Saturday afternoon’s torrential rain was not enough to dampen the spirits of GOP candidates and republican club leaders who gathered on Isle of Capri to welcome the Trump Flotilla, an estimated 750 boats strong. The politicians gathered to stump for their candidacies and the republican club leaders were there to show support for President Donald Trump’s re-election bid.
“The flags flying,” said Diane Van Parys, president of the Republican Women of Southwest Florida Federated said, “the American flags, the Trump flags—incredible. It was just so great. Really a testament to what Collier County wants for our election in 2020.”
The flotilla exceeded expectations.
“When this idea came about and it was put together, nobody knew it would be this big,” Van Parys said. “The goal was to have 200 boats or more. I heard that Trump tweeted about it this morning.”
The flotilla passed the home of party hosts Kim and Don Mitchell ahead of the heavy rain that thinned out the crowd and chased attendees inside. Kim Mitchell is president of the Republican Club of South Collier County. The Mitchell’s splendid home sits on the point at the west end of Pelican Street, where the Marco River meets the Gulf of Mexico—a perfect spot to view the flotilla as it triumphantly passed by.
“The boats came with the lead boat,” Van Parys said, “and they all passed by right here and turned toward the Jolley bridge.”
“This was fabulous,” said Litha Berger, secretary of the Republican Club of South Collier County. “There were so many boats you couldn’t count them. You were so awed by the sight of the boats coming down the intracoastal. Some people were crying. You couldn’t believe the magnitude of what was happening. It was awesome. Awesome.”
Supervisor of elections Jennifer Edward attended the party and had a clear message.
“I run a non-partisan office,” Edwards said, “and I’ve very proud of that. I attend events of both parties. I want people to remember that we have a primary coming up August 18. I encourage people to request vote-by-mail ballots if they’re concerned about going to the polls. We will have early voting on Marco Island, at the library. We’ll have our polling locations open on election day.
“I am encouraging people to vote by mail, because I feel people would feel safer voting by mail. But we’re still going to be open at the polls. We’re going to have hand sanitizer and wipes. We’re going to be very careful. We’ll have social distancing. Anybody can request a mail ballot by calling our office (239-252-8683) or by going online at colliervotes.com. If they end up deciding they don’t want to vote by mail, we ask them that they bring their mail ballot with them. But if they don’t, that’s okay. We have very robust software that tells us when we check a voter in whether they’ve already voted. It also tells us if they requested a mail ballot.”
Edwards is in her 20th year as supervisor of elections.
As far as the stumping goes, there were several candidates on hand who also had clear messages to convey.
Mark Batchelor is running for the District 1 seat on the County Commission.
“I’m running for District 1 commissioner for several reasons,” Batchelor said. “I’m a conservative republican. I feel at this time right now we need a strong conservative republican. I feel our civil liberties have been infringed upon. I think it’s important for someone to stand strongly for conservative values. And I’m not wishy-washy about it. I feel strongly about it. I believe in freedom. I believe dangerous freedom is better than tyranny. Taxpayers will know how I’m going to vote when I get there. I’m going to vote on the conservative side. I’m going to be against taxes. I’m going to be for civil liberties.
“Right now I’m thinking about the July 4th celebration on Marco Island. They canceled it because it’s unsafe. It’s unsafe because we’re going to sit on the beach, sip wine, and watch the fireworks? The revolution was unsafe. I believe in freedom, even though it may be dangerous, and you have to be cautious. We are celebrating our freedom from tyranny from Britain. To me, it’s black and white. I want voters to know that I’m going to lean to this side.”
Rick LoCastro is also running for the District 1 County Commissioner’s seat. He was impressed with the flotilla and after-party. He made the best of the inclement weather.
“The passion, the enthusiasm,” LoCastro said, “the people who were out here—I personally had more fun, got to talk to more citizens, even though it was a smaller group. You can’t control the weather. Being a retired Air Force Colonel, when I saw all of those boats coming down here, it was like a scene from ‘Apocalypse Now.’ But I’ll tell you, you really saw the enthusiasm, the patriotism. I think it was a complete success. Better weather would have been great. But we had a lot of fun. And seeing all of those boats come down here. I can tell ya, listening to a Lee Greenwood song and seeing all of those boats… there weren’t many dry eyes in the house. Having deployed to multiple theaters, and seeing that many American flags flying, and folks caring about their country. I felt more patriotism today. And standing out in the rain with people who didn’t mind getting wet. To salute the flag and sing the national anthem. I wouldn’t have missed it.”
U.S. Congress hopeful Casey Askar, a 17-year Naples resident, actually took part in the flotilla.
“I was fortunate to take the whole family out,” Askar said. “My wife and all of our children. It was just amazing. Felt the energy, the camaraderie, the passion. Everyone wants to make sure our president wins again. Our campaign’s going strong. We actually ended up outraising the entire field times two. We’ve got the muscle to push through this Coronavirus world and continue to fight the fight, to win this, and get up to D.C. and fight alongside the president. Coming from a family of immigrants, my family came from Iraq, they escaped religious persecution. I came here as a little boy. I was seven years old. I grew up with small town, blue collar values. I graduated from school and joined the Marine Corps. I’ve always had the passion to fight for country. I’ve always had the call of duty. I want to give back in any way I can. I’ve always been a fighter, a disruptor.
“I think that’s what congress needs. Disruptors. People who have walked the walk. People who have done it. I think we need more fighters to stand beside President Trump. Fight to win the house back. Fight to keep the president in the White House. We’re going to fight to go against China. We’ve got to put America first.”
Donna Fiala was in attendance and reflected on her 20 years as District 1 commissioner.
“In the beginning I had no idea what I was doing,” Fiala said with a laugh. “But I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to change the way things were going for us in East Naples. While I was at it, I spent a lot of time on Marco because I really love Marco. While I was doing that, I had to spend time on Capri, which I just grew to love. And of course, there’s Goodland. Everybody knows all the fun you can have on Goodland. So it’s been a perfect place for me. I’ve just loved every bit of it. It’s been a long and fun run.”