Christie: Blog poll shows Florida voters want to see former Gillum rivals out on campaign trail

ORLANDO, Fla. — Andrew Gillum the Democratic candidate for Florida Governor with his wife, R. Jai Gillum, campaigning at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades on Aug. 31. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

So last week, I raised a question that was on the minds of an increasing number of Democratic voters I was running into: Are Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s former Democratic primary rivals going to get out on the campaign trail and stump for him?

RELATED: Christie: Waiting for his Florida Democratic primary rivals to begin campaigning for Gillum

It seemed like a rather basic question; but also a strange one given the stakes in this election. A state Democratic party energized by the charismatic Gillum has most supporters — and political observers — truly believing they have a strong chance of retaking the Governor’s Mansion after a 20-year drought. Not only that, of electing the first African-American to statewide office.

RELATED: Read all of The Post’s endorsements online at www.MyPalmBeachPost.com/2018-endorsements.

I observed that neither former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, West Palm Beach developer Jeff Greene nor former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine had been seen out stumping for Gillum since the early days following his stunning Aug. 28 primary win.

I did mention that Levine stepped up with a press release in defense of Gillum running-mate, Orlando businessman Chris King, over accusations of being anti-Semitic.

Former Democratic primary candidate Philip Levine has provided financial support to Andrew Gillum’s 2018 gubernatorial campaign.

Afterwards, former Levine campaign operative Christian Ulvert reached out to let me know that Levine’s done more, and shouldn’t be “lumped in” with the others. Ulvert said that in addition to two private fundraisers, Levine has allowed Gillum’s campaign the use of a few of his former campaign offices around the state.

Noted. Financial support is important to political campaigns these days. Especially when it comes getting the message out via pricey advertising. Very important.

Arguably more important, however, is motivating people to actually vote. (After all, that is how Gillum managed to beat three more well-financed opponents in the primary.)

That’s why we asked in a poll last week: “Should Andrew Gillum’s Democratic primary opponents campaign for him in the general election?”

As of today (Monday), out of some 200 reader votes, about 72 percent gave a resounding “yes.” The post also received nearly 370 Likes on Facebook.

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One of Levine’s private fundraisers for Gillum was with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But Bloomberg went further, and actually stumped with Gillum. Following an Oct. 5 event in Coral Springs on behalf of his Everytown for Gun Safety, the possible 2020 presidential candidate appeared in West Palm Beach Oct. 6 at a Democratic Party fundraiser and then with Gillum Oct. 7 at a Century Village Jewish center in Pembroke Pines.

Voters are fickle. That’s why turnout is so crucial. Maybe it won’t matter to Democratic loyalists and crucial No-Party Affiliation (NPA) voters when they don’t see Gillum’s former rivals out on the stump with him, and they will show up at the polls anyway. Maybe.

And if you haven’t taken our poll yet, you can get to it here.

Christie: Waiting for his Florida Democratic primary rivals to begin campaigning for Gillum

Democratic gubernatorial candidates, from left: Andrew Gillum, Jeff Greene, Chris King, Philip Levine, and Gwen Graham participated in an hour-long debate at WPBF television studios in Palm Beach Gardens on August 2. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Has anyone seen former Congresswoman Gwen Graham?

How about former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine?

Where has West Palm Beach developer Jeff Greene been since Aug. 28?

Not since a big Kumbaya “unity” rally in Orlando days after Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s historic victory in the Democratic primary for Florida governor (minus Greene), has anyone heard from three of Gillum’s primary opponents on the campaign trail.

RELATED: Watch Editorial Board interviews of the 5 Democratic gubernatorial candidates.

I mean, one can kind of understand why Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is not out stumping for Republican primary winner Ron DeSantis. Putnam was practically measuring the drapes in the Governor’s Mansion before the Parkland shooting and President Donald Trump reared his ugly head.

But the Dems always gave off this vibe of being respectful, if not friendly adversaries.

So are they low-key campaigning? Maybe recording robo-calls? Or saving themselves — and their money — for the home stretch?

Gillum, the first African-American to secure a major party gubernatorial nomination in the state’s history, picked Orlando businessman Chris King to be his running mate as lieutenant governor. The two apparently clicked and became “bros” while campaigning during the primary race.

There was less “clicking” with Graham, as the consensus front-runner became the focal point of attacks from her all-male competition. Less so by Gillum’s campaign, but more so by a PAC that supported the mayor and whose negative message he refused to publicly disavow.

Graham, the Post Editorial Board‘s pick to win the Democratic primary because it was felt she had the best shot of winning in the general, may still be smarting too much from those attacks to drop everything and campaign for her former rival. Or maybe Gillum just hasn’t asked.

Levine wasn’t heard from until a few weeks ago, when he stepped forward with a statement defending the Gillum campaign after Republicans looked to paint Gillum as an anti-Semite for bringing on King, who had made anti-Jewish comments when he was a college student. This was first dredged up during the primary campaign and King apologized then.

As for Greene, the question is not whether or not he should be out campaigning but whether he is writing any checks to the Gillum campaign, or any other Florida Democratic election efforts. If he has, it hasn’t been substantial enough to be publicized, a’ la fellow billionaire Tom Steyer. But we should remember that during the primary campaign, Greene — who wanted to radically improve public school education in Florida — did promise to financially support the primary winner and other Democrats.

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So, with time to campaign in a tight gubernatorial race coming down to the wire, one has to wonder whether Florida voters — especially those on her home turf of North Florida — will see Graham out stumping for Gillum to help give the party the best chance it’s had of taking back the Governor’s Mansion in 20 years.

It’s tough to see Gillum pulling off the victory without Graham enthusiastically campaigning for him. The same can be asked about Levine, and Greene’s ample checkbook.

But then, no political expert saw Gillum pulling off the primary upset either.

Take our poll here, and tell us what you think they should do.

Christie: Is Gov. Rick Scott to blame for the worsening red tide, toxic algae blooms?

Lifeguards at Riviera Beach beach wear covering over their faces. The life guards (did not want to give names) said that if asked they would advise people not to risk a beach visit. Many beaches remains open Sunday morning while others remained closed to to Red Tide warnings. (Melanie Bell / The Palm Beach Post)

For years now, coastal Palm Beach County residents has been able to watch the environmental disasters caused by toxic blue-green algae and red tide from afar.

We’ve watched our neighbors to the north in the Treasure Coast have their lives buffeted; our fellow county residents to the west in the Glades have their way of life threatened; and our fellow coastal residents in Southwest Florida shutter businesses.

RELATED: Beaches remain closed due to ‘airborne irritant’

But that was before this weekend. Before the red tide we’ve all been reading about elsewhere in the state was suspected of making the air so bad here that local health officials in Martin and Palm Beach counties were forced to shut down 27 miles of beaches.

Health officials, on Monday, were still trying to confirm that it is indeed red tide that forced beachgoers — especially those with respiratory issues — to stay away, and had many complaining about burning eyes.

Jill Desplain brings her daughter Quinn in from the surf. She is visiting from Kentucky and and was unaware of the red tide warnings. Riviera Beach beach remains open Sunday morning while other beaches are closed due to Red Tide warnings. (Melanie Bell / The Palm Beach Post)

Apropos that at the center of it all is Gov. Rick Scott and his dismal environmental record of budget cutting and lax regulation. But will county residents blame Scott for if the red tide disaster has indeed made it to our shores?

If it is red tide, this may be a game-changer for Scott — who prides himself among other things on shamelessly promoting our state’s all-important tourism industry. The embattled governor, who has already been taking hits for weeks in every coastal community he deigns to visit, usually sees Palm Beach County as a sanctuary for the Scott train. In fact, he was just here a couple weeks ago raising money in Palm Beach with former President George W. Bush.

RELATED: Editorial: Scott must answer for environmental malpractice

That was then. Today, drivers can see signs for “Red Tide Rick” hanging from Florida’s Turnpike overpasses in the county. And again, if health officials confirm that red tide is the cause of the current “airborne irritant” at our beaches, Scott may have to scratch another coastal haunt off of his U.S. Senate campaign tour for a while.

Take our poll here, and let us know what you think: Is Scott’s handling of the environment to blame for the worse-than-normal red tide and toxic blue-green algae blooms?

Christie: Voters questioning Florida’s closed primary elections — again

Even municipal elections, which are non-party races, can be affected by closed primaries on the same ballot. (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post)

It never fails.

Every Florida primary election, thousands of voters from Milton to Marathon vent frustration about heading to the polls (or filling out a mail-in ballot) and once again not being able to vote for the major party candidate.

I understand their frustration. As a registered independent or No Party Affiliation (NPA) voter myself, it’s a little rough feeling like a player who keeps getting left out of the game. But that’s the system we all signed up for here in the Sunshine State.

Florida is one of just 11 states that have strictly “closed primaries” — that is, primaries in which only registered Republicans can vote in the Republican primary, and only registered Democrats in the Democratic primary.

A growing number of Floridians believe state lawmakers should think seriously about joining the 11 states that allow open primaries, in which any voter can cast a ballot in either party’s primary. Or the 24 states that have a mix of rules, with some allowing voters to cross party lines to vote, others that allow unaffiliated voters to participate.

RELATED: Primary election day should be independents’ day as well

Thought Florida Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam would be the best gubernatorial candidate for the Republican Party? Tough.

Thought former Congresswoman Gwen Graham would be the best standard-bearer for the Democrats in the same gubernatorial contest? Too bad.

Or how about voting for your choice of which Democrat or Republican would best represent you in the state House or Senate? Sorry, you’ll have to wait until November.

Not surprising then that an increasing number of Florida voters are losing patience with this current “closed” system that shuts out some 27 percent of registered voters — read that, taxpayers.

That’s more than a quarter of Florida voters who are now choosing to identify as NPA. Why? Because they are tired of major party politics that produce lawmakers doing a poor job of lawmaking. And that’s a trend that many political observers say needs to be addressed.

A small crowd of voters streams into the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Office on S. Military Trail in West Palm Beach as the doors open for early voting. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

A couple other factors: the number of registered voters, both Democrat and Republican, who regularly cross party lines during general elections; and the remaining “Dixiecrats” in the state who haven’t voted for a Democrat since Harry S. Truman but don’t bother to change their party affiliation.

Post readers have weighed in this over the past couple of weeks.

From Allen Smith of Port St. Lucie:

Open primaries can lead to shenanigans

In a situation where one party has an incumbent running while the other party has four or five folks contending for the right to represent their party, it is possible and very likely that people registered with the established candidate’s party will cross over and vote for the least likely candidate of the opposing party.

In Michigan, where there are open primaries, this cross-party voting has taken place on numerous occasions; when there are a number of candidates running for a position, just a few votes can make the difference in who wins the opportunity to represent the party.

By swaying the election in the primary, the opposing party can assure victory in the general election. This is called political shenanigans and has prevented many good candidates from being the choice of their own party…

From Ann Malachowski of Tequesta:

Primaries should be open to all

I felt the pain of the letter writer who attempted to vote in the recently held primaries. I also attempted to vote 20 years ago, as a newly transplanted Florida resident, as an independent. Such an archaic, nonsensical law.

There is good news, however. The organization Florida Fair and Open Primaries is trying to add a constitutional amendment to the election ballot to change Florida primary elections from a closed political party system to a voter-nominated top-two open primary system.

I suggest that you look them up sign their petition then get everyone you know to do the same.

From Wayne Whitson of Lake Clarke Shores:

Nonpartisans should not get say in primary

I highly disagree with the letter “NPA voters shut out of primaries” (Tuesday).

Primary elections are “partisan business matters” conducted by the members of Republican and Democratic parties. This is how the main political parties select their slate of candidates for a general election.

If you choose not to be a member of either the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, why do you feel entitled to vote in Republican or Democratic primary elections?

Using religion as an example, why should a rabbi or ordained minister (of any faith) be allowed to have a say as to who will become the next pope of the Roman Catholic Church? The obvious answer is: They can’t; they’re not members of the Roman Catholic Church…

And from Leslie Shenkel of Greenacres:

Independent, non-affiliated should not vote in primaries

Many independents and many non-affiliated voters feel they should have the right to vote in the Democratic and Republican primaries. Let me tell them why they don’t and shouldn’t have.

These two organizations are semi-private clubs. Anyone can join the club, but you have to join. I live in Palm Beach County. I can not vote in Miami-Dade County. If I wanted to vote in Miami-Dade, I just have to move to Miami-Dade. No one could stop me, but I would have to move.

Move to where you want to vote. New York, California, Florida, Palm Beach, Miami-Dade or Democratic Party or Republican Party.

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Clearly, this debate isn’t going away.

The two major parties are not going to do anything that dilutes their power and influence. But why should they? As mentioned above, opening their primary makes the process susceptible to bad actors.

Still, as the rolls of NPA voters continues to grow, so do their own power and influence — especially as taxpayers.

And it gets harder for state lawmakers to ignore the cries of, “I want in!”

Tell us what you think by taking our poll, and leaving a comment here.

Christie: 2018 election: Florida’s environment don’t get no respect, no respect at all

Although Florida’s economy is heavily dependent on the environment, most political candidates are loathe to put, and keep those issues out front during a campaign.

The state’s environment could use a little more respect from political candidates this election season.

For the past several weeks, candidates have been trying to figure what issues are most important to voters. With some individual races as tight as they are, every hopeful running — be it for county commission or state senate — knows hitting on that one topic that resonates with voters can move the needle just enough to eke out a win. (Well, that and spending a lot of money on the campaign in the last couple weeks.)

RELATED: Post endorsements for the 2018 primary elections

But what are those hot-button voter issues?

Is it education? We do have a flashpoint issue in school security. There’s is also the much bigger issue of our K-12 public schools being in the bottom fifth in the nation. And Florida’s horrendous teacher pay has actually resulted in a shortage of about 4,000 teachers statewide to begin the 2018-19 school year.

Is it the economy? We do have this issue that, despite all the jobs created the last several years, too many residents complain they need two or three of them to make ends meet. That’s what happens when most of the jobs created are minimum wage. Meanwhile, the cost of housing is going through the roof in many places like, well, Palm Beach County.

Is it the environment? Or as I call it, “the Rodney Dangerfield of primary ballot issues.” Voters are witnessing a red tide causing massive fish kills, and manatee and turtle deaths up and down the Southwest Florida coast. They are watching the ongoing green goo affectionately known as “toxic blue-green algae” find its way into the backyard waterways of Treasure Coast residents. And of course, there’s that long-term, existential threat to our very way of life that everyone fears but few want to talk about: sea level rise. (That’s right, I said it.)

RELATED: The Environmental Issues Facing Florida This Election Season

In a survey released by the USA Today Network and Florida Atlantic University in June, voters said the environment was their No. 3 concern after economy and school safety, respectively. But unlike these first two, environmental issues cannot seem to get and/or maintain traction on the campaign trail.

How can that be, one might ask, when dead manatees are floating into marinas? How can that be when water is submerging roads and parks during King tides? And how can that be when several Martin County beaches — Jensen, Stuart, Bathtub and Hobe Sound  — are the latest to close as blue-green algae and red tide continue to spread throughout the state of Florida.

Venting on social media by irate residents about red tide and blue-green algae has gotten so bad that law enforcement is on edge.

A 250-pound Goliath grouper floats in the water in Sanibel, where red tide is killing millions of fish in Sanibel. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

And on August 13, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency over the ongoing toxic red tide bloom.

“The red tide, which grows offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, has drifted toward the coast and is being blamed for killing scores of animals, including manatees, turtles, and thousands of fish,” reported Palm Beach Post staff writer Kimberly Miller.

But around that same time, when he had the opportunity to confront Treasure Coast residents about the blue-green goo that’s ruining their fishing and boating, Scott elected to do the equivalent of a boating flyover — leaving residents and their questions hanging.

Algae in the Caloosahatchee River beside the W.P. Franklin Lock and Dam in Alva, Fla. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

The governor-turned-U.S. Senate candidate isn’t much different from his political brethren on this front; though most can seem to muster a bit more face-to-face compassion. Still, when Democratic gubernatorial candidate Phillip Levine tried to ride his sea-level-rise street cred to the top of the ticket, it didn’t work that well. Sure, voters like that stuff. But who can focus on an environmental threat when another candidate is accusing you of being a supporter of President Donald Trump, and guns are blazing at high school football games?

As a result, the environment gets pushed to the back-burner in a state that built its image off of sunshine and beautiful beaches. The state’s three-legged economy — tourism, agriculture and real estate — is so dependent on the environment that every storm season holds the potential to lay waste to all three. Witness: Hurricane Irma.

But so short is our attention span in this era of breaking news that environmental issues, even when they are staring us in the face daily — again, I mention toxic red tide and green algae — can’t keep a politician’s attention. Today, for example, in the wake of a mass shooting at a gaming tournament on Sunday in Jacksonville, gun control is the topic du jour.

Sigh… maybe it will be different in the general election campaign.

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What do you think?… Should the environment be a higher priority for Florida politicians?

Take our poll, and leave a comment.

Christie: Why our debate over banning plastic straws is really starting to suck

Because of sights like this, more and more people are open to banning plastic straws. (Photo provided by the Loggerhead Marinelife Center.)

The debate over single-use plastic straws is building up fast. But what really sucks is that there is any debate at all — especially in coastal counties like Palm Beach.

Do we really need to use plastic straws?

On Sunday, my wife and I ate lunch at one of our favorite spots, the Old Key Lime House in Lantana (two reasons: UF Gators, and shrimp and grits). Our waiter brought us glasses of water, but did not give us straws until we asked.

He explained that the iconic restaurant, which sits on the Intracoastal Waterway, is moving away from using plastic straws because of the environment and potential dangers to marine life — like our beloved sea turtles. Apparently, even if folks don’t intentionally throw straws into the water, many end up there through carelessness or error.

Diane Buhler uses this cup of straws to illustrate plastic pollution on the beaches during her lectures. (Palm Beach Daily News)

For, example, the waiter said straws drop on the floor and are then blown out into the Intracoastal. According to conservationists, sunlight and wave action then break the plastics down into rice-sized bits that are consumed by marine life and become part of the food chain.

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So the Old Key Lime House is phasing the plastic straws out over the next couple of years and going with biodegradable paper straws.

Turns out, they’re not the only local restaurant or resort that environmentally-conscious. Tired of waiting for local government officials to get their act together, outfits like the Breakers and Surfside Diner are taking the matter of purging plastic straws into their own hands.

“We are committed to the environment and sustainability and have been working along these lines for many years now,” said Nick Velardo, the Breakers’ vice president of food and beverage operations, told the Palm Beach Daily News’ William Kelly.

Even corporate behemoth Starbucks has said it will get rid of plastic straws in its 28,000 outlets by 2020.

But local government officials are indeed listening. Palm Beach Town Councilwoman Bobbie Lindsay plans to propose at the council’s Wednesday meeting that it refer the issue of banning single-use plastic straws to its Ordinances, Rules and Standards Committee for study.

“There’s no reason why we have to have these things,” Lindsay told the Daily News.

The lunch crowd at Daniel Ponton’s Surfside Diner use paper straws in their beverages. Ponton plans to provide only paper straws this season at Club Colette. (Meghan McCarthy / Daily News)

In Jupiter, the town’s beach committee unanimously recommended on July 23 a resolution to ban plastic straws to the City Council. The committee did not support an ordinance, as some people wanted, which would have fined businesses for using plastic straws. So the council instead unanimously approved a resolution to start a town-wide education campaign — which they hope will allow for a friendlier approach and emphasize education.

RELATED: The final straw: Jupiter council supports education, not plastic ban

The Delray Beach City Commission is considering phasing in a ban on plastic straws as part of a proposed ordinance requiring restaurants, bars and other beverage purveyors to supply plastic straws only upon customers’ request.

Miami Beach. Fort Myers Beach. Sanibel Island. An ever-growing number of Florida municipalities are seeing their role as protectors of the waters and environment that many of their businesses thrive on as something that needs to be taken a bit more seriously.

In St. Petersburg, business owners and elected officials in April unveiled a “No Straws St. Pete” campaign that asks restaurants and residents to voluntarily curb their use of plastic straws and utensils. As of early June, more than 100 businesses were participating.

And it’s not just Florida. The cities of Seattle as well as Oakland and Berkeley in California have all banned the straws, and similar legislation is pending in Hawaii.

So why can’t this be done everywhere; or should it be?… Take our poll and leave a comment here.

Christie: McGlockton shooting pushes limits on ‘Stand Your Ground’ defense

The Rev. Al Sharpton led Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidates in a rally at a Clearwater church on Sunday calling for the repeal of Florida’s controversial Stand Your Ground law.

Is it right for someone who initiates a confrontation to then hide behind “Stand Your Ground” as a defense when they shoot and kill the other person?

That’s the basic question that seems to be coming out of the latest high-profile shooting of an unarmed back man in Clearwater, Fla.

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You’ve heard the story or seen the dramatic video by now: On July 19, Michael Drejka, 47, shot and killed Markeis McGlockton, 28, in a convenience store parking lot. According to Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputies, Drejka confronted McGlockton’s girlfriend, Britany Jacobs, about parking in a handicap space without a permit.

McGlockton went up to Drejka and “slammed him to the ground,” the sheriff’s office said. Drejka, seconds later while still on the ground, pulled out his handgun and shot McGlockton in the chest. The father of three was pronounced dead soon after.

It should come as no surprise, with all of the national attention on such shootings, that debate over the incident has entered the realm of politics. To be sure, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri first lit that debate fire by announcing the day after the shooting that he would not charge Drejka because the changes in the stand your ground law signed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2017 muddied the waters too much.

But lawmakers and candidates on both sides of the political aisle disagree. Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidates joined the Rev. Al Sharpton at a Clearwater church on Sunday to call for the repeal of the state’s controversial stand your ground law. And on Friday, Democrats in the Florida Legislature reached the 20 percent goal to force a poll of members on the question of an unusual election-year special session to change the “stand your ground” self-defense law.

Meanwhile, the Republican frontrunner for governor, Rep. Ron DeSantis, is joining Democratic and Republican critics alike in believing that Drejka should not have Stand Your Ground immunity: “I support the right of Floridians to defend themselves by standing their ground against aggressors. That said, it doesn’t seem to me that the law is even applicable in the case of Markeis McGlockton, and I don’t think the Pinellas County sheriff analyzed the law properly.”

Markeis MCGlockton

Jacobs, 25, has called McGlockton’s shooting a wrongful death, and has hired civil rights attorney Benjamin L. Crump Jr., who also represented the family of Travyon Martin after he was shot and killed by wanna-be cop George Zimmerman.

While Zimmerman didn’t end up using stand your ground as a defense, police didn’t arrest him at first because of it.

At a recent news conference, Crump pointed out that, like Drejka, whom he labeled a “self-appointed, wannabe cop,” Zimmerman pursued Martin instead of letting law enforcement take over.

“It’s still ludicrous how you can claim that you have fear of your life but yet you approach and start the confrontation with the individual,” he told reporters.

Closer to home, you may remember that Crump also represents the family of Corey Jones Jr., the Delray Beach drummer who was gunned down in October 2015 by then-undercover Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja. Raja has been charged in Jones death, and is attempting to use a stand your ground defense.

Jacobs says McGlockton was her high-school sweetheart. The pair had been together since 2009, when she met him at a friend’s house while attending Dunedin High School.

They stopped at the Circle A Food Store at 1201 Sunset Point Road on the way home from picking Jacobs up from her job as a certified nursing assistant to grab chips and drinks. Jacobs parked in the handicap spot, she said, because the parking lot was busy and they were just stopping for a minute.

The couple’s 4-month-old and 3-year-old were in the car. Their 5-year-old, named after McGlockton, was in the store.

Drejka then shot McGlockton, later telling Pinellas deputies he was in fear of further attack.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri discuss the controversial shooting of Markeis McGlockton during a news conference discussing the Stand Your Ground Law at the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Administration Building in Largo on July 31. (Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times/TNS)

According to legal experts, it generally doesn’t apply when the confrontation is just verbal, barring any threats of violence.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who again has said the stand your ground law precludes his agency from arresting Drejka, has taken a similar stance. At a recent news conference, the sheriff, who is a lawyer, said what was “merely a discussion about why she’s parked there … didn’t provoke the attack.” His agency has forwarded the case to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office to decide whether to press charges.

Tell us what you think by leaving a comment and taking our poll.

Christie: Publix fires warning shot in fight over fake service animals… and it’s about time

Publix has posted new signs at the entrance and exits to stores telling customers which service animals are permitted in the store and where they can be. (Greg Lovett / The Palm Beach Post)

It’s the supermarket showdown that we’ve all been waiting for: grocery shoppers versus pets in shopping carts.

And this one could get ugly. I mean fur — and maybe feathers — flying everywhere.

Beloved grocery store giant Publix Supermarkets Inc. appeared to set up this battle royale when over the weekend various news outlets reported the venerable chain was finally laying down the law with regard to service animals in their stores.

Publix has posted new warnings signs at store entrances and exits telling customers which service animals are permitted in the store and where they can be.

“For food safety reasons, only service animals that are specifically trained to aid a person with disabilities are permitted within the store.

“Service animals are not permitted to sit or ride in shopping carts.

“Thank you for your help!”

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That’s right, no more BOGO help from Fido… OK, not exactly.

But let’s be honest, too many folks have been taking this “service” or “emotional support” animal thing too far selfishly infringing on other folks’ space. They abuse federal laws and company policies that seek to help others living with disabilities. And that’s just wrong.

Socks, left, greets trained service dog Charlie Brown, right, during his “Red, Rover, Red Rover, A Hero Comes Over” reception at the Eastpointe clubhouse in Palm Beach Gardens. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Publix obviously does allow legitimate service animals in their stores. It would be foolish, for example, to ban seeing-eye dogs or a canine providing support to a U.S. military veteran suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

And that’s not at all what the popular Lakeland-based chain seems to be aiming for with the new signs.

In fact, company spokesman Dwaine Stevens told the Orlando Sentinel on Friday that Publix has always had the policy about service animals, but the signs are for awareness. But the signage — which includes an encircled paw print with a slash through it next to type set off in bold that gives a no-no to let your dog ride in a shopping cart — is by design.

The Americans with Disabilities Act allows individuals with disabilities to take service dogs into many public businesses, including restaurants, hotels and stores. It also stops businesses from requiring certification to let animals in.

But a growing number of customers have tormented eateries, airlines, condo boards, et.al by calling all sorts of “pets” — like peacocks, squirrels, pigs and hamsters — “service” or “emotional support” animals. As a result, several states — including Florida — have moved to crack down on people potentially abusing federal disability laws to take their pets into businesses.

Earlier this year Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines tightened restrictions on emotional support animals, banning animals such as goats, salamanders and hedgehogs.

American Disability Rights seemed to champion Publix’s new signs in a tweet it posted that read “Four on the floor! and had among its hashtags, #stopdisabilityfraud.

Another group on Twitter, StairStepDogTraining, also praised the initiative in a tweet directed at Fox 35’s reporting on the Publix signs in Lake Mary, Fla, stores.

“Real service dogs don’t ride in carts,” the tweet read. “They cannot do their job if they are confined in a basket. Emotional support animals are NOT service dogs. People need to quit being frauds with their dogs.”

Still, this isn’t likely to end here as folks tend to really be attached to their pets, no matter the critter’s species. That means, we can expect that some shoppers will push the envelope, despite the new signs warning about an old store policy.

After all, pet owners can still purchase a “service animal” vest online. What’s to stop a customer from doing that and wrapping their little Teacup Yorkie in a pink vest and cradling it in her arms while strolling up and down the store aisles.

There is still a question of whether a Publix store manager can ask the owner whether the dog is a legit service animal. That’s apparently still forbidden under federal law…. so what then?

Take our poll, and tell us what you think:

Christie: Can Florida drivers get a pass from SunPass?… I hope so.

SunPass has been beset with problems since the start of an “system upgrade” in early June. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

A former boss of mine was fond of saying: “You know technology is working the way it should when you don’t have to think about it.”

I’m reminded of this because like tens of thousands of Florida drivers these days, I’ve been wondering what the heck is going on with SunPass — the state’s automatic billing/collecting platform for toll roads from Wildwood to Wilton Manors.

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You see, if you drive a good amount for work or pleasure — especially between Interstate 4 and Alligator Alley — SunPass is one of those “conveniences” that we’ve all come to despise and depend on every day.

That’s why the mess that has been made of the online toll system since June 1 has got so many drivers who frequent Florida’s Turnpike, for example, spouting more noxious fumes than their vehicles.

And now these drivers — many, taxpayers footing the bill for this botched “upgrade” — are beginning to question whether they should shoulder the burden of tolls. And rightly so.

Around June 5, the SunPass Centralized Customer Service System went offline for what was supposed to be a week’s worth of upgrades. But work on the system dragged on for nearly a month, during which time SunPass customers continued to accumulate toll charges, but could not track them.

RELATED: Florida is still paying SunPass contractor, even after officials said they would stop

Many SunPass users have had difficulty using the customer service website, call line and app, and have seen wrong charges posted to their accounts — or no charges posted at all, despite passing through toll booths. Conduent State & Local Solutions, which has a $287 million contract with the state to run customer service technology for Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise, is working through a backlog of at least 100 million charges that weren’t processed.

Even though its tolling problems still haven’t been resolved, the state amended a second contract with Conduent on July 1, awarding the company about $100,000 more — paid in $10,000 monthly increments — to install new tolling software, hardware and equipment.

SunPass users are understandably pissed. And one can hardly blame them.

The state seemed to be a bit perturbed too. Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Mike Dew called the delays “completely unacceptable.”

“The department anticipates and expects that Conduent will continue to improve the operations of the SunPass call center, the website interface, the functionality of the mobile application interface and the availability and reliability of SunPass Plus, so that SunPass customers are provided the premium level of service they are entitled to expect,” Dew wrote in a July 16 letter to Conduent President David Amoriell.

Amoriell advised the week prior that the company had already made “substantial improvements in recent weeks and will continue to strive for your complete satisfaction.”

The issues remaining from the upgrade include the effectiveness of the SunPass website and mobile application; issues related to multiple charges being applied through the payment processing system; and problems with the expanded SunPass Plus application at airports, which was slow or unavailable in responding to airport gate systems when customers entered or exited parking facilities.

MIAMI– Sunpass-only Express lanes entrance sign on the Northbound I-95 Express lanes between I-195 and NW 61st Street. (Miami Herald Staff Photo by John VanBeekum)

As part of the conversion, SunPass Plus parking was expanded from Orlando International Airport to include Miami International Airport, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, Palm Beach International Airport and Tampa International Airport.

But since then, both PBIA and Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood have shut down the SunPass Plus application because it was still having problems.

Dew, in the July 16 letter, told Maryland-based Conduent that the state was halting payments to the company until all the changes in the $287 million SunPass Centralized Customer Service System project are deemed “fully operational.”

Not so, according to Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis’ website. A day after Dew sent the letter, FDOT paid Conduent more than $265,000. On July 19, FDOT paid Conduent almost $10,000 more.

The second payment was tied to a different 10-year contract with Conduent worth more than $13 million that was signed in April 2017. According to the CFO’s website, that contract is for Conduent to provide “information technology consultation services” as a “toll equipment contractor” — the same service as the first contract.

RELATED: SunPass customer starts petition to waive tolls citing botched upgrade

Meanwhile, according to The Palm Beach Post’s Jodi Wagner, Orlando food delivery driver Mike DiMauro has started a petition asking SunPass to waive all tolls incurred by customers during the disruption of service to its customer service system. DiMauro also wants Conduent to pay for them.

“Why should we, the SunPass customers, pay for the tolls during their outage?” he told Wagner. “It’s SunPass and Conduent’s fault, not ours. Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi should go after Conduent and sue them for the toll money during the outage, not getting it collected from the customers.”

A novel idea? One that could certainly catch on?

DiMauro began his petition, in part, because he expects to be hit with a huge bill once all his transactions are posted. The petition, which has been shared on social media, was at 2,221 signatures as of Friday morning. DiMauro is still hoping to get more.

“I hope to get the attention of the state government and have action be done so that it would help the drivers out there,” he said.

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Facebook Live: Teens talk about Parkland shooting’s impact, gun violence

Call them Generation Parkland.

Though they were miles from the gunfire that killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four months ago, they have been changed by it nonetheless.

“People are still devastated by these events,” said Donyea James, who just finished her junior year at American Heritage Boca/Delray High School. “It’s always on your mind: ‘What if it happens at my school? What if it would happen if I’m outside, or if I was the bathroom?'”

After the shootings, Keyiela Wilborn said she began checking on friends’ and classmates’ moods. The Palm Beach Lakes High school senior was looking for signs of possibly dangerous disquiet and encouraging them to talk if things are getting them down.

“It’s hard after these events to look at people the exact same way as you did before,” said Wendon Roberts of Spanish River High School. “But instead of thinking, ‘Oh, he’s being weird, I just better stay away from him,’ you have to think of it as, ‘Maybe this person really needs help.’ And that can stop a lot of these problems.”

Six teenagers, referred by the Urban League of Palm Beach County, talked with Rick Christie, editor of the Palm Beach Post Editorial Page, about the impact of gun violence in their communities and on their psyches. The Wednesday evening discussion was broadcast on Facebook Live.

The mass shooting at the Broward County high school spurred activism in the Palm Beach County students: they marched, held vigils, started organizations. “You want to do something not just to raise awareness, but to make a change,” James said.

Sterling Shipp and a friend had started a political science social group in the fall at Palm Beach Gardens High School. After Parkland, gun violence was the subject of every meeting. Attendance swelled. Even teachers came.

“It allowed us to have open dialogue,” Shipp said. “A lot of students came out, because they’re passionate about this.”

Gun violence hit close to home in other ways.

Wilborn said that, growing up in West Palm Beach and having relatives in Miami, “we hear about shootings all the time.” She knew a boy, “a wonderful kid, football player,” shot to death about a year and a half ago.

Roberts said that a classmate in 6th grade named Eduardo was killed along with his mother and brother in a domestic-violence shooting.

Christian Morales, just graduated from Suncoast High School, said a close friend and classmate named Brandon was shot and wounded in a drive-by while going for a walk with his brother.

Watch here: