Editorial: The Naples Daily News is failing its readers and the community—but it could change

May 31, 2022: The last Naples Daily News daily Opinion page? (Photo: Author)

June 2, 2022

The decision announced yesterday, June 1, by the Naples Daily News to cease running weekday opinion pages in its print edition—and, apparently, online—removes an essential public forum from the citizens of Southwest Florida. By doing this the newspaper is failing democracy, its community and most of all, its readers. It’s an action that smacks of cowardice, abandonment and flight.

As the editors explained on the front page yesterday, June 1: “Recently, our company conducted research on how residents view opinion material published by our news outlets. What we learned is that our readers don’t want us to tell them what to think. You’ve grown weary of divisive political commentary that has no bearing on local issues, and as a result, we have worked to eliminate ‘one-sided editorials’ and syndicated national columns. But there is a healthy appetite for thoughtful local commentary, as well as respectful discussion on truly local issues in the form of letters to the editor.”

Frankly, that’s garbage. Of course there are strong opinions and divisiveness on both national and local issues. But it’s precisely in the pages of local newspapers—and media outlets of all types—that these opinions need to be aired and discussed.

And opinion pieces do not tell people what to think. They provide outside perspectives of what other people think so that readers can make up their own minds. Opinion pieces seek to inform and persuade, not dictate. Anyone who feels that a printed opinion is dictating what he or she should think is probably too feebleminded to be reading a newspaper in the first place.

Such feebleminded readers may think when the opinion pages are no longer published they’re not being indoctrinated by op-ed writers. But ceasing to publish opinion also cuts off the outlet for local voices, institutions and agencies that may have urgent or compelling messages for the community—or who simply inform readers of their good works.

What really appears to be behind this is a continuing cutback in the size and cost of the newspaper. It’s what’s behind the smaller size of the newspaper itself and its thinner stock. It’s what’s behind moving the printing to Sarasota and the design out of Florida. It’s what’s behind reducing the comics to two pages from three. It’s behind ceasing to publish on holidays (and so completely missing the big local story of the death of Eko the tiger at the Naples Zoo as it happened at New Year’s.)

Now management is eliminating two pages of opinion in the weekday edition. That means not having to pay for syndicated columnists and cartoonists or having to write original editorials or editing letters to the editor, or, for that matter, having to take a stand on any issue, local or national, that might make some readers uncomfortable.

As for eliminating “one-sided editorials,” that happened some time ago when Allen Bartlett retired as editorial page editor and the newspaper stopped publishing original editorials. Instead it substituted columns and op-eds, including one time a verbatim essay from the conservative Cato Institute, presented as an original editorial.

While saving costs and skirting controversy, ending original editorials was not a cost-free proposition. The newspaper no longer functioned as an independent, informed voice on local events and issues, surrendering its role as a knowledgeable outside observer.

At one time the letters to the editor page seemed absurdly broad. Virtually every letter submitted was published and covered every imaginable subject from the ordinary to the outrageous, from people giving thanks that their cats were rescued from trees to calls to impeach the president, no matter which one was in office. They could be ridiculous; they could be monotonous—and they could also be amusing and enlightening.

But an unfettered, daily letters to the editor column also provided the community with a safety valve and a connection that made readers feel it was their newspaper.

Importantly, the letters to the editor have provided a neutral, non-partisan forum for the airing of concerns, grievances, and most of all, reader opinion. If the concerns have become more national and even global in recent years, if they seem “divisive political commentary that has no bearing on local issues,” well, that’s what’s been on the minds of readers as driven by outside events. A letter to the editor in the Naples Daily News is indeed unlikely to move a president or deter a dictator but it’s at least an expression of a reader’s thinking and together these opinions can show the pulse of the community on important public topics.

Beyond providing a neutral ground for community expression, the opinion pages served as an open forum unbound by the stovepipes of digital media. There’s a huge cascade of opinion in digital and social media, from opinion-based websites to individual comments on Facebook and Twitter but the chief value of a generalized forum like the newspaper is that readers are exposed to opinions they might not otherwise see on their narrowly selected social media feeds or cable TV channels.

