The Might of Mickey: Orlando still top U.S. destination

It’s a crowded world after all – at least in Orlando’s hotels and theme parks.

Tourism officials announced Monday that the number of visitors coming to Orlando last year jumped 5.5 percent to more than 66 million visitors.

That figure sets a record for tourists in Orlando and helps the central Florida city hang onto its bragging rights as the top tourist destination in the United States for the second year in a row.

The head of Orlando’s tourist marketing bureau says a combination of factors contributed to the increase, including momentum from new theme park rides that had opened the previous year, such as Universal Studios’ Harry Potter ride, Diagon Alley, and Walt Disney World’s revamped Fantasyland.

But Visit Orlando CEO George Aguel also credited a new marketing campaign aimed at pulling on tourists’ heartstrings. Visit Orlando’s “Neverending Story” campaign encouraged Orlando visitors to share stories about their visits, as well as photos, and they were posted on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

“What makes this destination unique is that when you come here, you get a personal, memorable experience that you don’t typically get from visiting other destinations,” Aguel said. “People really make memories of a lifetime when they come here. It’s very emotional and we make an emotional connection and we sort of tapped into that.”

More than 10 million visitors came to Orlando for conventions or business meetings, Aguel said, and the tax collected on hotels and motels in 2015 was $230 million.

There were about 5.5 million international visitors and 60.5 million domestic tourists.

Canadians and Brazilians continued to be Orlando’s top source of visitors from outside the United States, despite a weak currency in Canada and an economic slowdown in Brazil, Aguel said. Visit Orlando is waiting to release the exact breakdown of international visitors until the National Travel & Tourism Office releases comparable figures in early summer. Nonetheless, Aguel said, “We are very confident in the overall mix, as it is based on airline data and input from industry experts.”

Visit Orlando uses airline data, hotel room occupancy, and national tourism figures, among other data points, to calculate the number of visitors.

Increases in the number of flights between Orlando and Brazil in 2015, as well as a wide variety of pricing options for hotels, helped offset the economic concerns in Brazil.

“We do know Brazilians are very passionate about Orlando,” Aguel said. “The airlines did a very good job of promoting the airfare opportunities, that they had the increased capability. Back here, we have such an enormous amount of properties at so many price points.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Hulk Hogan sues Gawker again, this time over leak of racist remarks

Former pro wrestler Hulk Hogan is suing Gawker again, saying the gossip website leaked sealed court documents that quoted him making racist remarks.

Hogan’s new lawsuit filed Monday comes on the heels of him winning $140 million verdict against Gawker after it posted a video of him having sex with his then-best friend’s wife.

Gawker denies that it leaked the sealed transcript to the National Enquirer. The transcript shows Hogan making several racist statements about his daughter’s then-boyfriend. Once the Enquirer published the story, WWE severed its longtime ties with the famous wrestler.

Hogan also filed suit against a talent agent, two disc jockeys, a radio company and a lawyer, saying they conspired to send media outlets the sex tape.

First U.S. cruise in decades arrives in Havana

The first U.S. cruise ship in nearly 40 years crossed the Florida Straits from Miami and docked in Havana on Monday, restarting commercial travel on waters that served as a stage for a half-century of Cold War hostility.

Carnival Cruise Line’s Adonia became the first U.S. cruise ship in Havana since President Jimmy Carter eliminated virtually all restrictions of U.S. travel to Cuba in the late 1970s.

Travel limits were restored after Carter left office and U.S. cruises to Cuba only become possible again after Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro declared detente on Dec. 17, 2014.

Hundreds of workers and passersby gathered to watch, some cheering, as the gleaming white 704-passenger ship operated by Carnival’s Fathom subsidiary pulled into the dock — the first step toward a future in which thousands of ships a year could cross the Florida Straits, long closed to most U.S.-Cuba traffic due to tensions that once brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.

The straits were blocked by the U.S. during the Cuban Missile Crisis and tens of thousands of Cubans have fled across them to Florida on homemade rafts — with untold thousands dying in the process.

The number of Cubans trying to cross the straits is at its highest point in eight years and cruises and merchant ships regularly rescue rafters from the straits.

The Adonia is one of Carnival’s smaller ships — roughly half the size of some larger European vessels that already dock in Havana — but U.S. cruises are expected to bring Cuba tens of millions of dollars in badly needed foreign hard currency if traffic increases as expected. More than a dozen lines have announced plans to run U.S.-Cuba cruises and if all actually begin operations Cuba could earn more than $80 million a year, according to the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council said in a report Monday.

