Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. I covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. I also was the City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. I served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. I have numerous local, state and national writing awards. I have been married to my wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and have two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

Joe Henderson: What’s it really mean to love America?

Like most schoolchildren, I was taught as a kid to love America without knowing exactly what that means.

Every morning before class started, we would stand as a group, place our right hand over our hearts, and pledge allegiance to the flag. By the way, did you know that according to ushistory.org, the original pledge was written by a socialist minister named Francis Bellamy. Somehow, that seems almost funny, given where we are as a nation right now.

Anyway, back on point, as children we also were instructed to stand for the national anthem because everyone else did and we didn’t dare be different. Refusing to fit in would mean we didn’t love America.

None of that is true, of course. If protesting is considered unAmerican, then what is America?

You can take a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner and still love this country. You can sit out the pledge, too, because this is America and we cherish (allegedly) freedom of expression and speech – or, as we now see, the freedom of protest.

I mention this for a couple of reasons.

White nationalist Richard Spencer is scheduled to speak today at the University of Florida. He makes my skin crawl, and my earnest hope is that enough people feel the same way as to render him quickly irrelevant.

He must be allowed to speak, though, because we love our country enough to believe it can withstand a bigot like him.

Loving America also means National Football League players have the right to take a knee during the national anthem. People have the right to condemn that if they wish. They also have the right to protest the protest by tuning out the NFL on TV and refusing to buy tickets to the games.

Let’s be clear, though: It is not unpatriotic for the players to protest, despite what the president says.

This isn’t North Korea, where Otto Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years in prison, where he likely was beaten until he had irreversible brain damage, because he took a propaganda poster off a hotel wall.

In this country, the government doesn’t control the press so leaders can spew out propaganda to the citizens and keep them under oppression.

I remember in the 1960s when people took to the streets because they realized their government was lying about the Vietnam war. There was a lot of flag-waving then, too, and shouts of “America, love it or leave it.”

That sentiment is exactly the opposite of what America is about. Loving America means citizens can exercise their right to tell the government it is wrong.

How would that go over in China? Dissidents can be imprisoned and tortured for their speech, religion, or just because the leaders felt like it.

They have “elections” in China too, but if a candidate like Donald Trump came along, spewing insults and pushing a lie that the nation’s leader was actually born in another country, he likely would soon disappear – never to be heard from again.

NFL players who protest don’t hate America. It started off as a way to highlight what Colin Kaepernick believed was racial injustice, but it now seems to be more of a showdown against President Trump’s bombast.

So be it.

This is the country we live in, and I think it’s a great thing to love this nation because of what we stand for. You can question authority. People are allowed to protest. They can say what’s on their minds, even if other people don’t like it.

This is America.

Love it.

Joe Henderson: U.S. Virgin Islands still needs our help

The U.S. Virgin Islands suffered almost unprecedented damage during Hurricane Irma and the recovery has been painstakingly slow.

I mention this because while Floridians have rightly focused great political and civic attention on hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico, we can’t forget about the devastation that remains a mere 18-minute plane ride from San Juan on JetBlue. I know this because that’s how long it took me and my family to fly there for my oldest son’s wedding in July.

That was about six weeks before St. Thomas and next-door neighbor St. John were flattened by Irma. The Washington Post reported what was left behind was “perhaps the site of Irma’s worst devastation on American soil.”

The storm hit the Virgin Islands as a Category 5 hurricane with 185 mile-per-hour winds on Sept. 7 before moving onto Florida. With so much damage here, it was hard for Floridians to focus on what was happening to our friends and fellow U.S. citizens in the Caribbean, and then life goes on and human nature is to forget and get back into a normal routine.

Hurricane Maria gave the islands another gut punch before unleashing its fury on Puerto Rico. Because the damage in Puerto Rico was so widespread for that island, the misery to its next-door neighbor was crowded out of the conversation, especially when President Trump’s feud with San Juan’s mayor stole the headlines for days.

There is a web site called News of St. John that has managed to send out regular “hey, remember us” messages. Monday, it said, was the island’s 41st day of a 100 percent power outage.

There is a video on the site of the devastation at beautiful Trunk Bay. Places where we ate and visited while there have been knocked to their knees.

Country singer Kenny Chesney has done remarkable work in trying to help there. He has a home on the island and during Irma he opened it for 17 people to ride out the storm. The home was destroyed, but everyone survived.

He immediately organized mercy flights with generators, cleanup gear, and equipment to help get people back on the internet. He deserves a medal for this, but he and his team of angels need much more help.

St. John is a place of incredible beauty, but geography is also its enemy. It’s not easy to get to, which I think contributed to a relative lack of coverage about the situation. It’s only about 4 miles long and most of the aid it receives has to come by boat. The narrow roads and mountainous terrain make relief efforts even more difficult.

We went nuts here in Florida when the power was out for a few days for most people after Irma. Imagine what the people in St. John and St. Thomas are going through.

These are our friends.

These are our neighbors.

These are Americans and we can’t let the noise drown them out.

Joe Henderson: Richard Spencer at UF is emergency all right

Richard Spencer is clean cut, casual but professional, a disarming look for one of the most prominent faces in what is becoming a crowded field of racism in the United States.

His scheduled appearance Thursday afternoon the University of Florida prompted Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency, in case things get out of hand. That tends to happen when Spencer is involved.

He was a leader at the Charlottesville, Va. white supremacist rally that ended with a nationally televised riot where there was one death and multiple injuries.

Spencer admits he chooses a dress shirt, coat and tie over a white hood and robe because he doesn’t want to scare people while talking about things like  “a new society, an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans… based on very different ideals than, say, the Declaration of Independence.”

Too late.

Noting that wardrobe ruse, Spencer was described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a kind of professional racist in khakis.”

Racists can be smart, and Spencer certainly qualifies. He was educated at the University of Virginia and was in a Ph.D. program at Duke before dropping out to lead the American Policy Institute, described as a think tank for the alt-right.

In a column for API in 2014, Spencer dismissed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as “a fraud and degenerate in his life, (who) has become the symbol and cynosure of White Dispossession and the deconstruction of Occidental civilization. We must overcome!”

He told CNN that, despite multiple reports to the contrary, he never called for a “peaceful ethnic cleansing.” In the same interview though, he told the network, “We have experienced this mass migration of people (into the United States). Therefore they could go home, you can go home again. … They came here peacefully. They could leave peacefully.”

Well, he could leave too. Alas, UF president Kent Fuchs said he is lawfully required to allow Spencer to speak on campus. That doesn’t mean he has to like it. In his Twitter account, Fuchs urged students to “avoid the event.”

Spencer and those support his pathetic views represent a special challenge to the ideals of America. The right of free speech is central to who we are as a nation, even when it is as potentially destructive as Spencer’s.

He has turned the First Amendment into a kind of Trojan Horse, demanding – and lawfully receiving – a platform to spew hate-filled garbage that tears at the core of a nation he essentially is trying to destroy.

The Founders realized the danger making laws to prohibit free speech and counted on people being able to filter and reject nonsense like this. That ideal is under attack on an almost unprecedented basis for this country by President Trump and Steve Bannon, who, like Spencer, is a devotee of the alt-right movement.

Trump declared the media is the “enemy” of the American people.

Bannon went so far as to tell the New York Times, “You’re the opposition party. Not the Democratic Party. You’re the opposition party. The media’s the opposition party.”

Well, if that means calling out racism and lies when we see it, sign me up for extended duty.

Spencer and those like him need to be heard by everyone, and then robustly shouted down with words and actions in every corner of this country. I believe millions more Americans than not are horrified by Spencer’s kind of overt racism and will realize they need to get in the game.

The bad guys are playing to win.

That’s the real emergency we face.

 

Joe Henderson: Florida joins battle on opioid crisis

Give Gov. Rick Scott credit for making a real effort to address Florida’s opioid crisis.

Last month, he proposed spending $50 million to combat opioid abuse. Included was a plan to limit physicians in most cases from prescribing more than three days of powerful and addictive pain-killers like OxyContin and oxycodone to their patients. The latter idea has now been formalized in HB 21, a bill filed by state Rep Jim Boyd.

The bill ups the stakes in Florida’s battle against drug abuse and is a prudent step toward keeping a new user who is legitimately prescribed the medicine from becoming hooked on powerful narcotics. Together, the twin proposals of legislation coupled with treatment are more than a whack-a-mole approach.

That’s the good news. The real problem comes in making sure that even this doesn’t make a bad problem worse.

Addicts already have proven time again that when one door is bolted shut, they will relentlessly search for another source to feed their drug need. They aren’t deterred by the threat of jail, and decades of trying to choke off the supply of illegal drugs on the street hasn’t worked.

That’s the awful reality lawmakers face as they try to fight a crisis that so far has been beyond their ability to adequately address with legislation. Someone with severe long-term pain will ignore the warnings and prohibitions. If they can’t get the prescribed drugs over the counter, they’ll start looking on the street.

There is a ready supply of black-market painkillers, and if that’s too much trouble many addicts turn to heroin. The legal narcotics are basically synthesized heroin in many cases, and street heroin is cheap and easy to find.

It also kills people.

Florida found that out when it shut down the so-called “pill mills” in 2010. The crackdown closed the storefront clinics that illegally dispensed opioids to basically anyone who walked through the door. By 2014, though, medical examiners reported that people were dying of heroin overdoses in record levels and problem continues today.

The Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale reported there were 580 drug-related deaths last year in Broward County alone, including 10 on one day.

The addicted cross all social and economic lines, but they are united by a common theme: the addiction is more powerful than the penalty, even when that penalty is potential death by overdose. That’s where treatment comes in, and I think it likely that much more than the $50 million proposed by Scott will be needed.

I reported a series a few years ago for the Tampa Tribune about former National Football League players who used painkillers in sometimes staggering amounts to deal with long-term effects from their injuries.

One former player told me, “Am I an addict? Yes,” he said. “All my medications are pretty much illegal.”

Others talked of swallowing medication like Vicodin by the handfuls.

Of course, most people aren’t facing daily battles with overwhelming long-term pain from a career spent in athletic combat with 300-pound men, but all things are relative. People self-treat bad backs, sore shoulders, and wrenched necks. Before they know it, they have a problem that can’t be solved with legislation.

If Boyd’s proposal becomes law, which seems likely, Tallahassee will call it a victory. Maybe lawmakers will even do a little celebrating, which will be fine  – at least until the sun comes up and it’s time to face the next battle in a war that never seems to end.

Joe Henderson: Dennis Baxley’s misdirection play

State Sen. Dennis Baxley just couldn’t resist.

At a Senate subcommittee hearing Wednesday to investigate the 14 deaths of elderly patients at a Hollywood Hills nursing home, Baxley made the reasonable point that the tragedy was “outrageous.”

But then, as Scott Powers reported for Florida Politics, Baxley ventured into what-is-he-talking-about land.

“We keep getting new deaths attributed to the storm, because they came from the nursing home, when in fact, look at the population you’re dealing with: they’re 90-somethings,” Baxley said.

“Some of these deaths would have naturally occurred, storm or no storm. So, to automatically pushing these over to the medical examiner as part of this case that they’re are studying, I think could be a bit unfair on the other side of the equation.”

This would be a good time to note that Baxley received a $3,000 donation from the Florida Heath Care Association to his 2016 Senate campaign. That group describes itself as “Florida’s first and largest advocacy organization for long term care providers and the elderly they serve.”

The group’s president, John C. Simmons, wrote a commentary for Florida Politics earlier this week where he slammed media reports about the tragedy. Maybe it’s just a coincidence (or not) that Baxley took the cue and gave his own swipes on that topic, saying there was “a lot of drama of course with media coverage and dramatization of what did happen.”

If reporting that 14 elderly people are dead and all of them lived in a nursing home where the cooling system failed and temperatures rose to an intolerable level qualifies as drama, well, OK.

Baxley’s backhanded snark at the media wouldn’t be such a big deal normally, but there is context that makes his remarks especially disturbing.

Efforts in 2006 to require backup generators capable of dealing with emergencies like the one in Hollywood Hills died in the Legislature following intense lobbying from the long-term health care industry.

