By a vote of 65 to 33, he United States Senate last night passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to make American communities safer (Senate 2938) by regulating gun sales and possession.
Both of Florida’s Republican senators, Rick Scott and Marco Rubio, voted against the bill.
The bill now returns to the House of Representatives for final approval, which may occur as early as today.
In a bizarre bit of legislative maneuvering, the major provisions were tagged onto a bill that Rubio introduced in May renaming a US courthouse in Tallahassee after Joseph Woodrow Hatchett, a former US Appeals Court judge.
The bill expands criminal background checks for gun buyers, bars a larger group of domestic-violence offenders from being able to purchase firearms, and funds “red flag” programs that would allow authorities to seize guns from troubled individuals.
“Many are comparing the bill being considered in the Senate to what we did in FL. However, they aren’t the same at all,” stated Scott in a tweet explaining his vote.
In 2018, as governor, Scott signed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act, which went further than the Senate bill in restricting gun sales and establishing “red flag” provisions to allow seizure of guns from people considered a danger to themselves and others. Nonetheless, stated Scott, “The Senate bill is unacceptably weak on protecting due process & automatically restores gun rights to convicted domestic abusers. That’s why I can’t support it.”
As of this writing, Rubio had not issued a statement on any online platform explaining his vote.
Immediately after the 9:42 pm vote in the Senate, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) issued a statement: “On behalf of the House, we applaud the Senate for passing its gun violence prevention package on a strong bipartisan vote.
“Every day, gun violence steals lives and scars communities — and this crisis demands urgent action. While we must do more, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act is a step forward that will help protect our children and save lives,” she stated.
“First thing tomorrow morning, the Rules Committee will meet to advance this life-saving legislation to the Floor. When the Rules Committee finishes its business, we will head immediately to the Floor. And we will send the bill to President Biden for his signature, with gratitude for his leadership.”
All of Southwest Florida’s members of Congress voted against the bill when it was first considered in the House.
Some indication of their likely votes came yesterday, June 23, after a Supreme Court decision striking down a New York restriction on concealed weapons. Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) tweeted: “Today’s SCOTUS ruling is a massive win for our Republic and the Constitution that guides it. As Justice Thomas stated, the Second Amendment is NOT a second-class right, and this 6-3 ruling sets that in stone. DON’T TREAD ON ME & MY RIGHT TO KEEP & BEAR ARMS.”
The first hearing of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, held last night, June 9, evoked starkly different reactions—though hardly surprising ones—among Southwest Florida Democrats and Republicans.
“This hearing was shocking. We knew so much, but the details are amazing,” tweeted Cindy Banyai, Democratic candidate for Congress in the 19th Congressional District. “My heart is aching and I am so angry at those who deny the severity of this clearly planned attack.”
“These hearings are a microcosm of the division in our country – some define what happened as seditious conspiracy, some as legitimate political discourse,” stated Annisa Karim, chair of the Collier County Democratic Party in a message to The Paradise Progressive.
Despite Republican characterization of the attack on the Capitol as “legitimate political discourse,” Karim pointed out that such discourse doesn’t include members of Congress fleeing for their lives, nooses displayed, or incitement to violence.
“We need to take our partisan hats off and watch these hearings as Americans to understand that our Democracy is fragile and it needs to be protected and defended against all enemies foreign and domestic,” she wrote.
On the Republican side, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) agreed in a tweet with Republican colleague Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-21-NY) that the hearings were a “witch hunt” but “I’ll add something else—[Americans] aren’t going to watch.”
Why wouldn’t Americans watch? “1. Tonight is Game 5 of the NHL playoffs. 2. Most Americans are more concerned with $5+ gas prices & skyrocketing grocery prices. 1/6 is for the history books, not an MSM [mainstream media]-sponsored DNC [Democratic National Committee] ad.
Rep. Mario Diaz (R-25-Fla.) was similarly dismissive. “Tonight’s J6 committee hearing is the most blatant attempt to distract the American people from the disastrous and failed policies of the Democratic Party,” he tweeted.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) also followed the Party line, tweeting: “Rather than addressing all of the crises that Biden created for the American people, House Democrats will be putting on a professionally produced show tonight. This is a desperate attempt to shift attention away from the real issues.”
To come: More on the Jan. 6 committee investigation and Southwest Florida
Last night, June 8, Southwest Florida’s congressmen voted against the Protecting Our Kids Act, intended to reduce the incidence of gun violence.
The bill, House Resolution (HR) 7910, passed by a vote of 223 to 204. It now goes to the Senate where a small, bipartisan group of senators are negotiating the terms of their own gun safety bill.
The vote on the House bill was complex because there were separate votes on each of its seven clauses, or titles, to determine if they would stay in the bill. This allowed members of Congress to reveal on the record which anti-violence measures they supported or opposed.
The vote followed a day of dramatic testimony from 11-year-old Uvalde, Texas massacre survivor Miah Cerrillo, Uvalde parents and the mother of a victim wounded in the Buffalo, NY massacre.
All seven titles in the bill passed with majority votes, as did the bill itself.
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who does not live in his district, voted against Title I, which raised the age for sales of semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21. He then sat out votes on Title II, which prohibits straw purchases of firearms and firearms trafficking, and Title III, which prohibits untraceable or “ghost” guns. He voted against Title IV, which requires safe storage of guns to protect children; Title V, which prohibits “bump stocks,” that allow semi-automatic weapons to function as automatic weapons; and Title VI, which prohibits high-capacity magazines.
