Marches, demonstrations show SWFL vitality, determination

01-18-20 Fifth Ave.Marchers in Saturday’s Women’s March fill Naples’ Fifth Avenue.            (Photos: Author)

Jan. 20, 2020 by David Silverberg

Today, marchers in Naples and Fort Myers will commemorate the life and legacy of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK). This past Saturday, Jan. 18, activists marched in support of democratic values, liberal causes and to protest the Trump administration’s corruption and assault on women and their concerns.

Saturday’s Women’s March to Win in Naples and the march in Fort Myers were vigorous, enthusiastic and exuberant. The same spirit will likely pervade today’s marches.

But do such marches and demonstrations make a difference, especially in broadly conservative and predominantly Republican Southwest Florida?

The ultimate results won’t be known until the election in November. However, the robust turnouts for the women’s marches demonstrated that liberal political activism in Southwest Florida is alive, well and energetic—and poised to make a difference in both election results and people’s attitudes.

Organizers of the Naples march, formally titled Women March to Win, included Collier Freedom, the Collier County Democratic Party and its Environmental Caucus, SWFL Justice for All, Showing Up for Racial Justice, and Collier Students for Change. The Fort Myers march was hosted by the Alliance and Women’s March Fort Myers, a 501c3 non-profit organization.

The Naples March was significant in that it was the first time since the marches began in 2017 that organizers received a permit to use the street rather than just the sidewalks. Marchers started and ended in Cambier Park.

Both local marches were part of demonstrations that took place around the country.

The historical context

IMG-8354Women’s March participants take the stage at Cambier Park to mark 100 years of women’s suffrage.

Marches and parades probably began when humans started walking upright. They’ve always been expressions of enthusiasm and triumph but in the current context they’re also important for marking critical historic occasions.

This year’s Women’s Marches commemorated the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage and in a more recent context, the outpouring of protest in 2017 against President Donald Trump’s racism, bigotry and misogyny.

The MLK parades celebrate MLK’s commitment to non-violence, peaceful resistance and his efforts to achieve equality, fairness and justice.

So such parades and demonstrations serve the purpose of passing on a legacy to the next generation, honoring the struggles that have gone before and remembering the values that powered the movements.

A show of strength

IMG-8332Some of the groups hosting the Women’s March in Naples.

Turnout at demonstrations is always a measure of the strength of a movement and the broadness of its appeal.

In 2017, an estimated half million people turned out in Washington, DC for the first Women’s March, vastly eclipsing Trump’s paltry inauguration crowds. In Naples, 2017 turnout was unexpectedly large, with several thousand people filling Cambier Park and surrounding streets. It was especially surprising in light of Naples’ seeming somnolence, its apparent conservatism and its reputed indifference to politics. Organizers had expected a crowd of around 500 people; ultimate participation was orders of magnitude larger.

This year, an estimated 3.000 people participated in Naples based on a count of wrist bands provided by March organizers in an effort to get an accurate tally. The count may actually be higher, according to Cynthia Morino-Clark, a March organizer, since not all volunteers attending the march received wristbands. In Fort Myers, WINK News estimated that over 2,000 people marched from the Alliance for the Arts to Centennial Park.

Turnout should be good in this year’s more traditional, more officially organized MLK parades.

In addition to their other purposes, demonstrations of this type also forge solidarity among demonstrators. Particularly in Southwest Florida where liberal activists may often feel that they’re struggling in isolation, demonstrations are an expression of common purpose and wider support.

Electoral exposure

01-18-20 Holden and supporters cropped and adjustedDemocratic congressional candidate David Holden and supporters.

Parades, marches and demonstrations are always an opportunity for electoral candidates to show support for the cause and greet people.

Democratic candidates for office appeared at both Women’s Marches this year: congressional candidates David Holden in Naples and Cindy Banyai in Fort Myers; Sara McFadden and Maureen Porras for state legislature in Naples and John Jenkins, a candidate for Collier County Commission.

01-18-20 Cindy Banyai Ft. Myers Women's MarchDemocratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai (center) and supporters demonstrate in the Fort Myers Women’s March.                                           (Photo: Cindy Banyai campaign)

Voter turnout was a major theme of the Women’s Marches, which featured exhortations to vote and voter registration opportunities during the rallies.

Conversely, the Women’s Marches were also an opportunity to protest against Trump administration policies and prejudice.

01-18-20 Provocateur
The Trumper provocateur.

That sentiment wasn’t universally shared. A Trump provocateur inserted himself at the head of the Naples parade, although he was later separated by police from the main body of the march. He then posted himself outside Cambier Park. He has appeared to disrupt other events in the past, like gatherings of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivors. Asked his name, he replied “Donald Trump Jr.”

 

 

 

Spreading the word

01-18-20 Women's March spectatorsSpectators at the Naples Women’s March show their support.

Demonstrations, marches and parades help spread a message. Though spectators were sparse at the Women’s March in Naples, the march did elicit spontaneous support from observers.

Coverage of the march by local traditional media was erratic. WINK-TV reported both marches with extended coverage. The Naples Daily News covered it with photos on page three the following day. NBC-2 television news did not mention a single word about the march in its 6:00 pm broadcast that night and only posted a short story prior to the march on its website.

The MLK Parade, since it is scheduled annually and is a more formally organized event, should receive at least some coverage in all Southwest Florida’s media outlets.

The usefulness of events

IMG-8338A very determined marcher.

