Biden’s infrastructure plan, Naples’ seawall and a Simpsons moment

President Joe Biden signs the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law on Monday. (Photo: White House)

On Monday, Nov. 15, President Joe Biden signed the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law.

The same day, the Naples City Council voted to repair an aging, sagging seawall running along Gulf Shore Blvd., outside Venetian Village. Its cost is estimated to be $900,000. The city spent a whopping $341,000 in litigation fees denying responsibility for the seawall, only to lose the case in May. On Monday it was presented with four alternatives to repair the wall by engineers and voted to proceed with a hybrid solution using the existing structure but improving it with a new section.

The deteriorating section of seawall along Gulf Shore Blvd. (Photo: City of Naples)

Is there a connection between Biden’s signing the Infrastructure Act and the Naples City Council voting to fix the seawall?

Well, yes and no. There isn’t right now, but there could be.

The Infrastructure Act will be pumping $19 billion into Florida over the next five years. A chunk of that change will be going toward helping communities build resilience against the effects of climate change. That includes things like bolstering seawalls holding back waters rising because of global warming.

Could the City of Naples present its crumbling seawall as a bulwark against those rising waters caused by climate change?

It likely could if it broadened its horizons beyond just Venetian Bay. The whole point of the Biden infrastructure plan is to reach down to local communities like Naples and help them improve the built environment that makes civilized human life possible and efficient.

Of course, the city would have to apply for a grant, presumably from the state, to get the money. That grant application might be rejected. Then again, it might be approved—but the city won’t know unless it tries.

Also, the City of Naples would be doing this in a state that is virtually in revolt against the federal government, led by a governor Hell-bent on rejecting all forms of federal assistance and blocking all efforts to keep Floridians safe, healthy and alive.

But if the City of Naples has the good sense to look beyond the partisan hysteria and sheer bile being hurled at Washington, DC from Southwest Florida’s more primitive residents, it just might find that its seawall problem is part of a much larger, global situation—and that it has a partner in a President and a federal government committed to addressing it.

A Simpsons moment

The Naples situation is reminiscent of an episode of The Simpsons animated TV show called “Last Exit to Springfield” (season 4, episode17). In the episode Homer Simpson’s daughter Lisa needs braces on her teeth. However, Homer’s union is about to give away its dental benefit in exchange for a keg of beer.

As Homer lines up to get his cup of beer, his friend Lenny’s voice repeatedly plays in his head, saying “dental plan!” It’s answered by his wife Marge’s voice saying “Lisa needs braces!”

Homer thinks there might be a connection—but can he make it?

Naples right now might just be the Homer Simpson of Florida, with two voices going through its head.

“Infrastructure plan!” “Seawall needs repair!

“Infrastructure plan!” “Seawall needs repair!

“Infrastructure plan!” “Seawall needs repair!

Can Naples make the connection? Let’s hope the answer isn’t “d’oh!

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

DeSantis, SWFL reps’ opposition to infrastructure package threatens local benefits

A photo of the Capitol taken at sunset the night of the infrastructure bill vote by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart from his office window.

Nov. 11, 2021 by David Silverberg

Over the next five years Florida stands to receive $19.3 billion of the $1.2 trillion in infrastructure funding passed by the House and soon to be signed into law by President Joe Biden.

How much Southwest Florida receives depends on its representatives’ willingness to lobby for its share—but those representatives are dead set against the whole infrastructure initiative.

“The need for action in Florida is clear. For decades, infrastructure in Florida has suffered from a systemic lack of investment,” states an administration fact sheet on the infrastructure bill issued in April. “In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave Florida a Cgrade on its infrastructure report card.”

The bill passed on Friday, Nov. 5. On Monday, Nov. 8, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) dismissed the entire initiative: “So, um, I think it was a lot of pork barrel spending from what I could tell,” he said at a press conference in Zephyr Hills, offering no details.

On Tuesday, his criticism was not that it was a pork barrel bill but that Florida wasn’t getting enough of the pork: “Is Florida being treated well in this?” DeSantis said while speaking at a news conference in Spring Hill. “Or, are they basically funneling money to a bunch of very, very high tax and dysfunctional states?”

DeSantis was referring to potential allocations to states like New York, which may get $26.9 billion or California, which may get $44.5 billion.

Southwest Florida’s representatives were dead-set against the infrastructure initiative from the beginning. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) consistently called it an “inFAKEstructure bill” and inveighed against it in every forum he could.

Two days after the bill passed at 11:24 pm, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), tweeted: “On Friday, in the dead of night, House Democrats passed the $1.2 trillion so-called “infrastructure bill,” where only $110 billion actually goes to roads and bridges. I voted no and will continue to relentlessly oppose these dangerous bills that are destroying our country.”

As the debate proceeded, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) was in a reflective mood as he watched the sunset over the Capitol and tweeted: “Beautiful night on Capitol Hill. Meanwhile Democrats’ incompetence is on full display as they try to enact their socialist agenda on the American people.”

Given its needs and the formula for meeting them, Florida can expect to receive:

  • $13.1 billion for federal-aid highway apportioned programs and $245 million for bridge replacement and repairs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act over five years. This is based on 408 bridges and over 3,564 miles of highway in poor condition. The state can also compete for money from the $12.5 billion Bridge Investment Program for economically significant bridges and nearly $16 billion for projects that deliver substantial economic benefits to communities.
  • $2.6 billion over five years to improve public transportation options. This is based on Floridians who take public transportation spending an extra 77.9 percent of their time commuting and the fact that non-white households are 3-and-a-half times more likely to take public transportation.
  • $198 million over five years to support the expansion of an electric vehicle (EV) charging network in the state. Florida can also apply for $2.5 billion in grant funding dedicated to EV charging.
  • $100 million to help provide broadband coverage across the state, including providing access to the at least 707,000 Floridians who currently lack it. And, under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, 6,465,000 or 30 percent of people in Florida will be eligible for the Affordability Connectivity Benefit, which will help low-income families afford internet access. In Florida 13 percent of households lack an Internet connection.
  • $26 million over five years to protect against wildfires and $29 million to protect against cyberattacks. Floridians will also benefit from the bill’s $3.5 billion national investment in weatherization which will reduce energy costs for families. Over the last ten years Florida has suffered $100 billion in damages from 22 extreme weather events.
  • $1.6 billion over five years to improve water infrastructure across the state and ensure that clean, safe drinking water is a right in all communities.
  • $1.2 billion for infrastructure development for airports over five years.

Analysis: The Republican dilemma

Neither DeSantis, nor Donalds, nor Steube, nor Diaz-Balart, nor any other Republican, for that matter, can acknowledge that the Democrats’ Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will make a real, beneficial difference to America.

In part, that’s the job of any opposition party—to oppose, point out flaws and come up with counter arguments.

But now that the bill is passed and about to be signed into law, any responsible elected official is duty-bound to get as many benefits for his constituents as possible.

For Republicans, this is a dilemma.

DeSantis, a protégé of Donald Trump, is approaching infrastructure from a true Trumpist perspective. Under the former president all government functions were transactional, i.e., you had to pay to play. Trump would have used funding like that provided by the infrastructure package as a weapon to reward friends and punish enemies and would have demanded a price for his largesse. This is the way DeSantis approaches governing himself, so his inclination is to look for inequities in the program and presume himself and his state to be victims of a mafia-like shakedown.

But Biden’s package hearkens back to a time when presidents governed for the sake of the whole country, like Dwight Eisenhower’s interstate highway system. This initiative follows a neutral formula based on need to provide its benefits.

While DeSantis raised suspicions that Florida was being shortchanged and asked, “are they basically funneling money to a bunch of very, very high tax and dysfunctional states?”—i.e., Democratic states—he overlooked the fact that the second biggest chunk of change, $35.4 billion, was going to Texas, a Republican state with a governor, Greg Abbott (R), who is unremittingly hostile to Biden. The allocations are based on need, not favor.

This is an idea DeSantis seems unable to wrap his head around. The concept that a president could govern for the sake of the whole country and not just his base seems too novel for him to comprehend.

When it comes to local allocations, an area’s congressional representative should be working for the benefit of his district and all his constituents, not just his supporters.

It’s hard to imagine Donalds switching from being a rigid, ideological, warrior and right-wing mouthpiece to an effective representative who actually has an interest in his district and its welfare and is willing to work within the system to get the 19th District its piece of the pie.

(Interestingly, Donalds’ fellow Republican and member of the so-called “Freedom Force,” Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-11-NY) preferred the more pragmatic course and voted for the bill, bringing down the wrath of the Republican caucus. “I read this bill and it is cover to cover infrastructure,” said Malliotakis on Fox News. “…For an aging city like New York City, this bill was incredibly important.”)

With its growing population, Southwest Florida has plenty of needs and projects that will benefit from infrastructure funding. They range from the planned expansion of Southwest Florida International Airport in Lee County to re-engineering the Immokalee Rd.-Livingston Rd. intersection in Collier County and many more in between. There are the perennial Everglades projects, water purity efforts and the absolute, urgent need to strengthen the area for the impacts of climate change.

The same is true in both the 17th and 25th districts. But all three of the region’s representatives have locked themselves into fanatical anti-Biden poses that will make doing the real work of bringing home the bacon much more difficult, if they even have an interest in doing so.

As much as Republicans, local and national, attempt to incite a hatred of Joe Biden equal to the fear and loathing generated by his predecessor, the fact is that Biden is governing rather than ruling the country and trying to bring its benefits to all its citizens and not just his cultic devotees. If these officials would accept this and try to govern and responsibly represent their constituents in their turn, they could get the benefits to which those constituents are entitled as Americans.

However, that would require responsibility, patriotism and maturity.

So don’t hold your breath.

Liberty lives in light

(c) 2021 by David Silverberg

US House passes infrastructure bill; SWFL reps follow party line, vote ‘no’

The US Capitol.

Nov. 6, 2021 by David Silverberg

Last night, Nov. 5, at 36 minutes before midnight, the United States House of Representatives passed President Joe Biden’s infrastructure investment plan, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, by a vote of 228 to 206.

House Resolution 3684 will pump $1.2 trillion into the US economy over the next ten years to improve and repair roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

(A look at provisions specifically benefiting Southwest Florida will appear in a subsequent post.)

Biden called the vote “a monumental step forward as a nation.” In a statement he said the bill would create jobs, improve the movement of goods to market, make high speed Internet available and affordable to more Americans and address climate change issues, among many other benefits.

“Generations from now, people will look back and know this is when America won the economic competition for the 21st Century,” he said.

All of Southwest Florida’s congressmen, Reps. Byron Donald (R-19-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), voted against the bill.

Donalds had been a particularly vociferous and active opponent of the bill, in keeping with the Republican doctrine of absolute opposition to any Biden initiatives.

“Last night, I voted NO on the Democrats’ inFAKEstructure bill that will increase our debt and only dedicate less than 25% of the massive 1.75 TRILLION to America’s real infrastructure needs,” he posted on Facebook. “As witnessed last Tuesday, Democrat policies aren’t popular, especially in my district.”

In a statement titled “House Republicans Vote Against Millions of American Jobs & Funds for Their Districts,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) noted: “A total of 200 House Republicans just voted against millions of American jobs and funds for urgently needed infrastructure in their districts.”

She continued: “House Republicans voted against economic growth, good-paying union jobs and fixing the broken infrastructure that weakens our economy, hurts families, and causes added costs and delays for American businesses.”

The ultimate vote was bipartisan with six Democrats voting against the bill and 13 Republicans voting for it.

The six Democrats were:

  • Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-16-NY)
  • Rep. Cori Bush (D-1-Mo.)
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-14-NY)
  • Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-5-Minn.)
  • Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-7-Mass.)
  • Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-13-Mich.)

