Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 18

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: This Legislative Session has the chance to be one of the most significant in Florida’s history

We already know the 2017 Legislative Session that opens Tuesday in Tallahassee is likely to be contentious, but aren’t they all? Big-league politics is a contact sport.

No one will deny the battle between Gov. Rick Scott and House Speaker Richard Corcoran over spending priorities makes for good political theater (not to mention headlines). When the two most powerful Republicans in the state engage in public spats the way these two have, it does tend to attract attention.

There is a bigger story brewing, though. If lawmakers pass most of what has been proposed, it could become one of the most significant sessions in Florida’s history.

Corcoran’s ambitious package of legislative and lobbying reforms could fundamentally change the way business is done in Tallahassee. Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron worked out a budget compromise Friday that makes a good start on what Corcoran has vowed to accomplish.

Corcoran scored big with a rule requiring all projects added to the budget must be paid for with one-time money. That ends the practice of annually recurring expenses on the base budget, which Corcoran complained hamstrung future legislatures.

This likely will end that time-honored House and Senate tradition of flooding the budget with last-minute additions that can add hundreds of millions in costs. Now, no projects can be added to the final budget that weren’t included in the original plans by the House and Senate – although we can be certain some legislators will try to find ways around that.

Negron released a statement after the compromise praising Corcoran lauding the enhanced “accountability and transparency” in budgeting.

That new policy alone would make this an especially significant session, but there are additional measures that could fundamentally change everyday life for Floridians more directly.

There are bills that, if passed, would greatly expand the number of public places where Floridians with concealed weapons permits could legally carry their guns.

The ongoing fight in Washington over the Affordable Care Act could have big implications here, especially if Congress turns Medicaid into a block grant program where states would receive a set amount of money.

Lawmakers are going after the state Supreme Court after justices issued rulings they didn’t like. That could lead to the imposition of term limits and blur the line of separation between legislators and the judiciary. Corcoran’s fingerprints are all over this one, having vowed to “reign in” the court for “legislating from the bench.”

There is a push to issue civil citations to juveniles who commit minor offenses, allowing them to avoid a police record. Others are getting on the bus for mandatory free-form play time in elementary schools (we used to call that recess back in the day). Another bill would take aim at cities like Tampa, where Democratic Mayor Bob Buckhorn hasn’t embraced the aggressive tactics to corral undocumented immigrants.

Yeah, the Scott-Corcoran public feud over the governor’s love for business incentives and promotional spending for tourism has been entertaining. It also has deflected attention away from other items on the agenda that arguably are more important.

That changes Tuesday when the session officially opens and lawmakers get busy on a 60-day reshape on Florida. This is the main event.

Game on.

Easy call: St. Pete Cty Council to set Al Lang referendum

If all issues before the St. Petersburg City Council were as easy as the once members will consider Thursday morning, anyone could do the job.

The Council has a vote scheduled to set a referendum on a plan to privately renovate Al Lang Stadium. That’s so a bid by Tampa Bay Rowdies’ owner Bill Edwards to obtain a Major League Soccer franchise for the city can continue.

If the vote is anything but yes, the Council will have lost an opportunity that likely will never come again. A “no” vote also would prove members have lost their minds.

Even though Edwards would pay the $80 million stadium renovation, the city wisely requires voter approval of anything on this scale that goes along St. Petersburg’s lovely waterfront.

(For what it’s worth, Edwards also has said he will pay the cost of the proposed May 2 special referendum).

There is no risk for voters.

The Rowdies already play at Al Lang as members of the United Soccer League. Edwards’ plan to renovate Al Lang into an 18,000-seat stadium worthy of the much more prestigious MLS hinges on the Rowdies becoming one of four expansion teams the league plans to add as soon as August. His plan wouldn’t even enlarge the downtown stadium footprint that already exists.

