Drew Wilson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 174

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for SaintPetersBlog and FloridaPolitics.com. While at the University of Florida, Wilson was an editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and after graduation, he moved to Los Angeles to cover business deals for The Hollywood Reporter. Before joining Extensive Enterprises, Wilson covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools.
Ross Spano

Family Research Council backs Ross Spano for CD 15

The political arm of the Family Research Council announced Wednesday that it’s backing Dover state Rep. Ross Spano’s campaign for Congress.

Spano, currently in his third term representing Hillsborough County’s HD 59, is one of five candidates seeking the Republican nomination in Florida’s 15th Congressional District. When it comes to championing “individual liberties” and “strong family values,” FRC Action PAC said Spano was the top pick.

“As a native Floridian, you have a unique understanding of the issues facing your district and the values important to your constituents. As a small businessman, you have been an advocate for family-friendly tax reform,” FRC Action PAC executive vice president William Boykin wrote in an endorsement letter.

“You have also demonstrated a strong commitment to life, family, and religious freedom, championing religious freedom by voting to protect churches and adoption agencies from being forced to provide services that might violate their deeply held religious convictions,” he continued.

The Family Research Council is a staunchly Christian conservative group that takes hard line stances against abortion and LGBTQ rights and is in favor of increasing the role of Christianity in public life. In addition to endorsements U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Attorney General Pam Bondi and numerous other Republican politicians, Spano has received the recommendation of another pro-life group, Florida Right to Life.

“I could not be more honored to receive this endorsement from an organization that prioritizes the protection of our shared Conservative values,” Spano said in a press release. “I look forward to continuing this fight on behalf of the constituents in CD15.”

Spano faces former Auburndale state Rep. Neil Combee, Lakeland contractor Sean Harper, Brandon agribusinessman Danny Kushmer and Lakeland mental health practitioner Ed Shoemaker in the primary race. A St. Pete Polls survey released early last month showed him in the lead with nearly 32 percent support.

Spano also leads the primary field in fundraising with $157,068 raised including loans through the end of the second quarter. He had $108,275 banked and $88,025 in campaign debt at the end of that reporting period.

CD 15 is split between Hillsborough and Polk counties, with about 10 percent of the district’s voters living in Lake County. The district voted plus-10 for Donald Trump two years ago and had been considered a safe Republican seat until Ross’ retirement announcement and the subsequent fundraising successes of the Democratic candidates in the race — with the help of self-funding, Lakeland Democrat Kristen Carlson topped the field with nearly $250,000 raised in Q2, while Andrew Learned has raised $223,618 since filing for the seat prior to Ross’ announcement.

That led the political handicappers of at the Cook Political Report to shift their assessment of the race from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican.” Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the prediction newsletter from University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato, still lists the district as “likely Republican.

The primary election is Aug. 28.

Jeff Greene pumps another $4.5 million into Governor campaign

Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene has put another $4.5 million behind his bid to be the Democratic nominee for Governor, bringing his total investment to $18.1 million through just two months in the race.

Greene’s new report, which covers July 21 through July 27, is his biggest yet. The South Florida real estate investor seeded his campaign with $3.6 million when he entered the race at the beginning of June, and has kept up with loans ranging from $1 million to $3.5 million after June 22, when statewide candidates had to begin reporting their hauls on a weekly basis.

The cash infusion came alongside $705 in contributions from 25 small-dollar donors chipping in between $5 and $100 apiece. Greene told Florida Politics shortly after entering the race that he would open the campaign up to donors giving $100 or less so that they could participate in his campaign. To date, donors have chipped in $1,355.

Also included in the report was another $4.6 million in spending, including $3.75 million in media buys and numerous bills for other types of advertising, including a $205,300 direct mail campaign through Jacksonville-based Street Smartz Consulting.

In total, Greene had spent $17.83 million from June 1 through July 27, finishing the current reporting period with $272,206 in his campaign account.

That level of self-funding (and spending) puts him squarely in the No. 2 position, money wise. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine currently leads the Democratic field with $23.75 million in receipts between his campaign and political committee, All About Florida, including $15 million of his own cash.

