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Have you declared a party? Time is drawing near

SEBRING — When presidential elections roll around, some people complain that they don’t have a choice of candidates, but they actually do.

With the Presidential Preference Primary taking place on March 17 — early voting is March 7-14 — and the general primary for local and state offices on Aug. 18 — early voting is Oct. 22-31 — people do have a chance to choose, if they belong to that party.

Supervisor of Elections Penny Ogg said citizens 18 and older have until Feb. 18 to register to vote in the presidential primary and until July 20 to vote in the local/state one. Those are also the deadlines for when they can declare a party.

If people favor a candidate from a certain party for an office, and that person has competition from within the party, the only way to choose that person, Ogg said, is to vote in the primary.

They also have to belong to that party, Ogg said.

Florida is a closed primary state, which means voters have to belong to a party if they want to select which candidate from that party will go on to the general election to run against the opposing party’s candidate.

That’s true for the presidential election, congressional seats, state offices, county officials and municipal government, she said.

If multiple candidates from one party are running for the same office, and they have no opponent from an opposing party, that contest can be decided at the primary by all voters.

However, if all those same-party candidates have even one opposing candidate from any party, the only way anyone can decide which one of the same-party candidates will go on to the general election is through a primary.

And again, to pick from those same-party candidates, a person needs to belong to a party.

Those deadlines are the date to declare a party, if a voter plans to do it, Ogg said. It’s not necessary to belong to a party to vote, but it is necessary to select a candidate to run for a party in that party’s primary.

For some races, like The School Board of Highlands County or county/circuit judges, candidates do not declare nor have to identify as being in one party or another: The seats are nonpartisan. Typically, those seats are decided during the primary, and are on ballots for either party as well as for non-party voters.

The general election will be Nov. 3, and the deadline to register for that one is Oct. 5.

The Presidential Preference Primary on Feb. 18, requires a declaration of party affiliation to vote, for both Democrats and Republicans, since both parties have multiple candidates.

The one contest that affects Highlands County and will require a primary election in August, and thus a party-affiliation to vote for those same-party candidates, is for State House of Representatives, District 55. Republicans Ned Hancock and Kaylee Tuck, both of Highlands County, are facing off in the primary. The winner will face Democrat Tony J. Munnings Sr. in the general election.

The following contests have multiple candidates from the same party, but no candidate from the opposing party, and will be decided in the August primary election by all voters, regardless of party affiliation.

Candidates in all races are listed in alphabetical order according to last name, and when applicable, incumbents are noted:

- Highlands County Clerk of Courts, between Republicans Don Elwell, Kyle Green and Jerome Kaszubowski.

- County Commission District 2, between Mary L. Bengtson, Shird Smith Moore II, Kathleen G. Rapp and Joedene Elizabeth Thayer.

- County Commission District 5, between Republicans Greg Harris, incumbent, and Vicki Pontius.

The following offices would be decided at the August primary, because no challenger has yet filed to run. As long as the candidates are unopposed, they would be elected by acclamation, no matter how many votes they receive:

- U.S. House 17th District, Greg Steube (incumbent).

- Tenth Judicial District State Attorney Brian Haas (incumbent).

- Tenth Judicial District Public Defender Rex Dimmig (incumbent).

- County court Judge Anthony Ritenour (incumbent).

- Highlands County Sheriff Paul Blackman (incumbent).

- Highlands County Property Appraiser Raymond McIntyre (incumbent).

- Highlands County Tax Collector Eric T. Zwayer (incumbent).

- Highlands County Supervisor of Elections Penny Ogg (incumbent).

- Highlands County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brenda Longshore (incumbent).

- School Board of Highlands County District 2 Donna Howerton (incumbent).

- School Board of Highlands County District 3 Jan Shoop (incumbent).

The following two races have only once candidate from the two major parties and must be decided at the Nov. 3 general election, along with the presidential race:

- County Commissioner District 1 between Democrat Carmelo E. Garcia and Republican Kevin Roberts.

- County Commissioner District 3 between Republican William Ron Handley (incumbent) and Democrat Bobbie Smith-Powell.

Sebring Chamber presents awards at annual banquet

SEBRING — It was a Winter Wonderland theme Thursday evening at The Greater Sebring Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Banquet & Awards Ceremony at the Sun ‘N Lake Golf Club.

Many chamber members and officials attended as they celebrated another year of successful efforts to support the business community and the community in general.

Chamber President and CEO Liz Barber and current Board Chair J.C. Shoop shared the master of ceremonies duties with Shoop announcing the award winners.

The Business of the Year award went to The Children’s Museum of the Highlands with Children’s Museum Board Member Jessica Hartline accepting the award on behalf of the museum director, Kelly Dressel.

It was noted that many contributed to the effort to reopen the museum on North Ridgewood Avenue after it sustained major damage from Hurricane Irma.

The “George Hensley” Citizen of the Year award went to Leslie Behm of Hope Haven Transitional Housing, Inc.

The “Thelma Pyle” Volunteer of the Year award was presented to Deb Semrau.

The Ambassador of the Year award was presented to Linda Udall.

The Director of the Year award went to Shannon Sapp.

Tenille Drury-Smith was recognized as the outgoing chair and was presented with a plaque showing her term of 2018-19. She served longer than the typical one-year term as chair because in the summer of 2018 the chair at the time was relocating so Drury-Smith became the board chair sooner than expected.

Drury-Smith’s outgoing message in the event’s program stated that one of the chamber’s biggest projects is the Sebring Soda Festival. This year it is moving to a three-day event with the addition of a block party on Saturday and a family night on Friday.

“With the growth we have seen the first two years, it’s expected to have up to 20,000 attendees in 2020,” she said.

The Sebring chamber’s board of directors includes: Maritza Ayala, Brian Cosgrave, Ryan Danzey, Marcia Davis, Jonathan Joles, Kendall McIntyre, Julia Mercer, James McCoy and Garrett Roberts.

The entertainment for the evening was by Lotela Gold, a six-member band, which offered spirited renditions of the hits from the 1960s.

Senate rejects witnesses in Trump trial, ensuring acquittal

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate rejected the idea of witnesses in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial late Friday, all but ensuring his eventual acquittal. But senators considered pushing off final voting on his fate to next week.

The vote on allowing new witnesses was defeated 51-49 on a near party-line vote.

Despite the Democrats singular focus on hearing new testimony, the Republican majority brushed past those demands to make this the first Senate impeachment trial without witnesses. Even new revelations Friday from former national security adviser John Bolton did not sway GOP senators, who said they’d heard enough.

That means the eventual outcome for Trump would be an acquittal “in name only,” said Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., a House prosecutor, during final debate. Some called it a cover-up.

The impeachment of the president now lands squarely in an election year before a divided nation. Caucus voting begins Monday in Iowa, and Trump gives his State of the Union address the next night.

Trump was impeached by the House last month on charges the he abused power and obstructed Congress like no other president has done as he tried to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, and then blocked the congressional probe of his actions.

The Democrats had badly wanted testimony from John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser whose forthcoming book links Trump directly to the charges. But Bolton won’t be summoned, and none of this appeared to affect the trial’s expected outcome.

In an unpublished manuscript, Bolton writes that the president asked him during an Oval Office meeting in early May to bolster his effort to get Ukraine to investigate Democrats, according to a person who read the passage and told The Associated Press. The person, who was not authorized to disclose contents of the book, spoke only on condition of anonymity.

In the meeting, Bolton said the president asked him to call new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and persuade him to meet with Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who was planning to go to Ukraine to coax the Ukrainians to investigate the president’s political rivals. Bolton writes that he never made the call to Zelenskiy after the meeting, which included acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.

The revelation adds more detail to allegations of when and how Trump first sought to influence Ukraine to aid investigations of his rivals that are central to the abuse of power charge in the first article of impeachment.

The story was first reported Friday by The New York Times.

Trump issued a quick denial.

“I never instructed John Bolton to set up a meeting for Rudy Giuliani, one of the greatest corruption fighters in America and by far the greatest mayor in the history of NYC, to meet with President Zelenskiy,” Trump said. “That meeting never happened.”

Key Republican senators said even if Trump committed the offenses as charged by the House, they are not impeachable and the partisan proceedings must end.

”I didn’t need any more evidence because I thought it was proved that the president did what he was charged with doing,” retiring GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a key hold out, told reporters Friday at the Capitol. “But that didn’t rise to the level of an impeachable offense.”

Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she, too, would oppose more testimony in the charged partisan atmosphere, having “come to the conclusion that there will be no fair trial in the Senate.’’ She said, “The Congress has failed.”

Eager for a conclusion, Trump’s allies nevertheless suggesting the shift in timing to extend the proceedings into next week and it shows the significance of the moment for senators in casting votes in only the third presidential impeachment trial in American history.

The situation remained fluid, but senators have indicated they want more time to publicly debate the charges and air their positions on the coming vote, according to a Republican familiar with the proposal but unauthorized to discuss it. The person was granted anonymity.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the offer to Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, the person said. Senators were considering it while the proceedings were underway on the Senate floor. Schumer had not yet agreed to it.

Under the proposal, the Senate would resume Monday for final arguments, with time Monday and Tuesday for senators to speak. The final voting would be Wednesday.

To bring the trial toward a conclusion, Trump’s attorneys argued the House had already heard from 17 witnesses and presented its 28,578-page report to the Senate. They warned against prolonging it even further after House impeached Trump largely along party lines after less than thee months of formal proceedings making it the quickest, most partisan presidential impeachment in U.S. history.

Some senators pointed to the importance of the moment.

”What do you want your place in history to be?” asked one of the House managers, Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo., a former Army Ranger.

Trump is almost assured of eventual acquittal with the Senate nowhere near the 67 votes needed for conviction and removal.

To hear more witnesses, it would take four Republicans to break with the 53-seat majority and join with all Democrats in demanding more testimony.

But that effort tell short. Just two Republicans, Mitt Romney of Utah and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine are expected to join most Democrats in voting to seek more witnesses and documents.

Chief Justice John Roberts, in the rare role presiding over the impeachment trial, could break a tie, but that seems unlikely.

Murkowski noted in announcing her decision that she did not want to drag the chief justice into the partisan fray.

Protesters stood outside the Capitol as senators arrived on Friday, bu few visitors have been watching from the Senate galleries.

Bolton’s forthcoming book contends he personally heard Trump say he wanted military aid withheld from Ukraine until it agreed to investigate the Bidens. Trump denies saying such a thing.

The White House has blocked its officials from testifying in the proceedings and objected that there are “significant amounts of classified information” in Bolton’s manuscript. Bolton resigned last September — Trump says he was fired — and he and his attorney have insisted the book does not contain any classified information.

Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor, Matthew Daly, Laurie Kellman, Deb Riechmann and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.^p

Man pulled off Amtrak train for smoking weed

AVON PARK — Passengers en route Friday afternoon to West Palm Beach got a one-hour layover in Avon Park.

Amtrak America, with help from the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office, pulled a man off the train because he was smoking “ganja” on the trip, said the Sheriff’s Office’s Assistant Public Information Officer Sgt. Kimberly Gunn.

Amtrak’s southbound train came to a stop between 3:15-3:30 p.m. Friday just beyond the rail crossing at Pleasant Street. Approximately 18-20 passengers had gathered on the lawn between the CSX railway and the Sheriff’s Office Avon Park Substation.

The man was sitting in the far front carriage, according to other passengers who saw him being brought off and Sheriff’s Office K9 “Lady” being led on by her handler, Deputy José Molina.

Dunn said that, typically, drug dogs go into the seating area of a passenger who has contraband to ensure it is all removed from the train.

The man was detained on the lawn among deputies while passengers sat, wandered while listening to music, or in the case of the young daughter of Benjamin and Marie Dennehy of New Zealand, did jumping jacks to work off excess energy.

Benjamin Dennehy said they hadn’t been told what was going on when they and the other passengers were asked to step off the train. He saw the dogs go in, but surmised it was not anything life-threatening.

Gunn confirmed for the Highlands News-Sun that there was no life-safety danger. The Sheriff’s Office K9 Units can handle capture of a suspect or detection of drugs, but are not trained in explosives/bomb detection. That would require a call to a larger agency such as the Florida Division of the State Fire Marshal or a major metropolitan fire department, such as Orlando.

Train conductors asked passengers to line up by 4:15 p.m., had them all loaded in a few minutes and under way by 4:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, Gunn said deputies remained on the scene and continued to investigate the incident. It was not concluded as of press time.