Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 16

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: Sen. Bracy’s heart might have been right, but his numbers were wrong

You can legitimately argue that the executive order by Gov. Rick Scott removing Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala from 21 more potential death penalty cases was blatant over-reach. For the record, I wouldn’t automatically agree but I can see that side of the argument.

We all know what a firestorm Ayala created when she decided not to seek the death penalty for alleged cop-killer Markeith Loyd. Scott came down on the side of outrage and in a stunning turn he ordered that the case go to another prosecutor. He doubled-down on that – well, 21nd down – with his most recent decree.

That prompted state Sen. Randolph Bracy, an Orlando Democrat, to blast Scott in an op-ed published in the New York Times. He was making strong arguments why the governor’s actions are wrong, at least up to the point where he wrote this paragraph:

“As a black man, I see the death penalty as a powerful symbol of injustice in which race often determines who lives and who dies, especially in Florida. The state has the second-largest number of death row inmates in the country, after California, and African-Americans are grossly over-represented on Florida’s death row.”

Fact check, please!

Actually, there are 143 black males on death row compared to 214 white males. And when it comes to the total number of executions carried out since the capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, Texas is the runaway leader with the number of people put to death with 576. Florida is fourth (behind Oklahoma and Virginia) with 92.

As for the butcher’s bill, those executed include 57 white males compared to 29 black males. Both women executed in the state also were white.

His heart might have been in the right place, but being so far off on the numbers totally undercuts Bracy’s argument.

Public sentiment is turning against the death penalty because it’s obviously not the deterrent its supporters claim. It’s strictly about society’s need for vengeance. If the state were to decide to do away with it in favor of locking murderers up and never letting them out, that would be fine by me.

I might make an exception for anyone who murders a police officer, but that’s about it.

Here’s the thing, though: It’s not my call. Florida has the death penalty and if there ever was a case where it should be in play, it’s the one involving Loyd. If the law is going to be changed, that is done in the Legislature. While I appreciate and maybe even agree with Ayala’s argument about the futility of capital punishment, it’s her job to prosecute crimes like the one Loyd allegedly committed to the full extent of the law.

Yes, a prosecutor can exercise judgment in deciding what to course of action to take. I believe she was wrong, though, by basically saying she won’t seek the death penalty because she doesn’t like it.  If that’s her heartfelt belief, she should consider a career change – maybe defending accused murderers instead of prosecuting them.

Joe Henderson: Keep an eye on Mike Moore, a man on the move in Pasco

If you don’t know Mike Moore yet, chances are you will soon enough. For now, he is content to be chairman of the Pasco County Commission, but former House Speaker Will Weatherford believes his friend and neighbor is destined for bigger things.

“When you’ve been around politics and people as long as I have, you learn to spot talent pretty quickly,” Weatherford said.

“Mike has that kind of upward mobility you look for. He has great depth, he takes time to understand issues, and he has a great ability to articulate those issues.”

By any standard, his is a rapid rise; Moore has only been on the Commission for two years and it is his first turn at elected office. Still, I asked Weatherford, does he see Moore running for the state Legislature at some point?

“I’d be disappointed if he didn’t,” Weatherford said.

State Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Dade City Republican, added, “Mike clearly understands how to work with people. He has been a real boon for Pasco County. If Mike were to choose to run (for the Legislature), he would have a good base of support for whatever position he ran for.”

To which Moore says, “Right now, I’m only focused on the county. In the future, I can look at other things.”

Translation: Keep an eye on him.

Moore is making a name for himself there by focusing on the issues that come with Pasco’s rapid growth as well as Tampa Bay area-wide issues like transportation.

He is working with other commissioners to bring what he calls “careers, not just jobs” to Pasco. He is fiercely proud of his adopted home, which has transformed in just a few years from a sleepy, rural suburb of Tampa into a connected, tech-savvy county with its own identity.

