Activists show support for their candidates outside the Headquarters building of the Collier County Public Library in Naples. Jen Mitchell, incumbent candidate seeking re-election for District 3 of the Collier County school board, is to the left in the green shirt. (Photo: Author)
Oct. 28, 2022 by David Silverberg
Voting is active and robust throughout Southwest Florida, according to county supervisors of elections.
In its first day of early in-person voting in Collier County, 6,132 ballots were cast at polling stations yesterday, Oct. 27. Combined with 36,630 mail-in ballots, Collier’s turnout is at 16.85 percent of 253,830 eligible voters. So far, 56.15 percent of the ballots were cast by registered Republicans, 25.84 percent by registered Democrats and 16.92 percent by non-party affiliated voters.
Early in-person voting in Lee and Charlotte counties has been under way since Monday.
In Lee County, turnout is running at 19.65 percent, with 18,779 votes cast in person and 83,006 ballots mailed in. Lee County has 518,035 eligible voters. Of ballots cast, 52.28 percent were from registered Republicans, 27.37 percent from registered Democrats and 19.11 percent from non-party affiliated voters.
Charlotte County has the highest turnout of the three coastal counties with 20.75 percent of 152,778 eligible voters having cast ballots so far. Of these, 9,395 votes were cast in person and 22,309 votes were mailed. According to the Supervisor’s office, 50.36 percent of ballots were from registered Republicans, 29.58 percent from Democrats and 18.14 percent from non-party affiliated voters.
Because of the damage and disruption caused by Hurricane Ian, early in-person voting in Lee and Charlotte counties continues until Nov. 7. In Collier County, it concludes on Nov. 5.
Times and locations for early in-person voting are posted on the respective supervisors’ websites.
Our elections are no longer “normal”—and this year’s general election is no exception.
Since the presidency of Donald Trump, each election has become a referendum on whether America will remain a democracy. That was especially true in the 2020 presidential election and it remains true in 2022.
At stake is the legislative branch of the American government and the state of Florida. Will America be governed by a party that supports checks and balances on executive power, respects the will of the majority of voters as expressed in elections, and honors its founding Constitution? Or will it be governed by a party wholly given to the worship of one man, which excuses his crimes and appetites, and is willing to replace its governing institutions with his whims, rages and prejudices?
These questions will be answered, not just at the national level, but at every level of government, from the counties, to cities to school boards.
So this year’s election is a referendum on the future and not just a judgment on individual candidates and propositions.
As has been stated in the past, it has always been the position of The Paradise Progressive that a media outlet covering politics has a duty to endorse. Following candidates and political developments on a regular basis provides insights and knowledge that need to be shared with voters. Whether the outlet is national or local television, online or print or even a simple blog, it is the obligation of independent media in a free society to help voters make an informed choice.
Further, it needs to be noted that while The Paradise Progressive has a progressive orientation, as its name implies, it is not affiliated with any particular party or governed by any party’s dictates. Its judgments are its own. That said, it does reference Democratic Party endorsements.
There are three criteria for The Paradise Progressive’s candidate endorsements:
1. Is the candidate qualified for the office he or she is seeking?
2. Can the candidate be relied upon to make clear, understandable, rational decisions based on facts, data, logic and science?
3. Does the candidate support the United States Constitution, the peaceful transition of power and—most of all—democracy?
In response to reader queries, below is a list of all Paradise Progressive endorsements for elected office statewide, in Collier and Lee counties, and in the 19th, 17th and 26th congressional districts that cover Southwest Florida.
Not all these races or candidates been covered in depth in Paradise Progressive postings or fully explained in editorials. Nor is this a complete list of offices up for election.
The offices are listed in the order that they appear on their respective ballots. They include races for non-partisan positions like judgeships and school boards, which are extremely important this year.
Where necessary, for example in judicial and constitutional matters, there is additional discussion.
State and federal offices
United States Senator
Representative Congressional District 19:
Representative Congressional District 17:
Andrea Dorea Kale
Representative Congressional District 26:
Governor and Lieutenant Governor:
Charlie Crist and Karla Hernandez
Chief Financial Officer:
Commissioner of Agriculture:
Naomi Esther Blemur
State senator, District 27:
State Representative, District 77:
State Representative, District 80:
Lee County Board of Commissioners, District 5:
Collier County Board of Commissioners, District 2:
Judge Jorge Labarga – Yes
All others – No
The Lee and Collier County Democratic parties are recommending that voters vote “yes” to retain Jorge Labarga on the Florida Supreme Court and vote “no” on all others.
“If DeSantis wins re-election” Henderson writes, “…he can replace any justice the voters reject with another loyal conservative. If Crist wins, however, he can overhaul the court immediately.”
He continues: “Historically, voters have not paid much attention to retention elections; to date, no appellate judge or justice has ever lost one. But scrutiny of the state’s highest court has increased after controversies involving otherDeSantisappointees. If even one justice gets close to being replaced, it puts the entire system into question unlike any time since the last time justices were unmasked as partisan hacks in the 1970s.”
Labarga, Henderson writes, “has distanced himself from his colleagues. Appointed by Crist in 2009, Labarga is conservative, but not as brazenly political as his colleagues.”
The other state Supreme Court judges on the ballot offer a stark contrast.
Charles Canaday, who has been on the court for 14 years, is a former Republican state representative and as a US congressman was an impeachment manager against President Bill Clinton in 1999.
Ricky Polston argued in favor of giving state money to religious charter schools despite the state Constitution forbidding it.
Jamie Grosshans, appointed in 2020 by DeSantis, “is the closest thing to an Amy Coney Barrett of Florida,” according to Henderson. As a law student she was “event coordinator for something called the Institute in Basic Life Principles, which turned out to be an actual cult teaching about the ungodliness of blue jeans. She then interned at the Claremont Institute, the conservative think tank that gave us Trump’s personal coup lawyer, John Eastman.” Eastman was the attorney who came up with the legal theory used in the attempt to overthrow the 2020 election.
John Couriel joined opinions making it harder to sue for wrongful deaths as a result of tobacco use and shielded corporate executives from depositions.
Given this record, a “no” vote for all Supreme Court judicial candidates other than Labarga is justified.
As Henderson puts it: “As conservative judges at all levels flex their muscles in courthouses across the country, Florida voters have the opportunity to evict a few of its own revanchist justices who think there are a few too many civil rights floating around.”
Lee County District 1:
Lee County District 4:
Lee County District 6:
Jada Langford Fleming
Collier County District 1:
Collier County District 3:
Collier County District 5:
City of Bonita Springs City Council District 5
Amendment 1: Yes
Amendment 2: No
Amendment 3: Yes
Interestingly, the Lee and Collier County Democratic parties split on these measures, with Lee County’s party advocating “no, yes, yes” and Collier County’s party advocating “yes, no, no.”
Amendment 1 states that effective January 1, 2023, flood resistance improvements to a home will not be included in assessing properties for ad valorem [to value] tax purposes.
