Jacob Ogles, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 41

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

Elections leader: Reform after recounts can’t be rushed

As Florida looks again to election reform, the current leader of the state’s elections supervisors association offered one crucial request to lawmakers: Don’t rush changes.

“If you fix something, you have to give us time to implement and iron the bugs out of whatever fix you make before you decide it isn’t working,” said Paul Lux, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections.

As the state’s election supervisors look to a mid-winter conference scheduled a few weeks after the conclusion of a historic three statewide recounts, Lux certainly expects the topic of election reform to inform the conversation.

Lux knows something about the impact of reforms. He started working in the Okaloosa County Supervisor of Elections Office in 1999, a year before the controversial and deeply scrutinized 2000 presidential recount.

Bush v. Gore was the first big … recount. It was historic and wasn’t supposed to ever happen again,” he said. “But here I am 20 years later and doing the same thing. Nobody ever anticipated we’d do three statewide recounts all at one time.”

Lux won election as Okaloosa’s Supervisor of Election in 2008 and in May was named president of the state association. Now, he’s once again leading the state organization as lawmakers consider reforms to the election process.

While he’s not interested in serving as an apologist for every elections decision made by supervisors around the state, Lux does defend his colleagues from criticism and urges lawmakers to look past the wild conspiracies and uninformed outrage that surfaced in the midst of the recount.

“As I explained to many of those who were listening to news reports at the time, everybody does things in conducting an election that from the outside may look strange,” he said.

Duplicating ballots that were emailed from overseas or which replace damaged ballots may look at to citizens who simply catch a glimpse of elections officials filling out ballots en masse. But the process remains secure and one of integrity.

He defended Bay County Supervisor of Elections Mark Andersen accepting email and fax ballots for some voters displaced by Hurricane Michael, noting he recommended Gov. Rick Scott allow that in an executive order for all storm-affected counties, though Scott did not do that.

And while Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes has resigned her post, she faced unprecedented pressure in the recount.

“Whether I think she should have resigned is immaterial,” Lux said. “You are talking about a woman elected by 70 percent of her voters that last time she stood for election.”

He acknowledged concerns among some election officials about the time frame for recounts, though he noted Florida suffers more criticism than many states. In California, officials have 30 days to certify election results, hence some close Congressional elections still being called now.

But Lux notes that in every county but one—Palm Beach County—election supervisors completed recounts on time. In Palm Beach, the problem seemed to be outdated equipment, and the cure may be better funding, not more time.

Lux does have an interest in changing rules on vote-by-mail ballots that arrive after an election concludes but were postmarked before.

“Everyone of us has seen issues since the U.S. Postal Service closed many of its regional processing centers,” he said. “That can impact elections, and I tend to agree we need to be looking at allowing at least a couple days after an election.”

Could Byron Donalds be the next chair of the Florida GOP?

Could state Rep. Byron Donalds become the new chair of the Republican Party of Florida?

Donalds confirms to Florida Politics he holds some interest in the job: “It’s something that’s come up,” he says. “I’m considering my options.”

Multiple sources within the state committee confirm conversations with the Naples lawmaker about the post and suggest Donalds may boast the blessing of Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis.

But in order to even be a serious contender, party leaders say he will first need to prove himself with the grassroots. He could do that Monday by winning the Collier County Republican Executive Committee chairmanship.

Donalds already announced plans to seek the leadership post, he said.

Collier County GOP chairman Ron Kezeske previously announced he would not seek a new term. But that doesn’t mean there’s a clear path through Naples to the state party post.

Already, Russell Tuff, a longtime activist and former county commission candidate in Collier County, announced his intentions to seek the chairmanship, and Donalds may be late to that local race.

“That is going to be a challenge he has to overcome,” Kezeske said.

But Donalds is eligible to run. He still holds a party position as a precinct captain after winning re-election to without opposition.

And of course, he’s got political chops after winning election to the Florida House in 2016 and again in 2018.

