Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 41

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.

Ronda Storms out to set the record straight

Ronda Storms said she can take the mudslinging that is a part of running for public office. It’s just the way the game is played.

But the Valrico Republican, who is running to succeed Ross Spano in HD 59, will not, not, not stand for the charge in a recent mailer that she voted for President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package while she served in the state Senate.

No way, no how.

That’s exactly what a mailer from her opponent, Brandon businessman and U.S. Army veteran Joe Wicker, charges though. And that’s why Storms went on her campaign Facebook page to, as she put it, “set the record straight.”

In a video that was straight talk and defiant as ever, she called the allegation “patently false” and, for emphasis, added, “I never — no, never — voted for President Obama’s stimulus package.”

She said she had the documents to prove it.

Her opponents, after this column was first posted earlier Wednesday, produced a record from her vote on the time in question, showing she voted “Y” for yes on the budget. That vote, by the way, was 39-0 with one abstention.

I reached out to her by phone and she had more to say.

I caught her at Wednesday night church services.

“That was not a vote for the budget,” she said. “It was a vote to begin the negotiation process (with the House). The state had not even applied for the Obama stimulus yet. They’re trying to say I was John Kerry — I voted for it so I could vote against it. In that instance, you’re not voting for it, you’re voting to start the negotiating process.”

The stimulus eventually was woven into the state budget. It seems like a leap of Olympian proportions to say a procedural vote was an endorsement of the stimulus package.

But that’s politics today. Maybe that’s what is wrong with politics today.

“These (attacks) have been going on since Aug. 1,” she said. “They must have polled and must have found I’m in the lead. Otherwise, they’d leave me alone. When they attack you personally, it just means they don’t have a political argument.”

One mailer is Photoshopped to show her lounging on an easy chair beside a back of potato chips, implying that she is, in her words, “sitting around on my duff.”

Actually, what she is doing is going door-to-door, shaking lots of hands, and reveling again in her image as a political outsider — which, well, she is.

Storms is attempting a political comeback after being out of office since 2012 when she left the Senate to run for Hillsborough Property Appraiser unsuccessfully. But she probably is best known locally for her tumultuous eight years on the Hillsborough County Commission.

She was outspoken against gay rights, pushed successfully for the county to stop funding Planned Parenthood, and generally was a quote machine before, during and after meetings.

Her decision to run for Spano’s seat caught many by surprise as she had stayed relatively low-key since losing the property appraiser’s race.

She acknowledges that her opponent is favored by the local Republican Party — although, it should be noted, Spano withdrew his endorsement of Wicker after Storms got into the race.

Can she win?

It won’t be easy.

Wicker is a fresh face with a compelling story, a small-business owner endorsed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce. He recently took some time off the campaign trail to tend to his family after his wife delivered the couple’s second child.

Ronda Storms, after all the political wars she has been through, is not a fresh face.

But the people who like Storms in eastern Hillsborough County really, really like her. She listens to their concerns and cares about neighborhood issues. As a senator, she pushed for intelligent design to be taught in public schools, and she didn’t care if a lot of people thought that was nuts.

Let’s also just say that flamboyant politicians seem to be in vogue these days.

But can she win?

The odds say no.

But she does have a point. Why would her opponent be attacking like this if there wasn’t at least a bit concern?

We’ll find out how much of that concern was merited next Tuesday when the vote totals come in.

Ross Spano says Hillsborough transit tax plan should be no go

Ross Spano left no doubt how he feels about the Hillsborough transportation tax referendum that will be on the ballot in November.

In a commentary on his website RossSpano.com, he urged voters to defeat the one-cent-per-dollar sales tax increase advanced by the group All For Transportation.

Spano, a Republican, is running for the CD-15 seat being vacated by Dennis Ross, who is retiring. The district covers parts of Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties and is considered a likely Republican win in November.

Spano has served in the Florida House since 2012 and is endorsed by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.

After leading in early polls, he is running second to Neil Combee in the CD 15 race by 6 points, according to the latest St. Pete Polls projection.

The declined roughly coincided with what Spano’s camp called “a mild cardiac event” about a month ago that took him off the campaign trail for a time.

Hillsborough traffic congestion has become a major campaign issue on both sides of the debate. Recent attempts to address the problem with tax increases have either failed at the ballot box or didn’t even get that far. In 2016, the county commission refused to allow a proposed referendum called Go Hillsborough on the ballot.

Spano, who grew up in Brandon, said in his commentary that he is aware of the challenges in dealing with the impact of this explosive growth, particularly on our roadways. But a new tax won’t solve that problem.”

Spano maintains the tax can’t be used to build roads in the eastern and southern parts of the county, and adds, “What the referendum will do is take billions of dollars out of your wallet, to fund transit projects that benefit the few at the expense of the many. Meanwhile, transit ridership is declining nationwide, and disruptive new private sector technology is making traditional transit obsolete.”

What Spano’s commentary does not do is offer alternative solutions to the transportation quagmire being created by the county’s unrelenting growth. And since much of this district now is in Hillsborough County, that might be interesting for voters to know.

I mention all this because Spano’s position on this referendum likely will become a major issue in November if — big if — he survives Tuesday’s primary. That would be especially true if Democrat Andrew Learned wins his primary race against Kristin Carlson.

Learned has been outspoken during the primary campaign about the need for significant transportation upgrades.

Keeping taxes low is always a key GOP talking point, but as the county grows and the roadways can’t keep up with the number of cars, something has to give.

It would have been interesting to see how Spano would propose to solve this issue, beyond the vague “disruptive new private sector technology” reference.

Otherwise, it just sounded like more of the “keep your hands out of my pocket” mantra GOP lawmakers have pushed for years in Florida.

Hillsborough school board to discuss sales tax referendum

An item on the agenda for Friday’s Hillsborough County School Board meeting could lead people to believe it is seeking a referendum for a sales-tax hike in November to pay for major capital needs.

Not so fast.

Superintendent Jeff Eakins told Florida Politics late Monday that while the district is not ruling it out, the agenda item is more of a move “to see how this is going to play out, possibly. It’s just to give us options going forward.”

The district has an estimated $1 billion backlog in capital improvement needs, along with required new construction to keep up with a growing student population in the nation’s eighth-largest school system. Board members have discussed asking voters to approve a half-cent sales tax hike in November to help offset cuts in state funding, but that idea already has stiff competition.

Voters will be asked to approve a one-cent-per-dollar sales tax hike in November to fund transit needs, after a petition drive from the group All For Transportation was successful in getting a referendum on the ballot.

Given that, plus the tight time frame, it remains highly unlikely that even if the school district decides to proceed with the referendum initiative that it could be on the ballot by November.

That’s why Friday’s meeting may be more of an information exercise than actual policy.

“The best thing to do is analyze where we are at as far as the ballot goes,” Eakins said. “We are very intentional about meeting the needs of our kids.”

Joe Henderson: Susan Valdes forced to play defense again

Since Susan Valdes entered the race for the HD 62 seat being vacated by House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, well, let’s just say the campaign hasn’t exactly been a well-oiled machine.

The decision Monday by Cruz, a longtime friend, to rescind her endorsement of Valdes over the issue of charter school money might raise a few more eyebrows in a race where she was the instant front-runner the moment she decided to run.

Cruz, who is challenging Republican Dana Young for SD 18, shored up a potential vulnerability to her campaign by distancing herself from any association with charter schools.

“At a time when we’re learning Hillsborough schools have broken ACs, leaky roofs and lead in their pipes, I must put the needs of our students, parents and teachers first. I stand with candidates who, like me, put our public schools first over for-profit private education corps,” she tweeted.

It’s bare-knuckles politics for Cruz and a potential problem for Valdes.

Valdes is popular in that district, though, well-known as a member of the Hillsborough County School Board since 2004. It was Valdes, in her role as chairwoman of the Board, who offered the motion that led to the firing of controversial Superintendent MaryEllen Elia in 2015.

Elia’s supporters vowed revenge at the ballot box, but Valdes was re-elected in 2016 and had two years to go on her term when she surprised many by declaring her candidacy for Cruz’s seat.

There were problems right off the bat.

Valdes had to submit an irrevocable letter of resignation from the School Board before she could campaign for the State House. Opponent Mike Alvarez complained Valdes missed the filing deadline because the notice wasn’t submitted to the Supervisor of Elections until 2 ½ hours after the close of business on June 15.

It was ruled that Valdes had complied because she had sent the letter before midnight.

Recently, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa sent out a sharply worded rebuke about Valdes, complaining a campaign mailer implied she was endorsing Valdes.

She is not.

She is solidly in Alvarez’s corner.

“I am disappointed that the latest communication from Susan Valdes is inconsistent with Florida law and implies my endorsement of her campaign,” Castor said. “It is imperative that candidates follow the law to ensure fairness and transparency. Florida law leaves no room for doubt or confusion — it is unlawful to represent that you have a person’s support unless you have their permission in writing.

“Let me be clear, the candidate in this race who has my endorsement and support is Mike Alvarez. If you support public schools, if you share our Democratic values, and if you want honesty from your elected officials, vote for Mike Alvarez,”

Valdes also was caught on video dodging a question about whether she would accept money from charter schools — a major issue for Democrats, who have fought Republican efforts to funnel more public money to the for-profit schools.

She later put out a news release saying she wouldn’t accept charter money, except Cruz is saying that’s exactly what she did. A recent mailer supporting her was paid for by the Florida Federation for Children, which is affiliated with the charter industry.

With the primary just a week away, will any of this matter?

Valdes has high name recognition in her district and still has the backing of the well-read La Gaceta newspaper, which said, “Valdes also has heart. She loves the district and its people. She will be a strong and vocal advocate for the poor and the powerless.”

The Tampa Bay Times also endorsed Valdes. Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez was an early supporter.

He told me he is sticking with Valdes.

“My loyalty is for Susan and not against Mike Alvarez,” he said. “But Susan is a friend, it’s my district, it’s where I love, and my word is my bond. I’m not going to change.”

She has been working hard, meeting with local groups and trying to shore up support from the school district she helped lead.

But the rift with Cruz is a huge X-factor when Susan Valdes should be projecting what she plans to do if elected. This is not a time any candidate wants to be playing defense.

Joe Henderson: Gwen Graham focused on policies, not breaking ceilings

There was an interesting moment last Thursday when Gwen Graham, the presumed leader at this point for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, stopped by the historic Columbia restaurant in Tampa’s Ybor City to accept the endorsement of Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

During his introduction of Graham, Buckhorn noted that Graham would be the first female Governor in Florida’s history, “And as the father of two little girls, I’m about breaking that ceiling.”

Graham wouldn’t go there.

She kept her remarks focused on policy and what she has to offer the state on issues like schools and the environment. She wouldn’t take the bait, either, when asked how she felt about Buckhorn as a potential running mate.

“There is plenty of time to talk about that after we win the nomination,” she said.

The message from the candidate is clear. Don’t talk about breaking ceilings and certainly don’t get ahead of things. Staying focused on explaining your policies will make more of an impression on voters than anything else.

Democrats seemed to believe in 2016 that voters would go obediently along with the idea that it was Hillary Clinton‘s time to win because she would shatter a ceiling by becoming the first female president. Voters were expected to obediently confirm that.

They did not.

That’s particularly important because even though Gwen Graham has been ahead in the polls for several weeks, there are indications that plenty of voters haven’t decided who to support — even though there is barely a week before the Aug. 28 primary. And while Graham had a good visit to Tampa, so did rival Andrew Gillum.

It was there that he snagged the full-throated endorsement of Bernie Sanders, and that got a lot of headlines. And that’s not all.

He also has received high-profile celebrity endorsements from Jane Fonda, Alec Baldwin, and several others, although it’s questionable how much that would matter at this late date.

While it does show that Gillum has strong support from progressives, in the end, who endorsed you matters far less to voters than whether they agree with your vision for the state.

Say what you will about Donald Trump, but in 2016, while Clinton was projecting an air that no one would be dumb enough to vote for him, he pounded the points over and over about border security, tax cuts, shredding regulations, and so on.

That message flipped enough key states, including Florida, to put him in the White House.

So, when I asked Graham about the $1 billion backlog in facilities maintenance at Hillsborough County public schools, she had a ready answer.

“This is another example of the starvation at our schools after 20 years of Republican rule. They have not received the resources they need for the maintenance and upkeep of the schools, and as a result, we have seen lead in the water of other school districts as well,” she said.

“When I am Governor, I’m committed to restoring the promise to public education across the state of Florida from one end to the other and give the resources back to our public schools that are desperately needed for capital improvements as well as teacher pay.”

I followed up with a question about the growth of charter schools in the state. That has been a key push for Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee.

“My concern about charter schools is that they have morphed into something they weren’t intended to be. Charter schools initially were meant to be community-based that were supported by the families and were part of the of the school district,” she said.

“They have become for-profit behemoths that are taking money away from our public schools. In many cases, we’re finding that the education they were providing is not of a quality we should expect at any school.”

Yep, it’s a campaign that’s all about the policy and not so much about the personality.

It’s an old-school notion from the daughter of an old-school politician, former Governor Bob Graham. Someone, it seems, has learned a lesson.

Bob Buckhorn goes all-in for Gwen Graham

Speculation has been out there for months that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn would make an interesting candidate for Florida’s Lieutenant Governor. That’s not likely to subside when he formally endorses Democrat Gwen Graham at a news conference Thursday afternoon in Tampa.

But do endorsements matter in statewide races?

I mean, OK — this is a political site, so this ought to be a layup. But honestly, name the state’s second-in-command without resorting to Google.

Pssst …. Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

So, does Buckhorn’s thumbs-up to Graham really help her campaign, regardless of what is or isn’t in it for him?

Maybe it helps a little bit, but Graham has to stand on her own and the polls show an increasing number of people believe she is doing that. She is widening her lead, she is bringing in money, and at this point ,her candidacy for the Democratic nomination seems to be taking on an air of inevitability.

Obligatory disclaimer: Since the 2016 election, I will not only wait until the final votes are cast, it might be a good idea to wait until the election is certified before declaring a winner.

But if Graham is the nominee, does Buckhorn help her?

Well, he has been a popular Mayor during his two terms in Tampa. He got a lot of good things done in his city.

He is a gifted public speaker, capable of soaring oratory. However, his endorsement would be tantamount to speaking to the choir in Tampa, which is reliably Democratic. It also wouldn’t matter two hoots out in suburban eastern Hillsborough County, where the political sentiment is reliably red.

Buckhorn was a solid foot soldier for Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but he could be a bit of a maverick when he believed it suited the city’s purpose. He drew some criticism from Democrats for his willingness to work with Gov. Rick Scott on issues that he believed benefitted Tampa.

That led to this statement from Scott’s office to the Tampa Bay Times on their relationship: “I have appreciated working with Mayor Bob Buckhorn and all of Tampa’s elected leadership to take the bay area’s economy to the next level. By focusing on transportation, public safety and education, we’ve been able to find real solutions for families and deliver results.”

That didn’t stop Buckhorn from direct criticism of President Donald Trump’s recent appearance in Tampa though, referring to it as the “venom and vitriol tour.”

Although Buckhorn likes the limelight and rarely shies away from a microphone, he has a lot of experience working behind the scenes as a member of Tampa’s city government.

He can break legs if needed, cajole when it’s called for, and he has a gift for making the person he is speaking with feel like they are the most important person in the room.

Graham might find that quality appealing in a running mate.

His endorsement probably isn’t a difference-maker at this point, but it does telegraph his readiness to suit up and put on his game face.

And if Graham is looking for a strong running mate with an eye toward making things happen in the Legislature down the road, Buckhorn checks a lot of boxes.

He had been mentioned as a likely candidate for Governor before announcing he wouldn’t run. That was a good decision because the groundswell he needed to have wasn’t happening.

But as his endorsement confirms, Bob Buckhorn still has the itch to play politics at the state’s highest level. I’ve known the guy for a long time and I’ll just say this — he’s got game.

Joe Henderson: Free press needed now more than ever

The job of the free press is to find out stuff the public needs to know, make sure it’s accurate, and then share that information with the people.

A lot of times the mission means upsetting the powerful and those who support them. These days, it means enduring taunts of “fake news” and people who believe reporters deliberately publish fiction designed to destroy, in this case, President Donald Trump and his administration.

To some, the “media” is even a faceless, soulless agent of the deep state out to ruin the country, but it is none of those things. It is the firewall that protects democracy from the scoundrels and con artists.

So, that’s why Florida Politics has joined with newspapers, online outlets, and other media around the country to denounce what The Boston Globe has called a ‘‘dirty war against the free press.’’

Trump started that war while still a candidate for the most powerful office in the world. As president, he has declared the press is the enemy of the American people. That’s not exactly upholding the oath of office he took, the one where he promised to “preserve, protect and defend” the U.S. Constitution.

The First Amendment to the Constitution clearly states “Congress shall make no law … “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …”

The Founding Fathers understood that absolute power corrupts and that an unfettered press is a vital check on lawmakers who believe rules don’t apply to them.

But it’s not just about keeping Washington honest.

This past week, the Tampa Bay Times illustrated what the free press means to our local community.

The Times, with painstaking research and reporting, uncovered that top officials at the Hillsborough County School District knew about a widespread problem of lead in the drinking water at multiple schools for over a year, but didn’t share that information with the public.

They came clean only after reporters at the Times began nosing around and asking tough questions. Without the effort and skill of the local newspaper, no one might have ever known what was going on.

The recent attack at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md. resulting in six deaths illustrates that this can be a dangerous mission. The International Federation of Journalists reported that 62 journalists have been killed around the world thus far in 2018.

Several of those deaths occurred while reporters were trying to cover bloody conflicts in war-torn areas. At the Tampa Tribune where I worked for more than 40 years, we learned the cost that can come with reporting dangerous but important stories.

An ambitious young reporter named Todd C. Smith used vacation time in 1989 to travel to Peru so he could report on drug trafficking. He never got to finish the story. He was kidnapped by Shining Path guerrillas, tortured, and murdered.

Do journalists get it wrong sometimes?

Of course.

And for reputable publications, there are consequences for that — unlike some of the conspiracy sites out there masquerading as real news. Reputable sites admit their mistakes and correct them. They hold reporters to high standards of honesty and accuracy.

An editor at the Tampa Tribune once spoke of the “multiple layers of inspection” a story had to undergo before it reached your doorstep the next morning. Real editors challenge reporters to prove that what they submitted is the truth.

That’s really what it’s about.

Truth.

That can be lost when many in the public get their news from Russian bots and Facebook memes. All the press can do to combat that is to stay in the game, keep uncovering facts and sharing it with its audience, follow the stories where they lead, and never allow itself to be intimidated.

Trump is not the first president hostile to the press and he won’t be the last. But the work reporters do and the valuable part they play in our democracy won’t change.

It can’t change.

The Founding Fathers understood that, and a free press is more important now than ever.

Joe Henderson: Red tide is an emergency now, but can Rick Scott be surprised?

Red tide is in all the headlines now. It’s bad.

But let’s go back to a time before Florida’s beaches were filled with rotting fish, dolphins and manatees. Back to a time when Rick Scott came to Tallahassee as Florida’s Governor in 2011 with a two-fold mission: Cut the state budget and get people back to work.

He succeeded on both fronts.

More than 700,000 jobs in the state have been created on his watch, and in his early years, he was ruthless about slashing state spending. At one point, he had cut the budgets of the state’s water management districts by $700 million.

While some of that has been replaced, funding is still about $300 million below what it was when he took office.

That’s the kind of thing that people remember when toxic red tide is moving up Florida’s Gulf Coast, killing sea life and stinking to high heavens. That’s on top of the pea-green algae bloom that was making people sick on the Atlantic side of the state.

Water is everything in Florida, and when something like this happens it affects everyone – whether you’re inland or on the beach. The image of beaches covered by poisoned sea life can cripple tourism and the domino effect that can devastate multiple industries.

Scott declared a state of emergency to deal with the problem, but it’s a little late to close the barn door now. Perhaps a fully funded water management district could have taken some preemptive action to lessen the impact of what is turning out to be a full-fledged disaster for the state.

Let’s be honest, though.

To a politician like Scott, these agencies can be seen as money-sucking nuisances. When they work well, the Governor doesn’t get credit because when the beaches are clean, that’s what people expect. You don’t get brownie points for that.

It’s only after the water becomes poisonous to Flipper that the public starts looking for someone to blame.

In Scott’s campaign ads for the U.S. Senate, he has tried to make U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, his Democratic opponent, out to be the guilty party because he’s in Washington, you know. But that’s a hard sell because environmentalists have been blasting Scott since he took office for gutting protections and regulations for Florida’s fragile ecosystem.

Developers always complain about regulations because that cuts into profits, and Scott – like most Republicans – has been a friend to them. With a compliant Legislature eager to tout Florida as a business-friendly, low-tax, low-regulation state, the kind of safeguards for problems like red tide became just more red tape to eliminate.

There is a reason water management districts exist, though. On the Florida Department of Environmental Protection website, it says the agency’s core mission is to protect the water supply, water quality, flood protection and floodplain management, and natural systems.

That’s a big job.

Scott helped undermine that by stocking some of those management boards with developers. Conservation programs were decimated. Development took a high priority over protection.

And now we get dead fish on the beaches.

How can anyone be surprised?

Joe Henderson: What’s reasonable? ‘Stand your ground’ trial may provide answer

It’s not surprising that Pinellas County prosecutors decided not to buy the “stand your ground” argument and charged Michael Drejka with manslaughter Monday in the shooting death of Markeis McGlockton after an argument over a parking space.

This story had gotten much publicity, most of it negative, after Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri initially declined to arrest Drejka because he said the shooting was protected under Florida’s “stand your ground” law. Politics being what they are, something had to give.

I wrote then that I agreed with Gualtieri’s interpretation, and I believe prosecutors will have a hard time making their case that Drejka didn’t feel threatened when he fired the fatal shot.

Proving that the world was turning upside, that earned me a rebuke from Florida’s Mama Gun herself, Marion Hammer. In a comment under that column, she asked if I had actually read the law – implying that it didn’t say what Gualtieri and I believed it did. 

I had read it, by the way.

But I read it again, and here’s the part of that law that will really on trial when Drejka faces a jury of his peers.

Under the heading “justifiable use of force,” it says deadly force is permissible if a person “reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.”

But state Sen. Dennis Baxley, a long-time champion of gun rights and the NRA, told Politico, the law uses a “reasonable-person standard. It’s not that you were just afraid.”

I imagine Drejka’s attorney will have a different take.

Video of the shooting shows McGlockton pushing Drejka violently to the ground during the argument. McGlockton takes a couple of steps back after Drejka aims a gun at him, but it was too late. He was shot in the chest and died.

Mind you, I’m not excusing the actions of either man in that confrontation.

McGlockton’s shove turned an argument into an out-of-control situation.

Drejka sent it over the edge when he pulled a gun.

It wasn’t the first time he had been involved in a dangerous confrontation either. The Tampa Bay Times reported that he had four road rage incidents since 2012 and had pulled a gun at least twice.

But in this case, Baxley’s “reasonable-person standard” will be open to interpretation. Who’s to say what is “reasonable” when you’ve been shoved to the ground with as much violence as Drejka was?

That’s what opponents to this part of the bill warned about. Gualtieri had called the interpretation “subjective” – which is the problem.

A “reasonable person” might conclude Drejka was scared out of his wits. And the twist to SYG now is that prosecutors will have to prove that wasn’t true, no matter what the video shows or seems to show. That is exactly what backers of that law had in mind when they pushed it through the Legislature in 2017.

One of the most ardent supporters of that bill?

Dennis Baxley.

He said on the Senate floor during deliberations, “I think of all the people who will be saved because we did this right and put the burden of proof where it belongs.”

A “reasonable person” might disagree.

Melissa Howard HD 73

Joe Henderson: For Melissa Howard, truth should matter more than degree

I grew up about 40 minutes from Miami University. It is a picturesque place, tucked way off the beaten path in the rolling southwest Ohio hills and home to one of the most beautiful campuses you will ever see. I did not attend school there, but many of my friends did.

I did spend a few nights at the long-gone pubs there known as the Purity and Boar’s Head Inn, knocking back 3.2 beer. But that’s another story.

Students and alumni have been known to call it the Harvard of the Midwest.

Perhaps coincidentally, it is located in the quaint village of Oxford. If you were looking to skate through four years at No Challenge U, then Miami probably wasn’t the place to enroll. Its graduates, which it sounds like do not include Republican Florida House candidate Melissa Howard of Sarasota, are a fiercely proud lot. Earning a degree from Miami is a worthy accomplishment and something to protect.

So why would Howard apparently fib that she is a proud MU graduate, and then double-down with what a school spokesman said was a doctored photo that she posted while trying to defend the indefensible?

It’s too soon to tell if the apparent gaffe will end her political pursuits, but when you’ve got this kind of explaining to do, let’s just say it doesn’t help.

She already had strong endorsements, including Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. The polls had her ahead in deeply red House District 73, but who knows if that still holds after Florida News Online reported that her claim to hold a bachelor’s degree in 1994 from Miami didn’t hold up under scrutiny.

She did, indeed, attend MU from 1990-94, but the school later confirmed she did not complete requirements for her degree.

That was bad.

What followed was worse.

A picture posted on her Facebook page purported to show her degree in marketing as well as her college transcript, but that was quickly debunked when Miami general counsel Robin Parker said (paraphrasing here) “nope, she didn’t graduate.”

And, um …. Miami doesn’t offer a degree in marketing.

This is not the first time someone tried to fudge their college credentials, but the lesson to be learned by anyone eyeing public office is that this should be the last. It’s just too easy to check these things, and while newspaper staffs have shrunk and now lack the resources to do comprehensive background checks, there are new sites popping up with professional reporters to fill the void.

I mean, you’re gonna get unmasked – if not immediately, then eventually.

It’s no shame to not graduate from college, either. Stuff happens. Sometimes money runs low. Sometimes other opportunities arise. Sometimes people just need to do something besides grind through to get a degree.

And for what it’s worth, a degree isn’t required to serve in the Florida House. Common sense would be a much more important thing for a candidate to tout. After all, geeze, Howard is said to be a savvy businesswoman.

Play that up, and if anyone asks about college, just tell the truth.

You can always tell them you’re a few credits shy and plan to make it up with some online classes.

Howard’s campaign people tried the ol’ “fake news” ploy, but it is a fact that the photo of alleged degree and transcript disappeared from her Facebook page.

It won’t be a surprise if her campaign soon disappears as well. Good judgment is a critical asset for a candidate to sell to voters, and let’s just say it looks like she didn’t pass that, either.

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