Michael Spooneybarger/ CREO

Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump took to the podium Wednesday night at the Pensacola Bay Center.

The businessman and reality TV star made a rock-star type entrance, to the joy of an overflow crowd estimated at more than 11,000. Another 5,000 were reportedly turned away. During a wide-ranging address of just over an hour, Trump re-hashed his ongoing attacks against the media and President Obama. He then had thoughts about this week’s deal with Iran to release ten U.S. sailors. 

Back when I was writing a regular newspaper column, one of the real challenges was simply to come up with something to write about week after week. Many a would-be columnist started out strong, only to realize that perseverance counted as much as inspiration. It might rank only behind the need to develop a skin thick enough to protect you from your critics.

On an 8-1 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday struck down Florida’s system of allowing judges, and not juries, to decide whether convicted murderers get the death penalty.

The ruling is based on the case of Timothy Lee Hurst, who murdered his manager at a Popeye’s restaurant in Pensacola in 1998. Hurst’s jury voted 7-5 in favor of the death penalty and the judge imposed the sentence. The high court has ordered a new sentencing hearing for Hurst.

Danielle Freeman

A new partnership between the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport and Allegiant Air will now provide nonstop flights from Cincinnati and St. Louis to VPS. The new seasonal flights will run twice a week and are estimated to bring more than 12,000 additional visitors each year to the Destin/Ft. Walton Beach area.

“We closed out Okaloosa County’s centennial year with a huge win that will produce immediate widespread economic impacts now and continue to compound year over year.”

Gov. Rick Scott delivered his sixth State of the State speech as the legislative session kicked off Tuesday morning. It was focused almost entirely on creating jobs and cutting taxes.

Both of Scott’s campaigns and all five of his previous State of the State speeches have centered on job creation, a point so noted in his prepared remarks.

Florida lawmakers are kicking off the 2016 session Tuesday hoping to avoid the chaos of 2015, when the House and Senate had a tough time agreeing on anything. State Sen. Don Gaetz (R-Niceville) is term limited and serving in his final session.

Ethics Reform at the Grassroots:

Brian LeBlanc

Since November of 2015, we’ve been getting to know Brian LeBlanc of Pensacola. He has been diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s. Now in his mid-50's, he has known about his condition for a little over a year now. As we continue our conversation, we focus on how the disease has impacted his daily life and how he’s dealing with it.

“Being this is radio, you can’t see what I’m doing right now, but I’m holding up my cell phone,” said LeBlanc. “That’s my constant companion.”

According to LeBlanc, his phone tells him everything, even when to eat.

Photo via Flickr// Alberto G. /

On a 6-1 vote this week, the Florida Board of Education approved Education Commissioner Pam Stewart’s test score and school grade proposals. But other proposals are expected to be introduced in the upcoming legislative session.

Board members considered where to set two critical benchmarks of the state's education accountability system: "cut scores" that determine the levels of achievement students get based on their performances on standardized tests, and the school grades tied to how well students do on those tests. Stewart calls it the “right approach and right balance.”

WUWF Public Media

In this week’s Economic Report, Dr. Rick Harper discusses the recent Chinese stock market crisis and its possible lasting effects. Also, he predicts how the Pensacola-area economy will fare in 2016.

China’s stock market has had a rocky beginning to 2016, and that is feeding doubt among investors about the country’s economic stability.

“China is a source of great uncertainty right now,” Harper said. “We had the shortest trading day ever in China as a result of the market falling 7.3 percent in about half an hour, which led authorities to shut it down.”

Photo via Flickr// Mike Mozart /

Santa Rosa County’s gas tax doubled on New Year’s Day: from $0.06 to the maximum $0.12 per gallon.  The hike is expected to bring in millions for county road projects, which may not be enough.

County Commissioners approved the levy on two votes in September. The first for a five-cent local option gas tax increase and the second for a penny raise, called the “ninth cent.”

Georgia Barrett / WUWF News

The debate over allowing food trucks in Pensacola may not be over, but those mobile businesses celebrated a milestone in downtown Pensacola Thursday.  

A.J. took some time out from chopping onions in the Cajun Meat Train food truck Thursday morning, getting ready for the first day of serving lunch in the parking lot of Pensacola City Hall. "[We're] feeling great and hoping it opens eyes to everyone around and we get to park in some more places around town. Hopefully something good comes out of it and I'm excited and optimistic."

Photo via Flickr// ** Parapluie ** /

An interlocal agreement was made this week between the city of Destin and Okaloosa County to fund the sheriff office’s enhanced law enforcement plan for Spring Break 2016. WUWF’s Danielle Freeman reports, although the cost will be shared by both parties and the measure is just a contingency plan, the source of the funding is still uncertain.

Calls are going out from the EscaRosa Coalition on the Homeless, for volunteers to take part in the annual count of the homeless on January 27-28.

“Point in Time” allows agencies that provide services to the homeless to get a handle on the overall population in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties, and how to tailor those services to help move them out of homelessness.

“We actually dispersed teams out on the street and in areas where the homeless normally gather: Alfred Washburn Center, Salvation Army, places like that,” said Alison Griffith, the program’s coordinator.

National Writing Project

In 1974 The University of California Berkeley established a program for teachers called the Bay Area Writing Project. In just two years it expanded to 14 sites in six states. That was the beginning of the National Writing Project. Now the University of West Florida has become one of the Project’s newest sites.  

Photo via Flickr// Allan Chatto /

High School graduation rates in Florida for the class of 2015 were the highest in 12 years, according to figures released by the state Department of Education.

That 77.8% statewide graduation mark is up more than 18 points since the 2003-04 school year, and nearly two percent higher than last year. The Escambia County district's 2014-15 graduation rate came in at 72.7%, up from 66.1% in 2013-14, and 15 points from 2010-11.