In November, he handily beat Democrat Jennifer Boddicker by 26 percent to keep his state House seat in Florida House District 80.

Maybe more importantly, especially if he’s looking for a party post, he won a Republican primary in 2016 against attorney Joe Davidow by 28 percent.

In Tallahassee, even Kezeske admits Donalds has been a good conservative voice. “The only contention I could see is if he could manage his job as a legislator and as a chairman,” said the outgoing chair.

Other voices in the party also suggested lawmakers serving as state chairs face their own obstacles, notably when it comes to fundraising for themselves, for the county party, the state party and potentially for political committees helping their own candidacy and those of political allies statewide.

And sometimes, candidates running for a popular vote in a region don’t naturally move into the type of campaign necessary in seeking a party post.

Christian Ziegler, Sarasota County GOP state committeeman and a potential contender for the state chairmanship himself, challenged sitting chairman Blaise Ingoglia last yearIt’s a different game rallying the limited number of state committee members around your candidacy.

He knows Donalds well — his wife Bridget Ziegler and Donalds’ wife Erika Donalds were founding members of the Florida Coalition of School Board Members — but he said without knowing everyone who will run for state chair, it’s hard to handicap the contest.

But one voice that could make a huge difference in any outcome will be DeSantis.

The incoming governor named Donalds to his Inaugural Host Committee today, and whenever the Republican gubernatorial hopeful campaigned in Southwest Florida this year, the Naples lawmaker often wasn’t far away.

Donald sat beside DeSantis and state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen during a visit with Florida Gulf Coast University leadership in September.

And not long after, he was at an event in Cape Coral, one where Lee County Republican chair Jonathan Martin and U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz both made remarks later criticized by Democrats as insensitive.

But then, that also highlights an area where Donalds as chairman could help the new governor with a major optics issue. In addition to being a reliable and proven political ally for DeSantis, Donalds could also be the Republican Party of Florida’s first black chairman.

Donalds doesn’t shy away from the historic nature of his potential chairmanship.

“If you look at the future,” he said, “we need to do everything we can to make sure all voters realize there’s a home for them in the Republican Party. That’s one of the reasons I became a representative.”

He knows holding a leadership role within the GOP will broadcast a different image, but not one at odds with the party platform. “The Republican Party always stood for opportunity for all people,” he said.

Ever since DeSantis after winning the Republican primary said Florida voters would “monkey this up” if they elected Democratic opponent Andrew Gillum, he’s faced criticism for racial insensitivity. It’s a problem The New York Times reports remains a concern to DeSantis as he seeks to unify the state after a historically close gubernatorial election.

Historically, governors boast a lot of influence when it comes to thumbing the scales as the party considers its leaders.

Then again, Ingoglia serves as evidence Florida’s governor won’t always get their way. He beat out Gov. Rick Scott’s choice, Leslie Dougher, in a fight that created a yearslong rift between Scott and the party.

And considering there’s a number of people who angled for the chairmanship for years, there’s no guarantee even an endorsement from DeSantis would clear the deck for Donalds.

If Donalds fails to win the Collier County chairmanship, DeSantis could still give him one of 10 state executive committee positions filled at the governor’s discretion.

But no one in one of those spots has ever won the state chairmanship. In recent years, perhaps thanks to the Scott-Ingoglia imbroglio, there’s been antipathy between those committee members and the ones elected through the support of local party members.

Incidentally, Leon County GOP chair Evan Power, still a strong contender for the chairmanship, on Tuesday said he would wait to see if Ingoglia seeks re-election before he makes any decisions himself.

Elections conference likely to touch on reform

A mid-winter conference of Florida’s elections supervisors usually serves as a social affair, maybe a discussion on changing ballot technology.

But on the heels of a historic statewide recount, the upcoming event in Sarasota will likely entail more than just mingling.

Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner agreed to host the Florida State Association of Supervisor of Elections event when the top priority seemed to be finding a destination elections officials from all 67 counties would like to visit.

Now, he fully expects the election law changes already being discussed in Tallahassee to slip into conversation.

