Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 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: 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

“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.

Joe Henderson: Face it Dems: Maybe Republicans care more

What I’m about to say won’t go down easily for the most dedicated Florida Democrats. They are the ones who believe they are on a holy quest in 2018 to rescue the state from Republican rule. Passion has never been a problem for those folks, but they keep losing statewide elections and I have a theory why: Maybe Republicans care more.

I’m serious.

I’m not talking about those who were dedicated enough to attend the party’s statewide conference over the weekend in Orlando. Yes, they care deeply and they’ll work hard, but what about everyone else — starting with the many thousands who don’t vote in non-presidential years?

Despite a considerable statistical advantage in the number of registered voters in Florida, Dems have lost five consecutive races for governor. Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature and have lost only one statewide election – Alex Sink beat Tom Lee for chief financial officer in 2006 – in this century.


Just look at the numbers.

Since 1998, when Jeb Bush won the first of his two terms as governor, less than half of the state’s registered voters cast ballots in three of those five cycles. In 2014, Republican Rick Scott beat Charlie Crist by about 64,000 votes in a race with just 50 percent voter turnout.

More than 75,000 of those who did cast ballots that year didn’t vote in the governor’s race.

The turnout is much higher in presidential election years.

This exercise in simple statistics isn’t designed to put readers to sleep, but rather to point out the problem Democrats have in convincing apathetic voters that these off-peak races are kind of important.

It starts with facing truths that will be unpleasant for them.

Democrats fuss about the Tea Party influence that put men like Scott and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio in power, but never seem to acknowledge the ground-level work done by those supporters. Tea Party people sweat the small stuff, regularly showing up at forums, local government meetings, civic rallies and so on.

They especially seem to show up on election day, and that seems to tip the balance in low-turnout years.

Democrats were out-flanked by Republicans on state house and senate elections, allowing Republicans to gain complete control of the agenda. Dems have rightly complained gerrymandering is part of that, but that happened because they were asleep at the wheel in the first place.

They have allowed Republicans to dictate the conversation on issues like guns, schools, Medicaid expansion, and so on. When Democrats do have their turn at the mic, their response generally is “Republicans, bad!” They seemed to be caught flat-footed by Scott’s simplistic “Let’s Get To Work” campaign in 2010, almost as if they believed no one would be dumb enough to vote for him.

How’d that work out?

It would also help if they nominated more dynamic candidates at the top of the ticket (which is why I suspect many hope attorney John Morgan gets in the race). Most Democratic gubernatorial candidates in the last several cycles have acted like they were campaigning in a library, using their indoor voice.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson essentially told fellow Democrats over the weekend that it’s their patriotic duty to rescue Florida and the nation from Republicans.

Well, OK.

Judging by the plummeting approval ratings for President Trump, a lot of people would agree with what Nelson said at the Democrats’ state conference at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort.

“The Republican Party will have to answer to the path that they’ve chosen,” Nelson told party members. “Then it’s our responsibility, not just to criticize them, not just to criticize the president; it’s our responsibility not only as Democrats but as Americans to do what we can to right the ship.”

Bold words, especially from a candidate who likely will be in the fight for his election life next November. But he was speaking to people who are already convinced. The Democrats’ problem is making enough other people care.

Joe Henderson: Rays moving to Tampa? Not so fast


Um, not so fast.

I was getting ready for dinner Tuesday when WFLA, Channel 8, opened its 6 p.m. newscast with what seemed like a blockbuster.

The station was reporting that the Tampa Bay Rays had settled on a site near Tampa’s Ybor City for a proposed new stadium. On air and through social media, the anchors breathlessly hyped a story from reporter Jeff Patterson that made it sound like it was done deal – and a major scoop.

There is one major problem: The story didn’t say that.

The Rays haven’t settled on anything.

The story also wasn’t the earth-shaking scoop WFLA’s social media machine made it out to be. Back on Aug. 21, more than two months ago, the Tampa Bay Times first reported that Hillsborough County was “focusing” on the Ybor site and was trying to consolidate enough land to make building a stadium feasible.

The Times reported then that the county hoped to “make an announcement soon.”

Well, that announcement came Tuesday. It’s a big deal, but it’s just another incremental step in a process that is a long way from being over.

Rays President Brian Auld sought to douse the flames with a statement that called it “another important step in the site selection process.” He said the Rays would evaluate it, along with a proposal from Pinellas County.

In my estimate from having extensively covered the build-up to Raymond James Stadium and Amalie Arena, we are a minimum of four years – and likely longer – from seeing the first pitch in a new ballpark.

Assembling the land is important, but the Rays have to analyze that and other proposals to make sure their new home is in the right place. Then comes the fun part – figuring out how to pay for it. That alone will likely take a year or more, especially when it gets down to haggling over how much the Rays and Major League Baseball will pay.

Like most everyone else, I assume the Rays will choose to be in Tampa – likely at the Ybor site. But they haven’t done that yet and there a million hurdles they have to clear before it becomes a real thing.

WFLA ought to be embarrassed by its over-reaction. It turned a solid, informative update by Patterson into something that was confusing, misleading, and over-hyped. I think we all know why.

Social media doesn’t thrive on accuracy. It thrives on clicks, and shouting “RAYS SETTLE ON TAMPA” is major clickbait. The problem is, when that is proved to be wildly premature, it drains the credibility of a news operation.

It’s not uncommon for news outlets to have a social media editor – I don’t know if that’s the case at WFLA – whose job it is to hype stories. Assuming the Rays eventually do settle on Tampa, I suppose WFLA will fall all over itself saying had it had the “scoop” – even though, oh, whatever.

I went on one of their Facebook threads and it had already lit up with comments shortly after the “news” broke.

I tried to offer a clarification (using the information in their own story). I looked for that comment this morning, but it wasn’t there.

I assume it was deleted.

After all, can’t let facts get in the way of clickbait, can we?

Joe Henderson: Death threats at UF? Either way, coach mishandled situation

University of Florida football coach Jim McElwain has mishandled a potentially explosive situation, and that’s true whether or not death threats were actually directed at him and those in his program.

Something isn’t adding up here.

At his regular news conference Monday, McElwain dropped a bombshell about that subject in an almost offhand way. After being asked if his staff was “hanging in there” during a tough season for the Gators, he responded with this jaw-dropping revelation:

“There’s a lot of hate in this world. A lot of anger, and yet, it’s freedom to show it. The hard part is, obviously, when the threats are against your own players. Death threats to your families …”

Say again? Death threats?

McElwain nodded affirmatively.

But McElwain hadn’t told the university about this beforehand, and apparently not much after the news broke, either. That prompted this rather cryptic statement from the UF Athletics Association:

“The University Athletic Association takes the safety of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and families very seriously. Our administration met with Coach McElwain this afternoon, and he offered no additional details.”

Excuse me?

Repeat: he offered no additional details.

That led to speculation that McElwain was exaggerating the situation, but we don’t know that. Here’s what we do know, though.

If there were actual threats against him or anyone else associated with the program, common sense says his first call should have been to his boss, the athletic director, who would alert law enforcement for a thorough investigation.

It appears obvious from the university’s statement that such a call was never made. If I’m the parent of a Gator football player, I would be screaming for an explanation. McElwain should be held accountable.

But it turns out that no such threat was ever made, then McElwain should face severe discipline for basically scaring the bejeebers out of everyone associated with the University of Florida.

It’s not a stretch to say such a threat could have happened. We know the passion for college football in this state, and sometimes that gets out of hand. That played out last Saturday in Tallahassee, when Florida State Coach Jimbo Fisher got into a confrontation with a fan while leaving the field following a tough loss to Louisville.

Given everything in play about the disappointing season at Florida, I absolutely believe it’s possible that McElwain received such a threat from an unhinged Gator fan. You don’t blow those things off.

Whether he did or didn’t is not the biggest issue now, though. McElwain’s clumsy handling of this situation has become the story.

Nothing less than full transparency from him and the university on what happened, or didn’t happen, will do. If there are additional details, everyone needs to hear them.

Joe Henderson: Frederica Wilson’s record not so wacky

President Donald Trump called U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida’s 24th Congressional District “wacky” in a tweet. He said she is the “gift that keeps on giving for the Republican Party.” He said she is a “disaster” for Democrats.

Let’s meet her.

She won her seat in 2010, and in 2014 was re-elected to a third term with 86 percent of the vote. Republicans didn’t bother to put a challenger in 2016. Before that, she was a teacher, principal and school board member in Miami-Dade. She has a reputation for fierce devotion to her district.

She served in both the Florida House and Senate before heading to Congress. In Tallahassee, she was elected Senate Minority Leader Pro Tempore and Minority Whip.

She worked with then-Gov. Jeb Bush to remove the Confederate flag from the state capitol. She established the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence program to secure college scholarships for young at-risk men.

“I worked with her in Tallahassee. She is a very nice lady, a caring person,” former longtime Republican legislator Mike Fasano said. “She has done a remarkable job with the role model program.  It has been very successful.”

Her district has endured more than its share of gun violence and death, leading her to become outspoken on the subject. Speaking at a breakfast to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Miami Herald reported she said, “That is what Dr. King would want us to do, take back the community from the hooligans. Only 7 percent of people in the inner city are prone to violence. The other 93 percent are tired of it.”

She has a reputation of giving comfort to military families in her district. That’s why, when the president called, she was in a limousine with the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson after he was killed in an ambush with three other soldiers in Niger.

What started off as a condolence call became a national controversy when Wilson overheard him say on speaker phone that Johnson “knew what he signed up” when he joined the military.

Wilson called him out, Trump started tweeting that she made up the story, and Chief of Staff Gen. John Kelly likened Wilson to a noisy “empty barrel.” Kelly pressed the attack, saying that at the dedication for an FBI field office in Miami, she patted herself on the back for securing $20 million in funding for the project.

Let’s go to the videotape.

Upon further review, video taken at the dedication showed she never said such a thing, leading the Miami Herald to say in an editorial that Kelly owed her a “sincere apology.”

It all came to a head when the fallen soldier’s widow, Myeshia Johnson, told Good Morning America that Wilson’s version of events is “100 percent correct.”

This story likely would have had a short news cycle had the president simply chosen to say his only wish was to comfort a grieving widow — and then drop it.

Alas, that’s not how it works with this president because, like a bully, he would rather push a bad position and resort to name-calling than admit he was wrong.

That’s especially true when it comes to attacking Gold Star families. No one has forgotten how then-candidate Trump took after Khizr and Ghazala Khan, whose son died while serving in Iraq.

Maybe that “gift keeps on giving” to the fevered base that cheers louder the more obnoxious he behaves, but it’s unbecoming to the office and disrespectful to both the fallen and a congresswoman who rightly called him out.

So, who’s really “wacky” here?

Joe Henderson: What’s it really mean to love America?

Like most schoolchildren, I was taught as a kid to love America without knowing exactly what that means.

Every morning before class started, we would stand as a group, place our right hand over our hearts, and pledge allegiance to the flag. By the way, did you know that according to, the original pledge was written by a socialist minister named Francis Bellamy. Somehow, that seems almost funny, given where we are as a nation right now.

Anyway, back on point, as children we also were instructed to stand for the national anthem because everyone else did and we didn’t dare be different. Refusing to fit in would mean we didn’t love America.

None of that is true, of course. If protesting is considered unAmerican, then what is America?

You can take a knee during the Star-Spangled Banner and still love this country. You can sit out the pledge, too, because this is America and we cherish (allegedly) freedom of expression and speech – or, as we now see, the freedom of protest.

I mention this for a couple of reasons.

White nationalist Richard Spencer is scheduled to speak today at the University of Florida. He makes my skin crawl, and my earnest hope is that enough people feel the same way as to render him quickly irrelevant.

He must be allowed to speak, though, because we love our country enough to believe it can withstand a bigot like him.

Loving America also means National Football League players have the right to take a knee during the national anthem. People have the right to condemn that if they wish. They also have the right to protest the protest by tuning out the NFL on TV and refusing to buy tickets to the games.

Let’s be clear, though: It is not unpatriotic for the players to protest, despite what the president says.

This isn’t North Korea, where Otto Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years in prison, where he likely was beaten until he had irreversible brain damage, because he took a propaganda poster off a hotel wall.

In this country, the government doesn’t control the press so leaders can spew out propaganda to the citizens and keep them under oppression.

I remember in the 1960s when people took to the streets because they realized their government was lying about the Vietnam war. There was a lot of flag-waving then, too, and shouts of “America, love it or leave it.”

That sentiment is exactly the opposite of what America is about. Loving America means citizens can exercise their right to tell the government it is wrong.

How would that go over in China? Dissidents can be imprisoned and tortured for their speech, religion, or just because the leaders felt like it.

They have “elections” in China too, but if a candidate like Donald Trump came along, spewing insults and pushing a lie that the nation’s leader was actually born in another country, he likely would soon disappear – never to be heard from again.

NFL players who protest don’t hate America. It started off as a way to highlight what Colin Kaepernick believed was racial injustice, but it now seems to be more of a showdown against President Trump’s bombast.

So be it.

This is the country we live in, and I think it’s a great thing to love this nation because of what we stand for. You can question authority. People are allowed to protest. They can say what’s on their minds, even if other people don’t like it.

This is America.

Love it.

Joe Henderson: U.S. Virgin Islands still needs our help

The U.S. Virgin Islands suffered almost unprecedented damage during Hurricane Irma and the recovery has been painstakingly slow.

I mention this because while Floridians have rightly focused great political and civic attention on hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico, we can’t forget about the devastation that remains a mere 18-minute plane ride from San Juan on JetBlue. I know this because that’s how long it took me and my family to fly there for my oldest son’s wedding in July.

That was about six weeks before St. Thomas and next-door neighbor St. John were flattened by Irma. The Washington Post reported what was left behind was “perhaps the site of Irma’s worst devastation on American soil.”

The storm hit the Virgin Islands as a Category 5 hurricane with 185 mile-per-hour winds on Sept. 7 before moving onto Florida. With so much damage here, it was hard for Floridians to focus on what was happening to our friends and fellow U.S. citizens in the Caribbean, and then life goes on and human nature is to forget and get back into a normal routine.

Hurricane Maria gave the islands another gut punch before unleashing its fury on Puerto Rico. Because the damage in Puerto Rico was so widespread for that island, the misery to its next-door neighbor was crowded out of the conversation, especially when President Trump’s feud with San Juan’s mayor stole the headlines for days.

There is a web site called News of St. John that has managed to send out regular “hey, remember us” messages. Monday, it said, was the island’s 41st day of a 100 percent power outage.

There is a video on the site of the devastation at beautiful Trunk Bay. Places where we ate and visited while there have been knocked to their knees.

Country singer Kenny Chesney has done remarkable work in trying to help there. He has a home on the island and during Irma he opened it for 17 people to ride out the storm. The home was destroyed, but everyone survived.

He immediately organized mercy flights with generators, cleanup gear, and equipment to help get people back on the internet. He deserves a medal for this, but he and his team of angels need much more help.

St. John is a place of incredible beauty, but geography is also its enemy. It’s not easy to get to, which I think contributed to a relative lack of coverage about the situation. It’s only about 4 miles long and most of the aid it receives has to come by boat. The narrow roads and mountainous terrain make relief efforts even more difficult.

We went nuts here in Florida when the power was out for a few days for most people after Irma. Imagine what the people in St. John and St. Thomas are going through.

These are our friends.

These are our neighbors.

These are Americans and we can’t let the noise drown them out.

Joe Henderson: Richard Spencer at UF is emergency all right

Richard Spencer is clean cut, casual but professional, a disarming look for one of the most prominent faces in what is becoming a crowded field of racism in the United States.

His scheduled appearance Thursday afternoon the University of Florida prompted Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency, in case things get out of hand. That tends to happen when Spencer is involved.

He was a leader at the Charlottesville, Va. white supremacist rally that ended with a nationally televised riot where there was one death and multiple injuries.

Spencer admits he chooses a dress shirt, coat and tie over a white hood and robe because he doesn’t want to scare people while talking about things like  “a new society, an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans… based on very different ideals than, say, the Declaration of Independence.”

Too late.

Noting that wardrobe ruse, Spencer was described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “a kind of professional racist in khakis.”

Racists can be smart, and Spencer certainly qualifies. He was educated at the University of Virginia and was in a Ph.D. program at Duke before dropping out to lead the American Policy Institute, described as a think tank for the alt-right.

In a column for API in 2014, Spencer dismissed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as “a fraud and degenerate in his life, (who) has become the symbol and cynosure of White Dispossession and the deconstruction of Occidental civilization. We must overcome!”

He told CNN that, despite multiple reports to the contrary, he never called for a “peaceful ethnic cleansing.” In the same interview though, he told the network, “We have experienced this mass migration of people (into the United States). Therefore they could go home, you can go home again. … They came here peacefully. They could leave peacefully.”

Well, he could leave too. Alas, UF president Kent Fuchs said he is lawfully required to allow Spencer to speak on campus. That doesn’t mean he has to like it. In his Twitter account, Fuchs urged students to “avoid the event.”

Spencer and those support his pathetic views represent a special challenge to the ideals of America. The right of free speech is central to who we are as a nation, even when it is as potentially destructive as Spencer’s.

He has turned the First Amendment into a kind of Trojan Horse, demanding – and lawfully receiving – a platform to spew hate-filled garbage that tears at the core of a nation he essentially is trying to destroy.

The Founders realized the danger making laws to prohibit free speech and counted on people being able to filter and reject nonsense like this. That ideal is under attack on an almost unprecedented basis for this country by President Trump and Steve Bannon, who, like Spencer, is a devotee of the alt-right movement.

Trump declared the media is the “enemy” of the American people.

Bannon went so far as to tell the New York Times, “You’re the opposition party. Not the Democratic Party. You’re the opposition party. The media’s the opposition party.”

Well, if that means calling out racism and lies when we see it, sign me up for extended duty.

Spencer and those like him need to be heard by everyone, and then robustly shouted down with words and actions in every corner of this country. I believe millions more Americans than not are horrified by Spencer’s kind of overt racism and will realize they need to get in the game.

The bad guys are playing to win.

That’s the real emergency we face.


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