Advocates of Amendment 1 argue that it will both incentivize and reward homeowners who protect their properties from flooding. Critics point out that it will reduce the tax revenues for state and local governments.
This amendment overwhelmingly passed both the state House and Senate on a bipartisan basis, unanimously in the Senate. After Hurricane Ian showed the damage that flooding can do, Amendment 1 makes eminent sense for a Florida in the grip of climate change. It will benefit homeowners of all incomes and help build climate resilience. It should be passed.
Amendment 2 would abolish Florida’s Constitutional Revision Commission that meets every 20 years to consider constitutional changes.
Advocates argue this would protect Florida from ill-considered, vague or confusing and whimsical changes, while critics say that rather than abolishing it entirely, qualifications for sitting on the Commission can be tightened.
The idea of a periodic review of the Florida Constitution is a good one and the Commission should be kept. Amendments proposed by the Commission still have to be approved by voters. It also provides a source of new ideas in addition to the four others—citizen initiatives, constitutional conventions, the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, or legislative joint resolutions—available to Florida. This proposal should be rejected.
Amendment 3 gives the legislature the authority to grant an additional homestead tax exemption up to $50,000 to public employees. These include classroom teachers, law enforcement officers, correctional officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, child welfare services professionals, active duty members of the United States Armed Forces, and Florida National Guard members.
Advocates argue that these workers and servicemembers deserve a tax break given the nature of their jobs and duties. Critics point out that this measure would cost the state and localities $85.9 million starting the fiscal year after it passes. They argue that it also wouldn’t guarantee that these workers could find affordable housing and it sets a precedent of favoring one group or profession over another for taxation.
The critics have very valid points. However, Florida—and especially Southwest Florida—has great need for these workers so this incentive may be helpful.
The benefits of this amendment especially apply in the case of classroom teachers. After all the bile, hatred and denigration aimed at these public servants by extreme anti-public education fanatics including the governor, after all the restrictions proposed and imposed on them by the legislature and especially given their low pay and benefits, teachers deserve relief and support. There are few enough incentives for classroom teachers to work in Florida. What is more, numerous ideologically-driven school boards are poised to impose further restraints on classroom teaching. This is why electing good school boards are so vitally important in Southwest Florida and everywhere. (See school board endorsements, above.)
This amendment will go some way toward attracting new teachers to the state and retaining the ones already working in Florida. It will assist those who provide vital services in the public sector. It should be passed.
Even weeks after Hurricane Ian stormed ashore in Lee County it’s still shocking to see the debris and destruction all along the Paradise Coast. New victims are being found and new stories of survival are coming to light.
But as stunning and disorienting and overwhelming as the storm’s impact continues to be, it’s not too soon to begin thinking about building back—better.
A disaster is awful but it’s also an opportunity. With a blank slate and a clear field, post-disaster periods can also be a time for grand plans and sweeping visions.
That may seem illusory as people just find places to live, food to eat and get back basic utilities like electricity and water. But it would be a mistake to overlook the chance to reinvent, reform and uplift communities that seem at the moment to have lost everything.
The rebuilding process can be tricky, though. The inclination of people is to try to rebuild exactly what went before and to do it as quickly as possible. There is always a clash between those who want to restore and those who want to renew and getting to one or the other of those destinations can be a winding and uncertain road.
Southwest Florida is hardly the first place to face such a dilemma.
To reach back in time and space to an example long ago and far away, this is what happened in London after the Great Fire of 1666. This immense conflagration leveled much of the ancient city, including its crowded medieval streets and tenements. In its wake, planners and architects like Chistopher Wren envisioned a new, clean and fresh London rebuilt in the latest style and according to rational principles.
However, property owners and landlords wanted to rebuild their buildings on their holdings as quickly as possible and as closely to the previous plans as they could.
What resulted was a jumble of claims and counter-claims that was so chaotic and complex that Londoners created a special court to sort through them all. It took many years to resolve them. Meanwhile, what was rebuilt was a hodge-podge of the old and the new. Christopher Wren never got his sweeping new city but he was able to design and oversee the construction of a new St. Paul’s Cathedral, the one that stands today.
Closer to home in time and location, in 1960 Hurricane Donna swept into Naples, Florida and wiped out what was largely an undistinguished and utilitarian downtown. Naples rebuilt but its retail center, Fifth Avenue, declined in the face of suburban mall competition. In 1992 local merchants brought in Miami architect and urban planner Andres Duany to take a holistic view of the town.
“The key to reviving Fifth Avenue is not solely to make it work competently from the point of view of retail,” Duany told the city council, businesspeople and community leaders in 1993. “…Fifth Avenue must be made into a community space, a civic space, a place where neighbors can come to know each other.”
Duany’s detailed planning and vision not only revived Naples’ downtown, it made it a tourist destination and created a consistent, themed urban landscape that supported vibrant retail businesses and restaurants.
This year Naples took its own hit from Hurricane Ian, with storm surge flooding Fifth Avenue. Some stores and restaurants remain closed and some will no doubt not reopen. But it’s also likely that it will revive and attract new businesses—and that revival will build on the planned concept already in place.
Another town that sought to build back better after a disaster was Greensburg, Kansas. On May 4, 2007 an E-5 tornado swept into the small town of 1,400 people, killing 12 and virtually wiping it off the landscape.
The town’s council, meeting in a parking lot, decided that when they rebuilt they would do it in as energy-efficient and environmentally friendly a way possible.
When Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) visited a few days later and learned of the plans, she told them “‘It sounds like you’re going to build it green,’” then-city manager Steve Hewitt recalled to The Washington Post in a 2020 article. “Then we walked out to a press conference and Governor Sebelius said we were going to put the green in Greensburg. We were already talking about it, but she helped brand it and gave energy to what we were trying to do.”
It should be noted that Greensburg was not the home of tree-hugging hippies. It was a conservative Republican town. But city leaders could see a reality beyond political orthodoxy.
As of 2020, according to the Post, “…Greensburg draws 100 percent of its electricity from a wind farm, making it one of a handful of cities in the United States to be powered solely by renewable energy. It now has an energy-efficient school, a medical center, city hall, library and commons, museum and other buildings that save more than $200,000 a year in fuel and electricity costs, according to one federal estimate. The city saves thousands of gallons of water with low-flow toilets and drought-resistance landscaping and, in the evening, its streets glow from LED lighting.”
Greensburg has had its challenges (among others, at one point a wind turbine collapsed in a field). Its green rebuilding was not a panacea and did not result in an economic boom. But it put the town on the world map as a visionary municipality and made it stand out among all the other places on the plains. It also attracted $120 million in disaster relief funds from Kansas, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and US Agriculture Department. To this day it remains an American touchstone in disaster recovery and rebuilding.
A coastal Renaissance?
It may seem premature to note this but towns like Sanibel, Matlacha and most of all, Fort Myers Beach now have similar opportunities to plan their rebuilding along rational, visionary lines.
