Joe Henderson – Florida Politics

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

Joe Henderson: Primary solution was left on table

To the Florida Department of Elections, I am known by the acronym “NPA” – no party affiliation. That means I have not registered as a Democrat or Republican.

This was a deliberate choice on my part, but it comes with consequences.

NPA’s will be treated as non-people in the August primaries. We can’t cast a ballot for candidates from either of the two major parties, even though the primary determines who appears on the ballot in the general election.

The other consequence, as a political operative once explained to me, is that I am targeted by both parties.

My phone will ring constantly with suggestions that I vote for this person or that one. And my mailbox will be over-stuffed with fliers and pleas from all candidates on the final ballot. I’m the guy they want on their side.

I can live with the second consequence.

The first one, though, is becoming more of a problem for me and the estimated 3.5 million Floridians who have declined to formally choose sides.

The Constitutional Revision Commission took a stab at addressing that issue with Provision 62, proposed by Commissioner William Schifino, a Republican from Tampa.

It would have allowed voters in November to decide if the state wanted to adopt a so-called “top two open primary” where every candidate appears on one ballot and everybody gets to vote. The top two finishers, regardless of party, then go to the general election.

A few states already do this, notably California.

The plan passed the Ethics and Elections Committee 6-3, but it was skunked 7-0 in the General Provisions Committee, chaired by Republican Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch.

Or, in the parlance of the commission, it was laid on the table. Voters don’t get to choose.

The result is that we see candidates in both parties run to the extreme left or right in the primary, then disavow much of what they said when the general election rolls around because they have to appeal to the whole state.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam, for instance, spent the early days of his campaign trying to sound like Rambo on steroids – talking tough about all the red-meat issues his party’s base adores.

I think he is a lot more moderate than he has been letting on, but general wisdom is that only the most dedicated voters in each party turn out for the primary – in other words, the base.

And with challengers Ron DeSantis and more-than-likely Richard Corcoran shooting routinely flames out of their mouths, Putnam is basically forced to prove he won’t cave to those lilly-livered liberal elites if he is elected.

That’s no way for anyone to govern.

Fun fact: In 2010, when Rick Scott came from nowhere to win the governor’s mansion, only 22 percent of registered voters turned out in the primary compared to 49 percent in the general election.

In 2016, primary turnout was 22 percent compared to 75 percent in the general.

An open system would help moderate some of the primary garbage we hear every time an election rolls around.

The same goes for Democrats. Gwen Graham is defending herself from those on the hard left who will settle for nothing less than full support of everything on their agenda.

The problem is, most people live somewhere in the middle.

That brings us back to the NPA choice a lot of us make.

Right now, there are two choices: stay the same, or swallow hard and pick a party.

Neither one helps solve the problem.

People say they are tired of all the negativity in politics. The CRC had a chance to make a small dent that but laid it on the table instead.

Joe Henderson: Potential Murphy-Jolly ticket just not believable

Politicians do love to have their egos stroked, especially when someone whispers: “Hey, you are the answer to all the problems we face. You are the only hope for this state.”

The latest example of this seems to be a story that caught legs a couple of days ago, the one where a couple of well-known names from different political parties may be considering joining forces for a gubernatorial campaign.

I refer, of course, to Democrat Patrick Murphy and Republican David Jolly.

Having the two run on one ticket — Murphy as governor, Jolly as his loyal lieutenant — sounds like something a screenwriter would come up with for a movie plot about fixing government dysfunction.

I suppose we have to allow that anything is possible, especially in a political world where Donald Trump was elected president. But I just can’t see much long-term potential in something like this. To think the pair could win, or even make a significant dent in the vote totals, is just not believable.

I like and respect Jolly, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pinellas County, for his maverick views on how the people we elect to public office should conduct themselves.

After losing his seat in Congress, he has reinvented himself.

He has turned into a regular on MSNBC’s political talk shows, where he is pointed and precise. He also appears to harbor a dream that Republicans will one day come to their senses and become principled conservatives again instead of strident ideologues.

That may well happen one day but doesn’t mean there will be a place at the Republican table for Jolly if it does. He didn’t just burn his political bridges, he nuked them. Would Democrats accept him as one their own? Not likely, although, well … there is noted party-flipper Charlie Crist.

And Murphy, a two-term Congressman, didn’t excite anyone during his ill-executed run in 2016 against Marco Rubio for the U.S. Senate.

