Banyai, Donalds fight for seat in Congress
Fort Myers Democrat and Naples Republican disagree on mostly everything
The revelation this past week that Congressional candidate Byron Donalds (R-Naples) tested positive for COVID-19 shook the race in which the coronavirus has been a top issue with his opponent Cindy Banyai (D-Fort Myers).
Donalds, a state house representative, revealed on Facebook that he tested positive for COVID-19 before Friday’s event in Fort Myers with President Donald Trump. The test made national news as Donalds was about to attend the speech and has received an endorsement from Trump, attended events with Trump and has campaigned without a mask dating back to his primary run over the summer.
On Facebook, Banyai called on Donalds to be transparent about contact tracing and accused him of putting people “at risk while campaigning.”
In a video posted to Facebook after announcing his diagnosis, Donalds said his advice to people was to “be careful” and “make sure you wash your hands, be diligent about that. Try to keep distance as much as you can. If you feel you need to wear a mask, go ahead and wear one. That is something that you’ve got to really decide that you’re going to do for yourself. I would never tell anybody not to. I would never make anybody do it. I just think that everybody has to make that one decision very carefully for yourself. I would tell you about COVID-19, don’t play with it.”
Banyai said she supports a mask mandate to stem the spread of COVID-19. “It’s a simple thing to keep us safe,” she said.
Even before Donalds announced he contracted COVID- 19, Banyai said she was worried about Donalds having attended an event with Trump and then debating her on a stage “talking of the virtue of liberty” days after the infamous gathering at the White House Rose Garden where a large number of people contracted the coronavirus.
Banyai said a mask mandate would not be like seatbelt laws but more like laws against drunk driving to protect motorists from those who drink irresponsibly.
Banyai is a native of Michigan while Donalds is a New York native who grew up in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights.
Why they are running
Donalds said he would “support conservative principles” if elected to Congress. He pledged to “make sure Washington advocates for the constitution.”
Banyai cited water quality and the COVID-19 pandemic as leading issues for the people in the region. “We’re just trying to survive (COVID-19). We’re trying to keep our families safe.” Banyai said many families are worried about keeping their homes. Banyai said the economic slowdown related to the pandemic has caused more demand on local service agencies, soup kitchens and food pantries.
“I think we need to take the pandemic seriously,” Banyai said. “We need to stop pretending that it is not a big deal.”
“We have to reopen our economy and get back to work safely,” Donalds said. “You’re dealing with a virus. You can’t tell a virus what to do,” he said. Donalds said businesses should have flexibility to manage employees and customers independently of government interference relating to the pandemic.
Banyai said a new round of fiscal stimulus, currently tied up in negotiations between Congress and the administration of President Donald Trump, was needed.
If elected, Banyai said she would support a large stimulus program to boost infrastructure spending and investments in green technologies with a universal job guarantee. She said she would advocate for grants to help small businesses who had to close during the pandemic.
Donalds blamed House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) with “playing politics at the worst possible time” in regards to stimulus bill negotiations.
Banyai is a supporter of the Green New Deal, an environmental blueprint to lower greenhouse gas emissions and address climate change. Banyai compared it to President John F. Kennedy’s call to land on the moon. She wants to invest in cleaner public transportation and provide incentives for older buildings to be more energy efficient.
Banyai stressed the need for better management of clean water and groundwater.
Donalds pledged to ensure the region receives the “necessary funds” to address water quality issues. As a state representative, Donalds said he passed legislation delivering more than $1 billion to protect water quality in Southwest Florida.
Banyai supports a Medicare-for-all type of health care system with “sliding-scale user fees” whereas Donalds doesn’t. Donalds said government interference in health care “doesn’t help the quality of health care or the cost of insurance.”
Banyai said she wants to “remove profiteers” from the health care industry.
Endangered Florida panthers
Banyai took aim at Donalds for his vote in the state house in favor of the state’s controversial $10 billion M-CORES transportation project which will construct new highways throughout the state including one which will connect Collier and Polk counties in a manner environmentalists say threatens the state’s endangered panthers. Though the exact route hasn’t yet been developed, the state’s map for the Southwest-Central Florida Connector shows the highway cutting through Lee County and critical habitats for panthers.
Donalds claimed the panther population has been “increasing steadily” despite studies showing that deaths are outpacing births.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, there are between 120 and 160 Florida panthers left in the wild. There have been nine documented births of panthers in the wild and 18 deaths so far this year, most of which were killed in vehicle strikes. Of the panther deaths, 11 were in Collier County and one was in Lee County.
“Florida panthers are critically endangered,” Banyai said. “Our roadways have separated their habitat and led to their deaths.”
Banyai denounced Donalds for voting for “the tollway to nowhere that nobody wanted, that nobody asked for.”
Banyai said Donalds has a “lack of compassion for things like our environment.”
Donalds defended his vote, saying “we’ve been building roads for 100 years.”
He called the attack by Banyai on his vote “nonsense” and said “we can add the new road that is needed by managing the environment. We can walk and chew gum at the same time.”
Dr. Cindy Banyai
Age – 40
Party – Democrat
Residence – Fort Myers
Family – three children
Occupation – Professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, owner of consulting firm
Age – 41
Party – Republican
Residence – Naples
Family – married, three children
Occupation – State Representative, associate vice-president of investments at Moran Wealth Management