Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 44

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: Donald Trump hit talking points and Dems better listen

As Cheerleader-in-Chief for his team, Donald Trump is hard to beat. The raucous Halloween night crowd at Hertz Arena in Estero loved the multiple-course helpings of red meat the President served at an old-fashioned style campaign rally with the midterm elections less than a week away.

The President hit all the talking points. Well, shouting points.



The economy.


Oh, and Democrats — particularly Andrew Gillum and Bill Nelson — are out to destroy the way of life as we know it, let rapists and murders stampede the borders, tax away your life savings, and destroy the economy with those pesky economic and environmental safeguards, also known as regulations.

The crowd loved it. The crowd ate it up.

Thousands waited in line for hours, sometimes a more than a day, to secure seats. The base remains fiercely loyal.

But the substance was nothing, really, we haven’t heard from the President or his supporters throughout the campaign, so what difference will it make on Election Day?

I would caution this to Democrats who might be overly encouraged by polls showing Gillum and Nelson ahead in their respective races for Governor and the U.S. Senate. There was a similar feeling of confidence among Democrats at about this point in 2016 when then-candidate Trump kept coming, kept bringing the heat, appeared in Florida, and we know what happened.

Wednesday’s rally appeared to me to generate genuine run-through-the-wall enthusiasm by the true Trump believers, and there are a lot of them. Underestimate that at your own risk, Democrats.

The President hit all the right buttons.

He gave shout-outs to key Republicans like U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and Gus Bilirakis. He invoked the name of Greg Steube, running in CD 17, and Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis.

He gave face-time to Rick Scott, who, in the thrill of the moment, told the crowd to “make sure we turn this country away … um, around….”

Well, maybe it was just a slip of the tongue but that’s the counterattack Democrats use — Republicans, especially the President, are turning this country away from what Ronald Reagan called a “shining city on the hill” into one stressing a blinking red light and a fear of immigrants.

Ron DeSantis got face-time and microphone-time too, reminding viewers for the umpteenth time, “I’m the only guy who can credibly say I’m not under investigation for corruption by the FBI.”

The crowd slurped it up and asked for seconds.

It’s easy to say that, well, that was gathering of maybe 8,000 true believers who didn’t come for anything other than what the President delivered. Maybe. But if Democrats don’t know the danger of false confidence by now, they never will.

I’ll tell you what I saw in this rally.

I saw motivated people who believe in this President.

I saw enthusiastic support for DeSantis and Scott.

It’s accurate to say Andrew Gillum’s crowds have been wildly enthusiastic too.

I know what the polls say. Gillum and Nelson appear to have the momentum with time running out.

The polls were wrong before.

Democrats, beware. This race isn’t over until the last ballot is counted. To believe otherwise is to invite déjà vu on Nov. 7, and Donald Trump can tell you all about that.

Joe Henderson: Undecideds could pass—or kill—Hillsborough referendums

With less than a week to go before the general election, supporters of two Hillsborough sales tax referendums have reason to be optimistic – and nervous. —

A recent sampling by St. Pete Polls showed both proposed amendments to the county charter are leading among likely voters.

The 30-year, one-percent sales tax increase would pay for multiple projects throughout the county aimed at making a dent in the chronic traffic congestion here. The poll showed 48 percent favorability compared to 43 percent against.

Confetti time for backers of the measure, right?

Not even close.

The number that should keep them awake nights is that 8.8 percent undecided.

The proposed half-percent sales tax hike to help Hillsborough schools address a mountain of unfunded maintenance needs – crumbling air conditioning units in many schools, things like that – led the naysayers 54.5 percent to 39.7.

Even better, only 5.8 percent said they hadn’t made up their minds.

Full disclosure: I’ve already voted yes on both measures, although I guess if you’ve read my columns much that won’t come as a surprise.

If both measures pass, it could be a tipping point in how county residents view themselves and what they are willing to set as their priorities.

The usual suspects have come out against the All For Transportation plan with the usual arguments. They say the tax would generate $15 billion and they don’t trust government agencies to spend it properly. They say the money is already there to pay for the county’s transportation needs.

I think they’re dead wrong on that, by the way, because the money reallocated by the county, about $800 million, to address the problem won’t come close making a dent in the kind of traffic we have now – let alone the nightmare forecasts for the not-too-distant future.

Let’s be clear about something with the transportation issue: Approving the tax won’t magically make all the congestion go away. We have too many people moving here, and since the primary way we get around is by automobile the roads are still going to be crowded.

But doing nothing is not an option because that would make things much, much worse. Saying the tax should be rejected because it won’t fix everything is a lame argument, but some opponents are making it anyway.

If both taxes pass, people will probably see a more immediate impact for the schools than for the highways. The school district has an estimated $1 billion backlog in capital needs and it has been hamstrung on funding by the Legislature’s determination to keep taxes low.

That’s why multiple counties throughout the state have resorted to sales tax referendums to help ensure their kids have a suitable learning atmosphere.

I’ve said all along that while no one likes paying taxes, something must be done to address the most pressing needs in the county – transportation and public schools.

Two months ago, would I have bet that two Hillsborough sales tax referendums on the same ballot would pass?

Probably not.

But I’m always willing to be pleasantly surprised, and even though a lot of things can happen in the next week it’s just possible that might happen.

Joe Henderson: Marco Rubio tweet about anger misses the point

Marco Rubio uses Twitter in the opposite way of the Twit Master himself, President Donald Trump.

Florida’s junior U.S. Senator tends to quote Bible verses and tries to offer reasoned slants on current events – although, I guess, anything looks “reasoned” when weighed against the non-stop jabbering that emanates from the White House.

But I have to call foul on one of Rubio’s latest tweets.

In an apparent response to the atrocious events over the weekend in Pittsburgh, Rubio wrote: “Our core problem isn’t Incendiary rhetoric. It’s the anger it taps into & stokes. Anger moves people to donate & vote. And outrage is good for media ratings & online traffic. Because anger is one of our most powerful emotions. But it is also one of our most destructive.”

If I’m reading the Senator’s point correctly, he seems to be saying that if the media wasn’t transmitting anger 24/7, we might not have to deal with so much tragedy.

With all respect Senator, you are wrong on that point.

First off, the accused shooter in the Pittsburgh massacre sounds like one sick individual. He clearly was filled with irrational hate for Jewish people.

The media had nothing to do with that. Neither did President Trump, for what that’s worth. The accused shooter apparently was no fan of the President.

But what we saw in the case of the alleged bomb-builder in Miami is a different story.

If anger is the dynamite, incendiary rhetoric is the fuse.

And President Trump is the burning match.

He is doing it deliberately.

It was a brilliant strategy; if all he cared about was being elected over the damage it would do to the nation. All he had to do was keep repeating to a targeted group of voters that they’re being screwed and that illegals are coming to take their jobs and harm their spouses.

It didn’t matter if what he was saying had not one scintilla of truth.

When the media called him out for those statements, it fed into his game plan because he had long convinced supporters that when he was being attacked, so were they.

The genius behind the move is that it put the media into a quandary that continues today. He is the President of the United States and what he says ripples around the globe.

When he says something outrageous, or lies, or conducts an inquisition by Twitter on members of his administration, should the media not cover that, even if it perpetuates the cycle of disinformation?

You have to report what he says and what it means. That’s how the game has been played for every U.S. President since I’ve been alive. No one ever came across a President as manipulative as this one, though.

Rubio is right that anger is destructive and dangerous, but it starts with the cynicism coming from the Oval Office. That’s the direction Rubio should have pointed his finger because the person in that chair sets the tone.

Republicans generally won’t do that, though.

It’s up to voters to send that message – if they want to.

Maybe they don’t.

I guess we’ll find out.

Plenty of people in Pittsburgh have sent their message. About 35,000 people signed a petition asking the President to stay away from a planned trip to their city in the aftermath of the slaughter. It’s a reaction to his penchant to demonize minorities and his refusal to denounce white nationalists.

Whatever he does, the media will report that, too. It might make some people mad.

Joe Henderson: Jeff Vinik’s support key to Tampa transportation issue

When Jeff Vinik decided in 2010 to buy the Tampa Bay Lightning, it changed a lot more than just the city’s sports fortunes.

Vinik has become one of Tampa’s leading philanthropists, and his massive $3 billion Water Street real estate and entertainment project is taking shape to give life to the moribund Channel District. The Lightning is regarded as one of the top franchises in the National Hockey League.

None of that was easy, but now Vinik has taken on perhaps his greatest challenge — persuading taxpayers of Hillsborough County to approve a referendum that will take money out of their pockets to improve the county’s shabby transportation system.