The United States Constitution guarantees its citizens the right to peacefully assemble and petition government for a redress of grievances. As long as those rights remain inviolate, demonstrations, marches and protests will occur.

Demonstrations can make a difference—and in a place like Southwest Florida, where a single party dominates all government, they are particularly important as an expression of popular sentiment and peaceful dissent.

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg

 

A tale of two swamps: Why Southwest Florida can’t keep its congressmen

11-15-19 19th District mapA satirical map of Florida’s 19th Congressional District.    (Illustration by author (c) 2019 by David Silverberg)

Nov. 18, 2019 by David Silverberg

Updated at 12:25 pm with new, updated voter statistics, thanks to June Fletcher.

What is it about Florida’s 19th Congressional District that devours its representatives in Congress?

Since its creation following the 2010 census, the coastal strip from Cape Coral to Marco Island on the edge of the Everglades swamp has had three congressional representatives. That may not sound like a lot but in a mere seven years it’s very unusual turnover for a safely Republican, conservative district.

Now Rep. Francis Rooney is retiring after two terms and the battle is shaping up to replace him. It seems worthwhile to try to discover why what should be a very stable district is in fact so volatile.

(Terminology note: There is no formal title called “Congressman.” A person is either a “Representative” or “Member of Congress,” which is what we’ll mostly be using here, the headline excepted.)

In the beginning…

For the 19th Congressional District, “the beginning” is 2010, the year of the census.

Before that year, the coastal area from roughly Cape Coral to Marco Island was variously the 13th or 14th congressional district and with one interruption was represented by the legendary Mack clan, (actually McGillicuddy, the original name of the Irish immigrant who started it).

Connie Mack III (officially Cornelius Alexander McGillicuddy III) served as Republican representative of the 13th district from 1983 to 1989 before running for the US Senate and serving in that body until 2001, when he was defeated by Democrat Bill Nelson.

He was followed by Rep. Porter Goss of Sanibel, who represented the 14th from 1993 to 2004, at which point he left when he was named head of the Central Intelligence Agency by President George W. Bush.

In 2005, the seat reverted back to the Macks when Connie Mack IV won election and served until 2013. Given its roots in the area and prestige in the national capital, the Mack dynasty was firmly entrenched and an overpowering political presence along this stretch of coast.

Behold, the 19th

Florida_US_Congressional_District_19_(since_2013)As is done every ten years after a census, Florida’s congressional lines were redrawn after 2010 to reflect new demographic realities and Southwest Florida was no exception. The old 14th District was now re-numbered the 19th. Thanks to a Republican legislature, the Florida map was gerrymandered to favor Republicans.

This new 19th largely followed the boundaries of its predecessor, with two important exceptions: two potentially Democratic communities were broken off. Lehigh Acres in northern Lee County was split so that the majority of it would be absorbed by the Republican 17th District, and all of Golden Gate Estates was put in the 25th District, which had its center of gravity in heavily Republican, largely Cuban-American Hialeah near the east coast. (Previously, a part of Golden Gate was in the district.)

The resulting 19th District consisted of 696,776 people in 2010. Its two most densely populated communities were Cape Coral and Fort Myers.

As intended by Republican mapmakers, today it is a majority Republican district. According to the Florida Department of State Division of Elections in 2018, of 505,197 total registered voters, Republicans made up 45.5 percent of the electorate (229,736) and Democrats 25.8 percent (130,286), while 28 percent (141,906) were non-affiliated.

Despite the high number of non-party affiliated voters, the Cook Political Report, the Bible of congressional district data and analysis, rates the district as R+13, meaning that it’s 13 times as likely to vote Republican compared to the national average in the last two presidential election—in other words, it’s very Republican.

The majority of its population—75 percent—live in Lee County. Some 66.4 percent of the entire district is considered suburban, with 31 percent classified as rural and only a sliver considered urban.

It is an overwhelmingly white district: 83.5 percent, with very small numbers of minorities: 9.7 percent Hispanic, 5.5 percent African-American and 1.1 percent Asian-American. Its population is also older, with 27.7 percent over the age of 65. The median income is $53,205, slightly above the state average of $49,054. In 2010 it was 48.8 percent male and 51.2 percent female.

Two demographic groups define the district: The largest is Midwestern Republican retirees who moved down once Interstate 75 opened a straight route from upper Michigan and the Canadian border to Naples in the 1970s. The other consists of descendants of people who have lived in the area since its earliest days of white settlement.

The first election in the new 19th District occurred in 2012 and it brought to power a newcomer.

Trey Radel

11-16-19 Trey_Radel_113th_Congress
Trey Radel, 2013

Trey Radel was a local broadcast journalist and publishing entrepreneur, whose libertarian opinions became increasingly conservative over time. Given his prominence, when Connie Mack IV decided not to run again, he called on Radel to take his place.

Radel describes the courtship and his experience in Congress in his 2017 book Democrazy: A True Story of Weird Politics, Money, Madness, and Finger Food.

Radel ran, won the primary and then the general election on Nov. 6, 2012 with 62 percent of the vote. He went to Congress, where he describes a dizzying round of work, votes, appointments, parties, networking and fundraising.

Over time, his manic activity began to lapse into alcohol abuse, recklessness and excess. He recalls telling his wife and himself, “‘This is the first year. Let me get through this intense year of meeting people, networking and learning. Soon all of this will calm down.’ I was struggling with something I have struggled with most of my life—balance.”

On Oct. 29, 2013 Radel was arrested by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington, DC’s DuPont Circle after purchasing cocaine. The arrest quickly became public and Radel faced widespread condemnation and a congressional ethics probe. It was clear that he would not run again—but would he step down in mid-term?

Curt Clawson

11-16-19 Curt_Clawson
Curt Clawson, 2014

For a while Southwest Florida’s politicos held their collective breath while they waited to see what Radel would do. Finally, on Jan. 27, 2014, Radel announced he would resign. To replace him the district would have to conduct both a primary election and a general election.

For Democrats, there was only one candidate, April Freeman, a freelance movie and television producer from Cape Coral. But there was a scramble in Republican ranks; after all, the primary was viewed as tantamount to the general election.

Four candidates emerged: Curt Clawson, a former auto industry executive and Purdue University basketball star; Lizbeth Benequisto, a state senator; Paige Kreegel, a doctor and state legislator; and Michael Dreikorn, a former aerospace industry manager.

The candidates didn’t have much time; the primary was scheduled for April 22, only 85 days after Radel’s announcement. Television advertising was the key campaign tool. All espoused conservative values and portrayed themselves as the true conservatives in the race.

Clawson’s well-financed campaign played heavily on his basketball stardom, while Benaquisto’s television ads mocked his court prowess. The most bizarre moment in the campaign—and virtually the only campaign issue—came when the three Clawson rivals ganged up to question Clawson’s sale of a Utah property to a convicted sex offender eight years previously, with Clawson crashing his opponents’ press conference to discount the charges.

In the end Clawson won by 38.3 percent of the 70,302 votes cast in the primary. On June 24, 2014 he cruised to victory in the special general election with 67 percent of the vote compared to his next nearest rival, Freeman, who gained 29.3 percent. A Libertarian Party candidate, Ray Netherwood, took 3.7 percent. Those results were nearly duplicated in the regularly scheduled general election on Nov. 4 with Clawson moving down slightly (64.6 percent) and Freeman moving up (32.7 percent) while Netherwood lost ground (2.7 percent).

During his two years and seven months in office Clawson distinguished himself only once and not in a good way: During a hearing on July 24, 2014, he condescendingly addressed officials from the US Commerce and State departments as though they were officials from India when in fact they were American citizens who happened to be of Indian ethnicity. The incident went viral and became a laughingstock not only in the United States but India. It betrayed a lack of preparation, ignorance of the proceedings and what seemed like casual racism. Clawson dismissed it as “an air ball”—a missed throw in basketball.

Another, more positive moment came when he delivered the Tea Party response to President Barack Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address.

Legislatively, Clawson introduced a single piece of legislation but one that made it all the way into law. House Resolution 890 changed the boundaries of some units of the John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System in Collier County.

Rumors that Clawson was unhappy with his service in Congress began circulating shortly after he won the general election and gained with time. He was said to be frustrated by party discipline, by the constraints of the office and the slowness of legislating.

As time went on, Clawson’s disinterest and disillusionment began manifesting itself in more and longer absences. According to GovTrack.com, from June 2014 to Dec 2016, Clawson missed 115 of 1,534 roll call votes or 7.5 percent, which was much worse than his colleagues, who only missed a median of 2.4 percent of the time. His absences became much more pronounced in the last six months of his time in office.

On May 19, 2016 Clawson announced that he would not be running for another term in order to attend to family matters. “With the passing of my mom, it’s a good time to show support for my dad and be close to (him),” he told the News-Press.

The time had come for District 19 to get yet another representative.

Francis Rooney

11-16-19 Francis_Rooney_official_congressional_photo cropped
Francis Rooney, 2017

As previously, in 2016 it was the Republican primary where the real contest occurred. Three newcomer candidates contended: Chauncey Goss, son of Porter Goss and a former budget expert in Congress and the executive branch; Dan Bongino, a conservative commentator; and billionaire businessman and former US ambassador to the Vatican Francs Rooney.

A construction magnate and major Republican donor, Rooney flooded the airwaves with ads touting his conservative values and business experience, while downplaying his diplomatic experience and academic credentials. On Aug. 30 the investment paid off when he won the primary with 52.7 percent of the vote and then cruised on to a general election victory with 65.9 percent of the vote against Democrat Robert Neeld, who took 34.1 percent, in keeping with general party registration numbers in the district.

In his first term in a Republican-dominated House of Representatives, Rooney was a reliable Trumper, voting with the president 95 percent of the time, calling for a purge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to make it more Trump-friendly, proudly trying to impose congressional term limits through unconstitutional means and denying climate change.

In 2018 he ran again, doing barely any campaigning, making few public campaign appearances and avoiding any debates with his opponent, Democrat David Holden, a financial adviser. On Nov. 6 he won along party registration lines, with 62.3 percent of the vote against Holden’s 37.7 percent. In so doing he became the first member of Congress from the 19th Congressional District to serve more than one term.

This time, however, Rooney was serving in a Democratic House and he began accommodating himself to it—and getting things done. His voting record dropped to only 73 percent agreement with Trump, he managed to get a bill imposing a permanent offshore drilling moratorium passed by the chamber and he acknowledged climate change and encouraged other Republicans to do the same.

On Oct. 19 of this year he stated that he was open to hearing the evidence that might lead to Trump’s impeachment. That was more than his conservative constituency and the Republican leadership could bear and two days later he announced that he was retiring and would not run again.

Once more the 19th District was up for grabs—as it remains today.

Analysis: The swamp at home

All of the 19th’s members of Congress departed their seats for different personal reasons and under different circumstances. But there are commonalities that give insight into the district’s volatility.

Capitol Hill inexperience

First, none of the members had prior Capitol Hill experience. Because Southwest Florida is so far from the federal government in every respect—no major center of government operations, minimal federal presence, no military facilities—national government and governance is very far from the everyday experience of its residents. As a result, there’s little knowledge of working with or in government among the pool of Southwest Floridians who might realistically run for office.

Rooney came closest to government experience with his Republican Party donations and federal contracting background. He’d served in a State Department capacity. But even here, at the time of his election his knowledge of Congress and legislating was minimal. Indeed, he campaigned in 2016 on his lack of political credentials, emphasizing his business success as his greatest asset.

As a result of this inexperience and lack of knowledge—sometimes willful—all the representatives appear to have gone into their races with unrealistic expectations of what they could do once elected. They all also exploited the conservative credo of hatred of Washington, actually playing up their inexperience and ignorance, although they portrayed it as freshness and populist rebellion.

The final result was that when they arrived in the capital they had denigrated so much, they were naïve in their assumptions and unprepared in their knowledge. It was not a good combination.

A one-party mindset

The 19th Congressional District and, indeed, all of Lee and Collier counties constitute a one-party polity. All elected offices are held by Republicans and the entire governing mechanism is in Republican hands. In this sense Southwest Florida governance has more in common with other one-party polities like China (minus the secret police) than with multi-party polities where there’s a real contest of ideas and solutions.

In one-party polities electoral politics are intensely ideological and trend toward the extremes; i.e., since only one ideology is allowed to thrive, the question becomes: who is the truest believer?

In all their campaigns, Radel, Clawson and Rooney emphasized their adherence to “conservative values” and the depth and strength of their conservatism. As a result, each was an intense and orthodox ideologue when he went to Washington, having promised to personally implement a grand ideological agenda.

However, once in Washington all encountered several unavoidable realities:

One, they had no seniority—even the janitors had been there longer than they had. They might be big men in Southwest Florida, but they were very small and insignificant in the US Congress, no matter which party was in power. That made it difficult to enact their local agendas and keep their promises. This is actually common to freshman members.

Second, they were expected to toe the party line, not be free thinkers or innovators, especially not in their first terms. This was not what they signed up for when they ran. Rather, in the Capitol they were viewed by the Party leadership as obedient foot soldiers, expected to do and say what they were ordered to do and say by senior Republicans. In his second term, when Rooney deviated even slightly from the Party’s dictates by saying he had an open mind on impeachment, he was quickly quashed both at home and in Washington and he chose to retire.

Third, legislating is hard. It’s tough to get 435 members of the House to agree to your ideas. Given their unfamiliarity with the legislative process, this seems to have come as a shock to all the members. Radel discovered to his pain that trying to trim the federal deficit meant eliminating a program—sheep shearing training—that was precious to a fellow Republican from Texas. When he successfully eliminated the program Radel made an enemy and that enemy turned out to be the key member passing judgment on him when his ethics case came up for review. Rooney couldn’t make any headway among fellow Republicans on banning offshore oil drilling until he went to the prime target of Republican ire, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who agreed to put his bill before the full body, where it passed.

Fourth, the hunt for money is constant. This seems to surprise all new candidates and it doesn’t stop once they’re elected. This was certainly true for Radel, who writes about it extensively. Rooney could finance his own campaign but even he accepted outside donations, for example from Publix Super Markets, the XL Group and Collier Enterprises.

Fifth, despite its Republican Party majority, Southwest Florida is actually a difficult constituency to represent. Given their remoteness from the national government, everyday conservative Southwest Floridians have little to no tolerance of government’s subtleties, nuances or limitations or the need to compromise. As a result, they tend to be demanding, unyielding, frequently unrealistic and extremely ideological. It leaves representatives with very little legislative leeway to maneuver.

On top of all this there is another factor that only came into being in 2017: President Donald Trump. The more extreme elements of Southwest Florida’s Republican base are insisting on a blind, unthinking allegiance to Donald Trump and whatever he’s dictating at the moment, which can change to its polar opposite on a whim—even within the same sentence.

For Francis Rooney that kind of blind obedience was a step further than he could go.

“I’m definitely at variance with some of the people in the district who would probably follow Donald Trump off the Grand Canyon rim,” Rooney said in an interview.

It’s not only in Southwest Florida that there’s been Trumpist attrition.

As pointed out on Meet The Press on Nov. 10, current congressional Republicans are retiring in droves. When President Trump took office, there were 241 Republican members of Congress. As of Nov. 10, 100 Republicans had announced that they were leaving or retiring, a departure rate of 41 percent. While 36 were voted out of office, far more—50—retired or resigned and many just felt they couldn’t go where Trump was taking them.

So the volatility of the 19th District, while once unusual for a majority Republican district, is actually part of a national trend, one that might accelerate before 2020 and possibly after.

For Southwest Florida, the combination of outsized expectations, political naiveté and rigid demands for ideological purity creates an extremely difficult atmosphere for a congressional representative.

“The American public may demand purity and litmus tests from their elected representatives, but the reality is that they live in gray areas too,” writes Radel in Democrazy. “Some call it compromise; some call it concession; some call it weak; some call it strength. Some may disparagingly refer to it as moral ambiguity. I call it life.

“From specific votes to overall policy, very little is black-and-white,” he concludes.