It is true that the current Democratic field of candidates — Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Philip Levine and Chris King — doesn’t exactly have the state buzzing yet.

It’s early.

It is also worth noting that a large and enthusiastic crowd turned out last weekend in Hillsborough County to listen to those four candidates at the Democrats’ Spring Fling fundraiser.

That brings up Jolly’s favorite topic — fundraising. He went very public with his disgust at the amount of time members of Congress were expected to spend on raising cash to fund party initiatives.

Well, coming up with enough money to fuel a long-shot governor’s bid would require begging, groveling, and making promises this proposed ticket probably couldn’t keep.

And if by chance a Murphy-Jolly ticket did get in the race, and it later could be shown that it cost Democrats the governor’s mansion, Murphy would be a pariah in his own party from here to eternity.

Murphy and Jolly have a very public bromance going, and they are traveling the country explaining exactly what’s wrong with Washington.

As the website for the Bob Graham Center at the University of Florida notes, the tour is designed to “pull the curtain back on how we got here, to shine a light on the inside reasons why Washington has fallen into stalemate and dysfunction.”

They also offer proposed solutions.

Certainly, a campaign built around that theme sounds interesting in theory.

The truth is, though, it sounds even more like a publicity stunt that I believe both men would regret in the long run.

Joe Henderson: Mixed messages abound in gun control debate

While survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre got headlines and lots of support in the weeks following the murders there, the National Rifle Association was raking in cash.

Lots of cash.

The Miami Herald reported the NRA’s Political Victory Fund raised $2.4 million in March. For perspective, that is $1.5 million more than the NRA raised in the same period a year ago.

It’s just the latest mixed message about how to fairly and legally confront the issue of gun violence in Florida and throughout the nation. Rather than create a unified spirit of compromise after 17 people died in Parkland, lines have hardened and the violence continues.

Even as a 16-member commission created to study what happened in Parkland and make recommendations began its work, Gov. Rick Scott ordered flags lowered to half staff in memory of Gilchrist County Sheriff’s deputies Noel Ramirez and Taylor Lindsey.

They were shot to death last week while sitting down for lunch.

The killer was identified as John Hubert Highnote. He was found dead nearby after the shooting.

Why did he do it?

We may never know. Why does anyone do something like that?

Meanwhile, everyone now knows the story of James Scott, praised as a hero for wrestling an AR-15 away from the shooter during an attack Sunday morning in Nashville that killed four people at a Waffle House.

Scott likely saved many lives by confronting accused shooter Travis Reinking in the middle of the attack.

Scott was unarmed.

So much for the theory that a good guy with a gun is the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun.

Oh, and there was another school shooting in Florida – this time at Forest High School in Ocala, just as students were preparing to join a nationwide walkout to protest gun violence.

It didn’t get a lot of publicity because no one died, but it underscores the fact that lives can be shattered because someone with a grudge, a mental breakdown, or is bored and craves publicity has a firearm.

The NRA’s cash stash further shows that even as public opinion appears to be increasingly supportive of tighter gun controls, many others echo the vow of former NRA icon Charlton Heston’s that people will have to pry his gun from “my cold dead hands.”

Those weren’t big-money moguls filling the NRA’s coffers. The Herald reported all but $500,000 of the $2.4 million haul came from people writing checks of $200 or less.

That’s the kind of grass roots action that keeps gun-friendly politicians in line out of fear for the jobs.

It tells everyone else that the eternal quest for “commonsense gun laws” is futile. There apparently is no middle ground.

Strange days indeed.

Plan accordingly.

Joe Henderson: Rick Scott betting his timing is right again

Rick Scott’s greatest political gift has been perfect timing.

He proved that in 2010 when he tapped into Floridians’ angst over the recession with an oft-repeated simple slogan: “Let’s Get To Work.”

Even after the first election, you could ask him about the weather or the NFL draft and his answer was always the same: jobs, jobs, jobs.

It worked. Scott was able to rise from an outsider in the business world who had never held elected office to a two-term governor. Now, he is casting his eye toward the U.S. Senate.

That brings us to the way he is flooding the TV airwaves now with commercials about term limits for Congress. His Democratic opponent in November, not coincidentally, is three-term Senator Bill Nelson.

At first blush, it might seem like a humongous waste of money on an ad blitz advocating something that is never going to happen. Congress would never pass such a law.