The decision to end the daily opinion pages promotes ignorance, prejudice and blinkered thinking—the exact opposite of responsible media’s mission in a democracy. And while there may be letters to the editor on the weekends, the daily ebb and flow of popular thought will be cut off, to the detriment of all, including the newspaper itself.

As it is, over the years the Naples Daily News has chosen not to cover politics in any way. Its last dedicated political reporter was Alexandria Glorioso, who left in 2017 to cover healthcare for Politico in Tallahassee. She was never replaced. The newspaper has simply ignored or avoided doing any original political reporting even while critical debate raged nationally, American democracy was nearly crushed and Southwest Florida was treated to one of the biggest brawls in local politics as a dozen candidates at one point fought for its congressional seat in 2020.

But nature abhors a vacuum. If the major, established media institution in Naples failed to do its job of informing the public of vital news of governance, representation and elections, others would take up the slack.

That’s what sparked creation of The Paradise Progressive, as it says in its About page. It also engendered a conservative counterpart. These digital outlets provide news, analysis and interpretation—as well as polemics and propaganda—from their partisan perspectives but the community is healthier intellectually and politically when there’s a neutral, objective institution defining the middle. If the right and left are to be balanced, there has to be a fulcrum at the center.

So what should the Naples Daily News do?

First, rescind the decision and restore the daily Opinion pages, including an open letters to the editor policy.

Secondly, if page count is the problem then drop the Business section and make it a daily Perspective section instead, even if it’s just a four-page folio. As it is, original local business and real estate reporting usually appears in the front news section. What appears in Business these days are weak syndicated feeds that have little or no local connection—and don’t attract advertising.

Third, get some backbone and restore original locally-oriented editorials, written and/or overseen by an Editorial Page Editor rather than a committee.

Fourth, invite some of the regular letter writers to become columnists to add locally-oriented, regular op-ed columns.

There’s no doubt that the Naples Daily News is in the same economic crunch as its print counterparts across the country. Print advertising is eroding in the face of cable and digital competition and the medium is declining. The prospect is in sight when a print edition won’t be published at all and the newspaper, if it survives in any form, will go all-digital.

But even with that prospect, the answer is not to become less relevant by cutting off an important public forum and weakening Southwest Florida’s already beleaguered democracy—especially on the eve of a critical election. The answer, rather, is to become more vital and more relevant, so that if the Naples Daily News does become just a website it will be an essential one in which the community has a voice and a stake.

As the Washington Post says, “democracy dies in darkness.” And as The Paradise Progressive says…

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Secession, sedition and real estate: Rush Limbaugh’s Florida legacy

Rush Limbaugh ponders secession, Dec. 9, 2020. (Image: YouTube)

Feb. 19, 2021 by David Silverberg

In his departure from this world, Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk radio commentator who died Wednesday, Feb. 17 at age 70, bequeathed Florida two things: his $50 million mansion in Palm Beach (which presumably goes to his wife Kathryn) and the idea of Florida seceding from the union.

No doubt Kathryn will enjoy the 34,000-square foot, seven-bedroom, 12-bath palace with pool, putting green and private beach on two oceanfront acres.

Limbaugh’s Palm Beach home. (Photo: Zillow)

But for the state that he called home since 1996 his most recent legacy was his floating the idea of secession from a United States presided over by Joe Biden. It was an idea that found receptivity among numerous Florida Republicans. (See: “No need to secede: Welcome to Florumpia!”)

Limbaugh did not specifically call for Florida to secede: he raised the idea of secession in general on Dec. 9, 2020 when a caller to his radio show asked if conservatives could ever win over Democratic cities in northern states. Limbaugh interpreted this as asking whether they could ever be won over culturally, rather than electorally.

Limbaugh said he thought the big challenge was winning over the culture rather than the votes.

“I thought you were asking me something else when you said, ‘Can we win?’” said Limbaugh to the caller. “I thought you meant: ‘Can we win the culture, can we dominate the culture?’

“I actually think that we’re trending toward secession,” he said.

“I see more and more people asking what in the world do we have in common with the people who live in, say, New York? What is there that makes us believe that there is enough of us there to even have a chance at winning New York? Especially if you’re talking about votes.”

