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: Bad timing for USF money request

The medical school and heart institute being built by the University of South Florida in downtown Tampa is ambitious and more than a little bold. It can be major step in the ongoing re-invention of the city’s urban core.

Speaking of bold, though, that’s the word that came to mind after reading the News Service of Florida story about how USF plans to ask state lawmakers for an additional $21 million next year to complete the project. That’s on top of the $91 million it already has received.

Construction has begun on the sprawling complex, which will cover 50 acres of prime real estate as part of Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s $3 billion Water Street Tampa project. Local businessman and philanthropist Frank Morsani also has contributed $18 million, and in return gets his name on the college of medicine.

Noble aim.

Bad timing.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced a couple of days ago that instead of requests for local projects, lawmakers should concentrate on ways to provide hurricane relief and planning in the next Legislative Session.

He pointedly noted, “…I ask all of you, and our colleagues in the Senate, to join me in setting aside the business-as-usual of pork projects and instead invest all of those funds to either assist those in need after Hurricane Irma or prepare Florida against the threat to life and property that will surely come with future storms.”

I can almost hear USF President Judy Genshaft arguing that a project like this is hardly pork or business as usual. She would be correct.

The medical school proposal is a game-changer for Tampa in many ways. It would attract the kind of young, upwardly mobile and skilled professionals that all cities value so highly.

At a news conference Wednesday to update the project, Genshaft noted that USF received more than 6,000 applications this year to fill 170 spots.

Corcoran, however, warned that money is going to be tight next year even before the billions in damage from Hurricane Irma.

The worthiness of the medical school should not be questioned, but put it this way: There are a lot of worthy projects in the state, and they will all be competing with Florida’s urgent need to repair from Irma and prepare for the next monster hurricane.

Good luck.

Joe Henderson: Maddon is right; build Rays stadium in Tampa

I always suspected Joe Maddon, a smart man, wanted the chance to say out loud that the Tampa Bay Rays new stadium should be built in Tampa.

Well, he got his chance Tuesday when he came to St. Pete as manager of the Chicago Cubs. He didn’t hold back.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Maddon “came out strong for the need for a new stadium, and on the Tampa side.”

“I think a more vibrant building that fans can get to more readily would be very important moving it forward,” he said.

“Quite frankly, when I worked here I couldn’t say that because people did not want to hear that. People would get upset with me because I said that. But it’s true. Those who argue against it, that’s just a bad argument.

“You need a better facility (than Tropicana Field). You need a facility that’s more readily available to the general population when they get off from work. They need a place that’s more baseball oriented. You don’t need an erector set. You don’t need stuff hanging from the ceiling. It was a great place. And it’s a great place to start. For this organization to really get to where they want to on an annual basis, you need a better building in a better spot.”

This is especially interesting because Maddon has always publicly remained neutral about which side of the Bay would be a better location for the Rays.

It also should be noted that Maddon has a home and business interests in Tampa. Maybe that makes him more likely to favor Tampa as a stadium site, but it doesn’t make him wrong.

He was almost always a goodwill ambassador for the Trop when he managed the Rays. He wouldn’t suffer any complaints about the team’s Dome Sweet Dome, although did tiptoe to the edge one afternoon in early August 2010.

That was the day when the Rays, in the middle of a pennant race, lost a game to Minnesota. A routine pop-up in the ninth by the Twins’ Jason Kubel should have been the third out. Instead, it clanked off a catwalk overhanging the infield, fell into fair territory, and the winning run scored.

“There was a time when it was kind of cute,” Maddon said after that fiasco. “In 2006 and 2007 it was kind of cute when you might win a game or lose a game when the ball hit the roof or rafter or whatever, but it’s not cute today. It’s not cute.”

Hillsborough County has identified a site between downtown Tampa and Ybor City as a potential new home for the Rays. Although St. Petersburg has made overtures to keep the Rays, my guess is the Rays will say they like Tampa better.

Now we know how Maddon feels. He may have hurt some feelings in St. Pete, but he just said out loud what people should already know.

Evacuation Route Sign, photo: AAA

Joe Henderson: Corcoran’s big move for hurricane readiness

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has taken the first step to improve Florida’s hurricane readiness, and it sounds like a good one.

He is convening the bipartisan Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness to study what steps the state should take to prepare in the future for mega-storms like Hurricane Irma.

Excellent idea.

We’re all going to play close attention to the group’s findings.

Yes, there is more than a little bit of political grandstanding involved, but it is really good grandstanding.

In a memo to House members, Corcoran said, “…I ask all of you, and our colleagues in the Senate, to join me in setting aside the business-as-usual of pork projects and instead invest all of those funds to either assist those in need after Hurricane Irma or prepare Florida against the threat to life and property that will surely come with future storms.”

We’ll see how that goes, since the 2018 elections would usually signal a year-long pork buffet in Tallahassee. My guess is, not well.

And we have to mention that since the Speaker hasn’t ruled out running for governor while all this is going on, he’ll have critics willing to label this a political stunt designed to improve his standing with voters.

Well, guess what?

While every bit of that may true, it also is a fact that these storms have shown they will devastate large portions of this state we all love and call home.

That’s exactly why we need a group willing to study the issue in detail and issue a report that, frankly, may be hard for a lot of folks to swallow. If it happens to play well with voters, shouldn’t that tell everyone something?

Or course, anyone can make recommendations and some of what needs to be done probably is obvious – just as it has been for decades.

Developers seem intent on filling every inch of coastline with resorts and condo cities, which leaves residents especially vulnerable in a hurricane. Their attitude seems to be that it’s easier to clean up the mess and rebuild than to worry about things like 12-foot storm surges.

So, it will be Corcoran’s task to make the group’s recommendations into laws, not suggestions. There is a lot at stake here and none of it will be easy or unanimously accepted.

Leadership is about doing the right thing, though. After what Florida has just been through with Irma and likely will endure again with future storms, there is no other choice.

Joe Henderson: Florida’s hard choices after mega-storm

Hurricane Irma rammed home the point that Floridians need leaders to provide more than a mop to deal with the damage and misery these mega-storms bring.

We just got overwhelmed by a natural disaster that showed again how vulnerable we are. Climate change – yes, deniers, it is real – will likely bring more storms the size of Irma, or maybe larger.

Ponder that.

Oh, people will clean up from the most powerful storm to hit Florida in a quarter century. There will be investigations into the nursing home tragedy in Hollywood Hills. Some places might enact tougher building codes and things like that.

The bigger question, though, is whether Tallahassee will finally realize Florida needs some fundamental policy changes.

Take the catastrophic power failures throughout the state, for starters. There is an ongoing power struggle between large power companies and those who advocate for expanded use of solar power.

Solar was helpful during Irma.

In Coral Springs, for instance, where an estimated 300,000 people lost power Inside Climate News reported how that city kept solar-powered traffic lights functioning at 13 major intersections.

There were stories of individuals who used solar to power their homes even in hard-hit places with widespread electrical failures.

The wise thing to do would be to remove the many bureaucratic barriers and surcharges power companies charge homeowners who want to go off the grid.

Floridians want solar energy.  They overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4 last year, which gave property tax breaks to homeowners who installed solar panels, with 73 percent of the vote.

This should be a front-burner conversation in Tallahassee.

The state and local communities also could finally find the backbone to curb runaway coastal development. I know – insert laugh track here.

If common sense doesn’t win the argument though, maybe this will. The New York Times recently provided some staggering numbers about both the growth along Florida’s coasts and the cost associated with hurricane damage.

Since 1990, two years before Hurricane Andrew ripped apart large portions of South Florida, the state has added about 6 million people. That growth isn’t slowing.