If the city’s bid is not successful, there will be no renovation.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber has said cities interested in expansion must meet three key criteria:

— A strong local ownership group that has the money to invest in infrastructure and build the sport in their market. Edwards certainly checks that box.

— A market that has shown strong fan support for soccer and located in a desirable spot. That box gets checked with a giant Magic Marker.

— A stadium plan that league calls “a proper home for their fans and players while also serving as a destination for the sport in the community.”

Check. Check. Check.

While St. Petersburg has struggled to support the Tampa Bay Rays, this is a different animal. MLS teams play only a 34-game season, which means 17 home games versus 81 for the Rays. That makes individual games more of an event than a single baseball game.

The Rowdies were third last year in attendance among 12 North American Soccer League teams, averaging about 5,800 fans per game. Edwards already has sounded the bugle charge to the business community and others about greatly increasing that total if the MLS lands here.

I believe the support will be there.

I believe St. Petersburg is a perfect spot for an MLS team and Edwards has a strong plan to make it happen.

All that Council members need to do is say yes to keep this moving forward.

Easy call.

Marco Rubio wimps out on town halls. Are we surprised?

As we saw during the last campaign, Marco Rubio can be awfully good at not showing up. His latest no-show has nothing to do with his attendance in the U.S. Senate, though. Now, he doesn’t want to show up at town hall meetings because people might be rude.

“They’re not town halls anymore, and I wish they were because I enjoy that process very much, going back to my time as speaker of the house. I hosted over a hundred idea (meetings) around the state,” he said in an interview with CBS4 in Miami.

“But the problem now is – and it’s all in writing, I’m not making this up – what they want is for me to organize a public forum. They then organize three, four, five, six hundred liberal activists in the two counties or wherever I am in the state.”

No, he isn’t making it up.

He is, however, wimping out.

Are we surprised?

Yes, those forums do offer those pesky Florida liberals a rare opportunity to remind Republicans that a whole lot of people want their representatives to protect health care coverage.

This is not some political talking point, either. For these folks, it’s emotional and personal, so they do heckle, they shout, they boo and they are loud. That bothers Florida’s very junior U.S. senator – although it didn’t bother him in 2010 when he was swept in by the tea party wave that wrote the book on heckling, shouting, booing and doing that at high volume.

As a first-time senate candidate, it was OK to be supported by disruptors. Those rallies took place around the country, organized at the grassroots level through websites like the Tea Party Patriots. The plan was to put the “riot” in patriot.

It worked. Rubio was elected.

Facing angry constituents didn’t stop U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis from showing up recently at multiple Pasco County meetings, nor has it stopped many of Rubio’s house and senate colleagues from facing the 50 percent of the country that doesn’t agree with them.

But not Rubio. Change of heart, I guess, after an opposition group now called Indivisible, which supports Democrats, copied those tea party guerilla tactics. The group has a game plan called “A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda.” It’s available on the internet for all to see.

In his interview, Rubio said, “They then, according to the document, they get there early and take up all the front seats. They spread themselves out. They cheer when the questions are asked. They are instructed to boo no matter what answer I give.

“They’re instructed to interrupt me if I go too long and start chanting things. Then, at the end, they’re instructed not to give up their microphone when asked. It’s all in writing in this Indivisible document.”

That’s sort of true, but also sort of not.

Indivisible supporters are indeed told to get there early, sit in the front, spread out. They also are instructed to “be polite but persistent, and demand real answers.”

It adds, “MoCs (members of Congress) are very good at deflecting or dodging question they don’t want to answer. If the MoC dodges, ask a follow-up. If they aren’t giving you real answers, then call them out for it. Other group members around the room should amplify by either booing the congressman or applauding you.”

Rubio is awfully good at deflecting and dodging. He gets into trouble when strays from the talking point. In a friendly town hall, that’s OK. In a hostile setting, he might get exposed (further) as a lightweight or, as then-candidate Donald Trump liked to call him, “Little Marco.”

