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Guest Author

Lauren Baer: We need to talk about quality of health care, not just who pays

Today, as we mark the anniversary of the shameful Republican vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — a craven move disgracefully supported by our current Congressman Brian Mast — pundits around the country will turn to health care.

But, what will inevitably be missing in the political debate over who pays for health care and how much is a discussion of the equally important issue of the standard of care Americans are receiving.

And that’s a problem.

For while it is undeniable that deductibles are too large and premiums too high, to focus on that issue alone is to ignore a critical concern: we are paying too much for care that is simply not good enough, especially for people with complex, chronic medical issues.

I know this is true, because for me it’s personal.

In 2013, while visiting a friend in Chicago, hundreds of miles away from her Florida home, my mother suddenly went into kidney failure. Choking up, my father told me to get on the first possible plane.

My mother was no stranger to hospital rooms, having been in and out of them ever since a 1992 car accident left her with debilitating injuries and medical complications. Over the next week, as we sat at her bedside with hospital staff, we painstakingly reviewed the list of more than 20 medicines that she takes every day, prescribed by nearly a half-dozen doctors.

Each pill was intended to improve her quality of life, but, as we learned, they could also interact in life-threatening ways.

Indeed, what her individual doctors hadn’t told us — or, more troublingly, had not pieced together — was that the particular combination of medicines my mother was taking could bring on sudden kidney failure.

My mom pulled through, but she has been in the hospital more than a dozen times since. Each time, we have the same painful conversation with hospital staff in which we recount her years of trauma, her multiple surgeries, and her long list of doctors who, despite their best efforts, don’t always effectively communicate with each other — or with her.

At home, we go over the different instructions of her many doctors and try to make sure that what each individual physician is doing to save her isn’t inadvertently making her worse. And we help my mom cope with the frustration of feeling like her doctors are making medical decisions without her participation or full consent.

My mother’s story is the lens through which I see health care in our country, and it shines a light on a problem faced by too many Americans: at the same time that we are coping with crippling medical bills and rising health care costs, we are also struggling to receive quality care. That needs to change.

The good news is that we know what works: models that treat patients and family members as part of the care team and puts patients’ preferences and needs — and their unique treatment history — first.

Indeed, patient-centered care is effective on multiple levels: actively engaged patients have better health outcomes and reduced health care costs. In a large randomized study, patients who received enhanced support for making their own health decisions had 12.5 percent fewer hospital admissions, 9.9 percent fewer preference-sensitive surgeries, and overall medical costs that were 5.3 percent lower than the control group.

Patient-centered care also emphasizes coordination among care providers, which creates better outcomes for patients with chronic health issues like my mother.

Converting to this model will take time, but re-evaluating how Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurance companies pay doctors can accelerate that process. Instead of paying for each patient visit or each lab test — the standard fee-for-service model most common today — insurance providers could receive a “care management fee” for each patient under their care and performance bonuses when a doctor’s patients show good health outcomes. This would mean that doctors get rewarded for promoting effective preventive treatments, not just expensive tests and surgeries. And it would reward doctors who coordinate care with other doctors to improve outcomes for their patients.

The ACA has piloted patient-centered care programs, including through Medicare and Medicaid, and they are showing major improvements in patient care. Unfortunately, though, programs like these are still limited in scope — and with Republicans in Congress now intent on dismantling the ACA limb-by-limb, we can’t count on their survival.

For example, one promising patient-centered care initiative isn’t being implemented in Florida, even though coordinated care is a major concern for the 20 percent of the state population that is over 65 years old. This should be troubling to anyone who’s ever worried about whether their health care is up to par.

So, as we approach elections this fall, it’s about time we broaden our conversation about health care. We need to be demanding that quality of care be on the agenda, preserving the reforms that have already started to show better patient outcomes, and insisting on legislation that expands efforts to give all Americans the kind of medical treatment they deserve. I started this conversation with my future constituents yesterday in a roundtable where I asked patients, community leaders, and health care providers to share their thoughts.

Not surprisingly, their real-world experience led them to ask two questions: “Can you make our care cheaper?” and also “Can you make it better, too?”

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Lauren Baer is a Democratic candidate in Florida’s 18th Congressional District. She was a senior policy adviser to former U.S. Secretaries of State John Kerry and Hillary Clinton and to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.

Brecht Heuchan: Grouped CRC amendments benefit voters, offer transformational ideas

Brecht Heuchan

The 2018 Constitution Revision Commission, also known simply as the “CRC,” recently completed the once in every 20-year task of reviewing our state constitution.

The purpose of the review is to ensure that our governing document reflects the values of our modern society and meets the needs of our growing state.

The CRC finalized eight proposed amendments, some of which are “grouped,” meaning multiple ideas are included in one single amendment. These amendments were based on more than a year’s worth of work, by 37 volunteer commissioners, traveling across the state, hosting 15 public hearings, dozens more committee meetings, consulting subject matter experts, and considering hundreds of thousands of comments from citizens.

Unfortunately, instead of debating merits of the policy, some editorial boards have offered sarcasm and ignored facts.

They have indicted the practice of grouping related proposals into single amendments for the ballot yet omitted the reality that grouping some ideas which share common elements is for the benefit of the voter.

According to election officials, long ballots create a disincentive to voting in the first place.

Grouping some ideas together keeps the ballot from becoming too lengthy to complete. If all of the CRC proposals were left as single amendments, there would be 25 questions on the ballot instead of 13; and in some areas of our state, each of those measures would be translated into multiple languages.

Further, not grouping ideas would have abandoned every precedent we have. Both previous Constitution Revision Commissions, in 1978 and in 1998, grouped ideas and did so with more regularity than we did. Indeed, in 1968 the voters of Florida ratified an entirely new constitution which was “bundled,” aka grouped into three, yes only three, ballot amendments. Grouping is not new and not controversial.

Bold ideas are often met with criticism and I support the ability of the media and others to voice their disagreement. However, categorically condemning a historically proven and successful process by omitting facts which are contrary to the desired effect is disingenuous.

If traditional media outlets have any desire to regain the public’s trust, if in news or in opinion, they need to be less selective with information and more honest with their arguments.

Here is the truth: the CRC sent to voters a package of transformational ideas in the form of eight proposed amendments to our Constitution, some grouped, some not. These ideas cover a lot of ground and include wildly popular proposals like sweeping ethics reforms, term limits for school board members, rights for crime victims, a ban on offshore oil drilling, banning the use of e-cigarettes in enclosed indoor workplaces, and ending the inhumane racing of greyhounds for betting purposes.

The ballot language of these proposals is clear and easily understood. Voters are exceedingly smart and will decide how they want their Florida to look for generations to come. In the end, they alone will be the judge of our work.

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Brecht Heuchan is a member of the 2018 Constitution Revision Commission.

Joe Clements, Matt Farrar: The value of engagement

The most common issue we find clients having before they hire us is not receiving any engagement with Facebook posts.

Whether you are a candidate, staffer, lobbyist or just an old-fashioned gadfly, getting engagement matters.

What is engagement and why does it matter?

Engagement refers to likes, shares, views, clicks and comments on social media posts, and it matters because it’s an indicator that the audience is interested in your content. It shows you are relevant to your audience on a topic.

Most of a campaign’s digital budget is spent on ads where engagement numbers are far less important than reach (how many people saw the ad) and frequency (how many times a person saw the ad). Most of a campaign’s time, however, is spent generating publicly posted content that appears on the page for all to see including reporters, donors, supporters, and opposition.

So, how do you make all this publicly-available content generate greater engagement and possibly go viral?

Over the years of doing digital campaigns, we have identified three rules for creating a high-performing post on Facebook.

1. Be bold. Great social media messages are ones with which the audience already agrees or ones that evoke strong emotions.

2. In the digital world, it’s easier to ride a wave than to make a wave. Post about what’s happening in the world right now in current events, breaking news, or culture.

3. Make a call to action. Posts with that take a strong stance on timely issues and ask for a “Like,” “Watch,” “Click,” or a “Share” generate greater engagement and reach than meek political language.

Need some examples?

We’ve pulled a few recent posts and embedded them below. Looking at a candidate’s Facebook post performance is also a great way to get an idea of what messages are resonating with voters and likely to become (or remain) a talking point.

Philip Levine


Jay Fant

Adam Putnam

Gwen Graham

Final note, keep in mind that some candidates spend money to promote their posts, which helps drive engagement, so a comparison across pages is not “apples to apples,” since we don’t always know who spent money and how much they spent.

The best rule of thumb is simply to look at how many fans a page has and divide that by the sum of a post’s likes, shares, and comments.

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Joe Clements and Matt Farrar are co-founders of Strategic Digital Services, a Tallahassee-based tech company, and Bundl, an app that coordinates political contributions.

After wreck, Miami sailors rescue trapped motorist, pregnant woman

Two sailors with the Navy Recruiting District (NRD) Miami last Friday rescued a trapped motorist from a vehicle involved in a T-bone style wreck in Brooksville, Hernando County.

Sonar Technician 1st Class Steven Guiffere and Operations Specialist 2nd Class Eric Green were driving back to their recruiting stations when they witnessed a two-vehicle collision. The sailors sprang into action to aid the motorists, with Guiffere pulling an unconscious man from one of the vehicles before it could roll into a nearby ditch.