“When I first moved to Wesley Chapel, we had to travel to Hillsborough County for all our needs,” he said. “Now, people in New Tampa are traveling to Pasco for what they want. For years, Pasco was said to be a bedroom community to Tampa. I hate that. Here, we’re thinking about the future. Let’s not react. Let’s be proactive.”

In addition to being inquisitive and smart, ideas come spilling out Moore. He gets excited about issues like storm water drainage and highway connectors, mostly because they are problems that need to be solved. The fact that they can be tedious and exasperating only makes them more important.

“He is not scared to jump into the stickier issues,” Weatherford said. “A lot of politicians won’t do that, but Mike will roll up his sleeves and go to work. When I think of him, it’s like the old political saying – do you want to be something, or do you want to do something? He wants to do something.”

He has a compelling personal story, too. He was raised by his mother after his father left when Moore was about 10 years old. They moved into his grandparents’ small, 2-bedroom home in Winter Haven; Mike and his mother, Alice, had to share a room.

“She is a saint of a women,” Moore said.

His mother went on to earn a Master’s degree and worked in the Polk County school system until retiring. Moore went to Polk Community College and graduated from UCF.

He started a medical supplies business, which he later sold. He and his wife, Lauren, have three kids – Aubrey, 13; Aiden, 10; and Amberlee, 7.

“He is a great dad,” Weatherford said. “I have seen him out on the soccer fields in Wesley Chapel, coaching and supporting his kids. He was active in the community before he was interested in politics.”

They also have three dogs, which may explain his interest in animal issues. He pushed for the county to adopt an ordinance last year requiring anyone putting animals up for adoption to click on a computer to the Pasco Clerk’s office. It will tell the seller if the potential buyer has a record of animal abuse.

Add it all it up and it becomes the picture of a man on the move. Not too fast, though.

“I love what I do,” he said. “Things are hopping here. People are happy. I sleep well at night.”

Joe Henderson: Psst … Tallahassee, you might want to actually listen to the people on this one

While the business of governing requires tough choices and choosing between priorities that can be conflicting, sometimes it’s best to do what the people want. After all, it’s their money that is being spent.

So, listen up, Tallahassee.

On the subject of state Medicaid funding, the people — your bosses — appear to have spoken loudly, clearly and with a you-better-not-mess-with-this message. They want it funded, and they’re not kidding.

According to a Public Opinion Strategies poll conducted for the Florida Hospital Association and shared with FloridaPolitics.comabout three-quarters of the 600 registered voters surveyed like their Medicare and Medicaid. They strongly reject shifting funds from those programs to other spending projects.

And this is most telling — of those voters who accept the state might have a budget crisis, 66 percent say Medicare and Medicaid shouldn’t be cut.

This comes as budget proposals in the House and Senate call for steep cuts in those programs.

Well, well, well!

Budget hawks in the Legislature have grumped for years about the expense of these programs, but they’re missing the point. As this poll appears to show, the people are telling legislators that this point is nonnegotiable.

Lawmakers can get away with a lot of things because voters are consumed by the act of living day to day. Most voters don’t tune into all the nuance and back-and-forth that goes on in the Legislative Session, but they’ll damn sure pay attention if their Medicaid is threatened.

While the moves by House Speaker Richard Corcoran to tighten lobbying rules and eliminate Gov. Rick Scott’s business incentives were politically shrewd and had the added benefit of being the right thing to do, I doubt voters in the Villages or anywhere else in the state discussed it at happy hour.

Health care coverage is so complicated, though, that can’t be solved with barroom chat or by taking a meat cleaver to vital programs. Sometimes, leaders just have to do what the people want.

This also isn’t something where politicians can reasonably expect people to do more with less. If lawmakers don’t yet know that, let ‘em whack the Medicaid budget. Watch what happens when their constituents can’t afford or, in some cases, even get services they were used to.

That’s what this survey was telling state leaders as they grapple with how to set and pass a budget. They better be listening.

Joe Henderson: Concern for the environment really depends on which party is in charge

The words “green space” can have a different meaning depending on the person involved.

Democrats generally believe green space to mean protected grasslands, pristine parks, waterways, and regulations to keep companies from belching pollutants into the atmosphere.

Republicans generally appear to believe green space is a metaphor for money that can be made by paving over any empty spot of land they see.

I know that’s a generalization. There are plenty of conservatives who will argue strongly for environmental protection. I put my old friend and former Tampa Tribune editorial chief Joe Guidry at the top of that list.

It is true, though, that Republican administrations often roll back environmental regulations in the name of cutting red tape that they say strangles business.

We saw it in Florida when Gov. Rick Scott gutted many environmental protections (remember the Great Algae Bloom of 2016). The GOP-controlled Legislature scoffed when voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2014 requiring the state set aside millions of acres for conservation.

We’re seeing it again in what Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor from Tampa called “President Trump’s attack on the environment and U.S. economy through his executive order” that eliminated many of the Obama-era environment rules.

“By signing the latest in a line of dangerous executive orders, Trump is trying to dismantle America’s commitment to avert climate catastrophe and to stifle America’s clean energy future,” Castor said in a statement.

Trump’s executive order will cost Floridians a lot.  Unless we can slow the damage caused by climate change, Floridians will pay more for property insurance, flood insurance, beach re-nourishment and local taxes as the costs of water infrastructure and coastal resource protection rise.”

Castor, in her sixth term in Congress, is the vice ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. She has a long track record of supporting environmental causes, including the introduction of the Florida Coastal Protection Act that established a 235-mile drilling ban in the Gulf of Mexico off Florida’s west coast.

So yeah, this is personal.

It’s also expected.

You don’t hear many Democrats scoff about the science of climate change. And you haven’t heard many Republicans question Trump’s attempt to jump-start coal mining in the name of job creation.

The problem it, all someone needs is a long memory or access to a computer to see what environmental disregard can do to cities in this country. Have we really forgotten what happened in Cleveland when the Cuyahoga River caught fire from all the pollution?

Have we forgotten how urban smog was threatening the nation’s health? It’s still not great, but it’s better than it was.

When I was a kid growing up in southern Ohio, I remember the Armco steel mill in Middletown turning the night sky orange when workers fired up the coke plant.

We were breathing that stuff. Residents there used to apologize for the foul-tasting sulfur water that smelled like rotten eggs. These things changed because Congress decided things had to change or we were all going down the tubes.

Those laws aren’t designed to strangle business. They’re designed to protect us. People like Kathy Castor still believe that. President Trump apparently does not.

Joe Henderson: Richard Corcoran’s moves show that real power is taken, every bit of it

On the old TV show Dallas, family patriarch Jock Ewing once memorably screamed at his son Bobby: “So I gave you power, huh? Well, let me tell you something, boy. If I did give you power, you got nothing! Nobody gives you power. Real power is something you take!”

The 2017 version of that story is playing out now in real life, with Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran in the starring role. He is taking every chance to show who has the power. It’s his way, or no way, and that’s not likely to change.

His latest joust is with the mayors and leaders of cities and counties throughout the state. He is pushing measures through the House that basically would let all those leaders know who is in charge. Hint: it ain’t them.

There was a telling quote from Corcoran in Steve Bousquet’s story on this subject in Tuesday’s Tampa Bay Times.

“Our founders got it right. When they set up a Constitution, they basically said that the federal government exists with these enumerated powers,” Corcoran told the newspaper. “What’s not enumerated, all of it, belongs to the states. Every bit of it.”

Repeat that last sentence: Every bit of it.

The contradiction, of course, is that Corcoran and fellow Republicans routinely rail against mandates coming from the federal government or court rulings. But they apparently have no problem turning Tallahassee into a Mini-Me of sorts that bosses cities and local municipalities around and doesn’t care how they feel about that.

