Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 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.

Joe Henderson: Facing many hurdles, Bob Buckhorn could make a good governor

The rebirth of downtown Tampa brought inevitable speculation that Mayor Bob Buckhorn might parlay it into a shot at the governor’s mansion in 2018. The job obviously has appeal for someone like Buckhorn, who likes a big stage and challenge.

Asking him to tip his hand about a possible run, though, has proved to be a necessary, but ultimately fruitless, endeavor.

As he told Mitch Perry of Wednesday, “Like a lot of people who are contemplating the future, you have to sort of sift through the carnage of last Tuesday and see what the landscape is, see whether or not there’s a path for victory for Democrats there, whether I’m the guy that can carry that torch, that I can inspire people to follow my lead.”

He then added, “ultimately it’s gotta come down to whether in my gut whether this is something that I want to do.”

Oh, I think a big part of him wants to do it. I also believe Democrats have a path to victory in the race to succeed Rick Scott. Whether Buckhorn can lead his party down this road and win is another question, though.

I like Buckhorn. I like his style. I like what he has done as Tampa’s mayor. I like his determination. I have known him for a long time, dating to his days on the Tampa City Council in the 1990s. I think he would make a good governor.

Whether any of that matters won’t be decided for a while and Buckhorn has a lot of hurdles to overcome, starting with his own party. U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham from Tallahassee has all but declared her intention to run, and high-profile attorney John Morgan might get into the race as well.

Graham is the daughter of one of Florida’s legendary politicians, former Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Graham. Morgan has been on TVs around the state nearly every night for years with his relentless “For the People” slogan, and voters just strongly approved his signature issue — making medical marijuana legal.

Escaping the shadow of either of those two would be a huge challenge for Buckhorn, or anyone else.

Plus, statewide Democrats may have a case of Tampa Bay Fatigue. There have been four races to be Florida’s governor in this century and a Democrat from the Tampa Bay area has been atop the ticket each time — Bill McBride (2002), Jim Davis (2006), Alex Sink (2010) and Charlie Crist (2014).

They all lost.

Buckhorn is a loyal Democrat, though. He went all-in for Hillary Clinton in this year’s election and worked for Barack Obama here before that. He has been outspoken in his disdain for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. That’s all fine, but Clinton lost, Rubio won, and Obama is leaving office.

One thing to keep in mind: Buckhorn isn’t afraid of losing.

He lost in a primary for state House seat in 1992. He finished third out of five candidates running for mayor in 2003. And then there was the humiliating loss to former pro wrestler and first-time candidate Brian Blair in a 2004 county commission race.

He came back to take an upset win for mayor in 2011 and was re-elected without serious opposition.

Buckhorn always says being mayor of Tampa was his dream shot. Whenever I’ve told him it looks like he never sleeps, he responds that there will time to sleep when his second term is up. Whether he decides to postpone that nap to run for governor remains to be seen.

At this point, I don’t like his chances.

But knowing Buckhorn, he will figure out a way to be involved even if he is not on the ballot. He loves this stuff too much.

Joe Henderson: Looks like Donald Trump insider Pam Bondi is movin’ on up

It great to have choices, especially the kind in Pam Bondi’s world these days.

If there was any doubt about her clout with President-elect Donald Trump, that was put to rest when she was named to his transition team executive committee late last week.

This is as close to being brought into the official Trump family as one can get without bloodlines. It’s a team of power figures that includes Trump’s children, several important lawmakers, and key insiders whose work helped him win the election.

Trump clearly believes Bondi deserves “insider” status.

“I’m honored to serve President-elect Donald J. Trump in making this historic transition and assisting in finding the best individuals to bring change to Washington on Day 1, grow our economy, protect our children and families, and be unafraid to stand up for Americans,” Bondi said in a statement.

No one will be surprised if Florida is looking for a new attorney general soon. I don’t think Trump brought Bondi in this close to merely shake her hand when the transition is done and say, “Hey, thanks. Appreciate it. See you in four years.”

