2022, Florida and the future: Anticipating the political year ahead

A vision of Florida’s future? The dome homes of Cape Romano off the coast of Southwest Florida. When built in 1979 they were on solid land. (Photo: Andy Morfrew/Wikimedia Commons)

Jan. 3, 2022 by David Silverberg

At the end of every year, most newspapers and media outlets like to do retrospectives on the year past. They’re easy to do, especially with a skeleton crew: just go into the archives, pull out a bunch of the past year’s photographs or stories, slap them together, throw them at the readers or viewers and then staff can relax and party for the New Year. Or better yet, when it comes to a supposedly “daily” newspaper, don’t print any editions at all.

What’s much harder to do is look ahead at the year to come and try to determine, however imperfectly, what the big stories will be.

That takes some thought and effort but it’s much more valuable and helpful in setting a course through the fog of the future.

Although there will be surprises and any projection is necessarily speculative, there are a number of big issues in the nation and Southwest Florida that are likely to dominate 2022.

Democracy vs. autocracy

Donald Trump may no longer be president but the impact of his tenure lives on. Just how much will he and his cultists continue to influence events this year?

Although the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection and coup failed, the effort to impose autocratic, anti-democratic rule continues at the state and local levels as Trumpist politicians push to create mechanisms to invalidate election results they don’t like.

Nowhere is this truer than in Florida where Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is playing to the most extreme elements of his base as he tries to ensure his own re-election and mount a presidential bid in 2024. He also has to outdo his other potential presidential hopefuls, most notably Texas’ Gov. Greg Abbott (R).

In Florida, the race is on to produce the most extreme, radical right measures both by DeSantis and members of Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature.

Examples of this include DeSantis’ 2022 $5.7 million budget proposal for an Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Department of State to investigate election crimes and allegations. In another time and in other hands, this might seem like a politically neutral and straightforward law enforcement agency, if a redundant and unnecessary one. However, given the past year’s efforts in Florida to narrow voting options and the continuing influence of Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him, it could have more sinister purposes, like invalidating or discarding legitimate election results.

DeSantis is also proposing creation of a Florida State Guard, which would be wholly subject to his will and authority. The Florida National Guard, by contrast, can be called up for national duty and is answerable to the US Department of Defense in addition to the governor.

These efforts, combined with DeSantis’ past assaults on local autonomy and decisionmaking and his anti-protest legislation, are moving Florida toward a virtual autocracy separate and unequal from the rest of the United States.

The question for 2022 is: will they advance and succeed? Or can both legislative and grassroots opposition and resistance preserve democratic government?

The state of the pandemic

The world will still be in a state of pandemic in 2022, although vaccines to prevent COVID and therapeutics to treat it are coming on line and are likely to keep being introduced. However, given COVID’s ability to mutate, new variants are also likely to keep emerging, so the pandemic is unlikely to be at an official end.

Globally, vaccines will be making their way to the poorer and more remote populations on earth.

In Florida and especially in Southwest Florida, vaccination rates are high. However, there’s no reason to believe that anti-vaccine sentiment and COVID-precaution resistance will slacken. Further, as President Joe Biden attempts to defeat the pandemic by mandating and encouraging vaccines, Republican states are trying to thwart mandates in court. At the grassroots, as rational arguments fail, anti-vaxxers are resisting COVID precautions in increasingly emotional and extreme ways, potentially including violence.

In Southwest Florida the political balance may change in favor of science as anti-vaxxers and COVID-deniers sicken and die off. This will reduce their numbers and their political influence. As their influence wanes that of pro-science realists should rise—but it’s not necessarily clear that realistic, pro-science sentiment will automatically translate into equal and opposite political power.

This year will reveal whether the DeSantis COVID gamble pays off. He has bet that resisting and impeding COVID precautions in favor of unrestrained economic growth will result in political success at the polls.

Will Floridians forget or overlook the cost in lives and health at election time? It’s a result that will only be revealed in November.

Choice and anti-choice

Abortion will be a gigantic issue in 2022. Anti-choicers are hoping that a conservative majority on the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade and abortion will be outlawed.

A Supreme Court ruling on a Mississippi law outlawing abortion is expected in June. There may be a ruling on Texas’ ban on abortions before then. If Roe is overturned, a number of Republican state legislatures are poised to enact their own bans based on the Texas model and Florida is one of these.

If House Bill 167 passes the Florida legislature, it will inaugurate an environment of civil vigilantism as individual citizens sue anyone suspected of aiding or performing abortions. It’s hard to imagine anything more polarizing, more divisive or more destructive both at the state level and grassroots, as neighbor turns on neighbor.

By the same token, the threat to safe abortion access may galvanize political activism by pro-choice supporters regardless of political party. That was the situation in Georgia in 2020 when a fetal heartbeat bill was passed and signed into law, only to be thrown out in court. Politically, the issue helped turn the state blue.

This year, if Roe is struck down, millions of women may turn against an anti-choice Republican Party and mobilize to enact reproductive rights legislation.

What will be the reaction if Florida follows Texas’ lead and enacts an abortion ban?

Whichever way it goes, abortion will be a sleeping but volcanic issue this year. It will erupt when court decisions are announced. It has the potential to completely reshape the political landscape.

Elections and redistricting

All other issues and debates will play out against the backdrop of a midterm election. Nationally, voters will be selecting 36 governors, 34 senators and the entire House of Representatives.

The national story will center on whether Democrats can keep the House of Representatives and their razor-thin majority in the Senate. In the past, the opposition party has usually made gains in the first midterm after a presidential election. That is widely expected to happen again this year.

In Florida, DeSantis is up for re-election as is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), all state senators, all state representatives and county and municipal officials.

DeSantis is a base politician, in every sense of the word “base.” He doesn’t try to appeal to all Floridians but has clearly decided that his victory will be won by pandering to his most extreme and ignorant supporters—including Donald Trump. His actions reveal that he is calculating that this will give him sufficient support to keep him in office and provide a platform for the presidency in 2024.

Trump, however, is a jealous god and has lately been denigrating his protégé, whom he apparently sees as a potential threat for 2024 and getting too big for his britches. DeSantis may face a Trump-incited primary on the right from Roger Stone, the previously convicted and pardoned political trickster and activist, who lives in Fort Lauderdale.

If the Stone primary challenge does indeed materialize, it will make for one of the great political stories of 2022.

The primary action on the Democratic side will be between the three candidates for the Party’s gubernatorial nomination: Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.), a former governor; Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide Democratic officeholder; and state Sen. Annette Taddeo (D-40-Miami.). This battle will be resolved on primary election day, Aug. 23.

On the Senate side Rep. Val Demings (D-10-Fla.), is currently the leading contender to take on Rubio, although Allen Ellison, who previously ran in the 17th Congressional District, is also seeking the Party’s nomination.

In Southwest Florida Democrat Cindy Banyai is pursuing a rematch with Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.). Currently, no other Democrat is contesting her candidacy.

The congressional and state elections will be occurring in newly-redrawn districts and the exact boundaries of all districts, congressional, state and local, will be a major factor in determining the political orientation of the state for the next decade. The Republican-dominated legislature, which begins meeting on Jan. 11, must finalize the state’s maps by June 13, when candidates qualify for the new districts.

If the maps are overly gerrymandered they will be subject to court challenges. In 2010 court challenges were so numerous and complex that maps weren’t finalized for six years. This year state Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Fort Myers), who heads the Senate redistricting committee, has publicly stated that he wants to avoid a repeat of that experience by drawing fair maps at the outset.

Whether the final maps approved by the legislature are in fact fairly drawn and meet the terms of Florida’s Fair Districts Amendment, will be a major question in 2022.

Battle over schools

School boards were once sleepy and relatively obscure institutions of government and education was a quiet area of governance.

That all changed over the past two years. With schools attempting to keep students, teachers and employees safe with mask and vaccine mandates despite vocal opposition from COVID-denying parents as well as right-wing hysteria over the teaching of critical race theory, school board elections have become pointed ideological battlegrounds. Frustrated Trumpers are determined to impose ideological restrictions on teaching and curriculum and use school boards as grassroots stepping stones to achieving power.

In Virginia the 2021 gubernatorial race turned on the question of parental control of curriculum, resulting in a Republican victory. Across the country Republicans will be trying to duplicate that success by making education a major focus of their campaigns. The resulting battle is already fierce and poised to become fiercer. It has erupted at the grassroots as school board members have been physically threatened and Attorney General Merrick Garland’s mobilization of law enforcement assets to protect school board members was denounced by right wing politicians and pundits as threatening parents.

This is prominently playing out in Florida. DeSantis has proposed the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees [WOKE] Act to prohibit critical race theory teaching and allow parents to sue school board members and teachers. Locally, state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples) has proposed putting cameras in all classrooms to monitor teachers. Local grocer, farmer and conservative extremist Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes, has demanded that teachers’ unions be “taken down” by “force.”

The school board elections of 2022 will not be what were once considered normal, non-partisan contests. They will be extreme, passionate, heavily politicized, bare-knuckled ideological battles. The outcome of these elections will determine whether students, teachers and school employees are kept safe from the pandemic, whether teachers are able to teach free of surveillance and liability, and whether the lessons imparted to students encourage open inquiry and critical thinking or narrow, ideologically-driven indoctrination.

Climate change—natural and political

The past year was one that saw some of the most extreme weather on record, clearly driven by a changing climate. Biden’s infrastructure plan had some measures to address these changes and build resilience in the face of what is sure to be climatic changes ahead. However, a major initiative to halt climate change is stalled along with the rest of his Build Back Better plan.

Climate change is the issue that undergirds—and overhangs—every other human endeavor. That was true in 2021, it will be true in 2022 and it will be true for the rest of the life of the human race and the planet.

Florida was extraordinarily lucky last year, avoiding the worst of the storms, wildfires, droughts and heat waves that plagued the rest of the United States.

Locally, Southwest Florida got a taste of climate change-driven weather when an EF-1 tornado touched down in Cape Coral on Dec. 21, damaging homes and businesses.

Nonetheless, on Dec. 7 at a Pinellas County event, DeSantis accused climate activists of trying to “smuggle in their ideology.”

“What I’ve found is, people when they start talking about things like global warming, they typically use that as a pretext to do a bunch of left-wing things that they would want to do anyways. We’re not doing any left-wing stuff,” DeSantis said to audience cheers.

“Be very careful of people trying to smuggle in their ideology. They say they support our coastline, or they say they support, you know, some, you know, difference, our water, environment. And maybe they do, but they’re also trying to do a lot of other things,” he said.

This does not bode well for the governor or legislature addressing climate change impacts this year. Still, even the most extreme climate change-deniers are having a hard time dismissing it entirely.

Reducing or resisting the effects of climate change will be the big sleeper issue of 2022, providing a backdrop to all other political issues as the year proceeds. If there is a major, catastrophic event like a very destructive hurricane—or multiple hurricanes—DeSantis and his minions may have to acknowledge that the urgency of climate change transcends petty party politics.

Beyond the realm of prediction

It is 311 days from New Year’s Day to Election Day this year. A lot can happen that can’t be anticipated or predicted.

In past years a midterm election might seem to be a routine, relatively sleepy event of low voter turnout and intense interest only to wonks, nerds and politicos.

But the stakes are now very high and the dangers considerable. As long as Trumpism continues to threaten democracy and the future of the United States, nothing is routine any more.

The world, America, Florida and Florida’s southwest region are facing unprecedented perils. But as long as America is still an election-driven democracy, every individual has a say in how those perils are addressed.

That precious vote is a citizen’s right and obligation—and it can no longer be taken for granted.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

The Donalds Dossier: Anti-vaxxer or not?

