Elhame Shala, left, and husband Raif greet former President Bill Clinton after his speech on Oct. 11 in Safety Harbor.
It was 1999 when the Shala family first met Bill Clinton.
He was still president when he visited the refugee camp in Macedonia, where the Albanian family of 30 fled after war pushed them out of Kosovo, their southeast European home near Serbia.
The camp had little shelter, no food and no showers. Disease was spreading fast. When Clinton arrived promising to help the hundreds of thousands of people there relocate to safer parts of the world, the Shalas told him they wanted to go to America.
Less than a month later, U.S. officials brought them to Safety Harbor, where they still live today — and where earlier this month, they finally got to thank the man who they say helped bring them to this country.
To family patriarch Raif Shala and his wife, matriarch Elhame, the 42nd president of the United States saved their entire family.
When they got word that the former president would be campaigning for his wife, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, just a few miles from their home, they rushed to wait in line for him. …
Irate Florida tax collectors say they are being forced to turn away thousands of customers because of repeated breakdowns in the state database that stores records of millions of drivers licenses and car and truck registrations.
"Our customers are livid," Hillsborough Tax Collector Doug Belden wrote in an email on Monday. "There appears to be a major problem." His chief IT expert, Kirk Sexton, described the breakdowns as "severe" and wrote in a memo that the glitches also affect law enforcement's ability to run checks on motorists.
"Totally unacceptable," Manatee County Tax Collector Ken Burton wrote in an email. He said his front-line staff members who deal with customers report a problem every 3.7 days between April 1 and Sept. 30 of this year.
It's not new. The creaky database has been plagued by problems for years, and the Legislature has appropriated money to modernize it. But the crashes continue and they're driving tax collectors crazy. …
More than 16,000 people voted early in Palm Beach County Monday. Some voters waited in line for nearly two hours at this library in Palm Beach Gardens.
The first day of early voting in Florida coupled with steady returns in vote-by-mail ballots has pushed the total ballots cast to 1.6 million, two weeks before election day. More than 300,000 people voted early on Monday, with county-by-county reports still coming in.
True to form, Republicans are holding a lead in mail ballot returns while Democrats have the advantage in early voting. As of early Tuesday morning, Republicans accounted for 42 percent of returned mail ballots and Democrats 39.7 percent.
In early voting, a much smaller total number so far, Democrats are doing better than Republicans. Democrats accounted for nearly 45 percent of early voters on Day 1 and Republicans 39 percent. Early voting will continue in some counties through Sunday, Nov. 6. Hillary Clinton will rally early voters on Tuesday at Broward College's Coconut Creek campus while her running mate, Tim Kaine, works Palm Beach County's early voters. Donald Trump campaigns Tuesday in Sanford and Tallahassee. …
State Rep. Dan Raulerson, R-Tampa, was elected to the Florida House in 2012. A lawsuit alleges his campaign qualifying paperwork is illegitimate.
State Rep. Dan Raulerson should have an easy path to victory. The Tampa Republican lives in a district that leans right and his Democrat opponent has raised less than $5,000.
But a state circuit court judge in Tallahassee could upend all of that following a hearing Tuesday afternoon.
Raulerson's opponent, Jose Vazquez Figueroa, filed a lawsuit last month alleging that Raulerson tampered with a notary's signature on an official filing required to run for office. Vazquez says that on Raulerson's personal financial disclosure -- called a Form 6 -- White-Out was used to change the date of the notary's signature.
State law doesn't allow that. It says that if changes have to be made to notarized documents, they must be struck out by drawing a line through them.
It's a technicality, but Vazquez, who does not have a lawyer, argues it makes Raulerson's candidacy illegitimate because all qualifying papers have to be correctly filled out and notarized for a candidate to run. He has asked Circuit Judge Charles Dodson to invalidate Raulerson's candidacy. …
Disgusted with their choices for President, some Florida voters plan to protest by writing in another candidate (University of North Florida President John Delaney said he'll write in House Speaker Paul Ryan). Really? That's a wasted vote.
The only write-in votes for president that will count in Florida are for any of six qualified write-ins who filed candidacy papers: Andrew Basiago, Richard Duncan, Cherunda Fox, Zoltan Istvan Gyurko, Laurence Kotlikoff and Anthony Valdivia. Writing in anybody else, like Mickey Mouse, Bernie Sanders or Allen West, is an exercise in futility.
Your vote for president won't count. It might make you feel better, but it's a meaningless protest.
Speaking of votes counting or not counting, several election supervisors (Deborah Clark in Pinellas, Brian Corley in Pasco and Susan Gill in Citrus) report getting phone calls from voters asking this question: If I skip the presidential race and leave it blank, will the rest of my ballot still count? The answer, of course, is yes. Any voter has the right to skip any race on the ballot. …
In his latest ad attempting to discredit his Democratic opponent, David Rivera is now pinning the blame on his longtime foe, former Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia, accusing him of "obsessive attacks against David Rivera." The ad inexplicably also offers up a subliminal message, showing a logo for Granma, the Cuban government paper.
Garcia defeated Rivera, who was hoping to be re-elected to Congress in 2012. Garcia then lost the seat to Carlos Curbelo, a Republican, in 2014. Curbelo and Garcia are now in a re-match.
Rivera's ad is being run on Spanish language television and features his discredited claim against Robert Asencio, his Democratic opponent in the House District 118 race. Asencio, an army veteran and 26-year member of the Miami Dade Schools police department, is 'a criminal,'' the ad claims, referring to unsubstantiated and dropped complaint from the parent of a child who was disciplined on a school bus in 2003. …
Former Florida State Seminoles head coach Bobby Bowden on stage speaking in support of Donald Trump during the rally at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa on Monday.
Legendary former Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden vouched for Donald Trump during his rally tonight in Tampa.
"I love his slogan ... I love what he said about making America great again," said Bowden, who came out to the familiar FSU chant. Bowden said his wife had already voted for Trump and that his daughters will, too.
Tim Kaine, usually tasked with pillorying Donald Trump, zeroed in Monday on a different Republican target on the Florida ballot: Marco Rubio.
Kaine used a Miami campaign stop on the first day of early voting to cast Rubio as hypocritical for denouncing Trump during the GOP presidential primary while still endorsing him in the general election.
“He called Donald Trump ‘dangerous,’ and he called Donald Trump a ‘con artist,’ but he’s supporting Donald Trump. I mean, ‘Con Artists for Trump,’” Kaine said. “I don’t get it.”
He spoke at a rally held on the same Florida International University campus where Rubio has worked as a popular political science lecturer.
Kaine echoed President Barack Obama, who bashed Rubio last week at a Miami Gardens speech intended to boost Hillary Clinton and Rubio’s Senate rival, Patrick Murphy. Whether Clinton will adopt a similar approach when she campaigns Tuesday in Coconut Creek remains to be seen. …
The choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is not even in question for Adam Putnam, the Republican many expect to be a leading contender for governor in 2018.
Putnam, the state’s elected agriculture commissioner, told reporters on Monday that Trump was not his first, second or even third choice for the Republican nomination, but he won fair and square.
Asked if he is going to still vote for Trump, Putnam answered: “Absent of some cataclysm, I believe that the change he’s going to bring to this nation, his underlying views and philosophies as it relates to the role of government and taxation in peoples’ lives, are preferable to Hillary Clinton’s.”
Putnam supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for the GOP nomination, even campaigning with him in the early primary states. After Bush dropped out, Putnam got behind Marco Rubio. But once Trump secured the nomination, Putnam said he would vote for Trump because he was the GOP nomination.
But along the way, Putnam has openly criticized Trump for “running his mouth about the most ridiculous things.” …
Can the Florida Everglades become a political weapon? The Everglades Foundation, a non-profit that is banned from campaigning, hopes to find out this week as it launches a 12-day bus tour to drum up public support for its No. 1 priority: the purchase of sugar land south of Lake Okeechobee to be used for water cleansing marshes.
With a shrink-wrapped bus emblazoned with the words NoworNeverglades, the organization is hoping to seize on the public's election-year focus and crisscross the state to win support for the post-election policy -- Everglades restoration, said Eric Eikenberg, director of the Everglades Foundation.
"It's that season and everybody is focused on the election,'' he said. "People are tired of toxic algae in the water and we are calling attention to the role clean water, and our water supply has on economics and tourism." …
More details are in on Hillary Clinton's planned campaign stop Wednesday in all-important Hillsborough County.
She'll have an early-vote rally at 2:45 p.m. at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.
Doors open at 12:15 p.m. You can RSVP for tickets here.
It's a huge week for Florida and the presidential campaign. Donald Trump is in Tampa tonight, with more campaigning planned tomorrow in Sanford and Tallahassee. Clinton arrives in Florida for events Tuesday. And President Obama is coming to Orlando on Friday.
Get the day's five most important links in Florida politics in an email from the Tampa Bay Times' political team, including Adam Smith and Alex Leary, sent at 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
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For Florida political news today, the Buzz is your can't-miss-it source. Tampa Bay Times writers offer the latest in Florida politics, the Florida Legislature and the Rick Scott administration. Keep in mind: This is a public forum sponsored and maintained by the Tampa Bay Times. When you post comments here, what you say becomes public and could appear in the newspaper. You are not engaging in private communication with candidates or Times staffers.