As Southwest Florida digs out from Hurricane Ian, its representatives in Congress voted to shut down the federal government that is aiding the devastated region.
Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) all voted against the Continuing Appropriations and Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2023 (House Resolution (HR) 6833), to keep the government operating.
Despite their opposition, the bill passed the US House by a vote of 230 to 201, with 10 Republicans voting in favor of it. It had earlier passed the Senate by an overwhelming vote of 72 to 25. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) voted against the bill, while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was absent.
President Joe Biden signed it into law last night, Sept. 30, just before government funding ran out.
Under the bill, the government will continue operating at current spending levels until Dec. 16.
The bill includes $18.8 billion in spending for disaster recovery efforts. In addition to Florida’s needs, it funds efforts for Western wildfires and flooding in Kentucky.
The bill also funds the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is assisting hard-hit Southwest Florida. The region sustained what is likely to be many billions of dollars in damages from the direct strike from the Category 4 hurricane.
Charlotte and Sarasota counties in Steube’s 17th District were especially devastated.
If Donalds, Steube and Diaz-Balart had succeeded in stopping the bill with their negative votes, the government would have shut down and there would be no money for search and rescue, emergency response and the beginning of recovery.
In addition to keeping the government functioning, the bill provides $12.4 billion to assist Ukraine in its fight for survival against Russia.
However, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) emphasized the aid to Florida in a speech supporting passage of the bill.
“Alongside this critical package for Ukraine, this legislation directs significant funding to help American families devastated by disaster,” she said. “We continue to hold all the families affected by Hurricane Ian in our hearts and prayers during this difficult time, but we need money to help them. The $2 billion or more in the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funding in this bill will go toward supporting Florida as well as Puerto Rico, Alaska and other communities hit by disaster. But again, we need more.
“And we’re also allowing FEMA to spend up to its entire year of funding, giving the agency access to an additional $18.9 billion from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to quickly respond to disasters, especially appropriate now with Ian. And we will need more,” she said.
Despite many public statements and social media postings related to Hurricane Ian, Southwest Florida’s congressmen did not explain their votes against funding the federal government and disaster recovery money.
In his many tweets related to Hurricane Ian and his support for other measures to aid Southwest Florida, Donalds did not address his vote to shut down the government.
His Democratic opponent, Cindy Banyai had to evacuate her home and was without communications. “I rode out the Hurricane and have surveyed the damage. My job is to speak truth to power and that means we need some answers,” she tweeted, issuing a statement saying that “I know many people want to see unity at this time. But if you’re mad, like me, after all is said and done with Hurricane Ian, we need something better.”
For his part, Steube noted in a tweet that FEMA had approved assistance for affected individuals in Polk County but did not address his vote against further government funding.
Diaz-Balart also made no statement regarding his vote against federal funding and operations.
In contrast, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-23-Fla.) noted: “We cannot leave communities behind that are still picking up the pieces from disastrous floods, wildfires and hurricanes and even basic water system failures. This funding bill comes to their rescue.”
Even Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a determined and relentless critic of Biden, had to acknowledge the importance of the federal role in coping with the storm and its aftermath. “My view on all this is like, you’ve got people’s lives at stake, you’ve got their property at stake and we don’t have time for pettiness,” he said before Ian made landfall. “We gotta work together to make sure we’re doing the best job for them, so my phone line is open.”
In the race for Collier County Commissioner District 2, Chris Hall won his race with 50 percent of the vote and will face Democrat Barbara “Bebe” Kanter.
Daniel Kowal won his race for Collier County Commissioner District 4 with 42 percent of the vote, defeating incumbent Penny Taylor.
In the non-partisan school board races for districts 1, 3 and 5, no candidate won 50 percent of the vote plus one, meaning that all districts will be decided in the general election among the top two vote getters.
In District 1, incumbent Jory Westberry will face Jerry Rutherford.
In District 3, incumbent Jenn Mitchell will face Kelly Lichter.
In District 5, incumbent Roy Terry will face Timothy Moshier.
In the non-partisan election for County Judge Group 3, Chris Brown defeated Pamela Barger by 52.7 percent to 47.3 percent.
According to official results from the Lee County Supervisor of Elections, in State House District 77, Tiffany Esposito defeated Ford O’Connell by 70.68 percent to 29.32 percent.