Rep. Byron Donalds in an Aug. 10 Fox News interview, denouncing vaccination distinctions. (Image: Fox News)

Aug. 15, 2021 by David Silverberg

With the COVID-19 Delta variant rampaging through Florida and with urgent efforts to get the vulnerable vaccinated to halt the spread of the virus, “influencers” of all stripes and positions have taken on new importance, especially public figures and elected officials.

Nowhere is this truer than in Southwest Florida and the 19th Congressional District along the Florida Gulf coast from Cape Coral to Marco Island. Here, vaccination has become an acutely intense and impassioned political act. A vocal, hardcore anti-vaccination (anti-vaxx) constituency is demonstrating against vaccinations and especially fears vaccine mandates.

In all this Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) plays a particularly prominent role. He represents nearly 700,000 people in Congress and has special access to a media megaphone. What he says and does can sway many people in this community.

So is he an anti-vaxxer or a pro-vaxxer? It’s a question that should be easy to answer.

He’s…

Well, let’s examine the context, the politics and the record first.

Summertime

Donalds started off the summer very strongly and looked set to cruise through to Labor Day on top of the world.

There’s no denying that his second-quarter fundraising numbers were impressive: His political campaign took in $1.1 million for his re-election effort, an astounding sum for the otherwise sleepy beachfront district.

His staunchly far-right political positions were playing well with his white, conservative base in the district and gaining him national prominence with conservative elites, aiding his fundraising. The money came in from all over the country. If properly managed, some of it could be used to donate to other candidates, building his support in Congress.

He played the conservative martyr when the Congressional Black Caucus ignored his application to join. He had a greatly exploitable issue in opposing critical race theory, on which he had particular credibility. His adamant denunciations resonated with his base and his donors on the eve of a new school year. He stoked paranoid fear of liberal radicalism, driving donations and advancing the Republican agenda.

He was getting plenty of softball publicity in the right-wing media sphere and when he was critically scrutinized by traditional, mainstream media, he could discredit or dismiss the results. He had some useful pictures showing himself being blessed by Donald Trump, presumably making Trumpers happy.

He was at last showing concern about the district’s water issues, sending out letters to the Army Corps of Engineers regarding Lake Okeechobee releases and participating or hosting conferences on water management solutions. It was gaining him local environmental credibility, or at the very least, publicity.

His longstanding anti-masking efforts seemed justified as COVID receded and the pandemic appeared to be over. He had staunchly supported Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) opposition to masks, mandates or lockdowns and Florida was booming economically.

What was more, he could piggyback on DeSantis’ popularity. The governor’s polling numbers were very high among Republicans and might provide Donalds some nice coattails to ride in the next election.

Senate seats might also be opening up that Donalds could pursue. Then, who knows? Perhaps Donalds, currently age 42, could reach the presidency as the conservative Obama in 2028 or ’32 or ’36 or ’40—provided, of course, that the elections took place as scheduled.

A smooth and sunny summer stretched before him.

What could possibly go wrong?

From summer to bummer

Donalds won the 2020 Republican nomination for Congress in the 19th District after a strenuous nine-person primary that saw the candidates scrambling to out-Trump each other.

As they competed to be Trumpier than Trump, they aped the former president’s casual and dismissive approach to the COVID outbreak.

Donalds was particularly active in this regard. He opposed masking and took the time and made the effort to show up in person to oppose mask mandates whenever they arose. This included appearances in Cape Coral and before the Collier County Commission.

“You have no authority to mandate what people can put on their body. The fear people are having doesn’t justify it,” Donalds said when he spoke before the Cape Coral City Council on July 6, 2020. “As a council, you have the solemn duty to vote this down and get back to common sense.”

On July 14, when the Collier County Commission first debated a mask mandate, Donalds argued it would put “extensive burdens” on local law enforcement.

“How are you going to have them enforce such a mandate?” he asked commissioners. “Who are they going to decide to enforce it on and who are they not going to enforce it on? There are major issues with such an order.” The commission ultimately voted in a mask mandate.

He also argued against mask mandates when he debated Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai on Sept. 28.

Candidate Byron Donalds during his October 2020 COVID quarantine. (Image: Byron Donalds for Congress campaign)

Given all this, it was richly ironic that Donalds tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 16, 2020 when President Donald Trump came to Fort Myers.

Donalds quarantined at home for two weeks and seemed none the worse for wear when he emerged. In videos he made from his back yard his chief focus was on the different exercise workouts he was trying.

Presuming his personal immunity, Donalds continued taking an anti-mask position through his primary and general races, winning the congressional seat he now holds.

Once in office, Donalds continued to denounce mask mandates and COVID precautions and attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, for his warnings.

“When has the media or Dr. Fauci ever been right?” he asked in a tweet on June 2.

 Unsurprisingly, he also praised DeSantis’ executive order banning mask mandates in schools.

“PARENTS must choose what is best for their child, NOT the federal government!” he tweeted on July 30, starting a petition to “tell the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] they have no right to mask our kids!” He also praised DeSantis’ executive order prohibiting mask mandates in schools, which he stated was “putting the power back into the hands of parents––but we must continue our fight!”

All the fulminations against masking went over well enough in July until the current COVID Delta variant spike could no longer be ignored. Not just Fauci but virtually the entire medical community, the mainstream media and the whole weight of the federal government starting with President Joe Biden began urging and pushing Americans to get vaccinated.

But fighting COVID precautions didn’t just curry favor with the base for Donalds, it was fundraising gold.

“Biden and the radical Left are coming for your freedom,” he wrote in a fundraising e-mail on Aug. 12, which warned that Biden might intervene against DeSantis’ mask mandate ban. “They’re trying to use the federal government to FORCE Anthony Fauci’s anti-scientific mandates and lockdowns on Florida and take away our ability to make our own decisions.”

Some politicians might have considered their previous anti-precautions positions a problem given the magnitude of the COVID threat. But Donalds decided to double down in opposing protections.

On July 27, he told CNN’s Chris Cuomo during a contentious interview: “You’re saying that everybody has to get vaccinated to protect everybody. What I’m saying is that if Americans want to get vaccinated, if they want to be protected from COVID-19, whether it’s the Delta variant or the new Lambda variant that’s coming across our southern border as we speak, if you want to be protected, go get the vaccine, I fully promote your doing that. At the same time there are Americans that don’t want to get it; they shouldn’t be forced to do so.”

He also provided some personal perspective.

“I chose not to get vaccinated because I chose not to get vaccinated,” he said. “I already had COVID-19 once, I’m 42 years old, I’m in very good health, I actually get checkups regularly and do all those things. That is a personal decision for myself; members of my family, my wife and three kids, they’ve all had COVID. They’re not getting vaccinated, they’re all healthy. That is a decision they’ve chosen to make.

“If people in the United States are concerned about contracting and being hospitalized and dying, of course, from COVID-19, please go get vaccinated. I will never tell you not to get vaccinated. What I’m saying is: I made a decision not to get vaccinated and it doesn’t matter if it’s you or Joe Biden or anybody else that’s going to stress or want me to get it…I made that decision as a free person.”

The CNN anchor was having none of it: “Everybody should know that about you, Byron Donalds: you’re not telling people to get the vaccine, you are not pushing it and you’re not saying it’s the right choice. You’re saying you’re not doing it and your family’s not doing it and you’re leaving that out of the equation that you can make other people sick as though that doesn’t matter.”

Then, in a head-spinning act of projection, in an Aug. 10 Fox News interview with host Lawrence Jones III, Donalds went on to accuse Democrats of racism and trying to reintroduce segregation based on vaccination status.

“So when you look at what’s going on in the country, yes, the largest percentage of our population has vaccine hesitancy is the Black community,” said Donalds. “At this point I will tell anybody: go talk to your doctor, get the information; if you feel comfortable enough, then go get the vaccine. But the way the Democrats are going is typically what they always do. You see they have no problem choosing segregation; it’s their history. Their way of maintaining power is no different today.”

Then he accused Democrats and the federal government of not giving people sufficient information to make informed decisions whether to get vaccinated.

As he put it: “And so, when you give people credible information, you break it down for them people will actually see: Is their risk of infection higher? Yes. Is their risk of hospitalization higher than someone who is vaccinated? Yes. But the risk of death is still significantly lower than somebody who was in the vulnerable population, whether with the original strain or now with the Delta variant. The White House doesn’t want to give that information ‘cause their entire goal is zero COVID, so Joe Biden can run around saying that he solved the pandemic. Give people real information, they will make decisions for themselves in their own lives.”

Editor’s note: A new study released on Aug. 6 revealed that even those with a previous bout of COVID like Donalds’ should get vaccinated.

“If you have had COVID-19 before, please still get vaccinated,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, stated at that time. “This study shows you are twice as likely to get infected again if you are unvaccinated. Getting the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others around you, especially as the more contagious Delta variant spreads around the country.”

Commentary: Is Donalds an anti-vaxxer?

It’s clear that in his vaccination positions, Donalds is trying to thread the needle between hard-core, fanatical anti-vaxxers who make up a significant part of his political base and the rest of humanity that’s trying to survive.

In his public statements, Donalds argues that he isn’t anti-vaccine per se. He just thinks vaccinations are a personal choice.

That may be true enough. But as he perfectly well knows, the unvaccinated are not only endangering their own lives but those of their families and everyone around them. Defeating the virus is an all-or-nothing effort.

While Donalds may parse his opposition to vaccinations, in fact his actions speak louder than words—but his words are pretty powerful too.

By refusing to vaccinate himself and his family, he is setting a prominent, public example of vaccine resistance. By not verbally endorsing vaccinations, he’s encouraging vaccine hesitancy. These failures to act or speak are helping spread the virus in Southwest Florida.

His criticism of Democrats—and by extension the CDC and the entire government—for somehow not providing the hesitant with enough information is mind-boggling. Since taking office President Joe Biden, his administration and his team have been inundating the airwaves and public spaces with the kind of data, facts, studies and conclusions that were never shared under President Donald Trump. This is an administration of transparency, frankness and encouragement that is trying to defeat the pandemic. It’s people like Donalds who are making that more difficult.

His attacks on Democrats for somehow displaying racism and renewing segregation based on vaccination status are simple, absurd projections that aren’t even worthy of refutation. They’re just pages from Donald Trump’s well-worn book of distractions, projections and narcissistic mind tricks.

What is more, his personal example of getting vaccinated might encourage people in the Black community who might be vaccine-hesitant to get the shot. Instead, he’s giving legitimacy to vaccine resistance that could take Black lives—while turning around and accusing Democrats of racism.

But politically, Donalds is trying to have it all ways: he’s anti-vaxx while not specifically denouncing vaccinations. He is, however, denouncing those, like Fauci, who are desperately attempting to protect people from the pandemic. He presents himself as standing for individual freedom while at the same time standing in the way of public health measures that might preserve lives, especially those of school-age children.

He appears more concerned with protecting his political future and pandering to the most extreme and ignorant elements of his base than saving lives and protecting the public.

This balancing act on the edge of the precipice is not working. Instead, it smacks of moral cowardice and a failure—or inability—to lead.

Ultimately, when the chronicle of this plague is written, Rep. Byron Donalds will go down in history as an accomplice of Death.

That’s not the way anyone should want to be remembered.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

The Battle of Collier County: Inside one county’s struggle to stay in the United States

Highlights and impressions of the debate over a ‘Bill of Rights sanctuary’ ordinance

A packed house at the outset of a hearing on a federal nullification ordinance in Collier County, Fla. Many opponents of the ordinance were masked while many proponents wore flag-themed attire. (Photo: Author)

July 16, 2021 by David Silverberg

On Tuesday, July 13, Collier County, Florida, chose to remain part of the United States, by a single vote.

