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Dems Score Seats in Election, Republicans Urge Bipartisanship

November 20th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The Florida House and Senate elected a new Speaker and President Tuesday morning.

Both are Republicans and both are urging bipartisanship, but the emotions from the 2018 election could make working together more difficult.

House Speaker House Jose Oliva and Senate President Bill Galvano urged the chambers to move past the contentious 2018 election.

“The campaigns are over and we turn our attentions now to governing,” said Oliva.

“Now is the time to move forward united together,” said Galvano.

However, scars from the hard fought election still bled through.

Janet Cruz won the most expensive race ever for the state senate, where a combined $12 million was spent.

“And it breaks my heart to see campaigns head in that direction,” said Cruz.

Overall, Democrats scored five new seats in the House and one in the Senate, but Republicans still hold clear majorities in the two chambers.

While Legislative leaders are talking about the need to do away with bipartisanship, that didn’t stop Speaker Oliva from making his agenda clear.

Oliva touted deregulation and tax reductions as solutions to the state’s key issues.

Newly chosen House Minority Leader Kionee McGhee says he’s confident the two parties can work together to find middle ground.

“We must look at healthcare, we must look at environmental reform, we must look at transportation, we must look at helping our veterans,” said McGhee.

Committees start in December and the 2019 session officially kick off in March.

That’s when we’ll know if legislators are truly willing to play nice this year.

Republicans hold more than 60% of the seats in the House, which means Democrats will be unable to block Legislation by numbers alone.

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Elections Likely Key Issue in 2019 Session

November 20th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

The November 6th election results are now official.

Vote totals certified today show Republicans sweeping all statewide offices with the exception of Democratic Nikki Fried being the first woman ever elected Agriculture Commissioner.

After the court drama of the last two weeks, calls for election reform continue.

Despite two weeks of election uneasiness, it took the State Elections Canvassing Commission just 5 minutes to certify the November 6th results.

State Senator Rob Bradley filled in for Governor Rick Scott, who recused himself from the ministerial duty.

“First of all, I’m one hundred percent confident that the results that we just certified reflect the will of the voter,” said Bradley.

As lawmakers organized as they do after each election five floors up, Governor-Elect Ron DeSantis got standing ovations in the House and Senate

The consensus of many in the Legislature is that the problems in the election were isolated to just two counties.

Both the House Speaker and Senate President say that what went wrong on November 6th will get a thorough review.

“The bottom line is we need to make sure people can trust their electoral process, and in this case, it was just two counties of all our counties, but two of them failed, and in doing so damaged that trust,” said House Speaker Jose Oliva.

Agriculture Commissioner hopeful Matt Caldwell lost his statewide race by just 6,700 votes.

“Both sides, myself and Miss Fried, deserve a straight answer, it doesn’t look like we’re ever going to get that from Broward and Palm Beach. They failed in this instance and I think the legislature needs to be prepared to prevent that from happening in two years,” said Caldwell.

The certification opened a 10 day window for any voter to challenge the results.

Few in the Capitol believe the state should spend any money fixing voting machines, saying that is the responsibility of locally elected officials.

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Rep. Jose Oliva Elected Next Florida House Speaker

November 19th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Republicans in the Florida House late Monday afternoon voted unanimously to make State Rep. Jose Oliva their next speaker.

Oliva is the heir to a Miami cigar company that bears his name.

He enters his final term in the House.

In a brief address, he cautioned members to be strong in their partisan beliefs but not to practice partisan politics.

“A word about partisanship. There are two very different types of partisanship. and they often get conflated one to the other,” said Oliva. “There is the one partisanship that i nefarious, petty, and it’s useless. And that’s the partisanship that’s says if you are from another party, I don’t care what you think.I don’t care what you are trying to accomplish, I will not be of help to you. In my seven years in the Florida House, I have never been a part of it, and in the next two, I will not abide that type partisanship.

Oliva did tell members it is right to stick up for their ideals.

Oliva will officially take the reins of the House Tuesday morning and will serve two years as Speaker.

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Florida Democratic Party Under Investigation for Election Fraud

November 19th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Democrats have conceded in both the race for the US Senate and Governor, but not before the State asked Federal authorities to investigate possible election fraud conducted by the party.

The U.S. Department of Justice declined, but the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Office of Statewide Prosecution say they have an opened a criminal investigation into the allegations.

Evidence reported to the Department of State suggests a possible effort by Democrats to have voters fix ballots after the state’s deadline in at least four counties.

Cure forms for mail ballots sent to voters by the party show the return date changed from the day before the election to two days afterwards.

Democratic Strategist Steve Schale says it was likely just a mix up.

“Some 23-year-old staffer probably got two dates mixed up,” said Schale. “They put the date down for the provisional ballot cure, not the absentee ballot cure thing and actually by doing it all they did was make it harder for their own voters to vote.”

Republicans point to the fact Democrats successfully sued to extend the deadline after the fact.

“It looks like they were just planning on a judge siding with them because of the bias towards trying to allow as many votes as possible to count that were legally cast,” said Eric Eggers, Author of the book ‘Fraud’. “It’s the first evidence we have of systemic efforts to under cut or subvert election law as it was on the book.”

Supervisors of Elections who brought the changed forms to the state’s attention say even if it was just a mix up, official elections forms should never have been altered.

“I think the question it raises is what other efforts were under way to subvert election law that we don’t know about yet,” said Eggers.

The Florida Democratic Party says it’s hired its own independent investigator to look into the case.

It says it plans to release any findings once the investigation is complete.

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Broward Ballot Design Could Have Cost Nelson the Election

November 19th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

In the 2000 recount and the 2018 election, bad ballot design was a contributing, if not a deciding factor on who won.

In each election, it was Democratic Supervisors of Elections who cost Democratic Candidates the election.

In 2000, it was the infamous buttery fly ballot that had nearly four thousand people in Palm Beach voting for Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore. Gore lost by 537 votes.

This year, Broward County put the U-S Senate race at the bottom of a long first column following a list of ballot instructions.

“If we were to look at how those undervotes would have broken down partisan wise in Broward County, that would have netted Nelson anywhere from nine to eleven thousand votes. Which theoretically, I mean, he lost by about ten thousand, that could have made the difference up,” said data consultant Matt Isbell.

The US Senate undervote in Broward was between 3.5% and 4%.

That’s nearly four times higher than the statewide average of 1%.

“We had many counties, including Dade and Palm Beach were more votes were cast in the for the US Senate than for Governor,” said Isbell.

Republican Party of Florida Attorney Pete Dunbar lays the blame on the local Democratic Party and Bill Nelson’s campaign.

“Everybody had the opportunity to look at that ballot a head of time. That can be considered a bit of a careless oversight on the part of the Democrats,” said Dunbar.

While it’s too late for Nelson now, count on ballot design being on campaign checklists going forward.

Ironically both the butterfly ballot and this year’s ill fated Broward Ballot were designed by Democratic Supervisors of Elections.

“One of the things we all learned after 2000 is that we all have to be more engaged in the ballot design process,” said Democratic Strategist Steve Schale. “This is a public process.”

Apparently that lesson was forgotten.

Broward Election Supervisor, Dr. Brenda Snipes, has resigned, effective January 4th.

One of the infamous “buttery-fly” ballot machines was given to the state museum in 2001.

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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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