The 13 Republicans were:

  • Rep. Don Bacon (R-2-Neb.)
  • Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-1-Pa.)
  • Rep. Andrew Garbarino (R-2-NY)
  • Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-16-Ohio)
  • Rep. John Katko (R-24-NY)
  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-16-Ill.)
  • Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-11-NY)
  • Rep. David McKinley (R-1-W.Va.)
  • Rep. Tom Reed (R-23-NY)
  • Rep. Chris Smith (R-4-NJ)
  • Fred Upton (R-4-Mich.)
  • Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2-NJ)
  • Rep. Don Young (R-at large-Alaska)

Liberty lives in light

(c) 2021 by David Silverberg

Banyai formally launches campaign, Donalds rejects infrastucture improvement: the SWFL state of play today

July 2, 2021 by David Silverberg

As Hurricane Elsa churns her way across the Atlantic Ocean, storms of a different kind are brewing in Southwest Florida.

Cindy Banyai (Photo: Banyai for Congress Campaign)

Even though the 2022 election is a year and a half away the wind is picking up as Cindy Banyai, last year’s Democratic candidate for the 19th Congressional District, formally launches her campaign against Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.).

Banyai is launching the campaign over the first 12 days of July with a variety of events.

Upcoming events to date are:

First endorsement

On June 21st Banyai announced the first endorsement of the campaign when she was endorsed by No Dem Left Behind, a Democratic organization that says it “has learned from experience that the most conservative districts in the country have Democratic candidates popular enough to beat a Republican opponent.”

The No Dem Left Behind logo.

The organization stated it was endorsing Banyai because she “is ready to roll up her sleeves and get to work, to be the voice in Washington D.C. for the people of her community.”

“This latest endorsement is a big step towards helping us change the narrative in Florida,” stated Banyai.

Donalds marks six months in office

July 3rd marks six months that Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has been in office.

In his most recent vote, Donalds voted against the Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act (House Resolution (HR) 3684), which provides $550 billion for infrastructure and transportation improvements.

The bill passed the House yesterday, July 1, by a vote of 221 to 201.

In addition to Donalds, Southwest Florida’s other representatives, Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) voted against the bill.

Surfside collapse

In addition to voting against improving America’s infrastructure, Donalds took the time to attack Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm for daring to suggest that climate change might have had a role in the collapse of part of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida.

“I was appalled by [Jennifer Granholm’s] recent comments blaming sea level rise & climate change for the tragedy that has struck Surfside, FL. Stop using this disaster to fuel your political agenda,” he tweeted.

What was the terrible thing Granholm said?

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm

“We know that the seas are rising,” she said in an interview on CNN. “We know that we’re losing inches and inches of beach, it’s not just in Florida but all around. This is a phenomena that will continue. We’ll have to wait and see what the analysis is for this building but the issue about resiliency and making sure we adapt to this changing climate, that’s going to mean levees are going to have to be built, that means that sea walls need to be built, infrastructure needs to be built.”

Donalds was not unique in his ostentatious outrage over these comments. Conservative media are piling on—this in the wake of the condo collapse, the unprecedented heat dome over much of the country and the approach of Hurricane Elsa in the Atlantic.

It’s worth noting that while Donalds sent “thoughts and prayers” to the victims in Surfside, he voted against improving American infrastructure for the future.

Unfilled numbers

On June 24th, Donalds and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) introduced the Unnecessary Agency Regulations Reduction Act (HR 4132) “to consolidate or repeal unnecessary agency major rules, and for other purposes.”

However, in what has been a pattern, Donalds did not submit any text for the bill, just a name and number.

This means that the real work of legislation has not been done and there is no content, no thought and no substance to it. Nonetheless, Donalds was able to boast of a name and number in a press release.

A happy July 4th to all.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

SWFL poised for big gains from Biden infrastructure plan

President Joe Biden takes the podium at the Carpenters Pittsburgh Training Center in Pittsburgh, Pa., to announce his American Jobs Plan yesterday, March 31. (Image: C-SPAN)

Southwest Florida stands to gain substantially from President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, unveiled yesterday, March 31, in Pittsburgh, Pa.

The plan proposes $2.2 trillion in infrastructure investments across the nation, funded by hikes in the tax rates of corporations and high-income individuals.