“Petty Officer Green and I were driving when we saw the accident,” Guiffere said. “We noticed the gentleman in one of the vehicles was unconscious, so we ran to his vehicle in attempt to free him.

“The car was idling before I stopped it and the doors were locked, but I was able to unlock the passenger door after squeezing my arm in the driver’s side window,” he added. “I was able to get the keys and stop the vehicle. Green and I carried the man to his passenger side until paramedics arrived.”

Green said that one of the occupants of the other vehicle involved in the accident was a pregnant woman.

“After Petty Officer Guiffere freed the gentleman from the other vehicle, I sat with a woman who was in the other vehicle,” said Green. “She had bruises on her legs and a cut on her stomach. I called 911 and waited with her until the ambulance arrived.”

Guiffere explained that he and Green did not think twice: “We saw someone in harm and wanted to help … We are just glad that we were in the right place at the right time and able to help.”

Paramedics transported both victims to a local emergency room and law enforcement interviewed Green about his account of the accident.

“Petty Officers Guiffere and Green are prime examples of the moral and physical courage our U.S. Navy Sailors display on a consistent basis. Never bystanders, always ready to respond when called upon and act when needed,” said Cmdr. Delmy Robinson, NRD Miami commanding officer.

The mission of NRD Miami is to recruit high quality, diverse future sailors to meet the strategic manning requirements of America’s Navy. The territory covers three major metropolitan areas in Florida including Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Miami, as well as the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Content provided by the Defense Visual Information Distribution System

Paul Renner: Under new law, the public can access Florida’s beaches, same as always

In Florida’s legislative session, a bipartisan supermajority passed a bill, House Bill 631, that provides uniformity in how we preserve the public’s recreational use of the beaches, even when a portion of that beach is on private property. In politics, nothing truly controversial gets lopsided support from both parties.

Unfortunately, some have irresponsibly chosen to spread alarm, suggesting the new law will privatize or close areas of our beaches that we enjoy today.

In a Palm Coast Observer article about an April 16 workshop, Flagler’s county administrator said this bill has “exported chaos statewide.” Flagler’s county attorney went further to say the legislation: “Totally changes the world.” The article goes on to claim that the new law “lets beachfront property owners effectively wall off portions of the beach from the public.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here are the real facts:

Our right to enjoy the beaches is protected by the Florida Constitution. Neither the Legislature nor the county can interfere, period.

In some cases, private property owners who live on the beach own lots that are platted to include the “dry sand” between the dunes and that high-water mark. Even though this is private property, and even though those owners are taxed on the dry sand portion of the beach, it is not uncommon that many of us use it.

Through the courts, Florida law has recognized our right to the “customary use” of that private property because we have been using it for years. Those rights are completely preserved under the law just passed. Stated differently, your rights and mine to use the beach have not changed one bit. The rights we have today are the same rights we will enjoy in the years to come.

So, what has changed?

The new law simply creates a uniform process for a county to apply to the courts to affirm areas of customary use. Without the courts involved on the front end, individual property owners could and did sue to challenge county ordinances around the state. The taxpayers were on the hook for legal fees to defend every individual case against the county and pay any damages awarded if the county got it wrong.

The new law does not change Florida law relating to customary use, so the outcome is the same; but it does streamline the process to save time and money for everyone involved, including the government and the taxpayers who fund it. That’s a good thing.

Flagler residents should know that the law allows already passed county ordinances to stay in place. St. Johns County and Volusia County, counties I also represent, already passed ordinances. Flagler County has never adopted one. To be clear: a new county ordinance is not necessary to rescue our rights from extinction, as the article quoting county staff suggests; we will continue to enjoy those rights under Florida law, which the courts have established and the law preserves. But if our right to use the beach is really on the verge of extinction unless Flagler County steps in to pass an ordinance, why has it waited all these years to create one?

Ordinance or no ordinance, the beaches will be open this summer and into the future. Like many of you, my wife and I love our beaches. Securing the funding to restore and protect those beaches after Hurricanes Matthew and Irma was a personal priority. Last year, we secured $13.3 million specifically for the restoration of Flagler and St. Johns beaches.

I’m proud of Flagler’s County Commission, who pulled together the matching dollars for this critical project. Without working successfully together, as we did, today’s beach restoration would not have happened.

Thanks to this joint effort, the beaches are not closing, they are getting better. See you on the beach.

Paul Renner represents Flagler County and District 24 in the Florida House of Representatives. The above commentary first appeared on the PalmCoastObserver.com website.

Amy Mercado: A representative democracy for all

The cornerstone of democratic ideals has always been premised on the notion of a fully represented electorate. Since 1965, the Voting Rights Act has shifted the advantage of history to rectify the unjust voting practices that allowed for the subversion of rights of a growing minority population.