The Times cited a 2016 Congressional Budget Office report that estimated hurricane damage costs $24 billion annually, a number that is expected to increase dramatically.

Ashley Dawson, a professor at the Princeton Environmental Institute, pointed out another potential danger in an op-ed that appeared in the Times a few days before Irma hit.

“ … there’s the threat of a storm-caused nuclear meltdown. The Turkey Point nuclear power station sits on an exposed island in Biscayne Bay, about 25 miles south of Miami,” she wrote.

“Built in the early 1970s, the aging plant depends on similar vulnerable backup systems to prevent a meltdown as those of Japan’s Fukushima plant, which is still leaking radiation.”

Washington needs to get in the game too. President Trump’s proposed budget called for a 16 percent cut at NOAA, an agency that proved to be kind of valuable in providing early and detailed warnings about Irma and other storms.

Add it up.

Millions of displaced residents. Billions in damages. Florida’s emergency response both before and after the storm was exemplary, but people deserve more to help mitigate these storms long before they arrive.

We can’t stop them, but better policies going forward might help limit the damage. That will require some hard decisions in Tallahassee starting now. Think they’re up to it?

Joe Henderson: Hollywood Hills deaths horrifying outrage

Of all the heartbreak and damage wrought by Hurricane Irma, nothing is worse than the deaths of eight elderly residents, aged 71 to 99, at a Hollywood Hills rehabilitation center.

It’s an outrage. It’s horrifying. It left people sputtering with anger and officials on the trail to find answers.

The facility lost power during the storm and backup systems failed. That left residents to swelter with no air conditioning, and now multiple investigations are under way, although other possible causes of death are being considered, including carbon monoxide poisoning. If there was negligence, criminal charges may follow.

My goodness, this rehab center was located across the street from a hospital emergency room. Did no one think to run over there and say, “Hey, we have a problem.”

The Florida Health Care Association, which advocates for elderly in the state, called it “a profound tragedy within the larger tragedy of Hurricane Irma.”

That about sums it up, and there is something potentially more disturbing. Will we find stories of neglect at other facilities? The FHCA said of the nearly 700 senior homes in the state,  about 150 didn’t have power Wednesday.

Hurricane Irma was a monster and everyone in the state, especially in south Florida, knew to expect havoc. But there were also several days to prepare, and the loss of power is one of the first things to happen with a hurricane.

The rehab center’s administrator, Jorge Carballo, told the Miami Herald facility officials are fully cooperating with authorities.

He added that the staff “diligently prepared for the impact of Hurricane Irma. We took part in emergency management preparedness calls with local and state emergency officials, other nursing homes and health regulators.”

If that is so, then why did no one there think to alert someone, anyone, that a portable cooling unit at the facility had failed?

Mara K. Gambineri, spokeswoman for the state health department, told the Herald, “At no time did the facility report that conditions had become dangerous or that the health and safety of their patients was at risk.”

Could no one see this coming? This facility recently received a “much below average” rating from a state agency.

Seniors make up nearly one in five of the state’s 20 million residents. By 2040, officials estimate the state will have more than 6 million senior citizens. Many of them will eventually need specialized care.

Even today, many seniors need help with basics like bathing, when to take their medications, or just getting out of bed. They require elevated care for diseases like Alzheimer’s, senior dementia, or Parkinson’s. Their diets have to be watched and managed.

They are not always the most cooperative patients.

It’s expensive, too. reported the median national cost of a one-bedroom assisted living facility is more than $3,600 a month. Many places cost a lot more than that, and as rates continue to rise, some seniors are forced to find other places to live.

As events in Hollywood Hills proved, tragedy can result when things go wrong.

So, yes, there must be a thorough investigation. If there was criminal negligence, people should go to jail. Don’t stop there, though. Florida is judged by how it cares for its most vulnerable citizens.

Every senior facility should be under renewed scrutiny.

They have to get this right.

Joe Henderson: It’s past time for flood insurance reform

The images of sunken cars, water-soaked homes and submerged streets in the aftermath of hurricanes in Florida and Texas should be enough to convince politicians to finally address the issue of flood insurance.

Millions who need coverage don’t have it or can’t afford it. It’s an old problem in states like ours, and it’s time to fix it – past time, really.

Private and federal aid is pouring in to the parts of Florida and Texas that were battered by hurricanes Irma and Harvey, but for many that won’t be enough. Home insurance doesn’t cover damage from floods, and that left an estimated 85 percent of people whose homes were destroyed in Houston to face financial calamity because they don’t have the coverage.

Across Florida’s coastal counties, only 42 percent of homeowners carry flood insurance – and that number likely would lower if they weren’t required by law in some cases to purchase the protection.

With damage in the billions of dollars, people without proper insurance have few options. Many will be forced to declare bankruptcy.

So, what to do?

The biggest knock against flood insurance is that it is too expensive, so helping craft a bipartisan solution that brings down the cost while keeping coverage is simply the right to do for Americans.

Second, and more ominously, scientists warn that storms like Irma and Harvey will be firing up with increasing deadly strength and frequency due to climate change. Kicking the can down the road on tough issues is a favorite pastime of Congress, but that is not an option here.

As communities rebuild, local governments need to attack the problem of runaway development in flood-prone areas. That’s a different issue than insurance, obviously, but it’s no less important.

Low-lying cities like Houston and Miami have been shown to be particularly vulnerable to killer floods after these storms.

The problem is, people have always been drawn to the water and will continue to be. Leaders must find a way to balance the natural draw that waterfront homes have against the danger of building in those areas.

Elected leaders generally deal with these problems only by reacting when disaster strikes.

Fiercely independent states like Florida and Texas generally loathe interference from the federal government, but they’re also quick to plead for Washington to open the taps for relief in times like this.

Well, don’t stop with just requesting aid.

Demand that this nation come up with a comprehensive disaster plan that is fair and affordable. Yes, that probably means resistance from states where flooding isn’t the issue it is here. It will mean dealing with the question of why people in other states should subsidize our demand to live by the water.

Solve it anyway, because this problem is certain to come up again.

Joe Henderson: Hopefully we learned Irma’s lessons

The winds have died and the mopping up has begun. Businesses are reopening as people head back to work while dealing, at least for now, with their new realities.

I know people whose homes were badly damaged by this storm, while others – myself luckily included – had only minor inconveniences. No matter whether Irma dealt you a mighty blow or a glancing scratch, we’re all in this together.

That’s why the most important questions in Irma’s wake is what we learned about the experience, and whether those lessons will stay with us as we go forward into what seems increasingly to be an era of super storms.

They had better.

HAVE A PLAN: You know all those TV people who start preaching in June about the necessity of having a hurricane plan? Maybe everyone ought to listen.

When the news of Irma’s impending arrival became real, there was a rush on water, batteries, flashlights, and necessities like canned goods. Those things are a lot more available in June than they are 48 hours before a Category 5 hurricane is predicted to strike.

Water doesn’t spoil.

If you have bought supplies in the past, you might want to update the inventory. On Saturday, after shelves had been cleared out and stores started to close, we confidently pulled out the giant plastic container that kept the supply of size “C” and “D” batteries. They were right where we left them.

They also had expired in 2011.

CUT FORECASTERS A BREAK: I actually heard some people complain weather forecasters were totally wrong on this one because Irma didn’t follow the initial projected paths. That’s crazy.

They routinely warned viewers that even the slightest change in conditions could send the hurricane off in many directions. They emphasized everyone was in danger, and everyone had to prepare like they were going to be directly in the damage path.

Even with the advanced and other equipment, plotting an exact course of these storms can be an inexact science. They get it right more often than not, though.

I remember hearing Steve Jerve of WFLA-TV in Tampa say last Friday that the eye of Irma likely would pass just east of the city, which is exactly what it did.

SHELTER FROM THE STORM: People seem to have this one down. Shelters filled early as people wisely took no chances, Hillsborough County had to open more.

I wonder, though, if the story would have been the same had Irma stayed on the original east-coast track. Given the size of the storm, that could have been catastrophic here. Some people in Miami probably thought they were safe when Irma moved west.

How did that work out?

A POLITICAL MODEL: Future leaders take note: Gov. Rick Scott again provided a blueprint for how someone in his position is supposed to lead during a threat like this.

Like last year with Hurricane Matthew, Scott was here, there and everywhere, sounding the warning early, often and loudly.

As someone noted, when you see Rick Scott wearing the Navy ballcap, you know it’s getting real.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was all over TV, radio and Twitter with similar warnings. He gets the quote of the week with his one about how after 90 years of avoiding, Tampa was about to “get punched in the mouth.”

DO YOUR HOMEWORK: Remember the lessons from this adventure because there will be a test. Just look at 2004 after Hurricane Charley left devastation in its path. Three more storms followed.

Wanna bet this won’t happen again?

I don’t.

Joe Henderson: Another tone deaf move by Donald Trump

Florida’s members of the United States Senate don’t agree on much, but with a Category 5 hurricane bearing down on Miami and the east coast, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio are standing shoulder-to-shoulder in advocating for their state.

Well done.

Yes, we expect leaders to put aside their differences and come together in times like this. But the trend of bipartisan agreement between those two actually started a few days ago, although current events shoved the news to the back pages.

They agree that President Trump offered up a lousy nominee to head NASA.

The choice of climate-denier U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma to lead the space agency was just the latest example of the president’s tone-deaf timing, given the devastation in Texas from Hurricane Harvey and the way Hurricane Irma just flattened Caribbean islands on its way to Florida.

The nomination came last week in what has become known as the “Friday news dump” – that time when leaders try to slip controversial items into a period where they don’t think people will be paying attention.

Nelson and Rubio were paying attention.

Bridenstine has shown a keen interest in the space program and has indicated he would fast-track the mission to send astronauts to Mars.

That is all good.

But weather research also is a key part of NASA’s mission, and Bridenstine has left no doubt where he stands on the issue that humans are contributing to climate change.

In a 2013 speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, he said, “And we also know that (President Obama) spends 30 times as much money on global warming research as he does on weather forecasting and warning. For this gross misallocation, the people of Oklahoma are ready to accept the president’s apology, and I intend to submit legislation to fix this.”

Politifact rated Bridenstine’s assertion as mostly false.

“The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician,” Nelson told Politico in a statement.

Rubio told Politico he agreed with Nelson, and added that because the Senate must approve the nominee, the “baggage” Bridenstine carries means his confirmation is no sure thing.

“I just think it could be devastating for the space program. Obviously, being from Florida, I’m very sensitive to anything that slows up NASA and its mission,” Rubio said.

What’s happening in this hurricane season is exactly what climate experts have been warning about for years.

They say because of human actions, storms would be stronger than anything we’ve seen and they would be more frequent. Coastal areas would be devastated and the economic damage would be in the trillions of dollars.

Well, it’s happening. Trump’s response is to turn a key agency involved in climate research over to someone who says it’s all fake news.

Joe Henderson: Florida’s resolve displayed again as Irma approaches

Floridians generally are a cocky bunch when it comes to hurricanes. A lot of people take the batteries-and-beer approach to these things: make sure you have plenty of both.

Fill up the propane tank on the grill, fill the cooler with ice, and ride it out.

Not this time.

In 45 years of living in this slice of paradise, I have never seen residents across the state prepare for a hurricane like people are doing for Irma.

Here in Tampa, water and canned goods began disappearing from shelves on Monday, about a week before Irma’s possible arrival. People saw the devastation last week in Houston and they’re taking no chances.

The hurricane seems certain to give a direct hit to a good portion of Florida; we just don’t know where yet. No matter where that is, though, people nearly everywhere in the state will be affected. Irma is roughly the size of Ohio and could stretch from the Gulf to the Atlantic.

So, we get ready the best we can and hope for the best.

Gov. Rick Scott showed last year during the buildup to Hurricane Matthew that he understands the vital role leadership plays in times like this, and he is doing it again. Give the man credit.

Along with the emergency management personnel, the governor’s performance can reassure residents that all systems are in place to prepare before the storm hits and react after it leaves. That’s all we ask.

The aftermath of Irma could leave Floridians struggling for months to have the basics like food and shelter. Times like that, though, tend to bring out the best in people.

Already, churches across the state are mobilizing to help members of their congregations and community. Disaster agencies like the Red Cross and many, many others have teams in place to quickly respond to needs.

Social media is playing a huge role in giving residents options and support. I’ve had offers from friends as far away as Ohio to go there if it gets too bad here.

There is one buddy there who disagrees with me on everything politically, often vocally. That didn’t stop him from offering the use of his large motorhome as a place to stay if my family and I need it.

We really do tend to come together when it matters most. We aren’t so divided that we can’t lend a hand and a hug to someone who needs both.

Watching the approach of this storm has been draining for everyone, wondering where and when it will strike. Whatever happens though, we’ll get through it. This hurricane might be a monster, but it takes more than that to beat Floridians.

That’s not being cocky. It’s just the truth.

GOP faces showdown: Is it ‘mean’ or ‘compassionate’

My Republican friends (yes, I have them) loathe being called the party of mean people, and I completely understand why they feel that way.

What some see as mean, others see as principled. That’s particularly true with programs like Medicaid expansion in Florida, which many Republicans say costs too much and doesn’t work well enough.

I respect that point of view because it’s not looney, even if I don’t agree.

But when it comes to so-called Dreamers – the children of undocumented immigrants, many of whom came to the United States as infants and young children – we’re about to find out whether “mean” is stronger than “principled” among today’s Republicans.

In terminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program with a six-month delay, President Trump is throwing this issue back into the lap of the Republican-controlled Congress. The GOP is on the clock to come up with a plan that will do one of two things:

It will either protect about 800,000 children of undocumented immigrants, or deport them – never mind that life in the United States is all many of those so-called Dreamers know.

Place your bets on what they’ll come up with.

There are plenty of Republicans who are horrified by what this could mean.

In a statement, Florida Gov. Rick Scott made it clear that while he opposes illegal immigration and sanctuary cities, “These kids must be allowed to pursue the American dream, and Congress must act on this immediately.”

That is a reasonable position.

But Scott had a hand in creating this mess because he supported Trump last year in the presidential campaign. We all remember how Trump was whipping hard-right Republicans into a frenzy over immigration. He managed to tie that issue into just about every problem in America.

Crime? Undocumented immigrants.

Economic struggles? Undocumented immigrants.

Family values? Not for undocumented immigrants.

The issue became the catalyst for Trump’s idiotic border wall with Mexico and his draconian immigration proposals. And because President Obama used executive action that led to DACA, the Trump administration – intoxicated by its own rhetoric – is determined to reverse the policy, no matter the damage.

Now, bug-eyed zealots like Iowa U.S. Rep. Steve King are threatening lawsuits over the delay in shutting down DACA, even tweeting that “former #DACAs will make great Peace Corps volunteers in their home countries.”

Never mind, Captain Deportation, that the United States IS the home country for many housands of the people you want to kick out of the land of the free – no matter where they were born.

This is all they know.

Yeah, if the forced ejection of these people from their homes and families comes to pass, it will make dandy footage on the nightly news.

If they lose this latest battle for sanity and compassion, Republicans can protest all they want about unfair labels on their party. They can scream ‘til the cows come home that they are principled, not mean.

They will be wrong.

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