Joe Henderson – Page 2 – 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: Florida public education takes another hit

If you look closely, there actually are a couple of decent things in the just-passed Florida public education bill that is headed to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature – basically scraps offered to schools as balm for their tattered remains.

But let’s call HB 7055 for what it is.

It’s a victory lap for lawmakers who decided long ago that Florida public education is falling way short and needs to be blown up and rebuilt, charter by charter.

We aren’t there yet, but that seems to be the goal of many Republicans, most notably House Speaker Richard Corcoran. They will take pleasure from the fact they just uncorked another haymaker on the teachers union. Democrats couldn’t do anything about it besides vote no and send out tweets like this one from state Rep. Loranne Ausley of Tallahassee.

I do wish the Speaker would admit he despises the union and that rendering it useless would be a major part of his legacy that he will look back upon with pride, but I guess the passage of this legislation makes it clear enough.

Under the bill that the governor is expected to sign, a union can be decertified if it fails to sign up 50 percent of those eligible to join. No other public-sector union in the state faces this requirement, and this legislation is the thinnest veil yet to make life as difficult as possible for teachers and those who represent them.

Instead of concentrating on policy other functions, union reps will have to spend more time recruiting members.

A statement on the Florida Education Association website called on Scott to veto the bill and read: “This was never about what is best for our students, never about what is best for teachers, never about the value of our public schools to the families that they serve. It is only about a corrupt and arrogant legislature. It will do even more damage to our students’ learning environments than last year’s HB 7069.”

That led to this quote in the Miami Herald from the Senate floor by Republican state Sen. Tom Lee, who, from recent events, appears to have stopped caring what anyone in his party thinks of him.

“We do a lousy job of representing working class people and we should be ashamed of ourselves,” Lee said. “We have to accept this poison pill and slap the teachers of Florida in the face.”

Oh, the good stuff.

It’s in there, somewhere, in the sweeping bill.

The requirement passed last year that districts share their property tax funding for infrastructure with charters has been eliminated. For cash-strapped districts like Hillsborough struggling to keep up the demand of an ever-growing student body, that’s good news.

It also waived standardized testing and other requirements for Marjory Stoneman Douglas students after the horror they endured.

That was good.

The ballyhooed Hope Scholarship funded in this bill allows bullied students from public school to receive money to attend a private school. The actual wording is a little vague on how to prove bullying actually took place. But, OK, the spirit behind that push is reasonable and I doubt it will have any significant impact on public school budgets.

Besides, the real bullies are the ones in the Legislature who decided they know more about to run a school system than the professionals and teachers who actually do so.

Instead of partnering with schools, lawmakers have become dictators determined to push through dramatic change at all cost – often to the benefit of their charter school buddies.

They got what they wanted, again, and soon enough we’ll find out just what that cost to Florida public education will be.

Joe Henderson: Joe Negron just forgot who is in charge

Senate President Joe Negron was either confused Saturday or had a temporary case of amnesia, but whatever the problem one thing was immediately clear.

Negron simply forgot who really controls that chamber of the Florida Legislature.

Guess what? It ain’t him.

And it’s sure not the Republican Party.

Nope. After the vote to quickly reverse a measure that would have installed modest limits on the purchase of AR-15 assault-style rifles, we were reminded again that the National Rifle Association is in charge of any public policy concerning firearms.

On that issue, Negron is basically the titular head of the NRA-controlled Senate.

You can bet your last nickel he quickly figured that out after he declared an amendment to establish a two-year moratorium on the sale of those weapons had passed on a voice vote.

Tweets went out announcing the news. Those who favor gun control were overjoyed. Those who embrace the no-limits version of the Second Amendment were stunned.

But wait!

Was Negron actually going to risk the wrath of the NRA by believing his lying ears? Of course not. There is a reasonable explanation though.

Perhaps he mistook the increasing volume of voices demanding sensible changes to the gun laws in this state for the drone of those who parrot the NRA mantra of more guns, more guns, more guns and more guns.

