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Guest Author

The op-ed Leslie Wimes apparently doesn’t want you to read

Leslie Wimes

Editor’s note: The op-ed below originally appeared on the award-winning blog, The Florida Squeeze. However, its editors took the op-ed down because it said it failed to meet that site’s editorial standards. 

“Although the tone of the piece was intended to be facetious and is based on what many believe to be reality, we were alerted to the possibility it could have been read to assert facts not in evidence impugning Ms. Wimes’ professional integrity, which the Squeeze has no reason to question,” the editors of The Florida Squeeze wrote. 

Regardless of what the editors of The Squeeze think of the op-ed AND WITHOUT the permission of the original author, I am publishing the op-ed in its entirety because, now, the piece in and of itself is newsworthy. The taking down of the op-ed has probably made the piece more interesting than if it had just stayed up.  Readers of The Florida Squeeze, Florida Politics, and all other political websites in Florida deserve to know what is at the core of the controversy. 

We have been told that Leslie Wimes complained enough that she was able to get this piece taken down. We do not have confirmation of this from the editors at The Florida Squeeze. We will let their editorial message speak for itself; they did not think it meant the standards of their site. 

We, like the Florida Squeeze, invite Wimes to write her own op-ed for publishing here, although we’re pretty sure that if she has something to share, she knows how to get the word out.

So, as the saying goes, we’re gonna just leave this right here…

One of the best pieces of advice that I learned from old hands who have held high political office is that you should never assume that you know the motives behind the actions that people take without hard evidence.

This is especially true when your inclination is that those motives are nefarious.

Leslie Wimes is a name I came to know back in 2014, and her name has kept popping up in my efforts to stay current on what is happening in the body politic over the last several years. I have my own opinions about Ms. Wimes, but instead of overtly expressing my opinion(s) I am going to stick to the facts. I am going to lay out her actions.

I am also going to lay out the actions someone would take if they were a Republican plant who had as their main objective undermining Democrats here in Florida. In the end, we will see how her actions line up with what a Republican plant would do so that everyone can judge for themselves.

Leslie Wimes and I were actually on the same side of an election when I first heard her name back in 2014. She was supporting Sen. Nan Rich for Florida Governor, and I was the Data Consultant/Director for the campaign.

I will go to my grave espousing the fact that Sen. Rich would have made the best governor of those running had she been elected, and since the other two main candidates were the current and immediate past GOP Governor of Florida there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that she was the most liberal candidate. That being said, Sen. Rich was the candidate that Republicans most wanted to see face off against sitting Gov. Rick Scott in the General Election.

The GOP elite thought that Sen. Rich would have been much easier to beat than Charlie Crist, and while I disagree with that assessment I can say without equivocation that is what they thought. So, anyone working on behalf of GOP interests would have supported Sen. Rich back in 2014.

Surely among the top goals of Florida Republicans in 2016 was to retain a GOP US Senate seat in the state, elect a Republican President, and undermine the DNC Chair who also happened to be an elected official in South Florida.

Ms. Wimes’ support of Tim Canova and Pam Keith (initially) was among her most notable efforts in the 2016 election cycle. Canova and Keith are both intelligent, impressive, and passionate Democrats who had the ability to strengthen a weak Democratic bench in Florida. Another thing that they both have in common is that they ran for offices that they had little hope of winning, and did so in a way that was divisive.

Republicans who were paying attention were likely giddy at the notion of promising Democrats running in such races. It divided Democrats, ensured that these promising candidates weren’t added to the Democratic bench of elected officials, and had the possibility of disillusioning these candidates and their Democratic supporters.

Ms. Wimes also attacked Hillary Clinton during the General Election last year, which is one of many examples of Ms. Wimes questioning why Black voters overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party. It is a fact that Black voters are the voting bloc that has been the most loyal to the Democratic Party. Do you think that might mean that Machiavellian Republicans have near the top of their wish list either making inroads with Black voters or trying to make them disenchanted with the Democratic Party so that they don’t vote Democratic as much as they have done historically?  I certainly do.

Do you think that might mean that Machiavellian Republicans have near the top of their wish list either making inroads with Black voters or trying to make them disenchanted with the Democratic Party so that they don’t vote Democratic as much as they have done historically?  I certainly do.

Republicans would undoubtedly support such efforts, and any efforts of any plant that they may have, by giving said person a platform from which they can work from. It is noteworthy that Ms. Wimes did a media blitz espousing messages critical of Democrats to GOP-oriented outlets right before the 2016 General Election. Oh, have I mentioned yet that these articles that I keep referencing (which I will post a link to below) by Ms. Wimes are from the Republican-run website Sunshine State News?