“We have a legislative committee in the Association that monitors legislation, and of course at times is called to testify at committee hearings,” Turner said.

The event runs from Sunday through Wednesday, and will bring together the elected and appointed leaders for elections offices in every Florida county.

Lake County Supervisor of Elections Alan Hays, a former lawmaker, certainly looks forward to discussing potential policies. He hopes the Association reminds lawmakers that through most of the state, the recounts for U.S. Senate, Governor and Agriculture Commissioner races moved smoothly.

Added Hays: “If I put on my legislator hat for a second, I would ask ‘Do we need an overhaul or do we need to tweak the system?’

“And I switch hats back to being a supervisor again, I would say, ‘let’s just tweak things.’”

“We know the system worked well,” Hays continued. “The idea of going through an extensive recount in the limited time frame that we had speaks very well to the professionalism I think is pervasive in our entire state.”

Not that many officials wouldn’t be happy with more time. Turner said pressures of deadlines provided his biggest takeaway from the process.

Officials had to finish an initial tabulation of votes by noon Saturday after the election, then have a machine recount done the following Thursday afternoon on three statewide races.

Two of those races later went to a manual recount due by the following Sunday.

Hays likes to say that in 65 of 67 counties everything went well, and the remaining two counties — Palm Beach and Broward — faced different issues. (That does ignore smaller scale issues around the state, like Bay County’s faxed votes or a mix-up in initial vote-by-mail ballots in Hardee County.)

But at least in Palm Beach, there’s a question of modernizing expensive equipment, meaning a budget issue.

In Broward, Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes already submitted her resignation.

As for some of the issues already earning scrutiny in Tallahassee? House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee has discussed changes to make sure all ballots postmarked by Election Day get counted. Hays has his own concerns about verifying postmarks on that front.

As far as the many discussions about curing signatures for vote-by-mail verification, Hays would like to see ways to encourage up-to-date signatures for voters. He dealt this year with everything from severely disabled voters who could no longer sign their name or fill out a ballot without assistance, to having 40-year-old voters whose signatures didn’t match the hearts-for-dotted-i’s signatures dating back to their teenage years.

But dealing with recount rules and vote-by-mail ballots won’t be the only legislative concerns supervisors bring to the Sarasota conference. Manatee Supervisor of Elections Mike Bennett, a former state Senator, has as much concern about the recent passage of a constitutional amendment requiring the restoration of voting rights for ex-felons.

His question? Who will be responsible for checking that an estimated 1.4 million voters allowed back on the rolls have finished any prison sentences or financial restitution?

“Are you going to go to the Sheriff’s Office and get a letter, or to the prison to verify you served your time?” he said. He hopes this doesn’t become one more mandate on local government where an already stretched staff now must take on new responsibilities.

There’s definitely more to talk about this conference than the best drink options at the poolside bar.

Makers of i-Ready promise educator empowerment, not constant assessment

As students log into a computer website, an orange creature named Plory — who resembles somewhat a Sesame Street monster wandering into the South Park animated world — greets the children.

Through a digital tutorial, Plory explains both how the mechanics of a series of online assessments will work and what students should expect from the tests themselves.

The character introduces students to i-Ready, educational software now in use in nearly every school district in Florida.

This isn’t about getting 100 percent, the cartoon beast explains.

“Based on how you do, your teacher will know exactly what you’ve learned and what you still need to learn,” Plory says. “Then you can work on lessons that are just right for you.”

In explaining the system to adults, Rob Selvaggi, regional vice president for Curriculum Associates, doesn’t use a high, silly voice, but he tries to exhibit the same level of patience.

This program seeks to do more than just test what students already know. But that’s a concept that can initially be challenging for parents and educators unfamiliar with the program to understand.

“When I went to school, we didn’t take adaptive tests,” Selvaggi said. “The goal was to get all the questions right. Now every child will only get half right and get half wrong.”