In the polls, however, it’s former Congresswoman Gwen Graham who leads the five-way primary contest.

The most recent measure, put out by the Associated Industries of Florida, shows her with 35 percent support among primary voters, followed by “not sure” at 23 percent. Levine and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum each showed up at 14 percent while Greene was the pick for 12 percent in that poll, which left out Orlando-area businessman Chris King.

Greene did show much higher support in a public poll released by St. Pete Polls last week. Graham still led the race with 29 percent support in that survey, but Greene came in second place with 23 percent followed by Levine at 19 percent, Gillum at 12 percent and King at 3 percent.

The primary election will be held Aug. 28. The winner of the Democratic nomination will face either U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis or Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on the November ballot.

Internal polling puts Democrats ahead in GOP-held state House seats

There’s been a lot of talk about whether Gov. Rick Scott will topple U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in the fall. Ditto for the race to replace him Governor’s mansion. Lost in the shuffle, however, are the dozens of down-ballot races only a small amount of voter outreach and an even smaller amount of public polling has taken place.

A new series of polls for state House races in the Orlando and Miami metros could change that conversation tout suite. The surveys, commissioned by the Florida Democratic Party’s state House campaign arm, show the party is well positioned to flip four Republican-held seats, two of them open and two of them held by GOP lawmakers running for re-election.

The most shocking of the polls, conducted by Change Research, was the measure for HD 30, which straddles the border of Orange and Seminole counties and is currently held by Altamonte Springs Republican Rep. Bob Cortes.

If the election were held today and voters had to choose, they’d ditch the incumbent and vote in Orlando Democrat Brendan Ramirez by 7 points. More than a third of voters were undecided in that poll, but the 36-29 margin comes despite Ramirez facing two Democratic primary challengers and having spent only $5,250 getting his message out to the voters.

Cortes, on the other hand, has brought in nearly $150,000 for his campaign and spent nearly $30,000, but his showing puts him 5 points behind a generic Republican, who would trail 37-34.

The same situation is playing out down in South Florida, where in three GOP-held districts voters said they preferred a generic Democratic candidate over an unnamed Republican.

In HD 93, a rare Republican oasis in deep-blue Broward County, Democratic nominee Emma Collum holds a 2-point lead over Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca. That edge is not as eyebrow raising as the other measures, considering HD 93 is an open seat where Collum has been fundraising and campaigning hard for months.

In HD 103, the seat currently held by term-limited Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz, Miramar Democrat Cindy Polo leads Republican nominee Frank Mingo outright, 32-28 percent. Polo has raised just $17,345 and spent $5,579 since filing for the seat in late March compared to $108,378 raised and $44,338 spent for Mingo.

In HD 120, third-term Republican Rep. Holly Raschein holds a 7-point lead over Democratic nominee Steve Friedman, 36-29 percent. That beats the 4-point margin that won her another term two years ago, but that lead dissipates entirely when voters were asked which way they’d lean if the election were today.

In that measure, she trailed 24-17. And that’s with Friedman not even actively campaigning in the district since entering the race in mid-May.

If those internal polls are indicative of Election Day turnout, the so-called “blue wave” could see Floridians sending a lot more than a new Governor to Tallahassee.

The Change Research surveys were conducted July 3 through July 6. The pollster took responses from 546 registered voters in HD 30, 903 in HD 93, 446 in HD 103 and 513 in HD 120.

State economists lower forecast for tobacco tax revenues, settlement payments

With Floridians purchasing fewer packs of cigarettes and a top cigarette company fighting to avoid settlement payments, state economists are forecasting a dip in tobacco tax collections and settlement revenues going forward.

During a Tuesday meeting of the Revenue Estimating Conference, state economists said many smokers are smoking less and some are switching to “e-cigarettes” for their nicotine fix rather continuing on with traditional cigarettes — an important distinction since the liquid used in “vaping” isn’t taxed in Florida.

In addition to sales tax, Florida levies a $1.34 excise tax on each pack of cigarettes sold in the state, well below the national average of $1.69 per pack. The January estimate put Florida’s 2017-18 revenues from cigarette taxes at $1.07 billion, reflecting a $13.3 million reduction from the prior forecast.