That may be true in life but in Southwest Florida, politics are getting blacker and whiter, more extreme and more absolute.

“Democracy is ugly, it is tough, and sometimes it’s a little crazy,” acknowledges Radel. “But only through unity, both as a society and government, can we form a more perfect union. Congress is a lot like you and me. It is a reflection of our society, all the good, bad and questionable. When we look at Washington, we’re looking in a mirror.”

Right now, if we look at Southwest Florida as the 2020 election gets going, the ugliness, toughness and craziness seems poised to intensify. That makes for a toxic swamp—and that swamp is likely to keep devouring those who represent it in Congress for the foreseeable future.

 (Editor’s Note: The Paradise Progressive tried to contact Mr. Clawson for the purposes of this article and to get more of his side of the story but was unable to do so. Nonetheless, if there’s any information for reaching him that anyone can share or if he would like to reach out, we’re still interested and this can be updated.)

Soon to come: A look at the Republican and Democratic congressional landscapes for the 2020 congressional election.

Liberty lives in light

© 2019 by David Silverberg

 

Five years to the day after Naples raid, new actions loom over migrant workers

Deportation 2-21-17
ICE agents arrest suspects in a 2017 raid.                (Photo: DHS)

July 16, 2019 By David Silverberg

Today, July 16, marks the anniversary of one of the biggest law enforcement raids on migrant workers in Southwest Florida history.

It was on this date five years ago that Florida Division of Insurance Fraud investigators raided Incredible Fruit Dynamics in Naples and arrested 105 workers for fraudulent documentation, use of personal identification, identity theft and workers’ compensation fraud.

The anniversary comes as the threat of deportation raids continue to hang over Southwest Florida along with the rest of the country.

The 2014 raid demonstrated the role and extent of undocumented or fraudulently documented workers in the economy of Southwest Florida. It’s a role that continues today.

The company was owned by Alfie Oakes, owner of Oakes farms, Food & Thought organic farm market and Seed to Table.

At the time, authorities made clear that Oakes was not being charged; they were trying to find the source of the false documents. Oakes denied knowing anything about the undocumented workers in his employ. “We definitely knowingly never hired any illegals,” Oakes told The Naples Daily News. “The company hires only people that provide Social Security cards.” He and his brother Eric had purchased the company and kept the workers on, some of whom had been working there for over 10 years.

Though he checked Social Security cards, “If everything looks legit, we’re not allowed by law to challenge them,” he said, referring to discrimination laws. “It’s kind of a fine line when you’re hiring people.”

Southwest Florida has always been a center of cheap migrant labor, given its extensive agricultural sector. In 1960 the legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow and CBS News exposed the harsh conditions under which migrant workers labored in the fields in Immokalee in its landmark documentary, “Harvest of Shame.”

This past weekend, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel made their presence known in Immokalee they succeeded in instilling fear—but from a law enforcement perspective, they also gave possible deportees time to flee. Unlike the 2014 raid, which was intended to actually catch wrongdoers, the point of this activity just seemed intended to terrorize.

Commentary: Terrorism vs. enforcement

In his campaign kickoff speech in Orlando on June 18, President Trump accused Democrats of being driven by “hatred, prejudice and rage” but that seems a perfect description of what is driving him and his approach to governing.

In the past, immigration enforcement was guided by an effort to effectively apprehend wrongdoers or suspects, while minimizing disruption but still sending a strong signal.

President Barack Obama’s administration was active in pursuing undocumented migrants who had committed crimes or had deportation orders against them. Between 2009 and 2011, federal authorities deported 385,000 people per year, according to Department of Homeland Security data. In 2012, that hit a high point of 409,000. However, the Obama effort was directed at migrants with criminal records who posed a danger to the community or those with court-ordered removal orders against them. They featured careful intelligence, stealth and discretion.

Despite broad allegations of migrant criminality by Trump, his enforcement efforts seem intended to just showboat, stoke fear and vent his bile against foreigners, particularly those from south of the US border.

This comes at the same time as the president’s latest eruptions on Twitter against Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-14-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-5-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-13-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-7-Mass.). No other word will serve to describe his insults— it’s racism, pure and simple. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. From the day Trump announced his candidacy his racism, xenophobia and cruelty have been on full display. The only difference now is that he has no restraints and no filters, there’s just pure hatred, prejudice and rage.

In Southwest Florida, the member of Congress whose district encompasses Immokalee is Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.). When asked about the possibility of raids, arrests and deportations, all he would say was, “Until we have a real fix of a system that is totally broken and has gotten worse, these things are going to continue to happen,” according to the Tampa Bay Times. “It’s not an issue of what I support or not. ICE is going to follow the law and I expect them to follow the law and to do so in a way that’s honorable.”

Meanwhile, Diaz-Balart’s neighbor to the west, Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) has introduced legislation to cut legal immigration by half and make asylum-seeking more difficult both by shortening deadlines and restricting applications to ports of entry. Rooney’s legislation (House Resolution 481) doesn’t go as far as the administration, which is proposing a rule to prevent asylum applications at the border at all and only in the countries refugees are fleeing.

Diaz-Balart is right: The immigration system is broken and needs fixing. But anti-immigration hardliners have consistently sunk past efforts at bipartisan solutions and this president and his administration haven’t put forward any sane solutions other than a brick-and-mortar wall and the president’s “hatred, prejudice and rage” as expressed in cruelty and callousness toward refugees and asylum-seekers.

Democratic members of Congress and immigration advocacy groups are suing to prevent the administration’s proposed new rule and are demonstrating against the administration’s anti-immigrant actions.

This is the battle will be decided in the 2020 election.

As a side note, it’s worth following up on the Alfie Oakes story. On Aug. 13, 2018 the Naples Daily News reported that Oakes Farms Food & Distribution Services had been awarded a $46.8 million contract by the US Defense Logistics Agency to supply food to the military.

Six days later, Oakes posted a screed on Facebook against “the Democratic party recently morphing into all out socialism” and complaining that “current events are censored from the MSM [mainstream media] to support their one world order narrative.”

“The puppeteers that orchestrate the MSM, most of our universities, the [Democratic National Committee] along with the Obama administration have been pushing for a one world order that would ultimately destroy the opportunity for the individual,” he wrote. “We must with all our might reject socialism and adhere to the genius of the christian [sic] principles that our founding father so masterfully created (through the hand of GOD in my opinion) so that we may continue to be the beacon of the world for individual prosperity and freedom.”

It will be interesting to see if there are any raids this time at Oakes Farms.

Liberty lives in light

© 2019 by David Silverberg

 

Gerrymandering comes home to Southwest Florida

The GOPigator 6-28-19 001

The Republigator, a Florida salute to Elkanah Tisdale and his original Gerrymander, showing the attempted devouring of Democratic congressional districts.   (Illustration by the author © 2019.)

July 1, 2019 by David Silverberg

Back in 1812, when Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry signed into law a contorted legislative map that favored his Democratic-Republican party, artist Elkanah Tisdale drew a cartoonish map that showed the new districts creating a lizard-like shape.

Unveiled at a dinner party, one guest compared it to a salamander. No, said another guest, “a Gerry-mander.” Published in the Boston Gazette on March 26, 1812, the cartoon gave rise to the term “gerrymander,” which today survives to describe politically-motivated boundary drawing designed to produce a desired electoral result.

The_Gerry-Mander_Edit
The original cartoon giving rise to the term “Gerrymander.”

Gerrymandering has been practiced in America since before creation of the country—colonial political boundaries were similarly inspired. It will clearly be with us for a lot longer because on June 27 the U.S. Supreme Court confirmed the practice by ruling 5 to 4 in the case of Rucho vs. Common Cause, that the federal courts do not have a role in preventing extreme partisan gerrymandering.

For Democrats and everyone who fears that Republican-dominated legislatures will impose their will into perpetuity, it was a deep blow.

“The partisan gerrymanders in these cases [North Carolina and Maryland] deprived citizens of the most fundamental of their constitutional rights: the rights to participate equally in the political process, to join with others to advance political beliefs, and to choose their political representatives,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan for the minority in an impassioned dissent. “In so doing, the partisan gerrymanders here debased and dishonored our democracy, turning upside-down the core American idea that all governmental power derives from the people. These gerrymanders enabled politicians to entrench themselves in office as against voters’ preferences. They promoted partisanship above respect for the popular will. They encouraged a politics of polarization and dysfunction. If left unchecked, gerrymanders like the ones here may irreparably damage our system of government.”

Ironically, Kagan cited Florida as a state whose courts intervened in an extreme gerrymander and ordered it changed. The Florida Constitution has a provision called the Fair Districts Amendment stating that no districting plan “shall be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party.”

In 2012 the state’s districting map was challenged because Republican legislature had packed African-American voters into a 5th Congressional District that looked like a Burmese python slithering up the peninsula’s spine. It took six years of litigation to change that district’s boundaries but the Florida Supreme Court finally forced adoption of a new map.

Despite Florida’s constitutional commitment to fair districts, the state is nonetheless politically gerrymandered and nothing proves it like Southwest Florida’s two congressional districts encompassing most of Lee and Collier counties.

Southwest Florida: The 19th Congressional District

Florida_US_Congressional_District_19_(since_2013)

The 19th Congressional District runs along the Gulf coast from Cape Coral to Marco Island. Goodland is its southernmost community. It includes Pine Island and Sanibel.

Ordinarily, including coastal and island communities would make sense; after all, it’s where much of the population lives. But what’s peculiar is the 19th’s eastern boundary: In Lee County it includes a sliver of Lehigh Acres then follows Rt. 75 southward for a while before suddenly cutting inland and making Livingston Rd. in Collier County its boundary.

Why these jigs and jags? Because whoever drew this line did it to limit the inclusion of potentially Democratic and Hispanic communities like Lehigh Acres, Golden Gate Estates and Immokalee.

The result is a District that is 83.5 percent white and older (27.7 percent over 65), according to Democratic Party statistics—and reliably and overwhelmingly Republican.

Southwest and South Florida: The 25th District

Florida 25 CD 6-30-19The 25th Congressional District is an enormous, ungainly area that stretches from the western Miami suburbs, chiefly Hialeah, and encompasses large swaths of the Everglades and sparsely populated wilderness until it reaches Collier and Lee counties—where it absorbs Golden Gate and Immokalee. (Lehigh Acres is mainly in the 17th Congressional District, another Republican district.)

The population of the 25th is 44 percent Cuban-American, the most of any congressional district in the United States and the district lines are drawn to absorb any non-Cuban Hispanic voters into the Republican Party. Clearly, the Republican hope is that all Hispanic voters will reflexively vote for a Hispanic name. Accordingly, the District’s representative is Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who has been in Congress since 2003, outliving three redistrictings.

