Florida recount: ‘A conflicted state in a conflicted country’

By: Joshua Ceballos

News Director for FIU PantherNOW

The ballot machines are overheating, and so are Florida voters as the recount of the gubernatorial votes drags on in Broward and Palm Beach counties.

In the midst of the state recounting its razor-thin election results, protesters and political experts are calling for the removal of Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes.

At the Florida Priorities Summit on Wednesday, a panel of political reporters panelists discussed the issues at play in Florida’s election and what needs to be done to make sure the State is no longer “the problem child” of the country.

Marc Caputo, a reporter for Politico Florida, said that Snipes has seen the writing on the wall and that she cannot continue if Florida wants to avoid this issue again.

“She’s running a really incompetent operation, and we need to get rid of her,” said Caputo.

Caputo echoed the sentiments of Republican protesters present outside Snipes’ office on Monday.

Sofia Manolesco, Republican protester outside the Broward Supervisor of Elections office. (Photo by PantherNOW)

Rachel Smolkin, the executive editor of CNN Politics, said that what’s at work in Florida is a fundamental issue of democracy.

This is a repeat of the Bush vs. Gore scenario but in a time when things are really heated,” said Smolkin.

Part of the problem when it comes to exceedingly close elections, according to Caputo, is media coverage. He said that the media has the responsibility to make sure the public has a realistic expectation for election results.

We grew so accustomed to our electronic media and instant info that the senate race was called a little early, and we should’ve prepared the public that official returns don’t show up until later on,” said Caputo.

Smolkin called Florida a “conflicted state in a conflicted country,” and agreed with Caputo that the media can do a better job of easing this conflict.

Election night is a big night, but it’s not the only night. We can do a better job of setting up expectations of the people about the timing of elections,” Smolkin said. 

The issue comes not only from public perspective but also from an operational standpoint on the part of elections offices in South Florida.

In Palm Beach County, the recount continues to lag behind due to overheating of ballot machines on Tuesday, Nov. 13. The overheating has required Palm Beach to restart their counting process.

Caputo said that these machines are the same ones that were used by Theresa Lepore, former Palm Beach County supervisor of elections during the contentious presidential election recount between George Bush and Al Gore in 2000. These machines were problematic then, and they’re problematic now.

If Florida wants to avoid these issues in the future, they have to learn from the past, according to panelists at the summit.

Miami Herald Editor Amy Driscoll covered the recounts in Florida in the 2000 election, and she said that things are looking very similar today to the situation then, although the stakes are different.

Back then, the State did not have statutory provisions for statewide recounts for close elections that it does now, said Mark Seibel, national security editor for BuzzFeed News, but many of the same issues are happening.

Here we are in 2018 with machines that can’t do the job they’re designed to do, and with misleading ballots,” said Seibel. “I thought the state had made great strides since 2000,  but they didn’t go far enough.”

Better public transportation is a mind game AND a money game, Florida Influencers say

By Devoun Cetoute

University of Florida / WUFT.org

Underpaid bus drivers, cutbacks on services and decaying bus stops are some of the issues the Gainesville Regional Transit System has faced in the past year.

In a survey of 50 influential Floridans for a project on setting the agenda for Florida’s future, 40 said increasing resources for buses and local mass transit  should have been a top priority for candidates in the recent election, according to the Miami Herald.

On Tuesday, many of those influencers met in Miami to discuss solutions to five issues deemed most pressing by the public: healthcare, transportation and infrastructure, education, the environment and gun safety.

The influencers broke off in discussion groups to tackle these topics during the first day of the Florida Priorities Summit hosted by the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald and the Bradenton Herald.

Five were given the task to find a solution to the rising concerns about transportation and infrastructure.

Michael Finney, president and CEO of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, said the way to combat this issue is to change people’s habits and not depend on new technologies. He went on to say that depending on public transportation is more convenient, saves time and leads to a healthier life style.

“We need to get people excited for public transportation,” he said.

Margaret Lezcano, managing director of UBS, and Chris Caines, executive director of the Miami Urban Future Initiative, said that some ways to pull people into public transport would be to upgrade and buy buses, expand routes and improve bus stops.

However, Finney said that course of action would only address the symptoms and not the larger problem.

Caines believes that Floridians lack the desire to use public transportation, and it’s out of history and habit.

“Florida is a sunbelt state,” he said. “A lot of communities grew up around the car. When you start from a place of sprawling suburbs and car ridership and then after the fact build in mass transportation it is challenging.”

The panel decided that there were questions that needed to be answered that would lead to solutions.

Some of them being: How will we create inter-mobile apps that display information from different types of transportation; How will we embrace smart city infrastructure; How can we redirect toll road revenue for transit?

During the final day of the summit, the panel will share proposed solutions to the challenge.

While the panels talks and decisions fit a large county with bustling metropolitan areas, Caines gave some insight on what a small county like Alachua and a mid-size city like Gainesville is facing and what can be done.

Listen to the discussion here:

Why some of us can’t stop thinking about guns

By Grace Wehniainen

University of Miami Hurricane

As a native of Parkland’s next-door neighbor, Coral Springs, I live in a community changed by gun violence. These days, who doesn’t?

Here, you never stop thinking about guns, and how they can harm—because even on everyday drives to Walmart, you see Douglas, and remember the lives that were lost there.

And the airport.

And your friend’s college campus.

And at—well, you get the idea.

That feeling—of confronting gun violence, even in the most mundane of places—is not-so-slowly growing more familiar to Floridians, and to the nation as a whole, too. So I was eager to listen to the experts, a roundtable of Florida influencers, talk about guns, one of five key priorities discussed at the Florida Priorities Summit on Tuesday.

The discussion was refreshing. It provided a level of practicality and professionalism we don’t often get to see in political “talks” with family and friends. Based on a common understanding that there is, indeed, a problem, the assortment of influencers were able to work based on that foundation—that something needs to be done.

What that something is, though? TBD. Equal in their intentions yet disparate, sometimes, in their idea of execution, members of the table formed a sort of microcosm for the larger debates happening throughout the state and country.

That disparity was highlighted, particularly, by deliberation on gun access.

Mary Anne Franks, a University of Miami law professor, emphasized the need for making it harder for everyone to get guns. Bob McClure, though, president of the James Madison Institute, likened her suggestion for a stricter system to a kind of “gun version of the IRS,” and said the average law-abiding citizen should not be subject to increased restrictions.

(But as Franks said, a law-abiding citizen is only law-abiding until they aren’t.)

Of course, the conversation continues. I forget why I expected there to be some sort of unanimous group vision from the get-go—but now I know that even these esteemed, experienced influencers can disagree on the carrying-out of gun control. That’s not really a bad thing, though. If they were to approach the issue from a perfectly cohesive perspective—no issues, no “buts” or “I-don’t-think-sos”–then surely whatever plan they put out would have a hard time winning over the other 50 percent of the population come next Election Day.


Florida Influencers and UF students yearn for solutions to the gun debate

Florida Influencers and UF students yearn for solutions to the gun debate

By Christina Morales

University of Florida /The Independent Florida Alligator

Gun violence continues to touch Florida backyards with recent shootings in Tallahassee and Jacksonville.

In Miami on Tuesday, a search for solutions by panel of Florida Influencers echoed the concerns raised byUniversity of Florida students interviewed more than 300 miles away.

These influencers, part of the Florida Priorities Summit, brainstormed ways to slow the cycle of gun violence.at the first day of a workshop in Miami. They  talked about topics such as mental health, background checks and domestic violence. Many of their solutions, despite some disagreement, echoed the concerns of UF students interviewed in advance of the Miami summit.

Here’s how two university students and two influencers look at the problem.


Julia Tiplea

University of Florida marine sciences junior

Age: 20

From: Las Vegas, moved to Parkland


Photo of Julia Tiplea by Taylour Marks at the Independent Florida Alligator.

It was already a jarring week for Julia Tiplea after she saw the results from Tuesday’s midterm elections.

Her week grew worse when she woke up to the news of the Thousand Oaks shooting in California that killed 13 people.

Any gun violence deeply affects her life. She lost her friend Quinton Robbins in the Las Vegas shooting and then five months later, her brother hid from an active shooter in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“There’s no good way of talking about this without being emotional,” Tiplea, a member of the March for Our Lives Gainesville, said. “Gun violence is not a partisan issue, it’s a human issue.”

Tiplea said it’s a common misconception to think she wants to infringe on the Second Amendment or take away guns. She said she wants to push for common sense gun reform. The most effective piece of legislation would be thorough background checks.

“It’s not an issue of trying to take away guns,” she said. “It’s just an issue of trying to prevent bad people from getting guns.”     

Victor Santos

University of Florida advertising junior

Age: 22

From: Brazil, moved to West Palm Beach

Guns were only for cops and thieves in Brazil where Victor Santos grew up.

When Santos moved to the U.S. with his mom at age 12, he learned that guns were a means to protect himself and his family.

Every individual should have the right to bear arms — even military grade weapons to be able to defend from the government, said Santos, the vice president of the conservative University of Florida of Young Americans for Freedom. Restricting law abiding citizens by age wouldn’t be fair.

Examining the mental health of people with guns, having deeper background checks and addressing mental health at an early age are some of the long-term solutions to the problem, Santos said.

The March for Our Lives movement has woken up many in America, but his problem with the movement is that it only drives short-term solutions.  

“Emotions are valid,” he said. “But you need to remove yourself from the emotional solution to be analytical to come up with a solution for both the short term and the long term.”


Mary Anne Franks

University of Miami law professor

Age: 41

From: Arkansas, moved to Miami

Mary Anne Franks thinks people are looking in the wrong place to find a solution to gun violence.

Franks said it starts with dismantling the culture that makes male shooters deadly. The root of the problem comes from men who feel out of place, don’t get what they want and feel a need to control and resort to violence and rage.

She said men own more guns than women and the vast majority of male shooters have a history of domestic violence.

“If we don’t confront that issue, we’re never going to get out hands on the gun violence issue,” Franks said.

Confronting the issue starts with raising children to feel comfortable with disappointments in life, she said. Working on this and backgrounding could help solve the problem.

“We could start tomorrow by making sure boys can accept rejection,” she said.

Leigh-Ann Buchanan

Venture Cafe Miami 

Age: 32

From: Canada, moved to Miami

With gun safety and public safety, Leigh-Ann Buchanan said there are opportunities for policy changes.

Buchanan said she wants to review Stand Your Ground statutes, something she was involved with as the chairwoman of the American Bar Association’s National Task Force on Stand Your Ground laws.

Clearer statutes would eliminate confusion for law enforcement in stand your ground investigations.

“I have a passion for safe communities and policy that focuses on valuing life and the ability for people to thrive,” she said.

Florida in “existential crisis” over climate change, influencers say

By Michelle Marchante

Editor-in-Chief FIU PantherNOW

Inconsistent communication and lack of awareness are just some of the reasons why Florida is in a “existential crisis” over climate change, according to environmental influencers who attended the first day of the Florida Priorities Summit at the University of Miami on Tuesday.

“Just like the Cuban Revolution took everything away, sea level and climate change will take everything away,” said Xavier Cortada, an artist-in-residence at Florida International University who is using his art to raise sea-level rise awareness.

Cortada is one of the Influencers participating in Florida Priorities, the two-day summit that is part of an ongoing project hosted by the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald and the Bradenton Herald.  The series has used questions from readers and responses from 50 Florida experts from various disciplines to identify the key challenges facing the state. 

He is also one of six environmental panelists in this year’s summit, along with Tiffany Troxler, director of science at FIU’s Sea Level Solutions Center.

Sea-level rise dominated the group’s discussion Tuesday afternoon as they tried to figure out why Floridians didn’t take the rising waters seriously and what they could do to change it.

The problem, according to Cortada, is that people look at things through an “economic prism,” and don’t realize that sea-level rise will affect them or their families in the future.

Fabiola Fleuranvil, CEO of Blueprint Creative Group, also said that information inconsistency is another layer of the problem, whether it’s between state entities or politicians. Julie Wraithmell, executive director of the Audubon Society and chair of the priority group, agreed.

“Everyone’s good with science when it’s easy,” Wraithmell said. “But everyone is shopping around for the science that is convenient [for them] when it’s not easy.”

David Mica, executive director of Florida Petroleum Council, however, defended the Legislature, saying that most of them want to do the right thing and that it’s important to recognize the progress that has already been made.

Despite small disagreements between Mica and Cortada, the group unanimously agreed that Florida needed to invest in green energy, increase educational awareness and have more media coverage of the environmental problems plaguing the state, such as red tide. However, Troxler said it’s not enough to just raise awareness.

“We need to go beyond the doom & gloom…have a singular focus on what can be done to solve issues,” Troxler said.

Finding a low-cost solution that doesn’t have negative results, however, is a challenge, according to Jorge Perez, chairman and CEO of Related Group, especially in an age of “instant gratification” where people want results immediately.

The red tide plaguing the state has drawn Floridians’ attention to their water, which is where it needs to be right now, Wraithmell said. That’s especially true if that attention can be drawn to the restoration of the Everglades, the largest ecosystem preservation project in the United States, she said,

“By recreating the wetlands, we make sure Florida is livable,” she said.

The panel will report their final decisions on the second day of the summit. Other priorities that will be discussed are education, health care, guns and infrastructure transport.


For Florida Influencers, education is top issue, but solutions aren’t easy

By Christian Ortega
The Reporter—Miami Dade College

The future of our country depends on a well-rounded education. But
as tuition costs and national debt increase, there has never been a more important time to find cost-effective ways to provide the next generation of Americans the tools they need to succeed.

That was one a primary takeaway at the first day of the Florida Priorities Summit, a Miami Herald effort to identify the key issues affecting the state.

A panel of education experts — —including Miami Dade College President Eduardo J. Padrón, American Federation of Teachers Vice President Fedrick Ingram, eMerge Americas CEO Felice Gorordo and United Way of Miami-Dade CEO Maria Alonso—discussed how to further improve the system our state has in place.

The Influencers also discussed the challenges of balancing the needs of public education with the growth of charter schools.

“Florida has seen education as an expense, rather than an investment,” Padrón said.

As Florida has increased funds to the Bright Futures Foundation, Padrón fears that there will be a limit to the number of students relying on financial aid to cover their tuition. That’s because Bright Futures is dispersed based on high school grades, and financial aid is determined by student need.

“The system is designed in a way that excludes many underrepresented populations,” Padron said. “Our state, and our nation, simply cannot afford to lose talented and dedicated students because it’s too expensive to go to college.”

Lawyer Stephen Zach, another member of the education discussion group, said “I have friends of mine who are very wealthy who did not have to pay for their children’s college education….I would ask them how they feel about it and their response was simply, ‘That’s how the system is.’”’

Because Bright Futures is measured by grade point average, it does not take into account extenuating circumstances a student may have that can impede them from attaining the grades required to qualify for the scholarship.

Their solution revolved around finding ways to ensure that ]scholarships are awarded to those who meet the gpa requirements and simultaneously require financial assistance.

The issue of teacher wages was of importance to the Influencers as well.

In last week’s  midterm elections, Miami-Dade voters agreed to a special tax in order to pay teachers more and hire enough officers to protect each school. By July 2019 the county is expected to collect $232 million.

Florida Priorities Summit identifies the state’s most pressing issues

By Alfonso Flores

Florida State University

One week after the midterm elections, the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald and Bradenton Herald are hosting the Florida Priorities Summit as part of their “Florida Influencer Series.”

The two-day summit, at the University of Miami, brought together experts from across Florida to use their expertise to propose solutions to the major challenges facing the state: education, gun violence, healthcare, transportation and infrastructure, and environment.

“We went out to the influencer group and said ‘what are the top critical issues that we need to address,’” said Alexandra Villoch, president and publisher of the Miami Herald. “We also went out to readers across the state and invited them to come back and give us their ideas. There was a remarkable amount of consensus that led to these being the top topics.”

Using a crowd-sourcing tool, the Miami Herald asked readers across Florida which issues and topics mattered most.

“The number one issue that the influencers identified as most important to Florida’s future is education,” said Julio Frenk,  president of the University of Miami. “Education is truly the engine that makes progress possible in all other areas: the economy, the environment, social justice and healthcare.”

At the event, the influencers were divided into groups, each of which focused on one of the five different topics., and explored potential solutions to some of the hottest topics facing the Sunshine State.

“Between the work of the influencers today and the summit tomorrow where we invite the community in, our goal is that we will prepare documents that we deliver to our new governor and to our new elected officials in Tallahassee and to the local officials,” Villoch said. “We want to continue this through the 2020 elections and we want to make sure that we have civil engaged discourse that really speaks to the real issues that we have.”

Hillsborough and Broward counties have money to spend on transportation, but will it matter?

By Tim Fanning

University of South Florida St. Petersburg

The Sunshine State is growing, and Florida’s infrastructure and transportation networks need a growth spurt to keep up.

Some counties, including Broward and Hillsborough, recently approved sales tax increases to unclog highways and improve public transportation. But for that to work, Floridians need to change the way they think about getting around.

“You can have all of the funding in the world, but if you’re not going to change the way people think about buses or trains, you’re done,” said lawyer Carlos Garcia-Perez, one of six experts seeking solutions to Florida’s transportation challenges during the Florida Influencer Summit on Tuesday.

Earlier this year, 80 percent of the Influencers — a group of 50 of the state’s leading figures — said increasing funding for buses and local mass transit projects was “very important.”

Even as cities invest in massive expansions of rail and bus systems, choice and personal situations will always be a factor hindering most metro areas from expanding public transportation, said Michael Finney, the president and CEO of Miami Beacon Council, the economic development organization for Miami-Dade County.

“Providing more choices in line with our personal situations is key to changing behavior,” said Finney.  “People primarily focus on their personal situation, factoring in speed, comfort and cost when figuring how they’d like to travel.”

A major obstacle to improving urban travel is human behavior, according to a 2017 Conduent survey, which surveyed people in 23 cities around the world to better understand their habits, needs, perceptions and expectations of transportation.

The report showed that cities need to provide a good reason why people should give up their cars. Otherwise, people will stick to what they know.

But many areas in Florida, including Tampa Bay, public transportation is limited.

In other American cities, public transportation helps connect the working poor to jobs, schools, shopping and health care. That social safety net barely exists in the Tampa Bay area.

Out of the country’s 30 largest metro areas, the region ranks 29th in four of six common ways the federal government measures public transit coverage and usage, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The lack of efficient bus or rail service forces many of the working poor to devote huge chunks of time to getting back and forth to work, the Times found.

So when public transportation is so poor, how do you encourage more riders?

There is no magic way to convince people to use public transportation when it isn’t their only option, said Chris Caines, the executive director of the Miami Urban Future Initiative, a think tank at Florida International University.

“It’s a chicken and the egg type thought,” said Caines. “Not enough people ride these transit options in order to make them viable because they’re not good enough. But the transit won’t be good enough unless people ride them.”

Before spending millions on massive transportation overhauls, Caines suggested transportation planners focus on micro changes such as improving buses and routes in heavily populated areas and ensuring that bus stops are sheltered or close to air conditioning.

“You’ve got to make it appealing,” said Caines. “Sometimes little adjustments can go a long way.”

Florida Influencers to discuss state priorities in two-day summit

By Michelle Marchante

Editor-in-Chief at FIU PantherNOW

A host of Florida influencers, including three from  Florida International University, met at the University of Miami on Tuesday to discuss community-driven issues ranging from transportation to healthcare.

The two-day summit, hosted by the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald and the Bradenton Herald, is part of an ongoing project that has been driven by reader responses over the past few months, and features 50 state leaders from various disciplines ranging from education to healthcare to the arts.

The main priorities discussed in this year’s summit are education, the environment, health care, guns and infrastructure/transportation.

Of the six environmental panelists, two are FIU-affiliated: Tiffany Troxler, director of science at FIU’s Sea Level Solutions Center and Xavier Cortada, an FIU artist-in-residence who uses his art to raise awareness about sea-level rise.

Another Influencer with ties to  FIU, Chris Caines, executive director at FIU’s Miami Urban Future Initiative,  served as the chair for the infrastructure transport panel.

Student journalists across the state, including from FIU Student Media, were  invited to cover the event.

The two-day summit aims to conclude with recommendations on how Florida might solve key challenges facing the Sunshine State. The proposed solutions  will be shared with the newly elected state Legislature and the governor.

Day two of  the summit will include discussions of the midterm election results, the ongoing recount and next steps on the issues tackled by the Influencers.