He has been a major driving force behind the All For Transportation initiative, which seeks approval of a 1-cent-per-dollar sales tax increase for 30 years to pay for myriad projects.

Vinik has lent more than his voice to the push. As Florida Politics reported, he has contributed more than $600,000 to help counter arguments from longtime opponents to this issue. That has helped attract other significant contributors, and the money has helped All For Transportation get out its message that it’s time to deal with the county’s choking congestion seriously.

For that, Vinik and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn were mocked in a negative mailer by the citizens’ group No Tax For Tracks that referred to Jeff “Vision” Vinik and Bob “Billions” Buckhorn. 

Opponents have scoffed that, sure, Vinik supports this because a better transportation system will benefit Water Street.

Well, just my opinion, but better transportation benefits everyone. Actually, that’s a widely held opinion.

Hillsborough has tried to address this over the years but hasn’t come close to keeping up with the county’s exponentially expanding needs. Numerous studies have shown traffic congestion is the biggest detriment to the area, potentially stifling economic growth and well-being.

But opponents remain unconvinced that handing over the proceeds from a 30-year tax expected to generate at least $280 million a year is the answer. They don’t trust officials to use the money wisely, and that is not necessarily misguided.

For me, though, Jeff Vinik’s support is the difference.

In the eight years since he has been here, having moved from Boston after he bought the Lightning, Vinik has established a reputation for excellence and action. He hasn’t been an absentee sports owner. He has thrown himself into the community in a variety of positive ways and established himself as one of Tampa’s leading citizens.

I can’t imagine he would risk all that by being associated with something that he didn’t believe was going to benefit his adopted city in ways that opponents don’t realize or don’t to care to know.

They see the word “tax” and start to hiss and spit. They have even tried to argue that the proposed tax is a Trojan horse to pay for a new Tampa Bay Rays baseball stadium. They just made that up because the referendum specifically prohibits such usage.

Although the money Vinik has donated to this cause is significant, it can be argued that his presence in this push has been more valuable than the cash he has given.

Is that enough to get the referendum passed?

Look at this way: People didn’t believe Tampa could become a hockey town, but Vinik did — and now look. The Lightning has played to sellout crowds for every home game since the 2014-15 season.

People didn’t believe anything could be done to resurrect the Channel District after multiple attempts to bring life to a lifeless area had failed. Water Street holds great promise to change that.

Vinik doesn’t like to be on the losing side.

Joe Henderson: Wow, was that a Florida Governor debate or Hamilton duel?

Remember the good old days of 2014 when the biggest dispute in the Florida Governor debate was whether Charlie Crist should be able to use a fan?

Now, after two debates between current candidates Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis, it’s clear that the gulf between Florida’s major parties has never been wider and about half the state is going to be gigantically depressed by the outcome on Nov. 6.

In keeping with the theme of the week, the controversy surrounding Gillum’s use of a ticket to “Hamilton” on Broadway, it’s a good thing that a duel like Alexander Hamilton had with Aaron Burr is against the law.

At a distance of just a few paces Wednesday night though, Gillum and DeSantis fired plenty of verbal shots at each other, including Gillum’s spelling out n-i-g-g-e-r when making a point that one of DeSantis’ supporters referred to Barack Obama by that term.

“Now I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist,” Gillum said. “I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.”

DeSantis, it should be noted, came as close as he has yet in this campaign to losing his cool in public. The exchange was about an appearance the candidate made at the David Horowitz Freedom Center conference, where DeSantis praised Horowitz and said he admired the organization.

Horowitz has made racially charged about Obama.

Confronted with this, DeSantis lashed out, “How the hell am I supposed to know every single statement somebody makes?”

Well sir, in the same way Gillum was supposed to have made sure there was no question that he paid for his ticket to Hamilton – a story that blew up earlier this week after the Tampa Bay Times reported that it came from an undercover FBI agent.

Early in Wednesday’s debate, Gillum acknowledged, “I should have asked more questions to make sure everything was above board” instead of assuming his brother had exchanged a ticket to a Beyonce concert for the Hamilton seat.

Gillum said, “I take responsibility for not having asked more questions but let me tell you – I’m running for Governor. In the state of Florida, we’ve got a lot of issues. In fact, we’ve got 99 issues and Hamilton ain’t one of them.”

The whole night was like that.

Back and forth, forth and back.

The person I felt sorriest for was moderator Todd McDermott, who tried his best to keep the candidates and the crowd in line with the antiquated format. The debate disintegrated into a stopwatch issue when both candidates went over their allotted times to speak and McDermott tried without success to interrupt.

Going forward, I wouldn’t let crowds into the event location. The outbursts of applause for both candidates weren’t appropriate, but it’s what you expect when partisanship is interjected into a debate.

The format of the question, 30-second response, 30-second rebuttal … yawn, has outlived its usefulness. We don’t watch these debates to see the moderator keep control. It would be better to put the questions in the hands of the candidates and let them ask each other what about this, or what about that?

It would be messy, but I think we’d learn more.

What have we learned after two Florida Governor debates between these two gentlemen?

We learned they disagree on everything. They don’t like each other. Their supporters think the other side is filled with vipers.

One of them is going to be Florida’s next Governor.

Joe Henderson: Andrew Gillum suddenly playing defense down the stretch

It’s too soon to say if Andrew Gillum will lose the election for Governor of Florida after Tuesday’s revelation that the coveted ticket to “Hamilton” he received may have come from an undercover FBI agent, but let’s put it this way.

Gillum appeared to have the wind at his back in his face against Republican Ron DeSantis, with multiple polls giving him a steady lead that, in some cases, was widening. It’s much the same situation Hillary Clinton faced at roughly this same time in the 2016 election when then-FBI Director James Comey dropped the bombshell that the bureau was reopening its investigation of her emails.

Clinton supporters scream that cost her the election. If Gillum falls short on Nov. 6, his backers will do the same.

The Tampa Bay Times broke the Gillum story Tuesday afternoon and it quickly echoed around the state, casting doubt on his version of events. The Times story was based on a large batch of records that are part of an ethics investigation into Gillum’s conduct as Tallahassee Mayor and his relationship with former lobbyist and now definitely former friend Adam Corey.

Corey and Gillum did a lot of traveling together, including the fateful trip to New York in 2016. According to the documents, Corey texted Gillum: “Mike Miller and the crew have tickets for us for Hamilton tonight at 8 p.m.”

Mike Miller, it turned out, was an undercover FBI agent posing as a developer.

Now, everyone knows tickets to “Hamilton” on Broadway aren’t easy to get and don’t come cheap. Gillum has said from the start that his brother, who was along on the trip, got the ticket in exchange for a ticket to a concert. Gillum has been a little fuzzy about whether he paid for the ticket though.

He dodged the question when DeSantis asked him directly during Sunday’s debate if he had paid for the ticket.

Corey’s lawyer, Chris Kise, released the documents because the state ethics commission issued a subpoena for them and said they would have been public record. Gillum’s supporters will scream that it’s a political hit job, and that could be true – politics is a contact sport.

But here’s the thing: From a political standpoint, it may not matter even if he paid quadruple the going rate. All that matters in this 24-hour news cycle is that the words “Gillum” and “FBI” are in headlines across the state at a time when early voting is ramping up.

I’m sure DeSantis’ camp will hammer that point home relentlessly for the next two weeks, both in TV spots and campaign appearances.

It’s basically the same thing Clinton faced in the 2016 home stretch.

So, what Gillum needs now is for the FBI to say publicly that he is not the target of its investigation – as Gillum maintains he has been told. If that happens, he has to hope people are willing to go deeper than the headlines.

And he has to hope enough people buy his statement printed in the Times.

“These records vindicate and add more evidence that at every turn I was paying my own way or was with my family, for all trips, including picking up tickets from my brother, Marcus, who was with a group of his own friends,” Gillum said.

“But this isn’t about a Broadway show, it’s about a sideshow, because Ron DeSantis and his associates have no vision, no healthcare plan, and are running the most false, negative campaign in Florida history. Floridians deserve better.”

Actually, on this day it is about a Broadway show because that’s the news of the day. Andrew Gillum’s problem is that even if his version of events is true, this has him playing defense. It knocks him off message and gives a boost to DeSantis.

That’s a bad position to be in this close to the finish.

Joe Henderson: No tax for tracks, or anything else in Hillsborough

No tax for tracks. No tax for anything.

What else is new?

The grumpy demographic in Hillsborough County has weighed in on the All For Transportation referendum and guess what? They’re agin’ it!

I know you’re shocked.

The first mailer appeared in my mailbox Monday. The old “No Tax For Tracks” group reformed about three weeks ago to fight the Nov. 6 referendum to raise the sales tax by a penny for transportation needs.

It was predictable.

It was adorned with a picture of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. Both men heavily support the referendum, so they were trolled with the label of Bob “Billions” Buckhorn and Jeff “Vision” Vinik.

Ouch. That hurts.

They didn’t mention the more than 77,000 people who signed petitions to get this issue on the ballot because a majority of the county commissioners couldn’t bring themselves to do it.

But the punch line was a sentence that flat-out said a rail system would be part of the tax plan, along with an out-of-left-field jab that said tax money would be used “to finance another billionaire’s stadium.”

I guess they mean the Tampa Bay Rays. And where did they draw the connection between the stadium and the referendum? The mailer doesn’t say. All it screams is TAX!!!!!

Oh, and TRACKS!!!!!!

“This tax increase is unnecessary as Hillsborough County commissioners re-prioritized $800 million of existing revenue for transportation funding over 10 years that, along with our existing gas taxes, funds needed maintenance and safety issues,” Karen Jaroch, co-founder of the Hillsborough tea party and a former member of the county’s bus board, told the Tampa Bay Times.

That money is a spit in the bucket for the transportation needs now, let alone what will it be like in 10 years.

If approved, the tax is estimated to generate about $280 million a year for 30 years, although that figure likely will grow because the county is growing rapidly and that means more people – and cars – on a road system that can’t handle what it already has.

More than half the money is targeted for congestion relief in the form of road repairs, smart traffic signals, sidewalks, and other upgrades.

About 45 percent of the money would go to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority for expanded rapid bus service and possibly, yes, some sort of rail system.

The notion that a rail system might be years down the road (so to speak) sets opponents’ collective hair on fire. Their answer is to build more roads, including an expansion of toll roads, and, um … THOSE AREN’T FREE.

A long-range Florida Department of Transportation study estimates that it could cost $7,448,544.36 for a single mile of new four-lane urban roadway with bike lanes. You never hear the “No Tax” hounds barking about that.

Junk like this has kept Hillsborough stuck in the slow lane for years because these people, tea party types mostly, have a phobia against rail and are determined to apply it to any new transportation idea.

They have gotten away with it because lawmakers, Republicans mostly on the County Commission, are scared that the next mailer will be about them.

So, we sit, as Tampa’s traffic situation grows worse by the day and the “No Tax” crowd celebrates the malaise.

Mind you, as usual, No Tax For Tracks supporters offer no solution. They never do.

They just scream no, and they keep repeating it and throwing out juvenile insults against anyone who tries to say they are wrong.

They may be over the edge of their skis trying to turn Buckhorn and Vinik into bogeymen though.

If Buckhorn wasn’t term-limited, I doubt he would even have an opponent if he wanted to run for a third term as Tampa’s Mayor. And Vinik’s “vision” that the mailer mocks will result in a completely rebuilt Channel District after decades of floundering.

No one likes paying taxes but it’s part of the deal to pay for things that benefit the public. People have identified our lack of decent transportation as a major issue and it won’t get better by screaming “NO!”

Joe Henderson: Lively Florida gubernatorial debate probably didn’t change minds

If the goal of either side in the Florida Governor’s debate Sunday night between Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis was to change minds, that probably didn’t happen.

During a spirited hour-long debate on CNN in which no punches were pulled, both candidates to be Florida’s governor kept their respective cool, got in their talking points and attacks, and dodged issues they didn’t want to directly address.

DeSantis kept up the line of attack he has used throughout the campaign, namely that Gillum is a corrupted socialist who wants to ruin the state with massive tax hikes while dodging a corruption investigation by the FBI.

Gillum countered that DeSantis is a corrupted Donald Trump acolyte who is controlled by the National Rifle Association.

That’s what they have been saying about each other since the August primary, and with the election now about two weeks away they didn’t deviate. Both men were prepared, they didn’t commit a grievous blunder during the spicy back-and-forth that could have led to a disastrous headline.

Each man was well-coached to deflect attacks and ready to sprinkle in a snappy one-liner that just might appear in a TV commercial in the closing days of the campaign.

So, here’s a random sampling of things that jumped out:

Favorite zingers

From Gillum: “If the congressman is elected, which he won’t be, he will worship at the feet of Donald Trump.”

From DeSantis: “If you believe with that record that he (Gillum) ain’t gonna raise your taxes, then I’ve got some oceanfront property in Arizona I’d like to sell you.”

Monkey business

DeSantis was asked by moderator Jake Tapper, who did a good job of keeping things on track, to explain his “monkey it up” comment about Gillum and the state’s economy on the day after the primary election. It was widely panned as a racist dog whistle.

“Here’s the deal. You look at my record. When you’re down-range in Iraq, it didn’t matter your race. We all wore the same uniform. We all had that American flag patch on our arm. And that was the end of story. You look at me as a prosecutor working with law enforcement. It didn’t matter the race of the victim. We were there to support the race of the victim. So, Floridians can know that I will be a governor for all Floridians.”

Gillum’s counter: “The congressman let us know exactly where he was going to take this race the day after he won the nomination. The monkey up comment said it all. He has continued throughout the course of this campaign to draw all the attention he can to the color of my skin. … The only color the people of the state of Florida care about is the blue-green algae that is flowing out of the state.”

Was the original question answered?

Not really.


DeSantis is loved by the NRA.

Gillum is not.

That’s an issue.

After the slaughter of 17 innocents at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the state adopted modest gun control restrictions – opposed, strongly, by the NRA. DeSantis said as governor, he would have vetoed the law.


After invoking the shooting at the congressional softball game, DeSantis dodged the question, saying the shooter who “should have been convicted of a crime” and “he should have been Baker-Acted.”

Um, Congressman? While there were warnings about the mental state of confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz, he hadn’t done anything that would have led to a conviction before entering the school. And the state’s Baker Act law would have allowed him to be held only 72 hours for observation.

Gillum’s counter: “He is wholly owned by the NRA.”

What now?

No doubt, both sides believe they won this debate, but I really think the people of Florida did.

Both men were pointed in their barbs, but it didn’t get out of control. They made their points, and it’s up to the viewer to agree or not. It was lively, and I don’t think either man got rattled by the other.

It was healthy. It was informative.

I probably would have given a slight edge to Gillum because he was less evasive on tough questions than DeSantis, like when he was asked if Trump is a good role model for the children of Florida and answered with something about moving the embassy of Israel to Jerusalem.


But, with the finish line near, we were given a good look at both men and what they stand for. That’s what debates are for.

Joe Henderson: Soil and Water Conservation District candidates, um, who are they?

As you peruse your ballot, either on Election Day or if you vote by mail, there is a chance you’ll hit a stumbling block when you get to the section marked “Soil and Water Conservation District.”

On the Hillsborough County ballot, there are 11 candidates divided over three districts. You’re supposed to vote for some of them, but odds are pretty good you won’t know who any of them are. This is the place to go for a politician who needs to be in witness protection.

No matter. You’ll still be expected to choose between “Who’s That?” and “Never Heard of Him/Her” because these folks are trying to win election to a post where they’ll be expected to work hard and decide important issues for no pay.

I mean it. Absolutely no pay.

You might wonder why someone would agree to do that even if their best friend asked, let alone actually put their name on a ballot and (sort of) campaign for the job?

I wondered that too. But there is no question that a lot of people look at a seat on this board as something to be valued, and I applaud their service.

I also applaud voters who take the time to try and learn about the candidates, which isn’t easy and explains why I received an email this morning from a nice lady asking how she could go to do her homework on these people.

Why was she writing to me? Because everything lives forever on Google, and that’s where she found a column I wrote about the Soil board a couple of years ago for this fine website.

Apparently, a lot of other people found it too, because Board Chairman Mark Proctor told me that because of that column, there was a surge in people who wanted to win a coveted spot there. No need to thank me.

And because there are more people wanting information and they don’t know who else to contact, they reach out to Proctor because he was quoted extensively in the original piece and he told board members it was OK for people to call him.

“My phone is ringing off the hook. Thanks, Joe,” he said. “But I don’t really mind. All I can tell them is that I’ve met a few of the candidates and here are the ones I’m voting for. I don’t know all of them.”

It’s an important gig though.

The Soil and Water Conservation District concept was created by the Legislature to promote efficient use of the land and protect water resources; there are conservation districts throughout the state. Their mission, quoting directly from the soil handbook, is “ … to provide assistance, guidance, and education to landowners, land occupiers, the agricultural industry, and the general public in implementing land and water resource protection practices.”

With so much on the line, shouldn’t there be a way to find out more about the people who want your vote? After all, it would take an act by the Legislature to change these from elected to appointed, and that wouldn’t be such a good idea.

As awkward as the process of choosing members is now, it would be worse if the Governor of either party could stack these districts with buddies to push through an agenda.

But wouldn’t we like to know who we’re voting for? For all I know, someone’s idea of being qualified for this board would be the fact they mow their lawn. Or they could be like Kim O’Connor, who resigned from the board earlier this year over allegations she smoked a lot of pot while in an Okeechobee motel on official business.

She denied all that, by the way.

Proctor agreed it would be a good idea to have a central place to go for information about candidates.

Maybe candidates could submit background bios and answer a few form questions on things like “Why do you want to be on a board where you don’t get paid for doing lots of work?”

The information could be posted maybe on a central website or Facebook page.

It would be a start. If people want this badly enough to run for the job, we really ought to know more about them. Or, at least something about them.

That would be better than the current system of throwing a dart at the ballot when you get to the Soil and Water Conservation District, leaving that part blank, or calling Mark Proctor to ask if knows any of these people.

In the name of humanity and Mark’s eardrum, make it happen.

Joe Henderson: Supreme Court ruling brings out Mini-Me in Ron DeSantis

Ron DeSantis hasn’t mentioned President Donald Trump much now that the general election for Florida Governor is getting closer, but that might change after Monday’s stinging slap by the Florida Supreme Court at Gov. Rick Scott.

After lawsuits by the Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause, the state’s highest court ruled that Scott cannot nominate replacements for three justices set to retire at midnight on Jan. 8, 2019 — the same day Scott vacates the Governor’s Mansion and the winner of the gubernatorial race between DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum moves in.

The new guy gets to choose.

Those are the rules, darn the luck.

When in doubt, break out the boogeyman. That’s straight out of Trump’s playbook and Ron DeSantis put on his best Mini-Me imitation after the ruling by quickly tweeting Gillum would be pressured by “out-of-state, radical groups” to appoint “activist judges” who would “legislate from the bench to fit their own ideology.”

First off, that ignores the Judicial Nominating Committee, which will present the new Governor a list of candidates from which he must choose. As the Tampa Bay Times reported Wednesday, the JNC — which is top-loaded with Scott appointees — stays on into the new year. That bunch is unlikely to care what Gillum or “out-of-state, radical groups” would want. Gillum would have little or no say in the matter.

For now, though, let’s roll with the idea of legislating from the bench — a pet phrase of Republicans, and one that DeSantis just invoked.

I assume  “radical” would be defined by any ruling with which he disagrees.

Or, does he mean the current Supreme Court ruling that declared, “Governor Scott exceeded his authority by directing the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission submit its nominations to fill these vacancies by November 10, 2018” was legislating from the bench?

By his logic, I guess so.

That is, of course, opposed to the good ol’ American conservative judges DeSantis would favor. He is implying they would be more inclined to see things through a Republican lens.

Would such judges have allowed Scott to pack the Court with conservatives just as he was leaving office? Is that what DeSantis is saying should have happened?

But … but … that violated state law. It would have been wrong.

The ruling sort of blows a hole in the theory that only conservative judges follow the law while those pesky liberals make it up as they go along while humming Taylor Swift tunes.

It’s the same fear-and-smear tactic Trump used to push the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, though. Anyone who opposed him, the president declared, and his supporters parroted, was part of a “liberal mob” — which, I guess, makes the National Council of Churches part of that vast left-wing rabble because that group opposed Kavanaugh.

Republican animosity against the Florida Supreme Court has been going on for many years.

In 2012, for instance, the state GOP launched an unprecedented campaign against justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince – the same three who are being forced into retirement at the end of this year because of age limits.


One reason they were so mad was that the court ruled against allowing a referendum against Obamacare to go on the statewide ballot because the language was misleading (it was later rewritten).

This was after Republicans tried, and failed, to expand the court to 10 so Scott could pick three additional members.

In 2016, the Court struck down Florida’s death penalty provision that said capital punishment could be imposed with only a majority of 12 jurors voted in favor. When the state reworked the law to make it 10 out 12 the Court said nope, it had to be unanimous.

The ruling party doesn’t like to be told no.

With Republicans controlling both houses of the Legislature and the Governor’s mansion for the last 20 years, the Supreme Court often is the firewall between a Republican lawmaking rampage that ignores the other half of the state that might think differently.

So, yeah, the Court is going to get a makeover, and it may not matter much who wins the Governor’s race.

But what the heck. Scare ’em anyway, right?

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