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August 19, 2016

Zika jump from Wynwood to South Beach scrambles Miami-Dade's tourism message


With the Zika transmission on Miami Beach, national attention shifted from a relatively obscure city destination to a locale that largely defines Miami's tourism brand.

A 2015 survey by the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau found 77 percent of the county's tourists visited South Beach, making it Miami-Dade's most popular destination. Wynwood fell near the bottom of the list, with just five percent of tourists naming the emerging gallery and restaurant district. 

The expansion beyond Wynwood also foiled the tax-funded tourism bureau's messaging, which was based on the virus being geographically confined to an area north of downtown Miami. "There's only one square mile," Bill Talbert, president of the bureau, said before a special meeting the Miami-Dade County Commission called Aug. 9 to address the Zika crisis. "That's one square mile in 2,400 square miles. You can go to South Beach, you can go to downtown, you can go to Doral." 

Now Talbert faces the first grave tourism threat since the 2008 global financial crisis plunged travel into a depression. The Zika outbreak falls during a slow stretch of the tourism calendar, and a time when hurricanes used to routinely scramble bookings and cost the $36 billion tourism industry days, if not weeks, of lost sales. But the travel advisory for pregnant women imposed on Miami Beach Friday was the only second time Washington has warned against visiting somewhere in the United States. The first was issued Aug. 1 for Wynwood.

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Charlie Crist plays the boogeyman in Florida GOP primaries


AP Photo


Charlie Crist famously left the Republican Party six years ago, but the GOP isn't quite ready to let him go.

In Republican primary races statewide, the ex-governor's signature white hair and deep tan are as much a staple of GOP contests as yard signs, Obamacare opposition and National Rifle Association endorsements.

In Panama City, supporters of Republican Congressional candidate Mary Thomas slammed Neal Dunn, her GOP rival for Congress, in a television ad calling him a liberal and declaring that he backed Crist because he donated to him in 2009. Never mind that Crist was still a Republican then. Dunn's supporters returned fire with ads blasting Thomas for working at the Department of Community Affairs when Crist was governor and "collecting her paycheck" after Crist left the Republican Party.

Three hundred miles east near Jacksonville in another Republican congressional primary, John Rutherford and Hans Tanzler have both pointed to donations the other made to Crist more than seven years ago as proof they lack conservative credentials. And while Rutherford's campaign has hit Tanzler for being appointed by Crist in 2008 to the St. Johns River Water Management Board, Tanzler's team points out Rutherford had a longer relationship with Crist that went back to a 2001 campaign donation Rutherford gave Crist during his run for Attorney General.

And in the U.S. Senate race, Republican Carlos Beruff has been running ads aimed at Fox News audiences comparing Sen. Marco Rubio's presidential ambitions to Crist's political aspirations. The charge comes from Beruff who himself has been criticized for attending a Crist fundraiser in Sarasota in 2010 after Crist left the Republican Party.

In short, Crist has become a potent weapon in Republican primary races. More than just being a Democrat, Crist touches a nerve with activist Republicans years later because of his 2010 party exit.

"Obviously he is a pariah to Republicans," said Brett Doster, campaign manager for Tanzler in the 4th Congressional District race near Jacksonville.

Full Story Here

Independent U.S. Senate candidate vows to 'unite people through song and dance'


If there is one state where an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate is going to have disputed ties to Ozzy Osbourne, surely it has to be Florida.

That’s the case this year because of Steve Machat, a former music industry attorney, who is now trying his hand at politics.

“I love politics,” Machat said during a stop in Tallahassee to promote his campaign. “I love people. Music and politics is the same thing. You put together a team you want a dream. You go make it happen. And your message is to unite people through song and dance.”

Machat, who has lived in Miami since 2011, said he’s been a registered Republican and a Democrat before, but decided against aligning with any party for his first ever run for higher office. He said when a group he was speaking to recently asked if he was Republican or Democrat, “I said to them, ‘how about if I’m human,’” Machat said recounting the experience. “And I said ‘we are all human when you get down to it. That is what I’m doing, I’m running a human campaign to unite people.’”

Machat, who features a picture of him and Sen. Marco Rubio on his website, is one of four little known candidates who have qualified to be on the November general election ballot for the U.S. Senate as candidates with no party affiliation, in addition to the eventual nominees that will be decided on Aug. 30 for the Republican, Democratic and Libertarian parties. To qualify the candidates had to pay nearly $7,000.

Machat, son of longtime music industry attorney Marty Machat who represented the Rolling Stones, says he followed in his father’s footsteps and helped represent dozens of musicians, including Osbourne. After Steven Machat was quoted in Radar Online earlier this summer as a “former manager” for Osbourne in the 1980s, Osbourne’s official Facebook social media page responded with a statement from Osbourne saying Steven Machat “NEVER managed me nor was he employed by me in any capacity at any time in my career.”

Though he is running to beat him, Machat said he has nothing against Rubio personally, but said the nation needs someone who can help heal the partisan divide.

“I can help unite us. I have a 50 year history of uniting people,” Machat said.

Hillary Clinton's new ad focuses on Latino families


On the same day that Donald Trump released an ad in Florida attacking Hillary Clinton on immigration, she released an ad featuring Latino families.

From the script:

"We go to work because others depend on us. Hillary Clinton gets it: standing up for families and children has been her life's work. Under her plan working parents get relief from the cost of child care and a path to debt-free college, equal pay for women and time off to care for family. Building an economy that works for everyone -- not just those at the top because we are stronger together." 

The ad is running in multiple swing states including Florida.


Florida's botched 2015 statewide assessment costs testing company $4.8M

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After almost 18 months, the Florida Department of Education says it has finally resolved its settlement with the company that botched the roll-out of Florida's new statewide standardized test in 2015.

In a statement this afternoon, the department said its withholding payments and/or getting reimbursements from American Institutes for Research worth a total of $4.8 million.

AIR was responsible for overseeing the first Florida Standards Assessments, a new statewide standardized test that debuted in spring 2015. The test administration was plagued by technical glitches and other problems that prevented some students from logging in to the exam or repeatedly interrupted their progress during it.

The state DOE at the time said the problems were caused by, first, a computer update AIR ran on the eve of rolling out the new tests, and then by a cyber attack.

"We vowed to hold AIR accountable, and most importantly, to ensure students have a positive testing experience going forward," Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said in a statement Friday.

State officials said that the Florida DOE "withheld payment to AIR for the 2015 administration until the company delivered a successful test administration in 2016." There were no major issues with the tests this spring.

"We are very pleased with this year’s test administration, and Florida’s students, parents and educators can have confidence in the statewide assessment system," Stewart said.

As part of the settlement over the 2015 debacle, the state DOE said it "will withhold permanently 100 percent of the amount allocated to the 2014-2015 Help Desk and 30 percent of the cost for 2014-2015 computer-based test delivery."

Additionally, AIR will reimburse the state for the full amount of a third-party review of the FSA that the 2015 Legislature ordered to assess the accuracy of the exam results. The contract for the study was worth almost $600,000.

The review's findings sparked debate, because it found the test results, as a collective, could still be used to issue school grades and evaluate teachers -- while at the same time, it advised that individual test scores might be "suspect" and shouldn't be used to determine whether students should be held back a grade or denied a high school diploma.

Map: Where's your nearest early voting site?


Starting Saturday, voters statewide can start casting ballots in the Aug. 30 primary election.

Early voting already began in some counties -- including Hillsborough -- but every county has to start by Saturday.

A group of environmentalists have built an easy tool to help people find their nearest early voting location. Voters can cast a ballot early at any polling location in their county.

Here's the link to the map tool, built by Florida Conservation Voters.

The group supports Amendment 4 a constitutional amendment to give tax exemptions for solar panels. Any registered voter can vote on the amendment, even if they are not a member of a political party.

Gov. Scott reiterates Zika prevention tips to colleges, universities, Miami-Dade officials


After the state confirmed Friday that Zika cases are spreading in Miami Beach, Gov. Rick Scott spoke to Miami-Dade officials and college and university leaders on conference calls, urging them to continue Zika prevention efforts.

Empty standing water, wear bug spray and use condoms, he and state Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip said in each of three calls. Scott also criticized the federal government for not providing enough resources for Zika prevention and test kits.

"I've repeatedly called on the federal government for these and at this point, they haven't provided additional resources," he said.

The feds have sent the state $9 million in emergency funding and dispatched a team of experts to South Florida, where the virus continues to spread. Scott has allocated more than $26 million in emergency state money.

The governor will return to Miami on Monday, he told county officials.

Friday afternoon's calls echoed earlier teleconferences with other groups: Scott and Philip updated the groups on the latest information but did not answer questions. He directed them to call him if they had more questions.

He did the same with state lawmakers two weeks ago, much to the chagrin of some, including state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, who called it "ridiculous."

"What I don't understand is why do you call a press conference with the entire Legislature and refuse to take input from them?" she told the Times/Herald after that phone call. "If he got input from us, he’d have a better product."

However, he did not break much new ground Friday. Scott emphasized a public information campaign by the state's college and university systems to inform their students about the threat of Zika and how to prevent it.

"Build a relationship with your county health department," Scott said. "You've got to put a lot of effort into making sure there's no standing water." 

PolitiFact Florida: Can medical pot make you high?


Medical marijuana has many uses, according to supporters of Florida’s Amendment 2, but getting high is not one of them.

Kim McCray, outreach director for United for Care, said in an Aug. 11 South Florida Times op-ed that the well-known euphoric effects of cannabis aren’t an issue.

"What is also important to know is that although some debilitated patients may require higher levels of THC than others based on their specific medical condition, medical-grade marijuana alone, will not get that patient ‘high,’ no matter what level of THC, CBD or any other compound is found in the plant," McCray wrote. She pointed out that medical cannabis can not only be smoked, but be packaged as ointments, oils, pills and skin patches.

It sounded peculiar to us to say that medical marijuana can’t get you high, regardless of the chemical content. We checked with some experts to clear the air.

Keep reading from Joshua Gillin of PolitiFact Florida.

Can Debbie Wasserman Schultz catch up to Tim Canova's fundraising?


Can U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz catch up to Tim Canova's fundraising haul with less than two weeks to go?

Canova raised $3.3 million while Wasserman Schultz raised $3.1 million through Aug. 10, campaign finance reports show. It's rare for a first-time candidate to raise more than a long-time incumbent -- but he did it with the help of Bernie Sanders' fans across the country.

Since that date, Wasserman Schultz's additional reports show that she raised about $100,000 more. Dollars raised in the homestretch can help the candidates advertise and with get out the vote efforts, but it's also a matter of pride for Wasserman Schultz to show she can ramp up her fundraising machine when she needs it. 

The Democrats are competing in the Aug. 30 primary in a Broward/Miami-Dade district.

- With Nicholas Nehamas