Updated at 4:30 pm with additional bill details and Senate status.
Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t been getting much good news lately but surely he must have smiled when he saw that Southwest Florida’s own Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) had voted against aid for Ukraine.
The vote came last Tuesday, May 10, at 10:05 pm when the United States House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to grant Ukraine $40 billion to keep up its fight for democracy and independence, a fight that has inspired the world.
The Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2022 (House Bill 7691) passed by a vote of 368 to 57. Even 149 Republicans voted for the bill, among them Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) and eight other Florida Republicans.
“Among other things, the bill provides appropriations for defense equipment, migration and refugee assistance, regulatory and technical support regarding nuclear power issues, emergency food assistance, economic assistance, and seizures of property related to the invasion,” according to its official summary.
“It’s about democracy versus a dictatorship,” argued House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-12-Calif.) in favor of the bill. “Democracy must prevail. The Ukrainian people are fighting the fight for their democracy and, in doing so, for ours as well.”
“Ukrainians are fighting for their freedom and their future against Russia’s unprovoked and illegal war,” Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.) stated. “This vote makes clear that the US remains as committed as ever to supporting Ukraine in its fight for freedom and democracy. Slava Ukraine!”
By contrast, Donalds said in a statement: “While I’m a firm supporter of the Ukrainian defense, the American taxpayer shouldn’t bear the perpetual cost of this war.” He argued that “the $40 billion aid package I voted against is an unfunded commitment that shovels money blindly without proper accountability and opens the door for even more irresponsible funding. I supported the original multi-billion-dollar aid package, but we cannot continue down this reckless spending pattern bankrupting our nation,”
(It should be noted that there’s nothing “perpetual” about the aid package. It’s a one-time infusion to help Ukraine defend itself and assist Ukrainians victimized by the conflict.)
Oddly, Donalds failed to mention the vote in his newsletter recapping the week’s events.
To Donalds’ north in Southwest Florida, Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), another far-right conservative who also opposed the package, complained that while he had voted for previous Ukraine funding: “Congress has not received a single report on how much of this funding was spent, if any, nor assurances that the funding even reached Ukraine. Today less than 6 hours before a vote, the Democrats dropped a massive, last-minute bill to send $40 billion more without any safeguards, assurances of use, or proof of a strategic plan for the US role in Ukraine.”
Somehow, the pictures of charred Russian tanks and equipment abandoned in retreat from Ukrainian territory might indicate that current aid is being put to very good use.
Following passage in the House the bill was sent to the Senate. Yesterday, May 16, senators voted 81 to 11 to proceed with the legislation and a final vote is expected this week, possibly as soon as tomorrow. Both of Florida’s Republican senators voted to proceed with the bill.
Donalds will remain outside the district he represents if Gov. Ron DeSantis’ (R) favored congressional district map is invalidated by the courts, where it is now being considered.
A congressperson doesn’t have to live in the district he or she represents, only in the state. Donalds’ address of record is in the 25th Congressional District represented by Diaz-Balart. [Editor’s note:The precise address is not being posted here out of courtesy to Rep. Donalds.]
Traditionally, of course, it is best for the member of Congress to reside in the district. The representative can stay close to the people, personally share their concerns and keep an eye on the community’s needs and issues. It also gives the member credibility at election time.
Donalds, elected in 2020, has never resided in the 19th but he was handed a favor when DeSantis’ team redrew the Florida congressional map, rammed it through the legislature and DeSantis signed it into law on April 22. Instead of moving into the 19th, DeSantis moved the district’s borders to include Donalds.
This not only closed a campaign vulnerability for Donalds, it avoided a potentially damaging primary fight between Donalds and Diaz-Balart if Donalds had chosen to run in the 25th (re-numbered the 26th in the DeSantis map).
It was a neat solution for all concerned. However, with the DeSantis map thrown out in court and now up in the air as the judge’s ruling is appealed, it remains to be seen in which congressional district Donalds hangs his hat—which has never seemed to matter much to him anyway.
Donalds might have received a blow when the court threw out DeSantis’ map but a different court handed him a victory in his battle with former Republican congressional candidate, businessman Casey Askar.
The case was initially scheduled to be tried before a jury on May 18. However, Judge Elizabeth Krier of the 20th Judicial Circuit handed down a ruling on April 14.
To recap: On primary election day, Aug. 18, 2020, a text message was sent to Republicans, allegedly from Donalds, saying that he had dropped out of the race. Donalds vehemently denied its authenticity and accused Askar of sending the false message.
However, Donalds provided no evidence and Askar denied the charge. On Nov. 16, 2020, Askar sued Donalds for defamation and libel, demanding $30,000 in damages.
After nearly a year and a half of legal wrangling and maneuvering—and legal expenses—Krier granted Donalds’ request for a summary judgment and dismissed Askar’s complaint.
“…Viewing the facts in a light most favorable to Plaintiff, there is no genuine issue of material fact as to the mandatory element of actual malice, and therefore Defendant Donalds is entitled to judgment as a matter of law,” Krier wrote.
Essentially, Askar had to prove that Donalds acted with malice against him, knowing his charges were untrue. What was more, Askar had to provide evidence to that effect. The bar for doing this is especially high when it comes to public political figures like political candidates.
Askar failed these tests, in Krier’s view. Donalds’ accusations against Askar were merely “opinions” she wrote. Donalds had made the accusations based on the belief that one of Askar’s consultants, Jeff Roe, had allegedly pulled this kind of trick in 2016 against Dr. Ben Carson in his presidential primary race against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
Given that Askar failed to make his defamation case with “clear and convincing evidence,” Krier ruled against him.
Krier may soon rule that Askar has to pay all the attorney’s fees and court costs to Donalds for the litigation, which likely comes to quite a tidy sum. One hopes for Askar’s sake that the pizza business is booming.
A presentation on new districts at the congressional, state and county levels made to the Collier County Democratic Party on May 11, 2022.
Hours before this scheduled presentation, Judge Layne Smith of Leon County, Fla., struck down the governor’s congressional redistricting map. The fate of Florida’s congressional districts remains undecided at this time.
Southwest Florida’s congressional district boundaries will experience only minor tweaks under the redistricting map (P000C0109) submitted by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), which is expected to be enacted under a special legislative session opening today.
A bitter fight has emerged over the disposition of the 5th Congressional District in the panhandle. DeSantis’ map would eliminate the district represented by Rep. Al Lawson (D-5-Fla.) by splitting it into two new districts, 2 and 3, that would likely vote Republican. Democrats are charging that through deliberate gerrymandering in this district and others, DeSantis is trying to wipe out Black representation in Florida. DeSantis has argued that his map is racially neutral.
Also, DeSantis’ map creates 20 Republican districts to Democrats’ eight, ensuring majority Republican representation in Congress for the next decade and favorably positioning him to take Florida’s Electoral College vote if he runs in 2024.
DeSantis vetoed the legislature’s proposed map and instead insisted on passage of his own, a very unusual move given that redistricting is usually in the legislative domain.
An earlier map proposed by DeSantis was very radical in its changes for Southwest Florida, making Lee County its own congressional district and significantly altering the 19th and 25th districts. The new map, submitted by J. Alex Kelly, DeSantis’ deputy chief of staff, is less sweeping for this region.
The DeSantis map, which is likely to be enacted, makes changes to the three districts that constitute Southwest Florida. Some changes are minor, others substantial. All have electoral implications but would remain majority Republican districts.
The new 19th
Changes to the 19th District, the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island, are relatively minor and the district keeps its existing number.
The DeSantis map takes a bit of territory out of North Fort Myers and moves it and all of Lehigh Acres into the 17th District. However, unlike other past proposed maps, minority neighborhoods in Fort Myers, like Dunbar, remain within the 19th.
In Collier County, the DeSantis 19th extends the district boundary to Rt. 75 and as far east as Santa Barbara Blvd. between Pine Ridge Rd. and Golden Gate Pkwy., so it now encompasses Village Walk, Livingston Walk, Wyndemere and parts of Golden Gate.
This change would put the home of Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) in the district. Until now he has been representing it while living in Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s district.
The severed 17th
The 17th District, currently represented by Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.) would be substantially reduced and under the DeSantis plan would extend roughly from the Lee County line north to Sarasota and would include sections of North Fort Myers and all of Lehigh Acres.
Much of the 17th’s former interior area—which is very lightly populated—would be transferred to a newly drawn 18th Congressional District, which would include DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Okeechobee, Glades and Hendry County and include part of the unincorporated Collier County town of Immokalee.
The renumbered 26th and the splitting of Immokalee
The old 25th District represented by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart would now be renumbered the 26th and would lose largely unpopulated territory it formerly had in Hendry County. Its center of gravity would still be in the east in the Cuban-American stronghold of Hialeah.
Interestingly, the unincorporated town of Immokalee in Collier County, which was previously in Diaz-Balart’s district, would now be split down the middle between the 26th and the new 18th along North 15th St., and State Road 845.
Analysis: The DeSantis implications
For Southwest Florida the most significant change from the DeSantis map is moving Donalds into the 19th District so he doesn’t have to change domiciles and he eliminates a potential electoral vulnerability. Otherwise, the racial, ethnic and partisan makeup of the region stays largely the same and favors the incumbents and the Republican Party.
The division of Immokalee is particularly unfortunate for that low-income community of roughly 20,000 people. The largely Hispanic town of mostly seasonal farmworkers was at the far edge of Diaz-Balart’s district but he would visit it occasionally and he requested $987,000 in federal earmarked funds for sidewalk and drainage improvements. Now, with it divided between districts, it’s likely to be neglected by both congresspeople in whose districts it falls.
The DeSantis map has raised vehement protests from Democrats and charges of racism since it eliminates districts with black representation in the north and around Orlando. Democrats are vowing to challenge it in court, which was exactly the outcome that Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Fort Myers) worked hard to avoid when he headed the state Senate Redistricting Committee.
Florida teachers can rest assured that they will not have to wear microphones and be subject to video surveillance in their classrooms—at least for the rest of this year.
That’s because the Video Cameras in Public School Classrooms, House Bill (HB) 1055, in the Florida legislature died at the end of the legislative session.
It was not given a hearing or considered for passage during the three-month legislative session.
The bill was introduced on Dec. 28 last year by state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples). It required that Florida public school teachers wear microphones and be watched by video cameras in their classrooms.
Following its first reading on Jan. 11, the bill was referred to two subcommittees of the Florida House Education and Employment Committee: the early learning and elementary education subcommittee and the secondary education and career development subcommittee. It was also referred to the House Appropriations preK-12 appropriations subcommittee.
In a Feb. 11 message to constituents, Rommel stated:
“On any given school day in the Sunshine State, over 2.5 million kids attend our public schools. That doesn’t even include kids in private school or homeschool.
“We have more school children than 15 other states have people. Our children must have a world-class education and we must take every precaution to keep them safe. Safe from bullying, safe from abuse, and safe from teachers with an ideological agenda.
“The key is to make our classrooms transparent and accountable. That’s why I filed legislation this year to put security cameras in every classroom in Florida.
“While the radical Left wants to take control of our kids, conservatives want to keep parents in charge. In Florida, we protect parents’ rights and we don’t have an income tax. Let’s keep it that way.”
The Early Learning and Elementary Education Subcommittee was the lead subcommittee to consider it. When it didn’t consider the bill, HB 1055 was withdrawn from consideration on Saturday, March 12, after the official end of the legislative session and then officially declared dead on Monday, March 14.
During its short life span HB 1055 came in for blistering criticism from teachers’ unions and education experts.
“Did you ever read 1984? Big Brother is not the way to encourage learners to grapple with difficult issues, learn critical thinking and become active informed, voting citizens of our democracy. What you propose can only limit thinking, discussion and learning for students who will become the leaders of the future,” wrote Madelon Stewart, an education activist, in a Jan. 31 op-ed in the Fort Myers News-Press.
“You may try to justify this undemocratic law as an attempt to root out ‘socialism’ and ‘communism’ however, you are, in fact, creating what you purport to fear. You say you eschew government overreach, but common sense tells us that what you propose will do nothing positive and that, in fact, you are planning to control learning, freedom of speech and thought,” she wrote.
“I believe there are some people in the public arena who are trying to create a mistrust, not just of teachers, but of public education in general,” Michelle Dillon, president of the St. Johns Education Association told NewsJax 4 in Jacksonville when the bill was introduced. “It’s just noise, it’s a distraction from the real issues of staff shortages and the lack of meaningful pay. We need to trust our educators again.”
“It’s just a lot of energy wasted on something that is wrongheaded, destructive to a profession that’s already in low morale,” Vicki Kidwell, president of the Clay County Education Association, told the same TV station. “We [the teachers] are made out to be villains and we don’t see the energy being put into fixing the problems that we have.”
The Paradise Progressive reached out to Rommel to ask if he plans to re-file this bill next year and if he would make any changes to it. To date no answer has been received.
New district lines
Rommel has announced that he will be running for the Florida House again this year. However, he will be facing a different constituency due to new House district lines.
Rommel’s current 106th district stretches along the Gulf coast from Bonita Beach Road in Lee County to Naples to Everglades City and Chokaloskee.
However, under new district maps passed by the Florida House, the 106th District has been altered and split.
The northern new district, the 80th, runs along the coast from the Lee County-Charlotte County line in the north to Immokalee Rd. in Collier County in the south. It includes Boca Grande, Pine Island and Sanibel Island.
The new southern district, the 81st, runs along the coast from Immokalee Rd. to Marco Island and includes Naples.
This more closely conforms to Rommel’s existing district and he has already stated that he will be running there for both the Aug. 23rd primary and Nov. 8th general election.
By a vote of 31 to 4 the Florida Senate yesterday, Jan. 20, passed its version of Florida’s new congressional districts.
The new map makes only slight changes to Southwest Florida’s congressional districts but it does take a chunk of Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres out of the current 19th Congressional District and puts it in the 17th Congressional District to the north.
Those districts include considerable Black and Hispanic populations and dilute any potential Democratic voting blocks in the 19th, making both the 19th and 17th districts, already heavily Republican, even more so.
The Senate completely ignored a map submitted on behalf of Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), which made radical changes to Florida’s congressional districts. DeSantis has indicated that he may veto the Senate map, since he has to sign off on any congressional boundary changes.
The Florida House has yet to weigh in with a final version of its congressional map.
The Senate map
The map approved yesterday by the Senate (S000C8040) largely keeps existing boundaries and numbers.
This map was chosen and shepherded through the committee process by Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Lee County) who chaired the Senate’s Reapportionment Committee.
From the outset, Rodrigues said he was committed to avoiding the experience of the 2010 redistricting, which was challenged in court and took six years to litigate before final maps were approved.
The initial round of maps proposed by the Senate received a “B” grade from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, an academic, non-partisan evaluation by Princeton University. It largely kept existing districts intact, while giving Florida its new 28th district. The B meant that the map was considered “better than average for the category, but bias still exists.”
As of this writing the new maps have not yet been graded by Princeton.
The Senate map keeps Fort Myers’ River District in the 19th and makes Park Ave. the boundary line between the 19th and the 17th in the west. State Road 82 becomes the boundary between the 17th and the 19th until it reaches Rt. 75 in the east.
It also puts the 19th District portion of Lehigh Acres solidly in the 17th.
The initial draft of this map was denounced by Democratic congressional candidate Cindy Banyai. “This is gerrymandering,” she stated in a Nov. 19 press release. “Most of the people who are no longer in FL19 are minorities, our Black and Latino neighbors. It’s well known that this district has always been a giveaway to the Republicans, but this clear targeting of our communities of color should alarm everyone.”
The DeSantis map
The DeSantis proposal (P000C0079) largely follows county lines.
Under the DeSantis proposal, all of Lee County would constitute the 19th Congressional District. Collier County would constitute the bulk of a re-numbered 26th District, along with a chunk of Broward County as far east as Hialeah, the Cuban-American stronghold that provides the center of gravity for the current 25th District. A newly re-numbered 18th District would cover an immense swath of land including all of Charlotte County. Today, much of this area is contained in the 17th District.
It remains unclear whether the Senate or DeSantis maps will prevail when it comes to congressional districts. (The Senate also redrew state Senate districts. House districts will be redrawn by the state House. These do not need the governor’s signature to take effect.)
“We have submitted an alternative proposal, which we can support, that adheres to federal and state requirements, while working to increase district compactness, minimize county splits where feasible, and protect minority voting populations,” stated Christina Pushaw, the governor’s press secretary. “Because the governor must approve any congressional map passed by the Legislature, we wanted to provide our proposal as soon as possible and in a transparent manner.”
The controversies over the dueling maps will not center around Southwest Florida. The battles are emerging over heavily populated districts on the east coast in Democratic areas like Miami and Jacksonville. According to The Florida Phoenix, it appears “DeSantis’ proposed congressional map favors Republicans in 18 districts and Democrats in 10. Under the existing map, Republicans control 16 seats to the Democrats’ 11” whereas the “Senate draft contains 16 districts that went for Donald Trump two years ago and 12 likely to skew Democratic — a gain of one seat.”
Under the Senate map, existing representatives would remain largely in place, with Rep. Byron Donalds (R) representing the 19th, in which he does not reside, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R) representing the 25th, and Rep. Greg Steube (R) representing the 17th.
Under DeSantis’ map, Donalds would have to choose whether to run in a 19th District that’s even further from his home—meaning a dual commute to Lee County as well as Washington, DC—or stay where he lives in the 25th and face off against fellow Republican Diaz-Balart.
If Donalds decided not to run in the DeSantis 19th, it could open the door to a new contender of any party.
For his part, if Diaz-Balart decided to run in the DeSantis 26th District, he would suddenly have a population center to contend with in a relatively urbanized western part of his district. Until now, the western part of the 25th was barely populated and Diaz-Balart could concentrate his attentions on Hialeah and his Cuban-American constituents with the occasional trip out to Immokalee serving as a show of some degree of concern for western constituents.
Though the redistricting process is far from over, the Senate map has the greatest likelihood of passage, although DeSantis’ wild card could still change the outcome of the game.
Maps must be finalized by June 17 when candidates qualify to run in the new districts. They’re more likely to be finalized by March 11, the last scheduled day of the legislative session.
A vision of Florida’s future? The dome homes of Cape Romano off the coast of Southwest Florida. When built in 1979 they were on solid land. (Photo: Andy Morfrew/Wikimedia Commons)
Jan. 3, 2022 by David Silverberg
At the end of every year, most newspapers and media outlets like to do retrospectives on the year past. They’re easy to do, especially with a skeleton crew: just go into the archives, pull out a bunch of the past year’s photographs or stories, slap them together, throw them at the readers or viewers and then staff can relax and party for the New Year. Or better yet, when it comes to a supposedly “daily” newspaper, don’t print any editions at all.
What’s much harder to do is look ahead at the year to come and try to determine, however imperfectly, what the big stories will be.
That takes some thought and effort but it’s much more valuable and helpful in setting a course through the fog of the future.
Although there will be surprises and any projection is necessarily speculative, there are a number of big issues in the nation and Southwest Florida that are likely to dominate 2022.
Democracy vs. autocracy
Donald Trump may no longer be president but the impact of his tenure lives on. Just how much will he and his cultists continue to influence events this year?
Although the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection and coup failed, the effort to impose autocratic, anti-democratic rule continues at the state and local levels as Trumpist politicians push to create mechanisms to invalidate election results they don’t like.
Nowhere is this truer than in Florida where Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is playing to the most extreme elements of his base as he tries to ensure his own re-election and mount a presidential bid in 2024. He also has to outdo his other potential presidential hopefuls, most notably Texas’ Gov. Greg Abbott (R).
In Florida, the race is on to produce the most extreme, radical right measures both by DeSantis and members of Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature.
Examples of this include DeSantis’ 2022 $5.7 million budget proposal for an Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Department of State to investigate election crimes and allegations. In another time and in other hands, this might seem like a politically neutral and straightforward law enforcement agency, if a redundant and unnecessary one. However, given the past year’s efforts in Florida to narrow voting options and the continuing influence of Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen from him, it could have more sinister purposes, like invalidating or discarding legitimate election results.
DeSantis is also proposing creation of a Florida State Guard, which would be wholly subject to his will and authority. The Florida National Guard, by contrast, can be called up for national duty and is answerable to the US Department of Defense in addition to the governor.
These efforts, combined with DeSantis’ past assaults on local autonomy and decisionmaking and his anti-protest legislation, are moving Florida toward a virtual autocracy separate and unequal from the rest of the United States.
The question for 2022 is: will they advance and succeed? Or can both legislative and grassroots opposition and resistance preserve democratic government?
The state of the pandemic
The world will still be in a state of pandemic in 2022, although vaccines to prevent COVID and therapeutics to treat it are coming on line and are likely to keep being introduced. However, given COVID’s ability to mutate, new variants are also likely to keep emerging, so the pandemic is unlikely to be at an official end.
Globally, vaccines will be making their way to the poorer and more remote populations on earth.
In Florida and especially in Southwest Florida, vaccination rates are high. However, there’s no reason to believe that anti-vaccine sentiment and COVID-precaution resistance will slacken. Further, as President Joe Biden attempts to defeat the pandemic by mandating and encouraging vaccines, Republican states are trying to thwart mandates in court. At the grassroots, as rational arguments fail, anti-vaxxers are resisting COVID precautions in increasingly emotional and extreme ways, potentially including violence.
In Southwest Florida the political balance may change in favor of science as anti-vaxxers and COVID-deniers sicken and die off. This will reduce their numbers and their political influence. As their influence wanes that of pro-science realists should rise—but it’s not necessarily clear that realistic, pro-science sentiment will automatically translate into equal and opposite political power.
This year will reveal whether the DeSantis COVID gamble pays off. He has bet that resisting and impeding COVID precautions in favor of unrestrained economic growth will result in political success at the polls.
Will Floridians forget or overlook the cost in lives and health at election time? It’s a result that will only be revealed in November.
Choice and anti-choice
Abortion will be a gigantic issue in 2022. Anti-choicers are hoping that a conservative majority on the Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade and abortion will be outlawed.
A Supreme Court ruling on a Mississippi law outlawing abortion is expected in June. There may be a ruling on Texas’ ban on abortions before then. If Roe is overturned, a number of Republican state legislatures are poised to enact their own bans based on the Texas model and Florida is one of these.
If House Bill 167 passes the Florida legislature, it will inaugurate an environment of civil vigilantism as individual citizens sue anyone suspected of aiding or performing abortions. It’s hard to imagine anything more polarizing, more divisive or more destructive both at the state level and grassroots, as neighbor turns on neighbor.
By the same token, the threat to safe abortion access may galvanize political activism by pro-choice supporters regardless of political party. That was the situation in Georgia in 2020 when a fetal heartbeat bill was passed and signed into law, only to be thrown out in court. Politically, the issue helped turn the state blue.
This year, if Roe is struck down, millions of women may turn against an anti-choice Republican Party and mobilize to enact reproductive rights legislation.
What will be the reaction if Florida follows Texas’ lead and enacts an abortion ban?
Whichever way it goes, abortion will be a sleeping but volcanic issue this year. It will erupt when court decisions are announced. It has the potential to completely reshape the political landscape.
Elections and redistricting
All other issues and debates will play out against the backdrop of a midterm election. Nationally, voters will be selecting 36 governors, 34 senators and the entire House of Representatives.
The national story will center on whether Democrats can keep the House of Representatives and their razor-thin majority in the Senate. In the past, the opposition party has usually made gains in the first midterm after a presidential election. That is widely expected to happen again this year.
In Florida, DeSantis is up for re-election as is Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), all state senators, all state representatives and county and municipal officials.
DeSantis is a base politician, in every sense of the word “base.” He doesn’t try to appeal to all Floridians but has clearly decided that his victory will be won by pandering to his most extreme and ignorant supporters—including Donald Trump. His actions reveal that he is calculating that this will give him sufficient support to keep him in office and provide a platform for the presidency in 2024.
Trump, however, is a jealous god and has lately been denigrating his protégé, whom he apparently sees as a potential threat for 2024 and getting too big for his britches. DeSantis may face a Trump-incited primary on the right from Roger Stone, the previously convicted and pardoned political trickster and activist, who lives in Fort Lauderdale.
If the Stone primary challenge does indeed materialize, it will make for one of the great political stories of 2022.
The primary action on the Democratic side will be between the three candidates for the Party’s gubernatorial nomination: Rep. Charlie Crist (D-13-Fla.), a former governor; Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the only statewide Democratic officeholder; and state Sen. Annette Taddeo (D-40-Miami.). This battle will be resolved on primary election day, Aug. 23.
On the Senate side Rep. Val Demings (D-10-Fla.), is currently the leading contender to take on Rubio, although Allen Ellison, who previously ran in the 17th Congressional District, is also seeking the Party’s nomination.
In Southwest Florida Democrat Cindy Banyai is pursuing a rematch with Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.). Currently, no other Democrat is contesting her candidacy.
The congressional and state elections will be occurring in newly-redrawn districts and the exact boundaries of all districts, congressional, state and local, will be a major factor in determining the political orientation of the state for the next decade. The Republican-dominated legislature, which begins meeting on Jan. 11, must finalize the state’s maps by June 13, when candidates qualify for the new districts.
If the maps are overly gerrymandered they will be subject to court challenges. In 2010 court challenges were so numerous and complex that maps weren’t finalized for six years. This year state Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Fort Myers), who heads the Senate redistricting committee, has publicly stated that he wants to avoid a repeat of that experience by drawing fair maps at the outset.
Whether the final maps approved by the legislature are in fact fairly drawn and meet the terms of Florida’s Fair Districts Amendment, will be a major question in 2022.
Battle over schools
School boards were once sleepy and relatively obscure institutions of government and education was a quiet area of governance.
That all changed over the past two years. With schools attempting to keep students, teachers and employees safe with mask and vaccine mandates despite vocal opposition from COVID-denying parents as well as right-wing hysteria over the teaching of critical race theory, school board elections have become pointed ideological battlegrounds. Frustrated Trumpers are determined to impose ideological restrictions on teaching and curriculum and use school boards as grassroots stepping stones to achieving power.
In Virginia the 2021 gubernatorial race turned on the question of parental control of curriculum, resulting in a Republican victory. Across the country Republicans will be trying to duplicate that success by making education a major focus of their campaigns. The resulting battle is already fierce and poised to become fiercer. It has erupted at the grassroots as school board members have been physically threatened and Attorney General Merrick Garland’s mobilization of law enforcement assets to protect school board members was denounced by right wing politicians and pundits as threatening parents.
This is prominently playing out in Florida. DeSantis has proposed the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees [WOKE] Act to prohibit critical race theory teaching and allow parents to sue school board members and teachers. Locally, state Rep. Bob Rommel (R-106-Naples) has proposed putting cameras in all classrooms to monitor teachers. Local grocer, farmer and conservative extremist Francis Alfred “Alfie” Oakes, has demanded that teachers’ unions be “taken down” by “force.”
The school board elections of 2022 will not be what were once considered normal, non-partisan contests. They will be extreme, passionate, heavily politicized, bare-knuckled ideological battles. The outcome of these elections will determine whether students, teachers and school employees are kept safe from the pandemic, whether teachers are able to teach free of surveillance and liability, and whether the lessons imparted to students encourage open inquiry and critical thinking or narrow, ideologically-driven indoctrination.
Climate change—natural and political
The past year was one that saw some of the most extreme weather on record, clearly driven by a changing climate. Biden’s infrastructure plan had some measures to address these changes and build resilience in the face of what is sure to be climatic changes ahead. However, a major initiative to halt climate change is stalled along with the rest of his Build Back Better plan.
Climate change is the issue that undergirds—and overhangs—every other human endeavor. That was true in 2021, it will be true in 2022 and it will be true for the rest of the life of the human race and the planet.
Florida was extraordinarily lucky last year, avoiding the worst of the storms, wildfires, droughts and heat waves that plagued the rest of the United States.
Locally, Southwest Florida got a taste of climate change-driven weather when an EF-1 tornado touched down in Cape Coral on Dec. 21, damaging homes and businesses.
“What I’ve found is, people when they start talking about things like global warming, they typically use that as a pretext to do a bunch of left-wing things that they would want to do anyways. We’re not doing any left-wing stuff,” DeSantis said to audience cheers.
“Be very careful of people trying to smuggle in their ideology. They say they support our coastline, or they say they support, you know, some, you know, difference, our water, environment. And maybe they do, but they’re also trying to do a lot of other things,” he said.
This does not bode well for the governor or legislature addressing climate change impacts this year. Still, even the most extreme climate change-deniers are having a hard time dismissing it entirely.
Reducing or resisting the effects of climate change will be the big sleeper issue of 2022, providing a backdrop to all other political issues as the year proceeds. If there is a major, catastrophic event like a very destructive hurricane—or multiple hurricanes—DeSantis and his minions may have to acknowledge that the urgency of climate change transcends petty party politics.
Beyond the realm of prediction
It is 311 days from New Year’s Day to Election Day this year. A lot can happen that can’t be anticipated or predicted.
In past years a midterm election might seem to be a routine, relatively sleepy event of low voter turnout and intense interest only to wonks, nerds and politicos.
But the stakes are now very high and the dangers considerable. As long as Trumpism continues to threaten democracy and the future of the United States, nothing is routine any more.
The world, America, Florida and Florida’s southwest region are facing unprecedented perils. But as long as America is still an election-driven democracy, every individual has a say in how those perils are addressed.
That precious vote is a citizen’s right and obligation—and it can no longer be taken for granted.
A large chunk of Cape Coral would move from Florida’s 19th Congressional District into a newly re-named 18th Congressional District according to new draft redistricting maps released Monday, Nov. 29, by the Florida House Redistricting Committee.
The redistricting aims to create congressional districts of equal population throughout the state. The goal is to have 769,221 people in each district if possible. Florida must also accommodate a new 28th Congressional District.
Under existing boundaries, the 19th District is overpopulated by 65,791 people or .086 percent more than the ideal and so must lose population to surrounding districts. The question is: where?
The House proposal contrasts with maps released on Nov. 10 by the Florida Senate Redistricting Committee. Those drafts moved North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres into the existing 17th Congressional District.
Instead, both drafts released by the House committee (H000C8001 and H000C8003) take a piece of Cape Coral from the 19th and put it in a newly renumbered 18th District.
The new 18th
The new 18th would include Charlotte, Hendry, Glades, Highland, DeSoto, Hardee and Okeechobee counties with pieces of Sarasota and Lee counties—roughly the same territory as the current 17th.
The 18th would also get a chunk of Cape Coral from the Lee County line, down Burnt Store Rd., to SW Pine Island Ln. (Rt. 78) as far east as Del Prado Blvd., North, then to Hancock Bridge Pkwy., stopping just short of Rt. 41 (N. Cleveland Ave.). It then just follows the Caloosahatchee River east to Interstate 75.
In a gain for the 19th, the draft maps give a chunk of Lehigh Acres back to the 19th, although the bulk of it remains in the new 18th.
Collier County lines
In the southern part of the 19th District, the 19th gains a bit along Golden Gate but then loses a chunk of East Naples including Lely, Naples Manor and Lely Resort.
It also loses some swampland further south—and the tiny community of Goodland, which would celebrate any future Buzzard Lope contests and mullet festivals in a newly re-numbered 26th District.
That 26th District largely keeps the shape of the previous 25th, spreading across Collier County, encompassing Immokalee and keeping Hialeah, its Cuban-American center of gravity and population.
Analysis: An F grade for the House
The two draft congressional maps from the state House Redistricting Committee have come under fire for their partisan gerrymandering.
H000C8003 (which is identical to H000C8001 as far as Southwest Florida is concerned) was given an overall grade of F from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, which found it significantly biased in favor of Republicans. The FiveThirtyEight.com redistricting tracker found it similarly biased, creating 15 Republican-leaning seats statewide, where before there had only been one.
Much of this bias takes place in the congressional districts on the east coast in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area where there are significant Democratic populations.
As far as Southwest Florida is concerned, cutting out a chunk of Cape Coral is less radically partisan than cutting out minority communities in North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres. Those changes were in the state Senate draft, which came under fire from Cindy Banyai, the Democratic congressional candidate in the 19th Congressional District.
From a partisan standpoint, the Cape Coral area being moved into a new district in the House drafts is mostly Republican anyway, so moving it into a new, heavily Republican 18th District won’t make that much of a difference.
It needs to be noted that in addition to the Senate and House drafts, there are proposals from individual Floridians who submitted maps, since the process was thrown open to the public.
A congressional map from Curtis Steffenson (P000C0054), released the same day as the House maps was much more radical in its redrawing than the committee maps, although not necessarily more partisan. It would significantly alter the 19th Congressional District, splitting Lee County in half and putting all of Collier County including Naples and Immokalee into a new 20th District that would go as far east as the county line.
It’s an interesting concept and demonstrates how flexible the lines can be. However, it is very uncertain how seriously the state legislature will be taking this and other draft maps submitted by the public.
All redistricting must be completed and finalized during the Florida legislative session that begins on Jan. 11, 2022 and before the candidate qualifying period beginning on June 13, 2022.
Cindy Banyai, Democratic congressional candidate for the 19th Congressional District, on Friday, Nov. 19, blasted draft redistricting maps from the Florida Senate that cut Fort Myers in two and moved Lehigh Acres fully into a neighboring district.
“This is gerrymandering,” stated Banyai in a press release. “Most of the people who are no longer in FL19 are minorities, our Black and Latino neighbors. It’s well known that this district has always been a giveaway to the Republicans, but this clear targeting of our communities of color should alarm everyone.”
The 19th Congressional District runs along the coast from Cape Coral to Marco Island and inland about as far as Route 75.
There were four draft maps released by the Committee on Nov. 10: S000C8002, S000C8004, S000C8006 and S000C8008.
Banyai pointed out that all the maps move the urban portions of Fort Myers into a mainly rural district.
“I think there is no doubt that it is absolutely a point to move democratic voters out of Florida 19,” Banyai told NBC-2’s political reporter, Dave Elias, in a report last Friday, Nov. 19. “This district has been sold out and considered a red district and they don’t really care what the voting population of Southwest Florida thinks.”
She raised four objections to the draft maps.
“Including part of Fort Myers and Lehigh in FL17 goes against the concept of compactness, given the size of FL17,” she stated.
“Additionally, the Dunbar community in Fort Myers, and Lehigh have high non-white populations. Lehigh has a 64% minority population, while the City of Fort Myers has a 51% minority population. Moving Lehigh and part of the City of Fort Myers out of FL19 has decreased the Black population of FL19 by a third, from 6% to 4% of the total population, in a district with a Black population that was below the state (15.6%) and county (8.2%) percentages.”
She pointed out: “All configurations of FL19 presented by the Florida Senate Committee on Reapportionment favor the White populations of Southwest Florida, whilst splitting and diluting the power of the people of color.”
Also, she noted, splitting the city of Fort Myers violates a concept of keeping “communities of interest” together. The new boundaries follow small residential roads rather than major thoroughfares and would cut up the city and move cohesive neighborhoods like Dunbar and majority Black neighborhoods surrounding Safety Hill.
“These areas of Lee County should be put into the same Congressional district. Putting coastal Collier and Lee Counties together favors the wealthy, White elite and marginalizes communities of color across Southwest Florida by lumping them into the largely rural districts of FL17 and FL25,” she argued.
She continued: “I encourage everyone to review all maps in this redistricting process and to stand up for your community. We cannot let politicians carve out communities they don’t like and ping-pong them around the state. Black and Brown voices should not be marginalized to score political points.”
When Elias polled people in Fort Myers about their potential new congressman (Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.)) should they be moved out of the 19th District, none recognized him.
“I’m not aware of the name. I’m in touch with local politics and never heard the name,” Randy Carry, a resident of North Fort Myers, told Elias when he showed him Steube’s picture. “I’ve never even seen his face.”
For the most part, the new maps leave Southwest Florida’s 17th, 19th and 25th congressional districts largely intact. The districts retain their existing numbering. No local congressmen were redistricted out of their seats or forced into runoff elections. All the districts remain overwhelmingly Republican based on voter registrations.
The big change for the state as a whole is the addition of a new congressional seat, the 28th. It is proposed, as expected, for the center of the state where population growth has been greatest.
While there was widespread trepidation—and expectation—that the new Florida maps would be radically biased in favor of Republicans that proved not to be the case.
When the maps were released, “they were surprisingly unaggressive,” wrote the website FiveThirtyEight.com. “Instead, they largely preserve Florida’s current congressional map, exhibiting only a mild Republican bias.”
The Princeton Gerrymandering Project, an impressively deep and thorough examination of redistricting across the country, gave them an overall grade of B, meaning “better than average for the category, but bias still exists.”
This article looks at the four draft maps for three US congressional districts in Southwest Florida and what they mean for voters. Subsequent articles will examine state Senate and House districts and other draft maps.
In all four draft maps released last week (S000C8002, S000C8004, S000C8006 and S000C8008) the boundaries for the 17th, 19th and 25th congressional districts that make up Southwest Florida remain largely the same.
There are, however, some important changes.
The Florida Fair Districts amendments aim to keep districts as compact and contiguous as possible, following existing boundaries, like county lines. These maps largely do that.
The 17th District, represented by Rep. Greg Steube (R), is a huge, although largely rural, district encompassing Hardee, Desoto, Charlotte, Glades, Highlands, and Okeechobee counties, with chunks of Polk, Lee, and Sarasota counties.
In the new maps the 17th loses all its territory in Polk County, which goes to the newly-formed 28th Congressional District. It also gives up much of its Sarasota County territory to the 16th, although it keeps North Port and the whole town of Venice. But it gains territory in Lee County.
North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres
It is in North Fort Myers that there are big changes proposed as that community shifts from the 19th to the 17th.
The 19th District is represented by Rep. Byron Donalds (R), who lives two miles east of Rt. 75 in the 25th District.
In the new maps State Road 82 becomes the boundary between the 17th and the 19th until it reaches Rt. 75. Then everything—the River District, Buckingham, Tice, Dunbar, Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., as far south as Winkler Ave. and as far west as the Seminole Gulf railway—becomes part of the 17th.
The 19th may be losing a big chunk of North Fort Myers but it picks up Palmona Park across the Caloosahatchee River in Cape Coral.
In the past, most of Lehigh Acres was in the 17th District with a sliver in the 19th. That’s no longer true: the 17th takes all of Lehigh Acres as far south as State Road 82.
Since its drawing in 2010, the 19th District has resembled a railroad spike or a mushroom, with a bulbous north and a skinny south along the coast in its Collier County portion.
In the draft maps, that spike or stem widens slightly. Instead of Livingston Rd. in Collier County being the eastern end of the district, this map extends the line to Rt. 75, which makes much more sense as a boundary.
Between Vanderbilt Beach Rd. and Pine Ridge Rd., it also extends the district eastward to Logan Blvd. to include The Vineyards, which are now entirely in the district.
In its southern end, it stops following Rt. 75 and instead makes 32nd Ave. SW its boundary as far as Collier Blvd., where it goes straight south to Rt. 41 and encompasses Marco Island and Goodland as its most southeasterly community.
Where the 19th gains in Collier County the 25th loses, but not by much. The western edge of the 25th, represented by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R) retains Golden Gate and the unincorporated town of Immokalee and more or less keeps its existing shape. More important is the action on its more densely-populated eastern side where it gains population with Opa-Locka and slivers of Miami. However, it keeps its most important community, Hialeah, a Cuban-American stronghold.
Redistricting—or gerrymandering, if you don’t like the results—is always a delicate art. Drawing the lines can’t help but get partisan as they’re drafted.
In this case, the 19th District was overpopulated and had to lose population somewhere. It so happens that the state Senate drafters chose to take it out by removing minority, working class, somewhat Democratic communities.
Moving North Fort Myers and Lehigh Acres into the 17th means the interests of those suburban communities will be subsumed by the majority rural and agricultural voters further north in Charlotte, Hardee, Desoto, Glades, Highlands, and Okeechobee counties.
In partisan terms, it means they can’t threaten Republican dominance in either the 19th or the 17th. But that was the way the existing lines were drawn anyway.
Assuming that redistricting proceeds smoothly and according to its assigned schedule, next year candidates will be campaigning in the newly drawn new districts. However, it’s difficult to see how the new lines could make much of a difference.
Currently, both the 19th and 17th districts are represented by extreme, radical right-wing Republican incumbent representatives, Donalds and Steube.
For residents of North Fort Myers that doesn’t mean much of a difference in being represented to policymakers in Washington, DC. For Black residents of the affected areas, Donalds not only has no interest in traditional Black concerns like civil rights and voting access, he is actively hostile to them. He has inveighed against critical race theory in schools and is part of the Republican culture wars chorus. He plays to his extreme conservative political action committee donors and a hard-right Trumpist base. Minority voters weren’t getting much representation anyway, so they aren’t losing much if he doesn’t represent them in 2022.
By contrast, his Democratic opponent, Cindy Banyai, is already campaigning vigorously on behalf of those communities. However, she’ll be deprived of potentially supportive voters if the maps change as drawn.
Nor will North Fort Myers residents get any representation if Steube wins re-election again. If anything, Steube is even more extreme than Donalds and would likely completely ignore those communities.
Steube was opposed in 2020 by Allen Ellison, whom he defeated 64 to 34 percent. This year Ellison is running for the US Senate seat of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). To date, Steube has no announced opponent.
In the 25th District, Diaz-Balart is running against Democrat Adam Gentle. Last year Diaz-Balart ran unopposed. Changes in the district lines would not seem to make much of a difference in the demographic makeup of the district.
It’s worth remembering that these are just draft maps. In addition to the state Senate committee’s proposals individuals have submitted proposed drafts. Also, the state House committee is expected to shortly submit its proposals.
People who want to weigh in can contact their representatives and Southwest Florida is fortunate in that Rodrigues, who oversees the whole redistricting effort, is a local state senator. Also, state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo (R-28-Naples) will be serving as Senate president next year and has a disproportionate say in the final redistricting.
Do you think you can draw better political maps than the state legislators in Tallahassee?
Now you can get your chance.
A new website, Florida Redistricting, launched Monday, Sept. 20, gives anyone who cares to use it the opportunity to recommend re-jiggering the state’s political boundaries based on 2020 Census data.
It’s a remarkable experiment in citizen participation and a striking change from past redistricting done in dark, smoke-filled rooms out of public sight.
Of course, while citizens can make plenty of suggestions it will be the legislature that finally decides how the maps will be drawn.
Still, for a state that has increasingly pulled the curtain on its vaunted principles of sunshine in government, it is an exceptional departure from the past. It brings a bit of light to a process that is unglamorous but essential—and determines the partisan balance of power for the decade to come.
Redistricting actually consists of two processes: redistricting (redrawing district lines) and reapportionment (redistributing congressional seats among the states).
Next year Florida gets one new seat in Congress based on its increase in population since 2010. That new district is expected to be in the high-growth area of Orlando or somewhere along the I-4 corridor.
Traditionally, redistricting is colloquially known as the process whereby politicians choose their voters, so voters will likely choose them at election time. It has been manipulated since the beginning of the American republic—and even before, in colonial times. In 1812 it gave rise to the term “gerrymander” after Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry so manipulated the state’s district maps to his political advantage that what emerged was a salamander-like creature immortalized in a newspaper cartoon.
Republicans have been past masters of drawing lines to favor their party. This was highlighted in January 2020, after the death of Republican redistricting consultant Thomas Hofeller. His daughter Stephanie made public the contents of four external hard drives and 18 thumb drives from her father’s office, revealing his detailed gerrymandering work. While he was based in North Carolina, he had clients all over the country and participated in Florida’s redistricting.
In 2010 two constitutional amendments, 5 and 6, were on the ballot in Florida. Amendment 5 covered legislative districts, amendment 6 covered congressional districts and both were known as the Fair Districts Amendments.
Both amendments required that: “districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.”
In the 2010 election both amendments passed with 63 percent of the vote, despite vehement opposition from the state’s Republican lawmakers. (Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.) joined a lawsuit to block their implementation, which failed.)
Despite the amendments, Florida’s 2010 maps were drawn by consultants and political operatives who maneuvered behind the scenes to push Republican dominance. The lines were so elaborately gerrymandered when the maps were revealed that fair districts supporters sued to overturn them.
A “group of Republican political consultants did in fact conspire to manipulate and influence the redistricting process,” ruled Judge Terry Lewis of the 2nd Judicial Circuit in 2014. “They made a mockery of the Legislature’s proclaimed transparent and open process of redistricting” and “went to great lengths to conceal from the public their plan,” and “managed to taint the redistricting process and the resulting map with improper partisan intent.”
It took five years of litigation to finally end the disputes, during which two elections took place.
This year state Sen. Ray Rodrigues (R-27-Estero), who heads the state Senate’s reapportionment committee, is promising that the process will be open, fair and transparent and meet both the spirit and letter of Florida’s Fair Districts Amendments.
“We are taking steps to safeguard against the kind of shadow process that occurred in the last cycle,” Rodrigues said during the first meeting of his committee on Monday, Sept. 20. “We will protect our process against the ‘astroturfing’ that occurred in the past, where partisan political operatives from both parties wrote scripts and recruited speakers to advocate for certain plans or district configurations to create a false impression of a widespread grassroots movement.”
He added: “Fortunately, we now have the insight into both the judiciary’s expanded scope of review, and how courts have interpreted and applied the constitutional standards related to redistricting. I intend for this committee to conduct the process in a manner that is consistent with case law that developed during the last decade that is beyond reproach and free from any hint of unconstitutional intent.”
How they break down
According to the 2020 Census, Florida gained 2,736,877 people over the last ten years and now has a population of 21,538,187.
In Southwest Florida, Lee County gained 142,068 residents, reaching a population of 760,822. Collier County gained 54,232 people to reach a total population of 375,752. Charlotte County gained 26,869 people to reach a total of 186,847.
The redistricting effort will try to bring the new districts into line with ideal population levels while meeting Fair Districting criteria. Since all of Southwest Florida gained population above the ideal, most—but not all—its districts are considered “overpopulated.”
Ideally, each Florida congressional district should have 769,221 people in it, a gain of 72,876 from last time.
According to the data from FloridaRedistricting.gov, in Southwest Florida the current congressional districts break down as follows:
District 17: With a total population of 779,955 people, it has 10,734 or .014 percent people more than the ideal number.
District 19: With a total population of 835,012 people, it has 65,791 or .086 percent more people than the ideal number.
District 25: With a total population of 771,434 people, it has 2,213 or .003 percent more people than the ideal number.
Once in, users can fiddle with the maps to their heart’s content and send recommendations to the legislature.
It’s a remarkable innovation in participatory democracy. Time, however, is of the essence. The legislative redistricting session convenes on Jan. 11 of next year and it must complete its work by the time it adjourns on March 11. Without a doubt, it will be a contentious session.
After that, there will presumably be newly-drawn districts. By June 11, candidates will qualify to run for office. Then the party primaries will take place on Aug. 23 and the general election on Nov. 8.
Can this experiment in popular participation actually result in fairly drawn, politically neutral boundaries?
Obviously, it remains to be seen. In 2010 the Fair Districting Amendments passed overwhelmingly but the maps that came out were gerrymandered anyway. Florida always seems to have a way of ignoring or circumventing its most popular constitutional amendments.
Coming out of the gate, though, Rodrigues’ intentions seem good if his words are taken at face value.
If this experiment works Florida could become a national model of fair districting. This time, if citizens are alert, engaged and determined, maybe—just maybe—Florida for once might abide by its own constitution and put to rest the gerrymander, or, in this case, the Republigator.