He did, however, vote in favor of Title VII, which requires the Justice Department to file an annual report on the people who have been denied gun permits. The reports will include their “race, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender, age, disability, average annual income, and English language proficiency, if available.”
He then voted against the bill in its entirety.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), voted against all titles except Title VII, which requires the annual report. He also voted against the entire bill.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), like Steube, voted against all titles except Title VII, which requires the annual report. He too voted against the entire bill.
At an appearance Tuesday morning with Everytown for Gun Safety activists, House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) asked: “Why would someone be against raising the age so that teenagers do not have AK-47s? Why would someone not want protection in their home so that the children cannot have access – dangerously – to guns in a deadly way? Why would we? Why would we not side with our law enforcement and say these ghost guns are a danger to all of us in our society?”
She continued: “So, for the children, I say to our colleagues: we really don’t want to hear about your political survival. Your political survival means nothing compared to the survival of our children.”
Immediately following the vote Donalds, who has a long record opposing gun safety and anti-violence bills in both the state legislature and Congress, issued a statement saying: “The knee-jerk proposals we are voting on today will do little to nothing to curb the infliction of heinous violence plaguing America committed by lawless maniacs hellbent on devaluing innocent life.” He called the effort to curb gun violence “an unabashed crusade on our Second Amendment” that “exposed the Democrat’s [sic] disdain and lack of respect for our fundamental rights established in our founding documents.”
Steube, an ardent gun possession advocate who waved a loaded pistol during a remote appearance at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, tweeted, “Why are we punishing law-abiding Americans and taking away their Constitutional right to protect themselves because 0.3% of the population commits violent crimes? I won’t stand for it.” He joined Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-3-Colo.) and host Laura Ingraham on Fox News to denounce the measures.
As of this writing, Diaz-Balart, who has switched positions on gun-related issues in the past, had not issued a statement on his votes.
Another gun violence measure, The Federal Extreme Risk Protection Order Act (HR 2377) is expected to come up for a vote as early as today. This is essentially a national “red flag” law establishing procedures for “federal extreme risk protection orders” and is similar to Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Act, which was passed into law in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., massacre in 2018. These prohibit arms sales to people deemed a risk to themselves or others. Such people will be prohibited from possessing, shipping, transporting or receiving firearms.
“There are serious Fifth Amendment, constitutional issues with red flag laws because essentially your property can be taken from you by a court of law without you being able to defend yourself in said court of law. Those are the constitutional issues with red flag laws,” he said.
It is only a matter of time before the next massacre of innocents at the hands of a crazed, heavily armed gunman. The massacre could occur any time, in any venue, anywhere in the United States.
Southwest Florida is certainly not immune: there are lots of guns here and plenty of addled people to wield them.
In the wake of the Uvalde, Texas elementary school massacre there is yet another cascade of calls to “do something”—i.e., to in some way stem the flood of high performance weapons used against unarmed people peacefully going about their business.
Any proposed solutions are certainly not going to come from Southwest Florida’s elected congressional representatives. After Uvalde, congressmen from Southwest Florida have made the usual, pro-forma expressions of sympathy for the victims’ families. But they are also already falling silent and if history is any guide they will vote in Congress against any kind of gun law reform. Then the public outrage will die down and life will return to “normal.”
It’s as predictable as the coming of hurricane season—there will be storms, there will be damage and there will be death—but all a person can do is hunker down and hope not to be hit.
In contrast to hurricanes, of course, gun regulation is a human construct that could be enacted. However, among the three congressmen who make up the Southwest Florida delegation, not only is there no inclination to make any changes, there is nothing in their records or public positions to indicate they will do anything except resist reform and parrot the talking points of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
An examination of their records makes this clear.
Rep. Byron Donalds
In the 19th Congressional District, which stretches along the coast from Cape Coral to Marco Island, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who does not live in the district, has made a major point of his pro-gun, pro-NRA positions. His 2020 campaign tag line was that “I’m everything the fake news media says doesn’t exist: a Trump-supporting, liberty-loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man.”
Donalds’ opposition to gun violence legislation goes back to his time before he entered Congress. In 2018 in the wake of the massacre in Parkland, Fla., as a state legislator from the 80th District, he voted against the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Act in the Florida legislature, which banned the sale of bump stocks, raised the age for gun purchases to 21 and established a three-day waiting period for all firearm sales.
In his 2020 congressional race Donalds received a full endorsement from the NRA and an A+ rating from the NRA Victory Fund, denoting that he had “an excellent voting record on all critical NRA issues.”
Since entering Congress Donalds has voted and spoken out against the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021 (House Resolution (HR) 1446) and voted against the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (HR 1620). (Both bills passed.) These votes earned him an A rating from the Gun Owners of America, an organization even more fervent in opposing reform than the NRA.
On May 24 immediately after the Uvalde massacre Donalds tweeted: “No family should have to bury their loved one because of the actions of a sick & deranged animal. Our nation is suffering from a mental health crisis that is plaguing our society & senselessly killing too many. Erika & I offer our deepest condolences to the victims of this attack.”
Rep. Greg Steube
Another NRA A+ winner is Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), whose district stretches from Venice to the Lee County line and includes large swaths of six interior counties.
Steube has been a defender and active proponent of unrestricted gun access throughout his political career beginning in 2010 when he first ran for the Florida House of Representatives. There, he was a sponsor of House Bill 4001, which allowed the carrying of weapons, both openly and concealed, on college campuses in Florida. He was endorsed by the NRA during his 2016 race for the state Senate and then in 2018 when he ran for Congress.
In Congress, Steube opposed a 2020 Democratic effort to ban guns from the Capitol grounds and introduced a bill to speed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ approval of applications to buy gun silencers. In 2021 Steube, like Donalds, voted against the enhanced background checks and violence against women bills.
In keeping with NRA and conservative orthodoxy, Steube favors hardening schools rather than regulating guns to prevent shootings. On Friday, May 27, Steube signed on as a cosponsor of the School Resource Officer Assessment Act, a bill that would require a national assessment of the number and status of school resource officers across the country. The bill was originally introduced in 2018 by Rep. Clay Higgins (R-3-La.) after the Parkland, Fla., massacre. It passed the House and then died in the Senate. Higgins reintroduced it this year on May 26.
The day after the Uvalde shooting, Steube tweeted: “‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’ – Matthew 5:4. Keeping the students, families, and Uvalde community in my prayers during this horrific time.”
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart
As Florida’s longest-serving member of Congress, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) has a more complex record on gun access and violence than his two Southwest Florida neighbors.
Representing a district that stretches from roughly from Interstate 75 in Collier County to Hialeah in the east and including huge stretches of virtually unpopulated Everglades and Big Cypress territory, Diaz-Balart’s focus has been on the Cuban-American and Hispanic populations that provide most of the population of his district.
Throughout his political career in the state House and in Congress, Diaz-Balart maintained an A rating from the NRA, accepted its financial contributions and largely followed its lead on gun-related legislation.
In the immediate wake of the murder of 17 students and teachers (and injuring of 17 others) at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14, 2018 nothing changed in Diaz-Balart’s positions. He continued to accept contributions from the NRA. So pro-gun was Diaz-Balart that after Parkland he was the focus of an effort to unseat him by former Rep. Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, the victim of a shooting at an Arizona mall in 2011.
As Giffords put it in her endorsement of his 2018 opponent, Democrat Mary Barzee Flores:
“Here are three facts that you should know about Diaz-Balart.
“Number one: he’s taken thousands of dollars from the NRA. More money than any other Florida member of Congress. He even took their money AFTER the Parkland school shooting. After seventeen children and their| educators were gunned down.
“Number two: Diaz-Balart gets an A rating from the NRA year after year.
“And number three: Diaz-Balart voted to weaken our gun laws, not strengthen them. Diaz-Balart even refuses to support common-sense solutions like requiring background checks on all gun sales.
“Nothing’s going to get done with Diaz Balart in the NRA’s pocket voting against our safety.”
Despite the criticism and the passions aroused by the Parkland shooting, Diaz-Balart handily won his 2018 election.
However, he did shift slightly on gun legislation. In February 2019 he joined seven other Republicans to vote for the Bipartisan Background Check Act of 2019, which mandated background checks for private sales of guns. By voting for it, Diaz-Balart was defying both the NRA and the Republican congressional leadership. The bill passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 240 to 190 but died in the Senate.
The bill was revived after the 2020 election as HR 8 and it came up for a House vote in March 2021.
This time, though, Diaz-Balart had second thoughts and voted against it. As he explained his reversal in a press release, the first time it came up he had hoped there would be “serious negotiations” but “the radical left altered this bill and, in the process, made it far worse and indefensible.”
That bill passed the House on March 11, 2021 by a vote of 227 to 203. It is now in the Senate.
At the same time Diaz-Balart joined two Democrats in sponsoring another piece of legislation, the NICS [National Instant Criminal Background Check System] Denial Notification Act of 2021 (HR 1769). Under this bill if someone is denied a gun license because of a background check, local law enforcement agencies have to be notified by the Justice Department. The bill was introduced on March 10, 2021 and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee where it remains to this day.
Diaz-Balart’s momentary lapse from pro-gun orthodoxy did cost him a bit politically: His grade from the hard-core Gun Owners of America slipped to a C. In 2020 his grade from the NRA Political Victory Fund was A. The 2022 grade is not out yet but it will be interesting to see where he falls when it’s published.
Last Wednesday, May 25, in the immediate wake of the shootings in Uvalde, Diaz-Balart tweeted: “I’m devastated by the senseless shooting at Robb Elementary School that took 19 innocent lives. School safety must be at the forefront of our priorities in Congress. I pray for the families, staff, and students that were victims of this merciless act of violence.”
Commentary: Incentives, disincentives and death
The politicians in Southwest Florida and across the nation who have consistently and stubbornly opposed any kind of gun regulation reform have made two risk-and-reward calculations, one political and one social.
The political calculation is that there are many downsides and no rewards for making any change to gun laws.
It’s not only that the NRA opposes any changes; it is that its followers and one-issue gun owners will more effectively punish a politician for heresy than reform supporters will reward him for righteousness.
There was a clear example of this in the 2020 Republican congressional primary in the 19th District after Rep. Francis Rooney announced his retirement.
At that time all the Republican candidates were ostentatiously loyal Trumpers and gun rights advocates, vying to show the fervor of their fanaticism.
Dane Eagle of Cape Coral, a Florida House member, was the first person to declare his bid for the seat.
By all outward signs Eagle was a properly extreme conservative, Trumpist candidate, a rising star in the Florida Republican Party and at the outset by far the strongest candidate.
But Eagle had a vulnerability: he already had an extensive political career in Florida even at the precocious age of 36.
In the wake of the Parkland massacre the Florida legislature passed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. The bill imposed a three-day waiting period for most purchases of long guns, raised the minimum age for gun purchases to 21 and banned possession of bump stocks. People deemed mentally unstable could have their guns confiscated under “red flag” provisions. It also created a program to arm school personnel and provided $400 million for school security and training.
It was quite unprecedented given Florida’s ingrained gun culture. It was a well-crafted bipartisan bill that embodied many of the reforms now being discussed nationally and for once Florida was in the vanguard of new ideas.
The bill passed with majorities in both the state House and Senate and was signed into law by then-Gov. Rick Scott on March 9, 2018, a mere 23 days after the Parkland massacre.
When Eagle ran for Congress in 2020 his opponents, outside advocacy groups and conservative political action committees were ferocious in blaming him personally for the bill. He was accused of “betrayal,” “selling out” and being a pawn of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. One television ad had him in a gunsight’s crosshairs and called him a “surprisingly liberal Republican.” One opponent called him “sick” because of the law.
Eagle fought back with dark, paranoid, violent TV ads and videos that featured him firing guns in just about every one to show his love of weapons and loyalty to the pro-gun cause.
But Eagle ultimately lost his primary bid to Byron Donalds. Just how large a role his supposed “betrayal” played in that defeat cannot be determined with certainty but the race was close.
That’s the nightmare Republican politicians face when they contemplate taking stands contrary to the NRA and it’s why they almost never do it. The gun voters will retaliate while the reformers aren’t cohesive and powerful enough to keep them in office—especially in Republican primaries. And that’s not to mention the pro-gun money on offer from gun industry-related political action committees and organizations.
Until there’s greater personal reward for voting for gun reform than punishment for voting against it, Republican politicians will continue to toe the NRA line and vie for its approval with ever more extreme legislation.
But there’s a second, social calculation that NRA-compliant politicians have made.
It is simply that the occasional random shooting and classroom massacre is just a price worth paying for unlimited public access to guns, industry profits and access to pro-gun votes and cash. In their view, by whatever imperfect means, society’s decision has been made and it has chosen to live with massacres in order to have guns.
Politicians have also calculated that with every massacre and mass murder the horror and the outrage and the grief will peak and then subside and be forgotten—but the cash and the threats and the votes of pro-gunners will always be there.
As for the children, the teachers, the shoppers, the churchgoers and the everyday citizens who might lose their lives to random gun violence—well, they’re just collateral damage.
It’s as though humans are a herd of buffalo on the old plains. The predators take down the weak, the sick or the slow—or in this case the innocent, the incautious and the unlucky. The herd takes note, and learns to live with the threat and the fear. Each member hopes that he or she won’t be the victim next time. Then the herd moves on—until it’s extinct.
In Southwest Florida this is especially true among Republican politicians, all of whose past statements and actions adhere to NRA doctrine—and in which they may actually, genuinely believe. But regardless of motivation, there has never been any apparent inclination nor is there any evident now, to take any action whatsoever to restrict or regulate guns. That is unlikely to change unless the next massacre occurs very close to home in Collier or Lee or Charlotte counties. Even then it would have to be a particularly dramatic and horrifying event to produce a transformation in thinking.
Of course, these are only the calculations within the locally-dominant Republican Party. There is an alternative. In Southwest Florida it is Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai who is running for Congress in the 19th Congressional District against Donalds.
Banyai was calling for four immediate measures to curb gun violence well before Uvalde. She wants:
A federal moratorium on the production and import of high-powered and fast-firing weapons;
Incentives for the state to create local registration for existing firearms and new purchases, requiring initial and routine training on safety and use, and oversight of all weapons sales;
Annual recognition by the state of safe firearms owners and distributors;
Voluntary buy-backs for those wishing not to register.
When she learned of the Uvalde shootings, Banyai tweeted: “I am struck with the same sick sadness as when I learned of Sandy Hook. The community of Uvalde and the kids of Robb Elementary School deserved more than thoughts and prayers as a shooter ravaged them.” And subsequently, “I am sick and tired of living in fear of the gun crazed America the NRA fueled. I do not want to live in this carnage. I love our kids. There cannot be another Uvalde.”
Sadly, there are likely to be more Uvaldes as the year progresses and some may be even more bloody and horrific. But the mechanism for reform still exists through a peaceful, non-violent ballot and on Nov. 8, Election Day, maybe—just maybe—the citizens of Southwest Florida will exercise that right for the benefit of all.
Southwest Florida’s congressional representatives voted last night to deny $28 million in funding for the emergency purchase of baby formula in the face of a nationwide shortage.
The bill, Infant Formula Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2022 (House Resolution 7790) passed the House of Representatives yesterday, May 18, at 9:36 pm by a vote of 231 to 192. All opponents were Republicans.
According to its official summary, the bill “provides appropriations for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to (1) address the current shortage of FDA-regulated infant formula and certain medical foods in the United States; and (2) prevent future shortages, including by taking the steps that are necessary to prevent fraudulent products from entering the US market.”
Reps. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) all opposed the bill.
“It is essential that we ensure the federal government has the resources it needs to get baby formula back on the shelves,” said House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) in a floor statement urging passage. “And as the President said, we want to do it quickly but we do not – we must do it safely, and we must do it with caution, so not so fast as not to be safe.”
As of this writing, Donalds had not issued a statement explaining his vote. However, on May 13 he charged in an interview with The Floridian that the baby formula crisis “blew up in Joe Biden’s face” and criticized the administration for seeking aid to Ukraine when there was a formula shortage.
In his statement explaining his vote, Diaz-Balart tweeted, “The American people will not be fooled. House Democratic Leadership’s legislation DOES ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to put more baby formula on store shelves, or hold the FDA accountable. Instead, all it does is wastefully increase big government socialist bureaucracy.”
Steube was similarly scornful in a tweet: “Record inflation, no baby formula, war in Ukraine, invasion on our southern border, record crime in our communities, and what have Democrats focused on this week? UFO Hearings! Democrats are literally using UFOs to distract the American people from their incompetence.”
The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
A presentation on new districts at the congressional, state and county levels made to the Collier County Democratic Party on May 11, 2022.
Hours before this scheduled presentation, Judge Layne Smith of Leon County, Fla., struck down the governor’s congressional redistricting map. The fate of Florida’s congressional districts remains undecided at this time.
In the opinion Alito argued that “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences. And far from bringing about a national settlement of the abortion issue, Roe and Casey have enflamed debate and deepened division.” He calls for its complete overturn.
Of the region’s congressional delegation Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) was the first to comment on Twitter with three tweets starting at 7:41 am today.
“It is unfortunate that the news of the greatest victory for the Pro Life movement comes on the heels of one of the most profound breaches of trust the Court has ever seen,” he tweeted. “If the report is true, I am grateful that all of God’s children will now have a voice, and I am committed to ensuring that the leaker and their complicit partners in the media will be held accountable for their actions to the fullest extent,” he continued.
At 12:41 pm today Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), released a tweet and statement condemning the leak.
“Those liable for prematurely and irresponsibly unveiling this draft opinion have engaged in a historically dangerous political maneuver intended to intimidate Lady Justice and the Constitution that guides our Republic,” he tweeted.
In his formal statement he maintained that the leak was a crime and stated that America had fallen victim to “culture wars and clickbait journalism.”
In no statement, however, did he address the substance of overturning Roe v. Wade or a woman’s right to choose.
Cindy Banyai, a declared Democratic candidate for the 19th Congressional District, issued a statement saying “Conservative activist justices inappropriately appointed to the Supreme Court are about to send the United States back 50 years. The overturning of the right to medical privacy and abortion care should alarm all Americans.”
She continued: “I stand firmly in opposition to overturning the super precedent of Roe v. Wade. I believe people have the right to choose when and where to start a family. I believe people have a right to medical privacy and decisions about medical care should be made by a person and their medical practitioner, not pre-emptively made by the government.”
As of this writing Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) had not yet commented on any platform.
All of Southwest Florida’s Republican elected representatives ran on anti-choice platforms.
In his 2020 election bid, Donalds’ campaign tag line was: “I’m everything the fake news media says doesn’t exist: a Donald Trump-supporting, liberty-loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man.”
All of Southwest Florida’s state elected officials voted in favor of Florida’s “Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality” bill (House Bill 5), which was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on April 15. The law prohibits abortions after 15 weeks and makes no exceptions for rape or incest. It is slated to go into effect in July and will likely stand if the Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade before then.
Of Southwest Florida’s state senators, Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Naples) has consistently held an anti-choice position, telling Florida Politics in September 2021 that while she opposed abortion she was also uncomfortable with provisions of Texas’ anti-abortion law encouraging civil litigation against those providing or seeking abortions.
“I am pro-life but I am not pro-telling on your neighbors,” she said in a speech to the Argus Foundation in Sarasota at that time.
State Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Fort Myers) reaffirmed his anti-abortion position to the Fort Myers Beach Observer in February.
Asked about Florida’s then-pending anti-abortion bill, Rodrigues told the Observer, “I hope it passes”—as indeed it did.
Southwest Florida’s congressional district boundaries will experience only minor tweaks under the redistricting map (P000C0109) submitted by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), which is expected to be enacted under a special legislative session opening today.
A bitter fight has emerged over the disposition of the 5th Congressional District in the panhandle. DeSantis’ map would eliminate the district represented by Rep. Al Lawson (D-5-Fla.) by splitting it into two new districts, 2 and 3, that would likely vote Republican. Democrats are charging that through deliberate gerrymandering in this district and others, DeSantis is trying to wipe out Black representation in Florida. DeSantis has argued that his map is racially neutral.
Also, DeSantis’ map creates 20 Republican districts to Democrats’ eight, ensuring majority Republican representation in Congress for the next decade and favorably positioning him to take Florida’s Electoral College vote if he runs in 2024.
DeSantis vetoed the legislature’s proposed map and instead insisted on passage of his own, a very unusual move given that redistricting is usually in the legislative domain.
An earlier map proposed by DeSantis was very radical in its changes for Southwest Florida, making Lee County its own congressional district and significantly altering the 19th and 25th districts. The new map, submitted by J. Alex Kelly, DeSantis’ deputy chief of staff, is less sweeping for this region.
The DeSantis map, which is likely to be enacted, makes changes to the three districts that constitute Southwest Florida. Some changes are minor, others substantial. All have electoral implications but would remain majority Republican districts.
The new 19th
Changes to the 19th District, the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island, are relatively minor and the district keeps its existing number.
The DeSantis map takes a bit of territory out of North Fort Myers and moves it and all of Lehigh Acres into the 17th District. However, unlike other past proposed maps, minority neighborhoods in Fort Myers, like Dunbar, remain within the 19th.
In Collier County, the DeSantis 19th extends the district boundary to Rt. 75 and as far east as Santa Barbara Blvd. between Pine Ridge Rd. and Golden Gate Pkwy., so it now encompasses Village Walk, Livingston Walk, Wyndemere and parts of Golden Gate.
This change would put the home of Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) in the district. Until now he has been representing it while living in Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s district.
The severed 17th
The 17th District, currently represented by Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) would be substantially reduced and under the DeSantis plan would extend roughly from the Lee County line north to Sarasota and would include sections of North Fort Myers and all of Lehigh Acres.
Much of the 17th’s former interior area—which is very lightly populated—would be transferred to a newly drawn 18th Congressional District, which would include DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Okeechobee, Glades and Hendry County and include part of the unincorporated Collier County town of Immokalee.
The renumbered 26th and the splitting of Immokalee
The old 25th District represented by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart would now be renumbered the 26th and would lose largely unpopulated territory it formerly had in Hendry County. Its center of gravity would still be in the east in the Cuban-American stronghold of Hialeah.
Interestingly, the unincorporated town of Immokalee in Collier County, which was previously in Diaz-Balart’s district, would now be split down the middle between the 26th and the new 18th along North 15th St., and State Road 845.
Analysis: The DeSantis implications
For Southwest Florida the most significant change from the DeSantis map is moving Donalds into the 19th District so he doesn’t have to change domiciles and he eliminates a potential electoral vulnerability. Otherwise, the racial, ethnic and partisan makeup of the region stays largely the same and favors the incumbents and the Republican Party.
The division of Immokalee is particularly unfortunate for that low-income community of roughly 20,000 people. The largely Hispanic town of mostly seasonal farmworkers was at the far edge of Diaz-Balart’s district but he would visit it occasionally and he requested $987,000 in federal earmarked funds for sidewalk and drainage improvements. Now, with it divided between districts, it’s likely to be neglected by both congresspeople in whose districts it falls.
The DeSantis map has raised vehement protests from Democrats and charges of racism since it eliminates districts with black representation in the north and around Orlando. Democrats are vowing to challenge it in court, which was exactly the outcome that Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Fort Myers) worked hard to avoid when he headed the state Senate Redistricting Committee.
Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has utterly failed the people of Southwest Florida. He has done this defiantly, deliberately and knowingly and will do it again if returned to office.
By refusing to request any earmarks from Congress when he could have done so, he deprived the people of Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, Estero, Bonita Springs, Naples and Marco Island—the 19th Congressional District—of millions of dollars in improvements, resources and funding to which they and their communities were entirely entitled.
These people, like all Americans, pay their taxes. They have a right to get the benefits of what those taxes can buy. But Donalds, by his blind fanaticism and incompetence denied them those benefits. It is as though he reached into their pockets and stole their cash.
Getting these people, his constituents, their rightful benefits is his job. When everything else that comes with congressional office is stripped away, when all the titles are put aside and the campaign hoopla dies down and the media’s spotlights are turned off, a core function of a congressman is to get his constituents everything from the federal government to which they have a right.
In this, Rep. Byron Donalds has failed spectacularly.
He loves money for himself, for sure. His fundraising is relentless and incessant. He loves the money from his corporate political action committees and has raised over $3 million for his 2022 campaign.
But when there was $1.5 trillion on the table for the benefit of Americans in their local communities, he refused to make even the slightest effort to get Southwest Florida what it was due. Indeed, he voted against the entire package.
His neighbor to the north wasn’t so shy: Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), a far right-wing conservative, requested $38 million in earmarks for the communities he represents. As a result, Lee County, among other recipients, stands to get $720,000 for managing a nature preserve.
His neighbor to the east wasn’t shy, either. Rep. Mario Diaz-Dalart (R-25-Fla.) submitted $12 million in earmark requests. Thanks to his efforts, Immokalee in Collier County will get badly needed sidewalks and Everglades City will get a new wastewater plant and pump station, finally repairing damage done by Hurricane Irma in 2017.
But the coastal communities of Southwest Florida in the 19th District will get nothing—nothing!Nada! Zip! Zilch! They will get nothing from the federal government to build resilience for climate change, nothing to make repairs to their infrastructure, nothing for improvements for their people in any way, shape or form.
All Byron Donalds had to do was ask. He was encouraged to ask. He had a clear and unambiguous way to ask. But he couldn’t be bothered.
As has been clear from the day he took office, Byron Donalds doesn’t care about his district. He doesn’t even live in its boundaries. On Election Day he can’t even vote for himself because the ballot he gets shows Diaz-Balart as his congressman.
For Donalds, the 19th District is nothing more than a stepping stone to higher office. His involvement in its affairs and the needs of its people has been halting and hesitant and only the result of outside prodding. In his weekly newsletters he counts his local activities under the heading “community engagement” as though drudgingly marking them off a checklist.
Instead, Donalds would rather play the cultural, ideological warrior. He’d rather slam President Joe Biden and Democrats than make any kind of constructive contribution. He’d rather disparage scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci than tend to the actual health and wellbeing of the people he represents. He’d rather take money from PACs than get Southwest Floridians the federal benefits they’re due. And he’d rather take the time to make endless rounds of fringe right-wing talk shows and bask in their hosts’ flattery and empty adulation than do the actual labor of working for his district and its constituents.
Surely, there were at least 10 worthy projects and priorities that Donalds could have submitted to Congress. Surely he could have asked for aid for the people whose homes were devastated by storms and tornadoes in Cape Coral. Surely, he could have gotten the City of Naples $900,000 to fix its sagging seawall. Surely there were new schools and roads that could have been built or repaired if he had the energy or imagination or willingness to just ask.
There’s no way to know how many millions of dollars Southwest Florida lost this year because of Donalds’ refusal to do his job—and this as the region comes out of the economic pain and damage caused by two years of pandemic.
This is not a culture war question. This is not part of the debate over wearing masks, or critical race theory or personal freedom. This is a clear, unambiguous, tangible issue of getting cold, hard cash and having enough of it to do what needs to be done.
But wait! There’s more!
Not only did Donalds refuse to submit earmarks this year because of his ideological blindness and rigidity but he will likely not submit them if he’s re-elected. In fact, it’s not certain that the opportunity to request earmarks will even present itself in the next Congress.
This may have been a once in a lifetime opportunity and he blew it.
For the sake of Southwest Florida, Donalds should not be returned to office for another term. If he is, he will doom Southwest Florida and the district he represents to perpetually lagging all the surrounding congressional districts—indeed, lagging the entire country—in getting its rightful and legitimate help from the federal government. He will turn the Paradise Coast into an eternal sucking swamp of expenses and needs without any aid from any outside agency.
The boundaries of the newly redistricted Florida have not yet been drawn; they’re hung up in litigation and contention between the governor and the legislature. It’s not clear that the 19th District will still be the 19th or where its lines will run by Election Day.
However, wherever the lines land, whatever the district that emerges, the people of Southwest Florida should be aware that Byron Donalds, if he runs for representative office, will not represent them effectively but will only represent himself.
What’s passed is past. But being forewarned is being forearmed for the future.
We sometimes forget that our elected representatives are our employees. As voters we hire them at election time, we pay their salaries with our taxes and when their contracts are up, we vote whether to renew them. They work for us.
Byron Donalds has not done his job. On November 8, his contract should not be renewed
Diaz-Balart, Steube seek money for Everglades City, Immokalee, Lee County
March 16, 2022 by David Silverberg
Yesterday, March 15, President Joe Biden signed a $1.5 trillion spending bill covering government expenditures for the next fiscal year.
Ukraine will receive $13.6 billion. Billions of dollars will be provided for all federal agencies, public schools, healthcare, housing, child care, climate change, veterans, police and a host of other causes including specific projects in towns, counties and states across the country.
But amidst all this, Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Fort Myers Beach, Estero, Bonita Springs, Naples and Marco Island won’t see a dime.
That’s because Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), whose district covers those towns, refused to request any money for them even though he had the opportunity and was encouraged to ask for it.
Such requests are called “earmarks.”
In contrast to Donalds, Southwest Florida’s other representatives energetically pursued the money available for their districts.
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) requested nearly $12 million in earmarks for his district, the area roughly from Rt. 75 in the west to Hialeah in the east including Immokalee and Golden Gate in Collier County.
Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) requested nearly $38 million for projects in his district covering six counties including Charlotte and parts of three others, including Lee.
To fully appreciate and understand the consequences of Donalds’ refusal to request funding for his district, a brief explanation of the nature and history of earmarks is in order.
A quick primer on earmarks
When it comes to cattle and hogs, an “earmark” is a distinctive cut on an animal’s ear that designates it as some human’s personal property.
When it comes to budgeting and management, “earmark” means money set aside for a special purpose.
And when it comes to the Congress of the United States, an earmark is money intended for a specific use in a particular member’s state or district.
For years, congressional earmarks were in disrepute. Everyone made them but there were abuses, sometimes spectacular.
For example, in 2005, when Alaskans proposed a bridge between the town Ketchikan and tiny Gravina Island, the powerful Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) inserted a $225 million earmark to fund what came to be known as the “bridge to nowhere.” It was seen to be the most egregious example of pork barrel earmark spending. (The opposition was so strong that the bridge has not been built to this day.)
Many of the earmarks were made in the dead of night, slipped into enormous, must-pass appropriations bills at the last minute, without hearings or notice, using obscure or confusing language. Members didn’t have to identify themselves as requesting the earmarks or clearly state their purpose.
What was more, the possibility of their passing depended on the clout of the members seeking them. Powerful representatives or senators sitting on key committees had a much better chance of getting their earmarks included or approved than freshmen or back-benchers.
Yet for all the abuses and allegations of waste, earmarks played an important role in aiding local communities. Congressional representatives understood their local communities’ very specific needs and could seek funding to meet them.
Further, earmarks were a way for taxpayers to get a return for the taxes they paid. After all, taxes are not a one-way street. The taxpayer pays into a collective pot—in this case the federal treasury—but has a right to expect and receive government benefits and services in return. Earmarks made by a local representative were a way to get those benefits down to the grassroots. While the abuses got all the attention, many of the local needs were legitimate and pressing.
The abusive aspects of earmarks and the clamor against them led Congress to reform its earmark process beginning in 2007. In 2009 members of Congress had to post their earmark requests online along with a signed letter certifying that they and their immediate families had no direct financial interest in the earmark.
In the 2010 election, Republicans took control of the House and banned earmarks within their caucus. In 2011 President Barack Obama furthered the anti-earmark movement in his State of the Union address by threatening to veto any spending bill that contained earmarks. Then, in February of that year, earmarks were formally banned by the entire Congress.
Last year Congress lifted the ban on earmarks for the 2022 fiscal year. It started with Democrats recognizing the urgent and desperate needs of local communities as a result of the pandemic. The House and Senate appropriations committees invited members to make earmark requests. In the House, these earmarks were called “Community Project Funding” and in the Senate, “Congressionally-Directed Spending.”
To prevent abuses, new rules govern earmarks: They must be posted online, be searchable, fully explained, the members have to certify that they and their families have no financial interest in them, and members must provide evidence of community support for the project. From an administrative standpoint, for-profit entities can’t receive earmarks and members were limited to 10 requests. The overall percentage of earmarks in spending bills was limited. To further ensure compliance, all earmarks are audited by the Government Accountability Office.
The change to allowing earmarks again did not happen painlessly. Republicans in particular had to wrestle with the legacy of their anti-government spending creed. Almost exactly a year ago the Republican caucus held a vote that, unusually for them, was closed and secret. The result was a decision to bring back earmarks by a vote of 102 to 84.
On March 10, 2021, Steube was a signatory to a Republican letter urging top Democrats not to bring back earmarks.
“Nothing epitomizes what is wrong with Washington more than pork-barrel spending in the form of congressional earmarks,” stated the letter, signed by 35 Republican representatives and senators.
Nonetheless, when earmarks were approved, Steube dug right in. In fact, so vigorous was his earmarking that he came up with 11 projects—one more than permitted—for his district. His requests were:
$720,000 for Lee County to implement best management practices at the Bob Janes Preserve Restoration Project (the reserve is a massive 5,620 acre nature preserve north of the Caloosahatchee River on a portion of the former Babcock Ranch);
$500,000 for the Army Corps of Engineers in Jacksonville to study shoreline erosion in Charlotte County;
$3.2 million for Charlotte County to convert 2,135 septic lots to sewer systems to reduce water pollution;
$3.5 million for North Port to build a child advocacy center;
$2 million for DeSoto County to use sewer rather than septic systems in new developments;
$1.5 million for the Florida Endowment Foundation for Florida’s Graduates in Flagler Beach to help at-risk youth;
$1 million for the Okeechobee Utility Authority to convert septic tanks to sewer systems on Treasure Island to reduce water pollution;
$1 million for Sarasota County to lower the risks of water delivery disruption to residents;
$2.5 million for the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge sections of the Intracoastal Waterway;
$21 million for Charlotte County to widen Harborview Road;
$1 million for Sarasota County to widen the River Road Regional Interstate Connector.
A much more experienced legislator than the two-term Steube, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was far less tormented by the notion of earmarks and celebrated passage of the spending bill.
“This year’s spending package is a tremendous win for our nation’s defense priorities and national security interests,” he stated when the bill passed. Praising the money spent on defense and $14 billion in aid to Ukraine, he noted: “Although not perfect, these bills are a huge win for Republicans who were successful in eliminating left-wing, radical policies while prioritizing funding to enhance our infrastructure, reinforce our military, strengthen our national security, bolster school safety initiatives, and support our nation’s veterans.”
$3 million for Everglades City to build a new wastewater plant;
$2 million for Everglades City to replace the Chokoloskee Master Pump Station;
$750,000 for Miami Dade County to install new sewer systems for Doral and Sweetwater;
$1 million for Miami-Dade County to extend water mains;
$987,000 for Collier County to build sidewalks and drainage in Immokalee;
$999,858 for Clewiston to improve portions of Ventura Avenue;
$500,000 for Hendry County to rehabilitate and improve the Harlem Academy;
$1.135 million for Florida International University in Miami to establish the Aquarius Coral Reef Observatory.
In the final bill, Diaz-Balart had something to crow about when his requests were granted:
“I am especially proud of the $5 million secured for much-needed infrastructure improvements to a wastewater treatment plant and master pump station in Everglades City and Chokoloskee, which were both damaged after Hurricane Irma,” he stated. “In addition to funding for infrastructure projects in Sweetwater, Doral, Immokalee, Clewiston, and Harlem.”
Donalds chose not to submit any earmark requests. When asked by PBS Newshour’s Lisa DeJardins, why not, he replied: “We don’t have any money. Like, we are deficit-spending in Washington, DC.” When she pointed out that earmarks have a long history and have done good for communities, Donalds replied: “With all due respect to my colleagues who’ve been up there longer, I’m here now. And so my job isn’t to look at what has always happened.”
When the entire bill came up for a vote, Donalds voted against it.
Donalds was not the only Republican to eschew earmarks. Of 435 members of the House, 332 submitted earmark requests and 103 did not. (Interestingly, five of the seven freshmen members of the Republican “Freedom Force,” the conservative Republican answer to the Democratic “Squad,” of which Donalds was a founding member, requested earmarks. Only Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-20-Ind.) joined Donalds in not making any requests.)
The change to allow earmarks is not necessarily permanent and could be changed in the next Congress, so members who didn’t have their requests granted may not get a second chance to get funding in 2023.