Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 24

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: Another tone deaf move by Donald Trump

Florida’s members of the United States Senate don’t agree on much, but with a Category 5 hurricane bearing down on Miami and the east coast, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio are standing shoulder-to-shoulder in advocating for their state.

Well done.

Yes, we expect leaders to put aside their differences and come together in times like this. But the trend of bipartisan agreement between those two actually started a few days ago, although current events shoved the news to the back pages.

They agree that President Trump offered up a lousy nominee to head NASA.

The choice of climate-denier U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma to lead the space agency was just the latest example of the president’s tone-deaf timing, given the devastation in Texas from Hurricane Harvey and the way Hurricane Irma just flattened Caribbean islands on its way to Florida.

The nomination came last week in what has become known as the “Friday news dump” – that time when leaders try to slip controversial items into a period where they don’t think people will be paying attention.

Nelson and Rubio were paying attention.

Bridenstine has shown a keen interest in the space program and has indicated he would fast-track the mission to send astronauts to Mars.

That is all good.

But weather research also is a key part of NASA’s mission, and Bridenstine has left no doubt where he stands on the issue that humans are contributing to climate change.

In a 2013 speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, he said, “And we also know that (President Obama) spends 30 times as much money on global warming research as he does on weather forecasting and warning. For this gross misallocation, the people of Oklahoma are ready to accept the president’s apology, and I intend to submit legislation to fix this.”

Politifact rated Bridenstine’s assertion as mostly false.

“The head of NASA ought to be a space professional, not a politician,” Nelson told Politico in a statement.

Rubio told Politico he agreed with Nelson, and added that because the Senate must approve the nominee, the “baggage” Bridenstine carries means his confirmation is no sure thing.

“I just think it could be devastating for the space program. Obviously, being from Florida, I’m very sensitive to anything that slows up NASA and its mission,” Rubio said.

What’s happening in this hurricane season is exactly what climate experts have been warning about for years.

They say because of human actions, storms would be stronger than anything we’ve seen and they would be more frequent. Coastal areas would be devastated and the economic damage would be in the trillions of dollars.

Well, it’s happening. Trump’s response is to turn a key agency involved in climate research over to someone who says it’s all fake news.

Joe Henderson: Florida’s resolve displayed again as Irma approaches

Floridians generally are a cocky bunch when it comes to hurricanes. A lot of people take the batteries-and-beer approach to these things: make sure you have plenty of both.

Fill up the propane tank on the grill, fill the cooler with ice, and ride it out.

Not this time.

In 45 years of living in this slice of paradise, I have never seen residents across the state prepare for a hurricane like people are doing for Irma.

Here in Tampa, water and canned goods began disappearing from shelves on Monday, about a week before Irma’s possible arrival. People saw the devastation last week in Houston and they’re taking no chances.

The hurricane seems certain to give a direct hit to a good portion of Florida; we just don’t know where yet. No matter where that is, though, people nearly everywhere in the state will be affected. Irma is roughly the size of Ohio and could stretch from the Gulf to the Atlantic.

So, we get ready the best we can and hope for the best.

Gov. Rick Scott showed last year during the buildup to Hurricane Matthew that he understands the vital role leadership plays in times like this, and he is doing it again. Give the man credit.

Along with the emergency management personnel, the governor’s performance can reassure residents that all systems are in place to prepare before the storm hits and react after it leaves. That’s all we ask.

The aftermath of Irma could leave Floridians struggling for months to have the basics like food and shelter. Times like that, though, tend to bring out the best in people.

Already, churches across the state are mobilizing to help members of their congregations and community. Disaster agencies like the Red Cross and many, many others have teams in place to quickly respond to needs.

Social media is playing a huge role in giving residents options and support. I’ve had offers from friends as far away as Ohio to go there if it gets too bad here.

There is one buddy there who disagrees with me on everything politically, often vocally. That didn’t stop him from offering the use of his large motorhome as a place to stay if my family and I need it.

We really do tend to come together when it matters most. We aren’t so divided that we can’t lend a hand and a hug to someone who needs both.

Watching the approach of this storm has been draining for everyone, wondering where and when it will strike. Whatever happens though, we’ll get through it. This hurricane might be a monster, but it takes more than that to beat Floridians.

That’s not being cocky. It’s just the truth.

GOP faces showdown: Is it ‘mean’ or ‘compassionate’

My Republican friends (yes, I have them) loathe being called the party of mean people, and I completely understand why they feel that way.

What some see as mean, others see as principled. That’s particularly true with programs like Medicaid expansion in Florida, which many Republicans say costs too much and doesn’t work well enough.

I respect that point of view because it’s not looney, even if I don’t agree.

But when it comes to so-called Dreamers – the children of undocumented immigrants, many of whom came to the United States as infants and young children – we’re about to find out whether “mean” is stronger than “principled” among today’s Republicans.

In terminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program with a six-month delay, President Trump is throwing this issue back into the lap of the Republican-controlled Congress. The GOP is on the clock to come up with a plan that will do one of two things:

It will either protect about 800,000 children of undocumented immigrants, or deport them – never mind that life in the United States is all many of those so-called Dreamers know.

Place your bets on what they’ll come up with.

There are plenty of Republicans who are horrified by what this could mean.

In a statement, Florida Gov. Rick Scott made it clear that while he opposes illegal immigration and sanctuary cities, “These kids must be allowed to pursue the American dream, and Congress must act on this immediately.”

That is a reasonable position.

But Scott had a hand in creating this mess because he supported Trump last year in the presidential campaign. We all remember how Trump was whipping hard-right Republicans into a frenzy over immigration. He managed to tie that issue into just about every problem in America.

Crime? Undocumented immigrants.

Economic struggles? Undocumented immigrants.

Family values? Not for undocumented immigrants.

The issue became the catalyst for Trump’s idiotic border wall with Mexico and his draconian immigration proposals. And because President Obama used executive action that led to DACA, the Trump administration – intoxicated by its own rhetoric – is determined to reverse the policy, no matter the damage.

Now, bug-eyed zealots like Iowa U.S. Rep. Steve King are threatening lawsuits over the delay in shutting down DACA, even tweeting that “former #DACAs will make great Peace Corps volunteers in their home countries.”

Never mind, Captain Deportation, that the United States IS the home country for many housands of the people you want to kick out of the land of the free – no matter where they were born.

This is all they know.

Yeah, if the forced ejection of these people from their homes and families comes to pass, it will make dandy footage on the nightly news.

If they lose this latest battle for sanity and compassion, Republicans can protest all they want about unfair labels on their party. They can scream ‘til the cows come home that they are principled, not mean.

They will be wrong.

Joe Henderson: Keeping eye on Hurricane Irma while remembering 2004

I guess I should be scared that North Korea wants to vaporize us, but just now watching a nasty lady named Irma churn her way through the Atlantic, maybe toward us, has priority on my freak-out list.

I fear for the wonderful U.S. Virgin Islands, where I just visited about six weeks ago. They appear to be in the hurricane’s path. But after that, I can’t help wondering if this isn’t the “one” that could turn coastal Florida into the next catastrophe. It has happened before. Read more

Joe Henderson: Richard Corcoran’s tourism threat isn’t bluff

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is right on the money, so to speak, with his latest fiscal gambit.

Corcoran has put 12 tourism development agencies throughout Florida on notice that they better have an accurate and public accounting of how they spend taxpayer dollars — and quickly. That includes big ones in Miami, Orlando and Tampa Bay.

Call it a tactical move if you want to enhance Corcoran’s possible campaign for governor. Call it political grandstanding. And, sure, it’s proper to bring up the fact that Corcoran, a champion of public transparency, negotiated a last-minute budget deal this year in secret.

None of that means what he is doing this time is wrong.

“Let me be painstakingly clear, if you spend one dime of taxpayer money you will do it in a transparent and accountable way,” Corcoran said in a statement.

“It should also alarm every Floridian that these 12 organizations in particular, funded with hundreds of millions of dollars of your money, made the choice to hide from transparency rather than embrace it.”

Local residents usually don’t think about how bed tax money is spent because it is primarily paid by tourists. But in a state like Florida, the pot of gold from these taxes can quickly swell into something close to $1 billion and that demands tight scrutiny.

Among other things, the money finances the local development agencies, who then are supposed to use the cash to push for things that lead to more tourism. It also helps fund some local projects throughout the state.

But it can also lead to some nice cha-ching on payday for top executives like Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago Corrada. Last year he made $338,000 in salary and bonuses. Of course, we all remember (or should) that rapper Pitbull had a $1 million contract with the state to promote tourism. That only came out after Corcoran brought a full-court press for disclosure.

None of this information would have come out without digging by reporters like WFLA-TV’s Mark Douglas and pressure from Corcoran. Tourism leaders have long argued that disclosing anything more than the fact we have great beaches puts Florida at a competitive disadvantage with other states looking to poach the snowbirds who annually flock here.

Baloney. It’s public money and there has to be full transparency about how it is spent.

Corcoran told Douglas that while some tourism organizations have complied with his demand for financial disclosure, others have been slow to respond. The Speaker said they better hurry.

If we don’t hear from them in the next week or two we’ll reach out to them and say what’s your response,” he said. “If they don’t have a response, then obviously we’ll take the next steps.”

One thing we know about Corcoran and issues like this: He isn’t bluffing.

Joe Henderson: Florida take heed from Houston horror

Like all of you, I have been mesmerized watching reports about the catastrophe in Texas from Hurricane Harvey. Just couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and couldn’t help thinking what it would be like if a storm like Harvey washed ashore from the mouth of Tampa Bay.

Florida got a taste of it last year when Hurricane Matthew snaked up the east coast, leaving an estimated 1 million people without power and causing $1.5 billion in damage. And that wasn’t a direct hit.

One of the news reports over the weekend focused on the urban sprawl in Houston and said that helped create this the carnage we’re seeing now.

Miles and miles of land that provided natural drainage has been paved over to create instant communities like Katy, just to the west of Houston. Now, the water has nowhere to go but inside thousands of living rooms.

I drove through Katy a few months ago as part of a Texas trip and couldn’t believe what I saw. They should call that place Concrete Katy, because if there was an open spot of land it looks like developers couldn’t wait to pave it over.

Its population is now estimated at 309,000 – more than the city of Pittsburgh. For perspective: the Katy area had about 140,000 in the year 2000. Annual population growth has been between 4 and 6 percent.

It reminded me a lot of the Brandon area, east of Tampa. People here claim that if Greater Brandon was incorporated into a single entity, it would be the fifth-largest city in Florida.

When I moved there in 1988 though, it was much different. It wasn’t unusual to see lots of green space and even grazing cattle. Much of that space is gone now, sold to make way for planned housing developments and big box stores.

That is setting us up for a nightmare.

Coastal areas in the Tampa Bay area, already saturated with development, would be devastated by a storm like Harvey. Tampa’s landmark Bayshore Boulevard would be gone, along with much of the city’s prized south side.

Stronger statewide building codes put in place after Hurricane Andrew might help more structures stay upright, but the flooding would be epic. The water just wouldn’t have anywhere to go, kind of like we’re seeing now in Houston.

The Washington Post recently sounded the alarm about what it says is the inevitable mass destruction that awaits the Tampa Bay area from a major hurricane.

As much as I hope state and local governments see this as a warning to ratchet up drainage projects and other things that could mitigate the damage, I don’t how much good it would really do. There has been too much unchecked and unplanned development,

I was thinking all that over the weekend – fearing for my in-laws in Houston, and wondering if, or when, it will be our turn to be in the eye of a storm like Harvey. Every day we get a little bit closer.

Joe Henderson: Impending execution raises old questions on death penalty

Mark Asay

If Mark James Asay is executed tonight, that will be the first time the state of Florida has used capital punishment on a white man for killing a black person.

It’s a grim reality that’s worth noting, and I would respectfully disagree with Mark Elliott, executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Elliott told the Tampa Bay Times, “This does nothing to change the 170-year long history of Florida not executing whites for killing blacks.”

Well, yeah it does — although no one is saying it balances the scales. If we’re going to have the death penalty in Florida, then Asay’s forced departure from the realm of the living is justice — delayed, for sure, but justice.

He was convicted of premeditated murder for killing two men in Jacksonville in 1987. One of them, Robert Lee Booker, was black. Prosecutors said Asay made racist comments during all this. This is not a man who will generate, or deserve, much sympathy. But his execution, the 93rd since Florida resumed the death penalty in 1976, does come at a time when capital punishment is under siege in this state.

A survey from Public Policy Polling found 62 percent of Floridians prefer a life sentence to execution. The state also was forced to change the law to require unanimous jury consent before the ultimate punishment can be imposed.

That’s a little late for Asay, whose death sentence came after a 9-3 jury verdict in favor. The state Supreme Court ruled that the law isn’t retroactive for other cases on death row.

Florida also changed the drugs it uses in executions, replacing the sedative midazolam — which is getting harder to acquire because drug companies don’t want to be complicit in executions — with etomidate. It’s the first time that drug has been used for this purpose.

What could go wrong?

I guess we’ll find out. Florida has botched executions before, which brings up another point. Although the state keeps looking, there is no surefire way to help a condemned person go peacefully to such a deep sleep that they will never notice that they are dying.

Critics would call that terrible. Proponents would likely say “who cares?” And I say that this is an issue society will grapple with as long as the state wants to put people to death.

I don’t like the death penalty, but we have it, and some crimes are so horrible that death seems a just punishment. If a jury unanimously decides that execution is justice, so be it.

But the world won’t be a better place tomorrow morning if Asay leaves it tonight. Actually, if it weren’t for the newsworthy aspects of this execution, I doubt people would even notice. They also wouldn’t notice if he were locked away with no chance of getting out. Maybe it’s time for that.

If Florida wants to change the law to halt executions for good, that’s fine by me.

Joe Henderson: What kind of ‘heritage’ are Civil War monument supporters celebrating?

The argument made by supporters of Confederate monuments is based on the premise that the statues and markers preserve southern heritage.

I have heard that point repeated often by those folks and so have you. So, in the interest of moving the discussion forward, I ask a simple question: What is so great about the heritage that it’s worth creating a community-wide divide to preserve?

Let’s explore that.

By February 1861, seven southern states had seceded from the Union and formed the Confederacy. The issue was over slavery, pure and simple. Slavery was a major part of the economic engine of southern agriculture.

By April of that year, Confederate ships began bombing Fort Sumter in South Carolina, where Union troops were running out of supplies. It was game on.

These events are historic and not in dispute. So, again I ask, what is so great about the actions of these southern renegade states more than 150 years ago that make it worth fighting to keep monuments on public property to commemorate a bloodbath that split the country apart?

At a campaign stop Monday, Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam tippy-toed around the issue of taking down the monuments when he said, “It’s far more important to eradicate hate today than it is to sanitize history.”

I’ll agree on the first point, but the thing about “sanitize” is where everything hangs up. It’s not “sanitizing” history for citizens to say using public property to celebrate a war to preserve slavery is a bad thing. Yes, soldiers who fought on either side should be remembered, but history shows these weren’t men marching gallantly off to war.

When volunteers didn’t come forth insufficient numbers after the war began, both sides instituted the first military drafts to fill their ranks. That was bitterly opposed in the South particularly, where eventually the draft took men from age 17 to 50, unless you could buy your way out of service.

Soldiers often went hungry, unpaid, and about 620,000 men overall died either in battle or from disease. Based on population, an equivalent war today in the United States would claim about 6 million lives.

Are supporters celebrating that heritage?

The Save Southern Heritage group compiled a list of more than 100 people who spoke in favor of removing a monument from downtown Tampa at a Hillsborough County Commission meeting last month. The list includes photos, addresses, phone numbers and labels.

Some are called “resentful black man.”  Others are “anti-Trump” or “LGBT” or “Black Lives Matter.”

The organization says it is merely identifying the motivations of those against the monument, but c’mon. It’s an attempt at intimidation, period. A disclaimer on the list saying the organization “assumes no responsibility” for damages arising from the list is nothing more than a dog whistle for hate.

There is a whole lot about the South and its heritage worth celebrating, and I’m not just talking about the weather. I grew up in Ohio but I’ve lived in Florida for more than 40 years. This is a great place with great people.

Build monuments to that.

That’s not what happens though. We get arguments about heritage. I’ve got a little news flash. A hundred years from now, people will look at the “heritage” of these days and wonder if some people hadn’t lost their freaking minds.

Joe Henderson: Adam Putnam knows what his audience wants and serves it up well

The buffet restaurant owned by my friends Ralph and Nancy Lupton in Temple Terrace was as stuffed Monday morning as one of my plates when I go through the chow line there. Don’t tell my doctor about the times I piled it high with fried chicken, bacon, sausage gravy and all those other things that are supposed to be bad for a body.

Put it this way, if that’s bad then I don’t want good. Read more

Tom Lee reintroduces two insurance-related bills for 2018 Session

Republican state Sen. Tom Lee of Thonotosassa doesn’t give up easily. He has filed two bills that for the 2018 session that are essentially repeats of proposals that didn’t pass this year.

If enacted, SB 150 would eliminate the state requirement that would require motorists to carry $10,000 in personal injury protection. The 131-page measure would increase the minimum coverage requirement to $20,000 per individual and $40,000 per incident.

It updates the state’s no-fault insurance provisions that were enacted nearly 40 years ago to reflect inflation.

“The Senate has wrestled with this for 20 years,” Lee said. “From my perspective, it’s about adequacy of coverage.”

Lee also introduced SB 80, which would focus on direct primary care agreements between doctors and patients, employers or guardians. It would provide a system where physicians could receive a monthly retainer fee that would cover agreed-upon services.

“That’s a growing movement in this country,” Lee said. “The physician gets the ability to work directly with the patient and bypass the insurance bureaucracy.”

Lee said he was especially surprised and disappointed that the measure didn’t pass last year. He pulled it from the floor after last-minute amendments were added.

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