CBS4 host Jim DeFede started to ask, “So you don’t believe these are real …”

“They’re real people,” Rubio quickly said. “They’re real liberal activists and I respect their right to do it, but it’s not a productive exercise. It’s all designed to have news coverage at night saying, ‘Look at all these angry people screaming at their senator.’”

So instead the story becomes, look how their senator runs and hides.

Yeah, that plays well.

Legislating free speech? Toughen up, buttercup

Of the many wonderful things the late University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt said and did in her life, perhaps none echoes with more relevance today than these simple words: Toughen up, buttercup.

Sally Jenkins, the terrific Washington Post columnist, reported that’s how Summitt dealt with an assistant coach who was upset almost to the point of tears over what must have been a relatively minor team problem.

It was good advice. People on either side of the political equation should listen, especially given the debate bubbling up about the First Amendment right of free speech.

As Mitch Perry of reported Thursday, the Florida House Subcommittee on Post-Secondary Education pondered on proposed legislation called the Campus Free Speech Act. Stanley Kurtz, a conservative academic, told lawmakers the measure would defend the right for people to speak their minds at the state’s universities.

It would require universities to create policy that reminds students that free speech is vital to the nation.

Well, OK so far.

It also would prohibit administrators from disinviting speakers, no matter how controversial, if people on campus want to hear from them.

The slope is getting a little slippery, but go on …

It would subject students or anyone else who interferes with the free-speech rights of others to official discipline.

Getting very slippery …

It would allow people who believe their free-speech rights were hindered by the university to recover court costs and attorney’s fees.

Getting a little out of control …

Conservatives have complained for decades that college campuses are liberal “safe spaces” where political correctness is the understood rule and dissent is not tolerated. I’ll concede that there have been many cases where seemingly innocent remarks have exploded into firestorms.

Take the case of former Yale University lecturer Erika Christakis, who resigned under immense pressure after having the audacity to challenge an edict by the school administration that set guidelines for Halloween costumes. Students were prohibited from choosing a costume that could be considered racially or sexually insensitive.

Christakis’ high crime?

She wrote this: “What happens when one person’s offense is another person’s pride? Should a costume wearer’s intent or context matter? Can we always tell the difference between a mocking costume and one that satirizes ignorance? In what circumstances should we allow — or punish — youthful transgression?”

The backlash from students and faculty was furious, almost mob-like. That a grand bit of irony since the university’s demand for tolerance turned into intolerance for anyone who strayed an inch outside of the lines.

I know what Pat Summitt would have told the protestors.

Students everywhere should learn that lesson because – listen closely now – when they get into the real world, not everyone will agree with them. Not everything they hear and see will reaffirm their values. They will be told “no” when the answer they expect to hear is “yes.”

Their ears will be assaulted by cretins like Milo Yiannopoulos, the creepy former Breitbart wingnut whose recent speaking engagement at Cal-Berkeley was canceled but not before rioters protesting his appearance caused thousands of dollars in damage.

Protest: good.

Riot: bad.

Protesting is a form of free speech, too. Kurtz’s proposal would limit that by punishing people who try to shout down a speaker with whom they disagree. If that’s the case, what would have happened to Joe Wilson, the South Carolina congressman who yelled “You lie” at President Obama during a 2009 speech about health care?

We don’t need another law to protect free speech. The First Amendment has that covered. It wouldn’t hurt for universities to remind students and faculty that dissent must be tolerated and conflicting opinions should be openly and civilly discussed.

If it strays over the line into personal attacks about a person’s lifestyle, religion or looks, punishment is appropriate.

Otherwise, heed Pat Summit’s advice.

Life is a contact sport.

Rick Scott’s newest title – lame duck

Gov. Rick Scott has added a new title to his resume in the last few weeks – lame duck.

Sure, he officially retains the job of Florida governor until a successor takes over in 2019, but for all intents, it appears a majority of state House members aren’t waiting until then to stop listening to him.

The House Appropriations Committee euphemistically threw a pie in the governor’s face Tuesday by voting to eliminate Enterprise Florida and eviscerate Visit Florida, the state agency that markets the glory of the Sunshine State to people in the cold, frozen north.

This happened despite perhaps the most aggressive public pitch by Scott in his six years as governor to preserve both entities. It was a stinging rebuke by his own party, and what we can conclude is that it almost certainly is the shape of things to come.

Scott went down swinging.

“(Tuesday’s) vote by politicians in the Florida House is a job killer. I know some politicians who have voted for this job killing bill say they don’t necessarily want to abolish these programs but instead want to advance a ‘conversation.’ This is completely hypocritical and the kind of games I came to Tallahassee to change,” Scott said in a statement that wound up in my mailbox and no doubt hundreds of others.

“Perhaps if these politicians would listen to their constituents, instead of playing politics, they would understand how hurtful this legislation will be to Florida families.”

That’s feisty talk, but the truth is undeniable. The governor has been powerless though in the face of opposition by House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’Lakes.

Corcoran sees both programs as revenue-sucking wastes of taxpayer money. He has called Enterprise Florida and its job-creation incentives “corporate welfare” and basically a colossal failure.

All Scott has been able to do is complain. He has been unable to summon the political clout to combat this insurgency within his own party, so what does that tell you?

Well, a couple of things.

Most important for the moment is that it says House Republicans have tuned out their Republican governor on an issue he cares passionately about. Once that happens, the disconnect only gets worse.

It also further stamps Corcoran as a legitimate contender to succeed Scott in the governor’s mansion, if future political ambitions take him in that direction. That makes the relative silence lately by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam even more interesting. Putnam is widely considered to be the likely Republican nominee for governor next time around.

Meanwhile, I wouldn’t expect Corcoran to give an inch going forward. When it comes to issues like these, compromise doesn’t seem to be in his playbook.

That’s not good news for Rick Scott after all the effort he has put in to save these programs, but as a lame duck, there’s not much he can do about it.

For ‘Dem-witted’ Florida Democrats, stop arguing and get to work

In case Democrats haven’t figured it out yet, they are in a position of increasing irrelevance for a couple of big reasons: They consistently have been outworked, and they apparently can’t understand what’s actually happening in Florida and this country.

The election of Donald Trump is just the latest in what has been a series of events that left Democrats dazed and confused (apologies to Led Zeppelin). I was reminded of that Saturday when an enthusiastic and large crowd (yes, Mr. President, it was large) turned out in Melbourne to hear President Trump rail against his favorite targets — chief among them, the media.

Democrats will point to opinion polls that show the president at historic lows after one month in office. Many of them will assume that means Trump’s administration is headed for a thrashing in the 2018 midterms, ultimately to crash on the rocks in 2020 — if he isn’t impeached before then.

They may be right, but I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on it. The disconnect between everyday people and the so-called powerful elite has been widening for a while now. It shows no signs of easing. If anything, the gap is increasing. News flash: The everyday people are winning.

Go back to the 2010 governor’s election in Florida. How many experts gave Rick Scott any chance of winning? After he beat Alex Sink, Democrats disdainfully wrote it off an anomaly that would self-correct.

They argued that Scott had essentially bought the election by pouring millions from his own bank account into the campaign. They grumped that Sink had run a lackluster campaign. And when Scott was later judged to be the least popular governor in the nation, Democrats assumed they would regain power in 2014.

How did that work out?

Take it even closer to home. There was a story Friday on SaintPetersBlog from Mitch Perry about a transportation forum in Tampa. People listened as Sharon Calvert, Tom Rask and Barb Haselden — three local activists who resist labels but sound a lot like Tea Party folks — gave their views on public transportation.

It’s fair to say they oppose big government transportation projects they see as outdated money-losers, and they appear to be quite proud of their roles in scuttling local tax referendums for transportation in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

I have frequently dealt with Sharon Calvert, and while I don’t agree with many of her viewpoints, I respect her and her colleagues for their persistence and willingness to engage. And boy, do they engage.

