Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 25

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: Teachers deserve raise, but where is the money?

The dirty secret for public school teachers in Hillsborough County, or basically anywhere in Florida, is that the amount they are paid doesn’t cover all the work they do.

Many teachers just shrug at that reality and spend part of their “free time” grading papers, preparing lesson plans, or volunteering at school events because they think it’s the right thing to do for their students.

Well, it looks like that will stop. No more freebie time. We’re about to find out what happens now that Hillsborough teachers say they will do only the work specified in their contract. That means grades could be late, lesson plans could be disjointed, and they’ll be out the door and gone as soon as the final bell rings. See you in the morning.

This is happening because the county school board said it doesn’t have the money to pay a $4,000 raise it promised years ago to about one-third of the estimated 14,000 teachers employed by the nation’s eighth-largest district.

About 600 angry, fed-up teachers showed up at a school board meeting Tuesday to deliver that message. They call it “working the contract” and if they follow through, it could cause chaos in the system.

Teachers are given planning time during the day, but it’s frequently inadequate to accomplish all the requirements of the job. That means taking work home, and hundreds of teachers have shared stories about finishing their job tasks at the expense of family time.

Their reward for this has been a kick in the teeth from the Legislature, which has been focused on expanding private charter schools. Lawmakers allow charters to use tax money for their buildings and they can take federal dollars targeted to help low-income students. That cuts into public school budgets.

That doesn’t account for all the fiscal problems, though.

Student population is expanding as Florida grows. Hillsborough has more than 300 public schools, and the maintenance problems at many of them have been well documented. The district also accumulated about $1 billion in debt for new-school construction between 1994 and 2014.

Add to that the expectation that voters will approve a $25,000 increase in the homestead exemption in 2018, and that will cut into school budgets even more.

And, yes, decisions like the one years ago to partner with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation proved to be a financial disaster. That’s on the school board.

Guess who got caught in the middle?

Those teachers wore blue shirts in solidarity and chanted slogans at the contentious board meeting Tuesday, but that was never going to get them the money they deserve. They see “working the contract” as the only viable way to get the attention of the people in charge.

As much as I hate to see it come to this, this is only leverage they have. The Legislature’s answer to all the school problems has been for officials to manage their money better, but what’s happening in Hillsborough is way beyond that simplistic solution.

The teachers deserve the raise they were promised, and for that to happen Hillsborough needs to find about $17 million somewhere, somehow. Good luck with that.

This problem is about to get real.

Joe Henderson: American Exceptionalism not good in this case

The words American Exceptionalism are generally accepted to mean the good ol’ USA stands alone among the nations of the world.

Supporters say that is a good thing, and for the most part that is true. The freedoms we take for granted here aren’t available in many other corners of the planet.

But, alas, those words also stand for something dire. America is now the only nation in the world that isn’t part of the Paris Climate Accord. There is nothing exceptional about that.

That became fact last week when Syria – SYRIA! – said it would sign the pact that seeks global solutions to the effects of greenhouse gases and other factors that are causing the wild fluctuations in our weather.

We know the consequences of that better than almost any other state in the nation. The tip of the planetary climate sword has struck at Florida the last few years with increasingly deadly results.

Multiple powerful hurricanes hit us, bringing death and billions of dollars in damage. And forecasters said the other day that another La Nina is forming in the Pacific. That likely means a warmer, dryer winter here, which will increase the chances for widespread wildfires like we had this spring.

With that in mind, the Miami Herald reported that Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan of Sarasota just repeated his plea for the United States to remain part of the Paris pact.

In May, ahead of President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the global agreement, Buchanan tried to “strongly encourage” the U.S. to keep its commitment to stay in. He repeated that Monday, calling on the president to change his mind.

Good idea.

Opponents scoff at volumes of evidence asserting that the problems are man-made – because, you know, those smart-aleck scientists think they know everything.

Buchanan is not the only Republican who believes the U.S. should join the other nations of the world in this agreement. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, whose 26th district covers parts of South Florida, including the Everglades, also has been vocal about staying in the accord.

