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Who’s Running in the Congressional District 19 Republican Party Primary?

Election 2020

Collier County voters live in one of two congressional districts: 19 or 25. Find your district here.

As I explained in Get Ready to Vote in the August 2020 Primaries, District 25 incumbent Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart was unchallenged and will be automatically reelected for another term.

But with District 19 Congressman Francis Rooney’s decision not to run, a total of 12 candidates are currently running for the seat: nine Republicans, two Democrats and one Write-In.

There will be both Republican and Democratic Party primaries for the seat. The winners of the two primaries and the Write-In candidate will face off in November.

Only registered District 19 Republicans can vote in the Republican primary; only registered District 19 Democrats can vote in the Democratic primary, as explained in my post Party Affiliation and Florida as a Closed Primary State.

In this post, I share what I learned by researching the nine Republican candidates. In my next post, I’ll look at the two Democratic candidates.

I asked each candidate to complete a questionnaire and included edited versions of some of the answers as well as links to the completed questionnaires below. See also How I Research Candidates and Six Things to Consider When Evaluating Candidates for more on how I approach writing these posts.

I’ll close with a look at the money that is financing the campaigns, links to online candidate forums, and some suggested next steps.

DISTRICT 19 REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES

Darren Aquino

Darren Aquino
Darren Aquino

Darren Aquino ‘s website describes him as “a Puerto-Rican, Italian American” who began advocating for the disabled in 1983.

He was born and spent a good part of his life in New York. He has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the Middle East Technical University (METU) and a master of public administration degree in public health administration from Long Island University. He held positions with the Visiting Nurse Service of NY and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and then with Theracare Inc. in Indiana, before founding Advocates for Disabled Americans, Veterans, Police, Firemen & Families in 1999. He remains its CEO. According to a Florida Politics article, he moved from New York City to Naples around September 2019. Neither his website nor a web search revealed any local community involvement.

His website lists ten “Promises,” the first four of which are Fighting for the Forgotten, especially disabled and homeless veterans; Pro-America; Law & Order; and America-First.

Candidate questionnaire responses

What diversity of perspective, attributes, knowledge or skills differentiates you from the other candidates?

“… Being a grassroots advocate and having to consistently deal and battle with the bureaucracy involved in obtaining services for the vulnerable, has given me a very realistic perspective of areas that must improve.”

What three things do you want to accomplish if elected?

  1. “Accessible, affordable healthcare which must include a comprehensive component for mental health”….;
  2. “Civil rights and Constitution, life liberty and pursuit”…. and
  3. “Term limits and justice reform”….

A current public policy position he said he disagrees with is “taking care of illegals instead of Americans, instead of our veterans….”

The most important thing voters should know about him before making their decision in this race is that “I have been a national advocate for disabled for over 35 years…. “

Press coverage

In His Own Words

Casey Askar

Casey Askar

Casey Askar’s website says he is “a successful self-made businessman and U.S. Marine” who began with a small fitness center and today runs “a massive portfolio of businesses” and “employs thousands of people across the country.”

He immigrated to the United States from Iraq with his parents at the age of seven. He grew up in Michigan, joined the U.S. Marines at 18, and later graduated from Harvard Business School, completing the three-year Owner/President Management program.

He, his wife Susan and their six children attend St. Ann’s Church, but it is unclear when he moved full-time to Southwest Florida. He is involved in a variety of schools and civic organizations, including Ave Maria University and the Community School of Naples, and has provided support for the Golisano Naples Children Museum, St. Matthew’s House, the Naples Fire Department, and the Collier County Sheriff’s Office.

Askar’s website shares views on 12 “Issues”; the first four are “standing with President Trump; economy and jobs / taxes and deficit; border / immigration; protect life.”

Candidate questionnaire responses

What diversity of perspective, attributes, knowledge or skills differentiates you from the other candidates?

”Being an immigrant to America who fled Iraq due to Christian persecution, who went on to enlist in the U.S. Marine (sic) and start a company from nothing, I have deep knowledge of not just how to rebuild our economy but the tools and skills to take on China, rebuild our small businesses, bring U.S. manufacturing back and fight to deliver for our district….”

What three things do you want to accomplish if elected?

  1. “Rebuild our economy and help small businesses thrive;”
  2. “Finish the wall along our Southern Border;” and
  3. “Continue federal funding for CERP projects for our water quality.”

A current public policy position he said he disagrees with is “mandatory spending bills and omnibus budgets….”

The most important thing voters should know about him before making their decision in this race is that “I am a fighter, a businessman, and a disruptor….”

Press coverage

In His Own Words

Byron Donalds

Byron Donalds
Byron Donalds

Byron Donald’s website says, “He’s everything the fake news media says doesn’t exist: a Trump supporting, liberty loving, pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment black man.”

Donalds was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He has bachelor of arts degrees in finance and marketing from Florida State University, and moved to Naples in 2003. He has worked in the finance, insurance, and banking industries, and is currently a financial advisor with Wells Fargo Advisors. He and his wife Erika have three sons.

Donalds has served in the Florida House of Representatives since 2016, where he currently sits on five committees and chairs the Insurance and Banking Subcommittee.

His website lists his views on seven “Issues,” the first four of which are Federal Spending; Healthcare; Taxes; and Foreign Policy.

Candidate questionnaire responses

What diversity of perspective, attributes, knowledge or skills differentiates you from the other candidates?

”… Being a black Republican from the inner city of Brooklyn, NY is about as unique and different as it comes. I also have the unique perspective of having a 17 year career in the finance industry, combined with 4 years of legislative experience.”

If elected, he said he wants to:

  1. “Fully secure America’s southern border and modernize our immigration systems;”
  2. “Creating (sic) a balanced budget through a zero-based budgeting process;” and
  3. “Reform and modernize the regulatory state, so American business can thrive.”

A current public policy position he said he disagrees with is “the current regulatory environment surrounding nuclear power plants. If we want a sustainable energy source free from fossil fuel use, we should be embracing nuclear power and reduce the regulatory hurdle so it is more cost efficient.”

He said the most important thing voters should know about him before making their decision in this race is that “… there is no one in this race who has my track record of being committed to the US Constitution and conservative principles.”

Press coverage

In HIs Own Words

Dane Eagle

Dane Eagle

Dane Eagle’s website says he is “a pro-Trump conservative running for Congress because our president needs more defenders in Washington, D.C.”

Eagle was born and raised in Southwest Florida. He attended Florida Gulf Coast University before graduating from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in economics. He is a commercial real estate broker with over 17 years of experience. Eagle was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2012 and currently serves as the House Majority Leader. He and his wife Brooke live in Cape Coral and have one son, born in June.

His website gives his views on 11 “issues”; the first four are “Protecting President Trump’s Agenda; Standing Up For The 2nd Amendment; Stopping Illegal Immigration; and Restoring Our Water Quality.”

Candidate questionnaire responses

What diversity of perspective, attributes, knowledge or skills differentiates you from the other candidates?

“Having spent eight years in the Florida House of Representatives, I not only understand but have excelled in the legislative process….”

If elected, he said three things he wants to accomplish are

  1. “Funding for border wall;”
  2. “Create tribunal to hold China accountable for Covid-19;” and
  3. “Begin rebuilding our economy.”

A current public policy position he said he disagrees with is “…the Affordable Care Act, better known as ObamaCare. I believe that our healthcare should be based on free market principles that put patients and doctors in charge of healthcare decisions rather than government….”

He said the most important thing voters should know about him before making their decision in this race is that “… I am the candidate with the most legislative and leadership experience, which is critical during these unprecedented times.”

Press coverage

In His Own Words

William Figlesthaler

William Figlesthaler
William Figlesthaler

William Figlesthaler’s website says he is “a conservative outsider taking on a class of career politicians and political hacks who want business as usual.”

He attended Wake Forest University and the University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, NC, and completed his urological surgery training at the University of Kentucky. His specialty is treating prostate cancer. He lives in Naples with his wife Olga, three children, and five grandchildren and plays an active role in The American Cancer Society, Boys and Girls Club, The American Heart Association, Junior Achievement, and St. Leo’s Catholic Church.

His website gives his views on 8 issues he wants to work on; the first four listed are “Drain the Swamp;” “Support the President;” “Defend the Constitution;” and “Build the Wall.”

Candidate questionnaire responses

What diversity of perspective, attributes, knowledge or skills would you bring to the office that differentiates you or that the other candidates don’t have?