Ah, the crisis was averted when Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley jumped in with a motion to say hey, let’s rethink that vote, OK? A bit later, the ban was defeated.

Whew! That was close!

This would actually be funny if the stakes weren’t so high. Floridians will never look at guns the same after the slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

The GOP response has basically been to argue schools would be safer if teachers had guns in the classroom as the first line of defense.

In the face of such poisoned logic, opponents have no hope of winning the argument for sensible limits on gun ownership.

If 17 murder victims at a state high school doesn’t convince Republicans that maybe they need to look at this issue from another angle, nothing will. The only hope opponents have for changing the rules is to change the lawmakers.

The only way to do that is at the ballot box. Democrat Gwen Graham, who is running for governor, was quick to pounce with a tweet promising if she wins to veto any bill that puts more guns in schools.

For Democrats, the ballot box has proven to be an elusive challenge. Except for a brief period in 2010 when then-Gov. Charlie Crist left the GOP to become an independent, Republicans have controlled both houses and the governor’s mansion since 1999.

With no political balance in Tallahassee, Republicans have boldly moved to approve many NRA-backed provisions to expand gun availability and the rights of users.

The NRA has adamantly opposed most attempts to restrict sales and availability, even a recent proposal by Gov. Rick Scott to raise the minimum age to buy an assault-style weapon to 21 from its current 18.

NRA Grand Dame Marion Hammer has called that an attack on the Second Amendment.

So really, the surprise Saturday was that Negron apparently forgot to check with her before declaring that amendment on assault weapons had passed.

Anyway, all is back in order now in Tallahassee and the NRA-controlled Senate of the Gunshine State.

The threatened breach of sanity has been averted.

Joe Henderson: Tom Lee is right to rip Legislature leadership

Tom Lee is right.

OK, it was more than a bit of hyperbole Friday when Lee, a Republican state Senator from Thonotosassa, said leadership in both chambers is running the Legislature “like a third world country” but he was right on point when his frustration with how bills are presented and passed became headline news.

“I’ve never seen this place get so transactional, where people are getting locked down on votes, and we’re just getting going here,” Lee told reporters after a terse on-floor exchange with Senate President Joe Negron – who was not amused.

In this case, Lee was trying to soften a blatant attempt by the House to bust the state public school teachers union.

The attack on public education by the Legislature has been going on for a while now, and rather than roll over while more money is re-directed to charter schools, the union had the audacity to fight back. Obviously, top Tallahassee lawmakers consider that a high crime from those uppity teachers.

That’s how we got HB 7055,  a bullying tactic on teachers union disguised as a sweeping public-sector bill. It includes a requirement that applies only to teachers unions. If their dues-paying membership falls below half of those eligible, it could force them to be re-certified. You can almost hear House leaders laughing as the bill was being put together.

During Senate debate, Lee called the amendment “mean spirited” and offered an amendment that would have lowered that bar to 40 percent.

When Negron told him to hurry things along, Lee responded from the floor, “I didn’t come to Tallahassee to be intimidated.”

The amendment didn’t pass, but the real story was that a well-known Republican senator – more than a bit of a maverick, sure – had publicly bucked the leadership of his party in a way that hasn’t been seen in a while.

I’ve known Tom Lee for a long time and two things come quickly to mind: He doesn’t always play the go-along-to-get-along game, and when he gets riled he doesn’t hold back.

Remember, this is his second stint in the Senate; he was president there from 2004-06. He knows how the sausage gets made, which means he also knows political independence for lawmakers is the most endangered species in the state these days.

With Republicans controlling both chambers plus the governor’s mansion, laws now are filtered through the narrow ideology of House and Senate leadership.

Junior members who ran for office promising the home folks to make a difference quickly learn that if the party boss tells you how to vote on certain issues, you’d better play along.

Failure to do so can mean the legislator’s proposals will die in committee, if they get that far. The merit of bills matters far less than being willing to fall in line with the agenda of the Senate President or House Speaker.

A free-thinker like Tom Lee can find this exasperating.

He told reporters after Friday’s eruption that members from rural districts find themselves in a “headlock” on gun legislation working through the Legislature “because they’re being instructed to vote for it.”

Florida has 20 million people and the Legislature is supposed to represent them all, but that’s a joke. Even obvious bills of revenge like the one against the teachers union have almost no chance of being stopped if a leader wants it badly enough.

“I’ve just had enough … I’ve struggled to get things out of this institution … and it’s petty and I am fed up,” he told reporters Friday. “I didn’t come up here to get bullied; I didn’t come up here to ‘follow directions.’ I came to represent my constituents.”

That’s the problem.

Constituent needs always take a back seat because lawmakers in Tallahassee are expected to follow directions set by a small core of party leaders, something Lee has never been good at doing.

Too bad, because the Legislature needs more of that.

Joe Henderson: Maybe Senate should have asked Adam Putnam first

Say this for Adam Putnam: he knows how to get attention.

He put out a terse news release Wednesday, ripping a state Senate proposal to use $10 million from the concealed weapons license fee to reimburse trauma centers for costs related to the Parkland murders.

It was kind of a “get off my lawn” moment for the normally affable Agriculture Commissioner, who also is running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

“I oppose taxing law-abiding concealed weapon licensees for atrocities carried out by criminals. If anyone should be taxed for those heinous acts, it should be criminals,” the release read.

“The monster who murdered 17 people in Parkland wasn’t even eligible to have a concealed weapon license.”

Putnam’s objection about taxpayers is a bit of a reach, starting with the fact that law-abiding citizens he referred to aren’t being taxed. They voluntarily paid a fee for the right to carry a concealed weapon.

And while we all agree what happened in Parkland qualifies as an atrocity, it’s not like the reimbursement would be going to some wild-eyed anti-gun lobby. It would be going to help cover costs of treating victims of the aforementioned atrocity.

It is true, though, that the confessed shooter in Parkland isn’t old enough to have the license. In Florida, the minimum age is 21 for the permit. He was old enough to legally purchase the AR-15 assault-style rifle used in the attack, but I digress.

The point is, the horror unleashed that day – 17 dead, 14 wounded – pushed local hospitals to the limit. That’s what led Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens to propose the reimbursement fund, which would be administered by Attorney General’s office.

Senate President Joe Negron supported the idea, and SB 1876 was born. It passed an appropriations committee vote 17-3.

On the surface, using a portion of that gun fee in this way seemed reasonable. First-time Florida applicants pay $97 for the permit, which includes $55 for fingerprinting. Renewals cost $45.

It is good for seven years.

However, Jennifer Meale, communications director for the agriculture department, said in an email, “The primary purpose of the licensing fees is to mange and operate the concealed weapon license program. All application and renewal fees are dedicated to the licensing trust fund.”

Translation: That money already has a purpose.

In fairness, the right thing to do for those pushing for this bill would have been to check with Putnam before going public.

This sounds like the Agriculture Commissioner is telling the Senate to keep its mitts out of his money pot without talking to him first, no matter how well-meaning the proposal might be.

He has a point.

Joe Henderson: Arming teachers is bad, bad, bad idea

Some good ideas about gun control came out of the Legislature this week. Arming teachers isn’t one of them, though.

The proposal in the House Appropriations Committee to spend $400 million and put resource officers in every school, beef up mental health treatment, and reinforce buildings to make them safer – all good.

As always when guns are involved though, lawmakers go a step too far.

In this case, Republicans pushed through by a party-line vote the school marshal program championed by Rep. Jose Oliva that would authorize designated teachers to have and, if necessary, use firearms.

Yes, it still has to reach the governor’s desk and even then would still be up to individual school districts to decide if they want to implement the plan.

Even so, it’s bad.

Bad. Bad. Bad.

That’s not just me saying this.

Students, parents and teachers who lived through the horror of the Parkland massacre pleaded, cried and did their best to convince the committee that the proposal was whacked and would only make a horrible situation worse.

Gov. Rick Scott says it’s a bad idea.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio opposes this.

No matter.

The Republican Rifle Association – oops, I mean Republican representatives in the Legislature – will always err on the side of more guns.

The irony, of course, is that the NRA Grand Dame herself, Marion Hammer, lobbied to defeat the bill because it also includes a measure that would push the minimum age to buy a gun to 21.

She called it an attack on the Second Amendment.

No, Marion … what happened in Parkland is an attack.

Shooting 17 people to death with a high-powered weapon is an attack on the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

A few mild restrictions on who can own a gun like that is not an attack. With that in mind, it’s not like Hammer’s legislative lapdogs voted to ban the sale of assault-style weapons or anything.

The committee vote to introduce more guns into public schools it shows the basic belief of those who voted in favor that only a good guy with a gun … blah, blah and furthermore, blah.

Let’s look a little closer at that, shall we?

In a situation like last week, an armed teacher would have been expected to be controlled and cool amid chaos – scrambling, screaming, terrified students, the echo of gunfire from the killer and fallen bodies.

Would the marshal be expected to head into the hallways and track the shooter, or just stay in the classroom and protect students there? And what if police do arrive on the scene and see a teacher moving through the corridors with a weapon?

Even if they don’t just shoot the teacher first, there would be more wasted time trying to prove that this is the good guy.

How they could vote for this idiotic proposal after hearing from those who experienced the Parkland horror beg them not to take that step is sad – but not surprising.

It does set up a potential test for Rick Scott.

If this idea of arming teachers works its way through the process and becomes law, Scott could still veto it – and boy, wouldn’t that bring an interesting twist to his assumed-candidacy for the U.S. Senate.

That’s getting ahead of things though.

Like I said up top, some good ideas came out of Tuesday’s discussion in the appropriations committee, and much of what was proposed makes sense and should become law.

But arming teachers?

Horrible idea. But when it comes to the expansion of guns into everyday life, that never seems to matter.

Joe Henderson: Texting while driving bill may be dead …. again

Today’s question: Name a place where the right to privacy apparently matters more than your right not to get splattered on the road because another motorist couldn’t resist texting while driving.

Why, we know the answer to that. It’s the Florida Legislature!

For the latest example we look to the Senate, where a bill that would make texting while driving a primary offense and might save lives is stuck in committee and likely will stay there.


Republican Sen. Rob Bradley seems to be opposed to the idea.

Big deal? OMG yeah!

Bradley leads the Senate Appropriations Committee, and the Miami Herald reported he is not allowing the bill to be heard. That prompted state Rep. Emily Slosberg, a Democrat from Boca Raton, to tell the Herald the bill “is on the verge of death.”

She is a co-sponsor of HB 33, along with Rep. Jackie Toledo of Tampa.

Verge of death, huh?

Interesting use of words there, since preventing death by distracted driving is the motivation behind making texting while behind the wheel a primary offense. Currently, police can only charge someone with texting while driving if they are first pulled over for another violation.

The bill was sailing merrily through committees in the House and Senate before it got stuck in Bradley’s legislative quicksand pit.

Bradley cited privacy concerns in bottling up the proposed bill, saying it could allow police to search a suspect’s cell phone or even increase racial profiling.

These are not insignificant issues.

You lose the right to privacy, though, when cartwheeling across four lanes of an interstate because you were sending a text and lost control of your car. That argument never penetrates the force field that continues to make Florida one of only five states that has not made texting while driving a primary offense.

Fun with numbers: The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel cited a state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles report that Florida was second-worst in the nation for distracted driving. In 2016 there were about 50,000 distracted-related crashes in Florida and 233 deaths.

Why does that never seem to balance out prohibiting someone’s “right” to fiddle with their phone when they ought to be paying attention to the road?

Republicans have been killing bills like this in the Legislature for years, all in the name of personal liberty.

What about the personal right of others not to wind up in a full-body cast, or a coffin, because someone was sending a Facebook meme while they were driving?

Florida has grown too large to allow this kind of stuff to go on. Between snowbirds who don’t know the roads and the ever-increasing population – now more than 20 million – taking to the highways is already risky enough.

Given that, Bradley’s esoteric argument that clamping down on texting while driving could be an invasion of privacy doesn’t make much sense.

We see people all the time weaving down the roads, eyes and fingers on their phone, mesmerized by a text or a cat picture.

Without coming out and saying it directly, those who keep this bill from becoming law are saying that text or picture trumps your right not to become a statistic.

Joe Henderson: NRA boycott shows pressure can work both ways

The NRA boycott is gaining corporate converts every day, so maybe it’s time ask the gun-rights lobby this simple question: How does it feel?

The National Rifle Association grew into an organization with outsized influence because it keeps lawmakers in line with the threat of political and economic pressure. Its leaders have long understood that politicians can be controlled with those strong-arm tactics.

Or, as Morgan Freeman once famously said in The Shawshank Redemption, “That’s all it takes really – pressure, and time.

In recent days though, the reverse is becoming reality. In the wake of the slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, major sponsors are disassociating with the NRA and even some political leaders – most notably Florida Gov. Rick Scott – offered proposals they wouldn’t have made a month ago.

Scott now wants the minimum age to buy a gun in Florida increased to 21. The confessed killer in Broward County is 19 years old and legally bought the AR-15-style rifle used in the massacre. He also has refused to support the NRA proposal to arm teachers in public schools.

The NRA, naturally, opposes raising the minimum age to buy a weapon. In the Miami Herald, lobbyist Marion Hammer dismissed it as “political eye wash” and said it will “punish law-abiding gun owners.”

Hammer, by the way, was just profiled in a meticulously reported story in The New Yorker. Florida lawmakers, particularly Republicans, are well acquainted with her influence, but even that raises a question worth pondering.

The NRA, according to the profile, has about 300,000 members in Florida, a state with more than 20 million people.

That amounts to 1.5 percent of the population, but Hammer’s ability to summon NRA members en masse to meet any perceived waffling by puppet politicians makes that number seem a lot higher.

She has been able to keep her team in line because opponents have never been able to organize a serious counter challenge. This boycott suggests that might be changing.

The hashtag #BoycottNRA has been attacked by conservatives, who promise companies that go along with it will pay dearly. Major airlines like Delta and United announced they will no longer offer special deals to NRA members, and some hotel chains and credit card companies are doing the same.

The big showdown is with Amazon, YouTube and Google, which thus far have resisted calls to sever ties with the NRA that includes showing its videos online.

Determined opponents have called for such things as canceling memberships to Amazon’s lucrative Prime program. If that begins to catch on, the public backlash against the NRA could turn into an avalanche.

The NRA is fighting back, of course, but we go back to the numbers. It claims to have 5 million members in a nation of about 325 million. We’re back on that approximately 1.5 percent number again.

That also assumes every NRA member is in lockstep with the loudest voices in the organization. In the aftermath of the Stoneman Douglas killings, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

A recent Quinnipiac poll showed Americans favor tougher gun laws by 66-31 percent, the highest level ever. It is also telling that gun owners also support that by 50-44 percent.

Will it work?

Well, if any gun restrictions get through the Florida Legislature, mild as they probably will be, that’s a start. Democrats will be running hard for state offices and congressional seats on anti-gun theme, and that really could change things.

If the NRA boycott spreads, it could impact the organization’s ability to distribute pro-gun literature and send campaign donations to favored politicians.

The seeds of change are there.

Public opinion is turning, some reliable politicians are deserting, and determined Stoneman Douglas students are eloquently demanding change.

That’s how it works.

Pressure. And time.

The NRA, finally, is learning what its like to be on the other side of that game.

Joe Henderson: Could this be the time gun debate sparks action?

Something seems different about the gun debate this time, and Tallahassee lawmakers ignore it at their peril.

The young people who marched on the state capitol and demanded to be heard on the issue of gun control are extraordinary by any measure, but it’s more than that. They are the faces of change.

They are determined that the 17 deaths of their classmates and teachers last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland will not be in vain. They are demanding something the Legislature has not been willing to give — restrictions on weapons like the one used in the slaughter.

I believe they’re going to get what they want, either that or we’ll see the balance of power shift in the Legislature as some of the NRA hard-liners get voted out as voters decided they’ve had enough of this no-compromise nonsense on these weapons of mass death.

Many of those kids who made the trip to Tallahassee aren’t old enough to vote yet, but their parents are — and millions of them who are fed up with the notion that the Second Amendment to own a gun trumps the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Such talk usually gets a dismissive wave from lawmakers who continue to endorse the NRA’s inexorable push for guns in every place, on every hip, on every street corner — all in the name of safety.

It took these kids to shout BS loudly enough to echo across the state, and I think it is starting to penetrate the force field that keeps out sanity in the House and Senate – particularly the House.

The commentary offered Thursday on Florida Politics by Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob White might have passed for normal gun-rights rhetoric a few weeks ago, but now seemed way out of touch with this new reality.

He hit all the NRA talking points about good guys and bad guys, keeping guns away from the mentally ill (while his party has blocked such restrictions) and offered prayers and support for the victims. But held tightly to the absurd notion that more guns make us safer, and it’s just not so.

For me, this was his money quote: “What a travesty that it took this tragic loss of life to begin this discussion.”

Well yeah, but Republicans are the ones who blocked this discussion – over, and over, and over again. That seems to be changing.

Adam Putnam has at least delayed his controversial measure to allow concealed weapons permit to be issued without a complete background check. It would be hubris on an unprecedented scale for him to try and sneak that provision back through.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, an outspoken NRA supporter, told students that gun control measures are “on the table.” We haven’t heard that come out of Tallahassee in a while.

You know all those mailers we get during election season from Republicans showing off their NRA endorsements? In this climate, I doubt we’ll see as many of those.

GOP state Rep. Chris Latvala even bragged to CNN that he had a D rating from the NRA, the lowest of any Republican.

President Donald Trump has gotten into it as well. After a meeting Wednesday with students, parents and teachers affected by the shootings filled with raw emotion, he vowed to take real action.

I hope so.

The cynic in me notes how many Republican legislators in Tallahassee managed to dodge meeting with students and protesters. We can assume NRA lobbyists are working overtime to sure nothing of substance gets done. They’ll fight a delaying game, like they always do. They’ll rely on their strongest voices in the House and Senate to do their bidding.

They’ll hope people will eventually get on with other parts of their lives.

That’s how the gun debate has always worked.

This really seems different, though.

For one thing, the Pulse nightclub slaughter in Orlando happened in mid-June, 2016 — after the Legislature had adjourned.

The slaughter in Parkland happened right in the middle of this year’s Session, in a public high school that could have been anywhere in the state.

It tore open the question of how it could have been avoided, and the old argument that having more guns in the school would have made it safer sound ridiculous.

The fact it took a tragedy on this scale to make that point is beyond awful. Meeting in the middle has never been part of the NRA’s game plan, but that may be the best it can hope for this time.

These kids aren’t going away.

They are determined. They are smart. They are compelling.

And they are right.

Joe Henderson: Only lowest of low would spread lies about Parkland students

What kind of vermin would say two Parkland students grieving from last week’s massacre at their high school were really actors who were being paid to make gun owners look bad?

I think we can all agree this represents the lowest of the low. Well, apparently not “all” of us. Helping spread that lie is why Benjamin Kelly lost his job Tuesday night as an aide to Republican state Rep. Shawn Harrison of Tampa.

Kelly sent an unsolicited note to Alex Leary, Washington correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times, that said, “Both kids in the picture are not students here but actors that travel to various crisis when they happen.”

When Leary asked for proof, he was provided with a link to a YouTube conspiracy video. Not long after, Kelly was out of a job.

Yes, Kelly got what he deserved for spreading crap even as funerals are being held for victims of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. But I ask again, what kind of horrible human being tries to turn an unfathomable tragedy into a personal attack on two students because they dared to speak out in the first place?

Well, someone did. They must be very proud today.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio summed it up as well as anyone by tweeting this was the work of a “disgusting group of idiots with no sense of decency.”

I got into a long back-and-forth on Facebook Tuesday night about that subject with a guy I knew back in high school a long, long time ago but hadn’t kept up with. He was adamant the story was real and that I was a big part of the problem because I didn’t believe it.

He noted, “Yesterday CNN was caught using professional actors claiming to be Parkland students demanding gun control. My question is, when can we expect to read your column condemning CNN for this shameful and unprofessional journalistic practice.”

I could almost hear him stomping his foot. He wouldn’t accept overwhelming evidence that the story was fabricated. He wouldn’t accept the word of the Broward County school superintendent that the two people in questions were students.

He had read it somewhere on wing nut media, and it had to be true.

This is what we’re up against.

Back in the day, I can remember having a good chuckle at headlines on tabloids like the National Enquirer as I stood in the grocery store checkout line. That was about as crazy as it got.

Now, there is a whole industry devoted to tin foil hats and deranged conspiracies. This might be a good time to remember that then-candidate Donald Trump helped further that when he told chief kook Alex Jones that his reputation is “amazing.”

The president also has regular attacks on individuals, the foundations of government, the media (of course) and, well, you know.

Separately, the nonsense is easy to dismiss. But then something like this happens and we can see how it all comes together. We can’t even take comfort (if comfort is to be found) that it’s all just Facebook babble, not when it reaches into the office of a Florida state representative and belittles two Parkland students who just lived through a horror.

There have always been people who believe 9/11 was an inside job and that we faked the moon landing, but usually they were contained in their own little bubble.

No more.

In their world, truth is whatever they want it to be. Facts are lies. Everything is a cover-up.

And the crazier it gets, the more likely they are to believe.

That’s no lie.

Joe Henderson: It’s fitting to name St. Pete’s library after Barack Obama

You can make a strong case that it is appropriate the city of St. Petersburg decided to rename its main library after President Barack Obama.

Oh dear. What did I just do?

I said something nice about Barack Obama. Release the trolls! Or at least the Russian bots.

While those hounds are picking up my scent, consider this: Cities name stuff after former presidents all the time. In California alone, there are six schools named after President Ronald Reagan. When I go to Cincinnati, I drive on the Ronald Reagan Cross County Highway.

In Washington, travelers fly out of Reagan National Airport.

Right here in Florida, the Legislature named the state turnpike the Ronald Reagan Turnpike 1998.

Jimmy Carter had a nuclear sub named after him.  Lyndon Johnson has the space center in Houston named in his honor. And, of course, there is the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral. Even Richard Nixon had a couple of schools named after him – before he resigned in disgrace.

But, you know, this is Obama – so, as they say, haters gonna hate. If you doubt that, just read many of the comments on the bottom of a story about the news on

They overlook that a huge part of his legacy is the work he and his wife, Michelle, did to promote childhood literacy in this country. He started the open e-books program for special education and Title I teachers, giving access to $250 million worth of books.

The “Let Girls Learn” program was designed to help 62 million girls worldwide receive access to books and education. He promoted literacy programs to help pre-schoolers become better prepared to enter kindergarten.

So, this is just me, but I think naming a library after a president who was a relentless champion of learning and raising literacy rates, particularly in the neediest areas, is a fine thing to do.

St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman is getting knocked around by some about this. Critics are calling it a thank-you to Obama after he campaigned for Kriseman’s successful re-election campaign. They’re asking what Obama has ever done for this area.

Well, you could ask the same about a lot of those other dedications across the country to former presidents. Obama was a frequent visitor to the Tampa Bay area and carried Florida in both of his campaigns, so it’s not like he was a stranger to the people here.

In a nation as divided as this one now, finding middle ground on these issues is impossible. It will be the same way a few years when some locales decide to name things after Donald Trump. (Note to self: resist the urge to say something snarky … must resist … must resist … keep it positive).

But Barack Obama was the president for eight years, and his popularity rating was 59 percent when he left office. He must have done a few things right.

You can look it up at any public library.

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