Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 19

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: If Rick Scott stands on principle, then he must use budget veto pen

Take your seats, folks. This is going to be good. We are about to find out who is the boss in Florida.

If Gov. Rick Scott wants to remind everyone in the Legislature who has the most stripes on their shoulder, then he has to follow through on his threat to start vetoing major — or all — parts of the $82.4 billion budget presented to him by the House and Senate.

Special session? Bring it on.

The budget eviscerates two of Scott’s most cherished programs — VISIT Florida and Enterprise Florida. It is a direct frontal assault on public education, laughingly in the name of “reform.” There are so many damaging aspects to this bill, picking it apart piece by piece could take days.

Educators are lining up, bullhorns at the ready, to plead with Scott to just veto the 278-page conforming bill they say will cut public schools to the marrow. House Speaker Richard Corcoran calls it “transformational” and released an explaining that all those “liberals” have it wrong. It’s going to be great.

Does he mean those well-known liberals from the Tea Party? Yes, even the Tea Party Network tweeted that the bill is a “monstrosity” and called for it to be vetoed.

The Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association called it “a budget that will be devastating to public schools, our students.”


Scott can score lots of points with educators if he turns thumbs-down on this budget (consider that alliance for a moment, will you). He also can make a potent argument about preserving the $100 million he wants for VISIT Florida. In a budget of nearly $83 billion, it’s not a great amount of money and, considering that Florida just had a record year for tourism, something must be working.

It’s tricky, though.

During Scott’s sparring with Corcoran during the Legislative Session, the Speaker won nearly every round. If Scott were to veto the budget, he would risk having the Legislature override that with a two-thirds vote (pretty good chance it could happen, too).

What’s it going to be — capitulation or principle?

We got here because Corcoran stood on his core principle of lower spending, no corporate welfare, and a move toward privatization of, well, everything — especially schools.

Scott should stand on his principles as well. If the Legislature overrides it, well, the governor can at least say he did all he could. It won’t be his fault if tourism falls off, and the blood from the mess this budget makes of education will be on the hands of the lawmakers who voted in favor of “transformational” change.

Joe Henderson: Richard Corcoran in the Governor’s race? Adam Putnam would be hard to catch

Well, I guess that is settled.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has emphatically ruled out running for the U.S. Senate, and I admit I’m a little disappointed. The thought of a bare-knuckle campaign between him and Gov. Rick Scott for the Republican nomination would have been immensely entertaining.

Not gonna happen.

“Those are the only two choices — (run for) governor or not run for office,” Corcoran told the Tampa Bay Times.

Well, that could work. The knuckles would still be bare between Corcoran and Adam Putnam for the GOP nomination to succeed Scott as governor if the Speaker decides to jump in that race. It would get even more interesting if state Sen. Jack Latvala decides to go for it.

Thinking about that potential matchup raises an important question Corcoran could force Putnam to answer.

While everyone has known for a long time about Putnam’s ambition to be governor, he will have to offer a clear explanation of why it’s so important to him — I mean, beyond the usual talking points of jobs, Florida’s future, yadda yadda yadda.

Corcoran is on a mission to change the way business is done in Tallahassee. He made that clear as soon as he became Speaker, even if it meant taking on a sitting governor in his own party. He would be able to clearly demonstrate how life would be different for the state with him in charge.

It will be Putnam’s challenge to do the same.

Putnam has been stashing away a considerable campaign war chest — more than $8 million in the bank. His Florida Grown PAC has raised about $2.5 million just since the end of March, but Corcoran has the blessing of the Koch Brothers if he runs raising money probably wouldn’t be a problem.

The thought of a fight wouldn’t scare off Corcoran or Latvala, though, and if that happens, Putnam probably would be forced to the right during the primary fight. Put it this way: Putnam is conservative, but compared to Corcoran he looks like a moderate. That could be a factor in the primary, where it’s important to appeal to the almighty base.

Things could get really interesting if there is a primary debate between the three. Corcoran is a lawyer and knows how to frame an argument, but I haven’t seen a potential Republican candidate who is better on stage and the stump than Putnam.

That’s getting ahead of things, though. Corcoran and Latvala have decisions to make, while Putnam is already off and running. Even with all the variables in play, I think he’s going to be hard to catch.

Joe Henderson: Betsy DeVos pleaded for students to listen, but shouldn’t she do the same?

As students at Bethune-Cookman University turned their backs and lustily booed commencement speaker Betsy DeVos, the rattled education secretary pleaded, “Let’s choose to hear each other out.”

It’s ironic that DeVos chose those words to find middle ground, considering Republicans across the land, and particularly in the Washington establishment she now represents, have demonstrated no interest in hearing anything but the echo of their own voices.

The best leaders spend a long time listening before they speak. Perhaps DeVos should choose to hear the voices of those who believe we are seeing what may later be viewed as a historic assault on public education.

Republicans — including those in the Florida Legislature — are showing barely restrained glee at that prospect. As the highest-ranking agency leader in that charge, DeVos and many in her party have shown almost willful ignorance of the havoc this is causing.

A story in Thursday’s Tampa Bay Times quoted Hillsborough Schools Superintendent Jeff Eakins warning the district, which services more than 200,000 students, may see a deepening financial crisis.

The budget passed this week by the Legislature cuts per-student funding by $27 at a time when Florida’s population is booming. Eakins said there may have to be a teacher hiring freeze. He also has to find a way to pay for about $3 billion total in new school construction, repairs for existing schools, and debt on previous construction.

It’s also odd that Republicans complain about the treatment DeVos received, many calling it rude and so forth. Yet, how many of them chanted “lock her up … lock her up” at the mention of Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign, or even as late as March as President Donald Trump spoke at a rally in Nashville?

By that standard, I thought students at Bethune-Cookman were kind to the representative of a government that increasingly is turning its back on them.

DeVos at one point declared, “We can choose to listen, be respectful and continue to learn from each other’s experience.”

This is the same person who earlier declared that so-called historically black colleges represented the original school choice plan.

Choice, huh? The University of Florida didn’t admit its first black student until 1958 — the year DeVos was born, the daughter of billionaire Amway co-founder Richard DeVos. Florida State didn’t begin admitting black students until 1962.

The memory of that kind of school “choice” is still fresh for many of the parents or grandparents of black students today. Education was their path to a better life. They see a government trying to change that.

They see DeVos as someone who doesn’t understand them and doesn’t seem too interested in learning. Maybe what happened at Bethune-Cookman will change that, but I doubt it.

There was widespread anger across the campus when DeVos was originally announced as the commencement speaker. There was a petition drive to have the offer rescinded.

I would give her credit for showing up anyway, except I think she probably thought she could turn this into a photo op with smiling, applauding students endorsing what she has planned.

She got that photo op all right, just not the one she wanted.

The question is, was she listening to what all those booing students were really saying? Is anyone?

Joe Henderson: Rick Scott came to Tally as an outsider, and that’s just how he might leave

For as much as Gov. Rick Scott loves to deride what he calls “career politicians” – even those in his own party – those same people have forced him into what looks more and more like an inescapable trap.

Does he veto the just-passed $83 billion state budget and force lawmakers to return to Tallahassee to over-ride him, which they almost certainly would?


Losing would continue the parliamentary butt-whipping Scott received during the Legislative Session at the hands of, er, um … his own party.

Does he continue to build on his bro-mance with President Donald Trump, whom, you may have heard, has made a few headlines lately? A story by Gary Fineout in the Associated Press pointed out that Scott’s good standing with the president won a payday that included $1 billion for the state’s mental hospitals as well as repairs on a federally owned dike that contributed to last year’s disastrous algae bloom from Lake Okeechobee.

Or does he cover his ears, hold his nose, and sign the budget so he can at least take that issue out of the headlines, while moving at least an arms-length distance away from Trump. That might help him avoid some of the splatter that seems ongoing with this president.

Or not.

While political fortunes can change with the next news cycle, Gov. Scott seems to be on a losing streak that rivals the Tampa Bay Rays’ bullpen.

The drubbing he took over his most-favored VISIT Florida and Enterprise Florida programs – from, er, um, as I think we mentioned, his own party – are sure to dog him all the way to the ballot box if he challenges Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson next year.

Where does the governor turn now? He rode to Tallahassee on the tea party wave in 2011 only to adopt positions now his party’s leaders believe aren’t conservative enough.

How does he sell that in what still is a hypothetical run for his party’s Senate nomination in 2018? I mean, after state Republican leadership – especially House Speaker Richard Corcoran – took him on and won, they sure aren’t going to care what he wants in an election year.

He obviously doesn’t have enough allies in the Legislature to successfully challenge Corcoran, and his attempt to stir up a populist revolt by going on a statewide speaking jag to save his budget priorities was met with a resounding yawn.

All the while, his closeness to Trump was turning into a potential liability, and we can’t even judge the ramifications of that. If Scott is the Senate nominee and the president continues his current path, expect non-stop TV images of the governor and the president arm-in-arm, ad nauseam.

If things continue to deteriorate, it might even open the door for a serious challenge to Scott from the right.

As Yul Brenner sang in the King and I, which certainly seems apropos just now, it’s a puzzlement.

Here is some clarity though. Scott came to Tallahassee as an outsider. At the moment, it looks like that is how he will leave.

Joe Henderson: Bottom line for USF — Close, but no pre-eminence status

Florida State Senate President Joe Negron continues to insist there was no dark conspiracy to deny pre-eminent status to the University of South Florida. He swears on a stack of legal briefs that state graduation guidelines weren’t changed at the last minute just to make sure USF wouldn’t qualify.

As we now know, this is not a small thing. By failing to achieve the pre-eminent designation, USF missed out on millions of dollars — money the state’s flagship schools in Gainesville and Tallahassee enjoy.

USF thought it was home free, ready to celebrate its new standing among the academic elites. But in the closing hours of the Legislative Session, where wheels are turning and deals are made, lawmakers said a school had to have a four-year graduation rate of 60 percent to qualify.

USF is at 54 — double what it was in 2009, and more than enough to qualify under the old standard of 50 percent.

Not now.

Negron dismissed USF’s cries of foul play, arguing that increasing the requirement has always been part of his stated long-range goal to make sure top Florida universities have the same academic status enjoyed by schools like North Carolina and Virginia.

In an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times, Negron wrote, “The goal posts were not moved. Proposed legislation is frequently revised and amended during Session, and it was imprudent for any observer to count their chickens before they hatched. USF simply did not hit the current standard.”

Here’s where it gets murky, though. Negron argues the four-year number wasn’t the fatal blow to USF’s chance this time. He said to look at the six-year graduation rate as the “one, and only one” reason USF missed.

So, I did.

Negron has at least one fact to back his point.

In 2011, the state university Board of Governors established the benchmark requiring that 70 percent of full- or part-time students entering college for the first time graduate within six years. They reaffirmed that number in 2014.

That doesn’t sound like the “last minute” to me.

USF’s total is 67 percent.

Close, but no pre-eminence. Pre-eminence doesn’t get graded on the curve.

This may be a good time to ask if lawmakers should consider other factors when assessing a university’s performance. Following Negron’s logic, requiring 70 percent of a school’s students graduate within six years makes it extra hard for places like USF because a considerable percentage of its students don’t fit the so-called “traditional” profile.

The image of a college student is someone who heads to a university straight out of high school. That’s largely true at the University of Florida and Florida State, but not so much at USF. Nearly half of the USF student population is older than the traditional 18-22 age group.

There are a sizable number of students over the age of 25. Many are 35 and over, taking a class here and there while juggling work and family responsibilities. Catering to those students is a vital part of USF’s mission. Should the university be punished for that?

USF sometimes forgets how far it has come in a relatively short amount of time. The university has only been around since 1957. It has evolved from an institution known jokingly as “Drive-Thru U” into a place where fewer than half the applicants are accepted.

Its campus has been transformed from something that resembled an industrial park with classrooms into a striking, vibrant setting. President Judy Genshaft has been a fundraising dynamo, and USF is a vital player in Tampa’s economic future.

It’s all good.

Being told to wait a bit longer to achieve the status that will put it on equal standing with Florida and Florida State stings for sure. At the rate it is going though, it won’t be long before USF gets what it badly wants.

Unless the rules change again, of course.

Joe Henderson: ‘Stop the Presses’ was fond farewell to a grand ol’ dame named Mama Trib

In a crowded grand movie theater in the middle of downtown Tampa on Wednesday night, the people who produced the Tampa Tribune finally got a proper send-off.

It was one year to the day that the newspaper where I and hundreds more worked was bought and closed by our rival, the Tampa Bay Times. They said then it was a business decision; better for the market to have one healthy newspaper than two struggling ones.

That one that had published daily since 1895 — my paper — had to go.

But those who watched the première of Deborah Kerr’s expertly produced documentary “Stop The Presses” at the grand Tampa Theatre in the heart of downtown knew better. The closing of the Tribune wasn’t just a business decision to any of us. It was a personal, painful loss to the employees and to many in the city.

I know it was personal to me. I worked at the Trib for nearly 42 years — about two-thirds of my life so far. Many, many others felt the Trib was almost as much their families as their blood relatives.

Maybe that’s why we called her Mama Trib.

The film was a celebration, even the parts that were hard to watch. It gave all of us who loved the Trib a slice of our dignity back. It was validation that we were more than numbers on a spreadsheet.

Unlike last May, there were no armed guards this time watching to make sure no one flipped out on the day we had to clean out our desks for the final time.

There was no somber pronouncement from Times CEO Paul Tash, as there was last May 3, telling us we would not be printing the customary final edition granted to soon-to-be-extinct newspapers.

There were no human resources executives from the Times to tell us about our severance packages.

The film began with a trip inside the darkened ghost ship that was the Tribune building in the days after the closure was announced. There were leaking pipes, piles of rubbish, rooms that had been where major news stories were planned and executed were in shambles, as if they had been swept away by a massive storm.

In a way, that’s exactly what happened.

It went on to focus on each department — press room, advertising, circulation, packaging, the executive floor, and the newsroom. That all-encompassing look at the people who produce a newspaper left no doubt that we really were a family.

There was a huge turnout for the film, practically filling the place. A lot of old faces who had gone on to other things came back to say goodbye, along with many of us who stuck around.

I’m sure there were tears, especially the scenes toward the end that showed the Tribune building being demolished to make way for a riverfront residence tower. I also know there were hugs and gleeful shouts as we ran into people we worked alongside — in some cases for many years.

And there was one more thing — the last edition we never got to produce last year. Kerr, whose husband George was the operations manager at the Trib, had the idea of that unique way for us to have our final say.

My contribution to that section carried a headline that read “We just wanted the chance to say thank you.”

That was really it. I know the economics of the newspaper game and changing reader habits. The fact you’re reading this on a website that specializes in breaking political stories and commentary is proof that nothing stays the same.

I get it.

I’m not sure if there are immediate plans for another showing, but Kerr would like to have the film become part of the curriculum in colleges where journalism is taught.

Here is what I am sure of though: Watching that film and printing that final section gave us all some needed closure, and now it is done. We return to our normal routine with a smile for the good times, thanks to one final fond memory of a grand ol’ dame named Mama Trib.

Joe Henderson: While Rick Scott goes on tour to plead his case, Richard Corcoran keeps piling up wins

While it’s clear what Gov. Rick Scott hopes to accomplish with his barnstorming tour of the state over the next few days, it almost certainly won’t make any difference.

He calls it the “Fighting For Florida’s Future” tour because he wants to fully fund Enterprise Florida so it can continue providing $85 million in taxpayer “incentives” for out-of-state businesses to bring jobs here.

Businesses will come to Florida if they believe they can make money. They don’t need what House Speaker Richard Corcoran has mocked as “corporate welfare” to do that.

Simultaneously, Scott wants to make sure VISIT Florida gets $100 million to promote tourism. Corcoran has offered about a quarter of that. While no one argues that tourists aren’t vital to the state’s economy, Scott would have a better argument for full funding if the agency was more judicious in its spending.

VISIT Florida spent $11.6 million to sponsor a cooking show hosted by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse and $1 million so rapper Pitbull could look cool and hip to potential visitors in the cold frozen north.

Scott’s hope for his speaking tour is that people will get riled up enough to call their legislators and demand they approve his agenda.

Yeah. That’ll happen.

He also wants the Legislature to spend $200 million to help fix the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee. That dam was considered a culprit in last summer’s polluted water runoff that led to the disastrous algae bloom.

Pushing for that money makes the governor look like he cares for the environment. A better time to show that might have been before that runoff and while his administration was gutting environmental laws left and right, but I digress.

The bigger picture is that Scott was essentially neutered during this Legislative Session by Corcoran. The governor is now the lamest of ducks, and that won’t help him as he casts a longing eye toward Bill Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat in 2018.

Corcoran outfoxed the governor at every budgetary turn this year and was very public about it. It goes to Corcoran’s core belief that Tallahassee spends too much money and needs to go on a fiscal diet.

It has been assumed the Speaker has considered running for Scott’s soon-to-be vacant governor’s chair, but what if there is something bigger afoot?

While Corcoran would have a tough time breaking through against fellow Republican Adam Putnam to win the Republican nomination for governor, he could draw a strong contrast between himself and Scott if he decided to go for the Senate seat instead.


In a lengthy profile on the Speaker, the Tampa Bay Times reported he has already met with the billionaire Koch brothers and appears to have their support for his economic agenda. I’m guessing that would help close the fundraising gap with Nelson and/or Scott if this hypothetical showdown ever happens.

Obviously, this is speculation — the mother’s milk of politics.

But while the governor embarks on what would be better described as a self-immolation tour for a doomed agenda, Corcoran keeps piling up the wins.

Joe Henderson: Homestead exemption increase would be great politics, lousy governing

Increasing the state’s homestead exemption by $25,000, which is a priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran and his merry band of tax-slayers, would no doubt be popular with voters.

If the measure gets past the legislative hoops and on the 2018 ballot as a constitutional amendment, I imagine it would easily break the 60 percent threshold required for passage. Corcoran and like-minded Republicans would celebrate. Homeowners would have more cash.

And local governments, where the real heavy-lifting is done to provide needed services to the home folks, would have a meltdown. One estimate said it could reduce property tax proceeds by about $700 million overall. Bigger cities would likely affected more. Something would have to give.

In Hillsborough County, property taxes help pay for things like public libraries, water management, special lightning districts, storm water drainage, and basic services like fire fighters.

One of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s favorite sayings is that big-city mayors love infrastructure. For instance, Tampa has opened several new fire stations on Buckhorn’s watch. Local officials in Tampa warn that there might not be as many options like that in the future if this becomes law.

Perhaps a homeowner trying to put out a blaze could just call their local legislator to come over with a hose.

Yes. That’s an exaggeration – but this isn’t. Tallahassee lawmakers routinely complain when Washington tacks on expensive requirements without providing a way to pay for them. Those same lawmakers do the same thing to cities, though.

Property taxes are a critical piece of funding for public schools in each of Florida’s 67 counties. A new exemption likely would chip away at funding for education at a time when Corcoran and other lawmakers keep diverting larger and larger chunks of public education cash to private charter schools.

Clever, aren’t they?

That’s one way to put it.

As Jim Rosica of reported Sunday night, the House made sure the proposed increase in the exemption has been tied to some of the Senate’s priorities, and the message is clear – approve putting the exemption on the ballot, or else.

In case you haven’t noticed, Florida is growing by like, well, a lot. This probably would be a good time to be planning for growth like that by building the infrastructure Buckhorn has talked about.

Instead, Tallahassee responds with something that, if passed, could make it harder for local leaders to provide the services people expect. But hey, Republicans would celebrate the fact that they cut taxes.

It’s great politics, but lousy governing.

Joe Henderson: Tearing down ‘booze wall’ is right choice for consumers

Assuming Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill repealing the state’s so-called “booze wall,” I suspect it won’t take long before we all wonder what the fuss was about.

The euphemistic wall is one of those Prohibition-era creations that mandated hard liquor can’t be sold in regular grocery stores. That might have made sense 82 years ago when it was enacted, but in 2017 — when convenience and one-stop shopping drives the market — it no longer does.

Repealing the law will allow shoppers the convenience of stocking up on their favorite spirit in the same store where they’re buying milk, lettuce, cheese and something for the grill.

Mom and pop liquor stores likely will feel the most pain from this, since their prices generally run higher — but that’s market forces at work.

The Senate’s already approved the measure, dubbed the “Whiskey & Wheaties” bill, and it passed the House by a single vote, 58-57. Lawmakers obviously were queasy about this. Some of them no doubt bought the argument by Charles Bailes III, chairman and CEO of ABC Fine Wine and Spirits, that removing the law would encourage under-aged drinking.

“The wall, which has separated minors from hard liquor for decades, has never hurt competition in Florida but it has kept young people from stealing bottles or drinking them in stores,” he said in a story by Jim Rosica on SaintPetersBlog.

“We are grateful for the 57 members who voted to fight for that protection and respect their political courage to do the right thing.”

It should be noted, though, that ABC offers a home-delivery service for those times when your supply is running low, and you don’t feel like leaving the house.

The argument against was disingenuous to me. It was really about protecting a monopoly.

I suspect shopping is about to become even more pleasurable at Publix, even though the grocery giant also opposed tearing down the wall. It will be interesting to see if Publix shrugs and goes along with the new reality, especially since it could have a big impact on the more than 200 Publix Liquors stores it has opened since 2003 as a separate business model.

I’m sure opponents of this measure will cry that this speeds the further decay of America, but to me removing that last barrier makes sense. The consumer wanting to buy a bottle of booze while shopping for groceries will able to do so without going to a separate store.

The consumer wishing to avoid that aisle will have the choice.

Isn’t that how it is supposed to work?

Joe Henderson: In wake of Frank Artiles’ departure, Democrats have chance to offer something new

Frank Artilesforced resignation last Friday from the state Senate provides the first real test for Democrats to show they have finally learned they can’t keep offering up the same ol’, same ol’ and expect to win enough seats in the Legislature to make a difference.

No one articulated that better than Dwight Bullard, the former state senator from District 40 in southwest Miami-Dade County. Bullard is the Democrat who lost by about 20,000 votes (out of 200,000 cast) as an incumbent last November to Artiles.

It was a bitterly disappointing rebuke in what is considered a Democrat-leaning district. Now that the seat will up for grabs again in a special election to replace Artiles, Bullard gave the Miami Herald an honest assessment of the landscape.

“I have a lot of folks that were supporters that would like to see me back in the Legislature, but at the same time you have a lot of considerations,” he said. “I’m a pragmatist in the sense that sometimes you need new energy, new ideas.”


Part of the problem for both major parties is that court-ordered redistricting introduced unpredictability into the mix. Bullard, who served as chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, was an icon in local politics.

After his district was redrawn though, it put him face-to-face with a lot of new voters who weren’t in the mood to endorse the status quo. Name recognition wasn’t the asset it used to be.

Artiles, who ran an aggressive (and borderline smear) campaign against Bullard, appeared to benefit from the fact the new district had an influx of Hispanic voters. I would imagine many of those same voters felt betrayed following the sexist, racist and any other “ist” you want to add rant that rendered him doomed in Tallahassee.

Democrats have a chance to get back an important seat now, but that isn’t the biggest opportunity here. With so many eyeballs watching the outcome of the election to replace Artiles, it gives Dems a rare chance to hog the spotlight and show off the “new energy and new ideas” Bullard was talking about.

They have been relegated to little more than an afterthought in statewide politics. Republicans have won the last five governor’s races and have controlled both legislative chambers since 1996.

Winning back a single Senate seat won’t change that, but you take victories where you can get them and, wow, do Democrats need one.

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