Southwest Florida’s Everglades is one of only two locations specifically mentioned by name in the Plan. The other is the Great Lakes.

“President Biden is calling on Congress to invest in protection from extreme wildfires, coastal resilience to sea-level rise and hurricanes, support for agricultural resources management and climate-smart technologies, and the protection and restoration of major land and water resources like Florida’s Everglades and the Great Lakes,” according to a White House fact sheet explaining details of the vast proposal.

The Plan weaves climate change solutions and environmental protection measures throughout its fabric, issues of particular importance to environmentally sensitive Southwest Florida.

“It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” Biden said in his speech yesterday unveiling the proposal. “It’s a once-in-a generation investment in America, unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the Interstate Highway System and the Space Race decades ago.

“Is it big?  Yes.  Is it bold? Yes.  And we can get it done,” he said.

Aspects of the Plan that affect Southwest Florida include:

  • Upgrading and modernizing US drinking, wastewater and stormwater systems

Southwest Florida is particularly subject to pollution and contaminants in all its waters, particularly those flowing from Lake Okeechobee and down the Caloosahatchee River. While work is already underway on the projects of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, the American Jobs Plan would boost funding and support for other water-related measures throughout the region.

  • Making infrastructure more resilient

Southwest Florida’s vulnerability to hurricanes, which are increasing in intensity, as well as sea level rise and salt water intrusion have been well documented. The American Jobs Plan emphasizes resilience against climate change throughout its proposals.

According to the White House fact sheet, the Plan “will invest in vulnerable communities through a range of programs, including [the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s] Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program, [the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s] Community Development Block Grant program, new initiatives at the Department of Transportation, a bipartisan tax credit to provide incentives to low- and middle-income families and to small businesses to invest in disaster resilience, and transition and relocation assistance to support community-led transitions for the most vulnerable tribal communities.”

  • Putting the energy industry to work plugging orphan oil and gas wells and cleaning up abandoned mines

Southwest Florida has 395 abandoned oil wells in Lee, Collier and Hendry counties, Dee Ann Miller, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, told reporter June Fletcher of the Naples Daily News in 2014.

A Princeton University study found that “As casings corrode and old concrete used to plug them shrinks, the wells create pathways that allow methane, carbon dioxide, brine and other fluids to migrate ‘from deep subsurface formations into shallow groundwater aquifers.’”

This threatens Southwest Florida’s fragile source of clean, drinkable water. The Biden plan designates $16 billion for cleaning up the kind of capped wells, as well as abandoned mines, present in the region.

  • Mobilizing the next generation of conservation and resilience workers

The Plan proposes spending $16 billion on a new Civilian Climate Corps to “work conserving our public lands and waters, bolstering community resilience, and advancing environmental justice,” which will also create new jobs—including in Southwest Florida.

  • Modernizing schools and early learning facilities

With Southwest Florida’s population growing, new schools have been built or are planned, especially in Lee County. The Plan will support new facilities and upgrade older ones.

  •  Upgrading Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals and federal buildings

The plan provides $18 billion for upgrades and modernization to VA facilities like those in Fort Myers and Cape Coral.

  • Expanding access to long-term care services under Medicaid and supporting caregiving jobs

Given Southwest Florida’s high proportion of aging seniors, the Plan’s proposal to expand access to home and community-based services to the elderly will have a particular impact. This includes providing benefits to at-home care workers who currently lack them.

In addition to these aspects that directly affect Southwest Florida, the American Jobs Plan envisions improvements and repairs to roads, bridges, tunnels and all forms of transportation. It also proposes building out broadband Internet access, extending it to underserved and rural communities. It would upgrade and expand affordable housing throughout the country.

The journey begins

Debate on the Plan and reaction to it are just beginning. The tax hike proposals, coming separately under the rubric “The Made in America Tax Plan,” which close a wide variety of loopholes and discourage companies from using offshore tax dodges, is already generating intense discussion that will likely rise to ferocious denunciation by Republicans and anti-taxers of all stripes.