They attend mind-numbing planning meetings and challenge officials to prove the things they say. They go over news articles and columns word by word to argue points that may seem arcane, but really aren’t. They are relentless on the details.

And here’s the biggest thing: they are convincing. Not to me necessarily and certainly not to many public officials, but they get their word out to the people and convince them to vote. They are the definition of grass roots.

That’s how Trump won, too. I remember driving by the Florida State Fairgrounds late one night shortly before November’s election. The place was packed with people coming to hear Donald Trump, a man who supposedly was lagging hopelessly behind in the polls at that point.

There were scenes like that playing out all over the country. Democrats dismissed it as a bunch of misguided yahoos and didn’t see the sucker punch coming until it knocked them to the floor.

So here’s the deal they better learn. They better stop being so Dem-witted about how election “shockers” like Trump and Rick Scott happen. They need to realize how much ground they need to make up with voters who have tuned them out.

They need to look at crowds like the one President Trump just had in Melbourne and see that for it is: reality. And then, as two-term Gov. Scott might say, get to work.


Subliminal message no help in Enterprise Florida fight

I was watching the fascinating video from the Florida House of Representatives in its escalating war with Gov. Rick Scott over state subsidies for private businesses and tourism when an image caught my eye as it streaked by quickly.

It was the logo for Enterprise Florida, the public-private partnership that is supposed to create jobs. Scott loves the concept so much he included $85 million in his budget request for the endeavor. Therein lies the battle line with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who says it’s a waste of taxpayer money.

The House video makes that case emphatically.

Anyway, I rolled the video back to the logo and thought, hey, wait a minute. It looked familiar. One quick Google search later confirmed that EP’s logo looks suspiciously similar to Enron’s, and, well, need I say more?

That’s not a subliminal message an endeavor fighting for its life (and funding) wants to send.

Enron, as we remember, set the gold standard (so to speak) for getting into taxpayers’ wallets in the name of “job creation” and other such gibberish. The Libertarian-leaning Cato Institute in 2012 called Enron “a poster child for the harm of business subsidies,” reporting the company received $3.7 billion through various means through federal government agencies before it collapsed in December 2001.

No one is trying to place Enterprise Florida on the same level as Enron, but the principle Corcoran and his GOP-controlled House members believe is where the connection is valid. Corcoran strongly argues that government (meaning taxpayers) shouldn’t decide business winners and loser by funneling public money to private interests.

And EP certainly has received more than a little bit of public dough since it was founded in 2005. As the Orlando Sentinel reported in December, “A prime example of Florida’s political favoritism is Enterprise Florida, a public-private partnership that promised to create 200,000 jobs by 2005. After $1.7 billion in incentives, it had reached only half its goal. And while the program was intended to be funded equally between public and private funds, an estimated 90 percent of its funding came from the taxpayers.”

Scott is on a public relations offensive to keep the public tap open for Enterprise Florida, since job creation seems to be the sole focus of his administration. He was just in Palm Beach, warning that cutbacks to EP and Visit Florida, the tourism arm that also receives generous taxpayer money, could result in job losses.

WPTV in West Palm Beach reported that Discover the Palm Beaches President and CEO Jorge Pesquera said that eliminating Visit Florida could result in the loss of 3 million tourists to his area. He said that could cause 10 hotels to close with a loss of 31,000 jobs.

Well …

All that taxpayer money didn’t save Enron jobs, did it?

To be fair, it makes sense for the state to market tourism, given its obvious huge impact. But Enterprise Florida is another matter, and the showdown between a governor hungry to create jobs and a House Speaker equally determined to protect the public purse is in full swing.

While that plays out, the folks at Enterprise Florida might want to commission someone to create a new logo. It’s just a thought.