The one stance that Ms. Wimes has taken this year that I have the most trouble wrapping my head around being taken by any reasonable Democrat is that Gov. Rick Scott “engages” the Black community more than Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson does.

This was written in a piece attacking Democrats for not celebrating Black History Month posted at 6 a.m. on the second day of Black History Month.

For context, Gov. Rick Scott is widely expected to challenge U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for his seat next year. Winning that U.S. Senate seat is a top priority for Republicans this cycle. The fact that Gov. Scott has restored the voting rights to fewer people than any of his predecessors, and those 1.7 million Floridians who could get their rights restored skew very heavily toward minority communities, is one of many examples as to why Gov. Scott is no friend to the Black community. Ms. Wimes touting Republican Gov. Rick Scott in such a ridiculous way over a sitting Democratic U.S. Senator is curious.

Also curious is the fact that a candidate that Ms. Wimes has supported got encouragement to run in a Democratic Primary against U.S. Sen. Nelson earlier this year. Nelson is not the only Democratic leader in Florida that Ms. Wimes has gone after recently. Ms. Wimes has gone after new Florida Democratic Party (FDP) President Sally Boynton Brown just in the past week.

One constant complaint from Ms. Wimes is that the FDP and Democratic leaders meddle in party elections and primaries. Ms. Brown pulled out of an event because the person holding the event is a candidate in a contested Democratic primary for US Congress. Ms. Wimes railed against Ms. Brown in a display of sheer hypocrisy by Ms. Wimes. Ms. Brown even provided her phone number to Ms. Wimes and said that Ms. Wimes should be free to call with any questions she may have. Ms. Wimes continued her bizarre attack against Ms. Brown (posted below) in spite of Ms. Brown extending an olive branch.

What is telling about Ms. Wimes’ actions is not only what she does, but also what she doesn’t do.

I have nothing but love and admiration for someone like Susan Smith, even though we don’t always see eye to eye. If someone isn’t in line with Ms. Smith’s values, she isn’t afraid to say so regardless of who that may irritate.

The difference between a great Democrat like Susan Smith and Leslie Wimes is that Susan Smith dedicates her time and her money to numerous Democratic and liberal causes she believes in. There is no doubt that all of Susan Smith’s actions are geared toward making the Florida Democratic Party successful in a way that aligns with her vision for the party. Ms. Wimes has no such record. There has not been a single instance where Ms. Wimes has supported a Democratic nominee or institution in Florida except against other Democrats. I am not saying her record on such matters is light. It is literally nonexistent.

Ms. Wimes has no such record. There has not been a single instance where Ms. Wimes has supported a Democratic nominee or institution in Florida except against other Democrats. I am not saying her record on such matters is light.

It is literally nonexistent.

Here is what would be on my list of how to undermine Democrats as a Machiavellian Republican in Florida: ensure Democrats don’t build a bench by steering good candidates into races they can’t win and hope they get disillusioned when they lose, sow seeds of doubt and/or discontent into the most loyal Democratic voting bloc(s), and attack/try to undermine major Democratic institutions, elected officials and statewide candidates. The list is not mutually exclusive.

I would do all this while making sure that I never actually supported a Democrat over a Republican. If (s)he needed a platform from which to do all this, I would offer television and other media outlets like Sunshine State News to spread messaging beneficial to Republicans.

It is funny how this all seems to overlap perfectly with Ms. Wimes’ actions. Again, I am not saying that she is a GOP plant. Just because something walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and acts like a duck doesn’t mean that it isn’t a unicorn that lays golden eggs. I leave it to you to consider the facts and come to your own conclusion.

Ms. Wimes Sunshine State News article catalog: http://www.sunshinestatenews.com/taxonomy/term/307

Ms. Wimes’ odd Facebook response to Ms. Brown (I blacked out her phone number for privacy purposes):

Sean Phillippi

(Author’s Note: Please feel free to send any comments, suggestions, column ideas or hate mail to ThePhlipSideFL@gmail.com.)

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Sean Phillippi is a Democratic strategist and consultant based in Broward County. He has worked for campaigns on the federal, state and local levels, including the Florida Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Sean is the Managing Member of TLE Analytics LLC, the political data and consulting firm he founded in 2012.

Ardian Zika: Tearing down ‘walls’ to reach American dream

Ardian Zika

Thirty years ago, on this special day, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, at the Brandenburg Gate in Germany, sent a powerful message to Mr. [Mikhail] Gorbachev: “Tear down this wall!”

This powerful call to action brought hope for a new beginning and was a catalyst in delivering millions out of the bondage of communism. Only a few years later, the world witnessed the “fall of the Berlin Wall.”

A four-word sentence united a European continent divided between light and darkness.

It was indeed a powerful moment in the history of humanity.

I was a young boy growing up in Kosovo when President Reagan sent this powerful message … A day where the gates of freedom began to open for millions of East Europeans to join the free world.

As an American who started my journey as an immigrant, I’m very thankful to my fellow Americans for giving me the gift of lifetime … the gift of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Thus, I will forever be grateful for the blessing and opportunity to pursue the American Dream … a land where dreams come true!

Opportunities do come with responsibility … an individual responsibility to invest in others and help remove the invisible “walls” that prevent many Americans from achieving their American dream. When we are united as a community, we become an unstoppable force for greatness.

So why wait? Let’s make an impact!

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Ardian Zika serves a board member of CareerSource Florida. Join him on Twitter @ArdianZika.

Timothy Stapleton: Fighting the opioid epidemic in the exam room

FMA CEO Timothy J. Stapleton

The United States is in the midst of a public health crisis. Opioid addiction is taking mothers, fathers and children; destroying lives, breaking up families. The problem is particularly insidious in Florida, which has become a destination for rehabilitative services and sober home living. In the first part of 2016, approximately 2,600 people died from opioid overdoses in the state and the epidemic shows no sign of slowing.

Gov. Rick Scott recently declared a public health emergency over this crisis, which frees up nearly $30 million in federal funds to fight this battle for Floridians. State Surgeon General Celeste Philip, M.D., has been directed to keep a standing order of Narcan and Naloxone — drugs used to counteract overdoses — at the ready, and Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was recently appointed to President Donald Trump’s Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission, has secured a deal for the two drugs to be purchased at a discounted rate.

The Florida Medical Association (FMA) represents more than 20,000 physicians in the state and provides them with access to expert advice, support and resources. As an advocate for the highest standards of medical care, we stand alongside our state’s leaders as we work to reverse the destruction being caused by opioid addiction and overdose in our state.

It’s up to all of us to come together as a community to fight this rampant problem at every level: education, prevention, treatment and recovery services. Physicians can effect positive change by staying educated on best practices and effectively communicating with their patients about treatment protocols for pain management. There is an inherent risk in prescribing highly addictive medications, particularly for patients suffering from severe chronic pain. Physicians have a duty to consider the risks versus clinical effectiveness of prescribing opioids and communicate those risks and benefits clearly and honestly to their patients.

The FMA recommends that physicians follow the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for prescribing opioids. This includes starting “low and slow” with dosages and prescribing no more than needed for acute and chronic pain. Physicians also have a responsibility to follow up with their patients, to ascertain effectiveness of treatment and, when necessary, include strategies to mitigate the risk of addiction or overdose.

Florida has established a state prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) to access and review an individual’s history of controlled substance use before making any decisions on best course of treatment. PDMP data is used by prescribers to avoid dangerous drug combinations that would put a patient at high risk for potential addiction or overdose. This, along with urine drug testing to identify prescribed substances and undisclosed use, prevents pill-seeking patients from “doctor shopping.” The FMA encourages physicians to utilize the database, along with established protocols, protections and research, to ensure that they are able to make appropriate clinical decisions for their patients and prescribe treatments responsibly, safely and effectively.

Physicians have an obligation to educate their patients while developing treatment goals. Treatment does not end when a prescription is written: An open line of communication is necessary to make appropriate clinical decisions and detect signs of opioid dependence.

The FMA remains steadfast in our commitment to the people of Florida who entrust their health to physicians. We will do even more as we continue fighting to protect patients’ health and well-being by arming Florida physicians with the tools necessary to empower their patients. Irresponsible treatment plans and illegal distribution of opioids have no place in the medical field.

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Timothy J. Stapleton is CEO of the Florida Medical Association.  

Pat Neal: Look to Colorado — cutting VISIT Florida funding would be disastrous

Pat Neal

Under the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott, the revival of the Florida economy has been marked by annual job growth and tourism rates that outpace the national average. The inextricable link between Florida’s investment in its tourism industry and this economic recovery is affirmed by the statistics.

Visitor spending in Florida has increased by an average of 6.8 percent annually over the past five years, with $78.3 billion spent in 2010 growing to a $108.8 billion total by 2015. The impact of this job creation spending cannot be understated, with statistics showing that for every 76 visitors that visit the state, one job is supported. In addition, the return on investment Florida sees from VISIT Florida is irrefutably positive, with each dollar invested in VISIT Florida generating $3.20 in tax revenue.