“I start with one rule: No one — let me say it again — no one making under $400,000 will see their federal taxes go up.  Period,” Biden said in Pittsburgh.  “This is not about penalizing anyone.  I have nothing against millionaires and billionaires.  I believe in American capitalism.  I want everyone to do well.” 

In his speech he also reached out to Republican politicians: “Historically, infrastructure had been a bipartisan undertaking, many times led by Republicans,” Biden said. “And I don’t think you’ll find a Republican today in the House or Senate — maybe I’m wrong, gentlemen — who doesn’t think we have to improve our infrastructure.  They know China and other countries are eating our lunch.  So there’s no reason why it can’t be bipartisan again. The divisions of the moment shouldn’t stop us from doing the right thing for the future.”

Biden also claimed that he had overwhelming support from grassroots registered Republicans.

In the short term, the Plan’s proposals need to be turned into concrete legislation and begin making their way through the House of Representatives. The whole process will likely take months, although Biden is pushing to get it done as quickly as possible.

Next up will be Biden’s American Families Plan, which will be unveiled in the days ahead.

Coming next: SWFL reactions to the American Jobs Plan

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

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

US_Capitol_west_side 3-2-19

July 31, 2020 by David Silverberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

In particular:

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

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

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

We tested SWFL candidates on their knowledge of a vital congressional issue. Here are the results.

09-27-18 Big CypressBig Cypress National Preserve in the Everglades.    (Photo: National Park Service)

July 10, 2020 by David Silverberg

The campaign season is kicking into high gear. If you’re in the Fort Myers-Naples TV market and watch the local news in the 5:00 to 6:30 pm hour, you’re seeing a seemingly endless stream of political campaign ads marching across your screen.

However, television ads are, of course, just snippets, intended to give a fleeting impression of a candidate.

These candidates—and the others who can’t afford air time—are vying to represent Southwest Florida in the Congress of the United States.

But do they have any grasp of the real work of Congress? Do they understand the nitty-gritty of government operations? Have they paid any attention at all to the kind of legislation that really affects Southwest Florida and Floridians? Do they have basic local knowledge? Are they doing any real policy homework? Do they know what a congressional representative actually does? Do they care about impacting peoples’ lives in Southwest Florida?

The Paradise Progressive decided to ask all congressional candidates one question about one issue that’s fundamental to Southwest Florida that involves Congress, the federal government and legislation to see how they responded.

The question, issued on Monday, July 6, was: “As a member of Congress, what specific changes would you make to WRDA to benefit Southwest Florida and the 19th Congressional District?”

Would anyone even google “WRDA” to see what the acronym means?

The most important legislation you’ve never heard of

WRDA: it’s usually pronounced “word-DA” and it actually stands for the Water Resources Development Act.

It’s hardly ever mentioned in Southwest Florida, in either conversation or the media, or especially on the campaign trail. And yet, it has an enormous impact on the region and its livability.

That’s because WRDA is the broad, all-encompassing congressional act governing all water projects and management in the United States. It’s a gigantic piece of legislation that gives the government authority to dredge canals, build dams, raise levees, control floods, maintain harbors, alter rivers, manage water releases and do the million and more things that require water to serve people, make land more productive and keep pollution at bay.

In Southwest Florida WRDA impacts the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, the Herbert Hoover Dike, the Caloosahatchee River and all the other streams, creeks and lakes that manage and provide the life-sustaining liquid making human habitation here possible.

When it comes to Congress, it’s a piece of legislation where an individual representative can have a real impact and where he or she can make a real difference. Candidates can fulminate on all the grand themes they like, but once they’re in office and have to really deal with the nuts and bolts of governing, getting and spending federal money and representing their district, WRDA has to be a priority.

Because it covers so many activities, WRDA must be constantly reauthorized to keep up with new needs and changes. The bill’s preamble calls for a new WRDA reauthorization every two years and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida agrees, saying it’s needed “to provide consistent authorization of Everglades projects.” That’s a position echoed by the Florida Association of Counties.