If bringing up that unpleasant reminder qualifies as media drama, so be it. Gov. Rick Scott is pushing for a law similar to the proposal from 2006. Simmons says his organization agrees with Scott about the need, but said it can’t be accomplished as quickly as the governor would like.

But back to Baxley’s remarks.

Yes, everybody is going to die sometime and older folks have a greater risk. No doubt he knows that. He was a founder of the Hiers-Baxley funeral home in Ocala.

But it wastes time and is disingenuous to suggest, paraphrasing here, “Well, they might have died from something else.”

In football, we call that a misdirection play.

Senator, please. Elderly people are particularly vulnerable to conditions like inside that nursing home. A lot of them died. One of them had a body temperature of 109 degrees. What part of this escapes you? If someone died during this of other causes, how would that possibly matter to the bigger issue of protecting our most vulnerable citizens?

We have a situation that needs, as the governor has said, rapid attention. Playing the “media” card as a reason to take it slow is shabby at best. At its worst, it’s disrespectful to the victims and their families.

Stop trying to confuse the issue.

Joe Henderson: Negative campaigning works again

Negative campaigning has long been an accepted tactic. As much as people say they hate it, they seem to respond to that message.

We saw the truth of that again in Tuesday’s special election for the GOP nomination in House District 58.

Mailers that labeled Plant City businesswoman and civic activist Yvonne Fry as a tax-loving liberal who wants to limit gun rights were, in my opinion, a key to the victory by upstart Lawrence McClure. He won in a rout, with about 55 percent of the vote.

Fry is anything but liberal, but reality is rarely a factor in these races. McClure was the beneficiary of a lot of campaign donations from outside the district, along with mailers from supporters that painted Fry as a spawn of Pelosi.

They threw in a few grade-school level insults, too, and then casually whispered to voters that Fry WANTS TO TAX YOU BACK TO THE STONE AGE! The fact that she doesn’t support the loony idea of allowing open-carry for guns on college campuses must mean she WANTS TO TAKE YOUR GUNS!

Voila! It didn’t matter that none of it was true, or that McClure consistently denied any direct connection with that strategy.

That’s not saying there weren’t legitimate reasons to support McClure or oppose Fry.  And it must be acknowledged that Fry’s response to most of the attacks was tepid at best. She didn’t start to counter-punch until it was way too late, and that speaks to the lack of a ground game.

That shortcoming led to this election being more about who Fry isn’t than who McClure is, and Fry’s campaign let that happen. When you get into a mud fight, it’s not good strategy to wear your Sunday best clothes.

Fry, who also had never run for office but is well-known in Plant City after serving on various boards and other civic causes, was expected to clean up in her home town while battling for votes in the rest of the district that stretches to Temple Terrace and the University of South Florida.

However, McClure won in 16 precincts with Plant City addresses compared to 10 for Fry. Nearly one-third of McClure’s total of 3,631 votes came from eight precincts with addresses in Plant City, Seffner and Thonotosassa.

That’s a direct indictment of those who directed Fry’s campaign.

In a statement on her Facebook page, Fry said:

“I will sleep well tonight having earned the respect of those who value it in the first place. I will continue to serve our community that I cherish so much.”

On his Facebook page, McClure responded, “I also want to thank Yvonne Fry for her service to our community and for her gracious words tonight. I look forward to the general election and will see everyone back on the campaign trail tomorrow.”

McClure now only needs to defeat no party candidate Ahmad Saadaldin, Libertarian Bryan Zemina, and Democrat Jose Vasquez in the general election on Dec. 19.

Translation: McClure almost certainly can start checking out spots to eat while in Tallahassee for the Legislative Session.

Given that Fry had many endorsements, including from outgoing (and popular) state Rep. Dan Raulerson, who resigned for health reasons, it might be easy to label this race just another rebuke by voters fed up with the powerful insiders. I don’t see it that way. I just think McClure’s side did a better job of rallying those supporting him than Fry’s did for her.

A lot of McClure’s financial support came from people closely aligned with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who certainly had issues with Raulerson’s tendency to buck the system. Read into that what you will.

I think that led to another truth of these elections. While Fry was belittled as just another insider, a lot of power in this election came from the Tallahassee political elite that banks on voters paying no attention to the person behind the curtain.

Oh, when in doubt, there’s this: LIBERAL!

Just keep saying it.

Joe Henderson: Giving voice to voiceless in elderly care

One of the media’s highest purposes is to give a voice to the voiceless, like those in the elderly care system. Often that can mean making high-powered people uncomfortable, which brings us to John C. Simmons, president of the Florida Health Care Association.

Simmons says it’s unfair for the media to generalize about how nursing homes care for the elderly in our state. I don’t think that’s what happened, but whatever.

In a commentary for this website, Simmons complained that the horrific situation in Hollywood Hills – where 12 patients died after the temperature rose to what the New York Times described as “an oven” – doesn’t represent the whole.

He wrote, “While I certainly agree that the deaths at this facility are intolerable and need to be properly investigated, the assertion that this somehow represents the entire long-term care profession couldn’t be further from the truth. It also does a great injustice to the thousands of highly skilled professionals who dedicate themselves to caring for some of our state’s most fragile residents.”

In full disclosure, my in-laws are residents at an assisted living facility in the Tampa area. We moved them recently from another facility that has been beset with a long list of financial and maintenance issues.

But to Simmons’ point about the industry’s treatment by the media, I would say this: When something like this happens, don’t expect a pat on the back because there were a lot of places where people didn’t die during Hurricane Irma. That’s not how this works.

People in my business are going to ask questions and dig into the history of nursing homes throughout the state. They’re going to report, as the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale did, that the body temperature of one patient reached 109 degrees. They’re going to put people on the spot. Too bad.

Journalists like Carl Hiaasen going to write about how lobbyists for Florida’s long-term health care system helped kill legislation 11 years ago that would have required emergency generators in all the nursing homes.

Gov. Rick Scott has renewed calls for a law to make these generators mandatory at all nursing facilities, and it’s absolutely the right thing to do. Of course, it was right 11 years ago too, but the industry complained about the price tag and helped scuttle the bill.

The media’s tone during this time has been to focus on how Tallahassee politics set in motion the chain of events that led to the Hollywood Hills tragedy.  Sorry, Mr. Simmons, but this is not a time to focus on those you called “highly skilled professionals” – not when 12 people are dead. This issue, and everything relating to elder care, demands our highest scrutiny and skepticism.

People who move into these extended care facilities – whether they are assisted living or nursing homes – aren’t always the easiest to deal with.

Most of them have multiple medical issues that require great attention from the staff. They might need help walking to the lobby. They need rides to meet with doctors, and if they miss that ride it can take weeks to get another appointment. They have complicated schedules for when to take medicines, and how much.

Many of them arrive at these facilities because they tried to self-medicate with bad results. A lot of them don’t eat well, and deteriorating taste buds at advancing ages can cause food to taste lousy.

Some of them are alone because a spouse died and immediate family isn’t close by. Now, multiply that by the number of residents at some of these facilities – large ones can have a few hundred or more – and it’s a logistic and sometimes depressing challenge.

It’s also expensive. Seniorhomes.com estimates the average cost of a nursing home in Florida is $240 a day.

In the case of my in-laws, we checked many places before choosing where they would receive the best care. Even then, common sense requires that we stay on top of the situation – and we do. Older folks can be very demanding, but they’ve earned that.

Simmons is frustrated at what he considers “coverage that appears quick to tarnish the reputation of the long-term care industry without considering all the good things it has done.”

He says the industry wants to work with officials to make sure this doesn’t happen again. I hope that’s true.

Like the story said though, the best time to have done that for the people in Hollywood Hills would have been 11 years ago. If pointing that out makes industry leaders and politicians uncomfortable, good. What happened in Hollywood Hills can’t be changed. The idea is to make sure it never happens again.

Joe Henderson: Yvonne Fry in tough HD 58 fight

In a different reality, Yvonne Fry would enter Tuesday’s special HD 58 election without concern.

Her neighbors in Plant City know her as smart, personable, connected and dedicated. She is one of them, having been born and raised there. In addition to being well-liked and respected, she is a successful businesswoman and making her first run for public office.

She has the support of former state Rep. Dan Raulerson, who resigned for health reasons in August. Raulerson was easily elected twice in the district Fry now wants to represent.

Her opponent, Lawrence McClure, was embarrassed when Mitch Perry reported voting records show he has never cast a ballot in a non-presidential primary — and yet he is asking for support in the same type of race in which he has never voted.

Slam dunk, right?

Not exactly. And the support she has received from Raulerson could be one reason why.

Connect the dots.

William March of the Tampa Bay Times reported Monday that campaign finance records show House leaders close to Speaker Richard Corcoran are donating heavily to McClure’s campaign. That has helped give McClure $135,485 for his campaign compared to $112,790 for Fry.

Raulerson was increasingly at odds with Corcoran before leaving the House. One interesting tidbit is that Raulerson received an “A” grade and a 100 percent score in a legislative report card by the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Corcoran scored a “C” in the same survey, with the notation that the “grade was decreased because Speaker Corcoran presided over a regular Session that saw Legislature unable to finish on time, operate in the sunshine or meaningfully address certain important business issues.”

Corcoran also bucked the Chamber position on economic and marketing efforts, which could explain why political committees tied to that group have poured $785,000 this year into Adam Putnam’s campaign for governor.

Corcoran, of course, is contemplating a run for governor as well. He has also been known to administer a little payback for anyone who steps out of line with his agenda, and Raulerson certainly did that.

Raulerson also has been highly critical of the process which gives the House Speaker vast power during the Legislative Session.

“I wouldn’t discount that entirely,” he told me. “I don’t think it’s the only reason for the support though. I think the overriding reason is that (Corcoran) wants control of everything. The fact I didn’t always go along with leadership and went rogue possibly contributed to this.

“I voted the way I felt the way my vote needed to be. Obviously, I did not play the puppet role. What’s interesting is that (House) leadership never got involved in primaries before. I see that culture has changed.”

Fry has been the target of a slew of attack mailers in recent weeks that have played loose with the facts. She has been labeled a “Lie’n liberal” in some of the fliers and, in one particularly scary appeal to the Republican base, was said to have “joined the ranks of Obama, Clinton and Pelosi in declaring war on the Second Amendment” because she opposes open-carry and campus carry.

Will it work?

Maybe.

Mailers tend to target so-called super voters — those who cast ballots in every election. As of Monday morning, there were 5,050 ballots cast either by mail or early voters so far. That is likely about half of the turnout that might reasonably be expected in an off-peak race like this, and the Republican base tends to get nervous when the subject is the Second Amendment.

And while Fry will likely enjoy strong support from Plant City, that may not be enough to carry the day. Only about 35 percent of the voters in this election are expected to come from Plant City. The remainder will likely come from the Temple Terrace and USF area, where Fry isn’t as well known.

“I will say this — Yvonne is a tough cookie,” Raulerson said.

Given Corcoran’s apparent influence and interest in this race, it’s worth pondering what awaits the winner.

Would McClure become a rubber stamp for the Speaker’s agenda? Would Fry find herself relegated to insignificant committees and given little to no voice in trying to accomplish things for her district?

Good questions in a race increasingly rife with palace intrigue.

Joe Henderson: Politicians shouldn’t politicize tragedy? Oh please

Don’t politicize tragedy. That’s on page 1 in the standard response manual for how gun rights supporters respond to a mass murder like the one Sunday morning in Las Vegas.

That’s where U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell turned when reporters asked if he might consider tougher controls on weapons now that 59 more people were dead.

Look, the investigation has not even been completed, and I think it’s premature to be discussing legislative solutions, if there are any,” McConnell said.

Key words there: “if there are any.”

So, um … senator? When, exactly, would be it not be “premature” to discuss this on the Senate floor?

Oh, piffle. We already know how this will go. McConnell will use the full force of his role as Majority Leader to make sure that no tougher laws get public airing, let alone passage.

If that’s not politicizing a tragedy, I’m not sure what is. That’s making decisions by indecision.

Politicians like McConnell are banking on the public’s increasing numbness to these tragedies, and they generally have been right. If nothing changed after the Sandy Hook massacre of school children, why would we think anything will happen now?

Think it through. McConnell is one of the most powerful politicians in the country. He makes his living in politics. It’s his job to find political solutions to complex problems.

His words suggest he already has done that, using his political might to effectively stop any real momentum on gun control before it gets a chance to start. To say politics shouldn’t be part of the conversation now is disingenuous. These things are always totally political.

After the murders last year at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Republicans almost trampled each other trying to inject politics into a tragedy. That’s because the guy who pulled the trigger, Omar Mateen, was a convert to radical Islam. The Washington Post broke it down: 80 Republican lawmakers invoked some variation of “radical Islam.”

Sen. Ted Cruz jumped in with a swipe at “vicious Islamist theology.” Rep. David Joyce, an Ohio Republican, chimed in with, “I believe this is truly a world war: radical Islam versus mankind.”

The difference now?

That’s easy to see. The Las Vegas killer might have come unhinged by some secret demon that led him to commit an unspeakable crime with an astonishingly large arsenal, but he wasn’t a Muslim and so we shouldn’t politicize it.

“There’s a time and place for a political debate, but now is the time to unite as a country,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

When, exactly, is the proper time and place for that political debate?

Well, it wasn’t after 12 people died and 70 were hurt inside a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. – at least in the opinion of gun rights advocate Dudley Brown.

He was quoted in the New York Daily News saying the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, was “using this tragedy and walking all over graves to get to the microphone.”

And on Fox News, contributor Mercedes Colwin blasted any thought to have that national conversation about tougher controls following the Sandy Hook massacre, before adding, “make no mistake about it, we have to do everything in our power to prevent a tragedy like this one from occurring again.”

Well, make no mistake, it occurred again.

And again.

And again.

And it will occur again, even as the spineless people who could help look the other way and offer only thoughts and prayers instead of passing commonsense laws. They hope this will all go away.

How’s that working out so far?

We elect these people for times like this, because politicizing tragedy might the only way to stop the next one.

Joe Henderson: HD 58 campaign takes negative turn

There is a game plan, oft-repeated in politics, that says going negative beats a reasoned argument almost every time. We are seeing that play out again in the HD 58 campaign for the Republican nomination, where mailboxes are being filled with fliers calling Yvonne Fry a closet liberal in Republican clothes.

The primary election to succeed former state Rep. Dan Raulerson is Oct. 10, although early voting has begun. Raulerson, who resigned for health reasons, supports Fry and has donated to her campaign. The primary winner will be favored in December’s general election.

Raulerson had said he would remain neutral, but wryly noted he made that statement when he was still a member of the House.

“I’m a private citizen now,” he said.

The attacks don’t have to be accurate; they just to be attacks, and that appears to be the script here.

Take this for instance: Although she has never been elected to public office, Fry is still mocked in the mailers as a “political insider” because she served on many boards and civic groups in the Plant City area and racked up multiple endorsements. She also is a small business owner, but targeted on that by leaked smears that don’t pass the smell test.

Because she supported a plan that would have put a transportation referendum on the ballot, she is said to be pushing for the largest tax increase in Hillsborough County history. Except, well, that referendum plan never made it to the ballot, and it would be up to the voters anyway.

“I never imagined it would be like this, no,” she told me during a chat last week. “I feel like they’re in a place of desperation. I have heard from so many people who are disgusted by what they are doing.”

The “they” Fry refers to apparently are supporters of her opponent, Lawrence McClure. One mailer says Fry has “joined the ranks of Obama, Clinton and Pelosi in declaring war on the Second Amendment.”

Seriously?

One mailer was self-financed by Doug Guetzloe, an Orlando-based political consultant and anti-tax crusader. He told William March of the Tampa Bay Times that “I’m a good Republican.

Fry says she has been meeting with groups and knocking on doors throughout the district, which covers Plant City and runs into Temple Terrace and the University of South Florida area.

She called the attacks “insulting.”

“I didn’t expect this,” she said. “I met McClure before the race and he assured me he would not go negative.”

The mailers have not come directly from McClure.

The mailers could be a major factor because turnouts traditionally are small in these types of elections. A few votes either way could swing this. While Fry is popular and well-known in Plant City, it’s a bit of a mystery how the USF and Temple Terrace area sees her.

I guess we’ll find out.

“I’m not deterred by this,” Fry said. “I’m not discouraged. I’m resolved.”

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