Through July, tobacco tax collections are another $19 million short of forecasts for the year and those present at the REC meeting were all bearish when updating their collections estimates, positing negative growth of between 2 percent and 2.5 percent for coming fiscal years — the conference went with the middle number, 2.25 percent.

Though cigarette taxes were down, tax revenues for “other tobacco products” such as smokeless tobacco and cigarillos were. That doesn’t balance out the reduced collections from cigarettes, however, as one member of the conference said that amounted to a $500,000 surplus over initial forecasts. In January, the Revenue Estimating Conference forecast $94.8 million in collections from taxes on OTP purchases.

Economists were in agreement that revenues in that category would continue to grow in the coming years and adjusted their estimates up by about 5 percent.

As to why more Floridians were spending more on “other tobacco products” while shelling out less for cigarettes, there was no single explanation.

One member of the panel hypothesized that low unemployment producing more Floridians with money in their pocket may be leading to “higher quality smoking” rather than less smoking overall, though it’s not clear if a regular paycheck truly leads tobacco users to upgrade from cigarettes and beer to cigars and brandy.

Payment estimates related to the landmark 1990s legal settlement with tobacco companies threw another wrench in the gears.

The state is currently battling R.J. Reynolds over whether it should continue making payments relating to cigarette brands it has sold off to Imperial Tobacco Group, which hasn’t stepped in to take over the payments in the company’s stead.

Late last year, a circuit court judge ruled that R.J. Reynolds must keep paying their share, but with the case still tied up in court there is uncertainty over how long it will take before a final ruling is handed down.

Economists settled on zeroing out R.J. Reynolds payments for the next two years but noted that they expect Florida to prevail in court and for that cash — $68.4 million for the two years — to eventually be forked over. Back in May, the conferences estimated those payments be $391.7 million for the current fiscal year, followed by $389.1 million in the 2018-19 fiscal year and $393.6 in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Kubs Lalchandani has skipped voting in more than a dozen elections

Miami Democrat Kubs Lalchandani needs voters to turn out for the House District 113 primary in three weeks, but a look at own voting record shows he’s cast a ballot only sparingly over the past decade.

Since registering to vote in Miami back in 2006, Lalchandani has skipped out on 15 elections. Many of his no-shows were for special elections, though he also skipped out on the regularly scheduled Democratic primaries for the 2008, 2010 and 2012 election cycles.

Though Lalchandani cast a general election ballot in presidential election years, he also failed to turn up during the 2010 general election, which saw Democratic gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink lose to then-candidate Rick Scott by 61,550 votes — only a handful of ballots in each Florida precinct would have turned the tide of that race. At the time, Sink blamed lower-than-expected turnout in South Florida for her loss.

It’s unknown whether Lalchandani’s absences at the polls are due to a lack of motivation, or due to him being away at one of his out-of-state properties —per a foreclosure suit, he maintained addresses in Lakewood, Ohio, and New York City until 2011.

Lalchandani is running for the Miami-Dade House seat currently held by outgoing state Rep. David Richardson, who is running for Congress. He faces former Miami Beach City Commissioners Deede Weithorn and Michael Grieco in the primary race.

Grieco’s time as a commissioner ended with him on probation and being barred from running for public office after he was accused of campaign finance violations. That probation has since ended, allowing him to file for the state House race.

HD 113 is a Democratic stronghold covering North Bay Village and Miami Beach. The winner of the Aug. 28 Democratic primary will go up against Republican nominee Jonathan Parker in the Nov. 6 general election.

Mike Beltran inflated his NRA grade, scoresheet shows

Lithia Republican Mike Beltran has been touting an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association in his campaign to succeed exiting Rep. Jake Raburn in House District 57, but a look at the gradebook shows that’s a misrepresentation.

Contrary to communications from his campaign, including a mailer that went out to HD 57 voters, the NRA says it rates the 34-year-old attorney as an “AQ” candidate.

Yes, there’s an “A” in the title, and yes, an “AQ” is considered a positive rating by the pro-gun group. But an “A” and an “AQ” are not the same. Simply put, one is all talk while the other requires kind of action.

Per the NRA, an “AQ” rating means the following: “A pro-gun candidate whose rating is based solely on the candidate’s responses to the NRA-PVF Candidate Questionnaire and who does not have a voting record on Second Amendment issues.”

An “A” rating — one notch up on the scale — is described thusly: “Solidly pro-gun candidate. A candidate who has supported NRA positions on key votes in elective office or a candidate with a demonstrated record of support on Second Amendment issues.”

So, according to the NRA, Beltran scored well on their questionnaire, but there’s nothing in his background that would push him over the edge and land him a full-fledged “A.” It would be one thing if Beltran had the highest score in the race, but he doesn’t — businessman and U.S. Army veteran Sean McCoy, his opponent in the Republican primary, earned the real-deal “A.”

While both men scrambled to qualify for the race after Raburn’s surprise announcement that he would not seek re-election, it appears — assuming this misrepresentation is not intentional — Beltran’s camp hasn’t settled in enough to pay attention to the details.

Florida Politics reached out to the campaign for comment on the error but did not receive a response.

Beltran and McCoy are a few weeks out from their head-to-head primary showdown. The winner of that contest will almost assuredly succeed Raburn, however they’ll still be on the November ballot alongside Valrico Democrat Debbie Katt.

The most recent round of campaign finance reports shows McCoy, a West Point graduate, with $49,000 raised and $28,566 banked. While that gives him a near 2-to-1 lead in true fundraising, Beltran holds the overall cash lead thanks a $100,000 candidate loan he made shortly after filing. Katt, for her part, has raised $11,045 for her campaign and has $5,240 on hand.

HD 57 covers part of southeastern Hillsborough County and leans Republican.

The GOP has a 7-point lead in voter registrations within the district, and Raburn had no trouble holding the seat for three terms. In 2012, his only campaign where he faced a Democratic challenger, Raburn cruised to a 17-point victory.

Beltran’s mailer is below.

Beltran Mailer

Former Wrigley Co. CEO helps Surterra land $65M for expansion efforts

Medical marijuana company Surterra Wellness closed another successful round of equity fundraising that will allow it to start some substantial construction projects in the Sunshine State.

The company, founded in 2014, said it closed a $65 million “Series C” equity fundraising round in July. Series C funding is when investors put cash into companies that have shown viability in order to help them expand and grow at a more rapid clip.

Surterra, which runs 10 dispensaries in Florida, said some of that cash would be used to construct “substantial cultivation space in Florida” and double the number of its employees to 750 by the end of the year. Also in the cards: Building partnerships with other consumer brands, accelerating product development and conducting clinical research trials that test the effectiveness of medical marijuana in treating maladies such as anxiety, pain and PTSD. Surterra also has a license to sell medical marijuana in Texas and has an application pending in Virginia, CEO Jake Bergmann said Tuesday.

While Florida will get plenty of love as Surterra expands, the company said the funding will also help them establish roots in new state markets across the country.

The new round of funding was led by Wychwood Asset Management, the direct investment arm of William “Beau” Wrigley, Jr. As his name suggests, Wrigley was the one-time head of the Wrigley Company, the chewing gum empire founded by his family in the late 19th Century.

Wrigley’s role in securing the new round of funding for Surterra landed him the chairmanship on the company’s board of directors. Prior to the Wrigley Company’s acquisition by fellow confectionary giant Mars, Beau Wrigley was at the helm through a period of growth and navigated numerous acquisitions, including those of Altoids and LifeSavers.

“I am thrilled to join the Surterra team and help drive their mission to build a best-in-class cannabis healthcare business,” Wrigley said. “After extensive diligence, we determined that Surterra has the highest quality standards, best products, and most professional management team in the industry.

“We believe in the ability of cannabis to improve quality of life for patients across the country, and we are excited to build a global industry leader for the long term,” he concluded.

Surterra CEO Jake Bergmann said the company was “proud to welcome Beau, a business leader who brings decades of world class experience and expertise in brand building, to Surterra Wellness. Having a seasoned industry veteran like Beau intimately involved in building Surterra’s business is exciting for the future of Surterra, our patients and the entire medical cannabis industry.”

The Wrigley funding, which took place last month, is the latest in a number of recent transactions in the state’s budding medical-marijuana industry.

In an agreement announced last month, the Canadian firm Scythian Biosciences Inc. said it intends to spend $93 million to purchase a majority of 3 Boys Farms — a Florida medical-marijuana operator that has yet to begin selling products to patients — and an unnamed “health care organization.” In June, California-based MedMen announced it was paying $53 million to acquire Eustis-based Treadwell Nursery, another of the state-licensed “medical marijuana treatment centers.”

Since lawmakers in Florida first legalized non-euphoric medical marijuana in 2014, the state’s cannabis industry has been plagued by legal and administrative challenges, delays in implementing the constitutional amendment and drawn-out rulemaking processes that have created frustration for legislators, patients, operators and investors.

A Tallahassee judge last week ruled that a state law capping the number of medical marijuana operators “directly contradicts” the 2016 constitutional amendment, which was approved by more than 71 percent of voters. But it’s unclear what, if any, impact Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson’s decision will have since he did not stop health officials from continuing their current processes.

Still, marrying Wrigley — whose namesake brands have been found in checkout lanes around the world for more than a century — with one of the state’s leading marijuana purveyors can be seen as another step toward putting cannabis, which requires a doctor’s approval, in a category with other household-name products.

“This is about helping people. It can give people a normal life, let them go to school and be a normal member of society. It is incredible to craft that opportunity in an industry that is starting from scratch,” Wrigley said in the statement.

The candy heir pointed out that three-dozen states have some sort of authorization for cannabis.

“Once people can get over the perception curve, they see the many benefits of this,” Wrigley said.

Andrew Learned pitches ‘Medicare for All’ in first CD 15 ad

Valrico Democrat Andrew Learned is out with his first TV ad in the crowded race for Florida’s 15th Congressional District, saying he’ll fight for “Medicare for All” if elected to fill the open seat currently held by retiring U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross.

The 15-second spot, titled “Human Right,” features the Navy veteran shaking hands with his would-be constituents and throwing shade at U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as he vows to support the aforementioned health care solution championed by independent U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

The short script for the ad: “In Congress I’ll fight for ‘Medicare for All,’ because health care is a human right,” Learned says. “We need to protect our health care from Republican attacks. I’m Andrew Learned Democrat for Congress — it’s time for a new generation of leadership.”

In a press release announcing the new ad, Learned reached across the aisle with a personal anecdote as he said health care was the most important issue of the 2018 cycle and that “Medicare for All” was a solution people of all political persuasions could get behind.

“If anyone tells you this election is about anything other than health care, they haven’t been paying attention,” he said. “My mom is a lifelong Republican, but she has been a hospice nurse for decades and she supports Medicare for All. In the richest country in the world, no one should die because they can’t afford treatment. That’s why I am fighting for Medicare for All and a new generation of leadership — one that puts principles over politics and will fight for what is right.”

Proponents of “Medicare for All,” analogous to single-payer, would bring health care access to all Americans regardless of their income. A recent study from a Koch Brothers-funded conservative think tank found the proposal could save Americans up to $2 trillion over the next decade, however, the study’s principal author claimed that was a misrepresentation after Democrats, including gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, seized on that figure.

Learned’s ad comes a couple weeks after his chief opponent in the CD 15 Democratic primary, Kristen Carlson of Lakeland, started hitting the airwaves with a 30-second spot touting her role in exposing and stopping out-of-state orange juice manufacturers tampering of Florida products.

Learned and Carlson are running alongside Coast Guard veteran and former police officer Ray Pena to become the CD 15 Democratic nominee. Until recently, the seat was considered safely Republican, but the political handicappers at the Cook Political Report recently shifted their assessment from “Likely Republican” to “Lean Republican.”

CD 15 is split between Hillsborough and Polk counties, with about 10 percent of the district’s voters living in Lake County. The district voted plus-10 for Donald Trump two years ago.