The Collier and Lee portions of the 25th are merely the tail on the 25th’s dog but they do ensure that potential Democrats there don’t vote in District 19 elections.

Surgical gerrymandering and the future

The district lines of the 19th and 25th and, to the north 17th, have been surgically gerrymandered to divide or dilute the votes of any potential Democratic communities (chiefly Lehigh Acres in Lee County and Golden Gate in Collier County). In the 19th District there is even a point at Potomac Place where the district line is so exact that it slices through a cul-de-sac in what appears to be an effort to avoid or include individual homes.

The 19th District’s lines in particular appear drawn to deliberately create a racially, ethnically and politically homogeneous white Republican district.

In fact, the 19th District may be in violation of both Supreme Court rulings against racially-based districting and Florida’s constitutional prohibitions against extreme partisan gerrymandering. A lawsuit brought against the lines of this district would have an excellent chance of succeeding— although at this late date, on the eve of a new census and new maps, such a lawsuit is unlikely.

Are there alternatives? Of course there are! It was the advent of computing that allowed gerrymanderers to precisely draw their lines based on racial and partisan data. But computing also provides potential computer-drawn maps that are neutral and equitable. Sadly, no legislature drawing the lines wants to give up its power to choose its voters, so these computer-generated maps remain conceptions only.

Florida is certainly no different from anywhere else and may be worse in some respects. But the only way to change the maps after the next census (which will presumably occur as scheduled despite President Donald Trump’s efforts to delay it) is to win the legislature and ensure that the maps are fair and equitable. If they’re not, they need to be challenged both in state court on the basis of the Fair Districts Amendment and in federal court on the basis of racial bias.

“As voters, we’re told that our elections are safe from meddling and that we have free and fair elections, yet today, the Supreme Court turned its back on good government with its non-decision on gerrymandering,” said Annisa Karim, chair of the Collier County Democratic Party following the Supreme Court’s decision. “Now it’s up to us, the voters, to fix this problem. It starts with working hard to elect responsible, fair-minded legislators willing to put the public good over partisan politics.”

She continued: “This is another reason why the 2020 election is so important–we will not only be electing a president, but a state Legislature that will control how Florida votes for the decade to come.”

In her Supreme Court dissent, Justice Kagan asked: Can voters break out of the partisan boxes that gerrymandering creates?

“Sure,” she answered. “But everything possible has been done to make that hard. To create a world in which power does not flow from the people because they do not choose their governors. Of all times to abandon the Court’s duty to declare the law, this was not the one. The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government. Part of the Court’s role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections.”

 


For further reading:

There’s a lot of material out there regarding gerrymandering.

The single greatest resource on the current state of gerrymandering is FiveThirtyEight.com’s Gerrymandering Project and its Atlas of Redistricting. An interactive map that provides an array of alternatives to current lines, the reader can redistrict according to a variety of criteria. You can go straight to Florida’s map and check out the state’s possible districts. Imagine a 19th Congressional District that includes Key West—or Clewiston! It’s in there.

Former President Barack Obama recorded a short video about redistricting that’s posted on YouTube.com. It’s refreshing to hear a president speak in complete sentences again.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee is attempting to prepare for the 2021 redistricting process and is encouraging activism and participation.

Bushmanders and Bullwinkles: How Politicians Manipulate Electronic Maps and Census Data to Win Elections, is a book published in 2001 that exposed racial and partisan gerrymandering and some of the absurd results. It’s a bit dated now but still informative. There have been many other books on the process since then.  For example, Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy tells the story of the Republican post-2008 effort to use gerrymandering to ensure Republican rule.

For some detailed history of gerrymandering, an excellent article is the Smithsonian’s Where Did the Term “Gerrymander” Come From?

Liberty lives in light

© 2019 by David Silverberg

It happened here: The 1924 Fort Myers lynching, 95 years later

05-21-19 black-neighborhood-fort-myers-med

The African-American neighborhood of Fort Myers in an undated photo.

May 22, 2019 by David Silverberg

Saturday, May 25th, will mark 95 years since two African-American teenagers were seized by a white mob and lynched in Fort Myers, Fla.

The anniversary comes amidst a rise in hatred and racism in the United States and serves as a stark reminder of where bigotry ultimately leads. It’s also a demonstration of what happens when the rule of law breaks down.

It can happen here—and it has.

It’s also worth remembering; history does not have to repeat.

What happened

This account draws from two sources: One is an article in The Fort Myers News-Press on the event’s 90th anniversary. That article, “Lynching history spurs call for closure, 90 years later” by reporter Janine Zeitlin, was published on May 21, 2014. The account drew on people’s recollections and the work of Nina Denson-Rogers, historian of the Lee County Black History Society, who pieced together fragmentary information on the incident.

The other is the original, unbylined article that appeared in the Fort Myers Press on May 26, 1924, headlined, “Negroes pay penalty for horrible crime committed yesterday.”  (Referred in this article as the “1924 account.” The article is posted in full below.)

According to Zeitlin, on Sunday, May 25, 1924 two black teenagers, R.J. Johnson, 14, and Milton Wilson, 15, (given as “Bubbers” Wilson and Milton Williams in the 1924 account) were spotted by a passerby swimming with two white girls on the outskirts of Fort Myers, then a segregated city of about 3,600 people. Lee County was home to about 15,000 people.