A statement on his official webpage reads: “While we have made great strides in protecting these ecosystems, we must acknowledge the direct threats posed by rising sea levels and the erosion of our coastal communities. A crucial step in the right direction is moving past the debate of whether or not climate change is real and towards solutions that will mitigate its detrimental effect on our communities.”

The Republican Party has been mostly aligned with the scoffers on this issue, but that always seemed like a position of political pandering instead of statesmanship. It’s significant that these two GOP members who broke ranks are from districts that are in particularly vulnerable coastal areas.

Politics goes out the window when flood waters are coming into your living room.

Joe Henderson: Roy Moore and the battle for GOP’s soul

From the moment years ago when Republicans decided victory was worth whatever the cost to their party’s soul, Roy Moore has been lurking out there, waiting for his chance to scream “yeehaw” on the national stage.

Well, he is here now, Republicans. He could still be elected to the U.S. Senate from Alabama, even after the Washington Post reported that when Moore was in his 30s, he had multiple sexual encounters with under-aged girls, including a 14-year-old. Polls still show a tight race.

Republicans looked the other way while Moore’s peculiar brand of public policy began gaining grassroots acceptance, including here in Florida, and now they don’t know what to do with him. Denounce him too strongly and a candidate could lose the almighty GOP “base.” Speak softly and they could soon have a pariah in their midst, one dedicated to replace them all with more people who think like he does.

Tough choice, eh? Moore is one of the heroes in a movement where what he says – and how supporters believe he will vote – is far more important than what he does, and how do you deal with that?

Yes, many prominent Republicans, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have called for him to drop out of the race “IF” the allegations are proven true. That’s not exactly a Profiles in Courage stance, given that even though the Post named his accusers, this all happened about 40 years ago.

This is how Republicans believe they have to operate since they fell in line while Donald Trump took over their party (with fewer votes than Hillary Clinton) after a campaign of lies, insults and dark imagery – and maybe with a little help from his BFF Vladimir Putin.

Trump figured, correctly, that the Republican Party would be easier to hijack than Democrats. The new GOP, as envisioned by Steve Bannon, will be filled with people like Roy Moore – gun-waving, rights-trampling, Constitution-spitting fireballs with no regard for any view but their own.

“There’s a coalition coming together that’s going to challenge every Republican incumbent except for Ted Cruz,” Bannon told Sean Hannity. “We are declaring war on the Republican establishment that does not back the agenda Trump ran on. Nobody is safe. We’re coming after all of them. And we’re going to win.”

The wingnut faction of the GOP doesn’t care about law, fairness or diversity. They wrap themselves in the flag and the Bible, but don’t really seem to have a clue what either one stands for.

They believe in their self-righteousness to the exclusion of all else. They see themselves as the only true Americans and patriots. They don’t understand why anyone would be upset over the revelations about Moore.

Is this a good time to mention Moore started The Foundation for Moral Law? It’s true. Try not to laugh.

That group is decidedly Old Testament, finger-wagging “Thou Shalt Not” about the usual things that upset social conservatives. When one of their members is exposed in the way Moore was, they dismiss it as liberal lies.

The more publicity things like this get, the more hardened their stance becomes. Their self-righteousness is reinforced by hard-right outlets like Breitbart, and even if Moore loses and Republicans are walloped in the 2018 midterm elections, the true believers won’t be deterred.

They will blame the loss on a combination of gutless mainstream Republicans and the despised liberal media. They will see statesmanship as betrayal to their ideals. They will view any loss as a temporary setback.

Roy Moore’s supporters in Alabama see this election as another step toward taking their country back from all those liberals, scientists, elitists, Hollywood types and educated smarty pants who stole it. This isn’t a threat as much as it is the plan.

Joe Henderson: Jan Platt leaves legacy of service, integrity

As a member of the Hillsborough County Commission, Jan Platt was best known for a single word: NO! Labels like that tend to stick, but this grand lady was much, much more than that.

She fought to protect our waterways and environmentally sensitive land, and she loved to be out on the Bay with a fishing rod. She was a champion of public libraries, and one of the Tampa branch buildings is named in her honor.She was honest, at times a little cranky, but she always – ALWAYS – did what she thought was right for this community.

She was that rare public servant who said what she meant, and meant what she said.

She couldn’t be bought, couldn’t be intimidated, and she wouldn’t be swayed to vote for something because it was smart politics. Janice Kaminis Platt always spoke from a heart that was 24-carat pure.

Yes, frequently she was the leading voice of dissent as developers pushed relentlessly toward their goal of paving over every bit of green space in the county. When quick-buck artists appeared before the commissioners, they knew it was going to be a long day if Commissioner No was in her seat.

That misses the point, though. More often than not, it about what she was trying to preserve and less about what she was against.

People loved her for that.

She died last week at the age of 81. Her funeral is Friday in Tampa, and her passing triggered an outpouring of tributes.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor called her “honest, ethical” and “steadfast in her leadership.”

Former Commissioner Joe Chillura told the Tampa Bay Times that he never should have run against her in a commission race because, “It was like running against Mother Teresa.”

She was never needed more than when three county commissioners were arrested in 1983 for selling their votes in exchange for bribe money.

It shook this community to its core, but I think we all knew that if Jan Platt was still on the board, we would be OK.

And we were.

That continued after she retired in 1994 following 24 years as a commissioner and four as a member of the Tampa City Council. She stayed relatively low key until a public hearing a little over years ago about a proposed 38-story residential and retail complex near the Straz Center in downtown Tampa.

Mayor Bob Buckhorn was pushing hard for approval, and things appeared to be going swimmingly until Platt made a surprise appearance at the microphone and spoke forcefully against the project.

She succeeded in getting the project delayed, because people figured if she was against it they probably should take another look. It was ultimately approved, but the delay infuriated Buckhorn and he had some pointed things to say to me later about her interference in his plans.

Buckhorn, by the way, got over it and in a statement on Twitter noted, “During a difficult time in County government, her integrity shined brightly.”

Several months after my column on that exchange appeared in The Tampa Tribune, I ran across Jan at a reception on Davis Islands. I hadn’t spoken with her since that column ran, and Buckhorn’s quotes were a bit personal and on the nasty side.

Still, she thanked me for the piece and said she thought it was fair and accurate.

I considered that especially high praise.

I’m not sure we’ll see anyone like her again. She was an original and a community treasure.

The measure of a life well-lived can be taken in what people say about you when you die, and the size of the footprints you leave behind.

Jan Platt’s will be hard, if not impossible, to fill.

Joe Henderson: Democrats win, but can they keep good times rolling?

Democrats win! Stop the presses!

Well, they should be feeling frisky this morning. They had a fist-pumping night during Tuesday’s elections, just a year after Donald Trump stunned them, and their dreams of controlling the United States Senate were crushed.

Democrats won a series of state and local elections, including nationally watched races for Governor in Virginia and New Jersey.

And in St. Petersburg, Mayor Rick Kriseman held on to his seat by defeating former mayor Rick Baker, a result that not many were predicting a few months ago.

The tide seemed to turn when Kriseman’s team unloaded a series of attacks that linked Baker to Trump, along with some images that made the former mayor look more than a little angry.

That, plus some well-planned ground work, was enough to give Kriseman four more years.

Add that to the win in a September special election by Democrat Annette Taddeo over former state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in GOP-held Senate District 40, and the Dems are showing a pulse as the countdown to the 2018 midterm elections officially begins.

Pundits are interpreting Tuesday’s results as a repudiation of President Trump, and obviously that is true to some degree. Let’s not get carried away, though. This is still a divided country and state.

Kriseman won, but with 51.5 percent of the vote you can’t label that a sweeping mandate. What you can say is that for now, the Democratic strategy of tying GOP candidates in even local elections to Trump is working.

We can expect more of the same in the election for Florida’s Governor in 2018. Anyone who tells you they know how that race will end is dreaming.

It seems likely that the Republican nomination is Adam Putnam’s to lose, although House Speaker Richard Corcoran could complicate that if he gets into the race. But I wouldn’t bet so much as a nickel on how the Democratic scrap will play out. That’s not a bad thing, by the way.

Unlike in 2014, where Charlie Crist proved to be an uninteresting and uninspired Democratic nominee, the party should have several good options.

Gwen Graham is going from one end of the state to the other and has the early lead in polling, but I wouldn’t put a whole lot into that just yet – not when the latest poll says 46 percent of Democrats are undecided.

We haven’t had a chance to measure the impact of the entry into the race by Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and no one has a real clue yet what Orlando attorney John Morgan might do.

We also don’t know if Trump’s popularity in Florida will continue to decline, and what impact that could have. If those numbers keep sliding, they could stick to every Republican candidate and tip the balance of power in the state and nation.

Tell you what: I’m going to watch the Dec. 12 special election in Alabama for the U.S. Senate, a heavily Republican state.

Normally that wouldn’t merit more than a line or two in a national roundup, but in Roy Moore the GOP has put up a candidate that many see as an outright loon. He wants to have homosexuality outlawed. He says Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress. He still doesn’t believe Barack Obama was born in America.

He was kicked off the Alabama Supreme Court.

Twice.

Even his candidacy was a rebuke to Trump, who pushed for Moore’s opponent in the Republican primary.

Democrat Doug Jones is a former U.S. attorney who prosecuted Ku Klux Klan members for bombing a black church. He has campaigned as a bridge builder.

Polls show a deadlocked race.

Win that one, Democrats, and everyone will pay attention.

Joe Henderson: Would you vote for Donald Trump again?

Today’s question, class: If you voted for Donald Trump in the last election, would you vote for him again knowing what you know today?

If you didn’t vote him then, would you do so now?

Yes? No?

Wednesday will mark one year since Trump turned the world upside down with his shocking, stunning, unexpected – oh, you know what I mean. But we’ve had time to get used to him and his management style, so what do you think?

Since the election, he has been an extension of the person he was during the campaign –  frequently crude, loose with the truth, addicted to Twitter, and always ready to attack someone he perceives to be an enemy. Some people see all that as a strength.

But my question to you is this: Does that bother you more now than it did during the campaign? Or did you think, as a lot of people appear to have done, that he would put on big-boy pants when he got into office and conduct the affairs of state with proper decorum?

He promised to make America great again – “again” being the linchpin of his campaign. That seemed to be the word that resonated most with supporters.

He did appoint Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and that made supporters happy, but so far, he has no significant legislative wins – despite Republican control of both houses of Congress.

He has warred with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, belittled House Speaker Paul Ryan, trashed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and when backed into a corner he tries to shift the focus to Hillary Clinton (and, by extension, Sessions and the Justice Department).

Pssst. The campaign is over, Mr. President. You won.

He hasn’t made much of an attempt to unite the country, preferring to appeal to a (cough) carefully targeted audience (cough) – although I guess we’ll find out from special counsel Robert Mueller if it was a little too carefully targeted, if you get my drift.

Remember in the campaign when Trump dismissed any suggestion of hacking from Russia by saying it “could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”

Yeah, if that bed is in Vladivostok.

Back on point: Would you vote for him again?

Does it bother you that many top people have either left his administration voluntarily or were fired?

It’s quite a list: Chief of Staff Reince Prebius, HHS Secretary Tom Price, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Ethics Director Walter Shaub, FBI Director James Comey, and on and on.

Did it make America great again to insult important allies like Germany, Australia, Japan, France, Great Britain, and Mexico? Does that type of leadership make you want to vote for him again?

The economy is going gangbusters and he is trying to get a tax plan through. Sure, if adopted as written, rich people will benefit the most but my guess is most supporters won’t care so long as they get a sliver of the pie.

But Obamacare still hasn’t been repealed or replaced, and at this point it looks like the president and his party doesn’t have a clue how to do that. There is no border wall under construction to keep Mexicans on their turf.

His clumsy remarks after the white supremacist clash in Charlottesville, Va. made look like he was offering excuses for bigotry. He assumes he can continue to label any news story he doesn’t like as “fake” and people will continue to believe him.

We had two of the worst cases of mass murder in this country – Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas – occur since Oct. 1. And on Halloween night, eight people died in New York City during what has been called a terrorist attack.

Donald Trump, obviously, could not have stopped any of those attacks. No president could. But what he sold to enough Americans to win the election is that he “alone” – his words – could fix things.

Thus, he alone must be held accountable for the results.

Has he fixed things to your satisfaction? You’ve had almost a year to judge him.

Would you vote for him again?

 

Joe Henderson: The avalanche is building around Jack Latvala

If Jack Latvala is guilty of even some of the tawdry allegations of sexual harassment and miscreant behavior detailed in a damning story about him about him in POLITICO Florida, he should be banished from Tallahassee as quickly as possible.

If he is guilty, it’s a given that his career in politics is finished. He should resign his seat in the state Senate in disgrace. He should go away. His campaign for Governor might as well shut down today.

Now comes the hard truth about these allegations: Even if the whole thing is, as Latvala claims, fabrication on a grand scale, it really doesn’t matter to his political fortunes.

Stories like this often become an avalanche that doesn’t stop until the ink dries on a letter of resignation.

His guilt will be presumed by many, if not most, of those who read and reacted to the original reporting.

He won’t have any way to prove the charges are wrong, if they are, and people in Tallahassee will have little appetite for further association with him. Money will dry up. Many people who were supporters will suddenly become unreachable.

It would have been preferable for the six women accusers quoted in the story to have been named, but I understand why they need anonymity. They have careers to think about, and being publicly associated with a story like this could have lasting personal and professional repercussions.

Latvala has screamed his innocence, but making people believe that is another matter. Absent concrete proof either way, truth can be what an individual wants it to be.

Ana Ceballos of Florida Politics reported on several women by name who say they never saw any of that kind of behavior from Latvala, and they worked closely with him for extended periods.

Even as Latvala’s defenders were lining up though, a chorus of condemnation was reaching deafening levels.

“Predators think they can obtain the outcomes they desire through intimidation. Jack always has,” political rival and U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz told POLITICO.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a potential gubernatorial candidate, has called on Latvala to resign. The charges against him will be investigated by the Senate.

Latvala’s supporters have charged that the story is politically motivated, as if that matters. There is a much bigger story here than a political career.

The kind of honest-to-goodness sexual intimidation of which Latvala stands accused must be stomped out. It is never OK for anyone to use their position or power in such a way.

That brings us back to the beginning.

I don’t know for certain if Latvala did the things his accusers say, or if I should believe his denials. If you weren’t there, neither do you.

Here is what we all do know, though: Accusers are lining up with detailed stories, rivals are playing for keeps, and the headlines probably will keep coming. We’ve seen this type of story play out before, and it almost always ends the same way.

Joe Henderson: Industry favored over Tom Lee in greyhound racing fight

The proposal by state Sen. Tom Lee to phase out and finally end greyhound racing in Florida is sure to encounter lots of turbulence from lobbyists.

Lee’s pitch to the Constitutional Revision Commission, of which he is a member, would put an amendment before voters in 2018. It would need 60 percent approval to become law and end greyhound racing at Florida’s 12 tracks by July 1, 2021.

While I believe Lee’s idea is to let voters decide the issue a lot of merit, I also know the pari-mutuel industry still packs a punch and will do everything possible to stop him, just like it always does when the state tries to overhaul legal gambling.

I make it a prohibitive 2-5 favorite in the opening odds.

I hope I’m wrong. Lee’s argument that greyhounds are mistreated while waiting to race is powerful.

“There is growing recognition that many of these animals live in inhumane conditions, a reality that is out of line with the moral standard of Floridians,” Lee said.

That sentiment is echoed by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Racing Greyhounds routinely experience terrible injuries on the track such as broken legs, cardiac arrest, spinal cord paralysis and broken necks,” the ASPCA web site reads.

“They suffer off the track as well: Dogs caught up in this cruel industry spend most of their lives stacked in warehouse-style kennels for 20 or more hours a day, or are kept outdoors in dirt pens with minimal shelter. Most enclosures are not heated or air-conditioned.”

In January, officials revoked a racing trainer’s license after cocaine was found in the systems of five greyhounds at Derby Lane in St. Petersburg. That practice is not confined to Florida. In September, racing officials in Ireland announced a champion greyhound also had tested positive for an ingredient in cocaine.

People from the greyhound industry argue that a few rouge trainers shouldn’t taint the rest of those who treat their animals well. After all, the theory goes, these greyhounds are like fine athletes and trainers would be crazy to mistreat them.

Nice try.

The constitutional commission has the authority to place amendment proposals directly on the ballot without the usual signature-gathering process, and so we have to ask: Why not let Floridians decide this issue for themselves?

I think Lee is correct when he talks about that “growing recognition” that the public is turning against the idea of using these magnificent dogs for sport and profit.

I also believe that’s what the scares leaders in the industry most about his idea to let voters decide, and that’s why they fight like the dickens to make sure they don’t get the chance.

Joe Henderson: Got whiplash? Absurdity rules in Tally

Stay with me. This one gets a little weird. While you were distracted by the latest the latest episode of “Florida’s Got Dirt,” your First Amendment rights were put in the crosshairs again.

Confused? It’s just another day in the state’s center of power.

On the front page of Wednesday’s Tampa Bay Times was a headline that read “Spying part of life in Capitol.” It was a follow-up to news first reported by Politico Florida, and didn’t we all just have to read a story with that kind of tease?

It told about a spy camera planted by a private eye to capture legislators in compromising acts (or in something that could be made to look that way).

The mentioned “grainy photos” taken of gubernatorial candidate Jack Latvala kissing a female lobbyist on the cheek, then on the mouth. Imagine what an opposing consultant could do with that.

But in a plot twist that’s, well, twisted, this story broke at the same time we learned your state Constitutional Revision Commission might place an amendment proposal on the 2018 ballot that would greatly expand what the government doesn’t have to tell you.

The proposal – I can’t believe I’m writing this, given the context of events – is being considered to expand the “privacy of information and the disclosure thereof.”

Take a minute if you need to grab some aspirin for that strange pain you may be feeling in your neck just now. It’s probably just another a case of Tallahassee-induced whiplash.

Parading under the banner of privacy in one corner while the other corner is doing everything possible to invade it is a bar-raising level of phoniness. You can say the two aren’t connected, but everything is connected in Tallahassee. Thus, we note the bizarre timing of these two developments.

It’s unclear who came up with the spy camera idea, but apparently it’s perfectly legal – not to mention its great potential for political blackmail.

The camera belongs to investigator Derek Uman, whose company, Clear Capture Investigations, offers services that include “infidelity surveillance.”

Latvala, a tough ol’ cuss who would spit into the mouth of an active volcano, shot back that any suggestion he was acting inappropriately is “an outright lie.”

In a statement he also noted, “are we working against the Democrats? No, we are doing it against each other! Why? Because of personal ambition, a greed for power that overwhelms any consideration for fellow human beings.”

“Consideration” is rarely a serious part of any Tallahassee conversation, but Latvala has a point about the start of human hunting season up there. Just last week, now-former state Sen. Jeff Clemens, who was to be the incoming Democratic leader, abruptly resigned after it came out that he was having an affair.

Even while all the covert spy-versus-thy is going on though, the Constitutional Review Commission wants to make sure you, the public, have less access to information about what your leaders are doing – although they won’t phrase it that way. Nope. It’s about privacy.

Committee vice chairman John Stemberger, in a commentary for Florida Politics, noted the measure would “… protect the people from the government’s collection and more importantly, disclosure, of personal and private information.”

Well, we’ve heard that tired argument before – the government must protect us from knowing too much stuff. It starts off sounding benign and then gets twisted into something that somehow chokes off the flow of other information that should be public.

First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen noted as much when she wrote to the committee, saying she was “most alarmed by the dramatic impact this proposal would have on the constitutional right of access to public records.”

Stemberger said he was “somewhat bewildered” by Petersen’s concerns.

I’m bewildered why any politician would want to chip away at the public’s right to know. We all should be, and this is exactly the kind of stuff that gets lost while we focus on things like spy cameras.

Actually, if you overlook the fact lawmakers in Tallahassee have control over much of your life, not to mention an $83 billion state budget, that place can be darned entertaining in a swamp-thing sort of way. Stay tuned for the next episode straight from the Theater of the Absurd.

Joe Henderson: Richard Corcoran swings hammer at gnat

House Speaker Richard Corcoran relishes the image of being a fierce protector of the public purse.

He does more than rail against what he considers frivolous spending of public dollars. He goes all in to stop it, often in a headline-grabbing way designed to let the people know he is their guy.

While that does have a certain air of nobility and the public purse obviously needs a watchdog, it also can lead to actions that hurt the public he says he is trying to protect.

With that in mind, we refer you to the lawsuit he recently filed in the 13th Judicial Circuit Court against the city of Tampa for what he called an “illegal tax” imposed by hotel operators. It’s a $1.50 fee per night on hotel stays, which leaders in the industry say goes to market tourism for the area.

Corcoran’s lawsuit notes that the fee is collected “ … within an illegal district that is governed pursuant to an illegal interlocal agreement. The Speaker asks this Court to put a stop to the City of Tampa’s illegal acts and its ongoing encroachment of state legislative authority.”

We’ll pause here for the latest example of irony, Tallahassee style. This is the equivalent of using a sledgehammer on a gnat.

State lawmakers routinely complain about interference from Washington, especially during the years President Obama was in charge. So why is it OK to butt in when city or county governments try to run their own affairs? This lawsuit is a major butt-in.

Charging hotel customers an extra buck-and-a-half a night certainly is not exorbitant and would seem like a good means to an end for the tourism industry. I can’t imagine anyone planning a trip to Tampa would call it off if they detected that surcharge, but, obviously, that isn’t Corcoran’s point.

Start with that whole “encroachment of state legislative authority” gambit. The Speaker seems to be all for home rule as he is the head of the household. The once-growing Florida film industry found that out when Corcoran used his bully pulpit to kill a state incentives program.

“It is a horrible, horrible use of taxpayers’ dollars, and there is no return on investment,” Corcoran told News4Jax.com.

“And as a person who is finally charged with protecting the taxpayers’ money, I’m not going to waste it by giving it to Hollywood producers. They can go elsewhere if they want to, but the reality is, Florida is Florida.”

No return? That’s debatable. The story cited a study by the University of West Florida that showed there was a return on the state’s investment: $1.44 coming back for every dollar in subsidy. But now filmmakers indeed do go elsewhere and likely will for the foreseeable future. The state of Georgia — which reaped the benefit of Florida’s film flight — thanks you very much.

Corcoran also had a much-publicized showdown with the state tourism industry last year over its budget and spending policies. He argued then for transparency in spending, which is another point he makes in his lawsuit against Tampa.

That would have a lot more bite if he hadn’t joined Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President Joe Negron in a behind-closed-doors meeting last spring to reach an $83 billion (with a B) deal on the state budget.

Corcoran did the public a big service when he used his position to challenge the spending habits of the tourism leaders (much to Gov. Scott’s dismay). No one who gets public money should be above serious scrutiny.

However, this latest legal maneuver can do nothing but hurt Tampa at a time when it is becoming increasingly competitive on a national scale. There is principle, and there is the kind of over-reach from a monolithic government that Tallahassee says it hates.

This lawsuit is the latter. Gnats beware.

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