Opinions – Page 4 – Florida Politics

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.

Joe Henderson: Is Marco Rubio eyeing another presidential run?

If one is inclined to read between the lines, Marco Rubio sounded like a man running for president, again, with his blunt talk about Florida’s vulnerability to a Russian attack on the upcoming elections.

That doesn’t mean what the junior senator from our state had to say can be dismissed as political grandstanding. Hopefully, he convinced members of the Florida Association of Counties, the group to which he was speaking, that the threat is real.

It doesn’t hurt Rubio’s standing, though, to be a leading Republican voice about this national security issue.

Now, if he can just convince President Donald Trump this is serious stuff that goes to the core of what we value as a nation, we might have to give Rubio a prize for exceptional public service.

The Tampa Bay Times reported on Rubio’s talk, which included this gem of a quote about the operatives: “These are not people sitting in the basement of their mom’s house. These are nation state threats. They have significant resources and assets at their disposal to do this.”

That sounded a lot like a passive-aggressive swipe at the president, who dismissed concerns about Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election with the pithy comment, “I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK? You don’t know who broke in to DNC.”

Speculation about Rubio’s long-range plan has been increasing lately.

A New York Times story this week noted Rubio’s recent hire of Michael Needham, former CEO of the conservative think tank Heritage Action for America, to be his chief of staff is the kind of move made by someone with long-term aspirations.

“The move is certain to raise questions about whether Mr. Rubio, whose hopes of becoming president in 2016 were dashed by Mr. Trump, may be positioning himself for another run,” reporter Jeremy W. Peters wrote.

“And it underscores how unsettled the conservative movement remains nearly two years after Mr. Trump won the Republican presidential nomination and became the party’s improbable leader.”

Rubio, of course, dismissed such speculation, telling the New York Times, “It’s so far-off in the future, I don’t know where my mind will be.”

It’s smart strategy though to position himself on the side of being able to say, “I told you so,” especially given the president’s disdain/fear about the issue of voter fraud.

He has been on the right side of this issue from the start.

After all, when the extent of hacking first came to light during months before the presidential election, Rubio warned,”… my fellow Republicans who may want to capitalize politically on these leaks: Today it is the Democrats. Tomorrow it could be us.

Rubio wasn’t ready for prime time when he ran for the top spot in the last election, and let’s just say that now there would be a lot of room on the “Rubio 2020” bandwagon.

But he is looking more like an actual senator lately than just a young man in too big of a hurry.

He was visible and active trying to secure hurricane relief for Florida. His very public cooperation and working relationship with Democratic Senator Bill Nelson is refreshing.

He held out his vote on the Trump tax package and won concessions for a better child care credit. And when he believes the president has done something good, he has been willing to be supportive.

Whether all that is a prelude to another run for the top job, well, it’s too soon to say.

What we can say, though, is that Rubio has been doing more things right lately. You don’t have to read between the lines to see that.

Gwen Graham

Joe Henderson: Gwen Graham shows she can take what ‘the men’ dish out

For those who didn’t already know it, Gwen Graham proved Wednesday she can take whatever anyone wants to dish out.

Graham shared a stage with three other Democratic candidates, all male, to be Florida’s governor in a debate Wednesday streamed over FOX-13 in Tampa. A replay of the debate is scheduled to be shown over the air at 6:30 p.m.

Graham took more direct criticism on her positions than the other participants combined, probably because she has more of a record after serving in Congress. It didn’t throw her off her game and even opened the door for the best line of the session.

“I seem to be the one. That’s OK. Gwen and the men,” she said with a disdainful sigh about a half-hour into the hourlong exchange.

Well, politics is a rough sport, but as a former member of Congress and the daughter of Bob Graham, a former Florida governor and U.S. senator, she already knew that.

She came to play.

For me, that was the main takeaway from the debate — well, that and the fact former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine stumbled all over himself while trying to avoid a direct question about how much money is in the state’s public-school budget.

Hint: It’s about $21 billion, and $12 billion of that comes directly from the state. He also couldn’t identify Janet Cruz as the outgoing minority leader of the Florida House.

Not good.

Levine will need to pick up his game going forward because at some point he will have to show he is more than a big bankroll who can pay for his own television commercials.

I thought Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum generally had a good day, but I don’t believe Orlando businessman Chris King made much of a dent, earnest as he may be.

His bright spot was when he repeated his proposal that community colleges and trade schools should be free, but he is struggling to find a voice against what right now look like stronger candidates.

Otherwise, I don’t know that we learned that much.

The candidates agreed to a lot of things Democrats typically support.

They each expressed support for tighter gun laws. Gillum had the best line when asked about assault weapons: “If you want to fire a weapon of war, you should join the military.”

They want to expand health care to cover everyone, not just those who can afford it.

They favor increasing the minimum wage.

They want more compassionate immigration rules.

They really want higher public-school teacher pay and fewer high-stakes tests. They favor more emphasis on civics in the classrooms.

Graham had the best line about that.

Donald J. Trump is the greatest civics lesson anyone could have had,” she said.

They did differ a bit when asked what they would move to eliminate when they get to Tallahassee.

Levine said he would go after charter schools, which may not be legal under state law. It makes a good sound bite anyway.

King would look at eliminating guns in schools. Gillum said he would address the rampant push for privatization generally favored by Republicans.

Graham said she would go after what she called the “behemoth” state lottery agency and redirect that money to schools.

They all love the Tampa Bay Rays, but only Graham even tiptoed to the line of helping them pay for a new stadium. She suggested some Enterprise Florida money could be used for that and to bring the film industry back to the state.

The other three: No way, no how, no, no, no.

Who won?

I think Graham scored a lot of points with the way she handled herself. Polls suggest Floridians don’t know much, if anything, about these candidates.

Given that, I imagine she made a good first impression on those who might be seeing this group for the first time.

As for the rest of it, Gillum looks like he might have staying power. King still needs a breakthrough moment.

And Levine?

Do your homework, sir.

Joe Henderson: Letting voters decide on greyhound racing is right call

The future of greyhound pari-mutuel racing in Florida will be decided right where it should be – at the ballot box.

The Constitutional Revision Commission voted in favor of placing an amendment before voters in November to ban the, well, what is it exactly? It’s not a sport, despite what its supporters say.

I guess you’d call it an industry, but it is one that already has been outlawed in 40 states. Florida is one of only six states where greyhound racing remains active; four other states have no dog tracks but have not outlawed racing.

My guess is that following the election, Florida will join the other four-fifths of the United States by phasing out what state Sen. Tom Lee, who sponsored the measure, called an “archaic tradition.” 

The reason is simple: You don’t mess with Fido.

There is enough evidence in the public domain that shows many dogs have been drugged to make them run faster or simply slaughtered when their usefulness for generating income was done.

Just a year ago at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg, a veteran trainer had his license revoked when some of his dogs were found to have cocaine in their systems.

Supporters of the amendment are likely to flood mailboxes and TV airwaves with ads of mutilated dogs and frightening headlines like the one from 2010 that reported a woman who had been arrested for killing 2,000 greyhounds years before was back training dogs again in Florida.

A few thousand of those images are likely to outweigh arguments by industry supporters that such incidents are rare and often are the work of rogues.

Supporters have warned that a blizzard of lawsuits will be coming Florida’s way from soon-to-be displaced owners if the amendment passes, but Attorney General Pam Bondi – a noted dog lover – dismissed that threat and basically dared opponents to bring it on.

According to the Florida Greyhound Association, there are 13 tracks operating within our borders. The group proudly trumpets that as “the most opportunities of any state.”

Well, we’ll find out soon enough how voters feel about that “opportunity.”

At the core of the argument for a constitutional amendment is the simple premise that the people of Florida should get to decide what kind of state they want to have.

What people may once have seen as harmless entertainment now doesn’t seem that way after a look under the hood at what is really going on.

Does that mean all greyhound trainers are evil? Or that anyone associated with this industry or who enjoys a night at the track is a substandard human being?

Of course not.

I have lived here for almost a half century and greyhound racing has been legal for each of those years. Having that industry didn’t make us a bad state.

Things change, though, and not having it in the future will make us a better one.

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.

Joe Henderson: Florida Dems must be more than anti-Trump

Florida Democrats seem to have their best chance in two decades of changing the balance of power in Tallahassee. As they say in the sports world though, potential just means you haven’t done it yet.

So it goes with political fortunes.

For the first time in eight years, Dems won’t be going against an incumbent governor. They are within striking distance of flipping the state Senate.

For the first time in recent memory, the National Rifle Association’s power to sway elections is being questioned. The Parkland tragedy is raw and won’t be going away.

The never-ending swirl of controversies around President Donald Trump continues to overshadow Republican candidates.

We haven’t even seen the report from special counsel Robert Mueller yet on all things Trump, but if it’s bad news for the president the reverberations could be felt by Republicans everywhere — many of whom are already running for cover.

Given all that, how can we put this politely?

Democrats, if your party can’t capitalize on this, and I mean in a big way, you might as well shut it down.

With that in mind, there was an interesting story in Buzzfeed about how Florida could provide the blueprint in this election year for the way Democrats will run against President Trump.

Do they try to make everything from the governor’s mansion to the local dogcatcher race about Trump?

Or, as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum said in the story, “Frankly, running against Trump is going to be insufficient to win.”

History is on Gillum’s side with that argument. The tone of the Democrats’ campaign in 2016 here and across the land was that no one would be stupid enough to vote for Trump, would they?

(Those are my words, not Gillum’s).

When Democrats choose their nominee for governor in August, it’s a given that person will be anti-Trump. I don’t think anyone can imagine Gillum, Gwen GrahamPhilip Levine or Chris King would support Trump in any way.

What matters more is how the candidate will approach public education, given the changes in funding and the growth of charter schools under GOP state leadership the last couple of years?

Where do they stand on health care? How do they balance Second Amendment rights against the images of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School?

What’s their plan to deal with Florida’s continuing explosive growth and the need for a better transportation system?

What about hurricane preparedness? The shredding of environmental laws under Gov. Rick Scott? Can they overcome the anti-science crowd and enact serious policy to deal with climate change?

What will they do about the voracious appetite of Republican lawmakers to diminish the autonomy of local governments?

Those are the questions Florida voters will ask the field of candidates running for governor and legislative seats.

I thought it was interesting the other day when outgoing state Rep. Janet Cruz of Tampa, in talking about her challenge for the Senate seat held by Republican Dana Young, stuck to her points about gun control and health care.

She didn’t mention Donald Trump.

Republicans took control of the state Senate in 1995. They took charge of the House in 1997, and when Jeb Bush was elected governor in 1999, they had the trifecta of power.

Except for a brief period in 2010 when then-Gov. Charlie Crist became an independent, they have kept Florida under one party’s thumb ever since.

They did that by convincing Floridians in their vision for the state — well, and maybe a little gerrymandering of legislative seats. Even with that though, they won five consecutive governor’s races. No gerrymandering there.

If Democrats hope to capitalize on the opening they appear to have to snap that losing streak, they have to convince Floridians to agree with what they’re for.

We already know what they’re against.

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.

Blake Dowling: Where does Facebook go now?

Do you use Facebook for your business, lobbying firm, campaign for not running for Mayor or just personal use?

If so, read on.

Have you seen an endless stream of news about the social media site?

Such issues as pay-to-play for who sees what posts, ad prices going way up, millions of users data lost to Cambridge Analytica, fake sites/users promoting discourse on all sides of the political arena during the last election?

As far as the latest, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified to Congress this week, giving us a front-row seat of where this all goes.

The making of the Bimini film referenced below.

I have heard a lot of folks saying they are done with Facebook. Well, about 87 million FB users will get a notice this week that means something to the effect of, your data may have been misplaced, etc.

This will appear in your news feed, so keep an eye out for it.

Also, if you see this note, read it and follow the instructions about privacy settings for other apps. You can take some control over where your data is shared, so make sure to do so if you are planning on continuing to use the Facebook platform.

In my opinion, I am not prepared to get rid of it.

If you think about the massive amount of information you can gather in a few minutes, it is mind-boggling.

In a 10 minute view, I saw my old friend Hadderman is at the Masters, former Gators Coach Jim McElwain took a loss on his Gainesville house to help a family with disabled children (according to the Tampa Bay Times), friends Emmett Reed and Jason Gonzalez assisted a young man in Bimini during a shark attack; Peter Schorsch’s comments on a bizarre sermon ( which I agree 100 percent), a gazillion (very important) Springtime Tallahassee pictures; plus, the sponsored post on the new Lost in Space, wow, actually looks pretty smooth.

I usually don’t post anything too serious on FB; pics of the family and columns are about it.

But some people lay it all out there; if you choose to do so, great, my friend Jim shared a pic of his mom’s old car and a very sad bumper sticker.

As for the island of Bimini mentioned earlier, I am a big fan of the place. Did you know Martin Luther King Jr. wrote some speeches there? I didn’t know that, even after visiting the destination about 20 times. But someone shared it on FB, and I picked up that fascinating piece of knowledge.

I have written several pieces on the island and, in fact, I anxiously await info on the release of a documentary I worked on last year there with filmmaker Bradley Beesley and the team at Costa.

They checked out my column at Florida Politics about the island and flew me down for several days of filming. It was a blast, and you have to check out Beesley’s other work, he is a great talent.

So, let’s see how the testimony goes, as well as new rules FB is putting in place to protect our data; maybe when it comes to advertising for elections, posting amazing pics, promoting business and publishing columns, FB will surprise us and improve the user experience.

Or, maybe they will continue down the dark path toward irrelevancy. I am indeed willing to wait and see.

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Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies; he can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

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