EASTPOINT - It would not be an apt description to say U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn served up red meat in a fiery speech to a hungry Republican audience last week.
Rather, the three-term congressman in the sprawling 2nd District, that encompasses all or part of 19 North Florida counties, offered a tone more like fresh boiled shrimp served up in a cool cocktail.
The 68-year-old urologist, speaking with the reassuring calmness of a surgeon, nonetheless did not shy away from urging his audience at the Franklin County Republican Executive Committee fundraiser to work to retake the House next year.
“We’ll hold out for two years, then we’ll take the House and everything will change,” he said, speaking to a gathering of about 75 people at the Eastpoint firehouse. “Be loud, be vocal, tell us and all your local officials how you feel.”
Kristy Branch Banks, the Franklin County Republican committee chair who also serves as secretary of the Republican Party of Florida, set the stage for Dunn’s call to arms in her introduction, stressing how Franklin is but inches away from gaining a majority of Republican voters, to a huge cheer from the audience.
As of May 31, the county’s registration totals showed there were just 11 more people registered Democrat, 3,417, compared to 3,406 Republicans, with the remainder of the county’s 8,136 voters either affiliated with a small party or without party affiliation.
Gulf County became a red county much earlier, and now has 5,893 registered Republicans, compared to 3,168 Democrats, with the rest of the county’s 10,609 voters either unaffiliated or registered with other parties.
“These elections are so important,” said Banks, noting only about 10,000 votes statewide separated Rick Scott and Bill Nelson in the 2018 U.S. Senate election, with about 30,000 votes between Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum in the gubernatorial contest.
“Ron DeSantis is amazing,” she said. “The national media is going to go after him big time; your head is going to spin.
“Let’s show the world what we can do, in 2022,” Banks said.
Ricky Jones, chair of the Franklin County Commission, then offered brief remarks thanking Dunn and State Rep. Jason Shoaf, also in attendance, for their support for securing monies in the 2021-22 state budget to fund a new emergency operation center in Apalachicola, as well as for other infrastructure monies.
The highlight of the evening, of course, was Dunn, who schmoozed with attendees before and during the buffet of boiled shrimp, meatballs, fresh veggies and desserts.
He opened with thank-yous to the many GOP dignitaries in attendance from around the region. He had sat at a table with Franklin County Schools Principal Lawrence Pender, Superintendent Steve Lanier and Lanier’s mom, Shirley Taylor, a longtime Republican activist in the county.
Dunn singled out for applause Dr. Craig Lenz, the founding dean of the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine in Dothan, Alabama, who has a home at Cape San Blas.
The congressman began with an outline of what Republicans are committed to do in Congress. “The government can do something for you – get out of your way, and not be a ‘stick in your spokes,’” he said.
He underscored Banks’ praise of DeSantis, noting how on a recent trip to Texas, a voter there told him “we have the second-best governor, you have the best.
“Texans are not known for their humility,” Dunn said. “That’s how the country perceives Ron DeSantis.”
Dunn then launched a soft but stinging critique of President Joe Biden, at the point of about four months into the Democratic president’s term.
“He promised unity and we see no unity in the House,” he said. “Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi is the one driving the agenda. Pelosi is the ramrod for this.
“It is socialism they’re pushing,” Dunn said.
He said 200,000 immigrants are crossing the southern border illegally every month, each paying anywhere from $3,000 to $5,000 minimum to be escorted by so-called “coyotes,” with a third of them raped during the grueling trip north.
“This is a human trafficking operation,” Dunn said.
He said inflation is creeping back up, and that companies “are fleeing America once again.”
Under the previous administration “no American company had taken their headquarters overseas, (and now there’s been) dozens of them since Biden assumed office,” he said.
“That’s what happens when you tax corporations, you make it untenable,” Dunn said.
One of 36 members of Congress to serve on the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Dunn said he has seen first-hand “a sea change in the attitude of NATO (towards the United States) in the last year.
“(They tell me) ‘Don’t give up, don’t ever give up,’” he said. “America is the last best hope. The New York Times may not know that, but all the countries do.
“The Brits are warming up to having America around. It’s a much warmer relationship,” Dunn said.
Dunn, a member of the Communications and Technology subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which oversees internet and telecommunication issues, said he favors a repeal of Rule 230, which provides immunity from civil liabilities for information service providers that remove or restrict content from their services.
“They have no liability. Nobody on my side of the aisle thinks that’s right,” he said. “It (social media companies’ actions) is not open, it’s not transparent, it’s not fair.
“I’m not popular with the media; and they really do censor the media,” he said, “Sometimes you have to be a little strident.”
Questioned by a member of the audience as to why he isn’t seen more often on TV, Dunn defended his approach.
“You don’t see a lot of doctors windmilling and yelling at the camera,” he said. “It’s tough to crowd out Matt Gaetz, right?”
In terms of election reform, Dunn did not indicate he shared the viewpoint of those who contend the 2020 election was stolen. But he did say the recently passed H.R. 1, the For the People Act championed by the Democrats, would mean “they steal the elections forever.
“We want to make it easy to vote, and hard to cheat,” he said,
He agreed with one questioner that the FBI has shown itself to lack objectivity and impartiality.
“It’s sad thing that Americans have come to doubt the rule of law,” Dunn said. “It’s devastating to see the Department of Justice and the FBI so partisanly political. I’m deeply disappointed in the DOJ.”
In terms of COVID-19, Dunn, who earned his medical degree from George Washington University and completed his medical internship at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, said “we may never see (proof of) the original genetics.
“I suspect the source of the virus was that lab (in Wuhan, China),” he said. “I suspect that it was accidental. It’s a pretty good assumption that it was bred in that virology lab.”
He said it was unquestioned Biden’s son Hunter had received financial help from China and Ukraine, but that “I don’t know that they ever proved (Joe) Biden ever got a cut.”
Dunn said he told former House speaker Paul Paul Ryan “his single greatest failure” had been to retire a few years into President Trump’s term in office, particularly since the party out of power, on average, picks up 34 House seats in a mid-term election.
“I told him it was a terrible mistake,” Dunn said.
He defended his vote against a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 breaching of the Capitol, stressing that while the commission was designed to be bipartisan in its composition, “every single staff member works for her (Pelosi). It’s a tool to attack.
“Pelosi has the most to lose,” he said. “She kept the Secret Service and the Capitol Police from assuming the normal defensive posture.
“She has the most to lose from an honest Jan. 6 commission,” Dunn said, “It’s against us.”
Dunn said in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in favor of Georgia in the so-called “water wars” over the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river water distribution, there has to be a change to Florida’s approach.
“We need to rethink how we’re going to handle the ACF,” he said. “It’s going to be tough to get more money out of the Corps of Engineers.”
Dunn, who served 11 years in the Army, retiring as a major, said he and his wife would be traveling to Israel in August, and offered support for the Israelis’ recent conflict with Hamas.
“They’re really good at security,” he said. “Israel’s tough as nails. The media is portraying this as Israel as the bad guy.”
He said Israel has been attacked by 7,000 rockets fired from the Gaza Strip in the last three weeks. “Our side of the aisle has their backs,” he said. “They (the Democrats) have abandoned the Jews.”
Prior to the close of the evening, former county commissioner Pinki Jackel, who lost narrowly to fellow Republican Jones in the 2020 election to represent Eastpoint and St. George Island, offered a list of the 10 table sponsors.
They included Jones, Jackel, Lanier, Banks’ law firm, County Commissioner Bert Boldt, Tax Collector Rick Watson, George Kirvin Floyd, Jon and Susan Shebel, the Manausa, Shaw and Minacci law firm, Mike and Dottye Thornburg, and Charles and Rex Pennycuff.