A 2020 WRDA is in the congressional works and it may be presented to the full House by the end of July. Usually, it’s a bipartisan, politically neutral bill, since it deals with facts on the ground rather than ideology or partisanship.

As a demonstration of just how important it really is, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-4-Ore.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, chose to keep it out of the $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill passed by the House on July 1. That bill was treated as partisan by Republicans and has gone to the Senate where it is likely to die. By contrast, a separate WRDA bill is getting Republican buy-in and the Senate has already passed its own version. Unless President Trump is completely bonkers by the time it reaches his desk before the end of the year, he’s likely to sign it.

For Southwest Florida, the 2020 WRDA will authorize the funding for restoring the Everglades through the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). It will also regulate discharges from Lake Okeechobee, making harmful algal blooms less likely—or more so.

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.), the retiring representative, was very active on WRDA to protect Everglades restoration funding and posted A history of Southwest Florida, WRDA and the Everglades on his website.

Various water-related local activist groups have already weighed in on the 2020 WRDA, in addition to the Conservancy.

“Lots of pieces to WRDA,” observed John Cassani, director of Calusa Waterkeeper, a non-profit, water purity advocacy group, to The Paradise Progressive. “Definitely needed but would not support the ‘savings clause’ issue if it gets into the legislation.” The “savings clause” essentially states that the legal state of existing water sources can’t be altered until new sources are found. In essence it protects the status quo around Lake O. It has long been the subject of controversy and debate. (For the full, official document involving the Savings Clause, see Annex B: Analyses Required by WRDA 2000 and Florida State Law.)

In Congress, on April 30, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-20-Fla.) circulated a letter advocating that the next WRDA treat all CERP sub-projects as “ongoing” projects—that way there wouldn’t have to be separate congressional authorizations for each project. It would speed and streamline Everglades restoration. In a show of bipartisan agreement, Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-23-Fla.) signed on.

WRDA is a vast and sprawling piece of legislation. It’s the kind of thing that a member of Congress, especially from Southwest Florida, has to keep an eye on. It’s not the kind of thing that lends itself to hoopla or slogans. It’s the real work of Congress and it’s where congressional representation really counts.

So how did our candidates do?

The candidates respond

Of the dozen candidate campaigns running for Congress in the 19th Congressional District, four responded to the WRDA question. Their answers are presented here in full and unedited.

The Democrats

Both local Democrats running for Congress responded to the question. In alphabetical order:

Cindy Banyai:

04-07-20 Cindy Banyai“The Everglades are one of the most important aspects of both our water and our community here in Southwest Florida.  While I’m glad that the federal government has granted money to restore the Everglades and repair the Herbert Hoover Dike, I plan on ensuring this is a top priority of the government after I am elected to Congress.  Francis Rooney pushed the estimated completion time back to 2022 because he knew he was not going to run again.  Additionally, we need to continue to improve the process, allowing for more local input and control over releases, and speed of review of the Lake Okeechobee Regulation Schedule (LORS). It is necessary to be able to adjust the LORS so more water can be provided during the winter months, when our estuaries need it, and less flows in the summer months where there can be damage to our ecosystem. As the champion of the people of Southwest Florida I’m going to fight to ensure our water and our community are protected and that the federal government upholds their plans to restore the Everglades.”

David Holden:

04-16-20 David Holden cropped“I strongly support authorization of the Water Resources Development Act of 2020 (WRDA). The WRDA authorizes important water resource studies and provides critical federal funding that Southwest Florida needs to adequately protect its’ vital natural resources. It is my great desire that the WRDA is authorized soon and that our federal government expends all resources available to combat the climate change crisis we face today.”


The Republicans

Two Republicans responded.

Darren Aquino:

04-12-20 Darren Aquino“The Water Resource Development Act (WRDA) of 2018 clearly stated that the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Storage Reservoir is part of the Central Everglades PLanning Project.  However, the Army Corps of Engineers’ bureaucracy still designated this as a ‘new start,’ thus delaying the needed project that would have otherwise been completed in time and under budget.  As your congressman, I will help diminish this act by the Army Corps. Furthemore, as your congressman, I will continue to support additional WRDAs that will provide needed insight and projects to aid water management and precision water ecosystems in Southwest Florida. We must stop the ‘Red tide’ and do everything in our power to do so. Republicans are the only ones who protect the environment. If you take a look at liberal communist China, they are destroying the environment every day. The Democrats and the Communists want to ruin God’s creations. It’s why they haven’t done anything when it comes to the environment in well over 40 years, and the first environmental efforts were done by Republicans. The Democrats and communists view environmental policy as punishing businesses and blue collar Americans, while ignoring the root of the cause. They have a deep hatred for America and our institutions.”

Casey Askar:

03-27-20 Casey Askar

“Sustained funding. Once a project is authorized, there must be sustained funding for completing that project. Time is money, and when it comes to CERP, the longer it takes to build these projects, the more it costs—both in terms of money and the harm that results from these projects not being online. The State of Florida has a track record of building projects faster and cheaper than the federal government. CERP is a 50/50 partnership between the state and federal governments. If the state can do it faster and cheaper, Congress should be passing those dollars onto the state to carry out the federal responsibility and stretch federal taxpayer dollars farther than they are going now. And they could do that by a block grant process.”

Of the other candidates:

  • State Rep. Byron Donalds (R-80-Immokalee): No response
  • State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77-Cape Coral): No response
  • Dr. William Figlesthaler, Republican: No response
  • Mayor Randy Henderson, Republican: No response
  • Daniel Kowal, Republican: No available e-mail address
  • Christy McLaughlin, Republican: No response
  • Dan Severson, Republican: No response
  • Antonio Dumornay, Independent: No available e-mail address

Conclusion: Doing the homework

Election campaigns have always had a strong element of the trivial: There are people who make up their minds on a candidate based on his five o’clock shadow—or lack of it; whether he can shoot a gun or not; whether or not she wears a pantsuit or the cut of her hair.

But America has seen how damaging making judgments on these superficialities can be. Electing someone to office without preparation, or background or, for that matter, interest in government and its operations, can literally result in death, as we’re seeing with the coronavirus pandemic response.

Sending a representative to Congress to work on behalf of this region should be based on the person’s knowledge of government, the issues and their proposed solutions and ideas. Candidates should do their homework before they run and be familiar with their district’s vital interests. In the case of Southwest Florida, that means balancing the needs of human habitation with preservation of the natural environment.

That’s the ideal, anyway. In the race for 19th Congressional District seat, it’s now clear that some candidates—or their campaign staffs—are willing to devote some time and attention to what they will actually be doing if they get to Washington.

Or, at the very least, they’re reading and answering their e-mails.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

US House passes $1.5T infrastructure bill; Rooney absent, Diaz-Balart, Steube oppose

US_Capitol_west_side 3-2-19

July 2, 2020 by David Silverberg

Yesterday, July 1, the US House of Representatives passed a $1.5 trillion new infrastructure investment bill by a vote of 233 to 188.

The Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation (INVEST) in America Act (House Resolution (HR) 2), generically known as the Moving Forward Act, would make investments in highways, transit, safety, research, clean energy and hazardous material safety, reauthorize numerous existing programs, create jobs and renew the nation’s infrastructure.

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

House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Fla.) stated the House had “taken a bold step to move America forward, as we deliver on our For The People promise to increase paychecks by rebuilding America with green, resilient, modern and job-creating infrastructure by passing HR 2, the Moving Forward Act.”

She called the bill “bold and transformational” and stated it would promote clean energy, create jobs and ensure provision of clean water while restoring existing American infrastructure.

In explaining his “nay” vote, Steube tweeted: “Congress has already gone trillions over budget and Speaker Pelosi won’t stop. HR 2 is just another expensive attempt to shove the Green New Deal through Congress. This legislation contains radical leftist provisions that will cost our country billions.”

The bill now goes to the Senate where Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said: “House Democrats appear addicted to pointless political theater. So naturally, this nonsense is not going anywhere in the Senate. It will just join the list of absurd House proposals that were only drawn up to show fealty to the radical left.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg