Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 12

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.

The time is right: Embrace Bill Edwards’ bold vision for Rowdies, Al Lang Stadium

I like Bill Edwards’ bold plan to privately finance an $80 million renovation of Al Lang Stadium in downtown St. Petersburg. I like his swagger in going hard to land a spot in Major League Soccer for his Tampa Bay Rowdies to play in that stadium.

I would even go so far to say that the Rowdies and St. Petersburg are a perfect marriage of a city on the move and a sport that Americans increasingly embrace.

Then again, what’s not to like?

In my view, not much.

Edwards resurrected the iconic Rowdies franchise when he purchased controlling interest in the team in 2013. At the news conference announcing the deal, he prophetically said, “sometimes it takes money to make money.

Because Al Lang is on city property and part of the waterfront landscape, his plan must go before voters for approval. The stadium currently seats about 7,000 and would have to be expanded to about 18,000 to meet MLS specifications.

Voters tend to connect the words “sports owner” and “stadium” into a cash grab out of their pockets, so it will take forceful and repeated reminders of the words “privately financed” to calm those fears.

Then, there is the matter of convincing MLS to come here. The league has talked about expanding by up to four teams and cities like Cincinnati, Nashville and St. Louis are among those actively seeking admittance.

Something tells me that isn’t as big an issue as it might seem. In a statement, MLS said in part it is “impressed with (Edwards’) vision and plans for a world-class soccer stadium on the downtown waterfront in St. Petersburg.”

Edwards checks all the boxes the league is looking for: committed local ownership, deep pockets, and located in a city that can support this venture.

St. Pete will need to prove that, of course, before any stadium expansion goes forward. Edwards made it clear he wants to see a waiting list for season tickets, among other things.

Soccer is a different financial animal than Major League Baseball, though and a team in St. Petersburg would not be as dependent on people from Hillsborough and Pasco making regular jaunts across the bay.

Businesses, especially those downtown, would have to love the idea of having soccer crowds visit the waterfront for at least 17 nights per season. Throw in exhibitions, playoffs and possible international matches and the number swells.

There also would be the potential for a new rivalry with the Orlando MLS franchise, although I guess we’d modify the name from “War on I-4” to the “War on I-4, through Malfunction Junction and across the big bridge.”

We’ll work on that one.

Orlando does control territorial rights to St. Petersburg, but the MLS has signaled that it shouldn’t be a major stumbling block should the league decide to expand here.

I was around in 1975 when the original Rowdies took Tampa Bay by storm. I remember sitting in a downpour at old Tampa Stadium to watch them beat the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. I remember the huge crowds for games against the Strikers and New York Cosmos.

Trying to replicate that didn’t work when MLS placed the Tampa Bay Mutiny here a charter member of the league. They played five mostly forgettable seasons before folding. This is a different deal, though.

The league ran the Mutiny because no local owner stepped up and attendance lagged. Ownership is not a problem this time, and for St. Petersburg, well, it’s simple.

This is the right time and the right plan.

Baseball commissioner: Rays stadium is about location, location, location

Another year has almost passed and, so far as we know, nothing much has happened to lead anyone to believe the Tampa Bay Rays are anywhere close to securing a new stadium. But there were two developments this week that seemed to be forces pulling in the opposite direction. That’s never good.

On Monday, as the Tampa Bay Times reported, baseball Commissioner Ron Manfred told reporters that the No. 1 priority for a stadium is location, location, location.

“I think getting, not only a new facility, but a facility that is more appropriately located within the Tampa-St. Pete market would be good,” he said at a Q-and-A session at George Washington University.

In case we didn’t get the message, Manfred added this: “Ultimately, there has to be an end game. If in fact, there’s not a site or there’s not a financial arrangement that’s viable and we become convinced of that, our rules allow for the possibility of relocation. At that point of desperation, it’s possible a team would be allowed to relocate.”

The “end game” got an interesting twist a day later when state Rep. Brian Avila, a Hialeah Republican, filed HB-77. Boiled to its essence, the measure would outlaw pro sports teams from leasing government-owned land to build or renovate a stadium.

A couple of points about all this:

Manfred is correct on his point about the requirement that a new stadium be “appropriately located” in the Tampa Bay market. Right now, it doesn’t look like they’re close.

There has been a lot of chatter about building a new ballpark adjacent to Tropicana Field, but that would just double-down on the original disastrous decision that stuck the Rays in the extreme western part of the marketplace.

The only places that make sense for the long term are downtown Tampa, the Westshore area in Tampa, or a spot in Pinellas off the Howard Frankland Bridge. The Rays have to be in the center of the market. Anything else is a waste of time and money.

The question of money brings us to the second point: How to pay for this.

I’ll conservatively put the cost at $600 million (although I believe it will be higher than that). The Rays will be expected to pony up a large chunk of that cost — perhaps through ticket surcharges and other fees. To do that, they’ll need a large season-ticket base, which in baseball means corporate sales.

Already, businesses in Hillsborough are reluctant to buy Rays’ tickets in mass quantities because clients and employees won’t make weeknight trips through the area’s stifling traffic at rush hour to get to the Trop.

For the sake of argument, let’s say they work out the location requirement and ticket sales spike. That bar is pretty low, by the way. The Rays attracted a little less than 1.3 million fans last year, by far the lowest in baseball.

Based on 2016 attendance figures, Tampa Bay would need an additional 1 million fans per season to be in the middle of the pack (San Diego, at No. 15, drew 2.3 million). That’s a jump of about 14,000 extra fans per game.

Before they can focus on that, though, the question for politicians becomes how to subsidize the stadium cost without having taxpayers storm their offices with pitchforks and flaming torches. We’ve all heard things like dedicating some tourist tax and rental car money, but I’m not even sure that’s feasible. Those industries have potent lobbyists who will be shouting in the ears of people like Brian Avila to keep MLB’s mitts off their money.

This issue has been dragging on for years and the Rays seem stuck in quicksand as a franchise. The way to change that is to heed Manfred’s words about location and stop with the nonsense of shoveling more money into a failed spot.

Nothing else can happen until they move past that.

Then, all they need to do is find a way to pay for it.

Then actually build it.

Then figure a way to put a competitive team in that new building.

To be continued …

Joe Henderson: Not just papers; it’s #LoveMyWebsite day, too

On Sunday afternoon, a man carrying an AR-15 assault rifle walked into a popular pizza place in northwest Washington D.C. and began shooting.

No one was hurt, thank goodness and the gunman was arrested.

What he said after being taken away, though, should be a warning to us all. He said he came to “self-investigate” whether Hillary Clinton was using the restaurant as a front for a child sex trafficking ring. Just before the election last month, that story had made the rounds among crazy people who frequent conspiracy-theory websites and believe what they read.

Normally, such a thing would be limited to charter members of the Tinfoil Hat Society. But after the ironically named “fake news” became real news for its impact on the recent elections, I guess we can’t afford to assume people can tell the difference – although I do think a few well-publicized libel judgments against sites that deliberately lie on the scale we just saw might give these miscreants a moment of pause.

I mention this because the hashtag #LoveMyNewspaper was trending Monday on Twitter. That gives me a warm feeling. I worked for about 45 years in the newspaper industry, including nearly the last 42 at the Tampa Tribune before it was bought and closed in May by the Tampa Bay Times.

This is not to lament that day because my attitude is to look forward, not backward. Besides, we know the business side of the newspaper industry overall sucks. The website newspaperdeathwatch.com lists 15 large papers that have closed since 2007 and details cutbacks and layoffs at many others, including the venerable New York Times.

Let’s all just take a deep breath, though. The need for detailed and accurate information doesn’t go away – maybe now more than ever, as the story in Washington shows. That’s where legitimate media comes in.

No matter your political persuasion, you can’t disagree that America is entering uncharted waters. Reporters have always been basically under siege from readers and politicians who don’t like their work, but as the recent national election proves they are more necessary than their enemies would like to admit.

So, I would add to the love for newspapers with another hashtag: #LoveMyWebsite – at least the ones like this one where readers go looking for real information and find it.

Reporters for SaintPetersBlog, FloridaPolitics.com and the Times perform their craft with distinction. They find out things people need to know and they understand the difference between fact and fantasy. That’s what we’re all after.

The Times revolutionized the game eight years ago when it launched PolitiFact, but probably never guessed the Pulitzer Prize-winning site would have to be used, as it was Nov. 4, to debunk the sex-trafficking story with a “Pants on Fire” rating.

And if you a frequent visitor to this site, you understand what a valuable tool it is to help stay abreast of the goings-on in Tallahassee, Tampa Bay and around the state.

When someone is willing to play that kind of mind game to dupe the nation that we see on the splinter sites, you need to ask what else they are willing to do.

The only way to combat that is with inconvenient truths known as facts. That is where reporters come in. That’s where newspapers with resources and willingness to shine a light in dark places are most needed. That’s where websites willing to cover local races with the same vigor as a governor’s race are most needed.

So yes, love your newspaper.

And love your website.

We’re all in this together.

Joe Henderson: Donald Trump ‘saves’ Indiana jobs; Eric Newman asks ‘why not us?’

Eric Newman read news reports of the fight by incoming president Donald Trump to keep the Carrier air conditioning company from moving jobs to Mexico and thought, hey, why not us?

Newman owns the J.C. Newman Cigar Company in Tampa and has been fighting the Food and Drug Administration over regulations that Newman says could put his 121-year-old operation out of business.

So when this lifelong Democrat saw what Trump was doing to save jobs in Indiana, he described himself as “cautiously optimistic.”

“If President Trump is true to his word that overregulation is killing small businesses, we are the poster child for that,” Newman said. “It’s still way too early to tell if he can help us, but I feel better about it now.”

At its peak, Tampa was home to about 150 cigar-making companies, but Newman’s is the last such operation in the city. Other companies folded under increased regulatory pressure by the FDA and health concerns about tobacco use.

But, Newman has always argued that cigars are different from cigarettes and shouldn’t be held in the same category as a cancer risk.

“You go outside an office building, and you’ll see people huddled around smoking cigarettes,” he said. “You don’t see them smoking cigars. It’s not the same thing.”

You can’t blame Newman for feeling his government is out to get him, though. In addition to stringent new FDA rules that restrict the development of new product lines, Newman pointed to an executive order by President Obama that benefited Cuban cigar-makers.

The order allows travelers to bring all the Cuban cigars they want into the United States for personal consumption. Those cigars aren’t subject to the same regulations faced by Newman’s company.

“I have no problem competing with Cuban cigars on an equal footing,” Newman said. “But this exemption by President Obama gives such an advantage to the Cuban worker while screwing the American worker.

“We’re not looking for a handout. But one federal agency says cigars are bad for you, while another federal agency – in this case, the president – says it’s OK to bring in all the Cuban cigars you want. This whole thing with Cuba is just wacky.”

There have been attempts in Congress to address this issue, but despite bipartisan support from U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, they haven’t gotten anywhere.

However, as Newman pointed out, “There will be a new sheriff in town.”

The Trump administration likely will mean an overhaul at the FDA and that gives Newman hope that the added fees and testing requirements that he says drives up his cost dramatically will be reduced or eliminated.

“It is supposed to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people,” he said. “It’s not supposed to be screw the people.”

Joe Henderson: What Democrats missed about Donald Trump, Rick Scott — it’s about jobs

We probably will never know what happened inside Trump Tower recently when Florida Gov. Rick Scott met with the president-elect.

It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if they talked about jobs the entire time.

I mention this because Donald Trump gave a preview this week of what he hopes are coming attractions. He announced that Carrier, the giant air conditioning manufacturer, had agreed to keep about 1,000 jobs in Indiana instead of shipping them to Mexico.

That is straight out of the playbook Scott used to run for governor in 2011, and then to be re-elected to a second term in 2015.

Neither Trump nor Carrier have disclosed details of the deal, but my guess is that none of the affected workers care. That’s where Trump — and Scott — have outfoxed the experts.

Scott has boasted of bringing 1 million jobs to Florida, a claim backed up by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Critics say, with some justification, that Scott and Florida benefited from an improving economy throughout the United States.

I’m a big one for giving credit (or blame) when something significant occurs on a governor’s watch. That’s what happened with Scott.

While his campaign had considerably more bombast than Florida’s taciturn governor, Donald Trump campaigned hard on the issue of jobs. He smartly targeted key Midwestern states — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and, of course, Indiana.

There, he promised workers who lost manufacturing jobs that he had heard their cry and would do something to help them. The Carrier deal is no doubt an encouraging sign.

There is a long way to go, of course. The Washington Post reported that since 1969, Indiana has lost more than 235,000 manufacturing jobs. More pain may on the way, as several companies have announced intentions to migrate jobs to Mexico.

Reality says that even should Trump be successful in offering incentives for those companies to keep jobs here, they likely won’t pay as well as before. Once again, though, Trump can look at what Scott did.

Critics complained that many of those million-plus jobs the governor claimed credit for creating paid subsistence wages at best. They said his tax and incentives policies created wealth for corporate owners while barely paying workers enough to get by.

What all that missed, though, became the central point of the election — both in Florida and this year in the Rust Belt states. When a person doesn’t have a job, particularly someone in middle-age with kids and mortgage, they solely focus on being employed again.

Democrats missed that.

They missed it in Florida against Scott. They missed again with Trump. So, while Trump’s ridiculous tweet about jailing and stripping the citizenship of anyone who protests by burning the U.S. flag got headlines, his deal with Carrier resonated loudly with the people most responsible for putting him office.

As Rick Scott once said, let’s get to work.

Joe Henderson: Jeb Bush, school choice advocates could not be more pleased with Trump’s pick for education secretary

Jeb! Bush generally is considered the father of school choice, especially in Florida.

As Governor in 1999, Bush pushed through the first statewide school voucher program in the nation. He was the champion of grading individual schools on how well students do on standardized testing. He pushed for what became known as “accountability” for public school teachers through a battery of standardized tests.

Boiled to its essence, the philosophy is this: If the kids flunk, it’s the teacher’s fault. It’s not an idle threat.

The school and the teacher can pay the price for that. Schools can get labeled as failing. Teachers can lose their jobs.

”Why should we trap kids in schools that aren’t working?” Bush told the The New York Times in a 1999 interview.

Given all that, it figures he would herald the announcement that Betsy DeVos has been chosen to be the next federal Secretary of Education. She is considered a champion of school choice, including funneling public tax money into schools with a religious background.

She and her husband have been major Republican donors for years. She also served as chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and was the finance chairwoman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. She has conceded that for her efforts and money, she expects a “return on investment.”

Now she has that.

“I cannot think of more effective and passionate change agent to press for a new education vision, one in which students, rather than adults and bureaucracies, become the priority in our nation’s classrooms,” Bush wrote on his Facebook page after DeVos was announced.

A “new education vision” sounds good, but let’s see this for what it really is. That vision likely will amount to an all-out assault on the way public schools are funded and how they educate children, a tactic signaled by new Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

He said a lawsuit against by the state teacher’s union against the corporate tax scholarship program – a deftly named voucher program – was “evil.”

Then he really got rolling.

“They are literally trying to destroy the lives of 100,000 children. Most of them are minorities, and all of them are poor. It flies in the face of common sense, and it defies every single study. It’s downright evil,” Corcoran said at his swearing-in ceremony.

Corcoran is known for blunt talk and power politics, but he outdid himself with this one. To say this lawsuit is “literally trying to destroy” lives is ridiculous and incendiary – not to mention wrong.

I have always believed the worst thing that happened to education in this state is when politicians began seeing teachers as a target instead of an ally. Bush was at the forefront of that. While I don’t doubt his sincerity in trying to address problems in struggling schools, I think his premise – implied or otherwise — that students fail because of bad teachers is wrong.

In many instances, the problem begins at home. Bush and Corcoran should spend a few days in the front office of a public school and listen to the abuse administrators and staff take from parents and students. Full disclosure: My wife works in the office at a local high school, and my oldest son is a teacher.

They are far from my only source on this, though. I hear all the time about students who won’t do their work and cause disruptions in class, only to have the parent file a complaint (or just start screaming) when the student fails.

Would that be different at a for-profit charter school? I doubt it, especially if the operator of the school is well-connected politically. Given Republicans’ zeal to weaken (if not destroy) the teachers’ union though, we will no doubt get a picture now from Washington that “choice” and “charters” are the key to make America great again!

Tallahassee has a head start in taking Florida in that direction. Jeb! couldn’t be more pleased.

Joe Henderson: Donald Trump has political cover to bring Cuba under U.S. umbrella

Fidel Castro is dead!

That was the totality of a simple tweet Saturday morning from president-elect Donald Trump as the world awoke to the news that millions have waited for so long to hear. The exclamation mark was telling about how Americans feel on either side of the issue of restoring normal relations with Cuba.

There isn’t much middle ground. You either believe that is time end the trade embargo between the U.S. and Cuba and restore full diplomatic ties, or you’re in the camp that screams “Hell No!”

About six in 10 Americans believe that we should re-establish relations with that rogue island nation, and that exclamation mark on Trump’s tweet may be a clue on how his administration will proceed. Trump has criticized President Obama’s executive actions to open commerce and reduce restrictions with Cuba, but the incoming chief executive now has the opening hard-liners have always said was the first step to pushing ahead with reform.

Those people wanted Castro gone, and by the time you read this, his body will have been cremated into ashes. It doesn’t get much more gone than that.

With Castro dead and the beginnings of a move toward reconciliation under way, Trump has political cover to push ahead with moves to bring Cuba back under the U.S. umbrella. Raul Castro, Fidel’s 85-year-old brother, remains in charge of Cuba, but he likely is contemplating his own mortality this morning.

If Trump moves swiftly to build on President Obama’s initiatives, it could lay the groundwork for lasting reform with the next Cuban leader – whomever eventually takes charge.

It will be a tricky game of global intrigue, though. The next world war will be over trade and commerce, and Cuba represents a big prize 90 miles off the coast of Florida.

Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang visited Raul Castro in September, resulting in the signing of 30 trade agreements between the two nations. Vladimir Putin dropped by for a visit in 2014 and to tell Raul that he was forgiving Cuba’s debt to Russia. Many other nations have been doing business for years there.

Trump ran for president based largely on his business acumen, and now he will have the opportunity to show that. He can make a difference, because there are two Cubas.

Don’t be fooled the singular picture of an emerging, vibrant Havana. Once you get outside the city, a different story emerges. There, the Cuban people still struggle for basics like fresh water and adequate housing. Wages are stagnant. While Cuban heath care has made significant advances, many people need help to even obtain things like vitamins.

Human rights violations still occur. Government censorship remains the norm.

You can expect a lot of tough talk in the coming days and weeks that America should keep the sanctions in place until Cuba adopts a democratic form of government. But this also is a chance for a major move by the incoming president to rebuild ties with a nation that has been a source of irritation since Castro swept to power in 1959.

It’s a new dawn.

As Trump said, Fidel Castro is dead!

That’s what people wanted. Now they have it.

Joe Henderson: Look for Pat Kemp to turn Hillsborough Commission on its ear

Pat Kemp officially joined the Hillsborough County Commission when she was sworn into office Wednesday. If she stays true to her nature – and there is no to believe she won’t – Kemp might just turn the Commission on its ear.

I hope she does.

Most politicians like to play it safe and tell voters what they want to hear. Pat Kemp’s style is to tell what she believes they need to hear.

Get used to it.

Running for a public office isn’t easy, but I think Kemp has had to work harder for her seat than most. It seems like she has been campaigning nonstop since she was defeated narrowly by Al Higginbotham in 2014. That’s when she set her sights on the District 6 countywide seat this year. She handily defeated a tough Democratic primary field in August, then beat Republican Tim Schock in the general election.

Why so determined?

Spend a few minutes with her, and you’ll understand. This former aide to U.S. Congresswoman Kathy Castor is perpetual motion and passionate about accomplishing as much as she can. When she gets going, she tends to talk in breathless run-on sentences while waving one hand and using the other to check her phone.

It stands to reason, then, that Kemp believed winning a seat on this government body was a must-do because that’s where decisions are made that affect everyone.

It won’t be the same-ol’ approach to solving transportation problems, that’s for sure. Kemp made transportation the cornerstone of her campaign and voters have clearly shown they believe finding a solution is a top priority.

Commissioner Sandra Murman said Wednesday at Kemp’s swearing-in that she was glad to have another woman on the board. That is no doubt true, but we also safely guess that if Murman still proposes Band-Aids for transportation she will find Kemp an exasperated and sharp voice of opposition.

Kemp won’t play it safe, either. She blasted the ill-fated “Go Hillsborough” transportation plan, but not because it was a sales tax increase. She hated it because it was all about roads and cars and didn’t go far enough to address the area’s real transit needs.

As she says on her Facebook page, “Simply stated, a good transit system is the gas that makes cities go.”

True, Kemp is just one vote on a body where most of the members have been around for a while. Ken Hagan was first elected in 2002. Higginbotham has been on the board since 2006. Murman, Victor Crist and Les Miller have been commissioners since 2010.

To accomplish what she wants, Kemp will need to convince them to take chances and do what’s right for the county, even if it isn’t right for their political careers. That won’t be easy.

Regardless, though, I think we can make one assumption with no fear of being wrong. There is a new voice on the board, and by golly, it is going to be heard.

 

Joe Henderson: Despite opposition, ‘campus carry’ returns

Remember that measure some Republicans in the Legislature have tried to pass the last couple of years to allow guns on college campuses?

You know, the bill the House passed last year before it died in the Senate (thank goodness).

Well, it’s back.

Of course, it’s back. It never really left, and it won’t leave until the National Rifle Association finally rams this thing into law.

Never mind that a survey last year by the University of South Florida showed 73 percent of Floridians oppose allowing the state’s 1.4 million concealed permit holders to tote their weapons on campuses. Doesn’t matter.

Every state college and university president opposes this idea.

Doesn’t matter.

The Florida League of Women voters is against it. Really doesn’t matter.

As the Tallahassee Democrat reported, incoming Sen. Greg Steube, who pushed this idea while in the House, said, “I don’t see how you can say it’s not a more favorable landscape.”

Favorable for what? Favorable for foisting something through against the will of the people?

If this went to a popular vote, it likely would be crushed. Just because the political climate might be, in Steube’s words, “favorable” for passage doesn’t mean this is the right thing to do. Of course, logic is another thing that doesn’t matter when talking about guns.

The evidence is overwhelming that the NRA and its legislative minions don’t care who opposes them, how many oppose them, or how whacked the idea of bringing guns more into the everyday college mainstream seems to be.

I will save proponents the time of typing a rebuttal, because I know what they will say: Since only holders of concealed permits will be able to legally carry, what’s the problem?

The problem is what comes after that, when their insatiable thirst for gun expansion needs to satisfied again. We already know that enough is never sufficient for the NRA. This is an organization that wouldn’t give ground when 20 elementary school students and six adults were slaughtered in Newtown, Connecticut.

The NRA’s answer to every problem is a gun.

To these people, guns seem to matter more than anything.

So, of course, the idea of legalizing guns on college campuses is back. You can’t kill this idea, no matter how much opposition there is among the citizens of this great state. This is the zombie apocalypse of lawmaking.

Maybe that’s why some of the more strident Second Amendment folks vow you’ll have to pry their cold, dead fingers from their guns.

Joe Henderson: Kevin Beckner made a difference, which should never be forgotten

All politicians start out by saying how they want to make a difference. Well, Kevin Beckner did.

His now-former colleagues at the Hillsborough County Commission acknowledged that Wednesday during his final meeting as a member of the board. He is leaving because of term limits after serving eight years.

Yes, Beckner was the first openly gay man to serve on the commission, which by itself was highly significant given that just a decade ago Hillsborough banned any recognition of gay pride at county-sponsored events. Former Commissioner Ronda Storms even stipulated the ordinance would be spelled with lowercase “g” and “p” in case anyone doubted we were serious around here about bigotry.

When Beckner led a contentious but successful push to overturn that law, he stipulated it would be spelled with a capital “G” and “P” in case anyone doubted it was a new dawn.

Beckner wasn’t a one-issue commissioner, though. Far from it.

He pushed for juvenile first-time misdemeanor offenders to be issued civil citations so they wouldn’t be tagged with a police record so early in life.

He championed the push to shut down pill mills and insurance fraud. He pushed for the county to amend its Human Rights Ordinance to include prohibitions against discrimination based on sexual or gender identity.

He was a strong voice for transparency in government and fiscal restraint. He helped create an animal abuse registry so that people convicted of abuse on our four-legged friends could no longer own an animal.

But the thing that always stood out to me about Beckner was his determination. Once he set his mind on accomplishing something, he went after it with a righteous zeal. He is one smart guy, too. If you wanted to debate him on an issue, you had better come armed with the facts to back up your argument.

He pushed for the board to act on tough issues when it was clear some members would prefer to avoid that, oh, forever.

It is true that his campaign for Hillsborough Clerk of Courts was basically a disaster. It was sometimes over-the-top negative against incumbent icon Pat Frank, which was out of character for Beckner. I think he would have made a fine Clerk, but going negative backfired and Frank beat him easily last August in the Democratic primary.

Beckner has a lot of fences to mend after that, but here’s where the bigger picture needs to evolve for local Democrats who say they’ll never get over what he did. Beckner is exactly the kind of person needed in government.

We need intelligence. We need visionaries. We need people whose motto isn’t go-along-to-get-along. We need boat rockers. We need people who can take the heat. We need people who aren’t afraid.

Kevin Beckner checks every box and he made a difference. That never should be forgotten.

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