And Bondi, who is nothing if not ambitious, must know this is the time to jump. It won’t be long until the wrestling match for slots in the 2018 statewide and U.S. Senate races begin in Florida (I know, I know … sorry) and Bondi doesn’t seem to have a natural fit anywhere.

She hasn’t been mentioned in any serious chatter about running for governor. Her current boss, Gov. Rick Scott, seems to have his eye on Bill Nelson’s Senate seat. Bondi’s best bet might be to get what she can now with Trump and see where that takes her.

If she does join the administration, there are a lot of people who will consider it a quid-pro-quo for Bondi’s look-the-other-way performance on questions about consumer rip-offs in Florida by Trump University. The $25,000 campaign check Trump wrote for Bondi’s 2014 race might come up a time or two — or several thousand.

It sure has the look of something cozy.

That’s the thing about her, though.

That ambition-driven interior is covered by a Teflon exterior. Nothing seems to stick to her. Don’t forget, Bondi originally backed Jeb Bush for president, only to swear allegiance to the candidate who insulted and trashed him.

Trump won Florida by 1.3 percent, or about 120,000 votes out of about 9.3 million cast. Did Bondi’s support help swing the necessary votes his way? I doubt it. I think Trump voters chose him for reasons that had nothing to do with Bondi’s endorsement.

Once she was on Trump’s team, though, she was all in — and the incoming president didn’t forget that. Now that the race is over, she has moved to the head of the line for whatever awaits. I suppose it’s possible she could come back to finish her remaining two years as attorney general.

At this point, though, it seems a lot more likely that she is headed uptown.

Joe Henderson: New House rules put lobbyists in their place and increase transparency

Mike Fasano, the Pasco County Tax Collector and former state legislator, lives near incoming Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran. They are friends and they speak frequently with each other.

Sometimes they agree on policies, sometimes they don’t. But they are in total accord about the dramatic changes regarding lobbyists and other measures Corcoran has planned for the upcoming year in the Legislature.

“During my 20 years in the Legislature, I saw firsthand how much lobbyists were in control of the process,” Fasano said. “I told Richard that what he has done will help create a member-driven Legislature instead of one driven by the lobbyists.”

It’s about damn time.

Corcoran is regarded as no-nonsense conservative with zero tolerance for anything he considers a frivolous use of the public’s purse.

His list of proposed rules designed to keep lobbyists in their place and increase transparency is the way the affairs of state should be conducted.

This site and other news outlets around the state reported this week on what Rep. Jim Boyd of Sarasota called “a seismic shift in the balance of power in Tallahassee and a return to a more open, accountable, and responsive state government.”

Among other things, the Corcoran Plan would require lobbyists to declare publicly what bills they are supporting and how they will be paid for. It would prohibit text messages between lobbyists and representatives while business is being conducted on the House floor. That practice has led to lawmakers reading texted “suggestions” from lobbyists straight from their phone like it’s a teleprompter.

Lawmakers can no longer fly on jets provided by lobbyists, even if they pay the regular commercial flight rate.

For taxpayers though, the most important change is Corcoran’s pitch that would end the devious practice of tacking pet projects as conforming bills on to other laws being considered at the end of the session. Such bills would now have to be filed and considered separately.

“This absolutely will cut down on the horse-trading and last-minute deals,” Fasano said.

Loosely translated, that means many of them never will be filed because sponsors know they are turkeys with no chance of passage.

“We commend House Speaker-Designate Corcoran’s efforts to increase accountability and transparency in the budget process,” Florida TaxWatch head Dominic Calabro said in a statement.

“His goal of making sure every appropriation that is placed in the budget be scrutinized and debated is one we share. Floridians deserve assurance that their money is being invested in critical needs and projects that provide the best return.”

Give the man credit. He has seen the enemy — and it is those who view the Legislature as an ATM of self-enrichment.

Now, talk is easy and policing the rules can be hard because, as we know, there are always work-arounds. You can bet a steak dinner lobbyists will try to find them.

Anyone on the prowl for loopholes, though, should be reminded of whom they are dealing with. Corcoran says what he thinks and means what he says.

“The special interests have been put on notice,” Fasano said. “The members of the House have been put on notice. He is sincere about this. Members who might think, ‘OK, we’ll pass these rules and then put in our back pocket’ better think again.”

Joe Henderson: There is no roadmap for where America goes next

If it’s morning after the election and you are reading this, then the exit polls were correct on at least one point. The sun did indeed come up on all the blue states, red states, and especially on the Sunshine State.

So, there is that. But for the moment at least, that’s pretty much the end of normal as we knew it.

We now live in a nation where the president-elect broke every rule of campaigning and won the White House. Whether the outcome of this race was an embrace of the outsider Donald Trump or a rejection of Hillary Clinton as a soiled remnant of the establishment is a debate for pundits and historians.

What is undeniable is that the people wanted change and now they have it. That deserves a moment of pause and reflection.


The moment is over. That crashing sound was your 401(k) as it struck the rocks at the bottom of the cliff. We have entered a world where no one has a map. Everybody wide awake now? No, you aren’t dreaming.

The Republican Party of Reagan has been taken over by a foul-mouthed misogynist outsider who essentially ran against both the Democrats and the party that nominated him. The Bill Clinton Democrats and his successor-designate wife have been rejected by an American public fed up enough with the whole lot of them to roll the dice on a planetary scale.

Trump was supposed to be the wrong messenger; everyone said so. The polls said so, pundits said so, and logic said so. None of that applied, though, because the essence that drove his campaign was spot on. That’s how we got here, and the outcome of this election proves that.

I grew up in Ohio, the son of a working man who spent more than 30 years in a smoky factory in our small town. When he was about 60, the bosses moved that factory and all the jobs to a source of cheaper, southern labor. This proud man learned about age discrimination and the value of a lifetime spent working with his hands and back.

Things haven’t changed that much since 1969, have they? That was Trump’s platform.

Working men and women still feel like they get nothing but the back hand from their government. Unions that were supposed to protect them were impotent in the clutch and are now seen as part of the problem.

They felt abandoned. They felt betrayed.

They decided no was listening to them.

Well, they’re listening now.

I know those people. I love those people. Those are my friends, and I understand at least some of their anger. They want to be respected. I don’t like their solution, but I get it.

They feel like they pay for programs they can’t share. They are handed the bill for benefits they don’t receive. They see big business send their jobs overseas or out of state, while the rich CEO walks away with all their money.

They see elected representatives on the take from lobbyists. Where they saw Washington as the solution, they now see the nation’s capital as the problem. When people ask how Trump could win the presidency, it’s because these people saw him as their only voice.

They struck back the only way they could.

Did you see that sea of red-colored counties on the election maps Tuesday night? That was small-town, rural America screaming ENOUGH!

They believed that strongly enough to hand the keys to the White House to a crude man with a history of bankruptcy, both moral and business, because that man said he heard them.

He was the only one who did.

It was a strong enough message to swamp 15 other Republican candidates in the primaries. It stunned pollsters, pundits, and now the worldwide financial markets by winning the White House against the Chosen One.

What’s weird about this result is that President Barack Obama will leave office with historically high approval levels. The public loved him, but not enough to let him pass the baton to Clinton.

Trump won the day by recognizing millions of people are fed up. Trump made them believe Clinton was the problem and he is the answer. That’s what happened Tuesday night.

As for what happens now, well, we’ll get back to you.

Pat Kemp defeats Tim Schock in Hillsborough County District 6

Democrat Pat Kemp defeated challenger Tim Shock for the Hillsborough County Commission District 6 seat.

Kemp had 55 percent of the vote for a solid victory.

Voters had two strong choices in this countywide race.

Kemp, who narrowly lost to Republican Al Higginbotham in 2014, had transportation as her main issue. She has long been a vocal advocate for solutions to the area’s top long-term issue that goes beyond adding new roads.

She advocates stronger growth management policies to help control urban sprawl, which contributes to transportation problems.

Kemp also has been a voice for transparency in government and diversity. She is a former aide to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and the former chair of the Hillsborough Democratic Party.

Schock, a small-business owner who has never held elective office, soundly defeated veteran Jim Norman in the primary. He, too, listed transportation as a major issue.

“It’s a quality of life issue. It’s about getting to work on time, getting home on time, being with our loved ones on time. That’s really what this is about,” Shock said in a video posted on his website.

“The goal for our transportation system has to be free-flow mobility, the ability to move people efficiently and effectively around our county — and in doing so, reduce our overall traffic congestion. It’s becoming a bigger and bigger problem, and it’s something we can no longer ignore.”

Schock advocated a regional solution for transportation, especially in the Hillsborough suburbs.

Shawn Harrison holds on in rough-and-tumble HD 63 race

Republican Shawn Harrison held on in a rough-and-tumble race against challenger Lisa Montelione to represent House District 63.

With all precincts reporting, Harrison had 51 percent of 71,483 votes cast. Montelione held a close early lead but Harrison overcame that and steadily pulled ahead as the night progressed.

“Obviously, we’re very happy,” Harrison said in a statement. “We executed what was a perfect game plan. We had a very targeted and specific message to Democrats in this district, and we executed it. We tried to appeal to Democrats, which you have to do in a swing district like this.”

The race to represent this moderate swing district covering parts of New Tampa, Lutz, Carrollwood, and the University of South Florida area, turned nasty in the closing days.

Harrison, the incumbent, ran a TV spot with an empty chair to symbolize what he said was Montelione’s 33 percent absentee rate on votes at the Tampa City Council.

Montelione and the Florida Democratic Party demanded that Brighthouse Networks stop airing the spot over copyright issues related to an ad she ran against Harrison.

Republicans also hit Montelione hard on her vote supporting free parking for council members and her support for a controversial stormwater assessment fee.

That vote drew the ire of La Gaceta, a tri-language weekly newspaper that traditionally endorses Democrats. However, publisher Patrick Manteiga, a Democratic activist, threw his support behind Harrison in this race. In an editorial, the newspaper said “normally, we support Democrats, but lately we’ve noticed some Democrats aren’t acting like Democrats. Lisa Montelione is on that list.”

It also said Democrats can work with Harrison, a moderate Republican, adding: “He’s smart, compassionate, focused, and does his homework. He can build coalitions.”

Montelione, endorsed by President Barack Obama, raised more than $246,000 for this race, including more than $53,000 from the Florida Democratic Party. Harrison reported nearly $298,000.

A former Tampa City Council member, Harrison first won election to the old HD 60 in 2010. He lost in 2012 after redistricting placed him in the more moderate HD 63, but came back in 2014 and won.

Montelione was elected to the city council in 2011 and ran unopposed in 2015. She resigned her council seat to run in this race.

Kathy Castor, Dennis Ross returning to Congress

In a pair of results that could not be called surprising, Democrat Kathy Castor and Republican Dennis Ross won re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Castor took about 61 percent of the vote in her race, while Ross took 58 percent.

Neither race was expected to be closely contended.

Castor, a liberal Democrat who was facing political newcomer Christine Quinn in the race for Florida’s 14th Congressional District, will be starting her sixth term in Congress.

Ross faced Democrat Jim Lange for the right to represent CD 15, covering parts of Polk and Hillsborough counties. It was a mismatch. Ross raised more than $1.1 million to about $35,000 for his opponent. Ross will be returning to Congress for a fourth term.

He is a senior deputy whip for the Republican leadership.

Castor was first elected in 2007 after serving four years on the Hillsborough County Commission. She has been a champion for health care, LGBT rights, women’s issues, and the normalization of relations with Cuba.

She also worked to secure funding for the I-4 connector road with the Selmon Expressway in Tampa.

In October, she announced a $6 million grant to Hillsborough Community College to boost STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) opportunities for Hispanic students.

Ross, a Lakeland native whose district covers Polk County, was first elected to Congress in 2010 after two terms in the Florida House.

Ross Spano victorious over Rena Frazier in HD 59

Incumbent Ross Spano was returned to the Florida House, defeating Democratic newcomer Rena Frazier.

With all 41 precincts reporting in the HD 59 contest, Spano led by about 10 points out of 73,095 votes cast.

This race to represent a district that covers much of eastern Hillsborough turned ugly in the closing days, with charges by Democrats that a Spano mailer that cited Frazier’s lack of experience was sexist.

That prompted the House and Senate Victory Committee to issue a statement that said Republicans “should be ashamed of themselves for this baseless and sexist attack on Rena Frazier.”

Frazier, who declined to sign a pledge offered by Spano that called for no negative campaigning, sent out mailers critical of her opponent’s alleged cozy relationship with lobbyists.

Spano, a staunch conservative, served two previous terms in the House. He opposes Medicaid expansion.

Frazier is a partner in the law firm of Quarles & Brady and graduated cum laude from Stetson University College of Law. She is considered a rising star in the local Democratic Party. She has worked with the Brandon Regional Hospital and has argued for issues that include expanding health care options.

On her website, she said it was “inexcusable that over 800,000 Floridians, including 40,000 veterans, do not have health care and Tallahassee isn’t doing anything about it.”

Spano focused his energy on jobs.

“The No. 1 issue for me is to make sure we have a business environment that allows for and incentivizes job creation,” he wrote. “Understanding that government cannot create jobs, we must continue to remove the limitations placed on our small businesses by reducing taxes and removing burdensome regulations.”

Bob Henriquez gets another term as Hillsborough Property Appraiser

Hillsborough County voters have given Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez another four years in office.

Henriquez held a comfortable 57-43 percent lead with 293 of 340 precincts reporting over Todd Jones, who was making his first attempt at public office.

“I’m very pleased and honored to have the opportunity to serve another four years,” Henriquez said. “We ran our campaign based on the results we have been able to achieve over the previous four years.”

Jones tried to paint Henriquez as a political insider whose credentials didn’t measure up to his. Jones pointed to his long career as a certified property appraiser.

“I’m an appraiser running to be an appraiser, not a politician,” he said.

But Henriquez, a former state legislator and local high school football coach, had the edge in name recognition against Jones, who was making his first try at public office. Henriquez also pointed to his record of both modernizing the office and reducing costs since he was elected four years ago.

The two men had decidedly different takes on how Henriquez was doing his job. Jones complained that 96 percent of appeal cases on property valuation were decided in favor of the county, while Henriquez said that taxpayers got relief through either a ruling or a settlement in about 85 percent of the cases.

Jones also criticized Henriquez for using aerial mapping as part of the appraisal process. Henriquez responded that he was required by law to submit aerial photos to the state.

Sandy Murman cruises to victory over Jeff Zampitella in Hillsborough County Commission

Incumbent Sandra Murman cruised to victory Tuesday over Democrat Jeff Zampitella in the Hillsborough County Commission District 1 race.

With 69 of 86 precincts reporting, Murman held a 57-43 percent lead over Zampitella.

“I knew this was going to be a tough cycle, so we ran a whole campaign all the way,” she said. “A lot of people in my district have benefitted from the hard work I’ve done on their behalf, and I think that showed.”

Murman, a longtime political fixture in Hillsborough, was elected to the County Commission in 2010 after serving eight years in the Florida House. She was re-elected without opposition to the commission in 2012.

Zampitella, a commercial airline pilot, has been active in neighborhood issues and associations. He was a strong opponent of the $6 billion Tampa Bay Express transportation plan known as TBX. He also served on Tampa’s Downtown Partnership parking task force.

Murman has supported TBX, which Zampitella tried to use against her in the campaign. Murman also advocates expanded bus service and use of the new Cross Bay Ferry.

Zampitella faced long odds from the outset. Murman raised more than $300,000 and had strong name recognition, far more than Zampitella.

He banked his chances on competing in a diverse district that runs from Lutz in northern Hillsborough to Ruskin in the south part of the county.

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