”I am … the conservative political outsider in the FL-19 Congressional race. … a physician and business owner … [R]aising 3 children as a single father and moving to the district two and a half decades ago….”

If elected, he said he wants to:

  1. “Support an America First agenda by holding China accountable for damages from the Coronavirus and returning jobs back to the USA;”
  2. “Protect Americans from illegal aliens by leading the charge to continue building the southern border wall and ensuring taxpayer dollars are being directed to take care of our citizens first;” and
  3. “Be a leader in the push for a free-market healthcare system for Americans, and work to increase accessibility and decrease costs while maintaining the high quality of care we enjoy in this country.”

A current public policy position he said he disagrees with is the Florida House of Representatives’ vote “to ignore the U.S. Constitution and restrict 18-21-year-olds from purchasing certain guns….”

He said the most important thing voters should know about him before making their decision in this race is that “I am the only candidate in this race that can say I have spent over 25 years in the district helping to build Southwest Florida’s economy.”

Press coverage

In His Own Words

Randy Henderson

Randy Henderson
Randy Henderson

Randy Henderson’s website describes him as “businessman, community leader, and lifelong conservative.”

Henderson was born and raised in North Carolina where he graduated from Mars Hill College with a bachelor of science degree in business administration and management. He began his career in Fort Myers in banking, eventually becoming a Vice President with NCNB National Bank. He left banking in 1986 to become CEO of Corbin Henderson Company, a family-owned real estate firm, a role in which he still serves.

Henderson has been a resident of Fort Myers for 40 years. He served for nine years on the Fort Myers City Council before being elected mayor in 2009. Reelected ever since, Henderson resigned as mayor in April 2020 to run for this position.

Henderson also serves as 2nd Vice President for the Florida League of Cities, and on the boards of Keiser University, the Edison Pageant of Light, and The Salvation Army. Previously he served as president of the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce and Fort Myers Kiwanis Club, chairman of the City of Fort Myers Conference and Convention Council, and president of the Florida League of Mayors.

His website gives his views on six “Issues;” the first four listed are “Economy & Jobs; Eliminating Unnecessary Regulations; Government Spending; and Immigration.”

Press coverage

In His Own Words

Daniel Kowal

Daniel Kowal
Daniel Kowal

Daniel Kowal’s website says, “Public Service Is…My Life Story!”

Kowal has served as a Collier County Sheriff’s Deputy for the last 17 years. Previously he served in the US Army, and as a U.S. Capitol police officer on 9/11, was involved in evacuating the Capitol building. Neither his website nor a web search revealed other biographical information about him.

His website’s Key Issues page starts with the statement, “I stand with President Trump. I’ll work to bring justice to those who conspired against the President and against this Great Nation,” and then discusses seven issues, the first four of which are “2nd Amendment; Limited Government; Life; and Security.”

Press coverage

I could find no news articles about him.

In His Own Words

Christy McLaughlin

Christy McLaughlin
Christy McLaughlin

Christy McLaughlin’s website says she “intends to lend unwavering support to President Trump and fight the anarchist (sic) and socialists that seek to destroy America.”

McLaughlin was born and raised in Naples, attended Seagate Elementary and the Community School of Naples, and was homeschooled for high school. She received a bachelor of arts degree from FGCU and in 2019, a law degree from Ave Maria School of Law.

Her website lists 20 “Issues,” the first four of which are “God Bless America; Drain the Swamp; America First; and Right to Assemble / Right to Free Exercise of Religion.”

Candidate questionnaire responses

What diversity of perspective, attributes, knowledge or skills differentiates you from the other candidates?

”I am the only Constitutional lawyer in the race…. I am, also, Unbought, Unbossed, and Unburdened by special interests or the Swamp.”

If elected, she said she wants to:

  1. “Protect Constitutional Rights and Law Enforcement Officers (be strong on law and order and prevent future Stay at Home orders). Protect 1st and 2nd Amendment rights which have consistently been infringed upon.”
  2. “Prevent abuse of Antitrust laws that protect free speech on the internet.”
  3. “Protect the life of the unborn.”

A current public policy position she said she disagrees with is “the allowance (sic) of violent rioting and attacks against law enforcement officers through complacency and laissez-faire leadership. ANTIFA, a terrorist organization, has opportunistically destroyed American cities….”

She said the most important thing voters should know about her before making their decision in this race is that “I am the most qualified Candidate to defend the Constitution….the only Candidate that can expand the Republican party….”

Press coverage

In Her Own Words

Dan Severson

Dan Severson
Dan Severson

Dan Severson says on his website, “As your representative, I promise to protect the second amendment, save the unborn, fight for the wall, and be the Wingman Donald Trump deserves in the United States Congress.”

Severson was born and raised in Minnesota and earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from St. Cloud State University. He had a 22-year career as a Navy pilot, retiring in 2000. He then served eight years in the Minnesota House of Representatives, including as Minority Whip, and subsequently ran unsuccessfully for Minnesota Secretary of State in 2010 and in 2014. In 2015, Severson and his wife moved to Cape Coral. They attend Life Church in Fort Myers and are very active in their church community, and with the Fort Myers Trump Club. He and his wife have held weekly prayer meetings in support of President Trump since 2016.

His website lists seven “issues that matter,” the first four of which are “Economic Opportunity; Veterans; Constitution; and Life.”

Candidate questionnaire responses

What diversity of perspective, attributes, knowledge or skills would you bring to the office that differentiates you or that the other candidates don’t have?

”I have extensive military experience in command, leadership, planning and operations. As a former Navy Top Gun fighter pilot, I am proven in stressful situations and have been tested under pressure. I have extensive experience in legislative issues and am the only candidate to have served in the legislative minority and continued to get bills passed and much needed reform enacted. I also operated a 501c4 that focused on outreach to minority communities with conservative values and encouraged them to run for public office.”

If elected, he said he wants to:

  1. “Defund Planned Parenthood and create workable adoption alternatives. Work to end abortion and ensure taxpayer money is not used for that purpose.”
  2. “Promote strong boarder security (support continuing to build the wall) and simplify immigration law removing visa lottery, birthright citizenship and chain migration. Go to merit-based system. Uncontrolled immigration is a national security issue that must be fixed.”
  3. “Promote workable and targeted solutions for cleaning up our waters and estuaries in Southwest Florida. Work to obtain additional federal funding and increase environmental accountability….”

A current public policy position he said he disagrees with is “the legality of Abortion (sic), and tax payer (sic) funding paying for abortions….”

He said the most important thing voters should know about him before making their decision in this race is that “I am a proven leader who will fight for reform…. I have been in the minority in leadership and continued to be effective at getting good laws passed while holding back bad policy and unnecessary taxation.”

Press coverage

In His Own Words

The Money

The District 19 race will be expensive. Two of the 11 candidates (Askar and Figlesthaler) have loaned their campaigns in excess of a million dollars.

Here’s what the nine Republican candidates reported in the most recent Federal Election Commission filings (June 30, 2020):

Byron Donalds had the most individual contributions (1,044), more than twice that of Dane Eagle, who had the second highest (455).

Casey Askar had by far the most cash on hand, $1.76 million, a function of his $3 million loan to the campaign. Figlesthaler was next with $709 thousand, also a function of his loan to the campaign. Donalds is already benefitting from significant PAC money being spent in support of his campaign.

Press Coverage About the Money

Online Candidate Forums

I highly recommend that you watch at least one of the recorded candidate forums. I learned a lot from observing how the candidates responded to questions: thoughtfully or in sound bites; rambling or concise; good grammar or bad. A forum is a good way to see multiple candidates at once. Be mindful of the political- or issue-orientation of the event hosts, and consider how that might influence both the questions and the responses.

Not all candidates participated in every forum, and Askar participated in none of them, as noted:

Next Steps

If you are a registered Republican in District 19, it’s time to decide which of the nine candidates to vote for in your party’s closed primary next month.

Review the candidates’ websites and narrow down the possibilities based on what’s most important to you. Then do more research, using the links and references included in this post.

If you have questions, reach out to the candidates directly via the “contact” page/form on their website. If they don’t respond to your satisfaction when they’re running for office, how responsive will they be if elected?

When you’ve done enough research to feel confident about your decisions, you are ready to vote!

For election dates and details about how, when and where to vote, visit www.colliervotes.com. And if you missed it, please read my post, Request a Vote-By-Mail Ballot Today.

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