The winner of the Democratic primary will face one of five Republican candidates seeking their party’s nomination for the post. The best known among them are former state Rep. Neil Combee and current state Rep. Ross Spano, who led the primary field by double digits in a recent poll.

Learned’s ad is below.

Gwen Graham separates from the pack according to new Associated Industries poll

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham has been the front runner in the Democratic primary for Governor for a couple weeks, and a new poll from the Associated Industries of Florida shows she’s starting pull away from her competitors in the closing weeks ahead of the election.

AIF’s numbers show Graham started the month with a 35 percent support — the highest mark in any poll to-date and a massive increase from the 24 percent share she held back in mid-July. Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene don’t take second-place, either. That honor goes to “not sure,” which polled at 23 percent.

Graham’s increased lead seems to be coming from those heretofore undecided voters, who made up 31 percent of primary voters just three weeks ago. As their share shrunk 8 points, Graham’s support increased 11. Those other three points appear to have come from Levine, whose support dropped by two points as he rejoined the scrum at the bottom of the race.

He, Greene, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum are bunched up in the low teens, according to AIF, which did not measure support for Central Florida businessman Chris King, who often shows up in single digits in most polls.

Gillum and Levine tie for No. 3 with 14 percent support apiece, followed by Greene with a 12 percent share.

For Gillum, that’s 1-point improvement over AIF’s previous last measure, taken July 19. Greene, on the other hand, has stagnated, while Levine slipped another two points. The last time AIF had Levine in the top spot was in their June 18 poll.

The AIF results come as Levine’s campaign released another poll it commissioned that showed them in a much better position. Graham still leads that Public Policy Polling survey, albeit with 26 percent support, while Levine is the clear No. 2 with a 22 percent share and plenty of daylight between him the rest of the field.

What the AIF results more closely mirror are the recent internal numbers released by the Graham campaign. Their most recent poll, commissioned from Democratic pollster ALG Research, also put her support level in the 30s with her competitors far behind.

The primary election is Aug. 28. The winner of the Democratic nomination will go up against either U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis or Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on the November ballot.

Risky business: Jimmy Patronis hits Jeremy Ring over past ‘flops and failures’

CFO Jimmy Patronis’ campaign attacked Democratic challenger Jeremy Ring Tuesday over a trio of businesses that have failed with him at the helm.

The first of the so-called flops is one Ring, a former State Senator and Yahoo exec, readily admits. Shortly after leaving Yahoo in 2001, Ring launched digital tech company Convizion, and it failed when the internet bubble burst, losing millions of dollars in investor money.

The other two, Strategic Baseball Ventures and Ring Entertainment Group, were startups run by Ring in the early 2000s that both shut down a few years after they launched.

The Patronis campaign said that bumpy background provided an “alarming window” into how he would handle the official duties of the Cabinet job, which include heading up the state’s accounting, auditing, and payroll services, among other responsibilities.

“Jeremy Ring’s flops and failures with Florida businesses make him the wrong choice for Florida’s finances,” said campaign communications director Katie Strickland. “Ring talks up his experience at Yahoo, but his business record in Florida tells a different story, with multiple business ventures flopping or failing just years after Ring started them or took control.

“Ring even admitted in ‘no uncertain terms’ to his multimillion-dollar digital venture ‘being a failure’ when speaking to a group in 2008. Risky Ring is wrong for Florida’s finances,” she continued.

According to the Florida Division of Corporations, Ring does have some businesses that are still in operation — Creek Equity Partners, Park Spring Holdings, YPublish and Students United with Parents and Educators to Resolve Bullying.

Patronis’ attack comes a month after Ring hit the Panama City Republican for posing allegedly racist questions during a clemency hearing, a charge Patronis’ campaign has called baseless.

The two are the only major party candidates vying for the Cabinet position.

As of July 27, Patronis held a clear lead in the money race with nearly $4.5 million raised and about $3.9 million on hand between his campaign account and political committee, Treasure Florida. Ring has raised about $1.2 million, including in $150,000 candidate loans, and has $458,000 in the bank between his two accounts.

The pair will go head-to-head in the Nov. 6 general election.

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