For the Lee County School Board, only Armor Persons made it over the 50 percent mark in District 5, with 54.85 percent of the vote.
Otherwise, in District 1, Sam Fisher will face Kathy Fanny in the general election.
In District 4, incumbent Debbie Jordan will face Dan Severson.
In District 6, Jada Lanford Fleming will face Denise Nystrom.
Final vote is huge win for Joe Biden, Southwest Florida, seniors.
Aug. 13, 2022 by David Silverberg
The United States House of Representatives last night, Aug. 12, passed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (House Resolution 5376) by a straight party-line vote of 220 to 207.
All Southwest Florida representatives, Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), along with 204 other Republicans voted against the bill.
The House vote finalizes legislative consideration of the measure, which had already passed the US Senate. President Joe Biden may sign it into law at any time.
The bill invests $370 billion in clean energy and reducing harmful, climate-changing emissions. It moves to cap and lower drug costs for seniors and all Medicare recipients. It also protects lower and middle income Americans from crippling insurance increases, as well as many other measures.
Among elements relevant to Florida, the bill makes major new investments in solar energy and provides tax credits for people and businesses that go solar. It provides funding for prevention and mitigation of wildfires and other climatic impacts.
For coastal communities like those in Southwest Florida, the bill appropriates money for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to take resilience actions against climate change and funds improved weather forecasting. NOAA will also be able to buy new hurricane-hunting aircraft.
“When you hear about what this means to America’s working families, how can you vote against lowering health care costs and prescription drug costs for seniors and underserved communities as we continue to fight inflation?” asked House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) in a floor speech.
“How can you vote with Pharma at the cost of America’s seniors and America’s working families?
“How can you vote against protecting future generations from rising sea levels, raging wildfires and crippling droughts?
“How can you vote against reducing the deficit or asking billionaires and companies and wealthy avoiders of taxes to pay their fair share? And I’m not talking about people who work the system. I’m talking about people who illegally do not pay their taxes,” she said.
However, Donalds, among other Republicans during the 3-hour debate spoke against the bill in his own 1-minute floor speech, in which he argued that “this terrible bill” will increase energy costs.
“This bill will only make the economic pain & suffering worse,” he also argued on Twitter. “Why would I vote for a bill that increases taxes & royalties on American energy when prices are skyrocketing?”
In another tweet he denounced increased enforcement of tax laws. “The American people are tired of having the government breathing down their necks. Yet, that’s exactly what the Democrats want more of. The addition of 87,000 NEW IRS agents is more government intrusion on your life and mine. We The People just want to be left alone.”
Steube was similarly scornful, tweeting: “This bill wastes over $350 billion on Green New Deal priorities like tax breaks for people who buy ‘green appliances’ and solar panels. The American people want relief from inflation – not more spending.” In another tweet he stated: “We cannot spend ourselves out of this recession. The Democrats’ Inflation Expansion Act cuts jobs and raises taxes on millions of Americans across all incomes during 40-year high inflation.”
In his own tweet Diaz-Balart called the bill “the Manchin-Biden deal” after Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVa.), whose support was critical in getting it through the Senate. He stated it “does not reduce inflation. Americans are paying $2 more per gallon on gas since Biden took office. Food, housing prices & rents are UP, hurting American families. It raises taxes on Americans. More reckless spending is not the solution.”
On the other hand, Cindy Banyai, Democratic candidate in the 19th Congressional District, was jubilant at the bill’s passage, tweeting, “Thank you Democrats for passing the Inflation Reduction Act! Time to invest in America!”
The US House of Representatives this afternoon passed a pair of bills ensuring a woman’s right to choose and access to abortion services.
Southwest Florida’s members of Congress opposed both bills along with most other Republicans in Congress.
The first bill was the Women’s Health Protection Act (House Resolution (HR) 8296), which passed by a party-line vote of 219 to 210. It prohibits any restrictions on women’s access to abortion services, essentially codifying the rights and protections contained in Roe vs, Wade.
The second bill was the Ensuring Access to Abortion Act (HR 8297), which passed by a vote of 223 to 205. The bill prohibits interference with a person’s ability to travel to another state to access abortion services. Three Republicans voted with the majority: Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-1-Pa.), Adam Kinzinger (R-16-Ill.) and Fred Upton (R-6-Mich.).
“By passing this legislation, we will preempt and prevent state-level bans and restrictions put forth by extremist, anti-women state legislators,” said House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) in a floor speech prior to the votes. “We’ll ensure that all Americans enjoy the same fundamental rights to reproductive care – regardless of background or ZIP code. And we offer hope to the American people who treasure our freedoms and who are overwhelmingly with us in our mission to defend them.”
Southwest Florida’s representatives, already on the record opposing women’s choice, were outspoken in their rejection of the bills.
Rep. Byron Donalds and response
“The Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022 is an affront to our system of Checks and Balances and blatantly ignores the Court’s ruling which allows states––not Congress––to enact abortion-related policy,” stated Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) in a tweet just prior to the vote. “I will vote NO on any effort to expand abortion access in America.”
In a more extended statement he called the Democratic Party “the party of abortion on demand and without limits, including the unconscionable practice of infanticide. This ideology is sick, perverse and erodes our nation’s moral compass.”
Cindy Banyai, the Democrat challenging Donalds in the 19th District tweeted: “Thank you Democrats for standing up for women’s rights and access to abortion care. It’s beyond time to codify Roe.”
She also blasted Donalds: “Rep Byron Donalds has made it clear – his religion trumps your health and your right to body autonomy. Donalds is pro-forced birth. And his insinuation that Democrats support infanticide is disgusting and dangerous misinformation.”
Jim Huff, a Republican challenging Donalds in the 19th Congressional District primary, stated in a message to The Paradise Progressive: “Had it been me in office I would have surveyed my district the instant Dobbs was finalized for a better justification to back up these votes. The state forms the local guidance, but the federal government protects the freedom to seek alternatives in other states. For example, certain types of weapons are legal in some states and not in others, yet people have the right to choose where they may live. I have to represent the majority of my district for these hard decisions, not my personal beliefs.”
Steube and Diaz-Balart
Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), a long-time opponent of women’s choice, tweeted: “Over 63 million children have been murdered since Roe was decided. That’s not freedom – that’s genocide.” He also made a one-minute speech against the bill in which he denied there had ever been a right to abortion under the US Constitution.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) did not issue a statement on any platform in the immediate wake of the vote.
The bills now go to the Senate where they are not expected to gain the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster and be passed into law.
The US House of Representatives last night, July 13, voted to establish a national system to alert and coordinate federal, state and local responses to active shooter incidents despite the opposition of Southwest Florida Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and 167 other Republicans.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) broke ranks with his colleagues and party and voted for the bill.
The bill creates a federal coordinator for an Active Shooter Alert Communications Network similar to the Amber Alert System for missing children. The coordinator will work with federal, state and local governments to operate the network and establish procedures to respond to active shooters. The Government Accountability Office will monitor progress on the system.
“This vital legislation that we’re doing today will quickly warn communities when a gunman opens fire: a common-sense, life-saving measure widely supported by law enforcement,” said House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) in a floor speech.
The bill passed in response to a spate of mass shootings including the one on May 24 at Uvalde, Texas, where 19 students and two teachers were killed following a botched, uncoordinated law enforcement response. It was introduced in February by Rep. David Cicilline (D-1-RI).
Initially, the bill failed in the House in June when congressional supporters were unable to gain a two-thirds vote of the entire chamber to suspend the usual House rules and vote for passage. Yesterday’s vote required a simple majority.
As of this writing, none of Southwest Florida’s representatives had issued statements on any platform explaining their votes.
The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Yesterday, June 24, Southwest Florida’s representatives in Congress voted against the final version of a bill to dampen gun violence and had fulsome praise for the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and end the right to abortion.
Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) all voted against the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (Senate 2938), which imposes new restrictions on gun purchases, helps states establish “red flag” laws, funds mental health programs and increases school security. It was constructed as an amendment to a measure proposed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) renaming a court house in Tallahassee.
The bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 234 to 193. Fourteen Republicans voted with the majority to approve the bill.
Having been approved by both chambers of Congress, the bill now goes to President Joe Biden for signature. (UPDATE: President Biden signed the bill into law this morning.)
While that vote was taken in the afternoon, at 11:00 am that morning the Supreme Court released its ruling in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization, striking down Roe v. Wade by a 5 to 4 vote.
Southwest Florida’s congressmen were quick to praise the Supreme Court ruling.
“Today, we saw the rule of law established under the Constitution prevail,” tweeted Donalds. “This monumental decision ends a once unconstitutional ruling riddled w/ judicial activism. Now the right to abortion rests in the hands of the people, where it belongs.”
“More than 63 million unborn children have been murdered by abortion since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973,” tweeted Steube. “I applaud the Supreme Court’s courageous decision today to reverse Roe v. Wade.”
“Today, the Supreme Court of the United States has applied sound constitutional principles to arrive at its opinion,” stated Diaz-Balart in a lengthy statement. “This decision is long overdue. The Supreme Court is to be commended.”
By a vote of 65 to 33, he United States Senate last night passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to make American communities safer (Senate 2938) by regulating gun sales and possession.
Both of Florida’s Republican senators, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, voted against the bill.
The bill now returns to the House of Representatives for final approval, which may occur as early as today.
In a bizarre bit of legislative maneuvering, the major provisions were tagged onto a bill that Rubio introduced in May renaming a US courthouse in Tallahassee after Joseph Woodrow Hatchett, a former US Appeals Court judge.
The bill expands criminal background checks for gun buyers, bars a larger group of domestic-violence offenders from being able to purchase firearms, and funds “red flag” programs that would allow authorities to seize guns from troubled individuals.
“Many are comparing the bill being considered in the Senate to what we did in FL. However, they aren’t the same at all,” stated Scott in a tweet explaining his vote.
In 2018, as governor, Scott signed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act, which went further than the Senate bill in restricting gun sales and establishing “red flag” provisions to allow seizure of guns from people considered a danger to themselves and others. Nonetheless, stated Scott, “The Senate bill is unacceptably weak on protecting due process & automatically restores gun rights to convicted domestic abusers. That’s why I can’t support it.”
As of this writing, Rubio had not issued a statement on any online platform explaining his vote.
Immediately after the 9:42 pm vote in the Senate, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) issued a statement: “On behalf of the House, we applaud the Senate for passing its gun violence prevention package on a strong bipartisan vote.
“Every day, gun violence steals lives and scars communities — and this crisis demands urgent action. While we must do more, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act is a step forward that will help protect our children and save lives,” she stated.
“First thing tomorrow morning, the Rules Committee will meet to advance this life-saving legislation to the Floor. When the Rules Committee finishes its business, we will head immediately to the Floor. And we will send the bill to President Biden for his signature, with gratitude for his leadership.”
All of Southwest Florida’s members of Congress voted against the bill when it was first considered in the House.
Some indication of their likely votes came yesterday, June 23, after a Supreme Court decision striking down a New York restriction on concealed weapons. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) tweeted: “Today’s SCOTUS ruling is a massive win for our Republic and the Constitution that guides it. As Justice Thomas stated, the Second Amendment is NOT a second-class right, and this 6-3 ruling sets that in stone. DON’T TREAD ON ME & MY RIGHT TO KEEP & BEAR ARMS.”
The first hearing of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, held last night, June 9, evoked starkly different reactions—though hardly surprising ones—among Southwest Florida Democrats and Republicans.
“This hearing was shocking. We knew so much, but the details are amazing,” tweeted Cindy Banyai, Democratic candidate for Congress in the 19th Congressional District. “My heart is aching and I am so angry at those who deny the severity of this clearly planned attack.”
“These hearings are a microcosm of the division in our country – some define what happened as seditious conspiracy, some as legitimate political discourse,” stated Annisa Karim, chair of the Collier County Democratic Party in a message to The Paradise Progressive.
Despite Republican characterization of the attack on the Capitol as “legitimate political discourse,” Karim pointed out that such discourse doesn’t include members of Congress fleeing for their lives, nooses displayed, or incitement to violence.
“We need to take our partisan hats off and watch these hearings as Americans to understand that our Democracy is fragile and it needs to be protected and defended against all enemies foreign and domestic,” she wrote.
On the Republican side, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) agreed in a tweet with Republican colleague Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-21-NY) that the hearings were a “witch hunt” but “I’ll add something else—[Americans] aren’t going to watch.”
Why wouldn’t Americans watch? “1. Tonight is Game 5 of the NHL playoffs. 2. Most Americans are more concerned with $5+ gas prices & skyrocketing grocery prices. 1/6 is for the history books, not an MSM [mainstream media]-sponsored DNC [Democratic National Committee] ad.
Rep. Mario Diaz (R-25-Fla.) was similarly dismissive. “Tonight’s J6 committee hearing is the most blatant attempt to distract the American people from the disastrous and failed policies of the Democratic Party,” he tweeted.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) also followed the Party line, tweeting: “Rather than addressing all of the crises that Biden created for the American people, House Democrats will be putting on a professionally produced show tonight. This is a desperate attempt to shift attention away from the real issues.”
To come: More on the Jan. 6 committee investigation and Southwest Florida
Last night, June 8, Southwest Florida’s congressmen voted against the Protecting Our Kids Act, intended to reduce the incidence of gun violence.
The bill, House Resolution (HR) 7910, passed by a vote of 223 to 204. It now goes to the Senate where a small, bipartisan group of senators are negotiating the terms of their own gun safety bill.
The vote on the House bill was complex because there were separate votes on each of its seven clauses, or titles, to determine if they would stay in the bill. This allowed members of Congress to reveal on the record which anti-violence measures they supported or opposed.
The vote followed a day of dramatic testimony from 11-year-old Uvalde, Texas massacre survivor Miah Cerrillo, Uvalde parents and the mother of a victim wounded in the Buffalo, NY massacre.
All seven titles in the bill passed with majority votes, as did the bill itself.
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who does not live in his district, voted against Title I, which raised the age for sales of semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21. He then sat out votes on Title II, which prohibits straw purchases of firearms and firearms trafficking, and Title III, which prohibits untraceable or “ghost” guns. He voted against Title IV, which requires safe storage of guns to protect children; Title V, which prohibits “bump stocks,” that allow semi-automatic weapons to function as automatic weapons; and Title VI, which prohibits high-capacity magazines.
He did, however, vote in favor of Title VII, which requires the Justice Department to file an annual report on the people who have been denied gun permits. The reports will include their “race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender, age, disability, average annual income, and English language proficiency, if available.”
He then voted against the bill in its entirety.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), voted against all titles except Title VII, which requires the annual report. He also voted against the entire bill.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), like Steube, voted against all titles except Title VII, which requires the annual report. He too voted against the entire bill.
At an appearance Tuesday morning with Everytown for Gun Safety activists, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) asked: “Why would someone be against raising the age so that teenagers do not have AK-47s? Why would someone not want protection in their home so that the children cannot have access – dangerously – to guns in a deadly way? Why would we? Why would we not side with our law enforcement and say these ghost guns are a danger to all of us in our society?”
She continued: “So, for the children, I say to our colleagues: we really don’t want to hear about your political survival. Your political survival means nothing compared to the survival of our children.”
Immediately following the vote Donalds, who has a long record opposing gun safety and anti-violence bills in both the state legislature and Congress, issued a statement saying: “The knee-jerk proposals we are voting on today will do little to nothing to curb the infliction of heinous violence plaguing America committed by lawless maniacs hellbent on devaluing innocent life.” He called the effort to curb gun violence “an unabashed crusade on our Second Amendment” that “exposed the Democrat’s [sic] disdain and lack of respect for our fundamental rights established in our founding documents.”
Steube, an ardent gun possession advocate who waved a loaded pistol during a remote appearance at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, tweeted, “Why are we punishing law-abiding Americans and taking away their Constitutional right to protect themselves because 0.3% of the population commits violent crimes? I won’t stand for it.” He joined Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-3-Colo.) and host Laura Ingraham on Fox News to denounce the measures.
As of this writing, Diaz-Balart, who has switched positions on gun-related issues in the past, had not issued a statement on his votes.
Another gun violence measure, The Federal Extreme Risk Protection Order Act (HR 2377) is expected to come up for a vote as early as today. This is essentially a national “red flag” law establishing procedures for “federal extreme risk protection orders” and is similar to Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Act, which was passed into law in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., massacre in 2018. These prohibit arms sales to people deemed a risk to themselves or others. Such people will be prohibited from possessing, shipping, transporting or receiving firearms.
“There are serious Fifth Amendment, constitutional issues with red flag laws because essentially your property can be taken from you by a court of law without you being able to defend yourself in said court of law. Those are the constitutional issues with red flag laws,” he said.
It is only a matter of time before the next massacre of innocents at the hands of a crazed, heavily armed gunman. The massacre could occur any time, in any venue, anywhere in the United States.
Southwest Florida is certainly not immune: there are lots of guns here and plenty of addled people to wield them.
In the wake of the Uvalde, Texas elementary school massacre there is yet another cascade of calls to “do something”—i.e., to in some way stem the flood of high performance weapons used against unarmed people peacefully going about their business.
Any proposed solutions are certainly not going to come from Southwest Florida’s elected congressional representatives. After Uvalde, congressmen from Southwest Florida have made the usual, pro-forma expressions of sympathy for the victims’ families. But they are also already falling silent and if history is any guide they will vote in Congress against any kind of gun law reform. Then the public outrage will die down and life will return to “normal.”
It’s as predictable as the coming of hurricane season—there will be storms, there will be damage and there will be death—but all a person can do is hunker down and hope not to be hit.
In contrast to hurricanes, of course, gun regulation is a human construct that could be enacted. However, among the three congressmen who make up the Southwest Florida delegation, not only is there no inclination to make any changes, there is nothing in their records or public positions to indicate they will do anything except resist reform and parrot the talking points of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
An examination of their records makes this clear.
Rep. Byron Donalds
In the 19th Congressional District, which stretches along the coast from Cape Coral to Marco Island, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who does not live in the district, has made a major point of his pro-gun, pro-NRA positions. His 2020 campaign tag line was that “I’m everything the fake news media says doesn’t exist: a Trump-supporting, liberty-loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man.”
Donalds’ opposition to gun violence legislation goes back to his time before he entered Congress. In 2018 in the wake of the massacre in Parkland, Fla., as a state legislator from the 80th District, he voted against the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Act in the Florida legislature, which banned the sale of bump stocks, raised the age for gun purchases to 21 and established a three-day waiting period for all firearm sales.
In his 2020 congressional race Donalds received a full endorsement from the NRA and an A+ rating from the NRA Victory Fund, denoting that he had “an excellent voting record on all critical NRA issues.”
Since entering Congress Donalds has voted and spoken out against the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 1446) and voted against the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (HR 1620). (Both bills passed.) These votes earned him an A rating from the Gun Owners of America, an organization even more fervent in opposing reform than the NRA.
On May 24 immediately after the Uvalde massacre Donalds tweeted: “No family should have to bury their loved one because of the actions of a sick & deranged animal. Our nation is suffering from a mental health crisis that is plaguing our society & senselessly killing too many. Erika & I offer our deepest condolences to the victims of this attack.”
Rep. Greg Steube
Another NRA A+ winner is Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), whose district stretches from Venice to the Lee County line and includes large swaths of six interior counties.
Steube has been a defender and active proponent of unrestricted gun access throughout his political career beginning in 2010 when he first ran for the Florida House of Representatives. There, he was a sponsor of House Bill 4001, which allowed the carrying of weapons, both openly and concealed, on college campuses in Florida. He was endorsed by the NRA during his 2016 race for the state Senate and then in 2018 when he ran for Congress.
In Congress, Steube opposed a 2020 Democratic effort to ban guns from the Capitol grounds and introduced a bill to speed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ approval of applications to buy gun silencers. In 2021 Steube, like Donalds, voted against the enhanced background checks and violence against women bills.
In keeping with NRA and conservative orthodoxy, Steube favors hardening schools rather than regulating guns to prevent shootings. On Friday, May 27, Steube signed on as a cosponsor of the School Resource Officer Assessment Act, a bill that would require a national assessment of the number and status of school resource officers across the country. The bill was originally introduced in 2018 by Rep. Clay Higgins (R-3-La.) after the Parkland, Fla., massacre. It passed the House and then died in the Senate. Higgins reintroduced it this year on May 26.
The day after the Uvalde shooting, Steube tweeted: “‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’ – Matthew 5:4. Keeping the students, families, and Uvalde community in my prayers during this horrific time.”
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart
As Florida’s longest-serving member of Congress, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) has a more complex record on gun access and violence than his two Southwest Florida neighbors.
Representing a district that stretches from roughly from Interstate 75 in Collier County to Hialeah in the east and including huge stretches of virtually unpopulated Everglades and Big Cypress territory, Diaz-Balart’s focus has been on the Cuban-American and Hispanic populations that provide most of the population of his district.