To gauge just how disastrous major cuts to VISIT Florida would be, one must look to Colorado. Keep in mind that Colorado has a more diversified and equitable share of its gross domestic product among different industries, and is not quite as reliant upon the tourism industry alone for its revenues. So, presumably, the effects of defunding tourism marketing programs in Florida would be even more drastic than those seen in Colorado.

In 1993, an obscure provision in the state law allowed for the funding of the state’s tourism marketing mechanisms to expire. This meant that Colorado became the first state to essentially eliminate its funding for tourism marketing.

The effects were fairly immediate and more drastic than could have been anticipated. The elimination of their $12 million tourism marketing budget manifested in a 30 percent decrease in Colorado’s share of the domestic tourism market. In terms of dollars, this constituted a contraction of Colorado’s tourism revenue by $1.4 billion annually.

Eventually, this loss would consistently top $2 billion, with Colorado’s summer resort tourism share, previously No. 1 in the nation, falling to 17th place as a symptom of these ill-advised cuts to tourism marketing.

Even more troublesome is the reality that despite this self-inflicted annual hemorrhaging of Coloradans’ tourism revenue is the reality that it took seven years to reinstate a tourism marketing budget. We all know the wheels of democracy can be sluggish, but it could be avoidable. With billion-plus dollar losses within the tourism industry, enduring for seven years without real intervention is a frightening prospect. It is a prospective reality that the legislature should seriously consider as it continues to push for cuts in funding VISIT Florida.

For comparison’s sake, in 2015 Colorado set a state visitor spending record with $19.1 billion collected. As noted, Florida’s 2015 visitor spending total was over $108 billion. One can understand that the impact of cutting tourism marketing funds in Florida would have exponentially significant and dire consequences to the state economy than Colorado experienced.

Fortunately, like Florida, Colorado’s tourism is now thriving, setting records in terms of visitor numbers, spending and tax revenues. Legislators acknowledge the critical role that marketing campaigns have served in producing record tourism numbers, and they have increased spending annually since the budget was reinstated in 2000. What started as a $5.5 million budget for tourism marketing in 2000 has become a $19 million resource pool in 2015, a relatively minor investment with a substantial payout.

Colorado provides a microcosmic, yet very real, cautionary tale regarding the value of funding marketing for Florida’s tourism industry. VISIT Florida, under the guidance of Gov. Scott, have installed a framework that spreads investment costs between the public and private sectors, all the while maintaining systems that allow for misspent money to be recouped.

Money spent through VISIT Florida is fiscally responsible, logical for businesses and critical to the prosperity of Florida’s citizens. For proof of their essentiality to Florida’s tourism-dependent economy, simply look to the West.

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Pat Neal is former state senator and the former chair of the Christian Coalition of Florida; currently serves as chairman-elect for the board of directors of Florida TaxWatch, the state’s independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit research institute and government watchdog; and is the president of Neal Communities.

 

John Sowinski: Gambling lobbyist finally admits it – casinos prey on customers

John Sowinski

Marc Dunbar is one of Florida’s best-known gambling advocates. When it comes to pushing for more and bigger casinos, he wears the hats of a lawyer, lobbyist and investor.

And so, call it a Freudian slip or just a moment of candor, it was interesting to hear someone from the inside let us all in on how the industry views its customers – as prey.

This came out in a recent interview with the News Service of Florida. In it, Dunbar discussed the state’s longstanding rejection of Vegas-style resort casinos — something the industry has sought in this state for decades.

Because of that prohibition, he said, “you arguably have the kind of gambling that you don’t want to have, the kind that preys primarily on your constituents, as opposed to the tourists.’’

It’s an interesting argument to make to state lawmakers – fleece the tourists to spare your voters. Perhaps it would be an argument some might buy if there was any validity to it.

But it’s a fake choice.

Before getting into that, however, let’s deal with the part of Dunbar’s statement that is accurate.

Casinos do indeed prey on customers. And the most effective method they have for doing so is with high-tech, digital slot machines. Researchers have documented that these machines create a fast-paced, immersive environment in which gamblers lose track of time and losses.

A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology documented the phenomenon in the book, “Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas.”

These machines entrap those prone to become problem gamblers, who in turn represent a significant slice of casino revenues. This is why pari-mutuels throughout Florida are pushing so hard to get slot machines.

So, Dunbar’s comparison of customers to prey is appropriate. Where he runs afoul of both research and reality is the premise that bigger and splashier casinos will target tourists instead of locals.

The Spectrum Gaming Group, hardly an anti-gambling organization, looked at this issue in a comprehensive $400,000 study of the Florida gambling market. Spectrum calculated that if Florida expanded gambling, including major resorts in South Florida, only 5 percent of revenue would be from non-residents and 95 percent from seasonal and permanent residents. Since the money spent at casinos would not, in effect, be new money coming into the state, Spectrum concluded that any impact on the economy would be minimal at best.

State economists have hit on the same point in their analysis. More casinos simply would redirect how residents spend their money – putting it in slot machines as opposed to dinner at a neighborhood restaurant or other such activities. (Florida EDR presentation, March 26, 2015, slide 1)

In fact, what we see going on across the country is rapid casino expansion and a dwindling customer base. As more casinos go up, they cannibalize each other’s customers, creating declining revenues and, in the cases of Atlantic City and Tunica, Mississippi, devastating crashes.

Outside of Las Vegas, casinos are not a big tourism draw.

According to the Spectrum report, you basically can draw concentric circles around a casino with the densest concentration of customers coming from the inner circles, and thinning out thereafter.

That this is well documented begs the question of who does Dunbar think he is fooling or, more interestingly, why. Dunbar has invested in a gambling enterprise run by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which is hoping to build a “resort’’ casino west of Tallahassee in the small, impoverished city of Gretna.

It would include 2,000 slot machines, the current legal limit. The “resort” label would appear to indicate that tourists are the intended targets. But given that proposed casinos in a tourist-draw like South Florida wouldn’t draw in any significant revenue from tourists, one has to wonder how one in the rural Panhandle would pull it off.

Rather than draw in tourists, convenience casinos like Gretna simply focus on maximizing revenue within their respective concentric circles. The idea that a casino that would draw nearly all of its revenue from locals could somehow be a benefit to a local community seems like the worst kind of snake oil peddled by those with ulterior motives. In this case, what may seem to some to appear to be a lifesaver is, in reality, an anchor.

Fortunately, the Florida Supreme Court recently unanimously against the Gretna gambling interests in their attempt to circumvent the Florida Legislature and Florida Constitution in building their slots casino. Unfortunately, this simply means Dunbar and his gambling allies simply will be back for another fierce round of lobbying and backroom dealing in the next legislative session.

A steadfast no is the only response.

Whether we’re talking about the Florida Panhandle or downtown Miami, there is no magical pot of gold at the end of the gambling rainbow – just more local prey to be had.

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John Sowinski, a native of Fort Pierce, is President of NoCasinos.org, Orlando.

Dennis Ross: Giving community banks, credit unions Financial CHOICE

This week, the House of Representatives will consider an important financial reform package, known as the Financial CHOICE Act, which provides desperately needed relief to community financial institutions from the harmful, complex and excessive regulatory environment created by the Dodd-Frank Act.

The Dodd-Frank Act, signed into law by President Obama in July 2010, was more than 2,000 pages long and directed federal regulators to implement more than 400 new rules and regulations to reform our financial system.

When the Dodd-Frank Act was enacted, it was sold to the American people as a solution to the financial crisis that would hold Wall Street banks and bad actors in the financial services arena accountable.

In the years since its enactment, however, big banks have grown larger, and small banks and credit unions across Central Florida and the rest of the country have suffered. In fact, community financial institutions are disappearing at an average rate of one per day. This is because the large Wall Street banks are the only ones with the manpower and resources to navigate the complex Dodd-Frank regulatory environment.

In addition, as a Member of the House Financial Services Committee, I am distressed by the anemic economic growth our country has experienced in the wake of the financial crisis.

In May 2015, the American Action Forum estimated the Dodd-Frank Act would reduce U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by $895 billion between 2016 and 2025. In 2016, the U.S. saw only 1.6 percent GDP growth. The impact the Dodd-Frank Act is having on our GDP is not only affecting Wall Street banks and financial institutions, it is harming hard-working blue-collar families across Central Florida and the Tampa Bay Region.

To reverse this trend, and instead grow our economy and provide relief to community banks and credit unions from the crushing burden of over-regulation, I am proud to support the Financial CHOICE Act.

This legislation protects taxpayers, ends bank bailouts, empowers investors and holds government bureaucracies accountable. It makes it easier for hardworking Americans to save and invest for retirement, college and their futures. Importantly, this legislation increases access to, and reduces the cost of, credit for families that want to purchase a home or start a business. Finally, the Financial CHOICE Act holds Wall Street accountable and increases civil and criminal penalties for financial fraud and insider trading to their highest levels in history.

The Financial CHOICE Act is just what we need to jump-start our economy and provide more hope and opportunity for Floridians and all Americans.

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U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross represents Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

Steve Hayes: Tourism industry in jeopardy with House Bill 1A

The Florida House of Representatives has recently espoused a philosophy of not “picking winners and losers,” but House Bill 1A does just that.

As I watched Gov. Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron, and Speaker Richard Corcoran announce their plans for a special session to discuss tourism funding, I felt hopeful for the fate of Florida’s tourism industry. However, my optimism faded when I read the strict VISIT Florida provisions tucked inside House Bill 1A. Of course, I am deeply appreciative of our lawmakers’ willingness to rethink the issue of VISIT Florida’s funding, but I am concerned the severe restrictions still hinder VISIT Florida’s ability to help smaller communities compete in the increasingly aggressive tourism promotion industry.

VISIT Florida must be able to operate to keep tourists, and revenue, flowing into the Sunshine State. Restoring its funding to $76 million is certainly a critical component to ensuring our tourism industry continues to flourish, but the bureaucratic red tape proposed by HB 1A counteracts the increased budget.

I am a proud member of Pensacola’s tourism industry, so the fund matching provisions found in HB 1A are especially troubling. In its current form, HB 1A could force VISIT Florida to partner only with the larger tourism industry businesses that can match funds, shutting out county destination marketing organization. The small businesses that previously benefited from state tourism promotion efforts by partnering with their local destination marketing organization (DMO), like Visit Pensacola, will no longer be afforded this opportunity — and they are the ones who need tourism promotion the most. Seafood shacks, bed and breakfasts, kayak rentals and numerous other companies do not have a marketing team and therefore rely on their local DMO to partner with VISIT Florida. Similar are the smaller destinations in Northern Florida, without the same brand recognition as some of our state’s larger cities — without cooperation between state and local tourism promotion, many of Florida’s hidden gems would remain a secret.

Like many smaller communities, tourism is Pensacola’s livelihood. The tourism industry employs more than 22,000 residents and relies on Pensacola tourists to feed their families and maintain their way of life. And, those outside of the travel industry benefit from our county tourism promotion efforts as well. For example, every dollar invested in marketing Pensacola creates $3.55 in tax revenue. The money generated by tourism helps improve our roads, maintain our beaches and fund other public projects.

DMO’s, like Visit Pensacola, enable smaller, local tourism businesses to participate in VISIT Florida marketing programs they could not afford without local support. The small businesses could maximize their minimal funds by getting a matching contribution from both the state and their local tax-funded tourism bureau. For example, a water sports attraction on the coast can achieve exposure in magazine advertisements by partnering with their local destination marketing organization, reaching millions of potential customers across the country at a significantly reduced cost. Now, local tourism businesses will be excluded from these types of opportunities.

Recently, Gov. Scott announced Florida welcomed a record 31.1 million visitors in the first three months of 2017. This accomplishment is a direct result of last year’s $76 million allowance for tourism promotion, coupled with each county’s investment in publicizing the Sunshine State. Now that counties and other long-term VISIT Florida partners are unable to help fund state marketing programs, the strength of the Florida brand will surely weaken.

We have proven time and time again that investing in tourism promotion is good public policy, and VISIT Florida’s success has been consistent. Small communities and businesses who have been partners since the beginning should not be punished by a shortsighted decision. HB 1A must be modified so that counties both big and small can continue to benefit from VISIT Florida’s tourism promotion efforts. Tourism must work for the entire state — we cannot leave small communities in the dust.

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Steve Hayes is the vice chairman of the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations (FADMO) and the president of Visit Pensacola.

Shevrin Jones: Florida education bill’s path isn’t how the process works

Remember “Schoolhouse Rock”? Many of us remember the process of how a bill becomes a law from that jingle which still rings in our heads. First, there’s an idea. Then this idea becomes a bill, which must be vetted by both legislative chambers and approved through a rigorous process meant to weed out the good ideas from the bad.

This year, we were promised “unprecedented transparency” in how things would be done in Tallahassee. In my heart, I believe the intent, in the beginning, was pure. Unfortunately, as time passed, that promise slipped away from us. Whether due to the crunch of time, or trying to please everyone, nowhere was the notion of transparency abused more than in the development of HB 7069.

When it comes to any piece of legislation, we owe it to you, our constituents, to allow public comment and input before a vote is taken. This principle is even more important when it comes to public education and charting the course for success for our children’s futures.

With HB 7069, at least 55 different bills concerning public education were jammed together at the last minute in a conference report that was sent straight to the floor of the House and by rule could not be amended. Even more concerning, one of the bills included in this giant package was a bill that will make it harder for Florida to retain our highest performing teachers that had been voted down in a Senate committee. This isn’t how the process should work.

While there are undoubtedly good aspects to this bill — including some portions that I had the privilege to give input on such as recess for public school children and the expansion of the Gardiner scholarship for our students who need it most — it is littered with poison pills that teachers, superintendents and parents all oppose. While some argue that charter schools are public schools, this bill contains a massive giveaway to for-profit charter management corporations at the expense of the 90-plus percent of students in Florida who attend traditional public schools.

Let’s also be honest — you can’t develop a 278-page bill in secret and tell us to deal with it. We must do what’s right and start over so that these policies are given a fair examination in the sunshine.

I urge Gov. Scott to veto HB 7069.

You deserve better. Our children deserve better.

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State Rep. Shevrin Jones represents House District 101, which includes southeastern Broward County. He is a ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee.

Gary Croke: Past hurricanes help prepare for tomorrow

Gary Croke

When disasters happen, whether natural or man-made, emergency responders work in unison to protect the public.

In the case of a hurricane, even before the heavy winds bear down on communities, emergency responders are already implementing plans to help residents get out of areas at risk, safely and swiftly.

Behind the scenes utility companies, government agencies, the National Guard and many other first responders are working together to ensure the safety of Floridians and tourists alike.

As a hurricane builds, so does the need to communicate. Police departments need to coordinate with fire and rescue to ensure the most vulnerable have a route out of the path of destruction, and to provide emergency care to those unable to get to safety in time.

Many Floridians will never forget the unprecedented 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons that caused loss of life and billions of dollars of damage in Florida. In those years, no part of the state was spared. Since that time Florida communities and their leaders have taken advantage of the relatively quiet hurricane seasons to reinvest in a more robust and state-of-the-art public communications infrastructure.

More than 10 years later, microwave technology, provided to local organizations such as the Florida State Department of Transportation, the City of Ft. Lauderdale, the City of Miami Beach, and counties including Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach, has enhanced communication between first responders. It has also helped reduce costs, and improve local networks’ reliability and performance. As the microwave provider to these local organizations, Aviat is proud to play a part in helping these communities be prepared with additional network capacity in future weather emergencies.

However, natural and man-made disasters will continue to test the limits of this technology. As demonstrated by recent public safety incidents in Florida, during times of immediate crisis, lines of communication are often flooded by the number of individuals on the ground trying to help. The addition of more technology, such as body cameras on law enforcement officials, will only add to the onslaught of vital data that needs to shared. It’s also impossible to predict how intense future hurricanes may be. The emergency responders that have prioritized communications are entering hurricane season as well prepared as possible.

More recently, in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy churned through the East Coast, Aviat was helping to provide support for monitoring in real time. One of the AviatCare support services that we offer customers is a comprehensive Network Monitoring and Support service from our security certified North American Network Operations Center (NOC) located far from the threat of hurricanes in San Antonio, Texas. From that location, we can monitor, manage and dispatch resources to address customer issues with their networks. Even before the storm hit the Northeast U.S., our NOC was getting ready to ensure our customers would be prepared for this coming disturbance. With our ability to monitor weather events in real time, we can see immediately what is affecting a customer’s network from a weather perspective.

While preparing for hurricane season, we’ve recently seen municipalities, emergency responders, and utility companies test their communications systems — going through these table top exercises is key and lifesaving. It also means identifying the gaps and making investments to ensure that the bandwidth exists to ensure that our first responders can continue and coordinate, even in the most dire of circumstances.

Emergency communications systems need to be developed from the ground up with reliability in mind — hardened with reinforced infrastructure, redundant equipment, sturdy and robust installations, and battery backup. As technology advances, so do its demands, and communities across the state of Florida need to work to ensure they have access to the technology that supports the realities of local data demands and potential risks to the public — the health and safety of our residents depends on it.

With hurricane season starting June 1, Aviat is poised to work with local emergency responders and utility responders who have made effective communications a top priority.

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Gary Croke is Senior Director of Marketing & Strategy at Aviat Networks, a global provider of microwave networking solutions, providing public and private operators with communications networks to accommodate the exploding growth of IP-centric, multigigabit data services.

Gil Langley: Post-Session reflection on tourism marketing

Last week, Gov. Rick Scott announced record-breaking tourism numbers in the Sunshine State. It may be the last time for a while. Ignoring extensive research, case studies and pleas from travel industry constituents across the state, the Florida Legislature slashed funding for VISIT Florida by a crippling 67 percent — recklessly jeopardizing the tourism industry’s leading role as a generator of jobs and government revenues.

A $25 million budget to market Florida, one of the world’s top travel destinations, is not conducive to success on any front – job creation, revenue increases or lower taxes for Florida residents. By cutting off funds for advertising, marketing, and promotion, Florida will essentially surrender the gains made over the past several years while global competitors steal market share.

Contrary to assertions made by some elected officials, vacation destinations do not sell themselves. Every great product needs to make potential customers aware of the benefits their product offers – and why it is a better choice than the alternative. That is why California spends more than $100 million every year to market their state, even with well-known major attractions such as Disneyland, Hollywood, the Golden Gate Bridge and great beaches.

Tourism is an incredibly competitive industry. Not only are we competing against 49 other states (some with eight-figure marketing budgets), we are battling destinations across the globe to get the attention of potential visitors. Mexico, the Bahamas and Cuba are thrilled Florida’s travel marketing budget has been reduced, allowing them to gain market share while VISIT Florida goes silent in the marketplace.

These cuts were approved despite warnings from experts in government and the private sector. Detailed case studies about states like Colorado and Washington (who cut tourism marketing, only to lose jobs, revenues and market share) provided a cautionary tale ignored. Prestigious organizations such as Florida TaxWatch conducted economic studies demonstrating VISIT Florida’s return on investment, proving investing in tourism is good public policy.

Our elected officials have demonstrated they know the importance of consistent messaging. Legislators raised $73 million for election campaigns in 2016 – even though 57 seats were uncontested. They spent money to keep the voters informed of the job they do, and explained why they should continue to serve. Reminding vacationers of why Florida is a great choice for their family follows the same principle.

The decision to slash tourism marketing funding and create barriers to VISIT Florida’s success negatively impacts every single Floridian. Less marketing means fewer visitors and fewer visitors means less tax revenue to fund necessary public projects such as schools, beaches, parks, roads and other infrastructure. Even if the entire $61 million cut were dedicated to other programs, the impact would be minimal. For example, according to FDOT, $61 million would construct only 4 miles of urban interstate – in a state with nearly 1,500 miles of interstate. On a larger scale, the $61 million cut from VISIT Florida’s budget would fund state government operations for just five hours out of the year. Invested in marketing the state, however, those same funds would generate over $160 million in new state and local tax revenue that could support transportation, education and senior services. It is also important to note VISIT Florida represents a minuscule portion of the state’s budget, yet any decrease in funding will result in significant ramifications. Even if VISIT Florida were funded at Governor Scott’s recommendation of $100 million, 98.7 percent of the state’s budget would be left for other priorities.

I live and work in the small coastal community of Amelia Island, a community that is twice as dependent on tourism as the average Florida county. We are especially concerned about the budget cuts’ impact to rural communities. To a degree, large urban destinations, mega resorts and world-famous theme parks can rely on global brand recognition, but many of Florida’s hidden gems will be left without the resources to market themselves. For Nassau County, the potential impacts are frightening.

Tourist spending generates 37 percent of the sales taxes generated here. Over 25 percent of the workforce have jobs in the hospitality business. Tourist spending provides a net gain of $40 million to County government, saving every household in the County $2,748 in state and local taxes. If tourism declines, it means fewer jobs, fewer services and potentially increased taxes on residents.

Just as in Nassau County, other hardworking Floridian families will suffer, too. A TaxWatch study analyzed the economic impact of the new tourism promotion budget, and found that reducing funding to $25 million means a loss of at least 5 million tourists. With a 5 percent tourism downturn, every household in Florida would have to be taxed an additional $1,535 a year to replace the lost state and local taxes generated from visitor activity. Perhaps even more disheartening are the 70,000 jobs that will be lost due to fewer visitors.

Our hope is that before tourism losses mount in 2018, legislators will reverse course and fully fund a marketing effort that maintains our status as the Earth’s most popular family destination. If not, jobs will be lost, small businesses will be harmed and tax revenue will be diminished. Objectively evaluating the return on investment clearly proves tourism works for Florida – and supporting it financially is a wise move for all our citizens.

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Gil Langley is chair of the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations, the statewide association representing county tourism promotion agencies.

 

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