Politics in 2023: Looking ahead at Don vs. Ron, MAGA madness and the race to the right

Gazing at a crystal ball on the beach at sunset—a Florida way to discern the future.

Jan. 1, 2023 by David Silverberg

New Year’s parties are celebrations of hope that the year to come will be better than the year past; that problems will be solved, challenges met and new opportunities open.

But just what are the political challenges and events Southwest Florida, the Sunshine State and the nation are likely to face in 2023? As the immortal Yogi Berra once put it so well: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Tough as predicting is, existing trends provide some indication of where things are going and when it comes to politics, it’s wise to be ready for what’s ahead—or at least to brace for it.

Don vs. Ron vs. Joe

Are you already tired of hearing about the rivalry between former President Donald Trump and Gov. Ronald DeSantis (R)?

Well, too bad. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

This is the political story likely to dominate the year. It’s got everything: colorful characters, high stakes, nasty insults, personal rancor, fanatical partisans, absurdity galore, mentor vs. protégé, sorcerer vs. apprentice, and horse-race polling to generate headlines as each candidate pulls ahead or behind ever more exotic and narrow slices of the electorate.

What’s more, the rivalry will fill in the news gap between election years, when there’s usually little happening, so political reporters can always cover the contest when they’re on deadline and there’s nothing else to report.

As a result, every belch, snort and fart from these two will be analyzed and evaluated through a campaign lens.

At issue, of course, is the presidency and with it the future of the United States. That part is serious.

Integral to this story will be the indictment and prosecution of Trump for a long list of transgressions stretching back from before his presidency.

Not only has Trump now officially been accused of actual crimes: obstructing an official congressional proceeding; conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to make a false statement; and aiding an insurrection, but if tried and found guilty, he’s facing punishment. Whether this actually happens is already a major story and it won’t be resolved any time soon.

But beyond that question, the entire political establishment, both Democratic and Republican, the “deep state” and the mainstream media and a majority of voters don’t want him back and genuinely fear his possible return. They will do all they can to stop him. The fate of American democracy hangs in the balance.

Also, while it’s easy to forget the existence of Democrats in Florida, nationally they’re still a force to be reckoned with and the chief Democrat, President Joe Biden, has a big decision of his own to make: will he run again?

Expectations are that an announcement may come in February. If he announces another run, the media will focus on that. But if he chooses to retire there may be another Democratic stampede for the nomination as there was in 2020. If he decides to anoint a successor, the focus will be on the heir apparent, who, like DeSantis, will have to walk a narrow and difficult course for the next two years to preserve his or her viability. Or if he decides not to declare, the speculation will be prolonged for another year.

A more intense and exhausting drama than all this could not have been dreamed up by William Shakespeare. And all next year’s a stage.

Congress and revenge

Had the hoped-for Republican “red wave” materialized, Republican members of Congress would have taken revenge on Democrats in a thousand different ways. They would have pushed legislation to turn back the clock to implement the Make America Great Again (MAGA) agenda. They very well might have impeached President Joe Biden for the high crime of being a Democrat. They would have tried to undo or cover up the felonies of the insurrection and would have done all they could to exonerate, excuse and elevate Trump.

Republicans are still likely to try those things. Expect a cascade of House investigations in an effort to weaken and undermine the administration and Biden’s re-election. It will be a replay of Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s e-mails on steroids.

However, when it comes to substantive legislation, Democrats kept the Senate, meaning that no matter how extreme the proposals coming out of the House, none are likely to make it into law.

The United States has dealt with divided government before and some sessions were surprisingly productive. That doesn’t seem likely this time, though.

In the past, reasonable compromise was considered not just respectable but a strength of the American system. Trump, though, brought an absolutist, zero-sum, win-lose approach to government and politics. He infected his party and about half the population with that attitude. Until time passes and that fever burns off, much of the essential functioning of government could be stymied by political intransigence.

This could especially manifest itself in September when the new fiscal year appropriations must be approved. We could see a government shutdown—or shutdowns—at that time if House Republicans dig in.

The possibility of that happening means that measures to protect Southwest Florida need to be implemented before the showdown. In particular, Congress needs to pass the Harmful Algal Bloom Essential Forecasting Act, which would ensure that federal activities monitoring and responding to harmful algal blooms like red tide will continue despite any shutdowns.

This legislation needs to be passed early, with bipartisan support. The bill was originally the idea and a priority of former Rep. Francis Rooney, who was unable to advance it.

Unfortunately, the key congressman on this legislation, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), who introduced the bill in the last Congress, has shown little to no interest in it. Nor has he shown any legislative ability, so it has few prospects in the 118th Congress.

Unless someone in the Florida delegation is willing to pick up this cause and champion this legislation, Southwest Florida will be at the mercy of a deadlocked, recalcitrant Congress, which in turn will leave the region, literally, at the mercy of the tides.

DeSantis and the race to the right

The most dangerous kind of politician is the kind who actually believes what he says. Ron DeSantis appears to believe a lot of the extremism he espouses.

He has clearly decided that when it comes to policy he cannot allow himself to be outflanked on the right, either at home or nationally. No matter how absurd or illogical the premise he seems convinced that he must be leading the ideological charge—even if it’s headed over a cliff.

This led him to wage cultural war on science, education, vaccines, immigrants, gays and public health during 2022. It won him a resounding re-election in Florida. There’s no reason to expect any change in the next year.

In fact, it’s likely to intensify given his presidential ambitions and the rise of his rivals. For example, in September DeSantis generated headlines by spending state money to fly Venezuelan asylum-seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts without any prior notice or coordination. Potential presidential candidate Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) couldn’t let that go unanswered, so, in December he similarly bused Central and South American immigrants from Texas to Vice President Kamala Harris’ official residence in Washington, DC.

We’re likely to see a lot of such posturing in the year ahead, using people as pawns.

But it won’t just happen at the presidential level. In Florida, given the Republican supermajority in the legislature, the race to the right will be a dominant force there too. State legislators can be expected to prove their MAGA bona fides and curry favor with DeSantis and the far-right base by introducing ever more extreme measures.

One place where this is likely to express itself is in abortion. Last year Florida passed a 15-week abortion restriction. That’s unlikely to stand as state legislators vie to show the depth of their extremism. Anti-abortionists want a complete ban on abortion in the state. DeSantis has coyly stayed uncommitted. Republican legislators have no such restraints. A total abortion ban looms. And who’s going to stop them? Democrats? Certainly not Naples’ own Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Naples), who now presides over the state Senate.

Another area is education. DeSantis reached down into local school boards to endorse his own partisans. In the past year state legislators proposed their own measures and Southwest Florida representatives were in the lead. State Rep. Spencer Roach (R-76-Fort Myers) proposed making school board races overtly partisan. Rep. Bob Rommel (R-81-Naples) wanted to put video cameras in classrooms to monitor the dangerous teachers teaching there. In 2023 not only are we likely to see more such measures introduced, they’re likely to pass and be signed into law.

This kind of extremism is particularly manifest locally in Collier County where MAGA candidates now constitute a majority of the county school board. Jerry Rutherford (District 1) revealed after his election that he wants to impose corporal punishment to enforce more rigid and punitive conformity on students, a MAGA rallying cry.

Despite the outrage from parents who suddenly woke up to what they had elected, Rutherford was officially ensconced in his position as was the rest of the board. The Collier County school system, which was previously ­rated the gold standard for the state, is now likely to crater as dogma, discipline and docility take the place of education, enquiry and enlightenment as priorities for students.

Madness at the margins

One might think that all this success for MAGAism would satisfy its adherents. But exactly the opposite has proven to be true. The level of MAGA anger and rage is absolutely incandescent. Reflecting the fury of their increasingly cornered idol, Trump, MAGAs are lashing out in fury and their first target is the one closest at hand: moderate, traditional Republicans, the so called Republicans in Name Only, or RINOs.

MAGAs blame a less than fervent pro-Trump RINO establishment for the dissipation of the expected red wave. Their hatred is manifested in opposition to electing Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-23-Calif.) as Speaker of the House. In Florida they’ve made a determined push to take over county Republican executive committees.

Will this rage dissipate in 2023? This does not seem likely. In fact, it’s likely to increase.

While DeSantis and MAGAs dominate Florida, in the rest of the country MAGAism is being marginalized as people defend democracy. Trump’s big lie about a stolen 2020 election appears more and more delusional and threadbare every day. Only the truly incredulous can continue to believe it. Election deniers did notably poorly in the 2022 election. More losing conservative candidates conceded defeat than followed the examples of Trump or Arizona gubernatorial hopeful Kari Lake in charging fraud. And the conspiracies behind the insurrection were exposed by the January 6th Committee.

MAGAism is gradually being pushed to the fringes of American political life, where it lived before the advent of Trump. For those committed to the creed, however, the sheer frustration, the looming powerlessness, and the futility of their feelings are fueling a bitterness that is truly amazing to behold.

The advance of Republican centrism, the marginalization of extremism and the defeat of MAGAism will be a trend to watch over the coming year, especially as the majority of Americans outside Florida embrace more normal, constitutional politics. But every setback, every defeat, every restraint will fuel MAGA “hatred, prejudice and rage,” as Trump once put it. How that resentment expresses itself, in Florida and elsewhere, will be the other part of this story in 2023.

Storm damage

The dome homes of Cape Romano in 2021. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The 2023 political agenda of Southwest Florida is already set but its creator was not any politician. Rather, it was a storm named Ian.

Hurricane Ian was a force beyond the capacity of any human to alter or stop. Its sheer devastation and destruction will influence Southwest Florida for many years, probably for a generation at least.

In the coming year all Southwest Florida politicians will have to cope with and contribute to the recovery of the region, regardless of their political beliefs. The need is real and continues to be urgent.

Officials at all levels can assist by getting the money for rebuilding that the region is entitled to receive from the state and the federal government and doing what they can to get more. However, the fanatical anti-federal, anti-government, anti-tax, anti-investment ideology most local politicians espouse will not help. Instead it will lead to more actions like the mass resignation of North Captiva firefighters who were denied a reasonable budget increase and so left the service.

Nor will the governor’s line-item vetoes of local funding requests or the refusal of members of Congress like Donalds to request earmarks help the region. Voters and the local mainstream media have to keep watch and ask: who is helping Southwest Florida recover? Who is helping it get the resources it needs? Who is shirking? Names need to be taken and asses kicked when necessary.

Hurricane Ian should have also completely put to rest any residual argument about the reality of climate change. Between ferocious storms like Ian, the Christmas bomb cyclone and fire, flooding and blizzards, climate change is here. No reasonable, sentient human can muster an argument to deny it. Politicians of all persuasions have to acknowledge it and prepare the coastal population for its effects.

Will Florida and its politicians finally acknowledge this? Their sense of reality needs critical scrutiny in the year ahead.

If they need a reminder they need look no further than the famous dome homes of Cape Romano. Built on solid ground in 1982, with every passing year the Gulf encroached and the waters rose around them. This year Hurricane Ian provided the coup d’grace. The homes are now completely under water.

Unless Floridians wake up, the rest of Florida will follow.

The area of the dome homes in Cape Romano after Hurricane Ian. (Photo: NBC2)

Beyond the abyss

If current trend lines are projected outward, Florida’s political future in 2023 looks like a dark, gaping sinkhole of ignorance, illness and intolerance.

But it doesn’t have to be this way and the story that proved it in 2022 took place half a world away from Florida and the United States.

When Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022—a date that will live in infamy—Russian president Vladimir Putin expected the war to be over in two to three days.

The world didn’t have much greater expectations. Ukraine was outnumbered, had less than half the population of Russia, had far fewer resources and a weaker army and appeared to be a rickety, corrupt ex-Soviet colony presided over by a former comedian.

Instead, through patriotism, determination and astonishing courage, Ukraine, its president Volodomir Zelensky and its people fought for their lives and country—and are winning battles and may actually achieve a clear, just victory.

It’s unlikely to occur soon, however. When wars break out people often expect a quick resolution to what is clearly a terrible and painful conflict. That’s what happened at the outset of the American Civil War and the First World War.

However, if history is any guide, Putin’s war in Ukraine may last through 2023 and beyond—as long as Putin is in power. Both sides have too much at stake to give in.

But the Ukrainian case serves as an example to everyone facing apparent inevitability. Determination and courage do make a difference and can hold or turn back a seemingly unstoppable tide of tyranny despite overwhelming odds. It happened in the American Revolution and in Britain’s defiance of Nazi Germany in World War II.

In Florida and the United States in the coming year those who still put their faith in justice and democracy and enlightenment can look to Ukraine’s example for inspiration.

When it comes to human events it’s always wise to remember that humans can affect those events and alter their course. Nothing is set in stone until after it happens.

The San Francisco radio station KSAN used to have a tagline: “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own!”

So in 2023, to paraphrase KSAN: if you don’t like this future, go out and make one of your own.

Liberty lives in light

© 2023 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

The MAGA Maneuver: The extreme attempt to take over Florida’s Republican Party and what it means—Updated

Alfie Oakes at Mar-a-Lago on Nov. 15 at Donald Trump’s presidential campaign announcement. (Photo: Facebook)

Dec. 15, 2022 by David Silverberg

Updated Dec. 17 with the results of Lake County election, new Michael Thompson election results statement, and correction to Kristina Heuser’s election status.

On Dec. 5, while much of the political world was focusing on the imminent results of the Georgia Senate runoff election, in Florida forces loyal to Donald Trump and his Make America Great Again (MAGA) ideology launched an attempt to take over the state Republican Party at the county level.

Many attempts succeeded—and nowhere more so than in Collier and Lee counties.

As a result, the Florida Republican Party appears to be metamorphosing into the Trump-MAGA Party going into 2023, which was the activists’ aim.

This was not a coup; there was no violence, rules were not broken and votes took place as scheduled in local party executive committees throughout Florida.

It was—and is—however, a determined effort by a Trumpist faction to implant its adherents and take control of the Party machinery. In many cases non-MAGA Republicans, despite long records of Party activism, conservative beliefs, and indeed, support for Donald Trump, were labeled as Republicans in Name Only (RINOs) or more ominously as “enemies” and even “traitors.”

This intra-party contest could perhaps best be described as an “attack-election” using electoral means to pursue narrow ends among a very limited electorate.

What does this mean for Florida’s Republican Party? What does it mean for Republicans nationally and for the nation as a whole as it begins a presidential election cycle? What does it mean for Donald Trump and his opponent, sitting Gov. Ron DeSantis? Most of all, is this an indication of things to come both within the state and nationally?

Collier County was illustrative of the means, methods and motivation for what took place—and is taking place—state-wide.

The Collier County case

The precursor to the Collier County attack-election came on Nov. 13 when Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III posted a screed to Facebook.

At that point it looked like Democrats might retain the US House of Representatives since a handful of races remained undecided.

“In case you’re not paying attention in the last two days….It’s over !!!!There  is not going to be a 2024 election, Forget Trump…. Forget DeSantis and it’s not because there are more socialist in our country…. it is because of blatant theft of our electoral process… they are stealing every necessary seat right in front of our eyes, worse than 2020,” Oakes wrote. “They will now be taking over the house for absolute and full control … meanwhile our disgraceful Republicans are sitting on their hands! We are the majority!  The globalist run main stream media has duped us into believing that we are not!”

For those unfamiliar with Oakes, he is an outspokenly conservative farmer, grocer and Trump activist. He was elected a state Republican committeeman in 2020 and through his Citizens Awake Now Political Action Committee funded and supported the successful 2022 election campaigns of MAGA candidates for county commission and board of education.

Despite his election successes, Oakes was displeased with the results of the 2022 midterms. Oakes’ screed is worth quoting at length because it reveals the attitude and perceptions that drove the attack-election. (Punctuation, capitalization, syntax and spacing are unchanged from the original.)

“It’s sickening how everyone is just sitting back waiting for the cabal  to complete the full takeover of our country with this blatant and massive election fraud ! It’s like WW2 Jews waiting around, hoping things get better.

“Do we not understand this is the final straw? If we don’t stand up now and take whatever measures are necessary our Republic is over… actually it is over!

“I’m sickened by all this bickering between the people in our party arguing about Donald Trump and Ron Desantis it’s a distraction!

“There is only one enemy the globalist cabal using massive voter fraud right in front of our noses!so called Republicans are not doing a damn thing about it..no one is!

“We need a GIANT call to action for EVERY America First Republican in office to stand up… and for the candidates that have been beaten by fraud, NOT to concede and demand an immediate in person hand count with observers of both parties choices. This is insane what is happening. Like in the Bible, we are being mocked by evil forces (the left) and they are going to tell us come Monday, sorry, you lost now go away or take it to court—and we know how that ends. “WE THE PEOPLE must BOLDLY identify the enemy and NAME them! Make lists! Speak plainly and call them out as being “The enemies of the free people of “these” United States. Get others to completely understand that these are not politician and was likely s, but rather enemies to our freedoms!”

Oakes’ local discontent mirrored that of former White House advisor Steve Bannon, who has long called for a “village-by-village” campaign on behalf of MAGAism. It was also shared by fellow Trumpers.

Ultimately Republicans won the House, if with a narrower majority than the party faithful preferred.

On Dec. 5, the Collier County Republican Executive Committee (CCREC) was scheduled to hold its organizational meeting and election at 6:00 pm that evening. This meeting was restricted to Republican Party members. The public and media were excluded.

But before the meeting, fractures in the local Republican Party between MAGAs and non-MAGAs became glaringly and contentiously apparent in dueling e-mails and personal attacks.

Oakes and other MAGA activists prepared a slate of candidates and two messages, one positively endorsing challengers and another, denouncing incumbents. The two messages were sent out twice on Sunday, Dec. 4, and once at 11:45 am on Monday, Dec. 5, all under Oakes’ name, photo and logo.

The positive endorsement message began: “When tyranny becomes law, it is the duty of We the People to alter or abolish it. Like our Founding Fathers, the American people have endured many abuses. As Republicans, it is our responsibility to begin exercising our constitutionally protected rights and take back our country! Our first step is to elect five America First conservatives to the Collier County Republican Executive Committee (CCREC) Board… .”

The message continued: “…we must elect Nick Lichter (Chairman), Dan Cook (Vice-Chairman), Lisa Johnson (Treasurer), and John Krol (Assistant Treasurer) to the Executive Board.”

It asserted: “These patriots will boldly stand against the enemies of freedom, and they will unite the Republican Party by leading with courage and conviction. For far too long and at every level of government, the CCREC has allowed celebrity politicians and self-seeking grifters in Washington DC, Tallahassee, Collier County, and on the School Board to govern in the wrong direction.”

According to his message, Oakes’ endorsed candidates had agreed to govern according to a long list of principles and practices.

Fifteen minutes after the initial endorsements, the second e-mail went out under Oakes’ logo, photo and name slamming opponents with detailed, in-depth critiques of their personalities and performance.

“Kristina Heuser is not the right person for Chairperson,” was one headline in the message, accusing the aspirng CCREC chair of ethical lapses. “Yvette Benarroch is too divisive to serve” as vice chair, stated another headline, accusing her of being “combative and divisive” and “oftentimes disrespectful to the Chairman.” A third headline stated: “Nanette Rivera has a bad track record as Treasurer.”

The message concluded: “We, as a collective Party, that wants to bring back the America First Agenda MUST stand Up and REFUSE to elect these candidates to our Collier County Republican Executive Committee Executive Board!”

Seven minutes after that Oakes sent another message, this time without the header: “Some selected  members of our REC [Republican Executive Committee] have been sent two emails that appear to be from me…they are not!” it stated.

“I am extremely disappointed that [State Committee member] JoAnn [DeBartolo] and Tom [Ravana], [local conservative, pro-Trump Republican activists] took it upon themselves to attach my picture and name to a hit piece email on Kristina Heuser, Yvette Benarroch and Nanette Rivera.

“While it is true that I am not endorsing any of the above candidates… I would NEVER have sent out a hit piece! There is already way too much drama within our REC, I would never add fuel to the fire.”

In the same message Oakes also accused DeBartolo of deliberately omitting his endorsement of incumbent Kathi Meo as secretary.

Oakes told The Paradise Progressive in a telephone interview that neither e-mail came from his personal e-mail address and “I was very upset when they put my name on that second e-mail.” Further, “some of those people were good people who shouldn’t have been trashed.”

Ravana, one of the two people who Oakes stated was responsible for sending out the e-mails, has stated in his turn that Oakes was well aware of the contents and wording of the second message and knowingly approved it prior to its being sent.

At 11:00 am on Sunday, Dec. 4, Oakes texted several poeple about the message, saying: “It looks very good…well put together…where do I get the list to send it out to everyone?”

That evening Republicans gathered at the Naples Area Board of Realtors building. Present were sitting elected officials Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-27-Naples), newly elected president of the Florida Senate, state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-81-Naples), state Rep. Lauren Melo (R-82-East Collier) Collier County Commissioner Bill McDaniel (R-District 5), and incoming Commissioner Daniel Kowal (R-District 4).

During the discussion McDaniel nominated Heuser for chair.

Despite that endorsement and other support for the incumbents, when the voting was held, the MAGA slate swept the balloting.

The victories gave Oakes a 2022 trifecta: his endorsed candidates now sit on two seats of a five seat Collier County Board of Commissioners, three seats on the five-seat county Board of Education and all official seats of the CCREC.

Not only did the midterms and CCREC election result in a near-completely MAGA Collier County, they made Oakes its de facto political boss. He had a far more successful record of endorsements than Donald Trump had nationwide in the congressional midterms.

Oakes doesn’t see himself as a boss, however. “I did help facilitate America First candidates to get exposure,” he told The Paradise Progressive. “I was helpful in vetting people. Yeah, I helped a lot but really, the people spoke and they spoke overwhelmingly.”

A near coin-toss in Lee County

In Lee County the outcome was not nearly as clear and decisive, as detailed by reporter Jacob Ogles on the newssite, Florida Politics.

On Dec. 11, three candidates contended for Lee County Republican Chair, which was being vacated by Jonathan Martin, who was just elected to the state Senate from the 33rd District.

One contender was Andrew Sund, president of the Cape Coral Republican Club. The second was Missi Lastra, former president of Lee Republican Women of Cape Coral and a regional field director for the Trump campaign. The third was Michael Thompson, a long-time conservative activist, founder of a conservative website and fervent Trumper from eastern Lee County.

Thompson won the largest share of votes (88) on the first ballot compared to Sund’s 71 and Lastra’s 36 but not enough for a majority.

In the second round, Lastra endorsed Sund but the tally deadlocked at 96 to 96. According to Ogles’ account, members debated whether to flip a coin for a winner or hold another vote and decided to vote again.

On the third ballot, one Sund supporter gave up a vote and Thompson won by a single ballot, 96 to 95.

Prior to the election Thompson called for a shakeup of the Party. “We have no committees available for volunteers to work on, we have a tired board who want to keep things the same and the two sides are trying to figure out the direction the REC will go moving forward,” he told Florida Politics.

Thompson’s election was not universally welcomed. The vote outcome was “a dark day for the future of the Lee GOP,” said state Rep. Spencer Roach (R-76-Fort Myers), a staunchly conservative representative.

The reaction to his statement was emblematic of the tenor of the executive committee races.

“Apparently Spencer Roach has just jumped the proverbial shark and is now a full-on establishment RINO,” posted a MAGA supporter named Ragnar Danneskjöld on Facebook.  “He really doesn’t like it that you ‘holocaust deniers’ (aka America First  folks) won the Lee county REC .  There has always been doubts as to his ‘conservative’ bonafides, now he’s let us all know the real Roach.  That’s one of the benefits to the America First movement…these RINOs just have to expose themselves, like moths to a flame, or bugs to a roach motel.”

Flynn defeat in Sarasota and other races

In Sarasota County former national security advisor and lieutenant general Michael Flynn, a resident of Englewood, guided the attempted takeover. Here, the MAGA drive failed.

It was, however, a close-run thing. Flynn backed Conni Brunni, a MAGA Trump activist for Republican Party chair. She lost by a mere 33 votes to Jack Brill, 57, the sitting chairman who has been active in Republican politics since he was 17 and who was endorsed by most Republican county officials.

The defeat was ironic because Flynn had made local action a keystone of his message to fellow MAGA believers, telling them that “Local Action = National Impact.” After moving to Englewood last year, he volunteered as a precinct captain and involved himself in the county Republican executive committee. He is widely seen in MAGA circles as a master strategist in light of his brief service in the Trump administration and his key role in trying to overturn the 2020 election.

In other counties, MAGA candidates succeeded. In Alachua County near Gainesville, Tim Marden, a Newberry city commissioner and fervent John Birch Society member, was elected county Party chairman by two votes.

In Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, Dana Galen, who characterizes herself as “a strict constitutionalist and America First Republican,” won her election for county chair.

In Lake County, west of Orlando, Anthony Sabatini won as chair of the REC, ousting incumbent Walter Price.

“It’s time to make the State and National GOP a true party of the grassroots and the America-First movement,” Sabatini tweeted  after his election. “And that starts right here in Lake County.”

Other Republican county executive committee elections will be taking place in the days ahead.

Analysis: What it means and where it’s going

To partisans of any political organization or cause, the opposition always seems to have all the advantages. They always appear disciplined, organized, united and crafty. One’s own side, by contrast, always seems fractious, contentious and disorganized.

Opponents of this year’s Florida MAGA maneuver see a diabolically sinister plot unfolding. For many MAGAs, though, the executive committee election results were hairsbreadth victories in the face of long odds, numerous mistakes, and fierce RINO opposition

That said, the attempted MAGA takeover of local Florida Republican executive committees is certainly an effort guided by common goals and a common ideology even if not executed with military-style precision or always successful results.

One of the most striking elements of the MAGA maneuver is its attack on people who might otherwise be regarded as loyal Trumpers and deeply committed conservatives, the so-called RINOs. As in any ideological movement, the believers’ fiercest hatred is directed at those who supposedly know the truth but choose to ignore it; the heretics, rogues and apostates.

To an outside observer, however, in this case the supposed RINOs under attack seem like fanatics under fanatical attack by other fanatics for supposedly insufficient fanaticism.

The MAGA maneuver and its success to date raise two political questions for the future. One is practical and immediate. The other is principled and long term.

Practicality: The MAGA maneuver and the presidential race

Oakes may regard the rivalry between former President Donald Trump and sitting Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) as a mere “distraction” but in fact it is fundamental to the political future locally, statewide and nationally.

If viewed through the prism of that 2024 presidential rivalry then the MAGA maneuver is clearly a Trump strike against DeSantis.

Capturing county Party executive committees may not be a decisive blow but it will certainly make DeSantis’ presidential effort a lot harder. His campaign will have to slog through county after county to get the state united behind him and it may not succeed if the MAGA committeepeople stay committed to Trump’s nomination.

It seems unlikely that DeSantis could lose his own state two years hence, but there’s no end to the mischief that could be made by grassroots Trump partisans, especially if they’re in control of the Party machinery throughout Florida.

That, of course, could affect the outcome of the Republican nominating process nationally and the ultimate 2024 general election contest.

What is more, the 2022 election results, the lack of a “red wave” and the Republican failure to take the Senate, seems to indicate that the majority of Americans reject MAGAism and that it’s a losing proposition at the polls and would be so in 2024.

Principle: MAGAism, constitutionalism and democracy

The principles put forth by “America First” candidates ostensibly include supporting the US Constitution and accurately counting elections.

As an example of this, two of the principles listed in the Collier County REC endorsements included commitments to “Hold elected representatives accountable for their unconstitutional actions” and “Lead Florida’s 67 Republican Executive Committees by passing meaningful resolutions – instructing our elected representatives to fulfill their oaths to the Constitution.”

All this is well and good. However, overall the MAGA movement remains in service to Donald Trump and Trump has overtly called for termination of the Constitution. MAGA partisans remain supportive of the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021 that tried to overthrow the US government and they repeat Trump’s big lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

The bottom line is that as long as MAGAism is devoted to Trump it is committed to unconstitutionality, untruth and autocracy.

Can MAGAism exist without Trump? It’s the dilemma faced by every political movement ever launched by a single, charismatic leader. So far, the answer seems to be “no.” Today, MAGAism is Trumpism.

From obscurity to autocracy

Ordinarily, elections to party executive committees are very obscure contests, the focus only of a handful of party activists and politicians.

But in light of the Jan. 6 insurrection and the ongoing overall threat to democracy, the public needs to pay attention to this year’s attempted takeover of the Florida Republican Party by MAGA forces.

After all, as history has shown, sometimes what starts with a handful of people in the back of a beer hall can metastasize into something much bigger, much badder and much, much more dangerous.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Stefanik stomps Donalds in contest for third slot in Republican congressional leadership

Rep. Elise Stefanik. (Illustration: Donkey Hotey/Wikimedia Commons)

Nov. 15, 2022 by David Silverberg

Today Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-21-NY), the sitting chair of the House Republican Conference, crushed a challenge by Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) to take her seat by a vote of 144 to 44.

The House Republican Conference is the primary caucus and forum for communicating the Party’s message among Republican representatives. It also hosts the caucus’ meetings and is the third highest position in the House Republican hierarchy.

Donalds was the candidate of the House Freedom Caucus, an extreme, conservative, invitation-only group of Republican members.

Today’s vote was taken by the Republican members of the House who are organizing their caucus for the 118th Congress that takes office in January. While some members recommended that the vote be postponed until all House races were decided, sitting members chose to proceed anyway.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-23-Calif.) was endorsed for the position of Speaker of the House by a vote of 188 to 31 against challenger Rep. Andy Biggs (R-5-Ariz.). However, since the Speaker is considered leader of the entire House, the Speaker’s election takes a vote of the entire 435-member chamber when the new Congress takes office in January. The winner will need 218 votes.

By a voice vote, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-1-La.) won election as House Majority Leader, the highest position in the Republican caucus.

Rep. Tom Emmer (R-6-Minn.), chief of the Republican campaign team was elected House majority whip, the second highest position in the leadership.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

When elephants battle: Trump, DeSantis and the future of the MAGAverse

Two elephants battle. (Photo: Tharindu Somarathna, Wikimedia Commons)

Nov. 12, 2022 by David Silverberg

There’s an old African proverb: “When the elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.”

In Florida the elephants are braying and stomping. They’re about to clash in mortal combat. When they collide, it’s going to be painful to be underfoot.

One elephant, of course, is Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who resoundingly won his reelection bid as Florida governor and has done nothing to disguise his 2024 presidential ambitions.

The other is former President Donald Trump who may announce his own bid for the presidency on Tuesday, Nov. 15. He began disparaging his one-time protégé as “Ron DeSanctimonious” at a campaign rally on Saturday, Nov. 5.

Actually, the battle won’t be hard at all for Democrats, liberals and progressives who already reject both men. But Florida Republicans, MAGAts and Trumpers, especially in the deeply conservative far-right southwest corner of the state, are going to have to make a very tough decision.

Sen. Rick Scott

One Florida Man appears to have already made his choice. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), had presidential aspirations of his own. However, his less than stellar performance as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee overseeing the election of a Republican Senate seems to have dampened or extinguished that aspiration.

The evidence of this came when Trump endorsed Scott to be Senate Majority Leader in an interview Trump did on his airplane, which was published on Election Day.

Trump is seeking revenge against Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) who had the temerity to fix responsibility for the Jan. 6 insurrection on him.

“McConnell has been very bad for our nation,” Trump said. “He has been very bad for the Republican Party. I would be in favor of somebody else — McConnell has done a very bad job.”

Scott, said Trump, is a “likely candidate” for McConnell’s job in the event of a Trump 2024 victory.

“I think Rick Scott is a likely candidate — he hates the guy,” Trump said of Scott’s feelings towards McConnell. “He’s tough — he’s tough, and I think he would probably go for it. He’d have a lot of support.”

Scott’s presidential ambition only glowed in light of the possibility of Trump not seeking the presidency. Trump’s endorsement seems to indicate that Scott has put that ambition in abeyance.

As of this writing Scott had not issued a public statement regarding Trump’s remarks. He was still awaiting the results of the last nail-biting Senate races and faced the Dec. 6 Senate runoff election in Georgia.

But given Scott’s well-documented friction with DeSantis it certainly seems that this Florida Man has made his choice.

Rep. Byron Donalds

Rep. Byron Donalds, President Donald Trump and spouses in Naples, Fla., at a private fundraising event in December 2021. (Photo: Office of Rep. Byron Donalds)

Perhaps no one faces a bigger choice with more consequences than Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.).

Donalds was endorsed by Trump in December 2021 for his congressional reelection bid. From the beginning of his congressional campaign he made his loyalty to Trump part of his tagline: “I’m everything the fake news media says doesn’t exist: a Trump supporting, liberty loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man.”

At the same time, Donalds has been a supporter of DeSantis and has been sure to appear behind the governor in numerous photos and events. He has praised DeSantis’ handling of the COVID pandemic and his response to Hurricane Ian.

Donalds has ambitions of his own. Having won reelection, he now has his eye on the third slot in the Republican House caucus, head of the conference, and has formally announced his bid for the position. Ironically, the election for the position is scheduled on the same day as Trump’s expected announcement, Tuesday, Nov. 15.

In seeking the seat he is going against the current holder, Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-21-NY), who is widely seen as overwhelmingly favored by her fellow Republicans, including the entire congressional leadership.

In this inside-player election, Trump’s endorsement carries considerable weight. Trump has snubbed Donalds before and once again, despite Donalds’ slavish loyalty he did it again in his airplane interview.

“I think she’s fantastic,” Trump said of Stefanik without mentioning Donalds, either forgetting or ignoring him.

To date, Donalds has not issued any statement reacting to Trump’s endorsement.

He did, however, issue a tweet on Saturday, Nov. 12, denying a report that he favored DeSantis over Trump in 2024. That came from Fox News personality Jacqui Heinrich who quoted a “House GOP source” as saying Donalds was saying that to Republican members of Congress in his bid to win the conference chair.

“I’m a big fan of Jacqui Heinrich’s reporting, but her ‘GOP source’ is lying,” Donalds tweeted in reply. “My only focus is Tuesday’s vote to become the next Chair of the GOP Conference.”

Alfie Oakes

Officially, the only public position that Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III, the grocer and farmer holds is that of Collier County Republican Party committeeman. However, following the midterm election, he is effectively the political boss of Collier County, Florida, since all his endorsed and funded candidates won their elections. They will likely follow his dictates in their policymaking when they take office in January.

Oakes has always been an ardent Trumper. After talking to Trump on a phone call on Dec. 22. 2020, Oakes posted: “I love our president and his family with every bit of my being! I love all that he has given for our country and all that he stands for! May God bless our great President Donald Trump, his family, his team and all of the 75 million patriots that support him!”

Oakes has also been a DeSantis supporter and has praised his performance as governor.

So which way will Oakes go this time? As of this writing, none of Alfie’s social media postings have made this clear. He also did not respond to a phone call from The Paradise Progressive.

Once Alfie makes his preference known, it should have an impact among his followers, both on social media and among his customers.

Whichever way he goes, one thing is certain, though. He can’t have it both ways.

A land with two capitals and two popes

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, the capital of the United States shifted to the great state of Florida—and that’s where it’s likely to stay for the next two years.

Of course, the regular, permanent seat of government and official capital is right where it has always been, in Washington, DC.

But the United States actually has two capitals.

Washington is just one. The second is the campaign capital. It’s wherever the hottest political action is at the moment. In presidential election years it’s wherever a caucus or primary or other event is deciding the next president of the United States.

For the next two years, Florida will be the campaign capital of the United States. It’s where the battles will take place. It’s the launching pad for two plausible presidential campaigns (or two-and-a-half if Rick Scott is included) and it’s where the media spotlight has turned and is likely to stay until the Republican nomination is clinched.

As of right now, the complete Republican dominance of the governorship, the legislature and the judiciary makes Florida a single-party polity under the absolute rule of Gov. Ron DeSantis (something The Paradise Progressive has characterized as “Florumpia”).

But like the supposedly universal Catholic Church in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Florumpia now has two popes. One is certainly bent on destroying the other for the heresy of being more popular, actually winning his election and failing to pay proper homage. The other pope is not going to accept this lying down.

For true believers in MAGAtism, this presents an enormous dilemma. It is one that is scheduled to culminate at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisc., in the summer of 2024.

But in the long time before then, true believers have to choose sides. Given Donald Trump’s unyielding, absolutist, demand for obedience, there is no middle path.

That’s what total fanaticism gets a true believer: total submission to another’s will or excommunication from sunshine into the eternal fires of Hell.

Or put another way: that’s what it feels like to be trampled by an elephant.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

On a personal note: Paul Pelosi, my own hammer attack, and thoughts on stopping political violence

The scene outside the Pelosi home in San Francisico. (Photo: AP)

Oct. 30, 2022 by David Silverberg

In the early morning hours of Friday, Oct. 28, Paul Pelosi, husband of the Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.), was attacked with a hammer in his San Francisco, Calif., home by an assailant screaming, “Where’s Nancy?”

As of this writing, Mr. Pelosi is in the hospital recovering with a fractured skull and other wounds. The assailant, David DePape, is in custody. No doubt many more details will be revealed in the days to come. Mr. Pelosi certainly has all the thoughts, prayers, best wishes and good will I can send him.

As horrifying as an act of political violence can be, when I heard of it, I felt a special chill run up my spine.

I know exactly how it feels to be attacked with a hammer.

Spoiler alert: It hurts. A lot.

In 1981, a mugger tried to kill me with a hammer and nearly succeeded.

Actually, being hit with the hammer didn’t hurt me at all. That’s because the blow that slammed the back of my skull knocked me unconscious.

Even after I woke up on my back on a sidewalk in a pool of blood with police, emergency medical technicians and blue flashing emergency lights all around me it didn’t hurt. It didn’t hurt in the ambulance or at the hospital when I gave a statement to police and drew a picture of my assailant.

Only when the excitement died down and people left my side and I was on a gurney awaiting X-rays and further examination, did it start to hurt. And then the pain built, intensified, became overwhelming and obliterated all else. It bore like a twisting corkscrew into the center of my brain. And when you have a head wound you get no pain relievers because the doctors don’t know how you’ve been affected so you just have to tough it out, fully conscious and awake.

Technicians came and asked the date (in my case, Nov. 19, 1981). They asked the name of the sitting president (Ronald Reagan). They asked for my name. Fortunately, for me, I had it together and could answer the questions.

I hope Mr. Pelosi similarly has it together. Speaker Pelosi asked for privacy and she and her husband deserve it, so some details will be withheld.

It’s clear, however, that Speaker Pelosi was the target of this assailant—and this is hardly the first time she’s been targeted for violence.

Both Pelosis are victims of a rise in violence and violent rhetoric in American political life. That trend has a single, recent and obvious point of origin. It’s a bad trend. Even if it can’t be stopped cold, there are nonetheless ways it can be confronted. Indeed, one small measure has just come out in—of all places—Southwest Florida.

And for the record, nobody—nobody—should ever be hit with a hammer.

A Maryland mugging

To fill in the rest of this story: What happened to me was an attempted robbery on a street in Silver Spring, Md., a suburb of Washington, DC.

On the night in question, I passed two young men on a deserted street at about 10 pm. My assailants never spoke to me or asked for money. After one hit me on the back of my head with his fist, the other attacked with a ball peen hammer. After a brief defense with a bag holding books (I was returning home from the National Press Club book fair), I fled. The hammer-wielder caught up with me, knocked me unconscious and then, when I was down, hit me again on the back of the head.

Police had been watching and were on the scene almost instantaneously. But the hammer-wielder wasn’t done yet. The first plainclothes policeman to arrive was only carrying a radio. The hammer-wielder hit him full force in the face, smashing his jaw. Then the assailant turned and charged the rest of the team coming up the street. One detective told me he had his gun drawn and the assailant in his sights but another policeman ran into the field of fire. Otherwise that would have been the end.

A police car raced up the street and rammed the hammer-wielder just as the rest of the team grabbed him. All of them went tumbling over the car’s hood but the hammer-wielder was finally apprehended. The other mugger ran in the other direction and was arrested with less drama. He was carrying a big fire hydrant wrench that he unsuccessfully tried to use as a weapon.

As the police told me later, when would-be robbers use blunt instruments, their intention is to kill. A robber armed with a gun or knife usually just wants to scare people into giving up money or valuables. But people using clubs or hammers fully intend to do bodily harm or kill to get what they want.

Both muggers had commuted to Silver Spring by Metro from inner city Washington, specifically to commit crimes. The hammer-wielder was named Paul Edward Sykes. He was charged with my attempted murder and assaulting a police officer. Sixteen years old, he was tried as an adult because of the capital nature of his crime and sentenced to 19 years for the attempted murder and 19 for hitting the officer, to be served consecutively. It was later commuted to just 19 years.

I was lucky: I made a full recovery. I believe I lost some hearing and I can’t sleep on my left side anymore because when I fell, I fell on my face and it may have injured nasal passages. But one of the worst effects of a hammer injury to the head is the uncertainty of its effects. Just exactly what brain functions had been affected? A victim is left wondering, sometimes for years.

(Murder with blunt objects takes place regularly in the United States. According to Federal Bureau of Investigation statistics, 243 people were killed with blunt objects in 2021. Southwest Florida had its own such experience in 2015 when Dr. Teresa Sievers was killed with 17 blows from a hammer in her Bonita Springs home. Her husband, Mark, is currently awaiting execution for arranging the murder.)

In my case, when it was all finished, I felt that justice had been done. I was able to make a victim impact statement before sentencing and received restitution. In fact, so unusual was it to see the system work the way it was intended that I wrote an essay about it that was published in the “Periscope” section of Newsweek. In those days that was a big deal.

The accomplice, Lawrence Hardy, was 15 years and 9 months old and tried as a juvenile, receiving a much lighter sentence. I still have an apologetic greeting card he sent me. It’s titled “Sorry about your accident.”

The history of violence

The attack on Pelosi—and the attempt on the Speaker—is part of a dark side of American history.

Political violence has marred American politics in the past. In 1804 Vice President Aaron Burr killed former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in a duel. In 1856 Rep. Preston Brooks (D-SC) savagely beat Sen. Charles Sumner (R-Mass.) with a cane at his desk on the floor of the Senate. There have been other duels and fights among politicians as well, most before the Civil War.

Since then politicians have carefully refrained from advocating or threatening actual physical violence. They’ve known that nowhere is the Golden Rule applied more forcefully than in politics: what you do unto others will most certainly be done unto you. It largely kept violent language out of the public arena, no matter how impassioned the issues or debates.

That applied until 2015. It’s not hard to find the starting point for rise in violence and violent rhetoric in recent American political life. It starts with Donald Trump. As a candidate, Trump broke the taboo against invoking or encouraging violence. At his 2016 campaign rallies, Trump said things like, “I’d like to punch him in the face,” of a protester and “part of the problem is no one wants to hurt each other anymore.” Speaking of behavior at his rallies, at one point he said “the audience hit back. That’s what we need a little bit more of.” And in reflecting on a protest the previous day, “I’ll beat the crap out of you.”

Illustration by Jesse Duquette.

Trump didn’t slow down when he was elected president, infamously equating violent neo-Nazis and racists in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 as “good people on both sides.”

He made other statements too. But, of course, his most infamous act was inciting the crowd at his Jan. 6, 2021 rally on the Ellipse to physically attack the United States Capitol and members of Congress and lynch his vice president. In a presidential vehicle, he himself violently grabbed the throat of a Secret Service officer who wouldn’t take him to the Capitol.

What is most striking about Donald Trump is that he’s physically a coward. He’s never put himself in harm’s way as a member of the armed forces. He’s always been protected and never been physically attacked. He has no idea what it’s like to be on the receiving end of violence. To him, urging violence is a game, a show of machismo, an abstraction, a catharsis, something he can get away with without consequences. As he infamously put it: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?”

The closest he ever came to feeling what it’s like to be attacked was when an eagle he was using in a Time magazine photo shoot tried to bite him. Clearly, the eagle wasn’t impressed with his tweets, his wealth or his fame.

Candidate Donald Trump flees the wrath of a bald eagle named Sam during a Time magazine photo shoot in 2015. (Photo: Time)

At the grassroots

Trump’s acceptance and encouragement of violence has leached down to grassroots America and the attack on Paul Pelosi is one example of it.

But even Southwest Florida has reflected Trump’s attitudes. In the 2020 congressional campaign in the 19th Congressional District along the Paradise Coast, the multitude of Republican candidates promoted their rage and especially their affinity for firearms in their campaigns. Candidates insulted each other and fired weapons on screen, at times directly threatening each other.

Then-state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen takes aim in a 2020 campaign ad for state Senate in which she warned her opponent to stop lying about her record. (Image: Campaign)

Nor has the violent rhetoric eased. For example, on June 16 of this year extreme conservative farmer and grocer Alfie Oakes called for the public execution of federal judge Christopher Cooper of the District of Columbia, for sentencing anti-vaccine doctor Simone Gold for her role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“Simone Gold likely saved more Americans than anyone in history… by prescribing millions of doses of ivermectin.. She is a true American hero!” Oakes posted. “The bought and paid for corrupt DC judge that sentenced her to 60 days in jail is a traitor to this country and should be publicly executed!” (The post, originally appearing at https://www.facebook.com/alfieforamerica/posts/pfbid02qcYvDbunLP7JzVdoK5R227rmaKvPnbaHDRT8W3P4GqcaufMGhWxJwQZiPNcuiwxXl, was removed after many days online.)

But as one reader, Matt Fahnestock, posted in reply: “We need a plan of action.”

Deterring violence

The use of violence for political ends is a bad road that leads to a bad end. In their classic 2018 book How Democracies Die, authors Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky write: “We should worry when a politician 1) rejects, in words or action, the democratic rules of the game, 2) denies the legitimacy of opponents, 3) tolerates or encourages violence or 4) indicates a willingness to curtail the civil liberties of opponents, including the media.”

They also list four criteria for judging incipient use of anti-democratic violence in politics: “Do [authoritarian politicians] have any ties to armed gangs, paramilitary forces, militias, guerrillas, or other organizations that engage in illicit violence? Have they or their partisan allies sponsored or encouraged mob attacks on opponents? Have they tacitly endorsed violence by their supporters by refusing to unambiguously condemn it and punish it? Have they praised (or refused to condemn) other significant acts of political violence, either in the past or elsewhere in the world?”

Remember, that was written in 2017.

People do not have to feel helpless in the face of incipient violence. The use of violence is illegal, it’s still punished under the law. Honest, impartial law enforcement can and must crack down on the criminals who engage in it, as is happening in the Paul Pelosi case and in the prosecution of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. Opponents of violence have the law on their side.

It’s also important that existing authorities and governments express their condemnation of political violence. Here, Southwest Florida is leading the way.

On Tuesday, Oct. 25, the Collier County Board of Commissioners issued a proclamation condemning bigotry, anti-Semitism and hate crimes. (Full disclosure: This author conceived and drafted the text.)

That proclamation “condemns any call to violence or use of violence for any purpose at any time; and resolves to actively and vigorously oppose, investigate, and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any advocacy of violence, acts of violence, or crimes manifesting hatred against any person, property, or institution based on faith, race, gender, creed, sexual orientation.”

A government proclamation won’t end or stop violence. But it puts the government, the legitimate elected local authority, on the record against it and makes clear that there’s no acceptance or tolerance of it in the jurisdiction. It means that local authorities are committed to enforcing the law.

If every town, city and county in the country adopted the Collier County proclamation, it would at least put them on the record opposing political violence and deny its legitimacy. It would help ensure that political violence is neither condoned, accepted nor excused. What is more, getting localities to issue the proclamations is something that activists and everyday citizens can do at the local level in their own home towns.

Beyond the larger concepts of violence and politics and democracy, violence is horrible at any level. It maims. It kills. It ruins lives. It leaves widows and orphans and families bereft and devastated. It weakens communities. It destroys social unity. It can bring down democracies.

And on a personal level, this author can authoritatively attest that it hurts like hell. It doesn’t take a hammer to drive that point home.

Here’s blessings and luck to Paul Pelosi. May he swiftly recover and be made whole. And may we all, with the help of God, protect these United States.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Early voting active in Collier, Lee and Charlotte counties

Activists show support for their candidates outside the Headquarters building of the Collier County Public Library in Naples. Jen Mitchell, incumbent candidate seeking re-election for District 3 of the Collier County school board, is to the left in the green shirt. (Photo: Author)

Oct. 28, 2022 by David Silverberg

Voting is active and robust throughout Southwest Florida, according to county supervisors of elections.

In its first day of early in-person voting in Collier County, 6,132 ballots were cast at polling stations yesterday, Oct. 27. Combined with 36,630 mail-in ballots, Collier’s turnout is at 16.85 percent of 253,830 eligible voters. So far, 56.15 percent of the ballots were cast by registered Republicans, 25.84 percent by registered Democrats and 16.92 percent by non-party affiliated voters.

Early in-person voting in Lee and Charlotte counties has been under way since Monday.

In Lee County, turnout is running at 19.65 percent, with 18,779 votes cast in person and 83,006 ballots mailed in. Lee County has 518,035 eligible voters. Of ballots cast, 52.28 percent were from registered Republicans, 27.37 percent from registered Democrats and 19.11 percent from non-party affiliated voters.

Charlotte County has the highest turnout of the three coastal counties with 20.75 percent of 152,778 eligible voters having cast ballots so far. Of these, 9,395 votes were cast in person and 22,309 votes were mailed. According to the Supervisor’s office, 50.36 percent of ballots were from registered Republicans, 29.58 percent from Democrats and 18.14 percent from non-party affiliated voters.

Because of the damage and disruption caused by Hurricane Ian, early in-person voting in Lee and Charlotte counties continues until Nov. 7. In Collier County, it concludes on Nov. 5.

Times and locations for early in-person voting are posted on the respective supervisors’ websites.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Rick Scott meets the Peter Principle

Has Florida’s junior senator reached his ‘level of incompetence?’

What has become the iconic photo of Rick Scott, taken in 2012. (Photo: Joe Skipper for Reuters)

Oct. 8, 2022 by David Silverberg

In 1969, Canadian educator Laurence Peter published the book The Peter Principle. In it he put forward the idea that capable people in hierarchical organizations tend to be promoted until they reach what he called their “level of incompetence.”

The Peter Principle has been a management byword ever since.

Today Floridians can see the Peter Principle in action in their junior senator, Richard Lynn “Rick” Scott.

After repeatedly laying out massive amounts of cash to win election as governor and senator in Florida, Scott has now reached a position in the United States Senate and the Republican Party where his judgment, his ideas and his results are questionable, to put it mildly. He’s proposing very extreme measures for the country that are being roundly rejected by his fellow Republicans, his prospects for success in guiding Republicans to a Senate majority dim by the day, and in the wake of Hurricane Ian he’s not even voting to help his state.

It certainly has all the markings of the Peter Principle in action, Florida Man version.

What’s more, despite all this, he clearly has his eyes on the presidency in 2024, which also marks the last year of his Senate term.

So, has Rick Scott reached his level of incompetence?

The cash cushion

Like so many Floridians, the 69-year-old Scott is a Midwestern transplant, having been born in Bloomington, Ill. He received his Bachelor degree at the University of Missouri and his law degree at Southern Methodist University in Texas.

After a stint in the Navy in the early 1970s he worked as a lawyer. In 1989 he was a co-founder of the Columbia Hospital Corporation to provide for-profit healthcare. With Scott as its chief executive officer (CEO) it merged with another company to become Columbia/HCA, the nation’s largest for-profit healthcare company.

But in 1997 Columbia/HCA became mired in scandal when federal agencies accused it of defrauding Medicare, Medicaid and other federal programs. Scott was questioned and invoked the Fifth Amendment 75 times. As a result of a federal lawsuit, Columbia/HCA admitted to the fraud and was forced to pay $1.7 billion in fines to the government. It was the largest settlement of its kind in American history. Although there were no criminal charges against him, Scott was forced to resign as CEO four months after the charges became public.

After a period as a venture capitalist Scott ran for governor of Florida in 2010 after Charles “Charlie” Crist chose to run for the US Senate rather than seek another term as governor.

Scott’s spending on his first political race broke all previous state campaign records. He poured $85 million into the race, more than $73 million of which was family money. The prior record had been held by Crist himself, when he spent $24.6 million in his 2006 gubernatorial bid, a sum that now seemed like a pittance.

Yet for all that spending Scott only narrowly defeated his primary opponent, then-Attorney General Bill McCollum, by 46.4 percent of the vote. His general election victory was even closer: Scott garnered 48.92 percent to Democrat Alex Sink’s 47.67 percent, a difference of only 61,550 votes. It was the closest Florida gubernatorial race since 1876.

In 2014 Scott’s re-election race against Crist cost him $12.8 million of his own money. Campaign finance laws in Florida changed after the 2010 race and so had national campaign finance laws in the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision allowing unrestricted issue-oriented campaign spending.

Between Scott’s contributions and outside spending groups, a study, “Campaign Spending and the 2014 Florida Gubernatorial Race” in the Journal of Florida Studies estimated Scott’s spending at $79 million, or $27.58 per vote, while the Crist campaign effort cost $47.74 million or $17.04 per vote.

Scott won this race too, by a narrow margin: 48.1 percent to Crist’s 47.1 percent, a difference of 64,145 votes.

“While this [spending] would win Scott the election, it would not do so by a larger margin than he won in 2010,” notes the study’s author, Harold Orndorff.

A full policy review of Scott’s term in office is beyond the scope of this essay but suffice to say it featured mostly extreme Republican conservative orthodoxy with a few Scott idiosyncrasies thrown in. Most notable was Scott’s absolute rejection of the idea of climate change to the point where the term was informally banned from use in his administration—and this in an environmentally sensitive state subject to the worst effects of global warming. The full impact—mostly deleterious—of his tenure is a book yet to be written.

Limited to two terms, Scott decided to run for the US Senate against incumbent Bill Nelson in 2018. Once again, he brought out the big bucks to do it, spending a record $64 million of his own money.

After an election so close it was in dispute for weeks and took two recounts, Scott was declared the winner by 50.1 percent to Nelson’s 49.9 percent, a hairsbreadth difference of 10,033 votes.

The lesson of this electoral history is that while Scott has won, it has always been at great expense and by very narrow margins.

Scott is not a natural politician. He doesn’t evoke feelings of warmth or goodwill. He doesn’t inspire great loyalty or allegiance. His policy prescriptions can be idiosyncratic but are mostly conventionally far right. In the days before Donald Trump he was the Donald Trump of Florida, winning over fringe conservatives but also getting enough votes of dutifully traditional mainstream Republicans to just barely put him over the finish line.

A flawed Florida model

There’s no denying or disputing Scott’s victories, no matter how narrow or expensive. He won the elections he entered. But these victories also seem peculiar to Florida, with its fragmented media markets and its distance and popular alienation from the federal government. It’s a land where most people are indifferent to policy, where retirees want to freeze time and where, as political consultant Rick Wilson once said, “everything north of I-4 is just Alabama with more guns.”

As Scott has shown through his vast cash outlays, a politician can buy elections in Florida. But now he’s also showing that his Florida model doesn’t necessarily translate into national success.

In 2020 Republican senators elected Scott to be chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. He was charged with managing all the mechanics of electing a Republican Senate including finding candidates, raising money and aiding their campaigns.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate Minority Leader, was looking to Scott to make him Senate Majority Leader in 2023. With the party holding the presidency traditionally losing congressional seats in its first midterm election and with President Joe Biden having a low approval rating, Scott seemed to have the wind at his back and an easy path ahead.

Instead, as of this writing, Democrats are narrowly favored to keep the Senate (the website FiveThirtyEight.com puts their odds at 68 percent). Republican Senate candidates are foundering (every day seems to bring a new scandal or gaffe to Georgia’s Herschel Walker).

Even McConnell has complained. “I think there’s a probably a greater likelihood that the House flips than the Senate,” he said at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Kentucky in August. “Senate races are just different—they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.” It was widely seen as a swipe at Scott’s performance.

Scott for his part seemed to see the NRSC as just a springboard to the presidency. Wags have joked that NRSC really stands for National Rick Scott Campaign.

In defiance of McConnell, Scott, in consultation with Donald Trump, unveiled his own 12-point agenda in February called the “Commitment to America.” It would impose taxes on the poorest Americans and subject Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to five-year reauthorizations, with the possibility of termination. This directly threatens Florida’s many seniors dependent on these programs.

At a time when American states, counties and cities are still recovering from the COVID pandemic and natural disasters, Scott’s plan would cut off their federal funding. It would slash jobs for police, firefighters, teachers and other local public employees. Nationally, there are an estimated 795,000 police, 317,200 firefighters and 3.2 million teachers. All their jobs would be jeopardized. Ironically enough, Scott’s plan would defund the police.

At a time when pro-choice forces are energized and alarmed over the loss of the right to choose and are flocking to the Democratic Party, Scott dodged questions about his support for a proposal to impose a national abortion ban introduced by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

But beyond the national campaigns and the future of the presidency, Scott has actually turned on his own state—and in its greatest hour of need.

After capably handling the onslaught of Hurricane Irma as governor in 2017, Scott failed abysmally as senator after the catastrophe of Hurricane Ian in 2022, which made landfall in Southwest Florida on Sept. 28.

Just two days later, on Sept. 30, when the Senate voted to fund the government until Dec. 16—which included roughly $20 billion in disaster relief funds for the country as a whole—Scott voted against the measure.

Not only was Scott’s vote striking given Florida’s distress, it was at odds with the rest of the Senate’s Republican caucus. The measure, the Continuing Appropriations and Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2023 (House Resolution 6833), also known as a continuing resolution or CR, was endorsed by McConnell and the Senate Republican leadership. Along with all the Democrats, 22 Republicans approved it and it passed the Senate by a lopsided vote of 72 to 25. (Florida’s other senator, Marco Rubio, was absent for the vote. The bill also passed the House by 230 to 201, with all 16 House Republicans from Florida voting against it. Biden signed it into law that day, just before the end of the federal fiscal year.)

It’s worth considering what would have happened had Scott’s negative vote succeeded. The federal government would have shut down. The Federal Emergency Management Agency would have halted operations just as it was getting into gear to help Southwest Florida. There would have been no urban search and rescue teams from other states flying into Florida to save people trapped under the rubble. There would have been no Coast Guard operations to help victims stranded by storm surge. There would have been no federal aid for housing, food, safety, security, or communications.

This is the kind of apocalypse Scott was voting for with his negative vote.

On Sept. 7, well before Hurricane Ian made landfall, Scott forcefully urged Republicans to reject the continuing resolution.

“Today I am urging every Republican to demand that Congress pass a clean CR that simply maintains current federal spending levels,” he declared in a statement. “We cannot cave to the demands of the Democrats carrying out an agenda led by a raving lunatic in the White House.”

That “raving lunatic” visited Southwest Florida on Wednesday, Oct. 5, to see the damage for himself. He pledged the full faith, credit and resources of the United States to help Florida—and especially Southwest Florida—recover and aid the people hurt by the storm.

Revealing the man

Now, all the doubts and criticism of Scott may be rendered moot by a smashing Republican Senate victory on Nov. 8 that vindicates his senatorial efforts.

Perhaps Republicans will win the Senate. Perhaps McConnell will become majority leader.  Perhaps Scott will be hailed as a political genius. Perhaps 2022 will pave the way for Scott’s 2024 nomination as president and his ultimate election to the White House. Perhaps Florida and Southwest Florida in particular will fully recover and rebuild without any federal help at all. Perhaps the disgrace and stigma of the Columbia/HCA fraud will be flushed down the river of history and Scott will be washed clean by the purifying waters of political power.

It could happen.

However, with exactly one month to go until the election that’s not the way it’s looking.

Instead, what appears to be happening is that a man who bought his elections in Florida has now come up against a much more complex political task than he ever faced before. Rather than easily manipulating a disinterested Florida electorate through television ads, Scott is fumblingly trying to juggle diverse and aroused populations throughout a vast country that he doesn’t really understand.

First Lady Michelle Obama once observed: “Being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.”

The same could be said for any high office. Each step up the ladder reveals a bit more about the person you are. With each step upward there are more people scrutinizing your flaws, more people critiquing your moves, and more people watching to see if you fall.

Rick Scott has climbed pretty high. Each step has revealed more about his capabilities and character. It’s been a very enlightening ascent for those bothering to watch. Scott obviously hopes to climb higher. But the ladder is swaying and there’s the pesky possibility that at his current step he may have reached as far as he’s able.

Has he reached his “level of incompetence?” It certainly seems so. However, on Nov. 8, with every vote for every Senate seat throughout the nation, Americans will decide for themselves.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Reading the tea leaves from Southwest Florida’s primary election

I see a need to clean a cup in your future. (Photo: Author)

Aug. 26, 2022 by David Silverberg

Getting lessons from elections can be like reading tea leaves at the bottom of a cup—just about anything can be deduced from the dark, soggy jumble.

But elections have consequences and so discerning trends from voting patterns becomes important. And when democracy, governance and representation are on the line, making sense of it all becomes downright critical.

What is to be made of the primary elections held Tuesday, Aug. 23, in Southwest Florida? This analysis is based on official returns from the supervisors of elections in Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties.

Turnout was low

As is to be expected in a late August primary in steamy Southwest Florida, turnout was low.

In Collier County, only 29.7 percent, of eligible voters turned out. In Lee County, that came to 26.57 percent of eligible voters. In Charlotte County, it was 26.77 percent.

This was down from 2020’s totals. In the last election cycle 36.3 percent of voters turned out for the primary in Collier County, 31.67 percent in Lee County and 21 percent for Charlotte County.

Then again, 2020 was a presidential election year, it was a referendum on Donald Trump’s presidency and it took place in the midst of a pandemic, so the intensity of the electorate was reflected in the primary.

Mail-in voting is here to stay—and favored by voters

In 2020, while mail-in balloting was hardly new, it was newly controversial and strenuously denounced by Trump.

But this year’s balloting seems to show that despite the denunciations and recently enacted restrictions on drop-boxes and verification, mail-in voting remains popular and widely used. This year, mail-in ballots accounted for 54 percent of Collier County ballots, 66 percent of Lee’s and 53 percent of Charlotte’s.

Clearly, legislative restrictions and increased complications placed in the way of easy mail-in balloting have not dampened enthusiasm for this form of voting.

What is more, this is an especially favored form of voting for the many Southwest Florida residents who are away during the days of August.

Did DeSantis make a difference for school board candidates?

In both Collier and Lee counties, the school board elections remain unresolved in all but one race where a candidate won an outright majority and thereby the election.

In an unprecedented move this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) reached down the ballot to endorse candidates in what are usually non-partisan elections. He aided candidates with publicity, cash and favorable mentions to advance his “education agenda.”

According to the non-profit website, Florida Phoenix, “of DeSantis’ 30 endorsed candidates, 19 appear to have won their races and five lost on primary night. The other six appear to be either in runoff situations or advancing to the general election based on election data and local coverage.”

Locally, in District 5 of the Lee County School Board, Armor Persons won with 54.85 percent of the vote.

The other local DeSantis-endorsed candidate was Sam Fisher in District 1. He came in with 43.34 percent of the vote, not enough to elect him outright. He will be facing incumbent Kathy Fanny, who took 30.91 percent of the vote.

This indicates that at least in Lee County, a DeSantis school board endorsement does not automatically result in a school board victory for the favored candidate.

That said, in District 1, Fisher did out-poll Fanny, who now must use the time until November to close the gap.

Thanks to DeSantis’ intervention, school board races are now actually part of the 2024 presidential campaign and one more mile marker on his road to the White House. His credibility is on the line for every candidate he endorses.

In Florida, school boards are not your parents’ sleepy, down-ballot elections any more.

Collier County school board incumbents have to up their game

All the Collier County school board races will be decided in the general election in November.

Interestingly, despite the MAGA (Make America Great Again) nature of some Collier County school board candidates, DeSantis did not endorse any of them.

This makes for what should be an intense and active race to November. The incumbents, Jory Westberry in District 1, Jen Mitchell in District 3 and Roy Terry in District 5 must use the next two months to energize and broaden their campaigns while their opponents, Jerry Rutherford, Kelly Lichter and Tim Moshier, will be doing the same.

The incumbents, all of whom have dedicated their lives and careers to education, have tended not to view their elections as the all-out political struggle their challengers did. For the most part, they continued to see the election as the relatively quiet ratification process it was in the past, interesting only to a small group of parents and professionals.

However, the school board election is now part of a much larger ideological struggle. If serious, sensible, secular education in Collier County is to be maintained, Westberry, Mitchell and Terry need to approach their races much more intently, raise more money—which their challengers are certainly doing—and become much more energetic.

The Moshier mess

Timothy Moshier’s Collier County school board campaign in District 5 deserves special attention following the revelation that Katie Paige Richards, who claimed to be his campaign manager, posted a blatantly anti-Semitic video on social media. When asked, Moshier initially stated that he had “no problem with it.”

When the story was covered in The Naples Daily News (NDN), Moshier’s response was to claim that she wasn’t his campaign manager and that his wife was Jewish (presumably absolving him of all responsibility). He and his lawyers demanded a retraction and threatened a lawsuit.

The Collier County Republican Party issued a statement to Republicans saying, “The NDN is using fake news and selective reporting of facts to destroy Tim. That way, they can assure a continued liberal majority on the Collier County School Board.” It added: “He will not allow last-minute and despicable assaults on his character by the NDN and leftists to defeat him.”

However, for all their defensiveness and outrage, neither Moshier nor the Party denounced anti-Semitism in principle or the lies propagated by Richards, who asserted that Jews are using their supposed control of the media to promote pornography to brainwash white males. Neither Richards, nor Moshier, nor the Collier County Republican Party has repudiated that slander or anti-Semitism in general.

It needs to be pointed out that Moshier, a trucking company executive, has no educational credentials or school administrative experience whatsoever. During a school board candidate panel on May 21st, he called for cuts in the Collier County school budget—at a time when the school district is struggling to retain and attract underpaid teachers among many other needs.

What a more sensible and less defensive county Republican Party might have been expected to do is issue a statement condemning anti-Semitism, saying it has no part in the Republican Party, that it’s un-American and un-patriotic and completely rebuking and repudiating Richards and her delusional allegations.

This case is still open.

The meaning of MAGA for Collier County

MAGA candidates Chris Hall and Daniel Kowal won their races for Collier County Board of Commissioners in districts 2 and 4.

Incumbent Penny Taylor was defeated in District 4. Hall will face Democrat Barbara “Bebe” Kanter in District 2 in the November election.

After Taylor’s defeat, Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes III, the extremely conservative farmer and grocer and Republican committeeman who endorsed and backed both candidates, posted on Facebook: “Ding dong the witch is dead,” above a picture of Taylor, with the label, “Walking Dead auditions.”

Alfie Oakes’ post-election Facebook post of Collier County Commissioner Penny Taylor. (Image: Facebook)

“That was just in fun,” Oakes said of the post to The Paradise Progressive in a phone interview. “I wish her all the best. It doesn’t come with any ill-intent. I told her [at the time of the Collier County Commission vote in July 2020] that if she masked the people I would make it my purpose to defeat her.”

When Taylor voted to impose a county-wide mask mandate at the height of the pandemic, Oakes posted a picture of her and two other county commissioners in Nazi-esque helmets outside his Seed to Table market. He helped fund Hall and Kowal’s campaigns through the Citizens Awake Now Political Action Committee, of which he is president.

More substantively, the likely elections of Hall and Kowal will place a solid MAGA majority on the Collier County Board of Commissioners.

It’s difficult to say exactly how their election will impact the county’s development, infrastructure and budgeting, given that neither made those issues a priority in their campaigns.

According to Hall’s campaign website, “God, his word, love, and ways, (virtue) has to be reinstated in our nation, our states, our counties, and cities. It’s the only way America won’t fail.” He complained that Andy Solis, the outgoing commissioner, voted for mask mandates, shut down beaches during the pandemic, voted against a sanctuary ordinance for guns and one to nullify federal law and allowed businesses to require vaccinations.

Kowal, a former Collier County deputy sheriff, ran a campaign for Congress in 2020 that mostly consisted of a bare-bones website. This time he stated on his website he was running for commissioner because he is “Pro-Clean Water, Pro-Limited Government, Pro-Second Amendment, Pro-Law Enforcement, Pro-Life, Pro-Military.” He also states “I stand for clean water, safe streets and sustainable growth.”

With a MAGA majority on the county council, the county will no doubt be primed to resist any future public health measures that commissioners find inconvenient, no matter how compelling or immediate the threat.

At the very least, a MAGA-dominated Commission calls into question the handling of all the county’s relations with the federal government—and this on top of the DeSantis-dominated state government’s hostility to Washington, DC.

For Oakes, the election may close a chapter in his contentious relations with the county government.

“I just think that the people are speaking,” he said of the results. “They don’t want this wokeness, and they don’t want this radical liberalism.”

As for the results of the election benefiting himself and his business, he said that was not his primary motivation in supporting these candidates. “I’m just happy that the people in Collier County have candidates who uphold the Constitution and America first,” he said.

In statewide races, Southwest Florida tracked the rest of the state

The big statewide race that received the most attention was the contest in the Democratic Party to see whether Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.) or Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried would be nominated to challenge DeSantis.

Crist won that primary statewide by 59.71 percent to Fried’s 35.34 percent. This proved to be true locally as well, with Crist winning Collier County by 57.1 percent, Lee by 53.65 percent and Charlotte by 57.08 percent.

This contrasts with 2018 when regional Democrats favored more conservative candidates over the eventual statewide winner, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. It proved that Southwest Florida Democrats are more temperamentally conservative in contrast to their brethren elsewhere.

It would be very interesting to know if Southwest Florida Democratic women favored Fried over Crist in light of the two candidates’ battle over their respective commitments to women’s choice. Fried was counting on a female groundswell to lift her to the nomination. It didn’t happen statewide. Did it happen in Southwest Florida? What might the results mean for the general election on Nov. 8? Just how much will the overthrow of Roe v. Wade factor into people’s next ballot?

Regrettably, the official tallies don’t provide those answers since there’s no gender breakdown in the statistics. There’s a real need in this region for serious, sustained, professional public opinion polling with publicly reported results.

Until we get those kinds of scientific surveys we’ll just have to deduce what we can from the results that we get—and read whatever we can from the tea leaves in the bottoms of our cups.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Banyai emerges as leading pro-choice voice in Southwest Florida politics

Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai exhorts the crowd in Fort Myers, Fla., at a demonstration denouncing the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, this past Saturday, June 25. (Photo: Campaign)

June 27, 2022 by David Silverberg

In the wake of the US Supreme Court’s ruling last Friday, June 24, to overthrow the Roe v. Wade decision on abortion, Cindy Banyai, the Democratic candidate for Congress in the 19th Congressional District, has emerged as the leading political candidate supporting women’s choice in Southwest Florida.

All regional Republican officeholders and candidates are either on the record against choice, praised the decision or have not expressed an opinion.

In a lengthy statement issued the day of the decision in the case of Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Banyai stated: “The day we feared has come. Far right extremists have succeeded in stripping us of our rights. The partisan corruption of the Supreme Court has eroded trust in our institutions. The Dobbs ruling is yet another blow to our democracy and to freedom.”

Banyai, the mother of three, continued: “I believe we all deserve human dignity, to live life on our own terms. This means deciding when and where to have a family. Failing to recognize abortion as health care and the value of body autonomy will put lives in danger.

“The partisan corruption of the Supreme Court has eroded trust in our institutions. The Dobbs ruling is yet another blow to our democracy and to freedom.”

However, she exhorted her audience: “Do not lose hope, though. We must keep fighting—for our rights, for our children, and our democracy.”

Republican reaction

Given Southwest Florida’s Republican dominance, Banyai’s stance makes her the region’s only pro-choice political figure.

Banyai’s opponent, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.), praised the Supreme Court’s ruling and has long been on the record against women’s choice, making it a fundamental part of his 2020 election campaign.

Among the region’s state legislators, state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Naples), the incoming president of the Florida Senate, was also quick to praise the Dobbs decision.

“I am grateful to see the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade. These defenders of the Constitution have given the states rights to do what is right. Here in Florida, we will continue to defend life,” she tweeted following the decision announcement.

While retiring state Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Fort Myers) has not issued a statement on the Dobbs decision, during his campaign for office in 2020 the nastiest charge that his supporters could hurl against his primary opponent, Heather Fitzenhagen, was that she supported choice, to the point that she was said to be a clone of House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.).

As of this writing, Jonathan Martin, head of the Lee County Republican Party and the primary candidate seeking to succeed Rodrigues in the newly-drawn 33rd Senate District, had not commented or stated a position on the Dobbs decision.

In Florida the defining legislation on choice was the Reducing Fetal and Infant Mortality Act (House Bill (HB) 5), which put new restrictions on abortions in the state, prohibiting them after 15 weeks of pregnancy. It was approved by the House by a vote of 78 to 39 on Feb. 17, approved by the Senate by a vote of 23 to 15 on March 3 and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) on April 14. It goes into effect this coming Friday, July 1.

Lee and Collier counties’ state representatives, all Republicans, voted for HB 5.

Statewide response

On a statewide basis the picture was different but predictable, with Republicans praising the decision and Democrats condemning it.

DeSantis issued a statement: “For nearly fifty years, the U.S. Supreme Court has prohibited virtually any meaningful pro-life protection, but this was not grounded in the text, history or structure of the Constitution. By properly interpreting the Constitution, the Dobbs majority has restored the people’s role in our republic and a sense of hope that every life counts. Florida will continue to defend its recently-enacted pro-life reforms against state court challenges, will work to expand pro-life protections, and will stand for life by promoting adoption, foster care and child welfare.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidates condemned the decision.

Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.): “Today’s Supreme Court decision to overturn nearly fifty years of progress by dismantling Roe v. Wade is shameful, harmful, and wrong. Without the protections of Roe, radical Republican governors and legislators, including those in Tallahassee, will now have the power to outlaw abortion entirely, regardless of the circumstances.”

State Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried: “This is a tragic day for women in America. The freedom to make our own choices about our lives, our bodies, and our healthcare is fundamental to our humanity. It’s absolutely devastating to have those rights taken away. It’s not an exaggeration to say that women and girls will die as a result of this decision.” She vowed: “In Florida, for now, we still have a provision in our state constitution that protects abortion rights – although that is in question as well. I promise that we will fight with everything we have to keep that from being overturned.”

Both of Florida’s Republican US senators praised the decision while Democratic senatorial candidate Val Demings condemned it.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene is Naples no-show; sends video speech instead

Patriot Fest in Sugden Regional Park focuses on local candidates; urges political involvement

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (on screen at left) speaks to attendees of Patriot Fest in Naples’ Sugden Park on Saturday, March 19. (Photo: Author)

March 21, 2022 by David Silverberg

On Saturday, March 19, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-14-Ga.), the controversial right wing member of Congress promoted as the headliner for the third Patriot Fest held in Naples, Fla., did not appear in person as advertised, instead sending a pre-recorded video speech.

Greene’s speech was subdued and mainly urged listeners to get involved in politics at the local level, the chief theme of the gathering.

“Now, you know we have a problem in the Republican Party and those are the Republicans like Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham and all of the RINOs [Republicans in Name Only] who sell us out,” she said. “They only talk good on TV but they never follow through with the right actions. What I’m calling on all of you to do is, going into this election cycle, make sure you’re supporting good Republican candidates, America First candidates that you have vetted and that you know are going to do the job they say they’re going to do on the campaign trail but they will actually do it when they get to Washington.”

For the most part, Greene’s roughly 7-minute speech consisted of standard conservative orthodoxy. She denounced a lack of attention to the southern border, high inflation and gas prices and condemned what she saw as greater concern with the global economy than domestic economics.

Brendon Leslie, an independent conservative journalist, event organizer and master of ceremonies, attributed Greene’s absence to demonstrations, although no demonstrators were apparent outside Sugden Regional Park in east Naples during her address.

The festival at its height attracted perhaps 400 attendees in this author’s estimation. Alfie Oakes, the extremely conservative local farmer and grocer and key organizer of the event, announced that over 1,000 tickets were sold. General admission cost $25 and special access tickets cost $150. Food trucks provided food and tents promoted various candidates for office as well as consumer products.

Seventeen speakers were scheduled. Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno, although listed as a speaker, did not attend.

The main point of the festival was to showcase and promote local candidates supporting a far-right agenda and encourage political involvement by attendees.

This was driven home in a speech by Oakes.

“I want every single person who hears my voice to go out and find five other people to show up for the primary and make sure that they vote for strong people,” he exhorted the crowd. “Do your homework. The reason we’re in this situation right now is because we have not been doing our homework, we’re voting for whoever sounds good on TV, for whoever spends the most money to get name recognition and, unfortunately, those are almost always the wrong people.”

Oakes made the point that ideological fervor was the most important qualification for office.

“I don’t want to hear about what IQ someone has or what level of education someone has,” he said. “I graduated from North Fort Myers High School—a bunch of rednecks. Common sense and some back is all we need right now.”

He continued: “I want to get behind people that have backbone; that stand up, it’s the only way we’re going to take back this country, it’s the only chance. And school board is just a little microcosm of the same 535 [members of Congress] that are making the decisions. They just spent 1.5 trillion dollars in our federal government, the school board of Lee Country spends 2 billion dollars. If I were on the Lee County school board, I could put an extra billion dollars back into the taxpayer and get everybody probably a 300 percent better education, if you let a businessman run it. There’s so much corruption going on up there, it’s disgusting.”

Oakes said he would be collecting money for his Citizens Awake Now Political Action Committee and he endorsed candidates at the festival. In Lee County, this was Denise Nystrom for Lee County School Board District 6. Collier County School Board candidates were: Jerry Rutherford, District 1; Kelly Lichter, District 3; and Tim Moshier, District 5. For Collier County commission he endorsed Chris Hall for District 2; and Daniel Kowal for District 4.

Other candidates present at the festival included Anna Paulina Luna, who ran unsuccessfully against Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.) in the 2020 election and is running for the seat again and Drew Montez-Clark, who was collecting signatures to get on the ballot against Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) in the August 23 Republican primary.

Ukraine? What Ukraine?

During the proceedings Ukraine was only fleetingly mentioned. Greene noted the overseas crisis, although her focus was domestic: “While we all disagree with what Putin and Russia have done in Ukraine, we mourn for their people and their losses, we have got to urge our leaders to care about our country before it’s too late,” she said.

There was also concern expressed for the Jan. 6 rioters who are being prosecuted and convicted in increasing numbers.

Again, as Greene put it: “After several years of non-stop riots from Antifa leading into the summer of rage and BLM [Black Lives Matter] riots, we’re now seeing people being persecuted after going and walking around the Capitol on January 6th,” she said. “The Department of Justice is out of control. This is all the Democrats’ fault. Americans should always have their due process rights and never be treated like political prisoners of war.”

There were also numerous references to the need to preserve the United States as a Christian nation.

The crudest, most emotional—and loudest—speaker was musician Ted Nugent who led off the rally with an ear-splitting guitar rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.

The chief focus of Nugent’s speech was conservative voter apathy, although that was hardly the only target.

 “Worse than Democrats—if you can imagine—worse than the scourge of Marxist, Communist Liberalism, because that’s what it’s become, worse than that—you ready?” he roared.

A member of the audience shouted: “RINOs!”

Nugent responded: “RINOs are even worse, you’re right, because they have violated our faith in them. But worse than all that you can think of, worse than any of that, worse than doctor punk-ass Fauci, worse than Hillary Clinton, worse than Barack Obama and Eric Holder running illegal guns to Mexican gangs to kill my friend, Brian Terry, the Border Patrol agent from Michigan, worse than that—it’s hard to imagine worse than that! You know what’s worse than that? You had better take this home with you because Nancy Pelosi would like to thank you: people who think they stand up for the good of America and don’t even vote. Shame on you! Why don’t you just go up to a flag-draped coffin and piss on it? Is that a little harsh? Do you not need to hear this? If you don’t vote for the principles and the core belief that those soldiers and sailors and Marines and airmen have died for, then you’re worse than Nancy Pelosi because you invited her to bed.”

Analysis: Actually, a universal message

The atmosphere of Patriot Fest was a combination of country-western concert, county fair and political rally. The mood was upbeat and enthusiastic—and surprisingly un-angry among the crowd—but the underlying purpose was very serious.

Given its admission fee at the door, participants were already self-selected to be politically active, so despite the repeated exhortations this was not an apathetic crowd by any means. Attendance numbers did not necessarily indicate an overwhelming groundswell of popular commitment to this cause, the fervor of attendees notwithstanding.

However, the impact of that fervor is not to be underestimated. In relatively obscure down-ballot elections like school boards and county commissions, small numbers of committed voters and volunteers can make a big difference.

It needs to be remembered that while Oakes’ beliefs are sincere and intense he also has a big economic stake in the outcomes of these elections. He remains in litigation with the Lee County School Board over a contract with Oakes Farms that was canceled in 2020 following his public statements regarding George Floyd. He had a bitter dispute with the Collier County Commission over mask mandates that resulted in four lawsuits, all of which have now concluded in settlements or court defeats.

A change in school boards in both Lee and Collier counties and especially in the Collier County Commission could significantly alter the overall atmosphere and regulatory approach to his businesses.

However, there was also a universal message in this gathering that reached beyond partisanship—and that was the need for participation and activism by every citizen.

Of course, the speakers and organizers at Patriot Fest wanted attendees to get active and vote in order to implement their ideological program. But the opposition to inactivity and apathy applies to everyone, whether liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican—and especially to those who would defeat imposition of an extreme agenda.

As Oakes said: “This is a dire time. We’re not going to get another chance. This midterm 2022 election is the most crucial election of our lifetime. Don’t kid yourself.”

That’s perhaps overstating it a bit; after all, the 2020 election determined whether the United States would remain a democracy and independent of Russia. But he’s not wrong that the upcoming election is crucial, that its results will be significant and that it will be lost and won at the state, congressional, county and school board levels.

Greene, Oakes and the other Patriot Fest speakers may not have intended their message to include liberals, progressives, Democrats and RINOs but the idea that every citizen should be active, engaged and most of all, vote, applies to every American.

And that, after all, is what makes a true patriot.

Liberty lives in light

© 2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate!