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Rural Counties Less Showed Less Support for Amendment 1

November 14th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

The land and conservation amendment on last weeks ballot got an unprecedented 75 percent of the statewide vote, but voters in rural counties were more likely to say no.

Welcome to Layfayette County, where the population density is just 16 people per square mile. Mayo, the county seat, is 90 miles Southeast of the State Capitol. it is one of two counties where more people voted against land conservation than for it.

Linda Partney,  a yes on 1 voter went to a public forum where the amendment was trashed “Because they thought it would impinge on their property rights” says six year resident of Mayo.

Not only did a majority of people vote no on amendment one, it was heck no. More people here voted for the marijuana than land conservation.

We went to the May cafe to ask why. Retireee Shirley Walker gave us an earful. “I think they are buying up too much land as it is, I mean, it’s getting to where they’re buying more land and we’re having to pay more taxes because there’s not taxes on the land they buy.”

Fishing guide Tom Caldwell agrees. “I’m a Captain and guide and everything’s fine on that.” Q:”so you don’t think we need to spend more money.” “No,  I actually think it’s taking care of itself.”

The trend was similar across the state. While more than half the voters in Lafayette and Holmes county voted no, other rural areas voted far less overwhelmingly than the urban areas. Will Abberger ran the Yes on 1 campaign and says that rural counties just aren’t seeing the sprawl that everyone else is seeing.  “Florida adds 700 new residents everyday, Mike, and those new residents are putting pressure on our water and land resources. Folks in the more rural parts of the state are not, they don’t wake up to that everyday and see those changes in their community.”

The amendment allowing money to be set aside for conservation takes effect in January. The first funding should be available in July.

Rick Scott won Lafayette County with 53 percent of the vote. The Marijuana vote got 49% while land conservation got just 47%.

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Near Record Execution

November 13th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

Chadwick Banks is set to die for the murder of his wife as well as the rape and murder of his ten year old step daughter at six pm tonight. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the execution is a milestone for Governor Rick Scott.

Annette Black hasn’t slept well since the September day Rick Scott signed the death warrant for her daughter and granddaughters killer.

I’ve been ill for days now.” She told us. “This is not anything anybody wants to have to go through.”

Q: “No joy today for you?”

“No joy! No joy!”

22 years ago, Cassandra Banks was sleeping in her north Florida home when her husband shot her point blank. Chadwick Banks then raped his ten year old step daughter before also shooting her in the head. Annette never thought she would see this day come.

“And you never thought you’d see this day?”

“No.No I thought I’d be dead by now. My husband is 89. We thought we’d both be dead by now.”

Jeb Bush holds the record for executions by a modern Governor with 21. This will be Rick Scott’s 20th. He has four more years.

Scott says “I take it very seriously, but what I think about as I do it is I think about the victims.”

Annette calls the execution justice…we spoke her minutes before she left for the prison to witness her daughters killer die. “Well, I’m hoping that tonight I might get a chance to Cry. Because since this has happened, I haven’t been able to cry. It’s like something has killed my emotions.Maybe I’ll get a good nights sleep. I don’t know what will happen tonight after all this is over.

And with four more years as Governor, it’s almost certain  Rick Scott will be signing more black bordered death warrants.

Banks entered a no contest plea to the murders. No testimony ever indicated why he killed. The victims Grandmother believes it was because her daughter  discovered her husband fondling the step daughter a day before the murders.

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Barely Getting By

November 13th, 2014 by flanews

The economy is in much better shape today than five years ago, but as Matt Galka tells us, a new report from the United Way of Florida shows just how many of us are still barely getting by, and the numbers may surprise you.

Living paycheck to paycheck isn’t easy. But it’s the reality for nearly half of the state.  A new report from the Untied Way says more than 3 million households are struggling to get by. United Way Ted Florida President Ted Granger says the numbers are alarming.

“These are working people. 30% of the population in the state of Florida who are struggling to pay their bills. The other 15% are people who are under the poverty line,” said Granger.

The report says to get by on the basics like housing, child care, food, health care and transportation, you need to be well above the poverty line. You would need to be making just under $19,000 dollars to survive and save a little extra.  The poverty line is just over $11,000 bucks.

Granger says some long term solutions are simple.

“Providing transportation – transportation is a huge issue for these folks, and providing more infrastructure,” he said.

Rich Templin with the AFL-CIO labor group says they’ve been trying to tell lawmakers this for a while in their attempts to raise the state’s minimum wage.

“If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation, it would be $10.75 an hour right now, if it had kept pace with the actual cost of living, it would be $18.75 an hour right now,” said Templin.

The states $7.93 minimum wage is above the federal level, and is expected to increase to just over $8 in 2015.  That’s about a dollar more a day in a 40 hour work week.

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Bondi Under Fire

November 12th, 2014 by flanews

Florida’s Attorney General is fresh off winning her second term, but as Matt Galka tells us, she’s taking heat for some lavish gifts she’s received during her time in office.

Attorney General Pam Bondi didn’t change anything up in her first cabinet appearance following the election. She started off by trying to get a puppy adopted…but she’d rather have the dogs called off, following a series of reports detailing lavish trips that have corporate ties.

Bondi was adamant the trips don’t effect her decision making.

“No lobbyists, no persons, no corporations, no individuals will ever compromise what we do in our office,” said the Attorney General.

Part of her $51,000 dollar gift bill over the past four years was picked up by the Republican Attorneys General Association. They receive corporate sponsorship money. Peter Butzin with Common Cause Florida says the whole thing is concerning.

“It reeks, the whole thing reeks. The Attorney General is supposed to be the Attorney for the people of Florida, not for special interests that are trying to make sure that the Attorney General doesn’t file cases against them,” said Butzin.

The reports came out before last week’s election, but didn’t end up helping her opponent. Bondi cruised to an 800,000 vote victory which could mean one of two things: voters believe her that the trips don’t effect her litigation – or they don’t care.

The trips include dinner and drinks that allow for lobbyists to have access to the Attorney General and her staff, which Common Cause says could lead to cases being dropped against certain companies, or not brought about all together.

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Victorious Rick Scott Returns to Capitol

November 12th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

A victorious Rick Scott was back in the state Capitol for the first time since being reelected last week. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, he is already starting to reorganize his office.

Rick Scott was all smiles as he greeted well wishers and staff before the beginning of a Cabinet meeting.The meeting had its own light moments. Scott was un-plussed when a rescue dog heard nature’s call.

“He comes with a free tennis ball? Scott asked.

And as he was introducing people, Scott stumbled on a name.

Thomas Gaggliani. Gagglano? Scott asked.

But you could hear the smile in his voice.

Afterwards we asked about his post election mood.

“Is having the election behind you and your reelection a big weight off your should? How does it feel?”

Again, the answer was in his smile….True to character, he stuck to his talking points.

“It’s happened, We’ve added all these jobs; 651 thousand jobs. We have 268,000 job openings.”

And it’s clear that Jobs will not be the only focus of a second term. In Rick Scott’s first term, the number of students taking advantage of private school scholarships increased by more than a third. Look for the trend to continue.

“I think parents out to be able to choose, and students should participate in the choosing which school they go to. I think school choice is important” says Scott.

And Scott says it won’t be just private schools that see more money.

“I want to make sure we have the highest per pupil funding. We’ll be abel to get that done. Our economy is growing. Jobs are moving here.”

Scott is also expected to shake up his leadership team, appointing a new chief of staff, and reappointing some agency heads while showing others the door.

On Thursday, Florida will execute the 21st inmate under Scott’s watch. 21 ties the number of executions under one Governor in modern times, but Scott hit the number in his first term, while it took Jeb Bush two full terms. He called it his most solemn duty.

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Then and Now

November 11th, 2014 by flanews

In the 1960’s and 70’s, Florida State University was leading the charge in the south against the Vietnam War. As Matt Galka tells us, today, honoring those that served has become one of the school’s top priorities.

Marty and Jan Roberts know how special Veterans Day is. Two of their children are active military.

“It’s just bravery I can’t imagine,” said Jan Roberts while holding back tears.

The appreciation for those who serve wasn’t always there. Just ask Vietnam Veteran Joe West.

“We were not well liked, most Vietnam Vets wouldn’t even acknowledge that they were Vietnam Vets, if you filled out a job application you just put down that you was doing something else,” said West.

Student protests put Florida State university at the forefront of the anti-war movement in the south during the 1960’s and 70’s.  The mood has completely changed some 50 years later.

Once called the Berkeley of the South, Florida State University is far from that today, where their film festival will be honoring those who served in Vietnam.

Critically acclaimed movie “Last Days in Vietnam” will headline the school’s program honoring Vietnam Veterans. The film was directed by Senator Robert Kennedy’s daughter, Rory.

“Whether somebody has an opinion about the war, that we shouldn’t be there or whatever, I think we all appreciate the role that the military plays, and the role that the veterans play,” said Rory Kennedy.

For Joe West, the Roberts Family, and countless other veterans including some who have made the ultimate sacrifice, a little appreciation goes a long way.

Florida is home to the third highest population of veterans in the country, including more than 500,000 Vietnam era vets.

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Vietnam Vets Finally Getting Recognition

November 10th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

Veterans Day has been a bitter-sweet occasion for many Vietnam ear veterans simply because there were no parades for the soldiers who fought the war many Americans wanted to forget. 40 years after the fall of Saigon, veterans of Southeast Asia are being properly recognized.

Warren Sutton was an aircraft mechanic in Vietnam. “When I first came home and landed in California, I was spit upon” recalls the now retired car mechanic.

His experience was not unlike thousands of others.

This year, Vietnam veterans are being honored through a nationally acclaimed documentary being shown at the FSU Student Veterans Film Festival. Its director is Rory Kennedy, youngest daughter of the late Robert Kennedy.

Abby Kince says its about time Vietnam vets got the recognition they deserve. You know, they made the promise, never gain, and we are owning up to that and stand with them.”

Half a million Vietnam vets call Florida home. For many, the stigma lives on…The state began offering a speciality Vietnam plate in 2012. But it has not become a popular offering. Just one half of one percent of Florida’s Vietnam vets have asked for the plate. The rest have said no, even though there is no extra charge.

Marine General Larry Snowden fought in WWII, Korea, and commanded three thousand troops in Vietnam. While he didn’t face the scorn his men did, he says the recognition of their bravery is long overdue.

“You can dislike a war without disliking the troops, and I think people have finally come to that conclusion.”

Q: What do you think of that?”

“Well, that’s the way it ought to be. When I go to war, I want people to hate the fact that I have to go, but I don’t want them to hate me for going” declares the 93 year old.

One in three of the million and a half vets who call Florida home served in Vietnam.

More than 1500 Floridians lost their life in Vietnam. Their names are memorialized at a memorial on the grounds of the state capitol. ROTC cadets will stand guard at the memorial overnight in honor of those who served.

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Day 1:Thrasher Continues Veteran’s Commitment

November 10th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

The research from “The Greatest Generation,” the book on WWII heroes was given to Florida State University by anchor and writer Tom Brokaw. Since then, the University has been billing itself as the most veterans friendly university in America. Today, on his first day on the job, new FSU President John Thrasher said he would continue the commitment to veterans  “You know, I’m a veteran. I served in the United States Army. I served in Vietnam, I think our veterans are incredibly important to us, and I think at Florida State we truly want to make sure we are the most veteran friendly university in the county. I think we’re taking great steps and making great strides in doing that” says thrasher.

One incentive for veterans is that no matter where their legal residence is located, if they live in Florida they pay in state tuition rates.

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Winning Them Over?

November 10th, 2014 by flanews

It’s a new era at Florida State as the 17th president of the university officially started work today.  But as Matt Galka tells us, a persistent group of students made for a rocky beginning.

New Florida State University president John Thrasher didn’t ease into his first day on the job. A group of students who have been protesting the former state lawmaker’s candidacy continued to put the pressure on. The left leaning FSU Progress Coalition skewered Thrasher for his ties to corporate funded conservative groups.

“We’re asking you to dismantle the influence of the Charles Koch foundation on this university, your first day as president,” said grad student Ralph Wilson. He was one of about 20 students at the meeting with president.

It was a tense situation with the small but vocal group.  Thrasher vowed to meet with them again.

“This university, by the way, has 42,000 students, and I’m interested in all of their interests and making sure the university thrives,” said Thrasher.

Even though it was his first day, the students in attendance weren’t cutting the new guy any slack.

“If he cared about FSU as much as he claims to have and higher ed as much as he claims, he would have not only been familiar with this but he would have had a working knowledge and been able to discuss this,” said Wilson.

After the meeting, the former Senator said they’ll start addressing his top priorities – including increasing professor pay and trying to hit the $1 billion dollar mark in the school’s latest major fundraising campaign.

“All those things are important so we have a lot of issues right out of the box to work on,” said Thrasher.

The 70 year old signed a five year contract paying him $430,000 a year.  Thrasher was re-elected to his Senate seat in the Florida legislature last week, a position he had to resign from today as he begins his term as FSU’s president.

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Isn’t It Ironic?

November 7th, 2014 by flanews

Medical marijuana didn’t pass on election day, but it’s safe to say it won the popular vote. Matt Galka tells us why, even after a majority vote, Florida can’t put the medicinal pot into effect, and it includes a little bit of irony.

If Rick Scott ran against medical marijuana in Florida’s Governor’s race, he’d be out of a job. About 500,000 more Floridians voted “yes” on medicinal pot than they did for Scott.  The Governor won with less than 50% of the vote, Amendment 2 lost with 57% of voters on its side. Supporters say that should tell you something about how people feel.

Jeff Sharkey/ Medical Marijuana Business Assn of Florida

“There’s still a lot of support out there around florida for the compassionate use of medical marijuana,” said Jeff Sharkey with the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida.

So how did we get here? Well, it has a little something to do with pigs.

Floridians voted to put pregnant pig protections into the constitution in 2002.  Florida TaxWatch says that was one of many examples of Florida making it too easy to amend it’s own rules by only needing more than 50% of voter approval.

“We hope we keep out things that are Frivilous, but it’s really up to the voters,” said Robert Weissert with TaxWatch.

The legislature proposed bumping the threshold up to 60 percent in order to change the constitution in 2006.  Ironically, that measure passed…with only about 57% of the vote.

“There is a positive logic to the 60%, it’s something that we need to the option to do, but it should be hard to do it,” said Weissert.

That brings us to 2014 and Amendment 2.  Even with the popular vote, medical pot didn’t pass.  Opponents contend that the law is the law, even with a majority of voters saying yes.

“The rules are the rules, they knew they needed to meet a 60 percent threshold,” said Sarah Bascom, who ran the the “Vote No on 2” campaign.

The fight isn’t done.  Odds are the proposal will be back in 2016 if the legislature doesn’t move to act before then. Some lawamkers have already expressed interest in expanding a low THC medical marijuana law they passed this year.

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Model Murder Mystery

November 6th, 2014 by flanews

The prime suspect in the murder of a rich and famous French model in Florida’s capital city was scheduled to make his case today, but that will have to wait. Matt Galka tells us more about the eight month investigation into the woman’s death.

Eight months ago, French model Samira Frasch was found dead floating in her swimming pool at her Tallahassee home.

Her husband, Dr. Adam Frasch, was arrested later that day in Panama City where he had taken the couple’s two young daughters.  He had been kept in jail until last week on child custody violations.

Frasch was scheduled to make his case in front of a grand jury Thrusday.  It will have to wait until Friday morning.

“There have been some recent developments that make this a surprising turn of events,” said attorney John Leace.

Frasch’s attorney says he didn’t think the grand jury was necessary. Frasch reached a plea deal last week. He’s never been charged for the homicide of his wife.

“A judge elected by the citizens of this jurisdiction decided that there was not probable cause. Then to go forward with a grand jury and ask a committee, essentially, of citizens to overrule the decision of a trained legal scholar, no I don’t think it’s fair,” said Leace.

The unsolved case has garnered national and international attention.  Frasch declined to comment until after he testified.

Frasch has denied guilt for the incident since February.  His attorney said he took the kids to Panama City with his wife’s permission before she was found dead.

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Corrections Officer Fears for Life and Job

November 6th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

Following the questionable deaths of inmates at two Florida Prisons, The Department of Corrections instituted new disciplinary rules in September, but a 13 year veteran of the Department says little has changed.


We met George…not his real name at a park. We promised the 13 year Corrections veteran we would protect his identity. He paints a picture of intimidation, harassment, and an administration intent on protecting itself from scrutiny.

“I feel my life is in more danger than it has ever been” says the officer. He blames it on bad managers who pit officers against officers.

In September, the top brass at the agency issued a memo after reports of beatings and several deaths at prisons across the state. It outlined offenses that would result in dismissal.

Q: “The administration has fired officers, over beatings and over these deaths. Has that improved the situation/”

“Somewhat. It make more officers feel more, look if you get caught, you get fired. That part, yes, I would say, but you still have what they call the good old boy system, the good old boy system ain’t never gonna leave. We’re gonna discipline him the right way. You still have that going on at a lot of the institutions.”

Q: “ Discipline the right way is a beating?”

“A beating.”

George paints a picture of a system so understaffed due to turnover that drugs and cell phones are easily smuggled in.

Sot: “You may have officers out there that just don’t give a flap.”

George says he has been sworn at by a superior in front of inmates and that some top officers are too close to female staff.

Q: “wardens are having sex with female officers?”


Q: “regularly?”

“A hun.”

George says the Secretary at the Department of Corrections is well intentioned, but he faces a big job.”

We reached out to the Department of Corrections about the Correctional Officers concerns. There statement reads in part “We expect our staff to understand that when they are exposed to something that they know is fundamentally, morally or legally wrong, they have a responsibility to report it. There will be no repercussions or retaliation for those who come forward and do the right thing.”

The complete statement from McKinley, DOC Press Secretary is below:

The Department has seen a dramatic decrease in use of force incidents over the past four months, dropping from 616 incidents in July of 2014 to 427 in October. Additionally, we have seen a decrease in use of force incidents in this same time period of 2014 when compared to 2013. Please see the chart below:

Month/Year UOF Incidents Month/Year UOF Incidents
Jul-13 666 Jul-14 616
Aug-13 670 Aug-14 561
Sep-13 655 Sep-14 538
Oct-13 643 Oct-14 427

To further improve the training of our staff, the transparency of the Department and the quality of care provided to those in our custody, the Department has instituted the following reforms:


·         Launch of a transparency database containing an extensive amount of data and information related to inmate mortality and in-custody deaths.

·         The establishment of a mental health Ombudsman that will be the first of its kind in the nation’s prison systems dedicated solely to inmates with severe mental illness inpatient level care.

·         Expansion of crisis intervention training which will provide correctional officers with a working knowledge of mental illness, an understanding of the challenges faced by mentally ill inmates.

·         We are currently working toward a Correctional Behavioral Health Certification, made available through the American Correctional Association, which will provide a nationally standardized certification for our correctional officers associated with the care of mentally ill inmates.

·         Requesting the assistance of the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA). The ASCA, a nationally recognized organization with qualified experts in the corrections profession, will provide a full independent audit of the Department’s policies and procedures through site visits, inspections and evaluations on use of force methods.

We expect our staff to understand that when they are exposed to something that they know is fundamentally, morally or legally wrong, they have a responsibility to report it. There will be no repercussions or retaliation for those who come forward and do the right thing. The issues we face are the result of the inappropriate actions of a few that have affected many. Secretary Crews has communicated with clarity that this Department has no tolerance for those who choose to discredit the integrity of this agency through misconduct, abuse or neglect and that such actions will be met with the gravest of consequences, including dismissal from this Department. On September 5, 2014, the Department announced a new disciplinary policy to increase employee accountability. Following this announcement, the Department has dismissed more than 50 individuals who have taken actions counter to the Department’s expectations of transparency, accountability and professionalism at every level.

We see promise in Florida’s historic 43 year crime low, steadily declining recidivism rate and the thousands of honest and hard-working people who truly represent this Department. Through those employees, the Department’s reforms and the release of factual information following the conclusion of all open and active investigations, the Florida Department of Corrections will become the most transparent and accountable agency in this state.



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Marijuana Defeated, Not Rejected

November 5th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

Voters did not make medical marijuana a part of the constitution, even though 57 and a half percent did vote yes. 57 percent in any other race would be considered a huge victory…which is why supporters are calling their loss a win.

883 thousand more people voted for medical marijuana than voted against it. The amendment  missed becoming a part of the constitution by just 2 and a half points. Contrast that with Rick Scott, who had a margin of victory of just 70 thousand votes.

Supporters of the marijuana amendment are claiming victory. Jeff Sharkey, who founded Medical Marijuana Business Assn. of Florida says the vote was strong. Q: “In any other race, what would you call this?” “I think we would call it a landslide, Mike. As you pointed out, 57 and a half percent is certainly a majority of Floridians who supported the concept.”

The sponsor of last year’s low THC marijuana bill is already suggesting that that bill could be the vehicle for more responsible legislation.

State Representative Matt Gaetz tweeted the legislature could continue  modernizing medical cannabis policies. Sharkey thinks lawmakers will do exactly that.

“You know, we fell a couple points short.It’s still going to lead to a productive discussion. It’s not going away, its here to stay.”

But No on 2 Consultant Sarah Bascom says their campaign ended last night and despite the 57 percent showing, a loss is still a loss. “It’s not in the constitution. That was our concern from the beginning.”

The Yes on 2 campaign targeted younger voters, who did not turn out, but younger voters do turn out in higher numbers during Presidential elections.

Voters in Washington DC agreed to allow people to grow and possess marijuana without penalty, while Oregon and Alaska legalized recreational marijuana.


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1 and Done

November 5th, 2014 by flanews

The only amendment to pass in Florida on election day did so with overwhelming support. Matt Galka tells us what’s next for the environment with the passage of Amendment 1.

Call it a 20 year environmental insurance policy.  Florida’s Water and Land Conservation measure – amendment 1 – only needed 60 percent to pass. But nearly 75% of voters said “yes.”

“We’re just humbled by the tremendous outpouring of support we’ve seen from Floridians across the state,” said campaign manager Will Abberger.

Abberger helped lead the charge to get the amendment on the ballot.  Money will come from a tax already in place, with billions of dollars going to the environment over the next two decades. So now what?

“I think very clearly that Florida voters place a priority on state funding, increased state funding for water and land conservation, to help protect the quality of our drinking waters, the water quality of our rivers, of our lakes,” said Abberger.

The need for the amendment stems from cuts during the recession. The Florida Forever conservation program was established in 1990 and supported by Republican and Democratic Governors. It was gutted in 2009.  Water use attorney Pete Dunbar says now the challenge is on the legislature to implement the money.

“It is for the legislature and the Governor now to bring this in to a cohesive program so that monies are spent appropriately, and the key would be not to create a grab bag but make it meaningful, make it productive,” said Dunbar.

Opponents of the amendment were worried the constitutional amendment ties the hands of legislators.  They’re left wondering what will happen if there’s another recession, and that money put away for the environment is needed somewhere else.

The percentage of existing tax money being devoted to land conservation could approach close to one billion dollars a year.

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Election Wrap

November 5th, 2014 by flanews

Election night in Florida came down to the wire as expected. As Matt Galka tells us, the Secretary of State says voting problems are a thing of the past, and it was a nervous night for both sides in the campaign of the state’s most controversial amendment.

Nothing was settled shortly after polls closed. But Secretary of State Ken Detzner said the election was a victory for the state.

“We are proving that Florida knows how to run elections,” said Detzner.

Florida has been plagued with election day problems in recent history.  2014’s were run of the mill, despite a challenge late to keep polls open later in South Florida because of a “systematic breakdown.’ It was denied.

“We feel like the judge filed the law correctly and denied the motion,” said the Secretary of State.

It what may have been the second most watched race in the state, it was a nervous night for the group spearheading the movement against medical marijuana.

The pot push needed 60% of the vote. It fell just short, but still had a majority of voters saying yes.

“In this case, I believe it says that there is a threshold, and the threshold is in law, and a loss is a loss, and that says that amendment is not right right now for Florida,” said Sarah Bascom, the spokeswoman for Vote No on 2.

The results were still a good sign for supporters.

“Unfortunatley the amendment didn’t pass, but I don’t believe that means this issue is over, we’re going to go back to the legislature again,” said Yes on 2 advocate Ron Watson.

It’s expected the measure will be brought back in 2016, a presidential election year. Polls for Amendment 2 started out as high as 88 percent earlier this year, and it wasn’t until last month when they fell below the 60 percent threshold.

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