It can be confounding to high-performing students — or parents — who seek perfection, but these digital tests are designed on a matrix that seeks to find what they do not know as surely as what they do.

But that’s just one of the challenges Selvaggi faces in explaining this software to educators and families who have their own ideas about how classroom learning ought to take place.

It’s imperative though for students, facing more rigorous learning standards than ever as they prepare to enter a global workforce start, to have more rigorous, personalized programs that support 21st century learning.

— Pushing back on pushback — 

With evolving educational standards and digital natives filling the seats in Florida classrooms, the ways students learn and get assessed changes in dizzying ways. It sometimes leaves parents more disoriented and confused than they feel trying to help a child do Common Core math homework.

Developers of i-Ready deal with a share of skepticism from parents angry about student screen time. The program, which prepares students to excel at demanding sets of academic standards put in place by the Florida Legislature, inspires the same type of pushback as the high-stakes testing environment it seeks to ease.

In a September feature in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Manatee County education activist Bridget Mendel called i-Ready “crap” and criticized the digital tool for encouraging educators to plop kids in front of a screen instead of keeping their attention in class.

A parent group in Volusia County raised concerns about i-Ready contributing to over-testing of students, with one parent commenting, “Call me crazy, but I trust my teachers to know if my child is where they need to be. We didn’t need another ‘program’ which essentially ups the testing volume again for students.”

Public education advocate Thomas Ultican wrote on his blog that i-Ready “drains money from classrooms, applies federally supported failed learning theories and undermines good teaching.” Worst of all? “Children hate it.”

Not everyone, it seems, finds Plory that cute.

— Empowering educators — 

But Curriculum Associates, the industry leaders behind the diagnostic software being introduced in classrooms across Florida, promises the digital i-Ready tools will better equip teachers and pupils.

Most importantly, i-Ready helps students digest and explore those subjects they need to learn the most about to succeed in modern education and future careers.

“This gives teachers unprecedented information about those children,” says Selvaggi.

The assessment software seeks not so much to grade children’s efficiency as to discover each student’s individual proficiencies. That’s valuable information to educators dealing with a variety of skill and insight levels within any given class.

But Selvaggi also stresses his goal isn’t to replace educators with instructional lessons. i-Ready works precisely by empowering teachers to steer students in the best academic direction.

Sarasota County school district officials recently released a video showing how children go first to test on i-Ready software, then spend time with teachers and assistants better equipped than ever before to tackle specific subject areas where students exhibit the greatest need.

“You will see a teacher working with a child, and actually working on skills they are struggling with because they were able to pull those lessons the day before,” says Laura Kingsley, assistant superintendent and chief academic officer for the Sarasota County Schools.

And at least at the administrative level, education leaders largely bought into the promise of i-Ready throughout the state. The programs already see use in 57 Florida school districts and counting.

Curriculum Associates says the proof is in the test scores, too. Since employing i-Ready in curricula, 545 Florida schools in the 2016-17 school year increased school grades. In the 2017-18 school year, 953 schools either increased their grades or maintained an “A” rating. That’s success in 29 percent of Florida schools directly tied to i-Ready.

The company attributes these strong results to the fact that the program is in the hands of empowered educators made more effective by the data and support provided by the i-Ready tool. Selvaggi feels especially proud of that success given the fact that districts in many cases work with fewer resources than ever, and his team is always careful to position the program as a classroom supplement and not a replacement for a good teacher.

— Tools for Teachers —

Curriculum Associates as a company has existed for 50 years, predating Common Core standards, computer-assisted learning, and the many kinds of digital automation making professionals concerned for the future of education. Through the history of the company, its mission has remained the same: to make classrooms better places for students and teachers.

The company, originally founded by a group of educators, started out printing K-12 educational tools like Quick-Word and Brigance, then dove into test preparation in 1989 with Test Ready Mathematics. The company began focusing on Common Core before the term was widely used in public discourse, creating products from scratch like Ready Reading and Ready Mathematics to align with new standards and empower teachers to help students handle rigorous testing.

And when the company in 2011 looked to bring the products to the digital age, they spent considerable time and resources working with educators to develop the online diagnostic and instruction tool i-Ready. Designed to pinpoint student needs and deliver personalized instruction to support teacher-led learning, this blended solution evolved the ways in which Curriculum Associates was able to support students and educators.

Also interesting to note, Curriculum Associates operates as a deeply philanthropic company. In 2016, when choosing a best-fit partner to support the company’s mission and help them grow their impact, they carefully vetted investors before choosing Berkshire Partners, a local, long-term focused firm. The sale of majority shares resulted in a historic $200 million donation to charity, including record donations to the Iowa State University Foundation and the Boston Foundation.

This background is relevant in that it underscores the company’s commitment to partnering with districts to make teachers more effective – as opposed to less relevant – than ever with support from digital education tools. The company does not seek to bleed public school districts dry selling overpriced tech. Rather, it offers i-Ready as a tool for teachers to make the promise of differentiated instruction a practical reality.

Plory and friends should make children excited to learn, comfortable being assessed and eager to absorb the information irreplaceable flesh-and-blood teachers will continue to provide within classrooms.

And to ensure that happens, Curriculum Associated provides rich professional development for educators as well, so all parties understand how its products work in partnership with the professionals responsible for informing this generation of pupils.

— Measured use — 

The notion that software and digital tools inherently present too much screen time for students makes Selvaggi cringe. As it has for 50 years, Curriculum Associates remains first a publisher of educational material. Their programs should no more replace educators than textbooks do.

“i-Ready is an online mechanism,” he said. “There are components to it that are broken out by teachers.”

Basically, a child takes the diagnostic test, then a teacher gets the master data reports and puts the child on an appropriate learning track from there. The adaptive testing provides information on student knowledge for teachers, but it still takes the intervention of an educator to ensure a child learns that which they don’t already know.

There’s also plenty of data out there to show the shifting needs of modern-day students. Mark Pritchett, executive director of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, has worked with national and local philanthropists to help establish TechActive classrooms in portions of Florida in an effort to introduce better technology to the classroom.

The Foundation’s work is not just about funding new toys for teachers and students but about restructuring the classrooms of tomorrow. In many a class space, rows of chairs disappear in favor of clustered desks where students lead themselves through lessons and activities while a teacher tracks their achievements from a central computer in front of the room.

The i-Ready program bridges the gap between student- and teacher-led instruction in numerous ways. “The sole intention of using it is to drive instruction,” Selvaggi stresses. “We don’t want kids testing all the time.”

The team stresses this to school districts in promoting the software. While some schools feel tempted to set up lab environments where children can test all day, Curriculum Associates believes putting a child in front of the computer for more than 45 minutes per subject per week ultimately proves counter-productive.

“That’s the sweet spot,” he says. “45 minutes per subject per week.” That’s just costing 17 minutes of a six-hour learning day, he notes.

Children grow sick of Plory that way, and the whole point of i-Ready is to engage kids and empower teachers. The company proactively works with school and district-level officials to strike a solid balance on time spent on i-Ready compared to traditional classroom engagement.

Selvaggi hopes the utilization of programs like i-Ready will help reduce some of the redundant testing that in recent years came to dominate public education. One way the company has done this is by aligning i-Ready tools with Florida State Standards. The program enables the assessment of students on a regular basis, meaning educators can address areas of need and prepare students optimally for year-end standardized tests.

Miami-Dade County, a couple of years ago, cut 24 tests out of its schedule directly as a result of incorporating i-Ready into the curriculum.

“We have a mantra in the company of ‘Assess Less and Know More,’” he says. “We don’t want kids testing all the time.”

VISIT FLORIDA: State on track for record tourism by end of 2018

It looks like 2018 will be another record year for tourism in Florida, which could be good news both for the hospitality industry and for agencies promoting the state in the nation and abroad.

Gov. Rick Scott announced Florida welcomed 95.8 million visitors from January through September, nearly a 7 percent increase from the 89.8 million tourists in the Sunshine State in the first three quarters of 2017.

“I am proud to announce that Florida’s tourism industry is continuing to set records to help our state’s economic growth,” said Scott.

“Since December 2010, Florida has welcomed a record number of travelers for 27 quarters and had seven consecutive years of record visitation and visitor spending.”

Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, said the record visitation provides good news, especially for communities like his own that rely heavily on travel.

“This is no surprise. We will continue to break records,” he said. “It gets said a lot but we live where other people vacation. We’re very fortunate.”

VISIT FLORIDA officials estimate 30.7 million visitors came to Florida in the third quarter alone, more than a 10 percent increase year over year.

That three-month period saw 27.5 million domestic visitors come to the state, along with 2.7 million from overseas nations and 490,000 Canadian travelers.

That all speaks well to marketing efforts by the sometimes-controversial state agency.

The bulk of those came by plane, with the state’s 18 major airports reporting 21.9 million passengers. Florida’s official Welcome Centers reported a traffic spike of 2.3 percent. The average daily room rate in Florida leaped 2.1 percent as well.

“When I became VISIT FLORIDA President and CEO last year, I hit the ground running to ensure we were absolutely transparent, accountable and efficient in everything we did to promote our great state,” said Ken Lawson, president and CEO for VISIT FLORIDA.

“I greatly appreciate the opportunity I have been given to lead this vital organization. Today’s announcement is a testament to the hard work and determination of Gov. Scott, the Florida Legislature, the VISIT FLORIDA Board of Directors, VISIT FLORIDA staff and our entire industry.

“Because of their commitment to tourism, Florida’s economy is booming. As we look to the future, I will continue to ensure that every dollar spent by VISIT FLORIDA has a high return on investment for our state, generating millions in revenue, creating jobs and bolstering our economy.”

Gruters on Monday was named chairman of the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee, and after spending two years as perhaps VISIT FLORIDA’s strongest advocate in the Florida House, he greeted the news of record tourism with the sort of warm welcome guests enjoy at posh resorts.

“I believe in using every tool in the toolbox,” he said, hinting at support for the state agency should the issue arise.

VISIT FLORIDA credited marketing campaigns targeting visitors from domestic and international markets such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Germany and China.

All of the attendance in the first three quarters of 2018 portends good news in the holiday season. Florida saw 118.8 million visitors in 2017.

Tourism, the top industry in the state, enjoyed a $112 million impact from the visitors, who support 1.4 million jobs in Florida, according to VISIT FLORIDA estimates.

The Office of Economic and Demographic Research reports that for every $1 the state invests in VISIT FLORIDA, $2.15 in tax revenue is generated.

And funding for the state agency has been a big deal before. Last year, it served as one of the most contentious battles between Scott and then-Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran.

But as Scott prepared to move out of the Governor’s Mansion and head to Washington as Florida’s next U.S. Senator, he only celebrated the tourism news.

“Today’s announcement shows that 2018 is shaping up to be the most robust year for travel to Florida ever,” Scott said. “I will never stop working to make Florida the number one global destination for visitors and job creation.”

Willie Taggart lynching post costs FSU ‘fan’ his job

A Florida State University fan who this weekend posted an image of football coach Willie Taggart being lynched has now lost his job with Hilton Grand Vacations.

Tom Shand, the disgruntled fan who thought a losing season seemed a good reason to suggest hanging FSU’s first black head coach, no longer works as a counselor with the hospitality company.

“Our concern regarding this has been a top priority,” reads a statement released by Hilton Grand Vacations on Twitter.

“The person responsible for posting this information has been terminated. His behavior was in violation of multiple company policies and the furthest example from being a reflection of our company’s values.”

The termination comes as Shand faces an investigation by State Attorney Jack Campbell in coordination with the Leon County Sheriff’s Office and FSU Police.

Shand posted the image in question, an old photograph of a lynching with a headshot of Taggart superimposed over the face of the victim, in a Facebook group after FSU’s Saturday loss to University of Florida.

The picture accompanied the statement “This is how far I’m willing to go to get rid of this clown!”

The loss to the Gators, which meant an end of the season for the Seminoles, prompted calls for Taggart’s termination, some of which turned blatantly racist quickly.

FSU President John Thrasher, a former House Speaker and state senator, on Sunday issued a statement defending Taggart from racially charged rhetoric.

“A recent racist social media post aimed at our football coach is ignorant and despicable,” Thrasher said. “I speak for the entire FSU community in expressing our disgust and extreme disappointment, and I am glad the state attorney is investigating.

“Coach Taggart has our full support and as true Seminoles know, he is a respected member of the FSU family.”

Dana Cottrell already poised for another long shot congressional run

What type of optimism beats in the heart of a Democrat running to represent The Villages in Congress?

Dana Cottrell, a Spring Hill Democrat, already has filed to challenge U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster in Florida’s 11th Congressional District in 2020. The career educator ran this year and lost to the Clermont Republican by more than 29 percentage points, 65-35.

Early on election night, she issued a public concession to Webster, a former Florida Speaker of the House.

“While disappointing, it’s now time for us to come together and hold him to the promises we seek,” Cottrell wrote on Twitter on Nov. 6, “making sure affordable health care, equality, improved education, and a clean environment is available to everyone.”

She apparently plans to provide accountability for Webster with another long shot bid.

Cottrell most recently worked more than a decade at Bitburg High School, a Department of Defense Dependent School, and taught at a number of schools in the Brooksville-Spring Hill area.

The district stretches from those north Lake and southern Marion counties through all of Sumter, Citrus and Hernando counties.

Webster initially won election to Congress in 2010 after defeating former U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson in a swing district, Florida’s 8th Congressional District.

After redistricting, Webster ran and narrowly fended off a challenge by former Orlando Police Chief Val Demings in CD 10.

But after district lines shifted again via court order, allowing Demings a path to victory, Webster shifted his candidacy to the conservative CD 11.

There, he has comfortably won two elections. In 2016, he beat Democrat Dave Koller by nearly 34 percentage points, and then beat Cottrell in November.

This year, Cottrell had to fend off fellow Democrat Jim Henry, of Hernando, before advancing to the general election.

As of the mid-October financial reporting period, Cotrell had more than $12,000 in cash on hand and had tapped enough of a financial network to raise upward of $81,000 in her 2018 bid against Webster.

The incumbent, who has not yet filed for re-election, raised more than $568,000, and as of his October financial reports had more than $154,000 in cash on hand.

Who pays for Alligator Alley’s lonely fire station?

On the great swath of road known as Alligator Alley, a single fire station at mile marker 63 handles wrecks from Collier to Broward County.

But since the Department of Transportation opened the facility in 2014, there has been debate over who pays to keep the lights on.

A new bill (SB 72) filed by state Sen. Kathleen Passidomo seeks to make sure tolls charged on the Alley will cover the budget for the emergency responders there.

“They have raised the toll for Alligator Alley to $3.25, and that’s meant to maintain the roadway,” Passidomo said. “There is plenty of money to do what needs to be done as far as maintaining the road and that station.”

Passidomo seeks a permanent end to the question of who foots the bill for the only fire station in Florida that serves a major road but doesn’t have a tax base of property owners.

DOT opened a new public safety center at Mile Marker 63 back in 2014 as part of an $8.8 million project replacing a rest area structure there.

And it provides an important service. Before the station opened, crashes on the Collier County end of the Alley required trucks to dispatch from Everglades City or Golden Gate, which could require as much as a 45-minute drive to reach a scene in which seconds can mean life or death.

Greater Naples Fire Rescue in 2017 agreed to take over staffing for the station.

But Passidomo says it makes no sense for Collier County taxpayers to completely foot the $2 million annual budget for the facility when just 12 percent of wrecks being handled by the station involves Collier County residents.

The Naples Republican says she has received pushback from state transportation officials about whether funding this fire station will set a bad precedent in the future. Passidomo said that’s not a concern, because this is the only station in a remotely similar situation.

As things stand now, excess toll revenues on Alligator Alley fund water management districts, which doesn’t make any sense compared to paying the bills for a fire station that exists only to serve the Alley, she said.

“There is no other fire station on any state or federal road in the state of Florida that has no neighbors,” she said. “It’s just alligators.”

John Thrasher defends FSU Coach Willie Taggart after racist attacks

Florida State University President John Thrasher rushed to defend head football coach Willie Taggart Sunday against racist attacks.

“A recent racist social media post aimed at our football coach is ignorant and despicable,” Thrasher said in a statement. “I speak for the entire FSU community in expressing our disgust and extreme disappointment, and I am glad the state attorney is investigating.

“Coach Taggart has our full support and as true Seminoles know, he is a respected member of the FSU family.”

The statement came after someone posted a picture of a lynching with Taggart’s face superimposed over the face of the victim.

The picture was posted after FSU lost Saturday to in-state rival University of Florida. The 41-14 win ended a five-year streak of the Seminoles besting the Gators in the annual matchup.

The loss also meant FSU would not go to a bowl game this season for the first time in 36 years.

All this led to the hashtag #FireTaggart trending on Twitter. But as the rhetoric turned from typical sports trash talk to racially charged hatred, Thrasher jumped into the conversation with a strict condemnation of the rhetoric.

Taggart is FSU’s first black head coach in the football program’s storied history.

Screen-captured tweets show plenty of angry FSU fans saw a correlation between the team’s tough loss and the race of its coach. Some explicitly stated Florida State needed a “white coach” again.

Thrasher, of course, holds a loud voice in Florida’s political world as well as in higher education. A former Florida Speaker of the House from 1998 through 2000, he also served as a state Senator after the death of Jim King in 2009.

He later served as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida after the resignation of Jim Greer during a period of record fundraising and political success for the state party.

He took over as president of FSU in 2014.

First Responders around state, country celebrated by thankful Panhandle

The holiday season inspires support for those in need, and after being struck this year by a Category 4 hurricane, the Panhandle still qualifies.

Gov. Rick Scott this Thanksgiving weekend found himself sending messages of thanks to jurisdictions outside Florida for sending support to the Sunshine State.

On Saturday, the Smyrna, Georgia, Police Department delivered the gift on uniform boots to the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office, along with fresh batches of clothes and blankets for use in the region.

The county was among those hard hit by Hurricane Michael in October.

“The generosity and assistance of our fellow law enforcement brothers and sisters has been overwhelming,” read a statement from the Sheriff’s Office.

But the interagency support from Georgia was just from one nearby neighbor to the North.

Indiana Homeland Security deployed its All Hazards Incident Management Team to Panama City and workers continued through Thanksgiving to man the shelter and help displaced residents and their animals. The shelter still had about 200 living there as of this week, though that was half the number of people staying there the week before.

The Indiana team planned to stay in town until this weekend before finally returning home.

The Detroit District deployed support from Michigan to Florida. Officials there made special note of Shawn Sanchez, who deployed to the Panhandle from Detroit as part of the United States Army Corps of Engineers Operation Blue Roof Team.

That cooperative effort, led by the Army Corps’ Jacksonville District, works with FEMA to help eligible homeowners get new roofs on their home as soon as possible.

Similarly, Dereck Wansing of the Kansas City Army Corps of Engineers has been in Florida working to help those impacted by the storm.

Both Wansing and Sanchez this weekend got special shouts from Scott on social media this weekend.

And so did some Florida officials working the Panhandle despite living in areas far from the storm.

Tampa Fire Rescue issued special commendations this weekend for Special Operations Chief Ricardo Salabarria and Task Force 3 Tampa Team Leader Captain Charles Eliason for the work they did in Michael’s immediate aftermath.

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