He continued: “I see a lot of bloggers—I can’t think of names right now—a lot of bloggers have written extensively about how distant and separated and how much more separated our culture is becoming politically and that it can’t go on this way. There cannot be a peaceful coexistence of two completely different theories of life, theories of government, theories of how we manage our affairs. 

“We can’t be in this dire a conflict without something giving somewhere along the way. And I know that there’s a sizable and growing sentiment for people who believe that that is where we’re headed, whether we want to or not—whether we want to go there or not,” he said. “I myself haven’t made up my mind. I still haven’t given up the idea that we are the majority and that all we have to do is find a way to unite and win.”

Limbaugh said all this when a lawsuit by the state of Texas and 17 other states—including Florida—was before the Supreme Court, seeking to overturn the election results in four key states. It was five days before the Electoral College was going to cast its votes confirming Joe Biden’s victory. Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud were threadbare, rejected by every court where they’d been heard and seemed unlikely to sway the Supreme Court but were nonetheless being loudly propagated by the president and his followers.

Limbaugh made many outrageous and extreme pronouncements during his 54-year radio career. While his constant and deliberately provocative statements had somewhat depleted the pool of available outrage, reference to secession brought more than the usual opposition and blowback.

“I think talk of secession is treason, Martha, I want to be very clear,” fellow conservative pundit Geraldo Rivera told Fox News host Martha MacCallum the next day. “That talk is reckless. It’s irresponsible.”

It was on the 11th that the Supreme Court issued its ruling dismissing the Texas lawsuit. References to secession spiked, especially in Texas where the state Republican chairman, Allen West, said “Perhaps law-abiding states should bond together and form a Union of states that will abide by the Constitution.” 

But that was also the day that Limbaugh backtracked. “I simply referenced what I have seen other people say about how we are incompatible, as currently divided, and that secession is something that people are speculating about,” Limbaugh said. “I am not advocating it, have not advocated, never have advocated it, and probably wouldn’t. That’s not something — 32 years — that’s not the way I’ve decided to go about handling disagreements with people on the left.”

Neither Texas nor Florida nor any other state seceded.

On Dec. 12, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-16-Ill.) tweeted: “I want to be clear: the Supreme Court is not the deep state. The case had no merit and was dispatched 9-0. There was no win here. Complaining and bellyaching is not a manly trait, it’s actually sad. Real men accept a loss with grace.”

On Jan. 6 Trump decided to vent his rage before his followers and incite them to attack the Capitol Building to overturn the election—and in the process destroy the legislative branch of government, kill its leaders and the Vice President. The effort failed.

Although he had retreated from secession, Limbaugh defended Donald Trump and his sedition: “There’s a lot of people calling for the end of violence,” he said the day after the insurrection. “A lot of conservatives, social media saying any violence, any aggression at all, is unacceptable—regardless of the circumstances. I’m glad Sam Adams, Thomas Paine, the actual Tea Party guys, the men at Lexington and Concord, didn’t feel that way.”

After Limbaugh

The Capitol attack and the subsequent impeachment of Donald Trump seem to have lanced the boil of hatred, prejudice and rage that was swelling with the encouragement of Trump and Limbaugh. The smashed glass and dead police and rioters appear to have brought home to Trumpers and dittoheads the dangers and reality of violence and insurrection—and that rhetoric has repercussions.

Then, Mother Nature and climate change drove home the point: after all the anti-government rhetoric about going it alone and secession, the deep freeze crushing Texas has made clear that the Lone Star State needs the rest of the nation to survive in a modern, technological world with running water and reliable electricity.

The secession talk was never as strong in Florida as it was in Texas. Now, with Limbaugh gone from the American airwaves and Donald Trump banned from Twitter, sanity seems to be returning. Insurrection has been defeated and secession is not a serious notion.

In Florida Limbaugh’s legacy seems as ephemeral as the airwaves on which he broadcast and his ideas as impermanent as a passing tropical shower. His more concrete legacy lies in his palatial mansion, which is only one of many in the Sunshine State’s pricey precincts.

There are many evaluations and analyses of Rush Limbaugh being written now. There’s no denying that he created the genre of talk radio. At a time when AM radio was moribund and seemed headed to obsolescence (it couldn’t broadcast music in stereo like FM radio), Limbaugh’s torrent of words revived it and gave it a new role. It caught on and made him rich, famous and influential, inspired numerous imitators and created a right-wing mediasphere. He presented and shaped a political point of view held by millions of Americans, no matter how delusional, hateful and prejudicial it may be.

Perhaps the best summation of Limbaugh appeared in a 1999 book written by humorist Al Franken, who went on to be elected Minnesota’s junior senator.

That book was called Rush Limbaugh is a Big, Fat Idiot.

Liberty lives in light

©2021 by David Silverberg

Democratic congressional candidates make their cases in online WINK-TV debate

05-19-20 Dem WINK debateWINK News reporter Morgan Ryner and Democratic candidates David Holden and Cindy Banyai in yesterday’s online debate.      (Image: WINK-TV)

May 19, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Florida Congressional District 19 Democratic candidates Cindy Banyai and David Holden conducted an electronic debate yesterday, moderated by Morgan Rynor, WINK News TV reporter and weekend anchor.

The full 31-minute debate is posted on the WINK website under the headline “District 19 Democratic candidates debate.”

The debate follows a Republican debate conducted by Rynor on April 27, which is available on the WINK News website. Coverage of the Republican debate on the website is more detailed and extensive than the Democratic version.

In addition to opening and closing statements, the candidates were asked six questions:

  1. How does a Democrat make a mark in a heavily Republican district?

Banyai pointed out that she is a fighter who will oppose bullies. Holden said Democrats would present a united front and work together regardless of their differences.

  1. What has Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) done right and what would the candidates do differently?

Holden said DeSantis had done a disappointing job after early promise and his loyalty to President Donald Trump had hurt his coronavirus response. Banyai pointed to Desantis’ loyalty to President Trump as the reason for his inadequate coronavirus and unemployment system response.

  1. For what issues would the candidates cross party lines?

Banyai named climate change and healthcare. Holden named the environment.

  1. If Trump is re-elected how would the candidates work with him?

Holden expressed hope this was a fantasy question and said he would try to find common ground without sacrificing core Democratic values. Banyai called herself “a constitutional fundamentalist” and said Congress had to take back power it had ceded to the presidency.

  1. How can the District avoid another red tide/algae bloom crisis like 2018’s?

Banyai said she would hold polluters accountable and fight for water research funding. Holden called for a systematic change that emphasizes science and expertise.

  1. How can healthcare be made more affordable?

Holden said that healthcare is a human right and the Affordable Care Act should be improved. Banyai called for a different model of healthcare and cited the Japanese system that ensures low-cost healthcare outside of employer plans.

“We absolutely need servant leadership in this region” said Banyai in her closing statement. “The people are most important here; not the powerful, not the people who want to cement over the environment, not the ones who want to line their pockets because of education reform. It’s people serving people.”

“I am appalled by the lack of concern, the lack of empathy and the lack of real thought by the Republican candidates about what is best for this district, not just in the midst of this crisis but in the face of a number of critical problems that we face as a people,” Holden said in his closing statement. After the primary, he said, “We will join together to flip this district.”

“Cindy and I are going to fight our fight, we’re going to make our case, the voters will decide in August and then we will work together as Democrats to win this seat,” he vowed.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WINK News schedules Democratic congressional debate for Monday, May 18

05-13-20 Morgan Rynor debateWINK News reporter and weekend anchor Morgan Rynor conducts the online Republican debate on April 27, 2020.                                 (Screen capture: WINK News)

May 13, 2020 by David Silverberg.

WINK-TV, Ft. Myers, has scheduled a debate between the Democratic candidates running in the 19th Congressional District.

Today WINK-TV reporter and weekend anchor Morgan Rynor notified the David Holden and Cindy Banyai campaigns that she will be holding a half hour debate between them on Monday, May 18 from 11:00 am to 11:30 am.

The debate will be held on the Zoom video conferencing application.

The debate was scheduled after WINK held an online debate with Republican 19th District congressional candidates on April 27 without inviting Democrats. A portion of the Republican debate was broadcast on the nightly newscast and the full debate posted on the WINK News application.

“It’s very encouraging that WINK News has decided to host a Democratic candidate forum,” candidate Cindy Banyai told The Paradise Progressive. “I knew demonstrating solidarity across the party would amplify our voice and I’m proud to have led the effort. I’m looking forward to seeing other Southwest Florida media outlets step up to host candidate forums that include Democrats and more reporting on the parties that is balanced.”

“This is an important position even though this is a Republican area,” said Democratic candidate David Holden. “We’re going to have a vigorous discussion by all sides.”

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

 

WINK News schedules Democratic debate

May 6, 2020 by David Silverberg.

WINK-News TV, Fort Myers, Fla., is scheduling an online debate between Democratic congressional candidates in Southwest Florida.

05-06-20 Morgan Rynor
Morgan Rynor

The time and date is awaiting confirmation but it will be moderated by reporter Morgan Rynor.

The scheduled debate follows issuance of a letter yesterday by Southwest Florida’s Democratic congressional candidates and party chairs calling for fair and equal treatment of all candidates in the 19th Congressional District.

Cindy Banyai and David Holden and the Lee and Collier County Democratic parties issued the call in an open letter, stating: “We urge the local media to host a Democratic primary candidate forum. Some local news outlets have already hosted a Republican primary debate, giving the candidates ample time to express their views and platforms.”

It continued: “We strongly believe that the constituents in our district deserve to hear from all candidates equally, regardless of political affiliations.” (The entire letter is included below.)

The letter charged that local news outlets have carried only Republican candidates and that the lack of interest in the Democratic candidates “appears to be a direct attempt to maintain the status quo.”

On April 27, WINK-TV hosted an online debate for only the Republican candidates. Democrats were not invited. Following questions from The Paradise Progressive, WINK scheduled the Monday debate.

To date the only forum involving all candidates of both parties was one online hosted by the Florida Citizens Alliance, a non-profit conservative organization advocating for a return to basic education. The entire 1 hour, 20 minute discussion can be viewed on YouTube.

The Paradise Progressive hosted two text-only debates between the Democratic candidates on Coronavirus and the Southwest Florida economy on April 13 and April 17.

During the 2018 congressional campaign the Southwest Florida League of Women Voters issued a debate invitation to Democratic candidate David Holden and incumbent Republican Rep. Francis Rooney, setting a date of Sept. 17. However, Rooney replied that he had no availability on that date or any in the future and that all his positions were known. Despite a letter from Holden directly to Rooney and complaints to local media, no debate ever took place.

The full text of the Democratic candidates’ letter:

To Whom It May Concern:

We are writing this letter on behalf of the Lee and Collier County Democratic Parties, and Congressional candidates for Florida Congressional District 19 Cindy Banyai and David Holden. We urge the local media to host a Democratic primary candidate forum. Some local news outlets have already hosted a Republican primary debate, giving the candidates ample time to express their views and platforms.

Despite several requests from the candidates and the county parties, no local news outlets have attempted to put together a Democratic primary candidate forum. Florida’s 19th district is a Republican-leaning district and the lack of interest in the Democratic primaries appears to be a direct attempt to maintain the status quo.

We strongly believe that the constituents in our district deserve to hear from all candidates equally, regardless of political affiliations. Especially now during this national pandemic, constituents are relying on media to cover politics. Unlike normal years when candidates have the opportunities to be out in the district campaigning, meeting voters face-to-face, our candidates have had to take to unconventional methods of campaigning.

Many constituents rely on their local news sources to stay up to date with their political candidates and provide an unbiased view. The fact that Republican candidates have been able to reach these viewers and the Democratic candidates have not been afforded the same opportunities by local news stations is shameful.

We are hoping that this letter spurs the news outlets to do the right thing and reach out to the Lee and Collier County Democratic Parties, Cindy Banyai, and David Holden about scheduling the democratic primary candidate forums.

Sincerely,

Dr. Cindy Banyai

David Holden

Annisa Karim, Chair of Democratic Party of Collier County

Gabriele Spuckers, Chair of Democratic Party of Lee County

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

SWFL Democrats call for local media to host fair and inclusive debate

01-15-20 Holden and BanyaiDemocratic congressional candidates David Holden and Cindy Banyai.    (Photo: Author)

May 6, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Southwest Florida’s Democratic congressional candidates and party chairs came together yesterday to call on local news outlets to host a fair and inclusive debate.

Cindy Banyai, David Holden, candidates for Congress in the 19th Congressional District, and the Lee and Collier County Democratic party chairs issued the call in an open letter, stating: “We urge the local media to host a Democratic primary candidate forum. Some local news outlets have already hosted a Republican primary debate, giving the candidates ample time to express their views and platforms.”

It continued: “We strongly believe that the constituents in our district deserve to hear from all candidates equally, regardless of political affiliations.” (The entire letter is included below.)

The letter charges that local news outlets have carried only Republican candidates and that the lack of interest in the Democratic candidates “appears to be a direct attempt to maintain the status quo.”

On April 27, WINK-TV hosted an online debate for only the Republican candidates. Democrats were not invited nor has a follow-up debate been discussed or scheduled. (Questions on this have been posed to WINK-TV by The Paradise Progressive and this report will be updated if a response is received.)

To date the only forum involving all candidates of both parties was one online hosted by the Florida Citizens Alliance, a non-profit conservative organization advocating for a return to basic education. The entire 1 hour, 20 minute discussion can be viewed on YouTube.

The Paradise Progressive hosted two text-only debates between the Democratic candidates on Coronavirus and the Southwest Florida economy on April 13 and April 17.

During the 2018 congressional campaign the Southwest Florida League of Women Voters issued a debate invitation to Democratic candidate David Holden and incumbent Republican Rep. Francis Rooney, setting a date of Sept. 17. However, Rooney replied that he had no availability on that date or any in the future and that all his positions were known. Despite a letter from Holden directly to Rooney and complaints to local media, no debate ever took place.

The full text of the Democratic candidates’ letter:

To Whom It May Concern:

We are writing this letter on behalf of the Lee and Collier County Democratic Parties, and Congressional candidates for Florida Congressional District 19 Cindy Banyai and David Holden. We urge the local media to host a Democratic primary candidate forum. Some local news outlets have already hosted a Republican primary debate, giving the candidates ample time to express their views and platforms.

Despite several requests from the candidates and the county parties, no local news outlets have attempted to put together a Democratic primary candidate forum. Florida’s 19th district is a Republican-leaning district and the lack of interest in the Democratic primaries appears to be a direct attempt to maintain the status quo.

We strongly believe that the constituents in our district deserve to hear from all candidates equally, regardless of political affiliations. Especially now during this national pandemic, constituents are relying on media to cover politics. Unlike normal years when candidates have the opportunities to be out in the district campaigning, meeting voters face-to-face, our candidates have had to take to unconventional methods of campaigning.

Many constituents rely on their local news sources to stay up to date with their political candidates and provide an unbiased view. The fact that Republican candidates have been able to reach these viewers and the Democratic candidates have not been afforded the same opportunities by local news stations is shameful.

We are hoping that this letter spurs the news outlets to do the right thing and reach out to the Lee and Collier County Democratic Parties, Cindy Banyai, and David Holden about scheduling the democratic primary candidate forums.

Sincerely,

Dr. Cindy Banyai

David Holden

Annisa Karim, Chair of Democratic Party of Collier County

Gabriele Spuckers, Chair of Democratic Party of Lee County

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coronavirus aid, a new Republican in the 19th, Figlesthaler unsuspends, journalists unionize–SWFL’s state of play UPDATED

03-26-20 Pelosi enrolls Coronavirus bilHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi signs the Coronavirus support bill today.

March 27, 2020 by David Silverberg.

Updated at 6:12 pm with Trump signature and Republican candidate chart, also at 10:20 pm with Rooney and Steube tweets.

This afternoon the US House of Representatives approved the CARES Act, (HR 748) providing $2 trillion in relief for Americans and businesses hurt by the Coronavirus pandemic.

The measure passed on a near-unanimous voice vote, so the votes of Southwest Floridian representatives were not individually recorded. The measure had bipartisan support in both the Senate, where it passed 96-0, and the House and was endorsed by President Donald Trump. Trump signed it shortly after receiving it, enacting it into law.

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19-Fla.) praised Pelosi for the bill’s passage in a tweet: “Thank you
@SpeakerPelosi for moving the CARES Act quickly and safely through the House of Representatives, and for your work on this legislation. As Americans, we must come together to defeat this virus. #Coronavirus.”

However, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) still found cause for complaint.  “Explain to me how allocating $1 billion of taxpayer money to fund an Obama era program that provides discounted phone service for people will save lives? Pelosi put this in her COVID-19 response bill. She is exploiting this national crisis to push her politics!” he tweeted yesterday.

Nonetheless, Steube managed to eke out praise for Congress and the legislation itself in a pair of tweets once it passed. “This bill will provide assistance for families, small businesses, and health care providers working on the front line to combat the virus. Although not perfect, and there are many pieces of this legislation I do not support, I think it’s important for unemployed workers and small businesses to get economic relief now so that we can quickly get our economy back on track.”

New candidate in the 19th

As though we did not have excitement enough, yet another Republican candidate is aspiring to attain the 19th Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. Francis Rooney.

This time it’s Michigan businessman Casey Askar. Askar filed on March 20 and sent out a press release stating that he felt called upon to serve the nation.

03-27-20 Casey Askar
Casey Askar

According to his announcement, Asker, a Christian born in Iraq, came to the United States at the age of 7, attended Oakland College, a school in southeastern, Michigan,  joined the US Marine Corps and then graduated from Harvard Business School.

Askar is a very busy entrepreneur. He started the Askar Family Office portfolio, which promotes food brand franchises. He distributes food to Askar Brands restaurants through ASC Foods. He’s involved in commercial real estate through Askar Properties and manages back office operations for franchisees. He’s also a franchisee for brands such as Church’s Chicken and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Askar doesn’t say if he lives in Southwest Florida full time or resides in District 19. His campaign committee’s mailing address is a post office box in Naples. Representatives are required to reside in the state they represent.

“My life is the embodiment of the American Dream,” Askar stated in his campaign announcement. “From fleeing tyrants in Iraq at the age of seven, to enlisting in the US Marines at eighteen, to watching President Donald Trump get elected president, I am so grateful for the life I have been able to build in my great country,”

Like all the Republican candidates in the 19th District, Askar is a passionate Trumper.

“Now, watching President Trump fight the rise of socialism and a world-wide pandemic, I feel called to serve again. America has given so much to me, my family, and my children, it’s time to give back and save our land of opportunity for future generations. Our country’s future is worth fighting for.” His campaign video shows Democratic politicians while it excoriates socialism

Other than his allegiance to Trump, Askar makes no mention of policy positions on any other issue and certainly doesn’t address local or environmental issues on his website, which only asks for donations. He lists no political or government experience.

Askar is the father of six children. He does not give his age in his campaign materials.

Askar’s entry brings the number of Republican congressional candidates to nine and keeps the total number of candidates at 12, with two Democrats and one Independent.

AQUINO, DARREN DIONE 1 REPUBLICAN PARTY AQUINO FOR CONGRESS
ASKAR, CASEY 2 REPUBLICAN PARTY CASEY ASKAR FOR CONGRESS
DONALDS, BYRON 3 REPUBLICAN PARTY BYRON DONALDS FOR CONGRESS
EAGLE, DANE 4 REPUBLICAN PARTY DANE EAGLE FOR CONGRESS
FIGLESTHALER, WILLIAM MATTHEW MD 5 REPUBLICAN PARTY WILLIAM FIGLESTHALER FOR CONGRESS
FITZENHAGEN, HEATHER 6 REPUBLICAN PARTY HEATHER FITZENHAGEN FOR CONGRESS
HENDERSON, RANDY 7 REPUBLICAN PARTY RANDY HENDERSON FOR CONGRESS
MCLAUGHLIN, CHRISTY 8 REPUBLICAN PARTY CHRISTY FOR CONGRESS
SEVERSON, DANIEL MARK 9 REPUBLICAN PARTY SEVERSON FOR CONGRESS
Republicans currently running for the 19th Congressional District seat and their campaign committees.

The number of Republicans running dropped by one when Ford O’Connell ended his campaign on March 19. Another candidate announced suspension of his campaign the same day, but…

The unsuspension of William Figlesthaler

On March 19 Dr. William Figlesthaler solemnly announced the temporary suspension of his congressional campaign and conversion of its phone lines to Coronavirus response hotlines.

“My team has worked tirelessly over the last couple of days to transition our campaign operations into a resource center designed to help the citizens of Southwest Florida navigate the multitude of resources available to help them through this time of uncertainty,” he stated in an announcement at the time.

Normally, temporary suspension of a campaign is code for “it’s over, folks,” but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. New Figlesthaler campaign ads are appearing on Southwest Florida television channels and there’s no indication of any slowdown in his media platforms.

Commentary: The suspension, such as it was, seems to have lasted a week— perhaps in keeping with President Trump’s view of the severity of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Figlesthaler has issued a video explaining his positions and, of course, his loyalty to President Trump.

03-27-20 Fig video
Dr. Fig battles the late Sen. John McCain.

In the video, against an inset of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), he denounces Democrats, whom he says “want socialized medicine,” then he turns to the other side, saying, “while establishment Republicans have failed to implement President trump’s aggressive free market solutions”—and he shows an inset of Republican Sen. John McCain—who died two years ago.

This is the “establishment Republican” Figlesthaler is running against: a dead American hero.

It will be interesting to see if he can win against live Republicans.

Petition deadline

Both Democratic and Republican candidates have been seeking a delay in Florida’s Monday, March 23rd deadline to turn in ballot petitions to get on the August 18 primary ballot. They argued that with the Coronavirus pandemic, it was impossible to collect petitions or canvass neighborhoods. The alternative to a petition drive is payment of a $10,044 fee.

On Tuesday, March 24, Laurel Lee, Florida’s secretary of state, issued a statement to Florida Politics: “As is always the case, the Florida Department of State will closely assess all conditions that affect the August and November elections, including any ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic. We, like you and the rest of the nation, are monitoring the coronavirus pandemic, and we will recommend any appropriate accommodations or decisions as we move closer to the election dates and understand more about the ongoing impact to our state.”

An inquiry to the Division of Elections by The Paradise Progressive received a response that a reply would be forthcoming.

If the state chooses not to waive or postpone the deadline or make some other accommodation for petitions, the congressional field of candidates in the 19th District could be considerably reduced.

Union vote for local journalists postponed

Political elections are not the only ones being affected by the Coronavirus pandemic; union elections are impacted too.

Since local print journalists have endured repeated layoffs and employment insecurity, back in February they decided to unionize.

“We, the journalists of the Naples Daily News, The News-Press, The Banner and the Marco Eagle, are unionizing,” they declared. “We want a seat at the table and a stable work environment where outstanding journalism matters most.”

03-27-20 SWFL News GuildMembers of the SWFL News Guild.       (Image: SWFL News Guild)

The Southwest Florida News Guild, a unit of the Newsguild-Communications Workers of America, was to have held its union election on Wednesday, March 25. However, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the National Labor Relations Board is putting off all union votes until April.

“Newspapers have reached a critical juncture as financial pressures and corporate mergers have decimated the staff of local newsrooms, including ours. A merger between our parent company, Gannett, and GateHouse Media will continue to gut our newsrooms. Even before the merger, we faced stagnant salaries, increased workloads, rising costs for health insurance, inadequate compensation for mileage and, most critically, the inability to retain many of our most talented peers,” the organizers stated.

“The Southwest Florida News Guild is being born from these conditions. Gannett has made bargaining as individual employees ineffective, which makes bargaining as a unit imperative. Collectively, we can fight for better pay, improved benefits and a diversity in our newsrooms that better reflects the communities we serve.”

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg