Congress votes to keep government open; Diaz-Balart breaks with Donalds, Steube, Republicans to approve bill

The US Capitol.

Sept. 30, 2021 by David Silverberg

The US House of Representatives today approved a bill to fund the government until December 3 by a vote of 254 to 175.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) joined 33 other Republicans to vote for the bill, the Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act.

Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) voted against the bill. Had the bill failed, the government would have shut down at midnight.

For Southwest Florida, passage of the bill means that federal parks, facilities and offices will remain open and operating, including the US Coast Guard and the Social Security Administration.

The bill, House Resolution 5305, also known as a Continuing Resolution, concurred with a Senate bill and now goes to President Joe Biden for signature.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

US House passes bill legislating women’s right to choose; SWFL reps oppose

The US Capitol. (Photo: Wikimedia)

Sept. 24, 2021 by David Silverberg

The US House of Representatives today passed the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 3755) permitting health care professionals to provide abortions, by a vote of 218 to 211.

The bill, introduced in June by Rep. Judy Chu (D-27-Calif.), effectively codifies the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in legislation by making abortion legal nationally.

All of Southwest Florida’s congressional representatives voted against measure, along with the rest of the Republican caucus.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-28-Texas) was the only Democrat to break ranks and vote against the bill.

“Today, Nancy Pelosi is bringing the most radical pro-abortion legislation ever for a vote,” tweeted Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who has long characterized himself as anti-abortion. “This indefensible bill would remove every protection for the unborn and would allow taxpayer-funded abortions up until birth. I’m proudly standing for life and voting NO.”

As of this writing, neither Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) nor Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) had issued statements explaining their votes.

House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) urged passage of the bill in a speech from the House floor.

“This is the first time…that we have a pro-choice Democratic [Majority] with a Democratic president,” she said. “And the timing could not be better, because of the assault that has been made on the constitutional rights of women in our country.”

She stated the Texas law effectively banning abortions “unleashes one of the most disturbing, unprecedented, far-reaching assaults on health care providers and on anyone who helps a woman in any way access an abortion, by creating a vigilante bounty system that will have a chilling effect on the provisions of any health care services.  And what’s next?  What’s next with these vigilantes and their bounty system?”

On Wednesday, Sept. 22, Florida state Rep. Webster Barnaby (R-27-Volusia County) introduced House Bill 167 in the Florida House of Representatives to follow Texas’ lead in restricting abortions.

HR 3755 now goes to the US Senate, where passage is uncertain.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

SWFL Roundup: Texas mess reactions; reps rated in new democracy index

Collier County, Fla., residents demonstrate for women’s choice on May 21, 2019. (Photo: Author)

Sept. 6, 2021 by David Silvererg

Last week Southwest Florida’s congressmen were very vocal in condemning President Joe Biden and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. But they fell strangely silent on the issue of women’s choice when the Supreme Court let stand a Texas law effectively outlawing abortion.

Of the area’s three members of Congress, only Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), whose district covers Punta Gorda north to Venice, commented on the issue and did so indirectly.

When the chief executive officer of Whole Women’s Health, which bills itself as “a privately-owned, feminist healthcare management company” based in Austin, Texas, tweeted on Aug. 31 that the clinic would continue providing abortions right up until the moment the law went into effect, Steube responded on Twitter with a Biblical quotation from the prophet Jeremiah (1:5): “What about the child, who is living in the womb that is about to be murdered, is that not a loved one?”

(Editor’s note: Steube’s citation is not at all what the Old Testament passage states. In it the prophet Jeremiah says that God chose him to be a prophet before his birth. As stated in the King James version: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.”)

Steube has consistently voted to restrict women’s choice from the time he began serving the Florida House of Representatives in 2011. During his time in Congress starting in 2019, he received a zero rating from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, a pro-choice lobbying group, based on six key votes.

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who represents the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island, has always advertised himself as “A Trump supporting, liberty loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man,” so his position on choice is known. There were no key votes on choice-related bills since he took office on Jan. 3 of this year, so he remains unrated by Planned Parenthood Action Fund. As of this writing he had not commented on the Texas law on any platform.

By contrast, Cindy Banyai, his Democratic challenger, issued a lengthy statement.

“Many of us are still reeling from the attacks on one of our most basic civil rights—the right to decide if we are going to be a parent,” she stated. “For decades, Republicans and their far-right extremist allies have attacked women and tried everything they can to keep us from being able to control what happens to our lives and bodies.”

She continued: “My America does not impose forced birth on women and then attack them when they struggle to provide for their families. This isn’t about doing anything other than imposing the choice of fundamentalists on women, fundamentalists who don’t care about the consequences to the mother or the child. We are better than this, and now we must rise to the moment.”

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), whose district goes from eastern Collier County to Hialeah in the east, has been in the House of Representatives since 2003. He has a 3 percent rating from Planned Parenthood Action Fund based on 31 votes. He too had not commented on the Texas law as of this writing.

His challenger, Democrat Adam Gentle, however, had a strong reaction.

“I am sick and tired of women’s health being a political, judicial football,” he told The Paradise Progressive.  “Healthcare isn’t a sport.  We must codify a woman’s right to choose into our federal law.  We can and we must.”

So far there have been no publicly-available polls of attitudes toward abortion in Southwest Florida. But according to reporting on the website FiveThirtyEight, the US public largely opposes overturning the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, ensuring a woman’s right to choose.

In the article “Why Texas’s Abortion Law May Go Too Far For Most Americans,” senior writer Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux writes that “For decades, Americans have broadly opposed overturning Roe v. Wade — despite escalating attempts by anti-abortion advocates to turn public opinion against legal abortion.”  

Americans have consistently supported upholding Roe v. Wade. (Chart: FiveThirtyEight)

Certainly, when the Georgia legislature passed a Texas-like bill in 2019 it galvanized pro-choice forces there and contributed to that state’s turn toward the Democratic Party in the 2020 election.

“The heartbeat bill was the thing that made them jump” into the Democratic Party column, according to Georgian resident Jen Jordan. (The law was ruled unconstitutional in 2020 and never took effect.)

The same could occur in Florida and nationally as the assault on women’s choice proceeds. “For better or worse, Americans’ views on when abortion should be legal will probably get a lot clearer,” writes Thomson-DeVeaux.

It will also be harder and harder for Southwest Florida representatives to maintain their silence.

New democracy index

FiveThirtyEight has also produced a new metric measuring the degree to which representatives and senators support democracy based on their congressional votes. Users can look up the actions of any member of Congress.

The tool is unveiled in the article “Which Senators and Representatives Vote in Favor of Democracy?

The article by Laura Bronner looks at two 2021 measures of commitment to democracy: a “bare bones” metric based on six votes “limited to basic requirements like free and, in theory, fair elections and other measures that help safeguard democracy.” A more expansive metric is based on 18 votes and “everything in the first category, but also includes bills that expand civil liberties and who has political power.” This is not based on party affiliation or support for Biden but on those specific votes.

Readers can look up their representatives and senators and see where they fall on the democratic spectrum.

It may not be a surprise, but all three of Southwest Florida’s representatives clock in at 0 percent for bare-bones support for democracy.

The more expansive definition yields different results, however. Diaz-Balart has a 31.6 percent rating while Donalds and Steube both voted for democratic measures only 5.3 percent of the time.

Not mentioned in the FiveThirtyEight article is that Donalds has been prominent and vocal in supporting Florida’s legislative efforts to restrict voting access and praised Georgia’s passage of its voter suppression law.

Florida’s two Republican senators yield very different results. Sen. Marco Rubio voted 50 percent of the time in favor of the six key bare-bones democratic measures and 42.9 percent in favor of the 18 more expansive measures. Sen. Rick Scott voted for 25 percent of the bare-bones measures and 28.6 percent in favor of the more expansive proposals.

A happy and restful Labor Day to all.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

House passes John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act; SWFL reps oppose

The late Rep. John R. Lewis.

The US House of Representatives is back in session and on Tuesday, Aug. 24, it passed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 4) by a vote of 219 to 212.

All of Southwest Florida’s representatives—Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.)—voted against it.

According to the congressional summary: “This bill establishes new criteria for determining which states and political subdivisions must obtain preclearance before changes to voting practices may take effect. Preclearance is the process of receiving preapproval from the Department of Justice (DOJ) or the US District Court for the District of Columbia before making legal changes that would affect voting rights.”

In her weekly press conference, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) said the bill, named for the late Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights activist and icon, was necessary in light of widespread voter suppression efforts, especially those directed against minority voters.

“There are probably 20 laws – bills that had become law, that had been enacted, hundreds that had been introduced to suppress the vote,” she said. “Why?  And then you just have to wonder: Why would they not want to make it easier for people to vote?  Just because they want to suppress the vote among people of color, they are also suppressing the vote for everyone else by their, again, suppression of number of polling places, hours that are there, the list goes on and on.”

Rep. Byron Donalds

Donalds argued that HR 4 was a retread of the For the People Act of 2021 (HR 1), which passed the House in March. That bill, which he opposed, sought to ensure voting rights by expanding voter registration, guaranteeing voter access and limiting removing voters from rolls, all in response to state laws doing the opposite. It currently sits in the Senate awaiting action, which is unlikely.

“HR. 4 is HR. 1 (2.0), don’t be fooled,” Donalds tweeted on Tuesday. He argued that it would cancel “common-sense” voter identification requirements, updating of voter rolls, allow electioneering, would federalize election laws and would give the Department of Justice the power to veto state election laws.

“HR. 4 isn’t for the people,” he tweeted.

HR 4 now goes to the Senate for action.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

‘No mas’: Democratic lawyer Adam Gentle takes on Diaz-Balart in Florida’s 25th District

Democratic challenger Adam Gentle announces his candidacy for Congress against the backdrop of the Everglades. (Image: Adam Gentle for Congress campaign)

June 1, 2021 by David Silverberg

–Updated June 2 with inclusion of Golden Gate in district description

Last year Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) ran for re-election unopposed and—no surprise—won.

That jolted lawyer Adam Gentle.

“He’s an active threat to democracy,” Gentle says of the sitting congressman. “He voted to overturn the election. He’s not even protecting the fundamental form of our government. Having him run unopposed is unacceptable.”

On Monday, May 24, Gentle announced he was challenging Diaz-Balart to represent the 25th District in Congress.

At stake, says Gentle, is nothing less than the fate of democracy.

“This is an inflection point in our history,” he stated in his campaign announcement, issued in both English and Spanish. “Our failure to act now to address the causes of the January 6th insurrection will lead this nation down the same path as Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba.”

The 25th’s constituency knows whereof he speaks.

The District

The Florida 25th Congressional District.

The 25th District stretches from roughly Route 75 in Collier County and Golden Gate in the west, includes all of Hendry County and the towns of LaBelle, Clewiston, Immokalee and Ave Maria in its center to Hialeah and Doral in the east.

Of the 796,422 people in the District, 76 percent are Hispanic. While there are communities of immigrants from Nicaragua and Venezuela, 44 percent are Cuban-American, the highest percentage in the country. It’s one reason Diaz-Balart has held the seat since he took office in 2003.

But that doesn’t faze Gentle. “The vast majority of voters are bilingual,” he says. “I take it as an opportunity to connect.” He said he had good results when he addressed a group of Cuban American students. They were open to his message and moreover, “they told me that in their lives they had never had a Democratic candidate open a street office in Hialeah,” (104 Hialeah Dr.) where most Cuban-Americans are concentrated.

Gentle also believes that “kitchen-table issues” count for much more than ethnicity, particularly healthcare. As he puts it, “one party is doing much more for healthcare, while the other one just wants to get rid of it.”

The 25th District has a very high number of enrollees in the Affordable Care Act, according to Gentle. It’s a program that was particularly important to people during the worst months of the COVID pandemic—and as Gentle points out, “meanwhile, the current representative tried to eliminate it. Under this administration [the Biden administration] he’s tried to do it.”

Gentle believes that healthcare is a fundamental human right and no one should be forced to choose between paying for medications and affording food. Good healthcare is also important for safeguarding the people of the district from COVID and ensuring that everyone gets vaccinated.

Especially after the COVID pandemic he sees health as important for much more than just a basic commitment to wellbeing because, in his view, “healthy people create healthy democracies.”

But only the living can stay healthy and with the spate of gun violence in the country, life is at risk from random shootings. It all came home to the 25th District shortly after midnight on Saturday, May 29. Hialeah was rocked when three gunmen blasted a gathering there, killing two people and wounding over 20.

Three gunmen exit a car in Hialeah in a surveillance camera video released by police.

“After hearing the news out of Hialeah this morning, my heart is breaking for the families of those involved,” Gentle said when the news broke. “I’m praying for a swift recovery for those in the hospital. We must do more to help protect our communities from these needless acts of violence.”

As part of his platform Gentle was already calling for common-sense background checks for gun purchases and red flag laws to prevent the unfit from accessing guns. He supports a 14-day waiting period before gun purchases, investing in mental health care services and banning assault weapons with high capacity magazines.

As of this writing, Diaz-Balart hadn’t issued a statement on the shooting of any kind or even a tweet.

The candidate

Originally hailing from Essexville, Mich., Gentle is a 39-year-old lawyer whose career has taken him all over the world.

A graduate of Columbia University in New York and George Washington University in Washington, DC, where he earned his juris doctor degree, he worked for four years with the law firm of Baker Mackenzie in Washington.

Initially, Gentle pursued a career in the arts, traveling to Los Angeles, Calif., within days of his high school graduation and working with The Young Americans, a charitable group that seeks to promote international goodwill and understanding through music and the performance. It was an experience, he says, that exposed him to numerous cultures and peoples.

That international experience helped him in his law practice where he specialized in helping American companies comply with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. That law prohibits American companies from engaging in bribery or other forms of corruption when doing business overseas. Gentle gained experience in fighting corruption—and keeping American firms out of trouble—in countries like Russia, China, India and areas like Central Asia.

“Corruption,” he says, “is a force that destroys democracy.”

His experience, from running a paper route as a student to his work as a lawyer, made him a confirmed capitalist and determined to support business in the district. “It’s essential that we take action to protect our small businesses, our environment and our tourism industry,” he stated when he announced his candidacy.

Having seen real socialism overseas he’s dismissive of the favorite Republican tactic of smearing any opponent with the “socialist” label. “They’ve just weaponized words.  I’m a capitalist who supports the free market,” he says.

He’s also a democrat with both a small and big D, having seen autocratic governments elsewhere.  He was horrified by the mob attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6 and Diaz-Balart’s support for Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of a legally conducted and fairly counted election.

“I won’t stand on the sidelines and watch elected officials repeat proven lies to further their corrupt scheme,” he says. “They’ve tested our Constitution and the will of the American people. No mas.”

Gentle is openly gay and married to a Portuguese-speaking husband. He doesn’t see this as an impediment to his candidacy and he’s unafraid of his opponent trying to use it against him.

“I think if my being gay affects my performance in this race it will say a lot more about the other side’s attitudes than about anyone’s way of voting,” he says. “I was born at a time when I couldn’t imagine the life I have today. I have rights and privileges that I didn’t have when I was born. I think that unites us rather than divides us.”

The road ahead

Like all Florida Democrats, Gentle has a tough path to victory. The district is rated R+8 by the Cook Political Report Partisan Voting Index, meaning that it’s eight times more Republican than the national average.

Moreover, Trump made serious inroads into its population in the last election. In 2016 Trump barely edged out Hillary Clinton in the district, 49.6 percent to 47.4 percent. In 2020 he extended his reach, defeating Biden there by 61.4 percent to 37.9 percent.

But Gentle is determined and he’s not without resources. He is already fundraising for the long race ahead. He has a strong and knowledgeable senior advisor in Evelyn Pervez Vadia, an experienced political consultant and strategist who specializes in combating disinformation and reaching Latino voters.

He is paying attention to the western side of the district, which is often overlooked by Diaz-Balart. In February he attended a black heritage festival in LaBelle, the first time a candidate had appeared there. “Mario Diaz-Balart has never shown up there,” he pointed out. “You have to show people that you care about them.”

He regards the sugar industry with skepticism but not outright hostility: “My main concern with any industry is that taxpayers are not left holding the bag for their practices. If big sugar is polluting then it has to be cleaned up. We do need to make sure that the proper parties are held responsible.”

He supports the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan and its funding, which he notes “needs to be reviewed constantly.”

When it comes to immigration, Gentle promotes the idea of American Migration Service Centers to prevent unmanageable migrant influxes. These would be attached to US consulates and embassies so that potential immigrants could be treated in an orderly and legal way. He argues that such centers would provide local jobs while freeing up border security resources so that border agents can concentrate on real threats like smuggling and crime.

Above all, Gentle is convinced that the district’s population is ready for a change, especially given the assault on democracy that he believes Diaz-Balart aided and abetted with his vote.

“It’s a fact that my opportunities and privileges have allowed me to travel all around the world both personally and professionally. I think there’s something awesome about the 25th and I’m excited to engage with different cultures and ways of life,” he says.

“My number one focus in Florida is that we’re protecting people to make sure they have food on the table and they’re treated with dignity and paid a living wage and have access to healthcare. This country has turned away from uncomfortable aspects of its life that we need to address. We need to get really honest, really fast.”

The only promise he makes is one that’s both hard and easy to fulfill at the same time: “I will never vote according to party dictates,” he says. “I will always vote in the interests of the people I represent.”

Visit Adam Gentle’s website here.

Adam Gentle’s announcement video can be viewed here.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Donalds, Steube join 62 Republicans opposing anti-hate crimes bill; Diaz-Balart supports it

The US Capitol.

May 18, 2021 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) were two of only 62 members of the US House of Representatives to oppose passage of a bill today calling for aggressive investigation and prosecution of hate crimes, especially those against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI).

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) voted in favor of the bill.

The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act (Senate 937), passed the House by an overwhelming vote of 364 to 62. Support for the bill was heavily bipartisan, with all Democrats and 147 Republicans voting for it.  The 62 opponents were all Republicans.

It passed the Senate on April 22 by a vote of 94 to 1, with only Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) opposing it. Both of Florida’s Republican senators, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, voted for it.

The bill now goes to President Joe Biden for signature.

The bill was prompted by a spate of blatant, unprovoked violent hate crimes against Asian Americans fueled in large part by President Donald Trump’s vitriol against China and Chinese during the worst months of the pandemic.

It calls for the Department of Justice (DoJ) to prioritize and expedite investigations of anti-AAPI hate crimes and to issue guidance to local and state law enforcement agencies to do the same. It provides for better data collection on hate crimes, improves education related to them and creates financial grants to raise awareness, prevent and respond to them.

The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act was introduced on March 23 by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). “Today, Congress sends a powerful, united message that we stand in solidarity with the AAPI community as we confront an epidemic of racism and intolerance,” she stated following the House passage.

Neither Donalds, Steube nor Diaz-Balart issued statements explaining their votes in the immediate wake of the the bill’s passage.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida counties, towns get dollar allocations from American Rescue Plan

On March 11, President Joe Biden signs the American Rescue Plan into law while Vice President Kamala Harris looks on. (Photo: White House)

April 7, 2021 by David Silverberg

On March 8, the amounts of funding being allocated to US states, counties and municipalities under the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan were released to the public by the US House Oversight Committee.

Among its many provisions, including the $1,400 checks to individuals and families, the American Rescue Plan is intended to help local governments hurt by the pandemic, the resulting economic slowdown and loss of revenue.

(The full list of allocations for the United States in an Excel spreadsheet can be downloaded here.)

Florida is slated to receive $17.6 billion, of which $10.2 billion will be going to the state government.

When the Plan was being considered in Congress, Republicans vociferously resisted passage of the legislation, especially the provision assisting state, county and municipal governments. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) has called on Florida’s governments to return the checks.

Southwest Florida

According to an April 4 article in the Naples Daily News,American Rescue Plan to bring more than $300M to Southwest Florida,” local officials in Lee and Collier counties have not yet decided how to spend their allocations and were unsure of the procedure for receiving the money.

What follows below are the amounts being allocated to the various counties and local governments under the Plan, arranged by Southwest Florida’s congressional districts. Because congressional districts overlap county lines, each county is listed only once even though the districts may include pieces of different counties.

All of Southwest Florida’s representatives in Congress voted against the Plan.

19th Congressional District

Rep. Byron Donalds

Represented by Rep. Byron Donalds (R).

The 19th Congressional District covers the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island and includes the most heavily populated areas of Lee and Collier counties.

Donalds denounced the American Rescue Plan in the House Budget Committee and on the floor of the House, calling it “nothing more than a liberal wish list.” 

Counties

  • Collier County: $74.65 million
  • Lee County: $149.45 million

Cities and towns

  • Bonita Springs: $25.06 million
  • Cape Coral: $26.87 million
  • Estero Village: $14.23 million
  • Everglades City: $.18 million
  • Fort Myers: $16 million
  • Fort Myers Beach: $2.98 million
  • Marco Island: $2.13 million
  • Naples: $9.28 million
  • Sanibel city: $3.11 million

25th Congressional District

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

Represented by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R).

The 25th Congressional District stretches from western Collier County east of the coast, includes all of Hendry County and a piece of northwestern Miami-Dade County.

Diaz-Balart called the American Rescue Plan “this fake COVID bill.” 

Counties

  • Hendry County: $8.15 million
  • Miami-Dade County: $526.93 million
  • Collier County: (already listed)

Cities and towns        

  • Clewiston: $3.37 million
  • Doral: $27.63 million
  • Hialeah: $70.61 million
  • LaBelle: $2.19 million

Immokalee is the largest population center in eastern Collier County. However, because it is an unincorporated community without a local government it is governed through Collier County and does not have a designated allocation.

17th Congressional District

Rep. Greg Steube

Represented by Rep. Greg Steube (R).

The 17th Congressional District is a huge district of over 6,300 square miles stretching from eastern Tampa Bay to the northwestern shore of Lake Okeechobee. It includes all of Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties, plus parts of Lee (northern Lehigh Acres), Polk and Sarasota counties. Municipalities include North Port, Punta Gorda, Venice, and Okeechobee.

Steube complained that with the Plan, “Democrats chose to turn our nation into a welfare state with more government handouts.”

Counties

  • Charlotte: $36.64 million
  • DeSoto: $7.37 million
  • Glades: $2.68 million
  • Hardee: $5.22 million
  • Highlands: $20.60 million
  • Okeechobee: $8.18 million
  • Lee (already provided)          
  • Polk: $140.57 million
  • Sarasota: $84.12 million

Towns and cities

  • North Port: $29.72 million
  • Punta Gorda: $8.56 million
  • Venice: $10.08 million
  • Okeechobee: $2.44 million

Port Charlotte in Charlotte County is an unincorporated entity governed by the county and so has no specific allocation.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Bill aiding farmers and workers shows divide among Southwest Florida congressmen

Farm laborers load freshly picked produce. (Photo: Coalition of Immokalee Workers)

March 30, 2021 by David Silverberg

If you’re like most Americans, you celebrated National Agriculture Day last Tuesday, March 23, by eating.

However, if you forgot National Agriculture Day entirely you can be forgiven. It is, after all, an artificial holiday, dreamed up in 1973 by a trade association, the Agriculture Council of America, a non-profit 501c3 educational institution backed by some of the biggest corporate names in the US agriculture industry.

The folks who didn’t forget National Agriculture Day were politicians of all stripes who want to remain in the graces of the farming industry and its campaign contributions.

In Southwest Florida, a heavily agricultural area, all three of the region’s congressmen—Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) and Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.),  were careful to acknowledge National Agriculture Day on their Twitter feeds, the latter two adding bland bromides to the nation’s farmers.

But when it came to substance, they took very different—and very illuminating—actions.

The action in question was consideration of a bill this month that made fundamental changes to the way agriculture gets done in the United States.

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 1603) was a sprawling bill that made fundamental changes to America’s agricultural workforce. It closed legal loopholes while maintaining a strong and healthy—and most of all, legal—labor force.

Among its many provisions, it created a Certified Agricultural Worker (CAW) status for farmworkers, effectively a guest worker program that was long needed. Farmworkers could apply, be verified and receive legal CAW status good for five and a half years, protecting them and their families from deportation, while weeding out people with criminal pasts. The existing H-2A visa status for foreign workers was improved to provide for better compliance by both workers and employers.

These changes would have a major impact on farmworkers in Southwest Florida, particularly in the heavily agricultural areas of Collier, Lee and Hendry counties. It provides a measure of legality and security for the many migrants from Mexico and Latin America while still assisting the growers.

According to Diaz-Balart, who was involved in formulating the bill, “my colleagues and I spent almost a year negotiating” and working on the bill, “painstakingly working out its provisions.” Diaz-Balart’s 25th district includes wide swaths of farmland across the interior of Florida and includes the town of Immokalee in Collier County, a center of the agricultural workforce population.

Diaz-Balart was one of the original cosponsors of the bill, which included 61 Republicans and Democrats. By the end of Democratic and Republican negotiations, what emerged was a “bipartisan, targeted labor solution [that] our agriculture industry needs. This removes opportunities to work illegally in the U.S., strengthens our border security, and ensures we have a reliable, legal workforce for our farms and ranches,” according to Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-4-Wash.).

Diaz-Balart hailed it as “a significant and necessary step once again toward finally solving the labor crisis facing our nation’s agriculture industry.”

In their interests

The bill’s provisions tightening legal eligibility to work in the United States and boosting enforcement of immigration status by the Department of Homeland Security should have delighted Rep. Byron Donalds.

Prior to his election to Congress last year Donalds represented the 80th Florida House District, which includes Immokalee and the agricultural areas around it, so he should be intimately familiar with its growers and workers and their needs. What is more, for weeks he had been hammering away at President Joe Biden’s administration for its handling of the migrant influx at the Southwest Border. HR 1603 addressed many of the legal problems at the destination end of that influx, reducing crime while maintaining the workforce Southwest Florida growers need.

Rep. Greg Steube too should have welcomed the bill. His sprawling district includes vast swaths of farmland stretching from the coast to Lake Okeechobee and includes Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties, plus northern Lehigh Acres in Lee County. Steube, like Donalds, had taken every available opportunity to attack the Biden administration’s handling of cross-border migration.

HR 1603 was fully bipartisan and addressed longstanding concerns of both parties, providing the humane and orderly treatment of farm workers prized by Democrats as well as the legal procedures and immigration security emphasized by Republicans, all while protecting both growers and workers. It was the kind of bipartisan cooperation in the interests of getting something substantive done that people so often say they want to see in Congress. It also had major beneficial implications for Florida.

On March 18, HR 1603 came up for a vote in the House of Representatives. It passed by a vote of 247 to 174. Of that vote, 217 Democrats voted for it as well as 30 Republicans.

Among those Republicans was Diaz-Balart.

And Byron Donalds and Greg Steube…voted against it.

Neither one bothered to issue a statement explaining his vote.

The bill has now gone to the Senate. Given that it is largely flying under the media radar and it’s a strongly bipartisan bill, it has a relatively good chance of passage.

Commentary

Both Donalds and Steube had a chance to benefit their districts, their state and the farms, businesses, workers and people they represent. But that would have involved casting a thoughtful, substantive, well-researched vote. It’s much easier to tweet hysterical attacks on border security, issue anti-immigrant broadsides and oppose any constructive compromises.

And, of course, both tweeted their celebrations of National Agriculture Day.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida congressmen stay mum on mass shootings

Police outside the King Soopers grocery store where a shooting took place Monday, March 22, 2021, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

March 25, 2021 by David Silverberg

It should come as no surprise that Southwest Florida’s representatives in Congress have responded to Monday’s mass shooting in Colorado and last week’s shooting in Georgia mostly with silence.

Rep. Byron Donalds

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) retweeted a Boulder Police Department tribute to Officer Eric Talley, the policeman killed at the King Soopers market rampage. Donalds added: “Officer Talley embodied the spirit of a hero, and I pray his loved ones are comforted knowing he died a hero. Thank you to all the brave law enforcement officers who devote their lives to protecting communities across America.” He made no mention of the other victims, who were peacefully shopping when the shooting began.

Donalds was the only candidate of nine in his Republican primary to receive a full endorsement from the National Rifle Association (NRA). He touted his gun ownership in his campaign tagline (“I’m a strong, Trump-supporting, gun-owning, liberty-loving, pro-life, politically incorrect black man”).

Rep. Greg Steube

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), whose district runs from Punta Gorda to Venice to Lake Okeechobee, had not issued any statement of any kind as of this writing. He has long been a vocal gun ownership advocate. Almost exactly a year ago he introduced the End the Normalized Delay of Suppressors (ENDS) Act (HR 6126) to try to force the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to more quickly grant permits for the purchase of gun silencers so that killing can be done quietly. The bill was not even considered in committee. He has called for carrying guns on the House floor.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), whose district runs from western Collier County and Immokalee across the state to Hialeah in the east, has made no statement about the shootings as of this writing.

Having been in office since 2003, Diaz-Balart’s relationship with the gun violence issue is longer and more complex than that of his Southwest Florida colleagues. For most of his congressional career he was a reliable opponent of gun regulation, even to the point that former representative Gabby Giffords, a shooting survivor, publicly endorsed his Democratic opponent, Mary Barzee Flores, in 2018, after the killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

In 2019 Diaz-Balart bucked his party and the NRA and voted for the Bipartisan Background Checks Act. That bill required background checks for arms transfers between individuals, closing a major loophole in the gun trade. The bill passed the House but died in the Senate.

This year Diaz-Balart switched his vote and voted against the same bill when it was reintroduced. This time, he stated that while he still supported background checks, the bill was now too far left and was “an overly-partisan and extremist bill that fails to effectively address background checks and imposes measures that amount to clear government overreach.”

This year it passed the House on March 11 by a vote of 227 to 203 but its fate is uncertain in the Senate.

The past and the future

Given this record it was unsurprising that these representatives did not join the chorus of congressional lawmakers calling for new measures to curb the latest wave of American gun violence.

Theirs was not the reaction throughout Florida. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-22-Fla.), whose east coast district includes Parkland as well as Fort Lauderdale, where five people were killed in a random shooting at the airport in 2017, said that the Boulder shooting emphasized the need for action to curb gun violence.

“…That’s why we need to act,” he told CBS-4 television news in Miami. “And that’s why we can’t just shake our head and say that’s one more thing and move on and wait for the next one,” 

Deutch serves as the chief whip on the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, a group of more than 165 members of Congress who work on gun violence issues. He’s long supported a ban on assault-style weapons and broader background checks on gun purchases, measures also advocated by President Joe Biden.

Commentary: The Southwest Florida reaction

Nationally, the reaction to the shootings has been horrified denunciation by officials and private groups and there is new movement in Congress to take action to curb gun violence.

Locally, the reaction is far more muted. While the national chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense has issued numerous statements regarding the recent shootings, the local chapter has not made any public statements or taken any actions to date.

On the gun-saturated southwest coast of Florida, politically, not only is there no apparent urgency, there’s certainly no inclination by any elected official to propose or support gun restraints and no evident political incentive for taking any action at all.

But while expecting any kind of local legislative effort seems beyond hope, what is striking in the current instance is the resounding silence and complete indifference by local public figures toward the victims, their relatives and the survivors.

To date Southwest Florida has been spared any mass shooting. But guns are plentiful and opposition to restraint is fierce.

So if you hear popping while you’re shopping, get down, stay away from the source of the noise or open areas, try to leave if it’s safe and follow all orders from police.

Remember: You’re on your own. At least until 2022 you won’t get any help from your representatives in Congress.

And your surviving relatives shouldn’t wait for any thoughts or prayers from them, either.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Southwest Florida reps follow party line in opposing American Rescue Plan, which passes House

House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi gavels an end to the vote approving the American Rescue Plan. (Image: C-SPAN)

March 10, 2021 by David Silverberg

The US House of Representatives today approved a Senate-amended version of the American Rescue Plan (House Resolution 1319) by an overwhelmingly party-line vote of 220 to 211.

It will be finalized by the signature of President Joe Biden, expected on Friday, March 12.

All Republicans and one Democrat voted against it: Rep. Jared Golden (D-2-Maine).

In keeping with the Republican Party position, all of Southwest Florida’s representatives voted against it as they had opposed it when it first passed the House on Feb. 27, and took the opportunity to denounce it anew.

The 628-page bill provides families with $1,400 in stimulus payments, speeds COVID vaccine distribution and extends unemployment benefits of $300 a week until Labor Day, Sept. 6.

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) denounced the bill in the Budget Committee and on the floor of the House when it was first introduced in February. Before the vote he announced: “Today, I will again vote in opposition to the non-COVID relief package Democrats are falsely claiming to be COVID-19 relief. My fellow @GOP colleagues and I have exposed the outrageous pork and erroneous spending incorporated in this bloated bill and the people deserve better.”

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) warned before the bill’s passage that: “If this fake #COVID bill becomes law Florida’s seniors will be hit with a $30.8B Medicare cut over 10 years. Also, under the new funding formula #FL will receive about $1.2B less in direct funding than they would have under the formula in past bipartisan COVID bills.”

Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) complained: “Rather than stimulating the already healing economy, Democrats chose to turn our nation into a welfare state with more government handouts. This recent COVID ‘relief’ bill proves that there is no stopping their pursuit of socializing our workforce.”

In contrast, Democrats hailed the passage of the massive bill, the culmination of the efforts of Biden and House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.).

Pelosi called the day “historic” and “a day of fulfillment.”


Statement by President Joe Biden on the House Passage of the American Rescue Plan

For weeks now, an overwhelming percentage of Americans – Democrats, Independents, and Republicans – have made it clear they support the American Rescue Plan. Today, with final passage in the House of Representatives, their voice has been heard.

Now we move forward with the resources needed to vaccinate the nation. To get $1,400 in direct payments to 85 percent of American households. To expand coverage and help with lowering health care premiums. To give small businesses what they need to stay open. To expand unemployment insurance, provide food and nutrition assistance. To help keep a roof over people’s heads. To cut child poverty in half.

This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation – the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going – a fighting chance.

I want to thank all the members who voted for it, especially Speaker Pelosi, the finest and most capable speaker in the history of our nation. Once again, she has led into law an historic piece of legislation that addresses a major crisis and lifts up millions of Americans.

On Friday, I look forward to signing the American Rescue Plan into law at the White House – a people’s law at the people’s house.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg