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Blountstown Hospital Still In Shambles After Hurricane Michael

November 16th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Patients needing hospitalization in the Hurricane affected Florida Panhandle have fewer options these days.

Emergency rooms in the hardest hit areas remain open, but several hospitals including one in Blountstown remain closed to patients.

More than a month after Hurricane Michael ravaged Blountstown, water continues to leak into the Calhoun Liberty hospital.

“The force of that storm was Cat four or maybe even higher when it hit,” said Hospital Administrator Chuck Durant.

The storm tore off the hospitals roof, smashed windows, and while the emergency room remains open, the hospital remains closed to inpatients with no reopening in sight.

On an average day, the emergency room will see 30 to 40 patients.

Since Hurricane Michael, that number has been as high as 83.

“Falls off the roof, off a ladder,” said Durant.

For many in the area, it is the only place to get care.

“This hospital is here to help out this rural population, and statistically a rural population has more healthcare needs,” said Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner Stan Whittaker. “They’re not as healthy.”

The hospital has yet to settle with its insurance company and with no revenue producing patients, cash flow is a concern that might cause the facility to close its doors for good.
“You know, It could. It’s feasible. Because how do you generate revenue here,” said Whittaker. “If you’re not generating revenue, what’s the consequences?”

Administrator Durant says the hospital is close to getting a temporary roof on the building.

When asked why only a temporary roof, he indicated the 50 year old building may never reopen, adding building a new hospital takes time.

Patients needing hospital care in the Blountstown area are being sent to Dothan, Alabama or Tallahassee.

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Manual Recount Presses Forward With State’s Rules Intact

November 16th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

A manual recount in the US Senate and Florida Commissioner of Agriculture races are underway.

Dozens of observers were keeping a close eye on questionable ballots in Leon County as the recount pressed forward across the state.

Elections officials are only looking at ballots rejected for under or over voting.

The staff are operating under a set of rules for determining voter intent outlined by the state.

“That give clear guidelines for our canvassing board and in this instance essentially for our counting teams and really anybody who might lodge an objection, as to what we intend to rule in certain ways,” said Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley.

Senator Bill Nelson unsuccessfully tried to have a federal judge strike down the state’s rules.

“The laws are there for a reason and we as voters and as partisans and as observers don’t get to pick and choose which election laws we’d like to see followed,” said Eric Eggers, who authored the book, ‘Fraud’ which looks at election security.

Numerous Federal lawsuits are still pending.

At this point it’s unlikely any will change the outcome of the election.

While the paths to victory for Democrats are narrowing, they are pinning their hopes on the manual recount in large counties where tens of thousands are ballots are getting a second look.

That hope dimmed as Broward County finished the hand recount in the US Senate race.

It a appears an estimated 30,000 undervotes in the Senate race were likely caused by flawed ballot design, not machine error.

“People just didn’t see the race on the ballot and just didn’t vote and sort of absent that, it’s really hard to see a path forward for Nelson to win this thing,” said Democratic Strategist Steve Schale.

The hand recount must be reported by noon Sunday.

The Election Canvasing Commission will meet Tuesday to certify the results, after that, candidates will have ten days to file a contest to the outcome.

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Judge Walker Says He Will Not Be Used By Either Party

November 16th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

A Federal Judge is ordering the state to give 4,000 or more vote by mail voters whose signatures didn’t match a second chance to have their vote counted.

If the order stands voters will have until 5 PM Saturday to fix their signatures.

Federal Judge Mark Walker likened the election to a football game, saying no one quibbles that football referees make certain calls, under the rules, that deserve review.

So do elections officials he reasons, saying allowing officials to reject vote-by-mail and provisional ballots for mismatched signatures with no standards is unconstitutional.

“This is about assuring that everybody who thinks they voted by mail, gets to know that their voted counted,” said Senator Bill Nelson’s Attorney Ron Meyer.

The state told the court there are about 4,000 votes in 45 counties, which means the total could increase as 22 other counties finish counting votes.

Republican Party of Florida Lawyer Pete Dunbar calls the order inconsequential.

“No matter how this is disposed of, there’s no change in the results based on what’s involved,” said Dunbar.

Governor Rick Scott’s Campaign called the decision “Baseless,” and immediately appealed.

Democrats asked for a list of voters who ballots had been mismatched.

Walker said, “No, I’m not going to be used by either party.”

A spokesman for Andrew Gillum’s campaign, which has yet to file a lawsuit, says win or lose, the Democrat plans to stay involved.

“Whether those votes are counted and he does not win, or whether those counted and he does win, I think regardless of what happens, his message is still resonating with Floridians,” said Gillum’s adviser Kevin Cate. “There is always hope”

Both sides were back in Federal Court Thursday arguing over deadlines and whether emailed ballots and others should still be counted.

Andrew Gillum today told WJXT Jacksonville that regardless of who wins, state lawmakers must work on fixing Florida’s election law.

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Questions Remain Despite Judge Upholding Recount Deadlines

November 15th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Judge Mark Walker in a ruling Thursday upheld the state’s deadline for reporting the results of the machine recount and hand recount.

The deadline to end the machine recount in the state has officially passed and Palm Beach county didn’t finish in time, but Walker’s ruling also noted no state law prevents Palm Beach County from continuing counting.

Even though Palm Beach county can continue its machine recount through Sunday it’s not clear if the state will accept the new total in the final certified results.

Despite the barrage of news coming from the courts a panel of political insiders met in the state’s capital city Thursday, to take a look back and make sense of what’s happened so far and what it all means moving forward.

The panel made up of Gubernatorial Candidate Andrew Gillum’s campaign adviser Kevin Cate, republican strategist David Johnson and democratic strategist Steve Schale say the overtime election was likely from the get-go.

“We are just a deeply deeply divided state and that’s not going to change any time soon and so elections in the state, just as this one was, just as Trump was, just as when Obama won are divided very much at the margins,” said Schale.

Republican David Johnson says he believes the problems with the state’s election process highlighted by the close race can be fixed.

“I think we’ll have a great opportunity in this Legislative session to address some of those flaws,” said Johnson. “I hope that we do that in a way that next time, because we’re Florida there will be a next time, that we’re a little bit more prepared even so then how we were.”

In the meantime many alleged flaws are being addressed by the courts.

Schale says most rulings will likely have little impact on out come, but others could have major consequences.

“I don’t think the Palm Beach thing is going to make a difference overall,” said Schale. “I think the big questions are what happens to these vote by mail ballots, what happens in Broward with the undervotes? Those are the big unknowns in this election between now and the end of it.”

When asked to describe the 2018 in one word the three panelists used painful, ‘shabacle’ and most importantly, ongoing.

 

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Meet Judge Mark Walker

November 14th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

The Federal Judge who will decide which ballots are counted and which are not is getting high marks from those who know him, despite ruling against the state in multiple elections cases.

Federal Judge Mark Walker was recommended by both US Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, appointed by President Obama, and confirmed on a 94 – nothing vote.

He’s made headlines with pointed opinions, ordering the state to give voters a chance to cure spoiled mail ballots, ordered polling places on college campuses, extended voter registration following a hurricane and declared the clemency process unconstitutional.

“He established the facts about how bad that system was,” said former FSU President Sandy D’Alemberte.

Walker got undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida.

For 8 years he was Steve Andrew’s law partner.

“His father worked at Winn Dixie. I think he retired from Winn Dixie. He’s just a great guy,” said Andrews.

Former State Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen Grimes calls Walker the best clerk her ever had.

“Whatever the law requires, he’s going to rule that way,” said Grimes.

When Mark Walker ran to be a state court judge, no one opposed him.

Pete Dunbar is supervising a dozen lawyers for the Republican Party.

He says even if he doesn’t like Walker’s rulings, it’s not the end of the road.

“There is a process that allows for an appeal of that decision, so, I have confidence the judicial system will handle this appropriately,” said Dunbar.

Walker could end up hearing as many as seven cases involving the election.

Walker finished first in his undergraduate class and third in his law school at the University of Florida.

He has been on the Federal bench since 2012.

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Federal Judge to Rule on Mismatched Signature Case

November 14th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

A federal court in Tallahassee has adjourned without ruling weather spoiled absentee ballot’s should have an opportunity to be cured.

Judge Mark Walker asked for specific numbers on how many ballots could potentially be counted.

Through repeated questioning he indicated he felt the deadlines in place we’re arbitrary.

Democratic Strategist Steve Schale says having ballots rejected for mismatched signatures is a problem that can disenfranchise voters from all walks of life.

“I mean Patrick Murphy who ran for the U.S. Senate last year as a Democrat, his was thrown out. Ron DeSantis’ ballot was thrown out in 2016,” said Schale.

A study published by the ACLU found younger voters made up 30% of rejected mail ballots and minority voters were more than 2 1/2 times more likely to have their mail ballot rejected than white voters.

This year only about 0.75% of mail ballots were rejected.

It’s down from a full percent in previous years, but still counts for an estimated 20,000 votes.

Senator Bill Nelson currently trails Governor Rick Scott by 12,500 votes.

Its not clear exactly how big of an impact mail ballots rejected for mismatched signatures could make if the judge rules they should be accepted.

Democrats argue the lack of a statewide uniform standard for determining if a signature matches, violates the Equal Protection Clause.

Republicans say its a reasonable way to ensure a ballot belongs to the voter casting it.

“That’s the only line of defense that elections officials have to make sure that person who is registered to vote is the one actually casting the ballot,” said Eric Eggers, the author of, ‘Fraud’ which looks at threats to elections.

Leon County Elections Supervisor Mark Earley testified in the case.

He says without signature matching it opens to door for fraud.

“I don’t want a warehouse of people marking ballots that aren’t the voters and then sending them into us and us have to count those,” said Earley. “That would be a bad thing for democracy.”

Another issue in the case is the fact that voters who turn in mail ballots on Election Day have no means to cure their ballot if a signature doesn’t match.

A ruling and whether to extend the time to cure the ballots could come as early as Thursday.

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Florida Recount Deja Vue

November 13th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

On November 20th the State Elections Canvassing Commission is required by law to certify the election results.

Governor Rick Scott is a member of the board, and unlike the recount of 2000, he has so far not recused himself from certifying the election results.

November 26, 2000 was a tense Sunday at the state Capitol.

The recount had been under way for more than two weeks, with poll workers looking at tens of thousands of ballots by hand.

By early evening, the then questionable vote totals were certified, including previous totals from Palm Beach, which failed to finish the recount.

“I hereby declare George W. Bush the winner of Flordia’s twenty five electoral votes,” said then Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris.

Mac Stipanovich was a key consultant to Harris.

“The goal was to bring the election in for a landing. To get it over with, to be done,” said Mac Stipanovich.

If current vote totals hold, the U-S Senate and Agriculture Commissioner’s races will be hand recounted by hand beginning Thursday.

That means any ballot kicked out by a machine will be examined to see if the voters intent is clear.

The totals are due back on Sunday.

18 years ago, then Governor Jeb Bush, whose brother George was at the center of the disputed Presidential vote, chose to recuse himself from the commission that would certify the final vote.

“Jeb’s just didn’t want to add that bit of controversy to what was already a conflagration of controversy,” said Stipanovich.

Rick Scott has so far chosen not to step down, prompting a law suit from Common Cause and the League of Women Voters.

The canvassing board meets at 9AM next Tuesday at the State Capitol.

Once the election is certified, it opens a ten day window for candidates to challenge the results in court.

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Making Sense of the Numerous Election Lawsuits

November 13th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

A frenzy of lawsuits from Republicans and Democrats have been filed since election night and they show no sign of slowing down.

Political experts say while some are frivolous, others could succeed.

GOP strategist Mac Stipanovich advised Republicans through the 2000 election.

He says the lawsuits from both parties since the election follow a basic principle.

“If you’re ahead you think there’s been plenty of votes counted. If you’re behind, you think there should be a lot more votes counted,” said Stipanovich.

Following that logic, a suit filed by Governor Rick Scott, aims to disqualify votes counted after the noon reporting deadline Saturday.

A similar suit was filed by Ag Commissioner candidate Matt Caldwell that alleges mail ballots received after Election Day were counted and should be thrown out.

Elections Supervisors say the allegations of fraud are irresponsible.

“Going down the ‘Trumpian’ road and throwing charges against the wall and seeing which ones stick, does not serve our nation and does not serve the citizens of Florida well at all,” said former Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho.

Democrats want a Federal Court to rule against Florida’s signature matching requirement for mail ballots.

The case will be heard Wednesday.

The suit cites a recent ACLU report that found Democrats are more likely to have their ballots disqualified because of mismatched signatures than Republicans.

Democrats argue there is no statewide standard for determining whether a signature matches or not.

It could succeed based on previous court rulings made during the 2000 election.

“Judges give the benefit of the doubt to the voter and they don’t penalize them for errors that don’t go to the heart of them exercising their right to vote,” said Stipanovich.

Another lawsuit filed by Democrats aims to count mail ballots postmarked before Election Day, but received by supervisors past the deadline.

Republicans say state law is clear.

“Obviously when the law specifically says at 7 PM on Election Day that seems like a firm cut off,” said Chairman of the Leon County Republican Party Evan Power.

Democrats have also sued to remove the Governor from the Elections Canvasing Commission, which will certify final results.

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Elections Supervisors Dispel Election Conspiracies

November 12th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

As the recount for three statewide races enters day three we spoke with representatives from both parties and elections supervisors to try and dispel some of the rumors flying from both sides of the isle.

We’ll start with the claim that tens of thousands of ballots mysteriously appeared after election day.

The rumor was perpetrated by Governor Rick Scott, but elections experts says it’s unfounded.

“These ballots were all delivered properly to the Supervisor of Elections office prior to the 7 pm deadline,” said Fomer Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho.

Some on the left have argued mail ballots undelivered by a post office in Miami-Dade should be counted.

Once again elections supervisors say that’s not the way it works.

“There are any number of ballots that are subject to being voted by mail that don’t get received by the supervisor in time under state law and are not counted,” said President of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, Ron Labasky.

Then there’s the 20 or so invalid ballots in Broward county that were counted after being mixed in with more than 100 legitimate ones.

Republicans including the Attorney General say it suggests fraud, but supervisors say it was a mistake, not malice.

“Human error is a much better reason for a lot of the problems that we’re seeing,” said Sancho.

Two voting rights groups have called on Governor Rick Scott to recuse himself from the elections canvassing commission, which will certify the results, because of his personal involvement in the election, which includes at least 5 lawsuits to date.

Common Cause filed a lawsuit in Federal Court demanding Rick Scott be removed from the Elections Canvasing Commission Monday afternoon after their calls for him to recuse himself went unanswered.

One thing both Republicans and Democrats agree on, is that throughout this election, there are plenty of lessons to be learned.

“Elections aren’t normally this close so there’s a lot of things to look at to tighten up the election law and perhaps make it better,” said Evan Power, Chair of the Republican Party of Leon County.

According to Democratic strategist Steve Schale the fixes revolve around vote by mail.

“Absentee ballot standardization, mail dates for absentee ballots,” said Schale.

Many of those issues will have to be addressed by the courts, the first of which will be heard Wednesday.

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FHCA Honors Aging Veterans

November 12th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

While World War II, Vietnam and Korea are largely confined to the history books for many Americans, aging veterans of each of those wars are still with us.

The Florida Health Care Association, which represents assisted living facilities and nursing homes in the state held a special ceremony for about 20 veterans living under their members care Monday morning.

The event was organized with help from the Florida Veterans Foundation.

“We have many men and women working and residing in our member centers who served in the United States armed forces. Today and everyday FHCA is proud to honor these brave veterans for their service to our country and the scarifies they made for our freedom,” said FHCA Executive Director Emmett Reed.

Veterans honored at the ceremony were served a hot breakfast and presented with a medal from FHCA to thank them for their service.

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Recount Begins, Gillum Rescinds Concession

November 10th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The State of the Florida has officially ordered machine recounts in the US Senate, Governor’s, Commissioner of agriculture and three Legislative races.

By 2:30 PM the recount was underway in Leon County.

Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Andrew Gillum rescinded his Tuesday night concession Saturday afternoon.

“I am replacing my words of concession with an uncompromised and unapologetic call that we count every single vote,” said Gillum.

Gillum trails his opponent Ron DeSantis by the largest margin in all of the races being recounted.

Ryan Tyson with the Associated Industries of Florida says he doesn’t expect any outcomes to be changed.

“I’ve watched these machine recounts for years in Florida,” said Tyson. “Since we got the optical scan machines there really is very little change that happens.”

DeSantis announced in a YouTube video that he is already organizing a transition team.

“Those results are clear and unambiguous just as they were on Election Night and I am honored by the trust that Floridians have placed in me to serve as your next Governor,” said DeSantis.

The recount is just the beginning of what will be a long and fluid process.

Democratic Strategist Steve Schale says some aspects of the election will have to be decided by courts, but he condemned conspiracy theory rhetoric from both sides.

“If we start throwing around crazy ideas all we do is risk the validity of this election,” said Schale.

The machine recount must be completed by Thursday at 3 pm.

If any races fall below a quarter percent margin a hand recount will be triggered.

The results of which must be submitted within three days and officially certified by November 20th.

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Lawsuits Complicating Looming Florida Recount

November 9th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Ballots are still being tabulated and the margins for 6 Florida races are still within recount range.

The situation is being complicated by lawsuits from both parties.

Across the state canvasing boards like this one are scrambling to finish counting and report overseas and provisional ballots.

In two counties, Broward and Palm Beach, there are still outstanding early votes and mail ballots.

Democratic Strategist Steve Schale chalks it up to incompetence.

“The way the Broward office has run has been a little sloppy. That doesn’t mean it’s being run nefariously,” said Schale.

But Thursday night Governor Rick Scott fired the first shots in what has become a partisan finger pointing battle.

“No rag-tag group of liberal activists or lawyers from DC will be allowed to steal this election,” said Scott.

Scott is suing Broward and Palm Beach counties in order to gain access to how many ballots remain to be counted.

Scott also called on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate possible voter fraud.

FDLE says it is not currently investigating voter fraud but have offered assistance to the Department of State in the case any credible allegations are raised.

Former Leon County Elections Supervisor Ion Sancho says Scott’s call for an investigation is purely political.

“The partisans are out of control. When people are ahead they want to stop the process and then when they’re behind they want to open the process,” said Sancho.

Democrats are hoping to extend the reporting deadline for election results set for noon Saturday.

They’ve filed a Federal Lawsuit against the state.

Regardless of the decision a statewide recount is almost a guarantee.

Federal Judge Robert Hinkle asked the state to respond to Democrats’ lawsuit by Saturday morning.

The judge could order a temporary ruling before the noon deadline.

A hearing has been set for 1PM Wednesday afternoon.

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Six Florida Races Slated for Recounts

November 8th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The Florida Secretary of State is telling election officials to prepare for a statewide recount.

Six races are within the half percentage margin to trigger an automatic machine recount.

The Governor’s race, US Senate, Commissioner of Agriculture, a state senate seat and two state house races all fall within the half percent margin.

An unknown number of outstanding early voting and vote by mail ballots have yet to be counted in Broward and Palm Beach Counties.

If the margins hold through 12 PM Saturday, Elections Supervisors will begin the statewide machine recount process.

“I just recommend that people are patient and trust your supervisors and their staffs are doing their job as best they can,” said Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley.

The machine recount would end at 3 PM November 15th.

If any races are within a quarter percentage point, a hand recount will then be ordered.

If a hand recount is triggered, it would have to be completed by November 18th and results finalized by November 20th.

Political experts are hopeful that any recount, won’t be a repeat of the 2000 Presidential election.

“I’m hoping we learned from that lesson and that we wont have that,” said FSU Political Science Professor, Dr. Carol Weissert. ” I know we have a better voting system. We have better ways of counting now than we had then.”

However, the state is entering uncharted waters.

“This will be the first real statewide recount if we get that far that’s ever occurred,” said Florida State Association of Elections Supervisors President Ron Labasky.

Like Senator Bill Nelson, Andrew Gillum has lawyered up, hiring Barry Richard, who represented President George W. Bush in the 2000 recount.

“Everyone has the right to have their vote counted fairly and accurately and that’s what we’re involved in here,” said Richard.

After the dust clears and results are certified, candidates have ten days to contest the election in court.

It’s a very possible scenario in such tight races with such high stakes.

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League of Women Voters Argues Judicial Nomination Process ‘Tainted’

November 8th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

A lawyer for the League of Women voters told Supreme Court Justices that the process for picking three replacement for the judges was “tainted” by political considerations.

The League wants the process stopped until a new Governor is allowed input.

Controversial decisions from the state Supreme are usually decided by at 4-3 margin, but three justices usually on the majority are being forced to retire January 8th.

59 possible replacements are being interviewed, but since all nine people doing the interviewing were appointed by Governor Rick Scott, the League of Women voters calls the it, “The result of a tainted process”.

The League wants more applications, accepted, arguing the current applicants were ideologically vetted.

“They have members who want to apply, but wouldn’t apply when it looked like Governor Scott was making it,” said Attorney John Mills representing the League.

The lawyer for the nominating commission says there is nothing for the court to decide.

“I think this is much to do about nothing. I’m still struggling to find out what we did wrong,” said the Commission’s attorney, Raoul Cantero.

One retiring justice was skeptical.

“You’re suggesting that we should allow, just a couple of politicians, to get together and they on their own can decide what they want to do, no matter what the Constitution says,” asked Justice Fred Lewis.

“I’m not suggesting that at all,” Cantero replied.

While the arguments were deep in the woods of public policy and the constitution this case could decide the ideological bent of the court for decades to come.

“And what they want to have is a six one court,” said Mills. “Ideologically tilted when we have an electorate that is about as close to fifty-fifty as you can imagine. That’s wrong.”

We asked nominating chair Jason Under about the allegations.

“I have no comment, but it was an interesting argument,” said Unger.

Under current law, the next Governor must select nominees for the court from a list provided by the commission appointed by Rick Scott.

Ironically, because voters changed the rules for retiring justices when they approved Amendment 6, a case like this one will never go before the court again.

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Grassroots Effort Kills Amendment 1

November 7th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
  • Amendment 1, which would have increased the homestead exemption, got just over 58% of the vote.
  • It was just shy of the 60% needed for approval.
  • It was the only amendment to fail, largely because of a grass roots effort by cities and counties.
Greg Haire was one of more than 4.5 million people who voted for Amendment 1, even though it wouldn’t have helped him in the house he lives in today.
“Property owners need all the breaks they can get,” said Haire.
The amendment would have given an additional $25,000 homestead exemption to homes worth at least $125,000.
It fell 149,000 votes shy of approval (about the size of a small city) and it was the cities and counties that killed it.
“We had more than 400 cities, which results in thousands of city officials singling the same song,” said Jenna Tala with the Florida League of Cities. “Amendment 1 was clearly a tax shift, and voters saw that.”
Florida Relators backed the amendment.
Statewide, the amendment would have reduced local revenues by $750 million.
“Some of the bigger counties down south, 30, 40, 50 million dollars,” said Former Florida Association of Counties President, Bryan Desloge. “It’s not an insignificant amount of money.”
Local governments successfully argued three out of four homeowners would pay more if Amendment 1 passed.
“The money has got to come from somewhere, so if you are going to reduce somebody’s taxes, you’ve got to make it up somewhere else,” said Desloge. “And that somewhere else was going to be the low income people. It was gonna be the renters, it was going to be the commercial property owners.”

 

While millions were spent unsuccessfully fighting other amendments, Amendment 1’s  grass roots defeat is proof money doesn’t always matter.                                                                                   

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