Greg Allen

Among the more than 80 House freshmen who were sworn in this week, there were several who had been there before — including Florida Democrat Alan Grayson.

After starting his first term four years ago, Grayson quickly made a name for himself with biting comments targeting Republicans — like when he said during the health care debate: "If you get sick, America, the Republican health care plan is this: Die quickly."

His national stature didn't prevent him from being defeated in 2010. But now Grayson is back.

'The People United'

Of the eight new seats that Democrats picked up in the House of Representatives in November, four of them come from Florida.

Democrats were aided by a big turnout for President Obama, plus new rules that helped erase a Republican advantage in how districts are drawn in the Sunshine State.

President Obama's re-election sent a message to state capitals: The war over the president's health care overhaul is finished.

Even in Florida, where Republican leaders led the legal battle against Obamacare, there's recognition now that the state has to act fast to comply with the new law.

As part of the CIA's efforts to diversify its workforce, the spy agency is reaching out to a group that once was unable to get security clearance — lesbians and gay men.

Earlier this week, CIA officials held a networking event for the Miami gay community sponsored by the Miami-Dade Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and the CIA.

There are several exotic snake species that have become a problem in the Everglades. But for wildlife managers, the biggest headache is the Burmese python.

Earlier this year, researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey captured the largest Burmese python yet in Everglades National Park. Three USGS staffers had to wrestle the snake out of a plastic crate to measure it. The snake was a 17-foot-7-inch female carrying 87 eggs.

Wildlife managers are working to get a handle on the problem of exotic snakes in South Florida; but the snakes have already made a big impact.

For Republicans ruminating over why their party lost the presidential election, here's something else to digest from the swing state of Florida. Cuban-Americans — long a reliable Republican voting bloc — split almost evenly between Mitt Romney and President Obama, according to at least one group's exit polls.

It only took two extra days, but Florida's Miami-Dade County has finished counting votes in the presidential election.

Supervisor of Elections Penelope Townsley said Thursday she was pleased to announce that the state's most populous county, with more than 2.5 million people, was "the first of the large counties to complete its tabulation process."

Townsley was referring to three other large counties — Broward (population 1.8 million), Palm Beach (population 1.3 million) and Duval (population 870,000) — that were still tallying absentee ballots.

In Florida, Supreme Court justices are nominated by a commission and appointed by the governor. Every six years, they're up for retention. Voters decide whether to keep them on the bench or let them go.

Since the system was put in place in the 1970s, retention votes have been pro forma affairs, with justices doing little fundraising or campaigning.

But this year is different.

Early voting ended in Florida on Saturday. But on Sunday, some county elections officials opened their offices to allow people to vote using absentee ballots.

In Miami-Dade County, elections officials opened the office for over-the-counter absentee voting, but then inexplicably shut down. A couple of hundred waiting voters began chanting and pounding on the doors. An hour later, the office reopened.

Rep. David Rivera, R-Fla., was charged Wednesday by Florida authorities with alleged ethics violations while he was in the state Legislature, perhaps imperiling his bid for re-election to the House in an already tight contest.

Over the past decade, hundreds of men have come forward to tell gruesome stories of abuse and terrible beatings they suffered at Florida's Dozier School for Boys, a notorious, state-run institution that closed last year after more than a century.

Known as the "White House Boys," these 300-some men were sent as boys to the reform school in the small panhandle town of Mariana in the 1950s and 1960s. They have joined together over the years to tell their stories of the violence administered in a small building on the school's grounds they knew as the White House.

Venezuelans go to the polls Sunday in an election that will decide if President Hugo Chavez remains in power. Polls indicate it's his most serious electoral challenge since taking office nearly 14 years ago, and it's mobilizing large numbers of voters in Venezuela — and in the U.S.

Nearly 20,000 Venezuelans living in Florida are registered to vote, and most arrived in the past decade, since Chavez took power. He upended the old power structure, installing a socialist government that seized property and nationalized industries.

In this year's presidential campaign, $11 million has been spent so far on ads targeting Hispanics, according to ad-tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.

That's eight times the amount spent four years ago on Spanish-language ads, and it's focused in just a handful of battleground states: Florida, Nevada, Colorado and, perhaps most surprisingly, North Carolina.

Democrats in Florida think they have a chance in November to take back some congressional seats now held by Republicans. Near the top of the list is the 26th Congressional District near Miami.

It's a largely Hispanic district currently represented by Republican David Rivera. Although just a freshman in Congress, Rivera is a well-known Miami politician. Before being elected to Congress, he served eight years in the Florida Legislature and shared a house with longtime friend Marco Rubio.

A panel in Florida tasked with examining the state's "Stand Your Ground" law is unlikely to suggest that any major changes are needed.

Since it was convened in May, members of the task force have held meetings at locations around the state. At almost every meeting, they've heard impassioned testimony from people like David Boden, whose son, Jason, was killed in a shooting. Prosecutors in West Palm Beach told Boden that Florida's Stand Your Ground law prevented them from filing charges against the shooter.

The owners of the Star Princess cruise ship say that they have new video evidence that proves they are not responsible for ignoring a stranded fishing vessel 100 miles off the coast of South America in March.

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