As Greensburg chose to build back better emphasizing energy efficiency and environmentalism, the towns of the Paradise Coast now have an opportunity to be world leaders in climate resilience and protection, rebuilding to take into account climate change and sea level rise—and anticipating its effects.
They have the potential to update their water management practices and systems and have an unparalleled resource in Florida Gulf Coast University’s Water School.
Like Greensburg, they can also rebuild in an environmentally and energy-efficient way.
Like Naples, the rebuilt towns can be made more esthetically pleasing and pedestrian-friendly, perhaps with waterside boardwalks or promenades and a re-built Times Square in Fort Myers Beach, where “neighbors can come to know each other,” as Duany put it.
To rebuild in this fashion would attract federal support and funding that is sorely needed now. Unfortunately, before Hurricane Ian, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) line-item vetoed $1 million for Times Square renovation in Fort Myers Beach. Perhaps that state money can be restored and increased for rebuilding.
The alternative is to allow a haphazard scramble. In this case, the likely scenario is that developers and speculators swoop in and buy up distressed beach properties from desperate owners for pennies on the dollar. Building commences in a chaotic, uncoordinated way and the result is an unsightly and inefficient mish-mash of commercial and residential buildings.
Better rebuilding will take a lot of discipline, cooperation and coordination. Naples’ 1994 revival was done by the city council, business owners and residents all working together guided by a common vision. To successfully rebuild Hurricane Ian’s communities will take similar unity.
But the time to start doing this is now. The potential rewards justify the effort. If people are willing to be cooperative and patient, Hurricane Ian may be the precursor to a Paradise Coast renaissance—but only if Southwest Floridians are willing to build back better together.
In the city of Basel, Switzerland there is a bridge that crosses the Rhine River.
It’s a magnificent, sturdy bridge and a critical asset for the city. It was built around the year 1225 and was quite an engineering feat for its day.
Construction of the bridge was made possible by a loan from the city’s Jewish community. Theirs was an act of civic engagement and community pride that supported the city’s growth and prosperity. With the bridge built at the southernmost navigable point on the Rhine, Basel flourished and prospered.
But then in 1347 bubonic plague, the Black Death, began to scourge Europe. It was a horrible disease of unknown origins with a swift lethality that terrified the living. Although the term “pandemic” wasn’t known at the time, it was a sickness that seemed to strike the whole world.
In the year 1349, the Black Death hadn’t yet reached Basel but its onslaught was known and residents of Basel panicked. A conspiracy theory began making the rounds that Jews had poisoned the wells, causing the plague.
The Jewish community had high-level protection: in late 1348 Pope Clement VI issued a papal bull absolving Jews of responsibility for the plague. They were under the safeguard of the Holy Roman Empire. The bishops of Basel, Freiburg and nearby Strasbourg met to coordinate their responses.
But none of the assurances held any weight with an agitated and unreasoning mob. On Jan. 9, 1349 those Jews who hadn’t already fled the city were rounded up. The children were separated to be forcibly converted. The estimated 100 to 600 adult men and women were forcefully taken to an island in the Rhine, shackled together in a wooden hut—and then burned alive.
A Jewish community was massacred despite its high-level promises of protection, the civic-mindedness of its members, and its obvious contributions to the well-being and welfare of the city. Their innocence could not prevail in the face of a delusional conspiracy theory that had no foundation in fact. (And, by the way, the immolation didn’t stop the plague.)
Flash forward 667 years. On December 4, 2016, Edgar Welch, a 28-year-old man from Salisbury, North Carolina, shot his way into a pizza restaurant in Washington, DC, based on an utterly baseless and absurd conspiracy theory he had read on extremist websites asserting that a pedophilia ring was operating out of the restaurant. On October 27, 2018, Robert Bowers, 46, entered the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., and killed 11 people and wounded six based on a conspiracy theory that Jews were importing people into the United States to replace non-Jewish whites. On March 15, 2019 Brenton Tarrant, 28, killed 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand when he attacked two mosques based on the same racist “great replacement” conspiracy theory.
Conspiracy theories—the term doesn’t fully convey the real nature of these hateful, fabricated, slanderous lies—have consequences. Unfortunately, we live in an age of delusions when such insanities are running rampant.
It was probably inevitable that after demonizing immigrants, blacks, Hillary Clinton, Democrats, Joe Biden and going through a pandemic when ignorant people ferociously fought safeguards like masks and vaccines and promoted magic potions, that some would turn their wrath to Jewish targets. The most laughable slander is Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-14-Ga.) bizarre 2018 allegation of space lasers owned by the Jewish Rothschild family causing California wildfires. But as absurd and laughable as that defamation is, it’s part of a trend.
Jews have heard these kinds of libels before: that Jews punctured communion wafers to make them bleed; that they took blood from Christian children to bake matzohs; that they poisoned wells to spread bubonic plague; that they conspired to impose democracy on Europe and overthrow monarchies; and that Germany lost World War I because Jews stabbed it in the back.
So when new libels and conspiracy theories emerge, it’s not as though Jews are just offended or emotionally upset. They have a lot of historical experience with these kinds of completely false and malevolent fantasies. They’ve been there before. Jews know how they begin, how they spread and how they end—and they always end badly.
There’s also no excusing the source of this madness. In America in the past, these kinds of fantasies could be debunked with facts, healthy skepticism and simple reality. But Donald Trump sought to discredit real reality and impose his own reality, a reality that ranged from such delusions as having the largest inaugural crowd ever to believing that he won an election that in fact he lost. He smeared as “fake” those who pursued truth. He sought scapegoats for a pandemic he couldn’t competently handle. He not only tried to impose his own lies on the world, it was as though he opened a sealed box and allowed every lunatic’s hallucination to gain credence and circulation. Some of those hallucinations are anti-Semitic.
The time may come when this mass mania may die down. This has happened before in America, ever since the days of its first bout of madness, the Salem witch trials.
But until the lunacy passes, as with the Salem witch trials, there are real casualties.
Anti-Semitism in Southwest Florida
For Southwest Florida’s Jewish community the rise of local anti-Semitic insanity presents the same challenge that every Jewish community has faced in the past: how best to respond?
In many ways it’s a strange and internally contradictory essay (with some significant lapses in grammar and usage reproduced here as in the original).
On the one hand, Diamond argued, “At this time there is no existential threat to America’s Jew. It may be that the amount of antisemitic violence and incitement is increasing around us and throughout America, but so are all sorts of violence and incitement aimed at so many groups. It’s not just Jews who are the targets- it be anyone, anywhere and at any time.”
Then he states that “Like many of you, I worry about the rising tide of aggression and government’s inability (and sometimes its apparent unwillingness) to containing it.”
However, cultural and grassroots anti-Semitism, in Diamond’s view, “is a universe apart from the government organizing and sponsoring violence against its residents, be they Jews or any other identifiable group.”
That kind of official persecution can’t happen, he argues, “as long our democratic institutions remain intact, the courts are empowered, and, by consent of the governed, our Constitution holds sway.”
Still, as Diamond acknowledges, “history teaches us that there no guarantees.” Further, “A people that is made to feel threatened by its leaders can tear its government to shreds and jettisoned its most cherished values overnight.”
So ultimately, Diamond writes, “don’t let yourself feel threatened — not by media eager to sell, by the politicians eager for the trappings of power, or anyone else trying to gain control over you and what is yours. They themselves are the threat. But, remarkably, if we all decide to ignore them they will go away and we will be just fine!”
Diamond is apparently putting the onus for anti-Semitic sentiment on the media that seeks to expose it, officials attempting to stop it and anyone else in authority trying to combat it. If those people are ignored, he believes, the wave of anti-Semitism will simply go away—“like a miracle, it’ll disappear,” as one person infamously said of the COVID virus.
As for the real purveyors of anti-Semitism on the Internet, in leaflets and in public forums, he apparently believes they too will pass like the wind and rain or they don’t present a threat.
A somewhat different response came from Rabbi Mendy Greenberg, head of the local Bonita Springs Chabad (a Hebrew acronym for “wisdom, understanding, and knowledge”) chapter of the very orthodox Lubavitcher religious movement.
On Jan. 31, 2022 it was Greenberg’s mailbox that was destroyed, his car window broken, and his sidewalk defaced with the word “Jew’s” in big red letters by two teenagers, Tucker Bachman,17, and a 14-year old accomplice. The perpetrators were swiftly caught by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, charged with hate-crime felonies and in March sentenced to probation.
When the arrests were made Greenberg was generous and forgiving. He said that Lee County was a place of love and friendship and he had never experienced any anti-Semitic crime in his 17 years there.
“This type of behavior is obviously in the minority so, but it also stains the community,” he said, calling for kindness on the part of people of different faiths and backgrounds.
He was neither bitter nor vindictive. “A little light sheds away a lot of darkness. It may sound like a cliché but it really can change reality. For the Jewish community, my message is there is nothing to be fearful for. We are here to stay, we are not going anywhere. We’re proud of who we are.”
In a subsequent service after the incident, Greenberg urged congregants to deal with anti-Semitism by praying and putting on “tefillen,” boxes with sacred script in them used during prayers by very orthodox Jews.
Analysis: Responding effectively
So what’s the best response to incidents of local anti-Semitism?
Is Diamond right in thinking that, “if we all decide to ignore them they will go away and we will be just fine!”
Is Greenberg right that “there is nothing to be fearful for” and prayer will be sufficient?
Sadly, history doesn’t bear out either of these responses. Ignoring prejudice just strengthens it and indifference has always led to disaster.
Rather, small acts of anti-Semitism—indeed, all minor acts of extremism, hatred and bigotry—are like the early raindrops that precede a storm. They may seem scattered and insignificant at first but they’re precursors of much worse to come.
Unlike a storm, however, these are human actions and human actions can be changed or deflected.
In one respect, Diamond is absolutely right: officially sanctioned and sponsored anti-Semitism. “cannot and will not happen as long our democratic institutions remain intact, the courts are empowered, and, by consent of the governed, our Constitution holds sway.”
A vigorous defense of democracy, the Constitution and justice will indeed impede anti-Semitism at the grassroots. And the local person to date who has most embodied and enforced a robust and unflinching response to it isn’t Jewish at all.
When Greenberg’s home was defaced, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno was having absolutely none of it.
“Violence based on discrimination or hatred of anyone is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in my county,” he said emphatically at the press conference announcing the vandals’ arrests.
Greenberg was grateful. He thanked “God Almighty for such a special sheriff’s department. It is unbelievable the type of support and velocity, speed and determination of the Lee County Sheriff’s staff to get down to the bottom of this case,” he said.
Marceno was pursuing specific violations of specific statutes but his vigor and decisiveness shows the way that anti-Semitism must be confronted if it’s to be defeated. And the Lee County Sheriff’s Office response exemplified the way hate crimes need to be pursued and prosecuted.
But that’s law enforcement. What can everyday people do?
As long as the US Constitution holds sway and provides legal, non-violent channels for activism, the answer is always the same: energize, organize and mobilize.
Opposing anti-Semitism should be a no-brainer for politicians and officials of all parties. For the past 50 years it was just a standard position that was largely taken for granted. But now it must be reaffirmed and people must push them to do it.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a Jewish organization that monitors and opposes anti-Semitism and all forms of defamation, has formulated what it calls its COMBAT Plan. It consists of:
One of the major aspects of the COMBAT Plan is to get existing institutions—political, social and religious—to condemn anti-Semitism.
On the political front as applied in Southwest Florida, that means people need to contact their elected officials—of whatever party or level of government—to insist that they publicly condemn anti-Semitism.
That should also extend to candidates for elected office. Any candidate who refuses to condemn anti-Semitism should know that he or she will pay a price: at the ballot box, in financial donations and in social isolation.
Political parties too should be pushed to take public stances against anti-Semitism. To cite a particular local case, the Collier County Republican Party reacted to the reports of Richards’ anti-Semitism in the school board race with a defensive message to members accusing the Naples Daily News of “fake news and selective reporting of facts” and attacks by “leftists.”
What it should do is issue a clear and unambiguous condemnation of anti-Semitism and those who spread it. It needs to clearly, emphatically and publicly state that anti-Semitism has no part in the Party, its platform or its candidates and those who embrace or accept or propagate it will not get its endorsement, its support or even be allowed to be members.
Additionally, government bodies like municipal and county governments should be urged to pass resolutions condemning anti-Semitism—as well as all forms of bigotry and prejudice. These may not have the force of law but there is a value in putting this position on the public record.
Non-governmental entities like chambers of commerce, professional and civic associations should also be urged to adopt resolutions, amendments and statements announcing their abhorrence of anti-Semitism, hate and extremism.
Religious leaders of all faiths, denominations and creeds should be encouraged to denounce anti-Semitism, hatred and prejudice from their pulpits and in their communications to congregants.
Citizens should report any criminal anti-Semitic incidents and hate-driven activities to law enforcement and the ADL, which provides an online reporting form, and to local media for coverage and exposure.
Regrettably, in Florida, there’s no telling at this point how legislatively-mandated changes to the state’s curriculum and teaching force will help dampen anti-Semitism, given Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “anti-woke” crusade. In the past, teaching about the Holocaust and Anne Frank was considered sufficient. But curricula need to be updated and modernized to deal with online hate and new conspiracy theories.
In a very specific instance in Collier County, incumbent school board member Roy Terry needs to be returned to office in District 5 to help continue enlightened, secular, objective education, along with fellow incumbents Jory Westberry in District 1 and Jen Mitchell in District 3.
All this will not end hatred, prejudice and anti-Semitism altogether. But it should ensure that it’s confined to the stupidly ignorant, the pathetically gullible and the completely insane—who should be recognized as such.
History is clear: hate doesn’t just evaporate, passivity doesn’t protect, and appeasement doesn’t appease. Anti-Semitism and all “conspiracy theories” and hatred need to be actively opposed.
If there is any comfort to be had, it is that this opposition is very much in the American tradition. Here, history provides strength and reassurance and this from a Founding Father revered by every true patriot.
In 1790, when the United States was newly formed, Moses Seixas, a Jewish resident of Newport, Rhode Island, wrote to President George Washington praising the new government’s attitudes toward religious freedom, in light of past European persecutions.
Washington wrote back and his answer clarified not just the government’s attitude but what would become the nation’s attitude toward all its citizens:
“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
This is the policy that’s now being put to the test both in American government and on American streets, both nationally and locally, in Southwest Florida and everywhere else.
Every true patriot, every good citizen, every American should heed Washington’s words: “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance” and give the nation their “effectual support” by supporting democracy, tolerance and freedom with their votes, their actions and their words.
That’s what builds bridges between people—whether those bridges connect communities or cross rivers like the Rhine.
Getting lessons from elections can be like reading tea leaves at the bottom of a cup—just about anything can be deduced from the dark, soggy jumble.
But elections have consequences and so discerning trends from voting patterns becomes important. And when democracy, governance and representation are on the line, making sense of it all becomes downright critical.
What is to be made of the primary elections held Tuesday, Aug. 23, in Southwest Florida? This analysis is based on official returns from the supervisors of elections in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties.
Turnout was low
As is to be expected in a late August primary in steamy Southwest Florida, turnout was low.
In Collier County, only 29.7 percent, of eligible voters turned out. In Lee County, that came to 26.57 percent of eligible voters. In Charlotte County, it was 26.77 percent.
This was down from 2020’s totals. In the last election cycle 36.3 percent of voters turned out for the primary in Collier County, 31.67 percent in Lee County and 21 percent for Charlotte County.
Then again, 2020 was a presidential election year, it was a referendum on Donald Trump’s presidency and it took place in the midst of a pandemic, so the intensity of the electorate was reflected in the primary.
Mail-in voting is here to stay—and favored by voters
In 2020, while mail-in balloting was hardly new, it was newly controversial and strenuously denounced by Trump.
But this year’s balloting seems to show that despite the denunciations and recently enacted restrictions on drop-boxes and verification, mail-in voting remains popular and widely used. This year, mail-in ballots accounted for 54 percent of Collier County ballots, 66 percent of Lee’s and 53 percent of Charlotte’s.
Clearly, legislative restrictions and increased complications placed in the way of easy mail-in balloting have not dampened enthusiasm for this form of voting.
What is more, this is an especially favored form of voting for the many Southwest Florida residents who are away during the days of August.
Did DeSantis make a difference for school board candidates?
In both Collier and Lee counties, the school board elections remain unresolved in all but one race where a candidate won an outright majority and thereby the election.
In an unprecedented move this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) reached down the ballot to endorse candidates in what are usually non-partisan elections. He aided candidates with publicity, cash and favorable mentions to advance his “education agenda.”
According to the non-profit website, Florida Phoenix, “of DeSantis’ 30 endorsed candidates, 19 appear to have won their races and five lost on primary night. The other six appear to be either in runoff situations or advancing to the general election based on election data and local coverage.”
Locally, in District 5 of the Lee County School Board, Armor Persons won with 54.85 percent of the vote.
The other local DeSantis-endorsed candidate was Sam Fisher in District 1. He came in with 43.34 percent of the vote, not enough to elect him outright. He will be facing incumbent Kathy Fanny, who took 30.91 percent of the vote.
This indicates that at least in Lee County, a DeSantis school board endorsement does not automatically result in a school board victory for the favored candidate.
That said, in District 1, Fisher did out-poll Fanny, who now must use the time until November to close the gap.
Thanks to DeSantis’ intervention, school board races are now actually part of the 2024 presidential campaign and one more mile marker on his road to the White House. His credibility is on the line for every candidate he endorses.
In Florida, school boards are not your parents’ sleepy, down-ballot elections any more.
Collier County school board incumbents have to up their game
All the Collier County school board races will be decided in the general election in November.
Interestingly, despite the MAGA (Make America Great Again) nature of some Collier County school board candidates, DeSantis did not endorse any of them.
This makes for what should be an intense and active race to November. The incumbents, Jory Westberry in District 1, Jen Mitchell in District 3 and Roy Terry in District 5 must use the next two months to energize and broaden their campaigns while their opponents, Jerry Rutherford, Kelly Lichter and Tim Moshier, will be doing the same.
The incumbents, all of whom have dedicated their lives and careers to education, have tended not to view their elections as the all-out political struggle their challengers did. For the most part, they continued to see the election as the relatively quiet ratification process it was in the past, interesting only to a small group of parents and professionals.
However, the school board election is now part of a much larger ideological struggle. If serious, sensible, secular education in Collier County is to be maintained, Westberry, Mitchell and Terry need to approach their races much more intently, raise more money—which their challengers are certainly doing—and become much more energetic.
The Moshier mess
Timothy Moshier’s Collier County school board campaign in District 5 deserves special attention following the revelation that Katie Paige Richards, who claimed to be his campaign manager, posted a blatantly anti-Semitic video on social media. When asked, Moshier initially stated that he had “no problem with it.”
When the story was covered in The Naples Daily News (NDN), Moshier’s response was to claim that she wasn’t his campaign manager and that his wife was Jewish (presumably absolving him of all responsibility). He and his lawyers demanded a retraction and threatened a lawsuit.
The Collier County Republican Party issued a statement to Republicans saying, “The NDN is using fake news and selective reporting of facts to destroy Tim. That way, they can assure a continued liberal majority on the Collier County School Board.” It added: “He will not allow last-minute and despicable assaults on his character by the NDN and leftists to defeat him.”
However, for all their defensiveness and outrage, neither Moshier nor the Party denounced anti-Semitism in principle or the lies propagated by Richards, who asserted that Jews are using their supposed control of the media to promote pornography to brainwash white males. Neither Richards, nor Moshier, nor the Collier County Republican Party has repudiated that slander or anti-Semitism in general.
It needs to be pointed out that Moshier, a trucking company executive, has no educational credentials or school administrative experience whatsoever. During a school board candidate panel on May 21st, he called for cuts in the Collier County school budget—at a time when the school district is struggling to retain and attract underpaid teachers among many other needs.
What a more sensible and less defensive county Republican Party might have been expected to do is issue a statement condemning anti-Semitism, saying it has no part in the Republican Party, that it’s un-American and un-patriotic and completely rebuking and repudiating Richards and her delusional allegations.
This case is still open.
The meaning of MAGA for Collier County
MAGA candidates Chris Hall and Daniel Kowal won their races for Collier County Board of Commissioners in districts 2 and 4.
Incumbent Penny Taylor was defeated in District 4. Hall will face Democrat Barbara “Bebe” Kanter in District 2 in the November election.
After Taylor’s defeat, Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III, the extremely conservative farmer and grocer and Republican committeeman who endorsed and backed both candidates, posted on Facebook: “Ding dong the witch is dead,” above a picture of Taylor, with the label, “Walking Dead auditions.”
“That was just in fun,” Oakes said of the post to The Paradise Progressive in a phone interview. “I wish her all the best. It doesn’t come with any ill-intent. I told her [at the time of the Collier County Commission vote in July 2020] that if she masked the people I would make it my purpose to defeat her.”
When Taylor voted to impose a county-wide mask mandate at the height of the pandemic, Oakes posted a picture of her and two other county commissioners in Nazi-esque helmets outside his Seed to Table market. He helped fund Hall and Kowal’s campaigns through the Citizens Awake Now Political Action Committee, of which he is president.
More substantively, the likely elections of Hall and Kowal will place a solid MAGA majority on the Collier County Board of Commissioners.
It’s difficult to say exactly how their election will impact the county’s development, infrastructure and budgeting, given that neither made those issues a priority in their campaigns.
According to Hall’s campaign website, “God, his word, love, and ways, (virtue) has to be reinstated in our nation, our states, our counties, and cities. It’s the only way America won’t fail.” He complained that Andy Solis, the outgoing commissioner, voted for mask mandates, shut down beaches during the pandemic, voted against a sanctuary ordinance for guns and one to nullify federal law and allowed businesses to require vaccinations.
Kowal, a former Collier County deputy sheriff, ran a campaign for Congress in 2020 that mostly consisted of a bare-bones website. This time he stated on his website he was running for commissioner because he is “Pro-Clean Water, Pro-Limited Government, Pro-Second Amendment, Pro-Law Enforcement, Pro-Life, Pro-Military.” He also states “I stand for clean water, safe streets and sustainable growth.”
With a MAGA majority on the county council, the county will no doubt be primed to resist any future public health measures that commissioners find inconvenient, no matter how compelling or immediate the threat.
At the very least, a MAGA-dominated Commission calls into question the handling of all the county’s relations with the federal government—and this on top of the DeSantis-dominated state government’s hostility to Washington, DC.
For Oakes, the election may close a chapter in his contentious relations with the county government.
“I just think that the people are speaking,” he said of the results. “They don’t want this wokeness, and they don’t want this radical liberalism.”
As for the results of the election benefiting himself and his business, he said that was not his primary motivation in supporting these candidates. “I’m just happy that the people in Collier County have candidates who uphold the Constitution and America first,” he said.
In statewide races, Southwest Florida tracked the rest of the state
The big statewide race that received the most attention was the contest in the Democratic Party to see whether Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.) or Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried would be nominated to challenge DeSantis.
Crist won that primary statewide by 59.71 percent to Fried’s 35.34 percent. This proved to be true locally as well, with Crist winning Collier County by 57.1 percent, Lee by 53.65 percent and Charlotte by 57.08 percent.
This contrasts with 2018 when regional Democrats favored more conservative candidates over the eventual statewide winner, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. It proved that Southwest Florida Democrats are more temperamentally conservative in contrast to their brethren elsewhere.
It would be very interesting to know if Southwest Florida Democratic women favored Fried over Crist in light of the two candidates’ battle over their respective commitments to women’s choice. Fried was counting on a female groundswell to lift her to the nomination. It didn’t happen statewide. Did it happen in Southwest Florida? What might the results mean for the general election on Nov. 8? Just how much will the overthrow of Roe v. Wade factor into people’s next ballot?
Regrettably, the official tallies don’t provide those answers since there’s no gender breakdown in the statistics. There’s a real need in this region for serious, sustained, professional public opinion polling with publicly reported results.
Until we get those kinds of scientific surveys we’ll just have to deduce what we can from the results that we get—and read whatever we can from the tea leaves in the bottoms of our cups.
Today marks one week until Primary Election Day, Aug. 23, in Collier and Lee counties. Early in-person voting is already available and mail-in ballots can be mailed or deposited in ballot intake stations (formerly known as drop-boxes) from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm at specific locations in Lee and Collier counties. (See Lee County’s list here and Collier County’s list here.)
In response to reader queries, below is a list of all Paradise Progressive endorsements for elected office. Not all have been fully explained in editorials. Nor is this a complete list of offices up for election.
The Paradise Progressive is a media outlet with a progressive slant, as the name implies. However, it is not affiliated with any single party nor does it follow any party’s dictates.
The endorsements below cover both parties. In a closed primary state like Florida only voters registered with their parties will get to vote in the party’s primary. Other elections, for example school board and judiciar are non-partisan races in which anyone of any party can vote.
There are three criteria for The Paradise Progressive’s endorsements:
1. Is the candidate qualified for the office he or she is seeking?
2. Can the candidate be relied upon to make clear, understandable, rational decisions based on facts, data, logic and science?
3. Does the candidate support the United States Constitution, the peaceful transition of power and—most of all—democracy?
These criteria transcend party or faction. Based on them, this is a summary of The Paradise Progressive’s endorsements, with links to those editorials that explain them in detail.
In Southwest Florida school board elections are supposed to be non-partisan—but that doesn’t mean they aren’t divisive.
That has never been truer than this year. School board elections in Southwest Florida and around the country have become battlefields even if the candidates don’t have party affiliations after their names.
Two world views, two philosophies, two complete universes are in conflict. One is the product of a secular, scientific Enlightenment and the other is based on religion, dogma and doctrine.
What’s really at stake in these school board elections is which worldview will mold the next generation of Florida’s youth. Will they go into the future equipped with the intellectual skills and knowledge to succeed in a complex, diverse, technological world? Or will they be shaped by an emotionally comforting but academically deficient cocoon from which they never emerge?
It’s against this backdrop that Southwest Florida voters should carefully choose which candidates will guide the region’s education.
In both counties early in-person voting begins Saturday, Aug. 13 (the last day to request a mail-in ballot) and runs until Saturday, Aug. 20. Primary Election Day is Tuesday, Aug. 23. Mail-in ballots are already arriving. If candidates receive over 50 percent of the vote in the primary they will be elected without having to run again in the general election.
In Collier County the choice is absolutely clear: all incumbents should be returned to office.
That means electing Jory Westberry in District 1, Jen Mitchell in District 3 and Roy Terry in District 5.
This is not even a contest: these three educators have experience, credentials and a proven commitment to the education and the well-being of Collier County’s students. Their past efforts earned the Collier County School District an “A” rating from the Florida Department of Education for the fifth year in a row.
None of the challengers have anything close to their qualifications to sit on the school board.
No challenger has shown an interest in or familiarity with the nuts and bolts of school system management, budgeting and decisionmaking, which is really what keeps a school district functioning.
There’s no point in belaboring this. If Collier County students are going to be competently educated, Westberry, Mitchell and Terry need to be re-elected.
There are similar stakes in Lee County’s school board race, where Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has reached down to support and fund his own favored candidates.
The candidates endorsed by the Lee County Democratic Party merit the support of Lee County voters.
District 1: Kathy Fanny
District 4: Debbie Jordan
District 5: Gwynetta Gittens
District 6: Tia Collin
On a disturbing note
One particular campaign incident merits special attention.
With the text “j€w$ remixing the part where they’re not using p0rn0gr@phÿ as mind control” over the image, Richards mimes being a disc jockey scratching records while dancing. Her careful use of symbols in the text to avoid alerting community standards algorithms indicates that this was a very deliberate production and not something done casually.
Her reference is to a new anti-Semitic canard among the extreme right that, as Richards put it in a different tweet: “…Zionists use pornography as mind control for the population… for white people specifically… no one has yet to prove me wrong.” And in another post she stated that she’s “not a fan of zionists, degeneracy, vaccines or globalists.”
When asked about his campaign manager’s video at the opening of a new Republican Party headquarters, candidate Moshier told Naples Daily News reporter Rachel Heimann Mercader that “I don’t have a problem with it.”
Moshier has no educational credentials whatsoever. Before this he was just unqualified for a school board seat; his answer and indifference to bigotry make clear he’s unfit for any public office at all.
It’s just one more indication of the stakes and sensibilities in this year’s school board races—in Southwest Florida and across the country.
A large chunk of Cape Coral would move from Florida’s 19th Congressional District into a newly re-named 18th Congressional District according to new draft redistricting maps released Monday, Nov. 29, by the Florida House Redistricting Committee.
The redistricting aims to create congressional districts of equal population throughout the state. The goal is to have 769,221 people in each district if possible. Florida must also accommodate a new 28th Congressional District.
Under existing boundaries, the 19th District is overpopulated by 65,791 people or .086 percent more than the ideal and so must lose population to surrounding districts. The question is: where?
The House proposal contrasts with maps released on Nov. 10 by the Florida Senate Redistricting Committee. Those drafts moved North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres into the existing 17th Congressional District.
Instead, both drafts released by the House committee (H000C8001 and H000C8003) take a piece of Cape Coral from the 19th and put it in a newly renumbered 18th District.
The new 18th
The new 18th would include Charlotte, Hendry, Glades, Highland, DeSoto, Hardee and Okeechobee counties with pieces of Sarasota and Lee counties—roughly the same territory as the current 17th.
The 18th would also get a chunk of Cape Coral from the Lee County line, down Burnt Store Rd., to SW Pine Island Ln. (Rt. 78) as far east as Del Prado Blvd., North, then to Hancock Bridge Pkwy., stopping just short of Rt. 41 (N. Cleveland Ave.). It then just follows the Caloosahatchee River east to Interstate 75.
In a gain for the 19th, the draft maps give a chunk of Lehigh Acres back to the 19th, although the bulk of it remains in the new 18th.
Collier County lines
In the southern part of the 19th District, the 19th gains a bit along Golden Gate but then loses a chunk of East Naples including Lely, Naples Manor and Lely Resort.
It also loses some swampland further south—and the tiny community of Goodland, which would celebrate any future Buzzard Lope contests and mullet festivals in a newly re-numbered 26th District.
That 26th District largely keeps the shape of the previous 25th, spreading across Collier County, encompassing Immokalee and keeping Hialeah, its Cuban-American center of gravity and population.
Analysis: An F grade for the House
The two draft congressional maps from the state House Redistricting Committee have come under fire for their partisan gerrymandering.
H000C8003 (which is identical to H000C8001 as far as Southwest Florida is concerned) was given an overall grade of F from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, which found it significantly biased in favor of Republicans. The FiveThirtyEight.com redistricting tracker found it similarly biased, creating 15 Republican-leaning seats statewide, where before there had only been one.
Much of this bias takes place in the congressional districts on the east coast in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area where there are significant Democratic populations.
As far as Southwest Florida is concerned, cutting out a chunk of Cape Coral is less radically partisan than cutting out minority communities in North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres. Those changes were in the state Senate draft, which came under fire from Cindy Banyai, the Democratic congressional candidate in the 19th Congressional District.
From a partisan standpoint, the Cape Coral area being moved into a new district in the House drafts is mostly Republican anyway, so moving it into a new, heavily Republican 18th District won’t make that much of a difference.
It needs to be noted that in addition to the Senate and House drafts, there are proposals from individual Floridians who submitted maps, since the process was thrown open to the public.
A congressional map from Curtis Steffenson (P000C0054), released the same day as the House maps was much more radical in its redrawing than the committee maps, although not necessarily more partisan. It would significantly alter the 19th Congressional District, splitting Lee County in half and putting all of Collier County including Naples and Immokalee into a new 20th District that would go as far east as the county line.
It’s an interesting concept and demonstrates how flexible the lines can be. However, it is very uncertain how seriously the state legislature will be taking this and other draft maps submitted by the public.
All redistricting must be completed and finalized during the Florida legislative session that begins on Jan. 11, 2022 and before the candidate qualifying period beginning on June 13, 2022.
Cindy Banyai, Democratic congressional candidate for the 19th Congressional District, on Friday, Nov. 19, blasted draft redistricting maps from the Florida Senate that cut Fort Myers in two and moved Lehigh Acres fully into a neighboring district.
“This is gerrymandering,” stated Banyai in a press release. “Most of the people who are no longer in FL19 are minorities, our Black and Latino neighbors. It’s well known that this district has always been a giveaway to the Republicans, but this clear targeting of our communities of color should alarm everyone.”
The 19th Congressional District runs along the coast from Cape Coral to Marco Island and inland about as far as Route 75.
There were four draft maps released by the Committee on Nov. 10: S000C8002, S000C8004, S000C8006 and S000C8008.
Banyai pointed out that all the maps move the urban portions of Fort Myers into a mainly rural district.
“I think there is no doubt that it is absolutely a point to move democratic voters out of Florida 19,” Banyai told NBC-2’s political reporter, Dave Elias, in a report last Friday, Nov. 19. “This district has been sold out and considered a red district and they don’t really care what the voting population of Southwest Florida thinks.”
She raised four objections to the draft maps.
“Including part of Fort Myers and Lehigh in FL17 goes against the concept of compactness, given the size of FL17,” she stated.
“Additionally, the Dunbar community in Fort Myers, and Lehigh have high non-white populations. Lehigh has a 64% minority population, while the City of Fort Myers has a 51% minority population. Moving Lehigh and part of the City of Fort Myers out of FL19 has decreased the Black population of FL19 by a third, from 6% to 4% of the total population, in a district with a Black population that was below the state (15.6%) and county (8.2%) percentages.”
She pointed out: “All configurations of FL19 presented by the Florida Senate Committee on Reapportionment favor the White populations of Southwest Florida, whilst splitting and diluting the power of the people of color.”
Also, she noted, splitting the city of Fort Myers violates a concept of keeping “communities of interest” together. The new boundaries follow small residential roads rather than major thoroughfares and would cut up the city and move cohesive neighborhoods like Dunbar and majority Black neighborhoods surrounding Safety Hill.
“These areas of Lee County should be put into the same Congressional district. Putting coastal Collier and Lee Counties together favors the wealthy, White elite and marginalizes communities of color across Southwest Florida by lumping them into the largely rural districts of FL17 and FL25,” she argued.
She continued: “I encourage everyone to review all maps in this redistricting process and to stand up for your community. We cannot let politicians carve out communities they don’t like and ping-pong them around the state. Black and Brown voices should not be marginalized to score political points.”
When Elias polled people in Fort Myers about their potential new congressman (Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.)) should they be moved out of the 19th District, none recognized him.
“I’m not aware of the name. I’m in touch with local politics and never heard the name,” Randy Carry, a resident of North Fort Myers, told Elias when he showed him Steube’s picture. “I’ve never even seen his face.”
For the most part, the new maps leave Southwest Florida’s 17th, 19th and 25th congressional districts largely intact. The districts retain their existing numbering. No local congressmen were redistricted out of their seats or forced into runoff elections. All the districts remain overwhelmingly Republican based on voter registrations.
The big change for the state as a whole is the addition of a new congressional seat, the 28th. It is proposed, as expected, for the center of the state where population growth has been greatest.
While there was widespread trepidation—and expectation—that the new Florida maps would be radically biased in favor of Republicans that proved not to be the case.
When the maps were released, “they were surprisingly unaggressive,” wrote the website FiveThirtyEight.com. “Instead, they largely preserve Florida’s current congressional map, exhibiting only a mild Republican bias.”
The Princeton Gerrymandering Project, an impressively deep and thorough examination of redistricting across the country, gave them an overall grade of B, meaning “better than average for the category, but bias still exists.”
This article looks at the four draft maps for three US congressional districts in Southwest Florida and what they mean for voters. Subsequent articles will examine state Senate and House districts and other draft maps.
In all four draft maps released last week (S000C8002, S000C8004, S000C8006 and S000C8008) the boundaries for the 17th, 19th and 25th congressional districts that make up Southwest Florida remain largely the same.
There are, however, some important changes.
The Florida Fair Districts amendments aim to keep districts as compact and contiguous as possible, following existing boundaries, like county lines. These maps largely do that.
The 17th District, represented by Rep. Greg Steube (R), is a huge, although largely rural, district encompassing Hardee, Desoto, Charlotte, Glades, Highlands, and Okeechobee counties, with chunks of Polk, Lee, and Sarasota counties.
In the new maps the 17th loses all its territory in Polk County, which goes to the newly-formed 28th Congressional District. It also gives up much of its Sarasota County territory to the 16th, although it keeps North Port and the whole town of Venice. But it gains territory in Lee County.
North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres
It is in North Fort Myers that there are big changes proposed as that community shifts from the 19th to the 17th.
The 19th District is represented by Rep. Byron Donalds (R), who lives two miles east of Rt. 75 in the 25th District.
In the new maps State Road 82 becomes the boundary between the 17th and the 19th until it reaches Rt. 75. Then everything—the River District, Buckingham, Tice, Dunbar, Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., as far south as Winkler Ave. and as far west as the Seminole Gulf railway—becomes part of the 17th.
The 19th may be losing a big chunk of North Fort Myers but it picks up Palmona Park across the Caloosahatchee River in Cape Coral.
In the past, most of Lehigh Acres was in the 17th District with a sliver in the 19th. That’s no longer true: the 17th takes all of Lehigh Acres as far south as State Road 82.
Since its drawing in 2010, the 19th District has resembled a railroad spike or a mushroom, with a bulbous north and a skinny south along the coast in its Collier County portion.
In the draft maps, that spike or stem widens slightly. Instead of Livingston Rd. in Collier County being the eastern end of the district, this map extends the line to Rt. 75, which makes much more sense as a boundary.
Between Vanderbilt Beach Rd. and Pine Ridge Rd., it also extends the district eastward to Logan Blvd. to include The Vineyards, which are now entirely in the district.
In its southern end, it stops following Rt. 75 and instead makes 32nd Ave. SW its boundary as far as Collier Blvd., where it goes straight south to Rt. 41 and encompasses Marco Island and Goodland as its most southeasterly community.
Where the 19th gains in Collier County the 25th loses, but not by much. The western edge of the 25th, represented by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R) retains Golden Gate and the unincorporated town of Immokalee and more or less keeps its existing shape. More important is the action on its more densely-populated eastern side where it gains population with Opa-Locka and slivers of Miami. However, it keeps its most important community, Hialeah, a Cuban-American stronghold.
Redistricting—or gerrymandering, if you don’t like the results—is always a delicate art. Drawing the lines can’t help but get partisan as they’re drafted.
In this case, the 19th District was overpopulated and had to lose population somewhere. It so happens that the state Senate drafters chose to take it out by removing minority, working class, somewhat Democratic communities.
Moving North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres into the 17th means the interests of those suburban communities will be subsumed by the majority rural and agricultural voters further north in Charlotte, Hardee, Desoto, Glades, Highlands, and Okeechobee counties.
In partisan terms, it means they can’t threaten Republican dominance in either the 19th or the 17th. But that was the way the existing lines were drawn anyway.
Assuming that redistricting proceeds smoothly and according to its assigned schedule, next year candidates will be campaigning in the newly drawn new districts. However, it’s difficult to see how the new lines could make much of a difference.
Currently, both the 19th and 17th districts are represented by extreme, radical right-wing Republican incumbent representatives, Donalds and Steube.
For residents of North Fort Myers that doesn’t mean much of a difference in being represented to policymakers in Washington, DC. For Black residents of the affected areas, Donalds not only has no interest in traditional Black concerns like civil rights and voting access, he is actively hostile to them. He has inveighed against critical race theory in schools and is part of the Republican culture wars chorus. He plays to his extreme conservative political action committee donors and a hard-right Trumpist base. Minority voters weren’t getting much representation anyway, so they aren’t losing much if he doesn’t represent them in 2022.
By contrast, his Democratic opponent, Cindy Banyai, is already campaigning vigorously on behalf of those communities. However, she’ll be deprived of potentially supportive voters if the maps change as drawn.
Nor will North Fort Myers residents get any representation if Steube wins re-election again. If anything, Steube is even more extreme than Donalds and would likely completely ignore those communities.
Steube was opposed in 2020 by Allen Ellison, whom he defeated 64 to 34 percent. This year Ellison is running for the US Senate seat of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). To date, Steube has no announced opponent.
In the 25th District, Diaz-Balart is running against Democrat Adam Gentle. Last year Diaz-Balart ran unopposed. Changes in the district lines would not seem to make much of a difference in the demographic makeup of the district.
It’s worth remembering that these are just draft maps. In addition to the state Senate committee’s proposals individuals have submitted proposed drafts. Also, the state House committee is expected to shortly submit its proposals.
People who want to weigh in can contact their representatives and Southwest Florida is fortunate in that Rodrigues, who oversees the whole redistricting effort, is a local state senator. Also, state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Naples) will be serving as Senate president next year and has a disproportionate say in the final redistricting.