But as significantly, the County Commission also chose to unanimously reaffirm the county’s allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights by passing a positive resolution that stated: “The county commission of Collier County, Florida, reaffirms its loyalty, its patriotism and its allegiance to the United States Constitution, its Bill of Rights, its amendments and the duly constituted laws.”

All this would seem to be self-evident—but in Collier County, as in many other places around the nation, what was once self-evident is no longer.

Collier County, Florida

By a vote of 3 to 2, the Commission rejected a “Bill of Rights sanctuary” ordinance that sought to nullify federal authority in the county.

Commission chair Penny Taylor (District 4) and commissioners Andy Solis (District 2) and Burt Saunders (District 3) voted against the ordinance. Commissioners Rick LoCastro (District 1) and William McDaniel Jr. (District 5), who introduced it, voted for it.

After dispatching the ordinance, the commissioners approved the resolution reaffirming allegiance to the Constitution.

The votes came after a marathon hearing session that started about 1 pm in the afternoon and stretched until 8:45 pm. At least 122 people requested speaking slots, providing input both in person and remotely.

Both those for and against the ordinance understood and appreciated its greater significance. It would have been the first such ordinance in Florida and proponents stated overtly that if it passed they were going to take it to Florida’s 66 other counties. From there it could have spread throughout the country. Opponents knew it had to be stopped. This wasn’t just about Collier County; it was about the future of the nation.

For the first time ever, a decision made in a Collier County Commission chamber could have changed the nation’s nature—and everyone knew it.

What follows are impressions from the session and the vote.

(Full disclosure: This author was one of the speakers opposing the ordinance and the drafter of the resolution reaffirming loyalty to the Constitution and Bill of Rights.)

(The entire 4-hour and 30-minute video of the hearing portion of the Commission meeting can be viewed here.)

(To see previous coverage of the ordinance, see A license for lawlessness: Collier County, Florida’s proposed “sanctuary ordinance” and a better way forward and Sanctuary in America: Haven or insurrection by other means?)

The bombshell

Anyone who came to the meeting should have been prepared for all kinds of fireworks. As a sign of the drama to come, proponents, many wearing flag-related clothing and paraphernalia, were outside the Commission building bright and early before the session began with signs advocating a “yes” vote.

They had reason to be confident. A June 22 meeting when the Commission voted to consider the ordinance had gone their way. At that meeting the ordinance received the endorsement of the district’s congressman, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), and the county’s top law enforcement officer, Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. It was also endorsed by state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples) who sent a surrogate to express his support. At that meeting all the public speakers were in favor of the ordinance and not a single member of the public opposed it.

At the June meeting Commissioner McDaniel fulsomely introduced the ordinance and LoCastro made favorable remarks. Although Saunders said he wasn’t committed to the ordinance, he voted for its consideration and it seemed as though he could be swayed—or pressured—to vote in favor.

Other than the opponents who showed up this time, there was no reason to expect that the ordinance might not sail through on a similar 3 to 2 vote again. All the big guns lined up in their favor.

Nor did they just rely on their numbers or enthusiasm to get their way. Prior to this hearing they gathered in the hallway outside the Commission chamber to hold a prayer meeting and invoke Jesus’ assistance in swaying the commissioners.

Proponents of the nullification ordinance spend a moment in prayer in the hallway of the county Commission meeting room before the hearing begins. (Photo: author)

But if there was any single bombshell dropped during the July 13 hearing, it came when County Attorney Jeffrey Klatzkow rose to provide his analysis of the legal and fiscal impacts of the ordinance.

Scholarly, legalistic and calm, Klatzkow delivered the news that the ordinance would strip  institutional immunity from the county’s five commissioners, five constitutional officers and five school board members, as well as staff.

In other words, under the ordinance, if they carried out actions that aided the federal government in what was considered a violation of the Bill of Rights by an aggrieved party they could be personally sued. The plaintiff might not win in court but the defendants would have to pay court costs out of their own pockets.

Jeffrey Klatzkow

“The big issue here is not going to be damages,” Klatzkow said. “It’s going to be attorney’s fees. There is an incentive for attorneys to bring actions under this because every hour they put in is an hour they can bill.” 

It didn’t take much imagination to see where that could lead: commissioners and county officials could be sued into bankruptcy simply for making the county function through otherwise legal official actions.

Although Klatzkow didn’t say it, it was clear that the ordinance could bring the whole county to a halt and destroy the county government itself. In response to a question from Solis, Klatzkow mentioned that the Supervisor of Elections would be liable as a constitutional officer—and any observer could foresee lawsuits like this making elections impossible.

An observer could also see the impact of Klatzkow’s analysis sink in on the faces of the commissioners—but he wasn’t done yet.

Collier County, like virtually every jurisdiction in the country, relies on federal financial grants to pay for a wide variety of functions. But federal grants don’t come without strings; in this case with numerous rules and regulations governing oversight, receipt, performance and a wide variety of other requirements and conditions.

Klatzkow dramatically demonstrated just how many strings were attached by displaying five, single-spaced pages of rules and regulations that he projected to the chamber, one after the other.

If Collier County removed itself from federal jurisdiction it would lose all those grants, all that money, Klatzkow warned.

He didn’t say it aloud, but it was clear that passing the ordinance would beggar an otherwise affluent and prosperous county.

If Klatzkow wanted to make an impression, he certainly did.

The proponents

Klatzkow’s presentation put the ordinance’s proponents on the defensive. It was clear from the presentations of the key advocates who followed Klatzkow that they had to move the commissioners away from contemplating the potentially devastating fiscal impact of passing the ordinance.

James Rosenberger

The first public speaker to try to do this was James Rosenberger, a tall, stooped county resident who launched the petition for the ordinance and gained 5,000 signatures. His tactic was to compare the ease and safety of the current commissioners with the revolutionaries who put their lives on the line to rebel against the British in 1776. They should do the same now, he argued, and ignore the possible unintended consequences of passing the ordinance.

“You can lead, follow or get out of the way,” he said, drawing on what he said was a firefighting mantra in his experience. “If you’re incapable of leading today maybe this job isn’t for you and I suggest along with ‘we the people’ that you get out of the way, step down and make room for someone who will lead us like our forefathers did almost 250 years ago.”

Having now threatened and insulted the people he was trying to convince, Rosenberger made way for his wife, Carol DiPaolo, who traced the origins of the nullification ordinance movement to a meeting of seven concerned friends from a variety of backgrounds. They had gathered to share their “concern, anxiety, fear and anger”—over measures like mask mandates, gun restrictions, and “President Biden and his pen.”

Carol DiPaolo

In the Spring, the group collected signatures to create a 2nd Amendment sanctuary in Collier County but were rebuffed by the county Commission. However they were contacted by Keith Flaugh of the conservative Florida Citizens Alliance and people from The Alamo gun range and store in Naples, whom they hadn’t previously known. With the aid of “prominent” Collier County supporters the nullification ordinance was drawn up and presented at the June 22 meeting. DiPaolo urged the commissioners to pass it now.

From DiPaolo onward, the proponents held the floor, with one exception: Undersheriff Col. Jim Bloom of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, who was standing in for Rambosk.

Bloom testified that the ordinance was enforceable like any other law in the county but when asked by Solis what procedure the office would follow to enforce it, he said the office would contact the state’s attorney to prosecute violations.

Bloom and Rambosk may not have intended it but that procedure set up an effective Catch-22, wherein they were seeking a higher authority to enforce and prosecute an essentially unconstitutional ordinance that didn’t recognize higher authority.

What was more, Solis said he had called the state’s attorney, who said his office had not been consulted about the ordinance.

But while Bloom’s answer introduced what was essentially an insurmountable “logic loop,” that did not deter Kristina Heuser, the lawyer who drew up the ordinance. She defended its legality.

Keith Flaugh

She was followed by Flaugh, who drew a stark choice for the commissioners: “There seem to be the two factions,” he said. “Those who support the individual rights that you have sworn to protect and those who support an unfettered federal government in control of our everyday lives.”

He also gave commissioners a stark choice. “For anyone of you who decide to vote ‘no’ on this I urge you and suggest you have only one honorable course of action: to resign before you disgrace yourself any further.”

Subsequent proponents spoke on similar themes. State Rep. Rommel made an appearance to support the ordinance, saying he wanted his local sheriff in charge and alleging that the US Capitol Police were opening an office in Tampa to pursue people in Southwest Florida. He warned that the federal government was eroding God-given rights. “Anything less than unanimous agreement will be extremely disappointing,” he said to the Commission.

As the hours wore on the arguments grew louder and while not disorderly became less disciplined and more wide-ranging.

Proponent Beth Sherman used her time at the speaker’s lectern to launch a full-scale attack on vaccinations, anti-COVID measures and the local health system.

Beth Sherman

“We are living in a time of deceit and tyranny,” she said. “NCH [Naples Community Hospital] should not be allowed to provide medical data or advice to this community. They have been suppressing life-saving COVID treatments like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.” She accused Solis of supporting mandatory vaccinations, which he vehemently denied.

“There are people in this room being called insurrectionists,” she said. “Let me tell you that there is plenty of evidence that the FBI planned that as a false flag and it will come out because the truth always comes out.”

Lastly she warned the commissioners: “If you vote ‘no’ today, we the people kindly ask that you resign so that a true leader can fill your seat.”

The opponents

Jane Schlechtweg (left) and Chris Chase (right), members of the Democratic Women’s Club of Marco Island, and opponents of the ordinance. (Photo: author)

Unlike the June 22 meeting when no opponents appeared, this time there was strong turnout by people opposed to the ordinance and opponents may have constituted a majority of the speakers.

Janet Hoffman, head of the Collier County League of Women Voters, spoke for the non-partisan organization when she announced that “We don’t support this ordinance. It suggests that Collier County officials pick and choose the laws they want to follow.”

While many residents spoke out against the ordinance, those who spoke most knowledgably were retired lawyers, some with experience in local affairs.

George Dondanville, an attorney with considerable government experience said, “I’ve never heard of anything like this ordinance. How am I going to do what I’m supposed to do under this ordinance?”

While proponents viewed objections as mere stumbling blocks to passage of the ordinance, Dondanville pointed out that “our stumbling block is our form of government. Our courts make those decisions. Your own attorney sitting over there says that this thing flies in the face of the Constitution. You can pass it if you want but you’re going to get into serious financial problems. Those aren’t scare tactics at all. Please don’t pass this.”

Retired attorney Robert Leher said: “The definition of an unlawful act in this ordinance has no ascertainable standard for what is unlawful” and he had “never seen a statute that was more poorly drafted.” He also warned that passing the ordinance would result in a drop in tourism and visitation because “people don’t want to come to a battlezone.”

“This is wrong in so many ways,” he concluded.

David Goldstein, a retired attorney who served the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in Collier County, warned that “nothing empowers a county with the power to supersede federal law.”

David Millstein, a retired civil rights attorney who also taught civil rights law and served as former head of the Collier County ACLU, said he tried to put himself in the shoes of the county attorney trying to defend and implement it.

“This is an ordinance proposed by someone who doesn’t know constitutional law,” he said. “You can’t make an ordinance saying you’re not going to follow federal law. Why not make this an income tax sanctuary ordinance? It is so unconstitutional in so many ways I would say, ‘Let’s go out and have a beer and forget about this.’”

Speech before the Commission as delivered by the author:

“I am here today to urge you to reject this absurd, unconstitutional and completely unnecessary ordinance. This is frankly ridiculous on its face. There is simply no need for a separate Collier County sanctuary for the Bill of Rights because the United States of America is a sanctuary for the Bill of Rights. Our law is uniform, it is superseding and it is upheld.

This ordinance, this proposed ordinance, has so many problems between the principle and the practical that it is as full of holes as a piece of Swiss cheese. I mean, there are logic loops, you’re going to challenge federal law in what court after you’ve denied federal jurisdiction? There are so many things that simply don’t make sense.

In addition, talking very pragmatically, your lawyer has talked about the fact that this would open you all up to liability. I believe it opens up our sheriff and sheriff’s deputies also to liability. If they try to assert federal law they are liable to be sued.

There are all sorts of questions about federal investigations that might be going on in this county that might be disrupted or hindered.

There is also, you know, when have an Irma, or an Elsa or a Wilma hurricane, if we remove ourselves from federal law we’re not going to get the assistance and the support and the help that we need from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and this can run into many millions of dollars, as you all well know.

You cannot take yourself out of the jurisdiction of federal law.

Now, I like everyone else, am very concerned about the Constitution and upholding the Bill of Rights. I mean, we’ve had an insurrection.

(Laughter and catcalls from proponents, gaveled into order by Commissioner Taylor.)

There is a need to support the Constitution. This is easily done in this county.

Now, on all your desks you have a draft text of a resolution that reaffirms Collier County’s allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I urge you to pass that resolution. It is something you can do, it is something in your jurisdiction and it is something that I think every resident of Collier County can support.

This, I think, will address everybody’s problems and concerns with possible violations of the Bill of Rights. We can do that here.

The United States of America has faced rebellion, nullification, secession, sedition and insurrection and it has defeated them all.

Collier County does not need to join this sad parade of bad ideas, failed notions and absurd plots and make itself not only a laughingstock of the country but to take itself out of the rule of law, which is what this ordinance is proposing to do.

So in summation: defeat this ordinance—this should be rejected and I will hope that it will be rejected unanimously—and I urge you to pass a resolution reaffirming our allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Thank you.

In the end, the Commission voted down the ordinance.

Solis said he was concerned about the role of the state’s attorney in making constitutional decisions when enforcing the ordinance. Taylor criticized the ordinance’s penalties, its unnecessariness, and the conflict it set up between supporting the ordinance or supporting the Constitution: “It’s almost like a trap,” she said. Saunders said that the solution to the concerns expressed by proponents was at the ballot box.

Both LoCastro and McDaniels argued that principle should prevail over any possible unintended consequences.

After the ordinance was defeated Taylor introduced the resolution reaffirming the county’s allegiance to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and it passed unanimously.

To the ballot box

The hearing in progress. (Photo: author)

As Winston Churchill said after the Al Alamein victory in World War II: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

So it was with this ordinance, which was like a spasm of Trumpism in its death throes.

It was clear from the proponents’ remarks that among them there is real “concern, anxiety, fear and anger,” as DiPaolo put it. Persistent fears mentioned by proponents were the possibility of mandatory vaccinations and that the Capitol Police were coming to Florida to hunt down people who had participated in what many regarded as a non-existent insurrection.

So much of their concern, anxiety, fear and anger was generated by an exaggerated hatred and suspicion of the US federal government fed by extremist media. Instead of seeing anti-COVID measures as common-sense, science-driven anti-disease precautions taken for the community’s good, the proponents viewed them as deliberately oppressive infringements on their personal lives and liberty. They clearly feel genuinely threatened by unfamiliar restrictions. What is more, several proponents characterized even the Commission’s authority to pass legislation as “tyrannical.”

But many of the proponents displayed a tyrannical streak of their own, threatening and bullying commissioners and insisting that a failure to vote their way result in resignation or disgrace.

The ordinance was an outgrowth of these concerns, anxieties, fears and anger as well as an insistent demand for obedience to the proponents’ will, all of it rendered into legalese. It was never viable as a law and would have been defeated in court after enormous delay, disruption and expense. It had the potential to seriously damage Collier County government and the county itself. And it could have harmed all of Florida and the nation had it spread.

The proponents are no doubt licking their wounds but the passion and paranoia that drove the ordinance remain, sustained by demagoguery and disinformation. Although one hopes that feelings will die down with time and the easing of the pandemic, the core activists will no doubt seek new outlets.

If the proponents stay within the law the next battle will be at the ballot box in 2022. The votes of the commissioners will no doubt be an issue in their election campaigns. The next election will see whether thoughtful people are in the majority in evaluating their records and accomplishments.

A major disappointment in all of this was the position of Sheriff Kevin Rambosk. A highly effective law enforcement leader, a respected professional and cutting edge technologist with experience as a city manager, his endorsement of an extreme ordinance of dubious enforceability calls his judgment into question. It also calls into question the ability of his office and officers to enforce the law impartially and apolitically. It creates a sad kernel of doubt about an otherwise unblemished and polished force. Like the ordinance itself, this was entirely unnecessary.

Although the struggle over rights and allegiances is not over, one can only hope that it plays itself out within the confines of the law and the institutions established by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to constructively channel such disagreements. As the nation goes on, so will the debate.

In 1787, after the Constitutional Convention completed its work, Benjamin Franklin told Americans that they had “a republic, if you can keep it.”

On Tuesday, July 13, 2021, Collier County chose to keep it.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

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

July 2, 2021 by David Silverberg

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

Cindy Banyai (Photo: Banyai for Congress Campaign)

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

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

Upcoming events to date are:

First endorsement

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

The No Dem Left Behind logo.

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

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

Donalds marks six months in office

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

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

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

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

Surfside collapse

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

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

What was the terrible thing Granholm said?

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm

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

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

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

Unfilled numbers

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

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

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

A happy July 4th to all.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

A license for lawlessness: Collier County, Florida’s proposed “sanctuary ordinance” and a better way forward

The Collier County Commission considers a “Bill of Rights sanctuary” ordinance at its June 22 meeting. (Image: NBC2 News)

June 27, 2021 by David Silverberg

A proposed ordinance to create a “sanctuary county for the Bill of Rights” in Collier County, Florida, is clearly unconstitutional, illegal and—rather than protecting the Bill of Rights—would erode the county’s rule of law and equal administration of justice.

Such an ordinance will be considered by the Collier County Commission at its next meeting on Tuesday, July 13.

On a practical level, the ordinance would encourage lawbreaking with impunity, invite immediate and costly litigation for the county and make Collier County and Southwest Florida a laughingstock in the nation. It would harm tourism and the local hospitality industry as people take their vacation dollars away from a region embroiled in an emotional and unnecessary controversy.

So what is this ordinance? What is its state of play? How did it come to be proposed?

If passed, what are the implications for the county, state and country?

Lastly, is there a better alternative?

This article will address all these questions, draw conclusions and recommend a better course.

The proposal

(A copy of the full ordinance for download is available at the end of this article.)

The five-page proposed ordinance was put on the County Commission agenda at a meeting on Tuesday, June 22.

In broad summary the proposal creates a “sanctuary county” that exempts Collier County and its residents from federal laws and regulations that they may feel violate the Bill of Rights.

Collier County residents are given standing to sue officials attempting to enforce those federal laws and regulations.

In its establishing clauses (the “whereas” paragraphs), the ordinance argues that since the county commissioners are concerned that the federal government is encroaching on citizen rights, “Any federal act, law, order, rule, or regulation” that seems to violate the Bill of Rights “is invalid in Collier County and shall not be recognized by Collier County, and shall be considered null, void and of no effect in Collier County, Florida.”

County officials attempting to enforce federal laws will be subject to lawsuits by citizens. Further, county resources are not allowed to be used to enforce “unlawful” acts.

The ordinance was publicly proposed by Commissioner and Vice-Chairman Bill McDaniel, who represents County District 5, which includes Golden Gate, Immokalee and Everglades City.

The bill was effectively snuck onto the County Commission agenda with little to no advance general publicity but considerable lobbying that saw Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), a surrogate from state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-North Naples to Marco Island), and Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk all endorsing the proposal. At the meeting 25 supporters spoke in favor of it, without any dissenting voices.

According to a June 23 Naples Daily News account of the meeting, McDaniel told the Commission: “This isn’t a political issue, this isn’t a party issue, this is an American issue. It’s something I think we can do just as an additional step to offer assurances to our community. We are going to support their God-given rights.”

Saunders and Solis raised some questions: How would the county determine that a federal law violated the Bill of Rights? Who would make the determination?

The county attorney, Jeffrey Klatzow, raised similar concerns: “We’re shoehorning a political message here into an ordinance, is what we’re doing. It’s probably more appropriately a resolution, but if the board of County Commissioners wishes to enact it, that’s your prerogative.”

With commissioners expressing doubts about the ordinance, a vote was taken whether to proceed with advertising it prior to voting on the measure itself at the next meeting. Commissioners Rick LoCastro (District 1), Burt Saunders (District 3) and McDaniel voted to proceed while Andy Solis (District 2) and Chair Penny Taylor (District 4) were opposed.

It will now be advertised and considered at the next Commission meeting on July 13.

Analysis: The implications

The proposed ordinance proceeds from a flawed premise: That the federal government is an encroaching, alien interloper on people’s “God-given” rights.

That is simply wrong. The federal government is an expression and a product of the people of the United States. It is, as Abraham Lincoln said, “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

The Constitution, the Bill of Rights and all the amendments are the law of the land, administered by the federal government. While a vote or an election or a decision may not go the way some people would prefer, the rule of the United States Constitution is still supreme. It can’t simply be negated by a town, county or state.

America has had this battle before. In the very beginning of the republic western Pennsylvania farmers rebelled against a lawfully enacted federal whiskey tax. President George Washington personally led an army to put it down, becoming the last president to command a force in the field. In 1830 Sen. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts responded to a southern effort to “nullify” federal laws in a famous speech directed to Sen. Robert Hayne of South Carolina in which he crushed the notion of “nullification” (the same term used in the Collier County ordinance).

And, of course, in 1860 southern states refused to recognize the lawful, properly conducted election of Abraham Lincoln and attempted to secede from the union. That argument was resolved by a civil war.

In every Supreme Court decision since, the superseding authority of the federal government has been upheld.

As small and obscure as Collier County may be, its proposed ordinance is very much in the spirit of past efforts at nullification, secession, rebellion and insurrection. It is an attempt to carve out an extrajudicial, rule-free zone exempt from federal law and the Constitution. If passed in Collier County it could spread like a virus to other towns and jurisdictions in Florida and elsewhere.

The questions of commissioners Saunders and Solis are very pertinent: Under this ordinance who would determine that the Bill of Rights is being violated? How would the determination be made? What constitutes a violation? The ordinance doesn’t say—and it probably never could.

In fact, this ordinance is essentially a license for lawlessness. It would make Collier County an area of anarchy where anyone could simply declare that the Bill of Rights is being violated and federal law should be ignored any time they wanted. It would bypass the courts whose entire purpose is to interpret and enforce the nation’s laws and uphold the Bill of Rights.

What would be the result? To use a purely hypothetical example, say that a Collier County grocer and market owner decided he didn’t want to comply with federal public health mandates, or worker safety rules, or immigration enforcement regulations, or minimum wage requirements, or child labor prohibitions, or civil rights laws, or anti-discrimination measures, or pay employees’ Social Security taxes, or pay his own taxes, or comply with any other legally enacted federal act, law, order, rule or regulation. He would simply declare that his rights under the Bill of Rights were being violated so the measures wouldn’t apply and the county couldn’t enforce them. What is more—and perhaps even more insidious—is that he would have the standing to sue any duly authorized official or officer who tried to properly enforce the law. (That would include the county sheriff and his deputies.)

In fact, from a legal and principled standpoint this proposed ordinance is absurd, ridiculous and nonsensical. It seems like the fevered delusion of someone with poor impulse control, covered with a veneer of legalese.

Practical problems

Passage of this ordinance would have immediate and devastating practical consequences for Collier County.

  • It would be immediately challenged in court, saddling the County with the costs of having to defend it. One of the plaintiffs might be the federal government itself.
  • It would put Collier County outside the jurisdiction of the United States and disrupt the orderly administration of the law.
  • It would cripple federal law enforcement in Collier County, disrupting any investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation or prosecutions of federal crimes.
  • Over time it would impede law enforcement at all levels as increasing numbers of residents and business owners would likely try to put themselves beyond the law.
  • It would weaken the authority of all laws, rules and regulations whether county, state or national
  • It would put Collier County in a negative national spotlight, damaging its reputation as an open and welcoming place for businesses and new residents.
  • It would depress real estate values and disrupt the real estate market because federal rules governing the orderly functioning of the market would be nullified and there would be nothing to take their place.
  • It would hurt Collier County’s tourism and hospitality business as American and foreign visitors shunned a place that has declared itself outside the jurisdiction of federal law.
  • It would create division and dissension, controversy and conflict at a time when the county leadership and residents need to pull together to overcome the lingering effects of the COVID pandemic.

Lastly, an observer has to wonder what conceivable benefit this ordinance brings to the constituents of Golden Gate, Immokalee and Everglades City in Commissioner Bill McDaniel’s 5th District.

This proposed ordinance should be defeated.

A better way forward

It is undeniable that all Americans right now are worried about the future of the country, the preservation of democracy and the stability of government. Fears for the preservation of the rights in the Bill of Rights are credible in light of an insurrection that attempted the overthrow of the government, the attempted decertification of a properly conducted election and increasing restrictions on voting.

It is commendable that residents of Collier County and county commissioners want to uphold the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.

In contrast to the poorly conceived proposed ordinance there is a perfectly legal and proper way to express their patriotism. That is to simply pass a resolution reaffirming Collier County’s loyalty and allegiance to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the United States of America.

Such a resolution could take the following form:

WHEREAS the Constitution of the United States of America is the law of the land and;

WHEREAS Collier County Florida is part of the United States of America and;

WHEREAS Collier County Florida is committed to equal justice under law and;

WHEREAS Collier County Florida supports, upholds and adheres to the Constitution of the United States of America, the Bill of Rights and the laws of the United States;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the County Commission of Collier County, Florida reaffirms its loyalty, its patriotism and its allegiance to the United States Constitution, its Bill of Rights, its Amendments and the duly constituted laws, acts, orders, rules, and regulations of the United States of America and that these have force in Collier County as they do in the rest of the United States, now and in perpetuity.

It is hard to see how Collier County citizens could object to such a resolution. It restates bedrock principles, it maintains good order and discipline among the citizenry, it reassures those who fear for their rights and it is well within the legal authority of the County Commission to approve.

Out of this controversy, if it is willing, by passing this resolution, Collier County can make a positive contribution to its citizens, the state of Florida and the country as a whole.


The County Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, July 13 at 9:00 am. Public petition speakers are limited to ten minutes and general address speakers to 3 minutes. The Commission Chambers and Commissioners’ offices are located on the third floor of the Administration Building at 3299 Tamiami Trail East, Suite 303, Naples, Fla.

Meetings are also aired live on Collier Television CTV and are available online via Video On Demand.

To reach commissioners:

Rick LoCastro

Andy Solis

Burt Saunders

Penny Taylor
Chair

William L. McDaniel, Jr.

The full text of the proposed ordinance:

To come: An examination of sanctuary movements past and present

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

The Donalds Dossier: Martyr or mere minion? Clashing with the Congressional Black Caucus

Rep. Byron Donalds reaffirms his support for Donald Trump on Trump’s 75th birthday, June 14. (Photo: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

June 18, 2021 by David Silverberg

Is Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) a martyr—or a mere minion of the Republican Party and Donald Trump?

That’s the decision the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has been facing when considering Donalds’ application to join the 56-member congressional caucus.

Donalds first applied to join the group when he took office in January. Since then his application has been pending, with no word on its fate.

Kadia Goba (Photo: BuzzFeed)

Then on June 9, reporter Kadia Goba of BuzzFeed News reported that Donalds was being blocked from joining the group in the article: “The Congressional Black Caucus Is Blocking A Black Republican From Joining The Group.”

Donalds has been exploiting the snub to charge that the CBC is anti-Republican.

“The Congressional Black Caucus has a stated commitment to ensuring Black Americans have the opportunity to achieve the American Dream. As a newly elected Black Member of Congress, my political party should not exempt me from a seat at the table dedicated to achieving this goal,” Donalds told NBC News.

But the CBC answered with a statement of its own: “The Congressional Black Caucus remains committed to fighting for issues that support Black communities, including the police accountability bill, protecting voting rights, and a jobs bill that helps our communities,’ stated an unnamed spokesperson, who did not mention Donalds by name. “We will work with those who share our values and priorities for the constituents we serve.”

So is Donalds a martyr as he claims? Or is this alleged snub just a result of the positions he’s taken and the values he holds?

A CBC primer

An outgrowth of the civil rights movement and the election of Black representatives in the 1960s, the Congressional Black Caucus was founded in 1971 with 13 members, according to its official history.

It was embattled from the beginning. President Richard Nixon refused to meet with the group and so they boycotted his 1971 State of the Union address, generating national headlines. When he relented and met with them in March of that year, they presented him with 61 recommendations to eradicate racism and assist the Black community. Unbeknownst to them, members of the group were on Nixon’s “enemies list.” Following the breaking of the Watergate scandal, CBC members were among the first representatives to call for Nixon’s impeachment in 1974.

President Richard Nixon meets with members of the Congressional Black Caucus in the Cabinet Room on March 25, 1971. Nixon is seated at the center left of the table. (Photo: National Archives)

Throughout its history the CBC fought for civil rights, voting equity and against apartheid in South Africa. Its members included Barack Obama, then the Democratic senator from Illinois.

“On the challenges of our times…on the threats of our time…members of the CBC have been leaders moving America forward,” Obama said at a 2015 CBC dinner. “Whatever I’ve accomplished, the CBC has been there. I was proud to be a CBC member when I was in the Senate… .”

In the current 117th Congress, the CBC has 56 members, all Democrats.

In addition to Donalds, there are two other Black Republicans in Congress: Rep. Burgess Owens (R-4-Utah) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). Neither is a member of the CBC.

Clashing positions

On its website, the CBC lists a variety of policy priorities for the 117th Congress. Three are very broad: fostering constructive dialogue, informing citizens of the impact of federal policies and mobilizing the next generation of black leadership.

But when it comes to more specific priorities, Donalds has taken directly contrary positions:

  • The CBC is fighting to expand voter access. Donalds has vigorously defended voter suppression laws in Georgia and Florida, calling the For the People Act (House Resolution 1) “the radical takeover of our elections.”
  • The CBC has championed criminal justice and policing reform. Donalds voted against the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.
  • The CBC is committed to “investing in and defending the public education system.” Donalds has attacked public education and, along with his wife, has a long history of championing non-public education initiatives. He argued in a tweet during Biden’s State of the Union speech: “You don’t improve the quality of education (or anything) by making it free. You improve quality through competition.”
  • The CBC favors the Affordable Care Act, stating it is necessary “to ensure millions of Americans retain access to affordable, quality healthcare, and retaining investments in minority health clinics to combat health disparities.” Donalds has long attacked it, saying during his campaign that: “Obamacare is a thinly veiled attempt at a government takeover of the health insurance delivery system, ultimately leading to a single-payer socialist system.” 

The CBC also favors a variety of reforms that are part of President Joe Biden’s plans for jobs, families and recovery from the pandemic. This includes increasing tax rates on corporations and the wealthiest Americans, improving infrastructure and increasing the minimum wage. Donalds has opposed all of these both verbally and with votes.

Additionally, the CBC hailed President Joe Biden’s election after it was informally declared on Nov. 7, 2020. “We show up every election season because to us there is nothing more important than leading this nation to its highest ideals: liberty and justice for all. Today’s victory is a testament to this,” it stated in a press release.

Donalds voted to invalidate that election and has never publicly accepted Biden as president. He continues to pay homage to Trump, most recently by playing golf with Trump and celebrating his 75th birthday on June 14.

Donalds argues that he simply has different ideas and that, as “steel sharpens steel,” his presence in the CBC would make it stronger. As its statement made clear, however, the CBC doesn’t agree.


Sidebar: Love and cash from Mia Love

Mia Love in 2017. (Photo: James McNellis/Wikimedia)

Donalds is certainly not the first Black Republican to clash with the CBC—and he has been financially supported by one who once vowed to dismantle it.

In 2012 Mia Love, a Black Utah Republican running for Congress, told the Deseret News: “Yes, yes. I would join the Congressional Black Caucus and try to take that thing apart from the inside out.

“It’s demagoguery,” she said. “They sit there and ignite emotions and ignite racism when there isn’t. They use their positions to instill fear. Hope and change is turned into fear and blame. Fear that everybody is going lose everything and blaming Congress for everything instead of taking responsibility.”

Love, the daughter of Haitian immigrants, had served as mayor of the Utah town of Saratoga Springs. She lost her bid for Congress in 2012, then won in 2014 and represented Utah’s 4th Congressional District.

When she entered Congress, Love softened her rhetoric and joined the CBC, saying that “change must come from the inside out.”

However, although she was a conservative Republican, Love couldn’t bring inside change to the Republican Party under Donald Trump. In 2016 she called on him to withdraw from the race after the Access Hollywood tape was released and refused to support him in the election. Once he was elected, she opposed his steel and aluminum tariffs and criticized his anti-immigration stands.

In the 2018 election, Love lost to Democrat Ben Adams by 694 votes. Trump gloated in a speech: “Mia Love gave me no love, and she lost. Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.”

She hit back at him and Republicans in a scathing concession speech. “The President’s behavior towards me made me wonder: What did he have to gain by saying such a thing about a fellow Republican? It was not really about asking him to do more, was it? Or was it something else? Well Mr. President, we’ll have to chat about that.”

She also observed: “Because Republicans never take minority communities into their home and citizens into their homes and into their hearts, they stay with Democrats and bureaucrats in Washington because they do take them home – or at least make them feel like they have a home.”

In 2020, Love’s political action committee, Friends of Mia Love, gave Donalds $5,000 for his primary run and $5,000 for his general election campaign, according to Federal Election Committee records.

Whether Love’s support continues, given Donalds’ fealty to Trump, remains to be seen.


Analysis: Color and convenience

When Donalds ran for Congress in his 85 percent white district he barely mentioned race and emphasized his undying and fanatical Trumpism. He had to get his voters to look past the color of his skin and he did. It was an undeniable accomplishment but perhaps less surprising in a post-Obama era than it would have been before.

Donalds went to Congress as a proudly “politically incorrect” extreme rightwing ideologue, deliberately defying expectations of a Black politician. In Congress he has worked to advance Trumpism, the Republican agenda and hewed closely to the conservative catechism.

So it seems a bit disingenuous, at the very least, for him to suddenly profess outrage at his exclusion from an organization that has race at its core, which is unanimously Democratic and is overwhelmingly liberal. Why should he want to be part of a club that stands for everything he’s been bashing his entire political career?

In fact, it seems as though Donalds’ application to join the CBC was something both sides forgot about until reminded by BuzzFeed.

Donalds is clearly exploiting the CBC’s obvious snub and using it to challenge the legitimacy of the CBC and bash Democrats. He’s made the rounds of right-wing media with his complaint and finally broken into some mainstream national coverage by portraying himself as the injured party.

In the past the CBC hasn’t discriminated against Black Republicans so much as it has shunned members of Congress who opposed its positions—all of whom happened to be Republicans.

In fact, based on their political positions, Donalds has more in common with the so-called “sedition caucus” of members who voted to decertify the election than he does with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. And it would be extremely naïve to believe that the CBC would soften his stances on its key priorities or that he could change them from inside. This is not a debate about values; this is Donalds pushing for prominence on behalf of his ideology and serving the Republican Party and leadership.

On one point and one point alone, Donalds has a legitimate complaint: He should not be snubbed. His application should be considered and voted up or down and the reasons for the final vote publicly explained, whether it is approval or rejection.

Of course, if he can’t join that congressional club he could join the club at Mar-a-Lago—if Trump is in a mood to receive him.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

The Donalds Dossier: Firing Fauci, supporting suppression, bashing the border

Rep. Lauren Boebert (left) and Rep. Byron Donalds listen to a briefing during a trip to the southwest border. (Photo: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

151 days (5 months) that Byron Donalds has been in Congress

June 3, 2021 by David Silverberg

The five-month anniversary of Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) taking office might have been a fairly innocuous milestone, except that yesterday, June 2, he decided to issue a gratuitous and unnecessary attack on—of all people—Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Anthony Fauci (NSIAID)

And not just Dr. Fauci, either. In true Trumpist fashion he decided to go after the media as well.

“Fake news media outlets like @CNN continue to praise Dr. Fauci as the hero of COVID-19. When has the media or Dr. Fauci ever been right? Read the emails and #FireFauci,” Donalds tweeted.

What prompted this was the release under a Freedom of Information Act request of thousands of Fauci’s e-mails during the height of the pandemic.

It’s not clear which CNN report on the e-mails aroused Donalds’ ire, since there have been a number of them. But one CNN commentary by Dr. Megan Ranney, an associate professor of emergency medicine and a CNN medical analyst, praised the doctor.

“Throughout [the e-mails], his on-paper voice sounds just like his television voice,” stated Ranney. “He is humble, curious and committed. My takeaway? He is just like us—or, at least, he’s how most of us like to imagine ourselves to be, on our best days.”

That would be in stark contrast to Donalds’ idol, Donald Trump, for whom the words “humble, curious and committed” could never apply.

But Donalds saying that Fauci has never been right is pretty rich coming from a man who contracted COVID last October. It was a failing in the eyes of Trump that prompted him to ignore Donalds’ existence when Trump passed through Fort Myers in October 2020.

Donalds, a vehement anti-masker at home, in the halls of the Capitol and in the council rooms of Southwest Florida who to date has not revealed whether he’s received any vaccine or will be getting any, was lucky to recover without too much damage. The same cannot be said for the 1,046 people in Lee County and 571 in Collier County who have died from this scourge (based on Rebekah Jones’ figures).

What’s most surprising about Donalds’ tweet is that it was completely unnecessary, brought him no political capital or advantage with the possible exception of COVID-deniers like Alfie Oakes, and puts him on the side of lunatic fringe for whom Donald Trump is always right and people who rely on facts and data, like Fauci, must always be wrong.

But then again, that’s where he was anyway.

Out of the bubble, into The Times

Astead Herndon (NYT)

On May 22, Donalds finally stepped out of the right-wing media bubble he’d carefully inhabited. The New York Times published an interview conducted by reporter Astead Herndon, in which Donalds insistently defended Florida and Georgia’s voter suppression laws.

Donalds said that one of the best aspects of Florida’s new law was getting rid of “ballot harvesting,” collecting other peoples’ ballots to cast them.

“You know, I think the process we have now going forward in our state is actually a good one,” said Donalds. “Everybody’s free to request their ballot. They prove who they are, that’s a good thing. They receive their ballot, they vote. It’s all about security.”

“Ballot harvesting was already outlawed in parts of the state,” pointed out Herndon. “And new lawsuits claim that the real impact of the identification measures will be another barrier suppressing Black and Latino voters. What’s your response to that?”

“I don’t pay any attention to those claims,” responded Donalds, who went on to say that he believed the state law would be upheld in court.

A reader can sense Herndon’s mounting frustration and growing skepticism as the questioning went on but Donalds remained adamant. As any experienced interviewer knows, sometimes short of grabbing a subject by the lapels and screaming “you’re wrong!” there’s not much an objective journalist can do to shake the truth out of an obdurate subject. Being a reporter for a credible, objective newspaper, Herndon wasn’t about to do that.

At least Donalds’ opinions are now on the record somewhere beyond the Trumpisphere, regardless of what Donalds thinks of the real media’s credibility.

Grassroots, water and the border

Beyond these events, Donalds was careful during the past month to tend to the grassroots in his district. Apparently sensitive to criticism that he was neglecting Southwest Florida in his quest for publicity and ideological prominence and sacrificing local concerns in favor of endless bashing of President Joe Biden’s attempts to help Americans and end the pandemic, he made some efforts toward reaching out to local groups who would give him a favorable reception.

Southwest Florida is facing a summer water crisis and Donalds duly visited Lake Okeechobee with other Republican lawmakers during the past month. However, when water advocates gathered at Moore Haven to advocate for a particular water release plan by the Army Corps of Engineers, Donalds sent a surrogate.

However, he himself headed to the Southwest US border with Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-3-Colo.), another extremist member of Congress, to denounce Biden border policy, as part of the general and ongoing Republican offensive.

Legislatively, Donalds’ Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act made no progress in House committees. He did, however, finally introduce some text to his other legislation, the RESCUE Act. However, since passage of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, that proposal is largely moot. A third piece of legislation, introduced on May 7, to prevent sharing trade information with the World Trade Organization, had not received any text from Donalds.

Donalds, who sits on the House Budget Committee, has now moved on to denouncing the administration’s budget proposal and taxes on the ultra-wealthy and corporations to pay for it.

With the arrival of June 1, Donalds now goes into his first hurricane season as a member of Congress. He’s already been part of the insurrectionist political storm. It will be interesting to see how he weathers storms from nature.

523 days (1 year, 5 months, 5 days) until Election Day

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

Water warning: The politics of red tide, algae and lessons from the Big Bloom

Demonstrators demanding action to combat red tide protest a campaign appearance by then-Gov. Rick Scott in Venice, Fla., in 2018. (Image: Indivisble SWFL)

May 26, 2021 by David Silverberg

–Updated May 27 with new link to Stafford Act

This summer Southwest Florida seems headed for a Big Bloom on the order of 2018’s disastrous summer.

Blue-green algae is flowing down the Caloosahatchee River as a result of Lake Okeechobee water releases.

Red tide is blooming in the Gulf of Mexico. This year there’s the added threat of blooms as a result of the dumping of millions of gallons of polluted water to relieve pressure on the Piney Point wastewater pond, or “stack” near Tampa. This has likely fed blooms in that area that could drift southward.

People living along the Caloosahatchee are already breathing the toxins and smelling the stench. Red tide alerts have been issued along the beaches.

All disasters—and harmful algal blooms (HABs) are disasters just as much as hurricanes—have political implications. What will be the political impact if there’s a big bloom this year? Were any lessons learned from 2018 and are they being applied? How will Southwest Florida’s politicians react this time around? And can anything be done differently—and better?

Recapping 2018

In 2018 Southwest Florida experienced an extremely heavy concentration of river algae and Gulf red tide at the same time. It went on for roughly a year, first appearing in October 2017 and then intensifying and peaking in the summer of 2018, finally breaking up in the late fall.

Red tide is naturally occurring in the Gulf and had appeared and broken up before without any major impact on the region. River algal blooms had been minor inconveniences. This was not expected to be any different.

But these blooms lingered and intensified. In contrast to 2017, which had seen Hurricane Irma and lesser storms in the region, there were no major storms in 2018, which may have allowed the blooms to fester. The extremely heavy rainfall of 2017 may have been a contributing factor. The precise relationship between tropical storms and algal blooms remains unclear.

The Big Bloom didn’t just ruin a few peoples’ beach time or boat trips; it was significantly damaging to the area’s economy. It became a national story that dampened tourism and reduced hotel occupancy. Based on surveys filled out by area businesses, 152 or 92 percent of surveyed business owners stated they had lost business due to the red tide in the Gulf. Of them, 126 or 76 percent stated they had lost $500,000 or more. Others estimated losses between $20,000 and $2,000.

The bloom was also a serious health hazard to those who lived along waterways and had no means of escape.

Authorities at all levels were slow to recognize the blooms as a disaster or their magnitude and respond in any way. In addition, it was an election year, so elected officials were distracted by their need to campaign.

At the federal level, Donald Trump was president so environmental issues were ignored or had a low priority.

Then-Gov. Rick Scott (R) was running for the Senate. He had been a strenuous denier of climate change and avoided dealing with environmental questions. Scott banished the term “climate change” from the official vocabulary in Florida state government.

Then-Rep. Francis Rooney, representing the area from Cape Coral to Marco Island in Congress, was largely engaged in supporting Scott while running his own re-election campaign, so he was distracted as well.

Furthermore, the area’s elected officials, media and a good portion of the politically active population simply denied or ignored the impact of overall climate change on the region and its possible role in the disaster.

While the bloom was at its worst in the summer and early fall of 2018, officials were largely helpless. No official edict or action could stop the bloom. While the voters would not allow the incumbent candidates to completely ignore it, candidates did their best to minimize it or distract voters away from it. Late in the crisis Scott declared an emergency and made a paltry $13 million available to the affected businesses.

After the election was over, Rooney took the lead in attempting some kind of response. In May 2019 he pulled together a conference of all the affected region’s elected officials and four relevant federal agencies to attempt a discussion of the HABs and future response. It was briefly attended by the new governor, Ron DeSantis (R), who in contrast to Scott, made environmental issues a priority.

Unfortunately, the conference, held at the Emergent Technologies Institute of Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), was closed to the public, so the full extent of its discussions, conclusions and decisions will never be known publicly.

Rooney did report out some of the discussion in an op-ed that ran in local newspapers under different titles.

After establishing that federal response to HABs was inadequate and uncoordinated with local authorities, participants concluded that the relevant federal agencies needed to be more aware of HABs as potential disasters and keep local jurisdictions informed of their formation and potential impacts. In addition to agencies that have direct, line responsibility in the event of a HAB like the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), other agencies like the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Small Business Administration and the Department of Housing and Urban Development had roles to play.

For his part Rooney introduced two pieces of legislation: one to classify HABs as major national disasters so that local businesses and residents would get disaster relief, and another to ensure that HAB monitoring and response were not interrupted by government shutdowns. Neither bill passed into law during the 116th Congress.

He also introduced changes to help with HABs to the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), the massive, comprehensive congressional bill that covers all water infrastructure, which was signed into law at the very end of 2020.

What’s different in 2021

There has been considerable change on many fronts since the Big Bloom of 2018 that may help with the response if there’s a big bloom this year.

Monitoring, reporting and information

A major, obvious change from 2018 is the amount of information available to the public on the state of algal blooms in general, which also translates into more information about local blooms. This is a vast improvement over 2018 when such information was either unavailable or fragmentary.

Government agencies and jurisdictions established websites on HABs after 2018.

(A full list of public links regarding Southwest Florida HABs is at the end of this article.)

This year there are also mechanisms for local jurisdictions to share information with federal agencies, enabling much better monitoring of HAB outbreaks and providing a much more comprehensive view of both national and local situations than was available in 2018.

Gubernatorial and state involvement

In 2018 then-Gov. Rick Scott’s hostility to environmental issues and solutions was infamous and came back to bite him during the Big Bloom.

Gov. Ron DeSantis got off to an early and very popular start when he took office in 2019. He dropped the hostility to science, creating the position of Chief Science Officer. He boosted funding for Everglades restoration and dismissed the South Florida Water Management District Board for a sweetheart lease with the sugar industry. He also dropped Scott’s prohibition on using the term “climate change.”

The DeSantis administration also established Protecting Florida Together, a Web portal for monitoring and communicating environmental and water quality information to the public. While heavily promoting the governor, it provides useful and presumably accurate data on the state of algal blooms and red tide.

This alteration in gubernatorial attitude is a sea change from 2018. Simply having a state administration that is aware of environmental issues can provide some public confidence that solutions are being sought, which was not previously the case.

Federal expertise

Another sea change was the transition from Donald Trump to Joe Biden, who ran a campaign that took environmentally-friendly positions on major issues. Since his inauguration Biden has made major efforts to boost environmentally-friendly policies and combat climate change.

Biden’s climate team is particularly expert in water issues. Michael Regan, the current EPA administrator, is especially familiar with HABs, having confronted a major bloom in North Carolina, where he served as secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality. In July 2019 he canoed the state’s rivers to see the bloom for himself.

If this year’s algal bloom rises to the level of EPA administrator for action, Southwest Florida officials will be working with an EPA head who intimately knows and understands the problem.

Upgrading and modernizing US drinking, wastewater and stormwater systems is a major aspect of Biden’s infrastructure proposal, the American Jobs Plan. While it may not directly impact this year’s blooms, over the longer term it will address the underlying conditions that lead to the blooms, hopefully mitigating or eliminating them. However, it is still in negotiation between the White House and congressional Republicans.

Locally, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) has already attacked the plan as simply being the Green New Deal in disguise and for proposing new taxes on corporations and the extremely wealthy to pay for it.

Legislation

It is on the legislative front that there has been the least amount of progress in coping with HABs in general or this year’s potential bloom in particular.

In 2019 then-Rep. Francis Rooney proposed two pieces of legislation to deal with HABs: The most important one was the Protecting Local Communities from Harmful Algal Blooms Act, which consisted of a three-word amendment to The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, which would add HABs to the official roster of major disasters eligible for federal aid. This would make Southwest Florida businesses and residents eligible for a variety of federal support if businesses or livelihoods are damaged by a bloom.

Rooney’s bill went nowhere during his term in office and there is no renewal in the offing.

The second proposal was the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act, which would ensure that HAB monitoring by federal agencies would continue despite any government shutdowns, a situation less urgent than under Donald Trump. That bill too went nowhere during Rooney’s tenure. It was reintroduced by Donalds on March 17 as House Resolution 1954 and as of today it remains in committee awaiting consideration.

Legislation can’t stop a bloom while it’s happening—but it can mitigate the harm from one and protect people from indirect effects in the future. However, there has been no progress on this front to date and Southwest Florida will go into a 2021 bloom as unprotected legislatively as in 2018.

Analysis: Progress and challenges

Make no mistake: there has been progress on coping with algal blooms since 2018.

There’s been much more research into the nature and causes of blooms and efforts to mitigate their causes, like Lake Okeechobee pollution and phosphates flowing into local waterways.

A big step forward was the founding of the Water School at FGCU on March 22, 2019. This is a major addition to the university, dedicated to researching and examining all aspects of water. While still being developed it’s in a position to make a major contribution to fighting the blooms this year, providing timely and detailed information to officials at all levels and the public at large

In addition to the governmental and legislative measures, localities have been experimenting with technological fixes to contain or eliminate river algae. Public health authorities are far more aware of the health impacts of algal toxins and their dangers.

Even if this year’s bloom blossoms into a crisis on the order of 2018’s, politicians now have precedents to inform their behavior, unlike the example of Rick Scott, who as governor and a Senate candidate fled from red tide protesters in Venice during a campaign swing.

But the lessons of the past don’t just apply to political campaigning and the quest for higher office; they also have to assist in managing the disaster itself.

As a general rule, disasters favor incumbents. A sitting governor, mayor or public official can be seen as vigorous and commanding if he or she appears to take charge. But an official also has to deliver real results. People may not remember a good disaster response but they never forget a bad one.

For businesses, that means being assisted with disaster recovery funding, which is why amending the Stafford Act is so important.

And perhaps the greatest lessons to be taken away from the 2018 Big Bloom are the intangible ones: that big blooms are dangerous; they’re damaging; they really hurt people and businesses; they can be economically devastating; they need to be taken as seriously as any hurricane; they need to be monitored and, to as great an extent as possible, countered early; and all jurisdictions have to coordinate and cooperate in their responses.

Also, algal blooms, like the pandemic, don’t discriminate between political parties or persuasions. Algal toxins and their consequences affect everyone equally.

So Southwest Florida is somewhat better prepared and knowledgeable than it was in 2018 if there’s a big bloom this year.

But as always with disaster management, there’s still a long way to go.


Further resources:

Federal:

NOAA (Current conditions):

CDC (General information): Harmful Algal Bloom-Associated Illness

EPA (General information)

State:

Local:

Lee County

  • While Lee County has a red tide and algae bloom status website, it is badly out of date—in fact, it seems to have frozen in 2018 and refers to Rick Scott as governor. Nonetheless, for the record, it is at: https://www.leegov.com/waterqualityinfo.

Cape Coral

Collier County

City of Naples

  • While the Naples City website links to the Collier County information, it also provides a phone number for recorded updates on conditions in Collier County: (239) 252-2591.

Non-Profit, non-governmental advocacy organizations

For a deeper dive into the political aspects of disaster response see the book Masters of Disaster: The Political and Leadership Lessons of America’s Greatest Disasters on Amazon Kindle.

Liberty lives in light

©2021 by David Silverberg

SWFL’s 19th Congressional District moves toward Dems: Cook Report

Collier County Democrats march in the 2019 Martin Luther King Day parade in Naples, FL. (Photo: Author)

April 20, 2021 by David Silverberg

In a remarkable change from last year, Florida’s 19th Congressional District, covering the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island, actually trended one percentage point more Democratic, according to the latest rating from the Cook Political Report.

For those who are into the inner intricacies of congressional politics, this is a big deal.

What makes it more remarkable is the fact that Southwest Florida’s two other congressional districts, the 17th and the 25th, became more Republican and conservative.

To put this development into context, some background may be helpful.

The Cook Report and the PVI

New Charlie Cook
Charlie Cook

Charles Cook, a friendly, gregarious, lively man universally known as Charlie, hails from Shreveport, La. In the 1970s he served as a staffer for then-Senator J. Bennett Johnston, a Democrat and fellow Shreveporter. Afterward, he worked for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Policy Committee and served as a consulting pollster, advisor and as years went by, commentator for a variety of media outlets.

During his staff service Cook realized that there needed to be more comprehensive coverage of elections than was available at the time, particularly of House of Representatives races.

In 1984 he founded the Cook Political Report newsletter to track these races. Over the years the newsletter’s coverage grew and deepened. Its organization also grew, as well as its reputation for objective, professional and non-partisan analysis. Today Cook Report staffers interview prospective candidates as well as incumbents and get to intimately know the politics of each congressional district.

The New York Times once called the Cook Report “a newsletter that both parties regard as authoritative;” CBS News’ Bob Schieffer called it “the Bible of the political community” and Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal, characterized it as “the Picasso of election analysis.”

In 1997 Cook introduced the Partisan Voting Index (PVI), which rated the partisan leanings of each congressional district. Using the previous two presidential election results, it compared each congressional district’s political tilt to the rest of the nation.

As the Report puts it: “The index is an attempt to find an objective measurement of each congressional district and state. While other data such as the results of senatorial, gubernatorial, congressional and other local races can help fine-tune the exact partisan tilt of a particular district, those kinds of results don’t allow a comparison of districts across state lines. Only presidential results allow for total comparability.”

Under this system a district rated D+2 means that it voted two times more Democratic than the national average, whereas a rating of R+4 would be four times as Republican. A district can be rated as even if it is within a half point of the national average in either direction.

The PVI is constantly updated to take into account new election results and redistricting. On Thursday, April 15, the 2021 PVI was released, incorporating the results of the 2020 election.

The 19th Congressional District was one of only five in Florida that saw Democratic numbers rise in the Cook ratings.

District 1, which is represented by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R) moved 2 points in a Democratic direction, the 4th and 7th districts moved 3 points in a Democratic direction and the 10th rose 1 point.

Southwest Florida in context

Unsurprisingly, the three congressional districts that make up Southwest Florida—the 17th, 19th and 25th—remain deeply Republican.

But what was very surprising was the movement of the 19th toward the Democratic column.

Based on the results of the 2020 election, the 19th District went from R+13 to R+12, a Republican decline of one point.

This stands in stark contrast to the 17th, encompassing a huge swath of Southwest and Central Florida from Punta Gorda to Venice to northwest Lake Okeechobee. It went from R+13 to R+16. The 25th, reaching from eastern Collier County and Immokalee to Hialeah and Doral, went from R+4 to R+8.

Shifting sands

So what accounts for the shift? The analysis accompanying release of the PVI does not focus on the 19th District but is national in nature. However, a number of factors provide some indication.

Democratic gains in the 2020 congressional race are the first factor.

The 2020 election in the 19th saw the election of Republican Byron Donalds with 61.3 percent or 272,440 votes to 38.7 percent or 172,146 votes for Democrat Cindy Banyai.

While Donalds won, it was by a lower percentage than fellow Republican Francis Rooney in 2018, or put another way, Democrats made steady, incremental gains. In the 2018 election Rooney won by 62.3 percent or 211,465 votes to David Holden’s 37.7 percent or 128,106 votes.

At the same time, Donald Trump’s percentages in the district basically remained stagnant from 2016 to 2020, rising by only a tenth of a percentage point, from 59.6 percent in 2016 to 59.7 percent in 2020.

The lack of polling with publicly available results in Southwest Florida means additional conclusions can only be speculative but some additional factors could be:

Ted Nugent announces that he has tested positive for COVID-19. (Image: Facebook)
  • Older Republican-Trumpist voters could be exiting the rolls as a result of natural causes or the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic. Southwest Florida, especially Collier County, has been a center of anti-masking and resistance to virus precautions, at times led by Byron Donalds who himself tested positive for COVID in October 2020 but recovered. Most recently Naples habitué, far-right musician and COVID denier Ted Nugent announced yesterday, April 19, that he had tested positive for COVID. On April 12 he played a gig before a closely-packed crowd of over 300 people at Seed to Table, a defiantly anti-mask supermarket in North Naples. Like Nugent, Trumpist voters may dismiss COVID as a “hoax” or a “sham” but the COVID virus is hardly dismissing them as potential victims.
  • More Democrats or liberal voters are moving permanently into the area as full-time residents. Acknowledgment of the arrival of Democratic northerners in the state was made by Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd at the signing of Florida’s “anti-riot” bill yesterday, April 19. As he put it: “We only want to share one thing as you move in, hundreds a day: Welcome to Florida, but don’t register to vote and vote the stupid way you did up North, or you’ll get what they got.” While the influx of northerners into the 19th Congressional District may not be huge, it may be telling in future elections.
  • Rep. Byron Donalds may be losing voter loyalty even in his largely Republican district after only four months in office.

Banyai’s boost

Cindy Banyai

For Democrat Cindy Banyai, Donalds’ 2020 opponent and declared candidate for 2022, the new PVI came as a welcome boost and a validation of her previous campaign.

“I’m very excited about it,” she told The Paradise Progressive. “That makes all of our efforts worthwhile. We’re really proud and I feel like the little engine that could; I have to keep pushing. It bodes well for ’22.

“Not only is the 19th in the top movers in Florida, we’re the one that spent the least amount of money to do it,” she pointed out. “We’ve had really solid fundraising and we’re getting a solid investment and we had a great team.”

According to her fundraising analysis, she said, she had an effective dollar-to-vote ratio and only spent $4.15 for every vote she was able to swing from Republican to Democratic, a very low cost. She also swung numerous precincts into the Democratic column, particularly on Sanibel and Pine Island. That, plus the fact that Democrats contested every ballot position, something that had not been true in previous elections, all contributed to the rating.

“The Cook ratings give two messages,” she said. “One is that we had a good candidate with a good team and our approach was on the right track. The second contradicts the narrative that Republicans are moving here to flee Democratic states. Their stories that everybody is leaving blue states like New York or California because of Democrats is a total crock.”

To see the entire Cook analysis of the 2021 PVI, click here.

To see an interactive map with all congressional districts and their ratings, click here.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

The Donalds Dossier: Two months of terror, turmoil and Trumpism

Rep. Byron Donalds, unmasked before his fellow Republican freshman representatives, denounces the Biden Administration’s American Rescue Plan just prior to the vote on passage. (Image: Byron Donalds/Twitter)

Editor’s note: With this article we open the Donalds Dossier, an occasional series of articles tracking, reporting and analyzing Rep. Byron Donalds’ activities in representing the 19th Congressional District of Southwest Florida in the US Congress.

March 3, 2021 by David Silverberg

Today marks two months since Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) took the oath of office—and it has been two of the most momentous months in American history.

Just how momentous needs to be fully appreciated: during the past 60 days a coup nearly succeeded, the Constitution was nearly demolished, an election was nearly overturned, the Capitol was violently attacked, congressional leaders were nearly killed, the Vice President was nearly lynched, a president was impeached for a second time and democracy barely survived—and all this amidst a deadly pandemic.

Into this turmoil stepped Byron Donalds, a former Southwest Florida state lawmaker, banking executive and financial advisor who unreservedly pledged his personal loyalty and complete obedience to Donald J. Trump during his election campaign.

Throughout the events of his first two months in office, Donalds has remained ideologically consistent: still pledged to Trump and Trumpism and opposed to any Democratic measure brought forth in the House of Representatives.

A man in microcosm

Mike Lindell, MyPillow CEO, and former national security advisor Michael Flynn at the “Save America” rally prior to the Capitol attack on Jan. 6. Rep. Byron Donalds is in the background, right. (Image: Mike Lindell/Twitter)

Jan. 6, the day of the Capitol attack, illuminated Donalds in microcosm. In the morning he attended Trump’s anti-election rally on the Ellipse outside the White House. Then he went to the Capitol building at 11:17 am where he signed his objection to certifying the election. When rioters entered the building to stop the vote count he fled to safety with other members. That night, after the riot, when members returned, he voted against certifying the election, which was the object of the attack.

At 10:09 pm in a lengthy Twitter statement, Donalds called the rioters “lawless vigilantes,” “a bunch of lunatics” and condemned their actions as “thuggery.” He later altered the tweet to remove the criticism and watered it down to just state that the rioters “do not embody my constituents’ values and heart.” Despite their actions, he tweeted, “they will not alter my decision to object to the Electoral College certification.”

Donalds’ vote against it notwithstanding, Joe Biden’s election was certified and Donalds attended the inauguration on Jan. 20.

So despite Trump’s and Donalds’ best efforts, the results stood—including Donalds’ own election to his office—and there is still a legislative branch of the United States government in which he can serve.

A vocal ideologue

After an initial pause, Donalds has shown himself an active and vocal representative, taking to all forms of media—social, right-wing and mainstream—to get out his messages. For all the talk, his positions have been orthodox conservative and Trumpist. He:

  • Opposed invoking the 25th Amendment and voted against the second impeachment of Donald Trump, calling the trial “a partisan political sideshow;”
  • Voted against stripping Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-14-Ga.) of her committee assignments;
  • Condemned halting construction of the Trump border wall;
  • Supported retaining the Hyde Amendment prohibiting US funding in any form for abortions;
  • Denounced the Biden administration’s proposed immigration reforms;
  • Accused the Biden administration of planning to vaccinate terrorists and undocumented migrants before American citizens;
  • Denounced teachers’ unions for pressing for safe classrooms;
  • Praised Rush Limbaugh as being “our voice” and said his passing was “a tremendous blow to generations of patriots;”
  • Opposed The Equality Act (House Resolution 5) combating gender discrimination.

Some of these positions were merely cosmetic or superficial but Donalds’ really substantive efforts surrounded the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, aimed to stimulate the economy, bring relief to those affected financially by the pandemic and speed vaccine distribution.

Marching the party line

Donalds followed the Republican Party line against the plan but added his own extra effort from the beginning, when the legislation was in committee. Donalds sits on the Budget Committee and, in keeping with the Republican position, denounced the plan as “nothing more than a liberal wish list under the guise of COVID-19 relief, but in reality, this bill is using the pandemic to push forth the radical and misguided policies of the far-left.”

He opposed every aspect of it. First, he opposed using a procedure known as “budget reconciliation” to get it through Congress (which allows it to pass by a simple majority vote). He vehemently inveighed against the $15 minimum wage provision, which more than 60 percent of Florida voters approved in their own referendum last year. He opposed use of Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) funds for non-profit corporations, particularly denouncing Planned Parenthood’s receipt of the funds. He also complained that aid was going to states that skewed Democratic like New York and California that had locked down to halt the spread of COVID-19. He called these public health precautions “authoritarian measures,” and contrasted them with Florida’s lack of restrictions despite the virus (which he himself caught in October but from which he recovered).

The very night that the bill passed, Donalds joined other Republican freshmen in the Capitol to further denounce the bill. While the other members stood behind him, masked as required by House rules, Donalds, a vehement anti-masker, said that he’d forgotten his mask in his office. He proceeded to argue that the only reason Democratic members were supporting the bill was because they feared House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) and needed the support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. (Unlike the Republicans, who never acted out of fear of a presidential tweet.)

For all that, of course, the American Rescue Plan passed the House by a vote of 219 to 212 at 2:00 am on Saturday morning, Feb. 27.

On the fast track

Donalds, one of only two Black Republican members in the House (the other is Rep. Burgess Owens (R-4-Utah)), is clearly on a fast track in the Republican caucus and in the conservative movement.

The Republican leadership gave him committee assignments that offer numerous opportunities for political advantage. He sits on the Oversight and Reform Committee, which frequently generates headlines for its investigations and revelations of government misdeeds and shortcomings. His seat on the Budget Committee puts him in a very prominent position for consideration of the Biden administration’s annual budget initiatives, in this year’s case the American Rescue Plan. He also sits on the House Small Business Committee, which while generating fewer headlines, is helpful in the district.

(By contrast, Republicans have traditionally assigned less promising members to the Education Committee, which they regard as a backwater. It generates few headlines, offers few opportunities for high-profile work and congressional Republicans generally despise the Department of Education, which it oversees. It was where former Rep. Francis Rooney was initially placed and where Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was consigned before she was stripped of her committee assignments.)

Donalds also received recognition from the conservative movement at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the conclave that gathered in Orlando last week. While he was not one of the main speakers, he was given a seat on a panel discussing the political utility of supporting law enforcement, a slot in keeping with his rank as a freshman House member. On that panel he argued that while criminals need to be punished, they also need to be reintegrated back into society once they’ve completed their sentences. Donalds himself was arrested at 19 for drug possession and theft.

Back in the district…

While Donalds has been active on the front lines of conservatism and Republican ideology, he’s done little to no visible work in Congress yet on local issues like ensuring Southwest Florida’s vaccine allocation (dealt with in a broader sense by the American Rescue Plan he opposed), protecting the environment, strengthening measures against harmful algal blooms, bolstering infrastructure resilience against climate change or ensuring water purity. These were not key issues in his election campaign, either.

He has held no public town halls or constituent listening sessions—impossible in person right now, although possible virtually.

He did, however, conduct a very limited outreach session to local black businesses in a virtual roundtable on Thursday, Feb. 25, which was closed to the media.


Hospitality—and then some

Unmasked shoppers and employees at Alfie Oakes’ Seed to Table, taken in January. (Image: Twitter)

One of Donalds’ more interesting efforts with local businesses occurred prior to the election. On Oct. 26, 2020 he sponsored an online roundtable with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association to discuss the needs and challenges of Southwest Florida’s hospitality industry with seven local restaurateurs and business owners. It didn’t hurt that he was connecting with local businessmen as early voting was taking place.

Two of the major points to come out of that panel were the need for COVID liability protection for local businesses and opposition to a minimum wage hike, opposition that Donalds clearly shared and took to Congress during the American Rescue Plan debate.

At the time Donalds agreed that economic stimulus was necessary but said it had to be targeted in concert with state governments. Ultimately, he voted against the stimulus contained in the American Rescue Plan.

Among the panelists was Alfie Oakes, the extreme conservative grocer and farmer. Oakes told the panel that COVID is “not a pandemic in my mind.” If any of his employees became sick “We would get some hydroxychloroquine and give it intravenously and within two days they were perfect. We didn’t jump into the fear of everything.”

But even Oakes, a vehement anti-masker, had to admit that despite his having called it a “hoax,” COVID caused him some concern. “Some people may still think I’m handling this in a reckless manner,” he said. “I have customers coming in, he’s 97, his wife is 94, they’re not wearing masks and I was worried for them but they’re still shopping every day. They didn’t buy into the fear.”

Oakes, who is otherwise a vociferous opponent of the federal government, stated that the PPP program helped stave off layoffs on his farm and the federal Farmbox program, which provides food to the needy directly from farms, aided his enterprise.

When it came to raising the minimum wage, Oakes said, “It would be asinine. It would be socialism. The people it would hurt are the people who it’s supposed to help. I’d have to squeeze more out of existing employees. It is a total liberal sham and I pray it doesn’t pass as I hope that Joe Biden doesn’t get elected.”


Analysis: Getting what you say you want

Make no mistake; in Byron Donalds the majority of voters in the 19th Congressional District got what they said they wanted: “a strong, Trump-supporting, gun-owning, liberty-loving, pro-life, politically incorrect black man,” as he put it during his campaign. His actions in office to date have followed logically for someone meeting that description.

Donalds is clearly ambitious and his election put him on a path to greater national glory and possibly higher office. But it’s not an easy path, it’s more of a tightrope over a chasm and Donalds is like a juggler trying to walk it while keeping three balls in the air.

One ball is the Republican congressional leadership. Donalds has to keep them happy to advance. So he follows the Party line, with which he seems to actually agree at the moment. So far they like him, are promoting him and he seems to really share their pronouncements and positions.

The second ball is Donald Trump and he is a ball that isn’t perfectly spherical and doesn’t follow the normal laws of aerodynamics. Donalds has to stay in his good graces or at least out of his line of fire. At CPAC, Trump declared that he will be staying in the Republican Party, he will be purging its heretics and when it comes to the 2024 presidential race, “I may even decide to beat them for a third time. Okay? For a third time. True.” To keep from dropping this ball, Donalds has to go along with the complete and utter fantasy that Trump won and had the election stolen from him. It takes a lot of willful credulity and a lot of sycophancy to keep that ball in the air—and it’s a ball that can fly off in any direction at any moment or suddenly hit him in the face.

The third ball is the “base,” the conservative movement and Donalds’ hard-core Trumper constituents in Southwest Florida. This includes the “lawless vigilantes” and “bunch of lunatics” who attacked the Capitol but whose votes Donalds needs to stay in his seat. These have been among some of Donalds’ most faithful supporters and donors to date. Donalds has to be conscious, though, that on Jan. 6 these people were a lynch mob just as surely as the lynch mob that rampaged through Fort Myers in 1924—only in 2021 they were seeking to hang the faithful and subservient Vice President of the United States. They could riot again, in person or at the ballot box, and turn against anyone, including him.

If Donalds can keep all three of these balls in the air and keep his footing on the tightrope, he just may get to the other side of the chasm.

And what is on that other side? Presumably whatever Donalds thinks constitutes “success.” But what Donalds considers “success” for himself may not necessarily be “success” for Southwest Florida.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 b David Silverberg