Also, Scott faces no primary challenger for the Republican nomination, so it’s not like he needs to pander to his conservative base.

But Scott’s camp does need a big share of Florida’s nearly 3.5 million independent voters. He is betting his message of term limits will resonate loudly with them.

“Term limits have always been extraordinarily popular with people, especially independents,” Emeritus Professor of Government at USF St. Petersburg Darryl Paulson said.

“Scott has been successful, or lucky if you want to look at it that way, in winning two gubernatorial elections by narrow margins (of about 1 percent). He needs to knit together a coalition that goes beyond his base, and independents really love this notion of term limits.”

It’s just the latest example of Scott making moves today with November in mind.

Last month, he was at the forefront of new gun restrictions imposed by the Legislature after the Parkland massacre.

The law earned him the wrath of National Rifle Association maven Marion Hammer, who previously has given Scott an A rating for his Second Amendment stances.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing for Republicans on the statewide campaign trail.

Even if Scott’s idea of limiting service time in Washington to 12 years caught fire and became law, which it won’t, it carries no downside.

If Scott wins, he would be 66 years old when he took office. That would put him at 78 after two terms, so he would probably be ready to hang it up anyway by then.

Curious, though.

Scott loves to rail against career politicians while hoping no one catches on to the fact he is becoming one. He already will have served eight years as the governor, and if he wins one term in the Senate he surely will want another.

That would potentially be 20 years in political office.

Not a bad career, eh?

That’s getting way ahead of things though.

He still has to win this race first. Florida figures to be in the national spotlight with this race and Democrats will go all out to win as they try to trigger a blue wave against Republican rule.

That’s where I wonder if Scott’s term limits message will resonate with enough voters to make a difference. With so many other issues in play, it might get crowded out of the public consciousness.

It is an interesting play though, and Scott is betting the timing is right once again.

Tom Lee decides against CFO run

In preparing to run for the state’s Chief Financial Officer job, state Sen. Tom Lee had assembled a staff, game plan and a fundraising committee.

But after waffling for several weeks about officially entering the race, Lee said Thursday family concerns “essentially caused me to re-evaluate my decision to run for CFO in 2018. I came to the conclusion I am not able to handle a statewide campaign at this time, so I won’t be running for CFO.”

He said he had not ruled other political options though, including a potential challenge for the soon-to-be-vacated seat by Republican U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross in CD 15.

Earlier this week, Republican state Rep. Ross Spano announced he would seek that seat after initially filing to run for state Attorney General.

Lee lives in Thonotosassa, which is within the boundaries of the district that covers parts of eastern Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties. He said he had taken calls urging him to run, but declined to say from whom.

As a moderate Republican, Lee said his message could play well in a district that he called “good, fertile ground for Republicans, but not a slam dunk.”

Lee also could run again for his state Senate seat or a spot on the Hillsborough County Commission.

“I can’t really comment on what my plan will be until I’ve had a few more days to think about it,” he said. “I have resources and fundraising ability.”

As far back as last summer, Lee had said publicly on numerous occasions that he intended to run for CFO, a position he has long coveted. But months went by without him formally entering the race, and as the father of a high-school age son, Lee said he grew increasingly concerned about the toll running a statewide campaign would take.

“That’s the most important consideration,” he said.

Lee said the other races he is considering would allow him to spend more time at home.

Lee was expected to provide intense competition in the GOP primary to incumbent Republican Jimmy Patronis. Jeremy Ring is his likely Democratic opponent in the general election.

Joe Henderson: Is Marco Rubio eyeing another presidential run?

If one is inclined to read between the lines, Marco Rubio sounded like a man running for president, again, with his blunt talk about Florida’s vulnerability to a Russian attack on the upcoming elections.

That doesn’t mean what the junior senator from our state had to say can be dismissed as political grandstanding. Hopefully, he convinced members of the Florida Association of Counties, the group to which he was speaking, that the threat is real.

It doesn’t hurt Rubio’s standing, though, to be a leading Republican voice about this national security issue.

Now, if he can just convince President Donald Trump this is serious stuff that goes to the core of what we value as a nation, we might have to give Rubio a prize for exceptional public service.

The Tampa Bay Times reported on Rubio’s talk, which included this gem of a quote about the operatives: “These are not people sitting in the basement of their mom’s house. These are nation state threats. They have significant resources and assets at their disposal to do this.”

That sounded a lot like a passive-aggressive swipe at the president, who dismissed concerns about Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 election with the pithy comment, “I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK? You don’t know who broke in to DNC.”

Speculation about Rubio’s long-range plan has been increasing lately.

A New York Times story this week noted Rubio’s recent hire of Michael Needham, former CEO of the conservative think tank Heritage Action for America, to be his chief of staff is the kind of move made by someone with long-term aspirations.

“The move is certain to raise questions about whether Mr. Rubio, whose hopes of becoming president in 2016 were dashed by Mr. Trump, may be positioning himself for another run,” reporter Jeremy W. Peters wrote.

“And it underscores how unsettled the conservative movement remains nearly two years after Mr. Trump won the Republican presidential nomination and became the party’s improbable leader.”

Rubio, of course, dismissed such speculation, telling the New York Times, “It’s so far-off in the future, I don’t know where my mind will be.”

It’s smart strategy though to position himself on the side of being able to say, “I told you so,” especially given the president’s disdain/fear about the issue of voter fraud.

He has been on the right side of this issue from the start.

After all, when the extent of hacking first came to light during months before the presidential election, Rubio warned,”… my fellow Republicans who may want to capitalize politically on these leaks: Today it is the Democrats. Tomorrow it could be us.

Rubio wasn’t ready for prime time when he ran for the top spot in the last election, and let’s just say that now there would be a lot of room on the “Rubio 2020” bandwagon.

But he is looking more like an actual senator lately than just a young man in too big of a hurry.

He was visible and active trying to secure hurricane relief for Florida. His very public cooperation and working relationship with Democratic Senator Bill Nelson is refreshing.

He held out his vote on the Trump tax package and won concessions for a better child care credit. And when he believes the president has done something good, he has been willing to be supportive.

Whether all that is a prelude to another run for the top job, well, it’s too soon to say.

What we can say, though, is that Rubio has been doing more things right lately. You don’t have to read between the lines to see that.

Gwen Graham

Joe Henderson: Gwen Graham shows she can take what ‘the men’ dish out

For those who didn’t already know it, Gwen Graham proved Wednesday she can take whatever anyone wants to dish out.

Graham shared a stage with three other Democratic candidates, all male, to be Florida’s governor in a debate Wednesday streamed over FOX-13 in Tampa. A replay of the debate is scheduled to be shown over the air at 6:30 p.m.

Graham took more direct criticism on her positions than the other participants combined, probably because she has more of a record after serving in Congress. It didn’t throw her off her game and even opened the door for the best line of the session.

“I seem to be the one. That’s OK. Gwen and the men,” she said with a disdainful sigh about a half-hour into the hourlong exchange.

Well, politics is a rough sport, but as a former member of Congress and the daughter of Bob Graham, a former Florida governor and U.S. senator, she already knew that.

She came to play.

For me, that was the main takeaway from the debate — well, that and the fact former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine stumbled all over himself while trying to avoid a direct question about how much money is in the state’s public-school budget.

Hint: It’s about $21 billion, and $12 billion of that comes directly from the state. He also couldn’t identify Janet Cruz as the outgoing minority leader of the Florida House.

Not good.

Levine will need to pick up his game going forward because at some point he will have to show he is more than a big bankroll who can pay for his own television commercials.

I thought Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum generally had a good day, but I don’t believe Orlando businessman Chris King made much of a dent, earnest as he may be.

His bright spot was when he repeated his proposal that community colleges and trade schools should be free, but he is struggling to find a voice against what right now look like stronger candidates.

Otherwise, I don’t know that we learned that much.

The candidates agreed to a lot of things Democrats typically support.

They each expressed support for tighter gun laws. Gillum had the best line when asked about assault weapons: “If you want to fire a weapon of war, you should join the military.”

They want to expand health care to cover everyone, not just those who can afford it.

They favor increasing the minimum wage.

They want more compassionate immigration rules.

They really want higher public-school teacher pay and fewer high-stakes tests. They favor more emphasis on civics in the classrooms.

Graham had the best line about that.

Donald J. Trump is the greatest civics lesson anyone could have had,” she said.

They did differ a bit when asked what they would move to eliminate when they get to Tallahassee.

Levine said he would go after charter schools, which may not be legal under state law. It makes a good sound bite anyway.

King would look at eliminating guns in schools. Gillum said he would address the rampant push for privatization generally favored by Republicans.

Graham said she would go after what she called the “behemoth” state lottery agency and redirect that money to schools.

They all love the Tampa Bay Rays, but only Graham even tiptoed to the line of helping them pay for a new stadium. She suggested some Enterprise Florida money could be used for that and to bring the film industry back to the state.

The other three: No way, no how, no, no, no.

Who won?

I think Graham scored a lot of points with the way she handled herself. Polls suggest Floridians don’t know much, if anything, about these candidates.

Given that, I imagine she made a good first impression on those who might be seeing this group for the first time.

As for the rest of it, Gillum looks like he might have staying power. King still needs a breakthrough moment.

And Levine?

Do your homework, sir.

Joe Henderson: Letting voters decide on greyhound racing is right call

The future of greyhound pari-mutuel racing in Florida will be decided right where it should be – at the ballot box.

The Constitutional Revision Commission voted in favor of placing an amendment before voters in November to ban the, well, what is it exactly? It’s not a sport, despite what its supporters say.

I guess you’d call it an industry, but it is one that already has been outlawed in 40 states. Florida is one of only six states where greyhound racing remains active; four other states have no dog tracks but have not outlawed racing.

My guess is that following the election, Florida will join the other four-fifths of the United States by phasing out what state Sen. Tom Lee, who sponsored the measure, called an “archaic tradition.” 

The reason is simple: You don’t mess with Fido.

There is enough evidence in the public domain that shows many dogs have been drugged to make them run faster or simply slaughtered when their usefulness for generating income was done.

Just a year ago at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg, a veteran trainer had his license revoked when some of his dogs were found to have cocaine in their systems.

Supporters of the amendment are likely to flood mailboxes and TV airwaves with ads of mutilated dogs and frightening headlines like the one from 2010 that reported a woman who had been arrested for killing 2,000 greyhounds years before was back training dogs again in Florida.

A few thousand of those images are likely to outweigh arguments by industry supporters that such incidents are rare and often are the work of rogues.

Supporters have warned that a blizzard of lawsuits will be coming Florida’s way from soon-to-be displaced owners if the amendment passes, but Attorney General Pam Bondi – a noted dog lover – dismissed that threat and basically dared opponents to bring it on.

According to the Florida Greyhound Association, there are 13 tracks operating within our borders. The group proudly trumpets that as “the most opportunities of any state.”

Well, we’ll find out soon enough how voters feel about that “opportunity.”

At the core of the argument for a constitutional amendment is the simple premise that the people of Florida should get to decide what kind of state they want to have.

What people may once have seen as harmless entertainment now doesn’t seem that way after a look under the hood at what is really going on.

Does that mean all greyhound trainers are evil? Or that anyone associated with this industry or who enjoys a night at the track is a substandard human being?

Of course not.

I have lived here for almost a half century and greyhound racing has been legal for each of those years. Having that industry didn’t make us a bad state.

Things change, though, and not having it in the future will make us a better one.

Joe Henderson: Florida Dems must be more than anti-Trump

Florida Democrats seem to have their best chance in two decades of changing the balance of power in Tallahassee. As they say in the sports world though, potential just means you haven’t done it yet.

So it goes with political fortunes.

For the first time in eight years, Dems won’t be going against an incumbent governor. They are within striking distance of flipping the state Senate.

For the first time in recent memory, the National Rifle Association’s power to sway elections is being questioned. The Parkland tragedy is raw and won’t be going away.

The never-ending swirl of controversies around President Donald Trump continues to overshadow Republican candidates.

We haven’t even seen the report from special counsel Robert Mueller yet on all things Trump, but if it’s bad news for the president the reverberations could be felt by Republicans everywhere — many of whom are already running for cover.

Given all that, how can we put this politely?

Democrats, if your party can’t capitalize on this, and I mean in a big way, you might as well shut it down.

With that in mind, there was an interesting story in Buzzfeed about how Florida could provide the blueprint in this election year for the way Democrats will run against President Trump.

Do they try to make everything from the governor’s mansion to the local dogcatcher race about Trump?

Or, as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum said in the story, “Frankly, running against Trump is going to be insufficient to win.”

History is on Gillum’s side with that argument. The tone of the Democrats’ campaign in 2016 here and across the land was that no one would be stupid enough to vote for Trump, would they?

(Those are my words, not Gillum’s).

When Democrats choose their nominee for governor in August, it’s a given that person will be anti-Trump. I don’t think anyone can imagine Gillum, Gwen GrahamPhilip Levine or Chris King would support Trump in any way.

What matters more is how the candidate will approach public education, given the changes in funding and the growth of charter schools under GOP state leadership the last couple of years?

Where do they stand on health care? How do they balance Second Amendment rights against the images of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School?

What’s their plan to deal with Florida’s continuing explosive growth and the need for a better transportation system?

What about hurricane preparedness? The shredding of environmental laws under Gov. Rick Scott? Can they overcome the anti-science crowd and enact serious policy to deal with climate change?

What will they do about the voracious appetite of Republican lawmakers to diminish the autonomy of local governments?

Those are the questions Florida voters will ask the field of candidates running for governor and legislative seats.

I thought it was interesting the other day when outgoing state Rep. Janet Cruz of Tampa, in talking about her challenge for the Senate seat held by Republican Dana Young, stuck to her points about gun control and health care.

She didn’t mention Donald Trump.

Republicans took control of the state Senate in 1995. They took charge of the House in 1997, and when Jeb Bush was elected governor in 1999, they had the trifecta of power.

Except for a brief period in 2010 when then-Gov. Charlie Crist became an independent, they have kept Florida under one party’s thumb ever since.

They did that by convincing Floridians in their vision for the state — well, and maybe a little gerrymandering of legislative seats. Even with that though, they won five consecutive governor’s races. No gerrymandering there.

If Democrats hope to capitalize on the opening they appear to have to snap that losing streak, they have to convince Floridians to agree with what they’re for.

We already know what they’re against.

Joe Henderson: Parkland protests drove Janet Cruz into Senate race

As we know, the concept of normal went out the window when 17 innocents were murdered in Parkland at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day.

When thousands of people came to Tallahassee to push for tougher gun control after Parkland, it was enough to convince state Rep. Janet Cruz it was time to act.

She announced this week she will challenge incumbent Dana Young in SD 18.

It figures to be one of the most-watched races in the state between two formidable candidates against the backdrop of the Democrats’ quest to flip four more seats and pull even with Republicans in the Senate.

And it goes back to the mass protests in Tallahassee shortly after the Parkland slaughter. Cruz said that after years of being pushed around by pro-gun Republicans and the National Rifle Association, Democrats have started pushing back hard.

“I’ve been (in Tallahassee) since 2010. I’ve seen crowds. I’ve seen protests, but I haven’t seen anything like that,” she said. “And I saw Democrats take a stand against the gun lobby. We were saying to them ‘hit me!’ And we got up and said, ‘hit me again! Is that all you’ve got?’ ”

The experience was enough to convince Cruz, the outgoing House minority leader, to abandon plans to run for a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission she probably would have easily won.

Young has long been a favorite of the NRA, enjoying an A-plus rating and support. She also has had no problem raising money.

But when she left the floor just prior to a Senate vote in March on amendments to a proposed assault weapons ban, Democrats pounced. They said she was trying to dodge a tough vote that could have repercussions in her moderate district.

Young said opponents were playing politics. She did eventually file her votes against the first proposal after the roll call. She later voted in favor of a compromise that imposed modest gun controls but also allowed for armed personnel in public schools.

I asked Cruz if people were making too much of Young’s exit from the floor.

“Absolutely we are not making too much of it,” she said. “It was astounding, egregious. The nation was watching. I think she just left (to avoid voting). In Tallahassee, we call that taking a walk.”

After two terms in the House, Young won election to the Senate in 2016 by 7 points over Democrat Bob Buesing. Against Cruz though, she likely will face a tougher challenge.

Much of HD 62, which Cruz has represented, is within the Senate district she is seeking. She has been dominant there in previous elections.

She thrashed Republican Wesley Warren with nearly 70 percent of the vote in 2012 and ran unopposed in two primary and general elections after that.

Her entry into the Senate race likely signals that Buesing will abandon his plan to run again for the seat. He has said the most important thing for his party is to defeat Young.

Cruz said she has spoken with Buesing, adding, “Bob is being a real gentleman.”

While the fight for tougher gun laws may have pushed Cruz into the race, it’s not her only motivation.

“The very first thing I would like to accomplish is making sure working people have health care,” she said.

She complained that Democrats were such a decided minority in the House that Republicans steamrolled their agenda without regard to compromise.

“Some of this stuff honestly gets shoved down our throats,” she said. “Government is best when there is parity.”

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