That includes prohibiting them from raising taxes without satisfying Tallahassee’s demands. They want to restrict the right of cities to pass laws that could affect businesses. One bill would prevent cities from regulating the rentals of private homes.

That’s specifically aimed protecting companies like Airbnb in case cities decide to act on local complaints about quiet neighborhoods that can be disrupted by tourist churn. Tallahassee is in charge now. Local zoning ordinances? Ptooey!

This is the natural progression of the tone Corcoran has brought to the Speaker’s chair. His fights with Gov. Rick Scott have been in the headlines for months. He took a no-prisoners approach with lobbying and legislative reforms. He is even trying to reshape how the state Supreme Court is run.

Don’t act surprised. He has vowed to reshape Tallahassee, and that requires equal parts of determination and power. No one doubts that he has plenty of determination.

And power?

He seems to be taking it.

Every bit of it.

Joe Henderson: Proposed new transportation agency a good start toward solving an old problem

Short of hitting yourself in the head with a hammer, the surest way to get a headache is to wade deep into Tampa Bay area transportation problems. You encounter a mishmash of competing agencies and agendas that has resulted in legislative and automotive gridlock for frustrated commuters for years.

Given that, I’m encouraged by what is coming out of Tallahassee. A pair of Republican legislators — state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater and state Rep. Dan Raulerson of Plant City — have introduced bills that would create a five-county regional transit agency.

Hernando County is a late addition to a group including Manatee, Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas.

But wait, you say. Didn’t the Legislature already try something like that?

Yep.

A decade ago, Tallahassee gave us the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority — known in wonk terms as TBARTA. Its scope was as large as its acronym, an attempt to bring seven counties together under a single transportation tent.

Nice sentiment, but poor execution. Trying to meet the needs of seven counties proved unwieldy.

“What Jack and I are trying to do is tweak this thing,” Raulerson said. “We want to get everybody moving in the same direction so we can put together a plan and get federal money for this. We have been woefully short there.”

The revamped board would have 13 members — seven elected officials, and six from the private sector. The elected officials likely will include the mayors from Tampa and St. Petersburg along with a commissioner from each county affected.

“That part is a work in progress right now,” Raulerson said. “But it is important to have more elected officials on the board because that provides for transparency and accountability.”

Both bills have sailed through their respective committees and appear to be gaining local acceptance. Tampa Bay Partnership President Rick Homans gave an enthusiastic endorsement to the plan, telling Mitch Perry of FloridaPolitics.com, “ … we realized that in order to get this started, we needed to have the right kind of planning and the right operational structure in place that will give us a greater chance of success.”

During committee hearings on the proposed bills, some lawmakers were skeptical that a new regional transportation agency would just be more of the same. Given the history on this issue, I certainly understand that point of view.

But I do like that this new authority would be smaller and focused on the counties of greatest need. Having Latvala and Raulerson behind this doesn’t hurt, either. Not only are they capable of guiding this from proposal to reality, they also represent both sides of Tampa Bay.

How soon can this happen?

“Once this becomes law, we probably need to have a good plan in place to take to the feds within 12 months,” Raulerson said. “The good news on that is that there already are a lot of plans out there, so we wouldn’t be starting from scratch. We just need to get moving.”

Joe Henderson: Gus Bilirakis keeps up fight to get medical drugs to market faster, easier

Anyone facing a dreaded disease themselves or watching a loved one go through it knows the frustration of seeking treatment. They want to know the system is on their side, but often it seems rigged against them.

I think it’s safe to conclude U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, who represents Florida’s 12th District, is on their side. He has been a champion for increasing medical options.

In 2014, along with Democrat Kathy Castor, he was part of the congressional bipartisan 21st Century Cures initiative that sought to speed up the process for getting new life-saving drugs to market.

And while all the focus has been on the fate of the Affordable Care Act, Bilirakis took the opportunity of a hearing about the over-abundance of regulations at the Food and Drug Administration to push for a measure that would provide incentives for drug companies to develop treatments for rare diseases affecting a small portion of the population.

It’s called the Open Act.

“Today, it takes 10 to 12 to even 15 years and upwards of $2 billion to move a drug or biological product from a good idea to an approved product,” Kay Holcombe, Senior Vice President, Science Policy, Biotechnology Innovation Organization, said in a statement to the committee.

“During that lengthy period, unmet medical needs remain unmet and patients wait.”

And patients die.

Bilirakis asked, “There are about 500 approved rare disease drugs, but 7,000 rare diseases affecting some 30 million Americans.  They’re taking medication off-label, not knowing if their drugs are safe and effective for their conditions, or if it’s the proper dosage, and fighting with their insurance companies on coverage of their medications.

“Does it make sense to incentivize development for a targeted population when there are clearly defined needs?”

Holcombe answered simply: “Yes.”

Bilirakis has long argued that the lengthy development requirements hurt patient care and increase costs.

“This isn’t political at all,” Bilirakis told me during an interview about the 21st Century Cures initiative. “I want to take the politics out of it.”

Well, this is Washington, where politics is the milk on morning cereal. Diseases aren’t political, though, and there has to be a way to make it easier to develop these treatments and get them to market at prices people can afford. At least Bilirakis is trying.

Joe Henderson: Time for wall between whiskey & Wheaties to crumble

It’s not surprising that the so-called “whiskey and Wheaties” bill that cleared a Florida House committee Wednesday did so by a bare 15-13 margin.

Any measure that makes it easier to buy booze will mobilize people on both sides. This bill is basically equivalent to one in the Senate, which would knock down the legislative wall that requires retailers to sell hard liquor in a separate store.

That’s how you get booze stores attached to places like Publix, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club. It always seemed silly to me. Given that you can already buy beer and wine in retail groceries, making them go next door to bring home a bottle of gin seems antiquated at best.

The primary argument that allowing so-called big box stores like Sam’s and Target to openly sell booze would put small retailers out of business is not a good enough reason to keep things the way they are.

Jim Rosica of FloridaPolitics.com quoted state Rep. Tom Goodson, a Rockledge Republican, saying the small stores already compete with the big players; the competition just happens at another location.

That’s an inconvenient truth opponents of this measure have to face. In the interest of full disclosure, it has been my experience that dropping into a neighborhood liquor store to stock up for the weekend is going to be considerably more expensive than one of the bigger places. Fewer choices, too.

This is another one of those probation-era laws that are falling by the wayside. People of a certain age can remember a time in Hillsborough County where you stocked up by midnight Saturday because you couldn’t buy beer or wine on Sunday.

Trust me on this: You didn’t want to be caught with nothing in the fridge on a Sunday afternoon to soothe the pain of watching the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in those days. That didn’t apply to fans only.

I remember being in their locker room after a loss back then and listening to defensive coordinator Abe Gibron repeatedly ask a flunky with increasing volume, “Did you get the beer? The beer? Did you get the beer? THE BEER!”

Fortunately, I think Abe was able to shake off that day’s loss with some cold ones. If the messenger had given him bad news, Abe would have found a way around it. A flunky would have been driving to Pasco.

People will always find a way around these things, but they shouldn’t have to. There is a battle cry in Tallahassee these days against picking winners and losers. That’s what this bill seeks to address.

It’s time.

Joe Henderson: Time to get rid of red-light cameras, but turn up heat on texting

Depending on your point of view, red-light cameras in Florida are either: A) Of great benefit to public safety by making drivers think twice when approaching a changing traffic light; or B) a cash grab by communities that amounts to a backdoor tax.

Just we’re clear, I’m on the side of Option B.

While several communities throughout the state have discontinued use of the cameras for reasons best explained by Option B, the Legislature has never mustered enough support for a complete ban on them.

Bless ‘em, though, House members keep trying. They are scheduled once again to take up a proposal (HB 6007) by Rep. Bryan Avila, a Hialeah Republican, and Spring Hill Republican Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, to repeal laws that permit the cameras.

Maybe they will succeed this time. I wish they wouldn’t stop there, though. I wish that for once, lawmakers could finally put their foot down on the practice of texting while driving. Currently, it is only a secondary offense, punishable by a fine only if officers can stop a violator on another charge.

The state transportation committee will consider whether to recommend toughening the law by making it a primary offense — meaning that if an officer sees someone obviously texting while driving, they can be pulled over for that.

Sadly, even something so obvious is complicated after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it takes a warrant to search a cellphone. It’s unlikely a motorist about to be hit with a big fine for texting would voluntarily turn over their phone. I appreciate the complication.

It’s worth the battle, though.

So why the battle against cameras but support for a texting ban?

Simple.

In 2015, the state reported nearly 46,000 accidents due to distracted driving. That’s more than 12 percent of all crashes in Florida, and we’ve all had the experience of watching drivers weave in and out of highway lanes while they’re focused on their phone instead of the road.

Red-light cameras, on the other hand, appear to contribute to crashes as well as being the aforementioned cash grab. The News Service of Florida reported in a four-year study of 148 intersections with cameras, across the state, crashes increased by more than 10 percent.

Rear-end collisions were the main culprit.

Add to that the fact that cameras are operated by an out-of-state firm and that appealing the fine can result in even heavier costs and points on your driver’s license. People usually give in and pay, and that’s not what a law like this should be doing.

Get rid of the cameras.

Joe Henderson: No matter what comes out, Donald Trump’s true believers don’t seem to care

I could waste words here on President Donald Trump’s hallucinations about the truth, but why bother. Y’all know that story as well as I do. The president either is delusional or cynical about what the people will believe or maybe both.

There is a bigger story, though, one that reduces all the drama about nonexistent wiretaps and possibly existing collusion with Russia to subplots.

It is simply this: His supporters don’t care.

A large, energetic crowd of believers showed up Monday night at his rally in Louisville to give a united upraised middle finger to those who call out this president on his lies, deceit and all the other things are supposed to spell his doom.

They don’t care.

This was in Kentucky, mind you — a state where residents likely are to be among the hardest hit if/when the Affordable Care Act is repealed. Instead of draining the swamp, the man these people adore will be draining the ranks of those who can afford health insurance. That may include some of those who were shouting his praises the loudest.

They don’t care.

He spits on our allies.

They don’t care.

While his proposed budget eviscerates social safety nets, the president’s regular weekend trips to Mar-a-Lago are estimated to cost taxpayers $3 million a pop. That’s on top of millions more spent on security at Trump Tower. The people who voted for Trump screamed bloody murder when President Obama took getaway trips to Hawaii.

But now? They don’t care.

The New York Times, Washington Post, and all the others that quoted “unnamed sources” saying there was no truth to Trump’s claims that Obama illegally wiretapped him during the campaign WERE CORRECT! Trump and those who parrot him dismissed the reports as Fake News. That was wrong. The media were CORRECT!

What else will it be correct about?

Trump’s supporters don’t care. They wouldn’t believe it anyway.

All the things that are supposed to define a successful, competent commander in chief don’t seem to matter now.

That’s why Monday could go down as one of the most significant days in American history. It’s the scene-setter for a showdown. How the testimony from Washington trickles down to places like Tallahassee is the next thing to watch.

The FBI is actively investigating if there is proof Trump’s campaign conspired with Russian agents to rig the November election. No doubt hundreds of professional, well-sourced reporters are looking into that as well.

Health care, security, and all the rest could get pushed to the side while his opponents, including some in his own party, dig in for the fight.

Florida’s governor and attorney general are tucked deep into Trump’s pocket. Their political futures could be tied to the outcome of this continuing drama — maybe. No one matter what the investigations and hearings uncover, I don’t believe the true supporters will abandon the president.

Nobody paid attention to them until the morning after the 2016 election. No one is paying attention to them now that their man is in the White House.

Huge mistake.

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