“The lynchings happened after R.J. and Milton went swimming at a pond with two white girls on the outskirts of town,” according to the Zeitlin article. “They were said to friends with the girls, maybe more. Perhaps they were skinny-dipping. There were rumors of rape, though one girl and her brother denied it.”

The two boys and girls lived near each other, were long familiar and played with each other as children, states Zeitlin. The swimming was reported by someone as a rape. The 1924 account simply states that the boys “attacked two young Fort Myers school girls.”

The black community first learned that something was amiss when evening church services were canceled. Just before sunset the rape report resulted in white residents on foot, horseback and in cars gathering at a white girl’s residence. From there they began invading black homes and yards in a search for the two boys.

During the evening, chaos spread through the city as the search continued. At one point a gas truck was driven into the black community with the intention of burning it down if the boys weren’t found.

05-20-19 Sheriff Ed Albritton Lee County lynching
Lee County Sheriff J. “Ed” Albritton in an undated photo.    (LCSO)

At some point R.J. Johnson was found. According to the 1924 account, he was arrested by Sheriff J.E. Albritton and put in the county jail.

“Hearing of this the armed citizens went to the jail and demanded the prisoner. The request being lawfully refused by the sheriff, he was overpowered, the jail unlocked and the negro led out,” states the 1924 article.

According to that article, once seized, Johnson was “taken before one of the girls” where he was identified and confessed. According to Zeitlin, however, one of the girls and her brother denied that there had been any rape.

In the Zeitlin account, Johnson was taken to a tree along Edison Avenue, hanged and shot. According to the 1924 account “his body was riddled with bullets and dragged through the streets to the Safety Hill section.”

The search then continued for Wilson, who was found at 4:46 am the next morning by a railroad foreman, hiding in a railroad box car on a northbound train. He was taken from the box car, hanged, castrated and shot multiple times. His body was then dragged down Cranford Avenue by a Model T.

“It was like a parade, some evil parade in Hell,” according to Mary Ware, a resident who was quoted in a 1976 article in the News-Press. The crowd broke up when the sheriff and a judge appeared.

05-18-19 lynchingclipOn Monday the afternoon edition of the Fort Myers News-Press was headlined “Negroes Pay Penalty for Horrible Crime Committed Yesterday.”

On the same day a jury convened and absolved the sheriff, attributing the lynchings to “parties unknown.”

“That the rape had taken place, the black community definitely felt never occurred, that it was prefabricated by this white man who came across them swimming,” said resident Jacob Johnson in a late 1990s interview with the Lee County Black History Society, quoted by Zeitlin. “Everyone felt … these boys had just been killed for no reason, other than they were there with these white girls.”

Commentary: Learning from history

As stated at the outset, this is where racism and bigotry lead.

But it’s also a lesson in the need for the rule of law. The two accused teenagers were never able to assert or prove their innocence, were presumed guilty from the outset, were never granted a public trial and were punished according to the whims of the mob, all violations of basic personal, legal and constitutional protections.

As the rule of law is eroded in this country, flouted from the president on down, every American loses the protections that law provides. The result can be something like the 1924 Fort Myers lynchings—and can lead to the deaths of innocents.

And as for false accusations and mistaken impressions leading to dangerous consequences, those are with us too.

The Sunday before last, on May 12, at the Off-the-Hook comedy club in Naples, Fla., when comedian Ahmed Ahmed made a joke about organizing a terrorist group with the Middle Easterners in the audience, a patron called 9-1-1 to report a possible terrorist incident.

Because of a joke. By a comedian. In a comedy club.

Liberty lives in light

© 2019 by David Silverberg

 

26 May 1924, Page 1 - News-Press at Newspapers.com saved 5-18-19 cropped

Below is the full text, with original capitalization and usage, of the article on the Fort Myers lynching as published on the front page of The Fort Myers Press, on May 26, 1924:

NEGROES PAY PENALTY FOR HORRIBLE CRIME COMMITTED YESTERDAY

Two negro youths, “Bubbers” Wilson and Milton Williams, met death at the hands of “unknown persons” early this morning following their positive identification as the two negroes who yesterday afternoon had attacked two young Fort Myers school girls.

Within a few hours after word of the happening had reached town a systematic search was started independent of the efforts of Sheriff J.E. Albritton who with his force was on the job immediately upon hearing of the crime.

A general round up of suspicious characters by the sheriff’s office netted Wilson, who was lodged in the county jail.

Hearing of this the armed citizens went to the jail and demanded the prisoner. The request being lawfully refused by the sheriff, he was overpowered, the jail unlocked and the negro led out.

Taken before one of the girls he was identified by her and then taken away where he confessed to his captors, following which his body was riddled with bullets and dragged through the streets to the Safety Hill section.

The search for his accomplice was then carried out with increased vigor, all outlets from the city being carefully guarded. The hunted man was located about 4:46 a.m., on a north-bound train pulling out of the railroad yards. Following his positive identification, he met the same fate as the first negro.

The following jurors were sworn in by County Judge N.G. Stout, coroner ex-officio, this morning: C. J. Stubbs, C.C. Pursley, Vernon Wilderquist, Alvin Gorton, W.W. White and Thomas J. Evans.

Charged with ascertaining by what means the two negroes met their deaths, the jurors reported as follows: “the said “Bubbers” Wilson and Wilton Williams came to their death in the following manner, to-wit:

By the hands of parties unknown, and we herewith wish to commend the Sheriff and his entire force for the earnest efforts made by them, in their attempt to carry out the duties of their office.”

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