Meet Kayser Enneking, the doctor trying to save Florida

Few governors have been as publicly ineffective during the coronavirus crisis than Florida’s Ron Desantis. He’s kept beaches open, continues to hide death numbers, kowtows to the state’s ravenous right-wing, and has opened up businesses even as the tragic numbers there continue to climb. DeSantis has been able to do all this because Republicans own the entire state government in Florida — they’ve dominated the legislature for a full two decades — and he therefore feels zero pressure to actually make an effort to save lives.

We’ve focused a lot of Florida this year because Democrats are in a position to finally flip the legislature there and force DeSantis to at least pretend he cares about anyone who isn’t a rich white donor. This week, I spoke with Kayser Enneking, a candidate for the State House of Representatives in District 21, in Gainesville. She’s a long-time doctor at the University of Florida who ran for State Senate in 2018 — her first political run of any kind — and came within a single point of winning. The 21st House district was decided by fewer than three points last cycle, so it’s a very juicy flip opportunity, especially with such a great candidate.

Coronavirus has hit different parts of Florida very differently. You’re in Northern Florida, in Gainesville. How are things there?

In my hospital we were certainly prepared for the worst. It was just incredibly weird to go to work for a couple of weeks. The panic about it seems to have subsided now that we’ve got more testing, because before we had no clue who had it and who didn’t. But even here in very liberal Alachua County, it is kind unbelievable to me how quickly this has gotten divided along political lines. It’s just a shame that that’s where we are in America today.

As both a doctor and someone now working in public policy, what is your response to what we’re seeing here? 

This is a novel virus. We know a little bit about what the symptoms look like. We know that it is devastating when it occurs and we know that it can overwhelm a healthcare system, as it did in New York, and as it did in other places around the world. And that we all have to be respectful of it. We may not have in many cases over here right now, but that does not mean that we won’t.

I have tried not to scare people. But I’ve tried to give them what I know to be truthful information. We’ve been doing these Facebook and zoom things every Friday, where we’ve talked about exactly what we do know and what we don’t know. And people have been really responsive to it. And so we’ve talked about the effects of this on our health care system. We’ve talked about it in terms of what it means for education. We’ve talked about it in terms of what it means for the agricultural community, why are we having this food imbalance. Now we’re calling for a special session of legislature.

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Florida’s new Jim Crow gets the Democratic challenge he deserves

I hope that this edition of Progressives Everywhere finds you healthy, comfortable, and royally pissed off. Pissed off that Donald Trump and his lackeys in DC have committed an American genocide by ignoring and now playing politics with the coronavirus pandemic. Pissed off that Republican governors are still refusing to protect their citizens. And pissed off that the GOP is using the pandemic as cover for the desecration and destruction of democracy.

What happened in Wisconsin is the Republican model: a gerrymandered legislature refuses to protect voting rights and then rigged courts uphold the voter suppression, sentencing tens of thousands of voters to death and stopping many more from voting. This is the only way Republicans will win — they’ve said as much. And so we have to fight back with everything we have this year, because it may be our last chance.

Here’s the good news: There is a very juicy target in Florida, a Republican legislator who is behind the most pernicious voter suppression scheme in the country and a score of other anti-democratic abuses.

Jamie Grant, the son of a former state senator, has “represented” Florida’s 64th legislative district since 2011. From the moment he got to Tallahassee, he got to work screwing over Floridians, loosening gun laws and fighting tooth and nail to stop a Medicaid expansion (his quotes about it are gross). And now he is known locally as Jim Crow Jamie, a nickname he has more than earned.

In 2018, Floridians voted overwhelmingly to approve a ballot initiative known as Amendment 4, which was intended to return the right to vote to a whopping 1.4 million people who had served time in prison. It was the single biggest extension of the franchise in decades… until Jamie Grant led the charge to eviscerate it almost entirely.

Grant was the lead sponsor on the bill that gutted the amendment, requiring that everyone who stood to regain their constitutional rights pay off every single fine, fee, and court cost levied against them by judges, even though they rarely had anything to do with their sentencing and were almost never actually tracked by the courts. It amounts to a poll tax, a revival of Jim Crow tactics meant to bar people of color from exercising their rights that could stop a million people from registering. The law is now winding its way through the court system and could decide whether Democrats or Republicans win the White House this year.

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Democrats could turn Mar-a-Lago blue

Back in October, Donald Trump declared Mar-a-Lago his official place of residence. Now we’re all focused on sending him back to his tawdry club in Palm Beach on a full-time basis, but you know what would be even sweeter? Sending him back to a Palm Beach represented by a progressive Democrat who is absolutely his polar opposite.

Jim Bonfiglio is running to represent the 89th district in the Florida House of Representatives after a razor-thin, 32-vote loss in 2018. As Democrats gear up for a run at flipping the Florida House this year, the 89th district represents their juiciest and sweetest opportunity. Bonfiglio actually lives miles down on the same street as Trump, but everything about Bonfiglio stands in stark contrast with the greedy, corrupt, and grossly incompetent president. The comparisons are pretty direct and frankly staggering:

Example 1: Trump spent his life as a predatory landlord and dirty real estate scam artist. Bonfiglio has worked as a foreclosure defense attorney for the last 32 years, fighting tooth and nail to save people’s homes.

“It’s very satisfying, trying to help people save their homes,” Bonfiglio tells Progressives Everywhere, noting that he’s helped see through beleaguered homeowners through three financial crises, dating back to the Savings and Loan Crisis in the 1980s.

“You get people at their worst and you try to save their houses for them,” he continues. “There’s usually a good reason why they fell behind on the mortgage. Most of the time it’s medical bills, loss of job or divorce. I like to try to help people get through the bad times and get to a better part of their lives.”

Example 2: Trump has a long history of bilking employees and contractors, refusing to pay them for their hard work. Bonfiglio, meanwhile, conducts free seminars to teach young lawyers across Florida how to protect working people facing unfair foreclosure.

During the 2007 economic crisis, which walloped Florida particularly hard, Bonfiglio also hosted free walk-up clinics with volunteer attorneys so that people facing foreclosure could get advice and legal counsel, free of charge.

“People would come all day long, we’d hook up an attorney with a client, and they’d sit down and talk to them and try to figure out if there’s any way they could save their house,” he says. “When foreclosure peaked in 2007 and 2008, I’d give my whole Fridays too. People would come in every half an hour and it was always illness, job loss, divorce, and if I can’t save this house, I don’t know where I’m going to stay.”

CLICK HERE to donate to Jim Bonfiglio’s campaign via Progressives Everywhere’s ActBlue page!

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Florida’s new Jim Crow law is worse than ever

So, last week was a pretty bad one for American democracy. While it began with the excitement of Tiffany Cabán’s win in the Queens District Attorney race, followed by a solid first (and second!) Democratic presidential debate, things went off the rails thanks to the stolen Supreme Court and, more than likely, voter suppression in Florida.

First, the Supreme Court cleared the way for state legislatures to gerrymander legislative and congressional districts to their heart’s content, no matter how partisan or racist their motivations (and they’re always partisan or racist). This was a bummer, but not unexpected, and really just underlines the importance of winning back as many state legislatures and governorships as we can.

It’s going to be hard to do that in some states, not only because of gerrymandering, but also due to voter suppression. Preventing people from casting their ballots is what Republicans do best (other than funnel money to their rich donors), and no small distraction like the will of an overwhelming majority of voters can stop them from pursuing the most anti-democratic policies possible — especially not when the impact would be so efficiently discriminatory against people of color.

Their sheer determination to be dictators of an apartheid state led to the other big blow to democracy last week: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who only won last fall because so many voters in the state are unfairly disenfranchised, signed a Republican law that will keep most of those voters disenfranchised.

In November, despite voter suppression, a whopping 65% of Floridians voted to approve Amendment 4, which would restore voting rights to the state’s 1.4 million formerly incarcerated citizens who have served their full sentences and finished probation. Notably, there were no conditions attached to the voter initiative, but the GOP, terrified as always of real democracy, decided to twist it into a modern-day Jim Crow law.

Now, the formerly incarcerated will have to pay off all fees and fines related to their cases, no matter how absurd they were (and they’re often insane) and how hard it is to track them down.

It’s no coincidence that a majority of these would-be voters are black — again, there’s nothing that scares Republicans more than black people voting. Though black people make up just 17% of Florida’s population, they represent 48% of its prison population. As a result, about 20% of black adults are disenfranchised in Florida, which is one of the only states that take those voting rights away permanently in the first place. Now, instead of listening to a vast majority of their registered voters, Republicans are now charging people huge sums of money to register to vote.

Estimates are that this could keep up to 1.1 million of those who were made eligible to vote last November out of the voting booth. We already have a democracy dominated by rich white people, but every financial and historic advantage in the world still isn’t enough for them.

The ACLU and the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, along with other organizations, have already filed a lawsuit over the law, but it’s unclear what kind of luck they’ll have. The FRCC, which led the successful campaign for Amendment 4, is now raising money to help pay off all those fines. There is no better use of your donation dollars — every dollar will directly help to register voters (who are, after this, likely to not support the GOP). You can donate HERE. And if you want to give to the FRCC, which is singularly focused on this, you can donate on Progressives Everywhere’s main ActBlue page.