Bill blocking public release of death recordings a slippery slope for transparency, truth

I will give state Rep. Chris Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, the benefit of the doubt that he believes he is doing the right thing by filing HB 661 – a measure that prohibits the public release of video and audio recordings of someone’s death.

Latvala originally filed the measure last October to cover only the release of recordings and video of police officers who died in the line of duty. He expanded that bill Monday to include anyone who was killed, and made it retroactive to cover events that happened in the past.

His reasoning: such video inspires terrorists, as spelled out in the bill’s text:

“The Legislature is gravely concerned and saddened by the horrific mass killings perpetrated at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando and at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

“In addition to the emotional and mental injury that these photographs and recordings may cause family members, the Legislature is also concerned that dissemination of photographs and video and audio recordings that depict or record the killing of a person is harmful to the public.”

You know what else is harmful to the public? When governments aren’t accountable to the people they allegedly serve. That is particularly true, as we have seen in recent years, with officer-involved shootings.

Cops put their lives on the line daily, and in most cases their use of deadly force appears to be justified. There are cases, though, where we’re just not sure. We saw that in the case of the South Carolina police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man named Walter Davis in April 2015.

The private video shot by a bystander with a cellphone appeared to contradict officer Michael T. Slager’s story that he felt his life was in danger when he shot Davis, who was 17 feet away at the time and running in the opposite direction.

That video, widely distributed on social media, was used as evidence in Slager’s first trial; it ended in a hung jury. What is unclear in Latvala’s proposed bill is what would happen to such video if it was subpoenaed by the prosecution (which likely would happen if a similar case happened here).

Would the person who took the video be liable for felony prosecution, which would be the penalty under this proposal, if they posted the video they shot on social media?

Without contradicting video, we might just have to take the officer’s word for it that he or she felt their life was in danger. It’s an important check and balance.

Barbara Petersen of the First Amendment Foundation told the Orlando Sentinel about the case of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson, 14, who died in 2006 at a juvenile detention center in Bay County.

An autopsy pinned Anderson’s death on a sickle-cell trait disorder. It was only after video surfaced of guards kicking Anderson and making him inhale ammonia that a follow-up autopsy concluded he died of suffocation.

As far as the video inspiring terrorists, I think Latvala is using fear as a rationale to pull the covers a little tighter over transparency.

While it reasonable to argue that terrorism feeds on itself, it’s a stretch to think that such footage would inspire any more carnage than regular coverage of the acts at the Pulse nightclub and the Hollywood airport.

What would Latvala propose: a total news blackout? Just pretend these things didn’t happen? That’s absurd, of course, but once politicians start down that slippery hill of deciding what is none of the public’s business, the absurd has a better chance of becoming reality.

Charlie Crist may be likable, but how soon before he eyes a new gig?

One of Charlie Crist’s best traits is his likability.

He can be a candle-in-the-wind on issues, depending on his audience. Changing parties infuriated Republicans and made Democrats skeptical. And once he gets a job, he tends to get wandering eyes for his next gig. But damn, he is a really nice guy. Despite his baggage, people like him and a lot of them vote for him.

That’s one reason he rose above the political tsunami that swamped Democrats nationwide and beat another good guy in Republican David Jolly to represent Florida’s 13th Congressional District.

Given that, it’s puzzling that Crist so far apparently hasn’t used his best trait to solidify the home base, even as he adjusts to life in the U.S. House of Representatives. Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times reported Sunday Crist has had a series of stumbles that have supporters wondering what the heck is going on.

Smith wrote that Crist and his wife, Carole, who is paid to oversee his political activities, “generated widespread grumbling and head-scratching about his clumsy start in Congress, even among longtime friends.”

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, a Democrat, told the newspaper Crist hasn’t touched base with her since he left for Washington.

“I can only compare the two, and right after David Jolly was elected he was calling my office and asking for a meeting and wanting to work together,” she said. “We built a very tight relationship. I’m hoping we can build the same kind of relationship with Charlie.”

