Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 21

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: Bob Buckhorn says Tampa will join other cities honoring Paris Climate Accord goals

The pushback from mayors all over the country began almost immediately after President Donald Trump announced the United States will no longer honor its commitment to the Paris Climate Accord.

Medium.com reported Friday morning that 83 mayors from around the country have said they will commit their cities to following the goals that agreement, despite the President’s decree.

They signed a letter promising: “ … we will adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement. We will intensify efforts to meet each of our cities’ current climate goals, push for new action to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, and work together to create a 21st-century clean energy economy.”

Five of the mayors represent Florida cities: Van W. Johnson of Apalachicola, Richard J. Kaplan of Lauderhill, Philip Levine of Miami Beach, Buddy Dyer of Orlando, and Rick Kriseman of St. Petersburg.

Although he wasn’t included on that list, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told me via text message he, too, will commit to having his city join that effort.

“Although the Paris Accord is more global in nature, every city has the ability to create policy that is appropriate for their particular jurisdiction,” Buckhorn said.

“Some cities are further along than others in developing comprehensive plans and metrics and there is always room to improve. This action by the POTUS is certainly an incentive to further refine those plans.”

Trump’s decision to pull out of the agreement has been widely panned around the world and at home — even in Pittsburgh, which the president held up as a reason for taking the action. The place once known as the “Steel City” for its reliance on that industry has transformed itself into a diversified center for medicine, banking, and technology.

In an interview on CNN, Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto said of Trump, “What you did was not only bad for the economy of this country but also weakened America in this world.”

The issue of climate change is especially sensitive to Florida cities. Continued rising sea levels threaten coastal cities, and scientists say the risk of more numerous and powerful hurricanes is increasing.

Because of that, Buckhorn said, “ … all of our efforts will be accelerated. We will continue to lead.

“We are increasing investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency.  From lowering our carbon footprint, investing in equipment that uses renewable energy and trying to attract and grow clean energy jobs, Mayors can and should lead the way.”

Joe Henderson: Sunshine law should remind leaders that people of Florida are citizens, not serfs

The irony of the state Constitutional Revision Commission trying to avoid sunshine laws is almost too rich to describe.

If allowed to happen, that would be a dark day indeed.

But that’s exactly what CRC Chair Carlos Beruff is proposing, even as the commission continues a series of town hall meetings designed to take public input into the process.

Beruff, who ran a bare-knuckles campaign for the Republican nomination in the 2016 U.S. Senate race but ultimately crashed when Marco Rubio decided to get back in the game, proposes to allow two or more members to discuss the commission’s official business in private.

Not only that, Beruff — appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to chair the committee — is pushing for authority to be the sole decision-maker about what measures the 37-member board puts on the ballot in 2018.

That would gut a requirement that a supermajority of 22 members approves all ballot initiatives.

The commission has been frosty to his proposals.

“What is called for is a presider — not a decider,” Commission member and former Senate President Don Gaetz told the Miami Herald.

So, let’s review: Florida has been noted for its landmark Sunshine Law that requires all government and related meetings to be open and with adequate advance public notice. The head of the Constitutional Revision Commission wants to ignore a bedrock principle of Florida law.

Good start, eh?

It’s worth noting that Beruff was a controversial choice to lead the commission.

A little over a year ago, he drew wide criticism last year for remarks at St. John’s County Republican Executive Committee, where he said of President Barack Obama: “Unfortunately, for seven and a half years this animal we call president — because he’s an animal, OK? … has surgically and with thought and very smart, intelligent manner, destroyed this country and dismantled the military under not one, not two, but three secretaries of defenses.”

That doesn’t exactly have the ring of someone interested in building consensus.

Beruff’s current ploy is just continuing an assault on openness that has been taking place for years. There are more than 1,000 exemptions to the law as legislators find increasingly inventive ways to avoid the annoying public scrutiny.

Three members of the South Florida Water Management District were criticized for discussing official business in Facebook chats. Barbara Petersen, head of the nonprofit First Amendment Foundation in Tallahassee, told TCPalm.com “this definitely appears to be a violation.”

Yes, it’s much easier to govern in secret, but that’s not how we do it here. You can’t just work things out in private and then inform the masses (maybe) what you have planned for them before you break for lunch. The people of Florida are citizens, not serfs. They have a right to know how decisions affecting their lives are being made. They have a right for input.

What part of that escapes Carlos Beruff?

Then again, why should anyone be surprised? He doesn’t seem like someone much interested in what other people think.

Joe Henderson: Frank Deford’s passing deserves a moment of pause and reflection

There are important things going on in the state today; I probably should pay more attention to them.

Will Gov. Rick Scott wield his veto pen? The nation’s policy on Cuba is attracting attention; 55 U.S. senators signed a letter urging travel restrictions on visits to that island nation be lifted.

That stuff, and more, will still be there tomorrow.

Right now, though, I want to talk about Frank Deford. He died Sunday at his winter home in Key West.

People have rightly praised him as a consummate story-teller, wordsmith, and a giant in the world of sports writing – although, for Frank, a more appropriate description would be writer, period. Never mind the subject.

In the introduction to a book called “The World’s Tallest Midget” — a compilation of his best long-form stories from Sports Illustrated — he said of sports writing: “It is, surely, the only form of literature wherein the worst of the genre is accepted as representative of the whole.”

I was a sports writer, primarily at the Tampa Tribune, for nearly four decades, and I don’t think as a group we ever escaped that shadow. In newsrooms across the country, sports was mockingly called the toy department. Still is, I would imagine.

Even after I moved from sports to become metro news columnist, occasionally I would get an angry email from a reader with the suggestion I should go back to sports. They probably thought that was witty because a sports writer couldn’t possibly understand politics and government. The “serious” work of gathering “important” news was done by professional journalists. The rest of us were just hacking out copy about ball games.

Frank Deford didn’t hack.

I was a young pup in the business in the 1970s and 80s when Deford was, as he described tennis star Jimmy Connors in one profile, “champion of all he surveyed, Alexander astride Bucephalus astride the globe.”

He was that good.

Like wannabe’s everywhere, I poured over each line of a Deford story in Sports Illustrated. He routinely did things with words that I could only imagine. The magazine wisely granted him time and space to dig deep into a subject, and he repaid by producing lasting literature.

He wrote a profile of a junior college football coach in Mississippi named Robert “Bull Cyclone” Sullivan called “The Toughest Coach There Ever Was.” In the story, he described the team’s top rival — a school called Pearl River.

Years later, on a road trip to watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play New Orleans, I might have (maybe) manufactured an excuse to drive up from there to Pearl River for a story just because Frank Deford made traveling to an obscure small college in Mississippi sound like something interesting to do.

It was, too.

Later, he produced commentary for NPR. I am sure it amused him on some level that listeners went, “Wow. Not bad for a sports writer.”

A few years ago, the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg held a private reception for Deford after he gave a talk there. As a reward for teaching a class at Poynter, I was invited. I sat with five or six other sports writers as we gathered ‘round the legend to soak it all in. It was riveting. I wish I had a picture, but I’ll never forget what that evening was like.

Deford and columnists like Jim Murray and Red Smith elevated sports writing and inspired a generation to take its craft, and itself, seriously.

Young boys grew up wanting to be like Mickey Mantle or Johnny Bench.

I grew up wanting to be like Jim Murray or Frank Deford.

One of the beautiful things about literature is that it survives eternally. These men wrote prose that happened to be about sports. They turned words into pictures and reminded everyone that when done properly, telling the story is an art. They made that matter. Godspeed, Frank Deford.

Oh, and one more thing.

Thank you.

Joe Henderson: If some Democrats don’t care about ‘issues’ maybe that’s leaders’ fault

Um, Sally Boynton Brown?

If you’re trying to explain why Democratic voters didn’t turn out in sufficient numbers last November to deliver Florida to Hillary Clinton, I suggest a different approach than saying basically “they don’t get it.”

That’s not a direct quote from the newly hired executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, but it is the essence of her intemperate remarks at a progressive caucus gathering in Broward County.

The Miami New Times, on the scene at the event, quoted Brown saying, “This is not going to be popular, but this is my belief of the time and place we’re in now: I believe that we’re in a place where it’s very hard to get voters excited about ‘issues,’ the type of voters that are not voting.”

She was right about one thing: that isn’t popular. In fact, that’s just plain dumb.

First, let’s just say what everyone knows: She is effectively blaming lower-income people and minorities for her party’s problems, as if it’s their civic duty to vote for Democrats.

These are people profoundly affected by the issues of the day, and you can be damn sure they care about those things. If they aren’t voting, it’s because there is a disconnect between them and party leaders.

Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by more than 330,000 voters in Florida, according to state elections data. There also are about 3.5 million voters unaffiliated to either major party.

With numbers like that, how do Democrats keep losing?

Start with their message — or lack thereof.

Republicans have been consistent about how they want to shape state government: fewer regulations, pro-business, lower taxes, squash any attempt at gun control, charter school expansion.

Republicans repeat those talking points until they’re ingrained in voters’ minds, particularly the independents. It worked well enough to give the GOP and Donald Trump wins in 58 of Florida’s 67 counties last November.

Issues obviously matter to Republicans. Is Brown saying they’re more passionate and responsive than those of her party? If that’s the case, point the finger at the person looking back in the mirror.

Part of the problem, in my opinion, is that Democrats approached the last election with a cocksure smugness. They didn’t explain themselves to voters because their attitude seemed to be that no one would be dumb enough to vote for Trump.

Guess what, Dems? There are millions of people right here in Florida who believe all you want to do is take their guns and give their money to someone else. Democrats used to be the party of working people, but now are painted as the playground of Hollywood elite. It’s their own fault.

In the battle for the hearts and minds of the people, Democrats seem to have lost the zest for battling in the trenches.

One stray word from a Democrat about gun control can send the National Rifle Association into rapid response. Democrats have allowed themselves to be pushed, shoved, bullied and ultimately defeated, and yet their response always seems to be “How could you?”

That, Sally Boynton Brown, is the problem that you don’t get. If you want more people to turn out on Election Day for your candidates, they need a better reason than, “It’s your duty to vote for us because we’re not them.”

Joe Henderson: When NFL suddenly needed a Super host, it knew who to call

It wasn’t luck that Tampa was selected Tuesday to host its fifth Super Bowl.

When the National Football League learned the new stadium being built in Los Angeles won’t be ready in time for the game in 2021, it had to find a city not only ready to step in on short notice, but one with a proven record of excellence.

Tampa checks all the boxes, and that’s because the team Rob Higgins has assembled at the Tampa Bay Sports Commission is as fine as any in the country and better than most.

Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer deserves applause. Tampa’s battle-tested political leaders, especially County Commissioner Ken Hagan and Mayor Bob Buckhorn, should take a bow. Higgins is the guy who really makes it happen though.

Smart, well-connected and experienced, Higgins understands better than anyone what has to be done in the trenches to successfully pull off a Super Bowl. NFL owners and leaders know that, which is why I have to believe the decision about what to do took about 10 seconds.

“Hey guys, that new stadium in Los Angeles won’t be ready for the 2021 Super Bowl. What should we do?”

“Um, let’s move it Tampa.”

“All in favor?”

“Aye!”

“Opposed? Anyone? No, great. Let’s go eat.”

I would imagine Higgins’ No. 1 obstacle in the coming months will be keeping his cellphone charged. The man is going to be busy. He will have to get renewed pledges from business, civic and political leaders that were part of Tampa’s bid package for the 2019 and 2020 games, but I can’t imagine that will be much of a problem. I am certain he will have cooperation from all the major players in the area: the convention and visitors bureau, Tampa International Airport, local and state security agencies, and so on.

The Super Bowl occupies an outsized place in Americana. By the time 2021 rolls around, it will be 37 years since Tampa hosted its first Super Bowl.

That game represented important psychological validation to people here that Tampa Bay had a place among the important locations in the country. Interestingly, Tampa’s main competitor to host that game was Los Angeles. The winning team that year? The Los Angeles Raiders, who beat the Washington Redskins 38-9.

Tampa essentially turned itself over that week to the NFL, and in return team owners basked in the love. That set a standard for future bids by other cities, which meant Tampa had to keep getting better and more creative to stay among the regular sites that get to host this game.

It must have worked because with this game Tampa will rank fourth on the list of cities that have hosted the largest number of Super Bowls.

We live in a pretty cool place, huh?

“Aye!”

Opposed? Anyone?

Didn’t think so.

Joe Henderson: FDOT’s Tampa Bay transit plan has new name, but really needs new ideas

Transportation issues in the Tampa Bay area have been well-documented and they will get worse before they get better — assuming, of course, “better” ever comes.

The Florida Department of Transportation wanted to attack the problem with a plan called Tampa Bay Express, or TBX. I’ll simplify: It called for building more roads, including 90 miles of highway people would have to pay tolls to use. A lot of people hated that idea and they raised such a ruckus that FDOT finally punted and came up with Plan B.

It still leaves open the idea of more toll roads, including express lanes across a rebuilt Howard Frankland Bridge. So, what’s different about this plan?

Er, um … it has a new name! Tampa Bay Next.

Other than that, it seems like basically the same ol’ sow’s ear, which, according to the Tampa Bay Times, is upsetting for FDOT officials to hear.

FDOT says a lot of things about this plan are different, starting with its claim the community will have much more input on what it does or doesn’t want. These meetings will take place over a couple of years.

“If the department didn’t really care about what these communities valued … why would I have even be having these meetings?” local DOT Secretary Paul Steinman told the Times. “If I was going to do what I planned on doing, I would have just gone and done it.”

I can save everyone some time by identifying one major issue. Most people don’t want to have to pay a toll every time they drive somewhere.

Especially bothersome is FDOT’s love affair with express lanes, where users pay a fee — which can be hefty, depending on the time of day — to get where they’re going quicker than the schleps stuck in the so-called free lanes.

Even FDOT has conceded the express lanes aren’t designed for everyday use by the common folk, so that’s a problem. A big problem. FDOT proposes a $6 billion attack on traffic congestion around lanes drivers need the income of a starting NFL quarterback to use.

How does that help?

I was in Texas recently and drove from Houston to Austin. Toll roads and express lanes are big there. It seemed like everywhere I went was a road that required a fee to use. By the time I got back, I had racked up about $60 in toll charges — and I was only there for three days.

In case you’re wondering, no — I didn’t use an express lane. I did notice while sitting bumper-to-bumper in evening rush hour that the express lane didn’t seem to be getting much use. Interestingly, a commuter train I saw near Rice University appeared to be nearly full.

Now, Houston is like Tampa Bay on a case of steroids. As bad as our sprawl is, I doubt we’ll ever see the kind of spread that Houston now has. What we have is bad enough, though, and if the anecdotal evidence I saw there is any indication, FDOT’s vision for Tampa Bay’s future is similar to what our friends in Texas now have as a large part of their lives.

That won’t solve the problem.

We to get more cars off the road. And a plan that rewards those with large incomes disproportionally over those with more modest means just isn’t right.

There has to be a better way.

Joe Henderson: We already term limits. They’re called ‘elections’

I am not a fan of term limits.

I understand the argument from those who say we need a law that limits the power of incumbency. They say the longer a politician stays in office, the more likely they are to accumulate so much recognition and money that it becomes almost impossible to beat them.

What they’re really saying is that voters need protection from themselves. I have a problem with that because it still comes down to this basic fact: We already have term limits. They’re called elections.

No matter how long a politician has been in office, voters still have the final say. If they decide that lawmaker is doing good work, there should be no reason that person can’t stay on the job.

I mention this because of what is happening with the Hillsborough County Commission. Three of the board’s seven members are in a game of musical chairs that on the surface seems a goofy way to stay in office.

There is a loophole the size of the Grand Canyon in the Hillsborough charter that allows a commissioner restart their term-limit clock if they are elected in a different district than the one they currently serve.

That’s how we get this: Sandy Murman and Victor Crist have announced intentions to run for two of the board’s three countywide seats because they are prohibited from running for a third consecutive stay in the single district each represents.

While that is going on, long-serving Commissioner Ken Hagan is mandated to leave the countywide seat he has held for two terms, so he will run in District 2. That’s the district Hagan represented when he was first elected to the Commission in 2002 before he had to run for the at-large chair in 2010 and, oh man … this makes my head ache.

State Sen. Tom Lee of Thonotosassa, who has mentioned once or 300 times that he might prefer a Commission seat to the one he currently occupies in Tallahassee, is considering a push to outlaw the chair-swapping that Crist, Murman and Hagan are using.

In theory, that means they could keep jumping from seat to seat and stay on the board until they are called to the Great Beyond. Lee has said the practice violates the spirit of the charter and he is considering a push for an amendment that would stop that.

There is some merit to Lee’s argument, but I think a better idea is doing away with mandated term limits. Voters would still be able to pass judgment at the ballot box and it would stop the kind of silliness we’re now seeing.

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.”

Hello!

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?

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