Most of the money goes directly to the Cuban government, council head John Kavulich said. He estimated that the cruise companies pay the government $500,000 per cruise, while passengers spend about $100 person in each city they visit.

Carnival says the Adonia will cruise twice a month from Miami to Havana, where it will start a $1,800 per person seven-day circuit of Cuba with stops in the cities of Cienfuegos and Santiago de Cuba. The trips include onboard workshops on Cuban history and culture and tours of the cities that make them qualify as “people-to-people” educational travel, avoiding a ban on pure tourism that remains part of U.S. law.

Optional activities for the Adonia’s passengers include a walking tour of Old Havana’s colonial plazas and a $219 per person trip to the Tropicana cabaret in a classic car.

Before the 1959 Cuban revolution, cruise ships regularly traveled from the U.S. to Cuba, with elegant Caribbean cruises departing from New York and $42 overnight weekend jaunts leaving twice a week from Miami, said Michael L. Grace, an amateur cruise ship historian.

New York cruises featured dressy dinners, movies, dancing and betting on “horse races” in which steward dragged wooden horses around a ballroom track according to rolls of dice that determined how many feet each could move per turn.

The United Fruit company operated once-a-week cruise service out of New Orleans, too, he said.

“Cuba was a very big destination for Americans, just enormous,” he said.

Cruises dwindled in the years leading up to the Cuban Revolution and ended entirely after Castro overthrew the U.S.-backed government.

After Carter dropped limits on Cuba travel, 400 passengers, including musical legend Dizzy Gillespie sailed from New Orleans to Cuba on a 1977 “Jazz Cruise” aboard the MS Daphne. Like the Adonia, it sailed despite dockside protests by Cuban exiles, and continued protests and bomb threats forced Carras Cruises to cancel additional sailings, Grace said.

The following year, however, Daphne made several cruises from New Orleans to Cuba and other destinations in the Caribbean.

Cuba cut back on all cruise tourism in 2005, ending a joint venture with Italian terminal management company Silares Terminales del Caribe and Fidel Castro blasted cruise ships during a 4 ½ hour speech on state television.

“Floating hotels come, floating restaurants, floating theaters, floating diversions visit countries to leave their trash, their empty cans and papers for a few miserable cents,” Castro said.

Today, the Cuban government sees cruises as an easy source of revenue that can bring thousands more American travelers without placing additional demand on the country’s maxed-out food supplies and overbooked hotels.

Before detente, Americans made surreptitious yacht trips to Cuba during Caribbean vacations and the number of Americans coming by boat has climbed since 2014, including passengers on cruise ships registered in third countries and sailing from other ports in the Caribbean. Traffic remains low, however, for a major tourist attraction only 90 miles (145 kilometers) from Florida.

Aiming to change that as part of a policy of diplomatic and economic normalization, Obama approved U.S. cruises to Cuba in 2015. The Doral, Florida-based Carnival Cruise Line announced during Obama’s historic trip to Cuba in March that it would begin cruises to Cuba starting May 1.

Unexpected trouble arose after Cuban-Americans in Miami began complaining that Cuban rules barred them from traveling to the country of their birth by ship. As Carnival considered delaying the first sailing, Cuba announced April 22 it was changing the rule to allow Cubans and Cuban-Americans to travel on cruise ships, merchant vessels and, sometime in the future, yachts and other private boats.

Norwegian Cruise Line says it is in negotiations with Cuban authorities and hopes to begin cruises from the U.S. to Cuba this year.

Cruise traffic is key to the Cuban government’s reengineering of the industrial Port of Havana as a tourist attraction. After decades of treating the more than 500-year-old bay as a receptacle for industrial waste, the government is moving container traffic to the Port of Mariel west of the city, tearing out abandoned buildings and slowly renovating decrepit warehouses as breweries and museums connected by waterfront promenades.

Cruise dockings will be limited by the port’s single cruise terminal, which can handle two ships at a time.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Today on Context Florida: Testy Cabinet, John Kirtley, Bernie Sanders and kids at the theater

Today on Context Florida:

Peter Schorsch talks about the testy process of choosing a new state Insurance Commissioner. Among the four top statewide officials, no one walked away a winner from last week’s battle. Neither Gov. Rick Scott nor CFO Jeff Atwater got the candidate he wanted, with both settling on the third name Atwater threw out at Friday’s emergency Cabinet meeting, David Altmaier. Interestingly enough, the process was a design that Atwater himself, a former lawmaker and Senate president, once approved.

John Kirtley is at it again. The Tampa businessman who created Florida’s voucher school program is out spinning again for school “choice,” says Julie Delegal. Kirtley told a group gathered at the Florida State University Alumni Center that the lawsuit challenging the voucher program’s constitutionality could undo all the good that he says the program has accomplished. What progress is that again? Who knows, Delegal says. Tax Credit Scholarship (aka voucher) students can’t be directly compared to Florida’s public school children because the former group takes a different test — a test that doesn’t measure academic growth.

One of the things Catherine Durkin Robinson likes best about Bernie Sanders is how he won’t trade on what he believes in to become president. He’s not desperate, she says. Sanders holds fast to ideals he’s championed since the 1960s and is unapologetic about it. That’s his charm. And challenge. Unfortunately, that’s also one reason he won’t become our candidate.

Heather Gibson gives some tips on taking a child to the theater. She recently took her 2-year-old to a show. The reasons were twofold: First, Gibson had been working almost nonstop for months on the recent UCF Celebrates the Arts Festival. Second, she had reserved tickets to “We All Can Dance,” a kinderdrama for toddlers and their grownups. The event promised time to play, dance and make theater together, all things the two of them love to do. Exposure to the theater is at the top of the activity list for Gibson’s little guy, and it almost always trumps a nap.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.


How ‘Captain America: Civil War’ reflects America’s soul

It’s almost impossible to avoid all the hype about the upcoming Marvel Comics-inspired film – “Captain America: Civil War.”

Hollywood is banking on the legions of loyal – some might say crazy – fans who dress up as their favorite character, attend conventions, flock to YouTube with speculation about comic-inspired movie storylines and buy lots of expensive merchandise. These fans extend to other comic-book inspired movies and the comics themselves.

These fans aren’t passionate simply because it’s a fad or a “youth” thing. It’s because these comics and the movies they inspire are a window into America’s soul, said University of Central Florida history professor Richard Crepeau.

“These heroes are outside the constraints of social institutions and the rule of law, which is at the center of our social order,” Crepeau said. “In the real world, they might be seen as a threat to a democratic society, but in the world of fantasy they are seen as a means to swift and sure justice.”

That’s the case in the latest movie, which will be released Friday, May 6. The Captain America movie begins with an Avengers (superhero group) operation that goes awry, causing civilian casualties. The botched mission leads to the United Nations passing the fictional Sokovia Accords, aiming to rein in superhero collateral damage by placing them under governmental supervision.

UCF political science professor Aubrey Jewett said the movie explores questions that are at the root of American democracy.

“One of the themes is security versus liberty, and finding the right balance between them. In Captain America: Civil War, the superheroes split up into two camps and fight over an issue that we have been trying to find the right compromise for since the founding of the country: Who watches the watchers? How can we make sure people in power are doing the right thing? If they do something wrong, how do we handle that?”

The movie also features prominent African-American and female heroes in the form of Black Panther, Falcon and Black Widow. According to Jewett, that reflects American society’s changing image of itself.

“As our society is becoming more diverse, our vision of who can be a superhero has become more diverse as well. Movies like this can help bring down barriers or get people to think about issues in a different way.”

UCF film analysis teacher and former Orlando Sentinel movie critic Jay Boyar, who worked at Marvel in the late 1970s, agrees.

“Seeing someone who looks like you and has some of the same issues you have can be very powerful and can raise people’s comfort level with more diversity,” he said.

Several characters go through traumas, both physical and emotional, that humanize them and make them relatable to the audience.

“For example, Iron Man has a bad heart,” Boyar said. “In the comic books, Spider-Man is always called neurotic and angst-ridden. He was tormented psychologically. Marvel seems to look to include people with disabilities – there’s a message there that they can overcome – that there’s no reason why they can’t be heroes.”

The comics and movies may draw in fans for even more deep-seated reasons, according to anthropology assistant professor Beatriz Reyes-Foster.

“Captain America, especially, really speaks to that yearning for a pure hero,” Reyes-Foster said. “At the end of the day, it’s reflective of the Abrahamic traditions – Judeo-Christianity – that have greatly influenced our worldview. I think that Western culture really wants to believe that there are things that are clearly right and clearly wrong because it’s comfortable to do so.”

For others, the comics and movies offer an opportunity to connect generations. Jewett, who has been collecting comics since he was a kid, introduced his children to the Marvel world and will be taking his family to watch the newest movie on opening night.

UCF finance student John Kann can’t wait to see the action and some of his favorite characters again. Like Jewett, the comics and books connect him to his family. He said he’ll watch the movie with his older brother and enjoy the amazing visual effects and witty dialogue.

“My older brother was a huge fan, so when I was really young, he would tell me about all the epic twists that were going on in the Marvel universe,” Kann said. “We were both into Star Wars and other epic fantasy series, so superheroes fit right in. Ever since then, reading comics and watching the movies has just always been a part of my life. Marvel does a great job of keeping things fresh. It’s just so cool seeing that world progress and take on new stories that change the characters and our perspective on them.”

Via the University of Central Florida.

Political science professor Aubrey Jewett with some of his collection of superhero comics. (Photo via University of Central Florida)
Political science professor Aubrey Jewett with some of his collection of superhero comics. (Photo via University of Central Florida) tops list of most shared political news websites in Florida

Florida Politics is hot in the Sunshine State.

Speculation that Gov. Rick Scott could be a potential running mate for GOP front-runner Donald Trump in was recognized as the most discussed and shared article online from a statewide political news site.

It wasn’t even close. Florida Politics even beat other traditional media types as the Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post and the Tampa Bay Times.

According to a brand analysis by, the Feb. 23 post by Mitch Perry had more than 50,000 shares across Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn. The story was the top shared article over the last six months, ranked by domain name between October 2015 and April 26, 2016.

In addition to having the top socially shared article,’s sister site — SaintPetersBlog — also enjoyed the No. 4 spot with Rick Scott refusing Syrian refugees and seeking Congressional action to stop federal relocation plans.

That report, by Ryan Ray, had 12K shares.

Combined share total for the two sites came to more than 63K, making it “the undisputed winter,” says SocialBnA in a blog post.

A distant second was Scott signing an abortion restrictions bill, posted March 25, 2016, by the Orlando Sentinel Political Pulse blog, with 16.4K shares. The Sunshine State News rounded out the top four with a November report on Ted Cruz’s pledge to end Common Core.

It is interesting to note that the top story was only published about two months ago, racking up shares in nearly record time.

Although it would be easy for to take all the credit for its rising popularity, none of it would be possible without the supporters and fans who put us here.

And for that, we say thanks.


Sally Bradshaw’s next chapter

Growing up in Mississippi, she spent many weekends in the independent bookstore in her hometown. She even considered opening up her own store a few years ago, but politics — and her career in the thick of it — got in the way.

But with another campaign in the rearview mirror, Bradshaw has decided to take the plunge and open her own bookstore — Midtown Reader — in Tallahassee. She’s hopeful the shop will be a place where book lovers can gather and share their love of reading.

“My hope is we really provide a safe haven for critical thinking,” said the Havana resident, who served as senior adviser to former Gov. Jeb Bush. “I think independent bookstores are places where people can read and think before they speak, where book lovers can gather and celebrate the power of reading and learning.”

While Bradshaw said she was thinking of opening a store for a while, it was an article she read on the campaign trail that helped convince her to take the next step. The story said Tallahassee had been ranked the smartest city in Florida and was one of the smartest cities in the nation.

Yet Bradshaw said the capital city didn’t have many independent bookstores. There were big box bookstores and campus bookstores, but Bradshaw said Tallahassee has “really never had a true independent bookstore.”

It’s clear that also driving Bradshaw are the hard-won lessons of this presidential campaign cycle.  “This political year is certainly evidence of the death of critical thinking. Some degree of rationality has to be resurrected.”

She’s hoping to change that. While she might be a political junkie at heart, Midtown Reader’s shelves won’t just be stocked with books about politics and campaigns. She wants to offer a little bit of everything, focusing on Florida books and authors. Bradshaw said there will also be an emphasis on children’s literature, and the shop will offer author readings and lectures.  But, there’s one book that probably won’t be front and center.  She said, “I doubt I’ll order extra copies of The Art of the Deal.”

“I think there is a need everywhere for more places for individuals to gather, read, and think and discuss what they feel is important, and do it in a civil setting where they can learn and grow,” she said. “We just hope it will be a community gathering place.”

Bradshaw says she plans to be at the store talking to customers and offering up suggestions to her fellow book lovers.

“I read everything,” said Bradshaw, who said she prefers hardcover books to tablets. “I am one of those readers who have five books going at once.”

The last thing she read? All the Light We Cannot See. The novel, by Anthony Doerr, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2014, and tells the story of a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths cross during World War II.

“It’s a remarkable story,” she said. “I would highly recommend it.”

Get ready for more recommendations this fall, when Midtown Reader opens. Bradshaw said she hopes to have the store, which will be located near Red Eye Coffee on Thomasville Road, open in November.

A roundup of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers

A roundup of Sunday editorials from Florida’s leading newspapers:

Tampa Bay Times — St. Petersburg commits unforced errors on stadium site search

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has a curious way of building public enthusiasm to invest in a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays. First his chief of staff insults North Pinellas fans by suggesting Oldsmar may as well be in Georgia. Then the mayor brushes off Sen. Jack Latvala’s request to include county leaders on a committee charged with generating more business support for the Rays. This is no way to create the broad coalition required to build an expensive new stadium and persuade the team to remain in the region.

The stadium site search has gotten off to an uneven start since the St. Petersburg City Council finally signed off on an agreement negotiated by Kriseman and the Rays to let the team explore potential stadium sites in two counties. In Hillsborough, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan and a handful of others are meeting in private and it is unclear how they would come up with the public money to help build a stadium. In Pinellas, county commissioners are conspicuously quiet and the baseball committee created by Kriseman and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce is focused on generating sponsorships and ticket sales for the Rays and promoting the Trop site. Some committee members are frustrated, and Rays owner Stuart Sternberg sounds less than thrilled about the progress.

Bradenton Herald — Manatee County impact fee hikes pale in comparison with neighbors

Does this sound familiar? County commissioners declare that developers and builders should pay their fair share for the construction of new roads based on the additional traffic that new developments produce. This scenario is playing out across the state as counties come up with new and higher fee schedules with the attendant push-back from home building, real estate and commercial interests.

In Manatee County in December, developers and builders objected to the commission’s adoption of a fee schedule that implements a consultant’s recommendation at 80 percent the first year, 90 percent the second and 100 percent the third year. In expressing their opposition, the impact fee foes claimed there were “significant failings” in the consultant’s study, this about a company that has conducted more than 900 such studies across the country.

The exact amount of the fee depends on the size, use and location of new residential and commercial construction. The county is only reinstating impact fees close to the levels assessed in 2006 before the real estate industry collapsed, and commissioners reduced fees to help keep builders in business.

Daytona Beach News-Journal —  Nightmare attack challenges community

It’s a story out of a nightmare. On April 21, the family of 32-year-old Arenthius Jenkins say they were frantically trying to have him admitted for psychiatric evaluation — describing him as hallucinating and paranoid — only to be turned away by hospital officials.

The next day, family members filled out paperwork to have him taken into custody, but by the time a judge signed off around 3 p.m., it was too late. Two hours earlier, Daytona Beach police had responded to the 200 block of Jefferson Street and found Jenkins holding two bloody hammers. Nearby were 60-year-old Billy Ford and 55-year-old Terrence Gross of Port Orange, both badly beaten. Ford has since died of his injuries.

What happened? The answer to that question — and all the questions packed inside it — should be pursued with no patience for excuses.

Florida Times-Union — Polishing up the downtown Emerald Necklace

A century has passed since architect Henry Klutho began championing the idea of creating an “Emerald Necklace” of parks and waterways that would surround the city’s urban core.

Over the decades, many attempts would be planned and started to create a necklace of greenery that includes Hogans and McCoys creeks.

A new era began in 2014 when Groundworks, an international nonprofit that utilizes private and public partnerships, was enticed into the city by then-Mayor Alvin Brown. Initially sights were set on redeveloping Hogans Creek, but now the vision includes much more.

Like Klutho, Groundworks’ concept is to connect the city’s urban communities with a series of parks that will allow residents access to public spaces and trails.

Florida Today –  Crisafulli: Lagoon ‘F’ grades unfair, missed muck efforts

I am deeply disappointed in the approach taken by FLORIDA TODAY in its recent coverage of the Indian River Lagoon. Perhaps that was the goal of the paper: to agitate and incite. Anger sells, as is plainly seen in the daily barbs and insults traded in the presidential campaigns by both parties. Whether for political purposes or commercial gain, insults may grab attention, but they do little to solve problems.

That is not to say that action is not warranted. As a seventh-generation Floridian, the health and well-being of our water and natural resources are matters of great importance to me. This is the community where my family has lived and worked for decades, where I have chosen to raise my family, and where I hope my children will raise their families.

Long before the horrendous fish kill captured headlines, I was working with lawmakers within this delegation and across our state to increase funding to restore the Indian River Lagoon and surrounding water bodies and address the water quality and supply challenges facing Florida in a comprehensive, science-based manner.

Gainesville Sun – More work needed on rape kit law

Gov. Rick Scott shared a rare moment of personal experience the other day when he signed the legislation intended to help whittle down Florida’s large backlog of untested sexual assault kits.

The governor mentioned that his daughter, when a college student in Dallas, had once called him after being slipped a mickey at a party. She wound up hospitalized, Scott recalled, but fortunately was not sexually assaulted. “That was a scary time,” he said. Indeed. Let’s hope no parent ever has to entertain such angst.

But we know, unfortunately, some low-lifes like the one who drugged Scott’s daughter will succeed in violating victims, and the best we can do in those situations is to get rape kits into the hands of state crime analysts more quickly and put perpetrators behind bars sooner.

The new law seeks to accomplish that by requiring law enforcement agencies to send such kits to the labs within 30 days of the assault being reported, with the results reported back within 120 days.

Lakeland Ledger — Hard to define but, once gone, easily understood

During a speech to the House of Commons at the dawn of the Cold War, Sir Winston Churchill, one of the most skillful rhetoricians of his or any other era, defended the people’s right to demand that their lawmakers submit to their will, and not vice versa. “Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe,” Churchill told the House in 1947. “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Truly, democracy as practiced in America, and much of the West, is flawed. But considering the alternatives, we’ll take it.

Churchill, were he with us today, might say the same for economic systems. Capitalism is not always perfect, fair or ever-growing, but surely it is far superior to whatever ranks second.

Yet as The Washington Post reported earlier this week many young Americans disagree. Citing a poll by Harvard University, the Post announced that the so-called millennial generation has, apparently, issued a “rejection of the basic principles of the U.S. economy.”

Miami Herald — Foreign policy by Donald Trump

First, Donald Trump, the clear Republican front-runner, accused President Barack Obama of a “reckless, rudderless and aimless” foreign policy that has weakened America.

Then, he gave a rambling, vague and incoherent speech Wednesday full of platitudes and contradictions, and suggested he would undermine international alliances that have helped keep America safe since World War II.

Three days after he gave what was billed as a major foreign policy address, what Mr. Trump uttered is still troubling.

Voters looking for reassurances about Mr. Trump as commander in chief can’t feel that much more comfortable. Our longtime allies certainly won’t be reassured. In fact, both allies and enemies should be concerned.

Orlando Sentinel — Don’t block limits on payday loans

Florida’s congressional delegation is in rare bipartisan accord on an issue. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong position.

The issue is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s plan to regulate payday loans. Since 7 percent of Floridians must resort to this predatory form of small-dollar credit — nearly the highest rate in the nation — the state delegation should back the push for regulation. Instead, Democrats and Republicans are backing the industry.

The issue has attracted attention in South Florida recently because Tim Canova, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston in the Democratic primary, has criticized the incumbent for her support of House Resolution 4018. It would delay federal regulation for two years and could prevent federal regulation in states like Florida that have created rules for payday lenders. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Wasserman Schultz has received $68,000 in contributions from payday lenders.

Ocala StarBanner — Election line-up sends a message

Time and again we read and hear about how the 2016 election campaign is unlike any in memory, largely because of Donald Trump’s unexpected success in winning support from disenchanted, disenfranchised voters who are tired of government not addressing the nation’s major problems.

But the voter displeasure is not only aimed at those representing us Washington. That came through loud and clear Wednesday night in Ocala at the community’s first major candidate forum of the election season. The forum, sponsored by the new Marion Coalition for Effective Government, featured 21 candidates running for countywide office — School Board, County Commission, superintendent of schools and sheriff.

The sheer number of candidates for these local seats is impressive. It is hard to remember when Marion County last saw so many incumbents faced with so many challengers. Both School Board seats are contested. The three County Commission contests — in District 1, 3 and 5 — each have at least four candidates. The superintendent of schools post is being sought by three candidates, while four men are running for sheriff. And in every race, except County Commission District 3, which is being vacated by Stan McClain, an incumbent is trying to hold on to his or her job at a time when there is widespread disaffection for “insiders.”

Pensacola News-Journal — Help break the cycle of abuse

At least four U.S. children die every day from abuse and neglect.

This sobering statistic breaks my heart.

Despite my 20 years in the child welfare field, I still feel pain, sadness and distress for the babies, toddlers and children who’ve endured far more pain that anyone ever should. Each time I provide comfort to a hurting child, I recommit myself to keeping our community’s children safe.

Alongside my devoted colleagues at Children’s Home Society of Florida, we’re striving to do just that.

You see, not every parent is equipped with a strong support system to lean on. While many of us understand the dangers of physically punishing a small child, or of releasing frustration by shaking a crying baby, others may not.

Palm Beach Post — Clinton and Democratic leaders turn their focus to November swing states

As Hillary Clinton increasingly turns her attention to a general election against Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, her campaign and fellow Democrats have begun in earnest to bolster staff and campaign organizations in key battleground states.

In Virginia, Ohio and Florida — the three biggest swing states in the last election — the Clinton campaign is teaming up with state and national Democratic organizations to build voter files, organize thousands of volunteers, register tens of thousands of voters and raise the funds necessary to compete against a Republican opponent.

And in the first concrete sign that Clinton’s general-election effort has gone beyond planning, the Democratic National Committee has begun transferring money raised jointly with the Clinton campaign to state committees to help fund the effort, according to Democrats with knowledge of the financial strategy.

Panama City News-Herald — Mr. Fowhand’s ripple effect lives on

Counting the number of lives touched and enriched by Ellis Fowhand’s 102 years on this earth could be equated to the “butterfly effect,” the idea that every small cause can have a ripple effect that could never have been foreseen or calculated.

Mr. Fowhand’s ripples sometimes turned into waves, there were always new pebbles being tossed into the pond to keep the ripples moving, always a wing aflutter in someone’s life. There are more “Mr. Fowhand stories” than there are people who have met him.

I have three.

South Florida Sun Sentinel – Reveal Saudi details in 9-11 report

You can’t handle the truth.

That’s the message both the Bush and Obama White Houses have telegraphed to Americans regarding a 28-page section of a 2002 congressional report on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The section, which addresses whether Saudi Arabia was involved in the attacks, has been labeled classified and has never been made available to the public.

President George W. Bush said releasing it would damage national security by revealing intelligence “sources and methods.” President Barack Obama has kept up that wall of secrecy. But it’s past time for that wall to come down.

The overriding reason for keeping the section locked in a room in the U.S. Capitol appears to be diplomatic sensitivity, not national security. The U.S. has a strategically vital, yet volatile, alliance with Saudi Arabia, whose leaders have angrily denied that they provided any official support for the 9/11 hijackers — 15 of 19 of whom were Saudis.

Tallahassee Democrat – Local politics Zing!s

Bob Graham should retire gracefully with his integrity in tact -every vote his daughter makes takes away from his legacy. It’s like Leroy Collins having a daughter who works undo the ’64 voting rights act.

Obama is on course to become the fourth worst president, in terms of national economies, ever. Don’t know how he avoided rock bottom. Hasn’t had even one year of 3 percent growth! Bet Jimmy Carter’s relieved.

Facebook, the invasive privacy manipulator, spent $16 million for armed guards for Czar Mark Zuckerberg, a guy who doesn’t see the need for the common person to have a means of armed self-defense. OK, I will accept $16 million as an alternative means to that end, Markie.

Why is our governor trying to attract the kind of companies that would come here only because they could pay lower salaries?

Tampa Tribune — Encouraging words from Emera executive

The announcement that a Canadian power company had reached a deal to take over Tampa-based TECO Energy understandably alarmed many residents.

After all, TECO, founded in 1899, is an economic pillar in the region, one with a long history of being a good corporate citizen and supporting numerous good causes.

So it was heartening the other day to hear Rob Bennett of Emera Inc., which is in the process of acquiring TECO Energy, emphasize his company’s commitment to community involvement.

It also was encouraging to hear Bennett, speaking to local business leaders at the Florida Economic Forum Luncheon, stress the importance of transitioning to clean fuels.

Today on Context Florida: Cabinet meeting drama, Carly Fiorina, David Jolly and reproductive freedom

Today on Context Florida:

Monday’s Cabinet meeting was nothing like any of the other meetings. It was dramatic, intense, awkward, and anticlimactic — all at the same time. After four interviews by candidates for the post of Insurance Commissioner, Gov. Rick Scott read from a prepared statement and moved to appoint Jeffrey Bragg—a man whose legal eligibility for the job continues to be murky, and who is reported to have misled investors in a private sector position. The silence was deafening, reports Peter Schorsch.

Darryl Paulson calls Ted Cruz’s choice of Carly Fiorina for VP an act of political desperation. On Wednesday, one week after losing all five primaries in the Northeast and one week prior to the “must win” Indiana primary, Cruz took the unusual step of selecting Fiorina as his running mate. Donald Trump has won 954 delegates and is only 283 delegates short of the 1,237 needed to win the Republican presidential nomination. Cruz has won 562 delegates and has no path to winning the nomination outright even if he sweeps all the remaining contests.

Congressman David Jolly is trying to separate himself from the field of candidates vying to succeed Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate. This race seems to hardly register a blip on the political sonar. Despite this, Bob Sparks notes that Jolly took full advantage of multiple opportunities to get his name in front of millions.

Martin Dyckman points out that any law invading the privacy and liberties of American citizens should come into court facing a heavy burden of proof. Does it serve a compelling public interest? Is it the most reasonable — that is, the least restrictive — approach? That’s doubly true in Florida, whose state constitution contains an explicit right to privacy. That’s why the Florida Supreme Court did the right thing last week to put a hold on the Legislature’s latest mean-spirited and colossally hypocritical attack on the reproductive freedom of Florida women.

Visit Context Florida to dig in.

Gunster hosts inaugural Florida Women in Energy Leadership Forum

Florida-based business law firm Gunster, joined by a group of energy industry leaders, this week hosted its inaugural Women in Energy Leadership Forum.

The event, held at the Orlando World Center Marriott in Orlando, brought together women and men from across the state for two days of keynote addresses and panel discussions about relevant issues facing Florida’s energy industry.

Among the attendees were thought-leaders, stakeholders, industry executives and college students gathered for an engaging dialogue about the state of the energy sector.

“In highlighting what the energy industry has done to grow Florida’s economy, we hope to inform and inspire the next generation of workforce talent,” said Lila Jaber, past chair of the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) and leader of Gunster’s government affairs law and lobbying practice. “Participants had the unique opportunity to engage in a wide breadth of topics impacting Florida’s energy industry and learn from many women in energy who are leading the way for their companies.”

Keynote speakers included Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Colette Honorable, who provided a national perspective on issues impacting the Florida energy industry, its capacity and infrastructure needs.

Panels covered a variety of issues, challenges and opportunities in the energy industry to meet the growing demand of the third-fastest growing state while creating jobs in today’s energy market.

“The opportunity to meet and engage with other industry peers, many who have been trailblazers in the energy industry, was inspiring,” said Xia Liu, vice president and CFO for Gulf Power. “This is an exciting time in our industry and learning from one another helps us all serve our customers better — today, and in the future.”

Panel member Nancy Tower, who serves as chief corporate development officer of Emera Inc., addressed the audience: “Clean energy and environmental requirements are driving tremendous change in the sector. They are also generating opportunities for innovative companies and economic growth for communities. I was pleased to be part of such a constructive dialogue — one that focused on solutions and turning challenges into opportunities.”

Aleida Socarras, AVP Marketing and Energy Logistics for Florida Public Utilities Company indicated the conference created momentum for further conversation.

“I was inspired and energized by the thoughtful and frank insights shared by so many accomplished women leaders,” Socarras said. “This conference gave us an opportunity to share ideas and learn how others have successfully helped their companies and personal lives flourish. I would love to see work groups come together to continue the conversation on the challenges identified by our speakers. You walk out of a conference like this feeling nothing is impossible. Let’s keep it going.”

Nearly a dozen college students from across the state were invited to attend to learn about the state of the energy industry and to understand the potential it holds for them.

Whitney Jacobs, a student at the University of Florida, thought the conference was exceptional.

“Unfortunately, women are still underrepresented in the energy industry,” said Jacobs. “However, the Florida’s Women in Energy Leadership Forum showcased that leaders are working to change this situation, and I was honored to be a guest among them in Orlando when they discussed strategies for change. In addition to empowering women forward, the event linked female students with potential employers. It opened my eyes to an array of career paths in the energy sector. Without a doubt, my expectations going into the conference were far exceeded.”

The Leadership Forum was convened by Gunster’s government affairs law and lobbying practice, comprised of legislative lobbyists, attorneys, consultants and political analysts. The team provides a range of services in the areas of legislative counsel and consulting, PSC regulatory counsel and general administrative and regulatory law.

Holly Henderson (Gulf Power), Kimberly Greene (EVP, Southern Company), Lila Jaber (Gunster)
Holly Henderson (Gulf Power), Kimberly Greene (EVP, Southern Company), Lila Jaber (Gunster)
Lila Jaber, Gayle Lanier, Senator George LeMieux, Kimberly Greene, Robin Boren
Lila Jaber, Gayle Lanier, Senator George LeMieux, Kimberly Greene, Robin Boren