Compare Crist to other members of Congress from the area. Democrat U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor frequently returns to Tampa and Hillsborough County to keep in touch with voters.

Republicans Gus Bilirakis (District 12) and Rep. Dennis Ross (District 15) do the same.

Bilirakis, as was widely reported, held a second “listening session” Saturday with Pasco County voters who forcefully oppose his plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act. It was the second such meeting Bilirakis has had on that issue with constituents in his district. Give the man credit for showing up.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is another politician who never forgets to keep in touch with the home folks. And we all remember how the late U.S. Rep. Bill Young was an unrelenting champion for Pinellas County.

But where is Charlie?

If this trend continues, it likely will embolden Republicans to find a serious challenger to go after his seat in 2018. It might even inspire a primary challenge from Crist’s own party — assuming he still is a Democrat by then (you never know).

Or, we have to note, people may start to wonder if Crist will lose interest in his current job the way he did as governor and state attorney general and not run for re-election at all.

He could squash all that by just being good ol’ likable Charlie. People will be waiting.

Florida seniors, be careful what you wish for with Donald Trump, Medicare

Florida’s estimated 3.8 million senior citizens wanted change. They wanted to, how you say, drain the swamp? They voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in November.

With voters age 65 and over, Trump won Florida by 17 percent. That likely was the difference in a statewide race he won over Hillary Clinton by about 119,000 votes.

Here is part of the change they voted for. His name is Tom Price, just confirmed in the Senate as Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services by a party-line vote of 52-47. Seniors may become better acquainted with him the next few years. He is the guy who The Washington Post says wants to privatize Medicare and Medicaid.

“Under his vision, both programs would cease to be entitlements that require them to provide coverage to every person who qualifies,” the Post reported. “Instead, like many House Republicans, he wants to convert Medicaid into block grants to states — which would give them more latitude from federal requirements about eligibility rules and the medical services that must be covered for low-income Americans.

“This plan would also require ‘able-bodied’ applicants to meet work requirements to receive health care benefits — an idea that the Obama administration has consistently rebuffed.”

I wonder how that will go over with the good folks in Charlotte, Sumter, Sarasota and Citrus counties. They are among the 11 “grayest” counties in the country.

Sumter, with nearly 53 percent of residents age 65 or older, ranks No. 1 on that list compiled by Pew Research. It is the only county in the nation to have that distinction.

Sumter, by the way, voted 69 percent for Trump. Charlotte, the second-grayest county in the land, delivered 62 percent in favor of Trump. Citrus was 68 percent. Sarasota was 54 percent.

To be fair, some of the angst over Price is about what he “might” do versus what he “can” do. He can’t just wave a calculator and do away with traditional Medicare and Medicaid, and for the time being his focus likely will be on reconfiguring the Affordable Care Act into something that will suit conservatives.

Congress would have to approve any major changes to Medicare and Medicaid, and although Republicans control both chambers President Trump has said he wants to keep things the way they are.

PunditFact rated claims by a Democratic website that Price wants to “phase out” Medicare as false.

Phase out? No.

Change? You betcha.

In case Price gets any funny ideas, though, AARP — the advocacy group for seniors — sent a letter Jan. 30 to a House committee holding Medicaid hearings warning block grants are something that could “endanger the health, safety, and care of millions of individuals who depend on the essential services provided through Medicaid.”

Shifting these programs to block grants would have a huge impact on Florida’s budget, given the high percentage of seniors living here. Imagine how long it would take for state representatives to run those budget numbers and decide nope, we can’t afford that.

This is just the first inning of what promises to be a long game in the contentious debate over these social safety nets for seniors. It’s also true, though, that House Republicans have had this issue in their crosshairs for decades and now they have a shot at reform — whatever that means.

If that happens, it will be too late for Sumter, Charlotte, Citrus and Sarasota counties to demand a recount. Those voters wanted change. Careful what you wish for.

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