anti-disease precautions taken for the community’s good, the proponents viewed them as deliberately oppressive infringements on their personal lives and liberty. They clearly feel genuinely threatened by unfamiliar restrictions. What is more, several proponents characterized even the Commission’s authority to pass legislation as “tyrannical.”
But many of the proponents displayed a tyrannical streak of their own, threatening and bullying commissioners and insisting that a failure to vote their way result in resignation or disgrace.
The ordinance was an outgrowth of these concerns, anxieties, fears and anger as well as an insistent demand for obedience to the proponents’ will, all of it rendered into legalese. It was never viable as a law and would have been defeated in court after enormous delay, disruption and expense. It had the potential to seriously damage Collier County government and the county itself. And it could have harmed all of Florida and the nation had it spread.
The proponents are no doubt licking their wounds but the passion and paranoia that drove the ordinance remain, sustained by demagoguery and disinformation. Although one hopes that feelings will die down with time and the easing of the pandemic, the core activists will no doubt seek new outlets.
If the proponents stay within the law the next battle will be at the ballot box in 2022. The votes of the commissioners will no doubt be an issue in their election campaigns. The next election will see whether thoughtful people are in the majority in evaluating their records and accomplishments.
A major disappointment in all of this was the position of Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. A highly effective law enforcement leader, a respected professional and cutting edge technologist with experience as a city manager, his endorsement of an extreme ordinance of dubious enforceability calls his judgment into question. It also calls into question the ability of his office and officers to enforce the law impartially and apolitically. It creates a sad kernel of doubt about an otherwise unblemished and polished force. Like the ordinance itself, this was entirely unnecessary.
Although the struggle over rights and allegiances is not over, one can only hope that it plays itself out within the confines of the law and the institutions established by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to constructively channel such disagreements. As the nation goes on, so will the debate.
In 1787, after the Constitutional Convention completed its work, Benjamin Franklin told Americans that they had “a republic, if you can keep it.”
On Tuesday, July 13, 2021, Collier County chose to keep it.