Throughout his political career in the state House and in Congress, Diaz-Balart maintained an A rating from the NRA, accepted its financial contributions and largely followed its lead on gun-related legislation.
In the immediate wake of the murder of 17 students and teachers (and injuring of 17 others) at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018 nothing changed in Diaz-Balart’s positions. He continued to accept contributions from the NRA. So pro-gun was Diaz-Balart that after Parkland he was the focus of an effort to unseat him by former Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, the victim of a shooting at an Arizona mall in 2011.
As Giffords put it in her endorsement of his 2018 opponent, Democrat Mary Barzee Flores:
“Here are three facts that you should know about Diaz-Balart.
“Number one: he’s taken thousands of dollars from the NRA. More money than any other Florida member of Congress. He even took their money AFTER the Parkland school shooting. After seventeen children and their| educators were gunned down.
“Number two: Diaz-Balart gets an A rating from the NRA year after year.
“And number three: Diaz-Balart voted to weaken our gun laws, not strengthen them. Diaz-Balart even refuses to support common-sense solutions like requiring background checks on all gun sales.
“Nothing’s going to get done with Diaz Balart in the NRA’s pocket voting against our safety.”
Despite the criticism and the passions aroused by the Parkland shooting, Diaz-Balart handily won his 2018 election.
However, he did shift slightly on gun legislation. In February 2019 he joined seven other Republicans to vote for the Bipartisan Background Check Act of 2019, which mandated background checks for private sales of guns. By voting for it, Diaz-Balart was defying both the NRA and the Republican congressional leadership. The bill passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 240 to 190 but died in the Senate.
The bill was revived after the 2020 election as HR 8 and it came up for a House vote in March 2021.
This time, though, Diaz-Balart had second thoughts and voted against it. As he explained his reversal in a press release, the first time it came up he had hoped there would be “serious negotiations” but “the radical left altered this bill and, in the process, made it far worse and indefensible.”
That bill passed the House on March 11, 2021 by a vote of 227 to 203. It is now in the Senate.
At the same time Diaz-Balart joined two Democrats in sponsoring another piece of legislation, the NICS [National Instant Criminal Background Check System] Denial Notification Act of 2021 (HR 1769). Under this bill if someone is denied a gun license because of a background check, local law enforcement agencies have to be notified by the Justice Department. The bill was introduced on March 10, 2021 and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee where it remains to this day.
Diaz-Balart’s momentary lapse from pro-gun orthodoxy did cost him a bit politically: His grade from the hard-core Gun Owners of America slipped to a C. In 2020 his grade from the NRA Political Victory Fund was A. The 2022 grade is not out yet but it will be interesting to see where he falls when it’s published.
Last Wednesday, May 25, in the immediate wake of the shootings in Uvalde, Diaz-Balart tweeted: “I’m devastated by the senseless shooting at Robb Elementary School that took 19 innocent lives. School safety must be at the forefront of our priorities in Congress. I pray for the families, staff, and students that were victims of this merciless act of violence.”
Commentary: Incentives, disincentives and death
The politicians in Southwest Florida and across the nation who have consistently and stubbornly opposed any kind of gun regulation reform have made two risk-and-reward calculations, one political and one social.
The political calculation is that there are many downsides and no rewards for making any change to gun laws.
It’s not only that the NRA opposes any changes; it is that its followers and one-issue gun owners will more effectively punish a politician for heresy than reform supporters will reward him for righteousness.
There was a clear example of this in the 2020 Republican congressional primary in the 19th District after Rep. Francis Rooney announced his retirement.
At that time all the Republican candidates were ostentatiously loyal Trumpers and gun rights advocates, vying to show the fervor of their fanaticism.
Dane Eagle of Cape Coral, a Florida House member, was the first person to declare his bid for the seat.
By all outward signs Eagle was a properly extreme conservative, Trumpist candidate, a rising star in the Florida Republican Party and at the outset by far the strongest candidate.
But Eagle had a vulnerability: he already had an extensive political career in Florida even at the precocious age of 36.
In the wake of the Parkland massacre the Florida legislature passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. The bill imposed a three-day waiting period for most purchases of long guns, raised the minimum age for gun purchases to 21 and banned possession of bump stocks. People deemed mentally unstable could have their guns confiscated under “red flag” provisions. It also created a program to arm school personnel and provided $400 million for school security and training.
It was quite unprecedented given Florida’s ingrained gun culture. It was a well-crafted bipartisan bill that embodied many of the reforms now being discussed nationally and for once Florida was in the vanguard of new ideas.
The bill passed with majorities in both the state House and Senate and was signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Scott on March 9, 2018, a mere 23 days after the Parkland massacre.
When Eagle ran for Congress in 2020 his opponents, outside advocacy groups and conservative political action committees were ferocious in blaming him personally for the bill. He was accused of “betrayal,” “selling out” and being a pawn of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. One television ad had him in a gunsight’s crosshairs and called him a “surprisingly liberal Republican.” One opponent called him “sick” because of the law.
Eagle fought back with dark, paranoid, violent TV ads and videos that featured him firing guns in just about every one to show his love of weapons and loyalty to the pro-gun cause.
But Eagle ultimately lost his primary bid to Byron Donalds. Just how large a role his supposed “betrayal” played in that defeat cannot be determined with certainty but the race was close.
That’s the nightmare Republican politicians face when they contemplate taking stands contrary to the NRA and it’s why they almost never do it. The gun voters will retaliate while the reformers aren’t cohesive and powerful enough to keep them in office—especially in Republican primaries. And that’s not to mention the pro-gun money on offer from gun industry-related political action committees and organizations.
Until there’s greater personal reward for voting for gun reform than punishment for voting against it, Republican politicians will continue to toe the NRA line and vie for its approval with ever more extreme legislation.
But there’s a second, social calculation that NRA-compliant politicians have made.
It is simply that the occasional random shooting and classroom massacre is just a price worth paying for unlimited public access to guns, industry profits and access to pro-gun votes and cash. In their view, by whatever imperfect means, society’s decision has been made and it has chosen to live with massacres in order to have guns.
Politicians have also calculated that with every massacre and mass murder the horror and the outrage and the grief will peak and then subside and be forgotten—but the cash and the threats and the votes of pro-gunners will always be there.
As for the children, the teachers, the shoppers, the churchgoers and the everyday citizens who might lose their lives to random gun violence—well, they’re just collateral damage.
It’s as though humans are a herd of buffalo on the old plains. The predators take down the weak, the sick or the slow—or in this case the innocent, the incautious and the unlucky. The herd takes note, and learns to live with the threat and the fear. Each member hopes that he or she won’t be the victim next time. Then the herd moves on—until it’s extinct.
In Southwest Florida this is especially true among Republican politicians, all of whose past statements and actions adhere to NRA doctrine—and in which they may actually, genuinely believe. But regardless of motivation, there has never been any apparent inclination nor is there any evident now, to take any action whatsoever to restrict or regulate guns. That is unlikely to change unless the next massacre occurs very close to home in Collier or Lee or Charlotte counties. Even then it would have to be a particularly dramatic and horrifying event to produce a transformation in thinking.
Of course, these are only the calculations within the locally-dominant Republican Party. There is an alternative. In Southwest Florida it is Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai who is running for Congress in the 19th Congressional District against Donalds.
Banyai was calling for four immediate measures to curb gun violence well before Uvalde. She wants:
A federal moratorium on the production and import of high-powered and fast-firing weapons;
Incentives for the state to create local registration for existing firearms and new purchases, requiring initial and routine training on safety and use, and oversight of all weapons sales;
Annual recognition by the state of safe firearms owners and distributors;
Voluntary buy-backs for those wishing not to register.
When she learned of the Uvalde shootings, Banyai tweeted: “I am struck with the same sick sadness as when I learned of Sandy Hook. The community of Uvalde and the kids of Robb Elementary School deserved more than thoughts and prayers as a shooter ravaged them.” And subsequently, “I am sick and tired of living in fear of the gun crazed America the NRA fueled. I do not want to live in this carnage. I love our kids. There cannot be another Uvalde.”
Sadly, there are likely to be more Uvaldes as the year progresses and some may be even more bloody and horrific. But the mechanism for reform still exists through a peaceful, non-violent ballot and on Nov. 8, Election Day, maybe—just maybe—the citizens of Southwest Florida will exercise that right for the benefit of all.