On Wednesday, Naples Republican Congressman Byron Donalds met with the Southwest Florida Community Advisory Board for the Naples Daily News and The News-Press. In a wide-ranging discussion that lasted more than an hour, he reflected on his first eight months in federal office, which he called "a wild ride."© Special to The News-Press Byron Donalds, a Republican from Naples, represents most of Lee and Collier counties in Congress as the Florida District 19 U.S. Representative.
“In my view, we’re facing some serious challenges … and my hope is the Congress and president can find a way to reconcile those crises," Donalds said.
One sharp contrast between Washington, DC and Tallahassee, where he served as a Florida representative from 2016 until last year, is the partisan divide and resulting difficulty advancing legislation.
In the Florida Legislature, Donalds says, even minority party-filed bills could be heard by the whole body, and “there would be a pathway … to get to the floor for an up or down vote by the entire chamber.”
Not so in the U.S. Congress, he says.
“Speaker Pelosi doesn’t reference Republican bills,” he said. “We file pieces of legislation (but) there’s not even a pathway for us to say, let me go try to convince the subcommittee chair in, I’ll say the small business committee, of why my idea is a good idea and maybe we should work together on this and even if you don’t fully like the idea what are some nuggets you think should be added … (to) try to get legislation moving? None of that occurs,” he said. “So oftentimes people say ‘What bills are you passing?’ And I have to tell you the truth: The current majority of the House doesn’t reference minority member bills.”
Board member and Bonita Springs resident, Jim Jastatt, who works at Gartner Inc. and owns a small business, asked about Donalds' efforts for small business that have been hit by cyberattacks. Last month he introduced a bipartisan bill along with House Small Business Committee Chairwoman Nydia M. Velázquez, a New York Democrat, the Small Business Advanced Cybersecurity Enhancements Act of 2021. The idea to "reduce the number of small businesses that are reluctant to report cases of cyber-fraud and hacks, (by expanding) liability protections for participating small businesses that engage with the federal government in good faith."
Florida SouthWestern State College Professor and Hendry County resident Brandon Jett asked how, in such a hyper-partisan moment, Donalds represents the 39 percent of the people who didn’t vote for him or align with him ideologically.
Donalds says such differences don't affect how he serves his constituents. "Am I a partisan? Yeah, I am. Pretty much anybody who’s seen me for 10 minutes acknowledges that. But in our government … that’s what representative democracy has always been. I think the key thing is your representative is there to make sure you can get the assistance you need," whether it's veterans, seniors, or people trying to flee Afghanistan who need help. “You still represent your area even though you may not agree on the partisan issues.”
Roger Brown, Opinions Editor for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, asked about COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates in light of Florida’s rates of infection and death.
Donalds is squarely against them. “It’s not just COVID mandates. You’re talking to someone who has libertarian leanings – I’m not a fan of mandates period.”
The role of the government should be to inform its citizens, then let them make their own decisions, Donalds says. The bedrock issue: “What’s the role of government in the lives of free people? That is the core question.”
Historically, he says, ‘Whatever a people allows a government to do at any particular point in time, the government now takes that as muscle memory to allow them do that in the future.” Pushing mandates, he says, “is not the proper use of government.”
For the vulnerable people who’ve never had COVID nor been vaccinated, “I’ve been very consistent: ‘Please go get vaccinated. Please go get vaccinated.’
“Go get vaccinated. If I hadn’t had COVID-19, I would have gotten vaccinated. My concern is mandates," he said. “If somebody doesn’t want to be vaccinated, to be blunt and with all due respect, that’s no business of yours, and frankly, it’s no business of mine,” he said. “That’s just not what our nation is predicated on.”
Board member and Naples resident Sandy Parker, founder and publisher of Sparker's Soapbox, a nonpartisan blog, website and e-newsletter, asked about the role of government in providing a social safety net. Is there a minimum level of food, shelter and healthcare citizens of the United States are due, she wondered.
For Donalds, President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society program, which established welfare benefits, is the baseline.
“If the answer (to poverty) is money, we’ve spent more money than any society in the history of the world and we’ve not solved these problems. I would argue that the answer actually is education," he said, adding that he speaks as someone who grew up poor in public housing. "It comes down to whether it’s a net, or is it a mattress?”
Donalds is particularly concerned about duplicate federal programs, which he says abound.
“We don’t take time to evaluate these programs, see if they’re effective, see if they’re actually doing the thing they were advertised to do at one point in time ... In Washington, politicians come in, say, ‘Here’s my plan to fix this,’ lay it on top of the existing plan, rinse and repeat. That’s not an effective use of taxpayer dollars (and) the federal budget expands unnecessarily.”.
Executive Editor Cindy McCurry Ross asked about Afghanistan.
"There is not good news," Donalds said. "It’s a very serious situation on the ground … dire," adding that his office is coordinating with 89 people trying to flee the country.
As for water quality and the new plan for managing Lake Okeechobee, which is currently being developed and negotiated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, “We’ve been heavily engaged with the Army Corps for four or five months with the way (the plan) is going to look for Southwest Florida. Knowing Lake Okeechobee, you have to take the entire system into account. So what we’ve been pushing for is a balanced plan that works for the entire southern peninsula of Florida. I know emotions are frayed, but this process is not done; there’s still a whole other year of work before there’s a final release plan.”
Meanwhile he's pleased with progress on red tide research and forecasting, the subject of Donalds' first bill. "We’re working at it, we’re funding it. we’re doing the job, we’re moving down the road faster than we were 10 years ago, without question.”
The importance of clean water, Donalds says, is where all his constituents can find common ground.
"This is actually not a political issue," he said. "This is something both sides agree on."
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Confident freshman Rep. Byron Donalds explains position against mask, vaccine mandates to advisory board
Source : https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/smallbusiness/confident-freshman-rep-byron-donalds-explains-position-against-mask-vaccine-mandates-to-advisory-board/ar-AANMAeA