In a landmark decision by Chief Justice Earl Warren, he recognized that voting included “all action necessary to make a vote effective,” a decision that subsequently struck down literacy tests, which stood as an egregious impediment to prevent African-Americans from registering to vote.

The recent report that some Florida counties were, in fact, violating the Voting Rights Act by not providing Spanish language election material is intolerable.

Florida is home to over 5 million residents of Hispanic or Latino origin, making up almost 25 percent of the state’s population. Just this year we welcomed 300,000 Puerto Rican evacuees who fled their homes behind in search of new beginnings in Florida in the wake of a devastating natural disaster.

Infringing on the ability of thousands to exercise their constitutional right to vote is unacceptable. These 13 counties are knowingly discouraging Spanish-speaking Floridians from participation in civic discourse and the democratic process.

They are robbing Americans of their fundamental right to exercise their voices.

A reported 82 percent of Hispanic voters in Florida speak Spanish at home. By having Spanish election materials inaccessible, we are placing an unnecessary burden of discrimination against individuals based upon a language barrier.

When a state carrying the weight of over 20 million voters knowingly ignores the consistent interpretations of the Voting Rights Act to require bilingual material and poll workers at voting sites, one can only determine that this is a malicious political calculation designed to undermine and undercut the rights of Floridians.

Half a century after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the fragility of this representative democracy is still all too evident.

If we really want to guarantee “equal, civil, and political rights to all,” as the Preamble to the Florida Constitution declares, we must end this 21st-century obstruction to the indispensable right to vote.

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Democrat Amy Mercado of Orlando represents District 48 in the Florida House of Representatives.

Daniel Webster: It’s the last day of the old tax system

It’s hardworking Americans least favorite day — Tax Day. Good news is this is the last time you will have to file taxes under the old, unfair tax system.

Thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed by Republicans in Congress and signed into law by President Trump, hardworking, middle-class families across Florida will finally keep more of their hard-earned money. Small businesses in our area will finally be free from oppressive tax rates that kept them from expanding and hiring.

Already, we’re seeing positive results as 500 U.S. Companies have given bonuses and announced they are adding more jobs, raising hourly wages and salaries or expanding benefits to provide paid family leave and educational opportunities, among other benefits. Among these are Florida businesses and companies that provide jobs to constituents in my district such as Darden, Disney, Publix, Walmart, Home Depot and UPS — to name a few.

Already, nine in 10 Americans are seeing more money in their paychecks, thanks to the new paycheck withholding tables. Paychecks are bigger now, and when you file this year’s taxes next April, your tax bill will be smaller. More than 80 percent of filers in my district will benefit immediately from the new standard deduction, which is doubled, since they already take the existing standard deduction. Next April, the first $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married couples are tax exempt.

According to IRS data, the average taxpayer in District 11 making $47,145.93 will pay $1,961.60 less in taxes next year due to the new, doubled standard deduction.

A constituent recently shared that he recalculated his 2016 taxes as if they were his 2018 taxes and his calculations came out over $4,600 to the better. He emailed me saying, “Thanks for your efforts to save money … I will use the savings to go back into the economy, help out less fortunate folks … .”

I voted for this bill because I believe taxpayer dollars do not belong to Washington. They belong to hardworking Americans. This is your money and you — not Washington bureaucrats — best know how to spend it.

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Daniel Webster represents Florida’s 11th Congressional District.

Darren Soto: The future of agriculture lies in Central Florida

Agriculture has continued to be Florida’s second largest industry for many years now. Even so, the industry itself is still a mystery to many who live in Florida’s sprawling suburbia.

Our congressional district proudly boasts the top cattle producing county (Osceola) and usual top citrus producing county (Polk). Just take a short drive out of your neighborhood, and you will be surrounded by cow pastures, citrus groves, rows of berries, tomatoes, greenhouses and maybe even Florida peaches.

I asked to serve on the U.S. House Agricultural Committee specifically to help meet the needs of this critical economic driver in our state, and to protect a way of life for many of our constituents. We currently face many major challenges such as citrus greening, livestock disease, and natural disasters. However, we also have an opportunity to pioneer high-tech agricultural solutions right here in Central Florida.

Our citrus industry is amid a tremendous greening epidemic caused by a tiny Asian citrus psyllid that attacks trees’ roots. It has reduced our production by over 70 percent historically.

In response, we have provided over $166 million in federal funds over the last five years for research, including at the University of Florida’s Extension Services in Lake Alfred. This research has yielded more resistant rootstocks, more effective root nutrient and moisture health strategies, advanced pesticides and more effective, coordinated spraying, intensified greenhouse groves and introduction of natural predators.

In addition, local growers have discovered the importance of trace fertilizer minerals in boosting the trees’ natural immune systems. I also successfully passed an amendment in the recent omnibus spending bill to secure an additional $1 million in funding for the Specialty Crop Pest Program to further assist in these efforts.

I will continue to push for critical policies and funding in the upcoming farm bill. We can solve this crisis with scientific research, grower ingenuity and sufficient resources.

Our cattle ranchers continue to enjoy growing healthy herds but face fluctuating prices in the market. It is critical that we develop a national vaccine bank to protect our livestock from Mad Cow Disease, ticks and other known bovine pests. Last year, the USDA and Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services officials stopped a screwworm epidemic among Key deer from spreading to Florida’s livestock through the release of sterile flies. This successful intervention only highlights the vulnerability of America’s livestock, and why I will continue to push for a national vaccine bank in our upcoming farm bill.

Central Florida agriculture is still suffering from major damage caused by Hurricane Irma. Our citrus growers lost 50 percent of their recent crop, cattlemen are experiencing lower calf birthrates, and many row crops were decimated.

I was proud to support the recent disaster relief package in February that approved over $2.3 billion to assist Florida’s citrus growers, cattlemen and other farmers. However, the vast majority of the funds are still in Washington and yet to be disbursed by the Trump administration. It is critical that our USDA leaders, such as Secretary Sonny Perdue and Florida Director Neil Combee, cut the red tape and deliver this relief without further delay.

Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio already sent out a bipartisan letter urging these funds be expedited, and I am coordinating a similar, bipartisan Florida delegation letter in the House of Representatives.

Finally, I am working on important language for the farm bill that will further boost development of agriculture technology for Central Florida.

During a recent committee hearing, Secretary Perdue expressed a firm commitment of his interest in developing sensors, automation and other critical advances. The University of Central Florida, the University of South Florida, Osceola County and other partners have already entered into a joint venture and created an advanced sensor manufacturing facility (BRIDG) in our district. As a result, we are in a prime position to develop advanced sensors and automated systems to monitor everything from disease, to moisture and nutrients, to ripeness and sugar content, to cattle health, and beyond.

These new technologies could increase yields and quality, provide more high paying jobs for our region and help reduce national hunger. With critical policy, funding and coordinated efforts, our district is well-positioned to be a technology center of excellence for the future of America’s agriculture.

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Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Kissimmee represents Florida’s 9th Congressional District, which includes Osceola County and parts of Orange and Polk counties.

Kevin Sweeny: Happy Patriots Day!

If you are reading this during the morning hours, currently 20,000 (or so) runners are sitting in a high school baseball field in Hopkinton, Massachusetts about to embark on what for many will be the fulfillment of miles upon miles of dreams.

With all due respect to those who will run later today, as a charity runner, this piece is dedicated to those who have taken up the dream to struggle through the “miles of trials, the trials of the miles,” to qualify and then run the Boston Marathon.

In 1970, the “qualifying time” was introduced by the Boston Marathon, and thus began the legend of the Boston Marathon being THE RACE for those who would never be able to fulfill an Olympic marathon dream.

I’ve been lucky enough to qualify every year since 2003, and every year my soul returns to the small, quaint village in central Massachusetts.

It’s Marathon Monday: Welcome to the Boston Marathon!

“The marathon,” as those in Bay state call it, has always taken place on Patriot’s Day, a state holiday commemorating the anniversary of the Battles of Concord and Lexington. Early this morning, school buses began rolling out of Boston Commons to a point 26.2 miles outside of Boston.

Exiting the bus, runners are treated to the “Athletes’ Village.” Everything a runner could want is in “the village”: coffee, bagels, every type of “energy” bar you can think of, water (Poland Springs, of course), Gatorade and of course, port-o-lets.

In Hopkinton, the entire town is shut down for the marathon. The residents proudly represent the city by welcoming runners with music, extra port-o-lets, water, orange slices and cheers. When you are called to the start line, it is only then you start to notice all the helicopters and air traffic buzzing above you.

The main city street is cordoned off, and you make the walk from the Athletes’ Village to the start line.

Residents line the streets cheering you to the line, sounds of “Gonna fly now,” “Shipping off to Boston,” “We are the champions,” and all the other music one might play to encourage runners. The runners, meanwhile, shuffle down attempting to calm the excitement and nerves building inside.

For me, I always tried to recount the miles I put in to get me to the starting line and those friends and frenemies who would be tracking me online. As you stand at the start, you literally look over the edge of a long downhill.

I’ve never seen anyone win the Boston Marathon at the start, but I have certainly seen runners lose it — barreling down the hill only to implode 18 miles or so down the road.

The start time used to be high noon, but now the race goes in various waves with elite women going off at 9:30 a.m. and the elite men and Wave 1 start at 10 a.m.

I assure you, standing on the start line of the world’s most famous footrace is extraordinarily humbling.

When the gun goes off, smart runners try to ease onto Route 135 to their race pace; others take off for what may be a few minutes of television glory, others run into the fables and history books. BBQ’s have already begun—I’ve run the race at the noon start time and at the 10 a.m. start time the BBQ smoke envelopes the road as people have started drinking and partying along the course no matter the start time.

People are hanging from trees, kids screaming for high fives and Red Sox score updates come often. The Red Sox begin their game at 10 a.m. or so to time the end of the game with the end of the marathon—swelling the streets of Boston.

Arriving at the original start line of Ashland at the 4-mile mark, runners are still going slightly downhill and will encounter their first incline halfway through town. Once you enter Framingham, the course has mostly flattened out and continues this way through Natick. In Framingham you run over a series of railroad tracks, on which 111 years ago a train brought runners in a chase pack to a complete stop, interrupting the marathon and ended any chance of those runners from winning the race. I always crossed those tracks and laughed to myself, until a few years ago toward the end of a run when I trailed the first-place runner by about 30 seconds with about 2 km’s to go when a train appeared—the first-place guy made it, I didn’t and angerly finished second.

The running gods are vengeful, and I’ve respected those tracks in Framingham ever since.

As you wind through Central Street in Natick, the crowds have become boisterous, especially if the Red Sox are winning. At this point, people are offering BBQ and beer. Sadly, I’ve never taken any of them up on the offer.

The first year I ran Boston, it was around mile 11.5 or 12 when I kept looking up for the jet plane I swore I heard. It would randomly get louder depending on the curve of the road.  And then I witnessed it — “The Scream Tunnel.

I am not sure when the women of Wellesley College started one of the iconic marathon traditions, but they are as surely a part of the marathon as the Citgo sign or the Red Sox themselves. As you pass Wellesley, thousands of students’ line what might be a quarter of a mile or so and literally scream for hours on end.

Motivating runners with their screams, signs, bells, whistles, high-fives … even kisses!

I am a happily married man, so I won’t say if I have ever partaken in the tradition of kissing the girls, but Wellesley Scream Tunnel is so loud and thrilling, the pace of the race indeed quickens here. The town and stories surrounding Wellesley and its place in the marathon are so iconic, my wife, who has qualified every year since 2010, and I named our first-born daughter after it.

A few yards beyond Wellesley is a row of pine trees on the right side of the road. Usually, the ground is covered in pine straw. I’ve stopped here a few times—usually when I am having a good day — to prove I have properly hydrated and then quickly jump back onto the course.

This is the halfway point, and it’s time to get to business.

From mile 15 to 16 the course drops another 160 feet or so. Steady lads, steady. If your quads survived the declines in Hopkinton and Ashland and the flat 7 miles after that, you still have a chance.

Lower Newton Falls is the next township you enter, another slight decline and then you see it … the Newton Fire Station.

At the fire station, you take a sweeping right-hand turn and begin to make your way through Newton and the fabled Heartbreak Hill(s). Here runners will cross the 20-mile mark. Experienced runners know this marks the “second half” of the marathon.

Heartbreak Hill is really a series of three hills, and the crowds here are epic. I’ve run the race and seen the crowds look like the crowds in the Alps of the Tour de France. I’ve also run in two of the three hottest Boston Marathon on record, and the crowds in Newton certainly saved my and others lives by handing out ice, ice pops, snow cones, and water as you ran through the hills.

In 1936, defending Boston Marathon champion Johnny Kelly raced through the Newton Hills in second place and caught leader Ellison “Tarzan” Brown, a Narragansett Indian.

As he passed Brown, Kelly patted him on the shoulder. Brown responded by overtaking Kelly and going on to win.

In honor of Kelly’s misery, the term “Heartbreak Hill” was coined in a newspaper article the following day.

Depending on the day you’re having at this point, you may not even notice you have crested Heartbreak Hill, minus the graffiti on the road and the signs in the crowd. If your race is going well, it’s just another bump in the road on the way back to Boston.

But if you are having a dreadful day, the hills of Newton will throttle your legs, eat your soul and crush your spirit. Those who hammered out too quickly back in Hopkinton and Ashland will pay a dear price in Newton.

The course meanders downhill for about 3 miles after you crest Heartbreak Hill and you head toward Chestnut Hill. Sounds nice right? A few downhill miles after the pounding of Newton. Wrong. At this point your calves and quads are shredded, and you are trying to regain your composure and make it to the Citgo Sign.

When I ran the race in 2012, the temperature was 88 degrees (I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of two of the three hottest Boston Marathons on record, and in 2012 it was my wife’s first Boston Marathon — tough luck) and while I was making pretty good time through the course despite the weather, when I got to Chestnut Hill my calves were beginning to quiver.

I had to stretch them out and found a light pole to and work out the stiffness. At this point, four Boston College frat boys saw me and had no pity.

“This is the FN Boston Marathon! There is no stopping in the Boston Marathon!” they yelled in my face.

I’m certain at this point they had been drinking since sunset the day before. Though I was tempted, I tried to explain their offer of beer and Irish whiskey they were drinking probably wouldn’t help in my dehydrated state. When I started up again, walking a few steps to get running again, they saw me walking and screamed “HEY MAN! This is the FN Boston Marathon; there is no walking in the FN Boston Marathon.”

I quickly started back running, and they cheered louder than they screamed. I love those guys.

At this point, the runners are now exiting Brookline and can see the glorious Citgo sign. 1.5 miles to go! Runners cross the Mass Turnpike, and if you still have your wits about you, runners see the green walls of Fenway Park on the right while the crowds now righteously scream “almost there!”

From here, runners enter Kenmore Square where the crowds are enormous and the “1 mile to go” painted on the pavement sends chills up your spine. Drop underneath Mass Ave., then the historic slogan of “right on Hereford Street and left on Boylston Street” plays on your mind. And then … there it is.

The finish lines.

I cannot put into words what it feels like to see the finish line. I can tell you some guy cut me off one year and I had to push him out of my way with a proper “excuse me, hold your damn line.”

At this point, nothing will stop you from crossing the line and join the others on Copley Square where the storytelling begins.

In 2010, a training buddy had worked hard to beat me. He had one race victory over me in our, at that time, 16 years of racing. I had burned too bright and to fast that day, and he didn’t. It happens to everyone, right? On this day, he found me before I saw him. He grabbed me and asked, “well buddy boy how did you do.” My heart sank, he was pumped to tell me his time.

 Had he got me again? He told me he had PR’s that day. Not just a course PR but a marathon PR.

He proudly announced his time. I beat him by 7 seven minutes. We quickly made our way to the airport post-race to make our flights back to Florida where we would split in Atlanta. He was headed to Orlando and me to Tallahassee for Session. I am pretty sure the bar in the Atlanta Chili’s has never recovered adequately from our celebration. The stories aren’t always filled with happy endings.

While I typically train solo, I finished ahead of my long run training buddy in the 2014 race.

We have never run with each other since.

Mostly, the Boston Marathon is a celebration for fans and runners. In 2014, my wife and I both set course PR’s and celebrating the first victory by an American male since 1983. We will always happily share our Boston individual victories that year with Meb Keflezighi. We quickly made our way to the Whiskey Priest before getting on the plane back to Florida like conquering heroes. I hope someone paid the tab at the Whiskey Priest; I don’t recall if it was me.

We, Meb and Boston already shared a bit of history.

At the end of the 2012 Boston Marathon, I ended up post-race where I would usually end up — the med tent. It was Meb who approached my wife and eventually got her to and into the med tent to find me. Long live Meb!

The weather looks to be a bit windy and rainy Monday. The temperature will be near perfect, and the falling rain won’t really be an issue, but the wind might play into who will win and who will mentally break.

On the woman’s side, the American women have rounded into shape.

Shalane Flanagan, a Mass native and winner of the 2017 NYC Marathon, is the emotional pick. However, I think the race will come down to the tough as nails, blue-collar runner Desi Linden and the methodical Molly Huddle. An American woman hasn’t won Boston since 1985.

I’ll take Molly for the win for the USA, beating Desi by less than a quarter mile.

On the men’s side, American Galen Rupp is certainly firing on all cylinders, but my belief in the idea of “clean sport” forbids me to pick Galen. Please note, I’m not accusing anyone of anything, but if he wins, as Thomas Heynk wrote if he wins its because “sometimes it gets worse before it gets better.” Give me Geoffrey Kirui.

The course can be a beast to master and few ever do. I’ve certainly had my issues. A training buddy of mine, a 2:20-something marathoner and possibly the fastest member of the elected class in Florida history, has never fared well on the course and while he could easily qualify if he wanted, he has sworn off Boston.

However, because Boston means so much to so many, he still encourages and celebrates the race and the runners every year.

To those trying to qualify, keep working. Trying to qualify and then run Boston is worth the time and troubles; if I can qualify, you can too.

My father went with me to my first Boston Marathon because I am sure he (a Boston native) was just as surprised I was there as everyone else who knew me back then. Keep putting in the work – it’s worth the lifetime of memories.

Happy Patriot’s Day!

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Kevin Sweeny is a runner and political influencer. He runs with his wife (3:18 Boston pr) and occasionally pushes his daughter Wellesley in her jogging stroller through St. Augustine Beach and other fun places. His PR on the Boston course is 2:52. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram at @djmia00.

M. Stephen Turner, Leonard Collins, Christine Dorchak: Let Florida voters decide fate of dog racing

This week members of the Florida Constitutional Revision (CRC) will meet to examine proposals to amend the Florida Constitution and make recommendations to voters.

The constitutional revision process is unique to Florida.

No other state has such a body, one that meets every 20 years and takes recommendations for amendments directly to the voters, without requiring approval of the governor or the Legislature, and without automatic review by the courts.

The Florida Constitution is a statement of our aspirations as Floridians. Unlike the U.S. Constitution which grants powers to the federal government, the Florida Constitution is a statement of limitations on government.

Because of this difference, the Florida Constitution is much more detailed than its federal counterpart. Some have unfavorably compared the Florida Constitution to the U.S. Constitution in terms of its respective length (the Florida Constitution is three times longer than the U.S. Constitution).

But this critique overlooks the fundamental distinction between the two. Clearly, if we want to limit the power of state government, we must specifically enumerate these limitations in our state charter.

Recently, a former Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, Major Harding, suggested that the Florida Constitution is overburdened with sections relating to government policy and ordinary regulation. He argues that to the extent that a proposed amendment is not necessary for government to operate, or does not protect a fundamental right, or cannot be enacted by the Legislature, then such a proposal for amendment should be rejected.

Under this analysis, as many as 11 of the 12 current proposals would have to be set aside and sent back for possible legislative consideration. This defies the entire CRC process and takes away the rights of voters to decide on important issues.

There is no doubt that there are provisions of the state constitution that should be revisited and that some are outdated. Certainly, as things become less important, provisions of the Constitution should be cleaned up and removed.  But to reject a proposal simply because it could be enacted by the legislature, or because the proposal does not address a principle enshrined in the federal bill of rights is misguided.

The Florida Constitution was designed to change. By design, every 10 years, either the Constitution Revision Commission or the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission meeting to make recommendations to the voters on desirable changes to the state constitution. A citizens’ initiative process is enshrined in our constitution to allow voters to initiate a change to the Constitution to limit government action or activity in some way when the Legislature fails to recognize the need or popular desire for such action.

There is no reason why constitutional revision recommendation for change should not accord with the same changes that could be made by the citizens’ initiative.

Florida has grown and changed drastically over our history and our state Constitution is designed to be changed for matters that are timely.  State Constitutions in other states are similarly designed to be changed by voter approval.  The Florida Constitution has been amended more than 100 times since 1968.  That is not to say that the state constitution should be bloated with bad and unworkable ideas.  However, valid proposals that limit government authority power or direct government action should be considered on their merits and not on their word count.

Justice Harding identified four proposals that remain under consideration by the Constitutional Revision Commission, which he opines would serve no constitutional purpose. This includes Proposal 6012, a measure to phase out wagering on commercial dog racing.

Clearly, the free market would have ended wagering on dog racing a long time ago.  Instead, lobbyists and special interests have convinced the legislature to require dog racing as a gateway to other more profitable forms of gambling, something that 70 percent of Florida citizens in a recent McLaughlin survey rejected.

Under the current scheme, dog racing must continue — and taxpayers must underwrite losses of as much as $3.3 million each year – in order for card rooms and slots facilities to be permitted at aging greyhound tracks.

Thousands of greyhounds endure lives of confinement at Florida tracks, stored in warehouse-style kennels in rows of stacked metal cages that are barely large enough for them to stand up or turn around.  It is time for this important matter to be decided by the voters. Florida is host to 12 of the remaining 18 American dog tracks, so the health and safety of the majority of American greyhounds is at stake.

Perhaps even more importantly, our fundamental right to make decisions about community standards, humane considerations and a form of gambling stands at issue.  On average, a greyhound dies at a Florida racetrack every three days.

Outlawing wagering on the outcome of dog racing certainly serves to limit a practice endorsed by government licensing that many Floridians find abhorrent.

The CRC process creates great debates and a wonderful public dialogue on who we are and who we aspire to be. Is betting on the outcome of dog racing the kind of activity we want to allow in our state? Let’s decide on this now.

More important than keeping the state constitution “clean,” is our duty to ensure that it reflects our values and limits activities that we as a society no longer support.

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M. Stephen Turner and Leonard Collins are attorneys at the law firm Broad and Cassel, LLP, in Tallahassee, Florida.  Broad and Cassel, LLP, represents GREY2K USA Worldwide.

Christine Dorchak is the president and general counsel of GREY2K USA Worldwide. Formed in 2001, it is the largest greyhound protection organization in the United States with more than 100,000 supporters.  As a nonprofit organization, the group works to pass laws to end the cruelty of dog racing and promote the adoption of ex-racers. For more information, go to GREY2KUSA.org.

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