Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 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: Bottom line for USF — Close, but no pre-eminence status

Florida State Senate President Joe Negron continues to insist there was no dark conspiracy to deny pre-eminent status to the University of South Florida. He swears on a stack of legal briefs that state graduation guidelines weren’t changed at the last minute just to make sure USF wouldn’t qualify.

As we now know, this is not a small thing. By failing to achieve the pre-eminent designation, USF missed out on millions of dollars — money the state’s flagship schools in Gainesville and Tallahassee enjoy.

USF thought it was home free, ready to celebrate its new standing among the academic elites. But in the closing hours of the Legislative Session, where wheels are turning and deals are made, lawmakers said a school had to have a four-year graduation rate of 60 percent to qualify.

USF is at 54 — double what it was in 2009, and more than enough to qualify under the old standard of 50 percent.

Not now.

Negron dismissed USF’s cries of foul play, arguing that increasing the requirement has always been part of his stated long-range goal to make sure top Florida universities have the same academic status enjoyed by schools like North Carolina and Virginia.

In an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times, Negron wrote, “The goal posts were not moved. Proposed legislation is frequently revised and amended during Session, and it was imprudent for any observer to count their chickens before they hatched. USF simply did not hit the current standard.”

Here’s where it gets murky, though. Negron argues the four-year number wasn’t the fatal blow to USF’s chance this time. He said to look at the six-year graduation rate as the “one, and only one” reason USF missed.

So, I did.

Negron has at least one fact to back his point.

In 2011, the state university Board of Governors established the benchmark requiring that 70 percent of full- or part-time students entering college for the first time graduate within six years. They reaffirmed that number in 2014.

That doesn’t sound like the “last minute” to me.

USF’s total is 67 percent.

Close, but no pre-eminence. Pre-eminence doesn’t get graded on the curve.

This may be a good time to ask if lawmakers should consider other factors when assessing a university’s performance. Following Negron’s logic, requiring 70 percent of a school’s students graduate within six years makes it extra hard for places like USF because a considerable percentage of its students don’t fit the so-called “traditional” profile.

The image of a college student is someone who heads to a university straight out of high school. That’s largely true at the University of Florida and Florida State, but not so much at USF. Nearly half of the USF student population is older than the traditional 18-22 age group.

There are a sizable number of students over the age of 25. Many are 35 and over, taking a class here and there while juggling work and family responsibilities. Catering to those students is a vital part of USF’s mission. Should the university be punished for that?

USF sometimes forgets how far it has come in a relatively short amount of time. The university has only been around since 1957. It has evolved from an institution known jokingly as “Drive-Thru U” into a place where fewer than half the applicants are accepted.

Its campus has been transformed from something that resembled an industrial park with classrooms into a striking, vibrant setting. President Judy Genshaft has been a fundraising dynamo, and USF is a vital player in Tampa’s economic future.

It’s all good.

Being told to wait a bit longer to achieve the status that will put it on equal standing with Florida and Florida State stings for sure. At the rate it is going though, it won’t be long before USF gets what it badly wants.

Unless the rules change again, of course.

Joe Henderson: ‘Stop the Presses’ was fond farewell to a grand ol’ dame named Mama Trib

In a crowded grand movie theater in the middle of downtown Tampa on Wednesday night, the people who produced the Tampa Tribune finally got a proper send-off.

It was one year to the day that the newspaper where I and hundreds more worked was bought and closed by our rival, the Tampa Bay Times. They said then it was a business decision; better for the market to have one healthy newspaper than two struggling ones.

That one that had published daily since 1895 — my paper — had to go.

But those who watched the première of Deborah Kerr’s expertly produced documentary “Stop The Presses” at the grand Tampa Theatre in the heart of downtown knew better. The closing of the Tribune wasn’t just a business decision to any of us. It was a personal, painful loss to the employees and to many in the city.

I know it was personal to me. I worked at the Trib for nearly 42 years — about two-thirds of my life so far. Many, many others felt the Trib was almost as much their families as their blood relatives.

Maybe that’s why we called her Mama Trib.

The film was a celebration, even the parts that were hard to watch. It gave all of us who loved the Trib a slice of our dignity back. It was validation that we were more than numbers on a spreadsheet.

Unlike last May, there were no armed guards this time watching to make sure no one flipped out on the day we had to clean out our desks for the final time.

There was no somber pronouncement from Times CEO Paul Tash, as there was last May 3, telling us we would not be printing the customary final edition granted to soon-to-be-extinct newspapers.

There were no human resources executives from the Times to tell us about our severance packages.

The film began with a trip inside the darkened ghost ship that was the Tribune building in the days after the closure was announced. There were leaking pipes, piles of rubbish, rooms that had been where major news stories were planned and executed were in shambles, as if they had been swept away by a massive storm.

In a way, that’s exactly what happened.

It went on to focus on each department — press room, advertising, circulation, packaging, the executive floor, and the newsroom. That all-encompassing look at the people who produce a newspaper left no doubt that we really were a family.

There was a huge turnout for the film, practically filling the place. A lot of old faces who had gone on to other things came back to say goodbye, along with many of us who stuck around.

I’m sure there were tears, especially the scenes toward the end that showed the Tribune building being demolished to make way for a riverfront residence tower. I also know there were hugs and gleeful shouts as we ran into people we worked alongside — in some cases for many years.

And there was one more thing — the last edition we never got to produce last year. Kerr, whose husband George was the operations manager at the Trib, had the idea of that unique way for us to have our final say.

My contribution to that section carried a headline that read “We just wanted the chance to say thank you.”

That was really it. I know the economics of the newspaper game and changing reader habits. The fact you’re reading this on a website that specializes in breaking political stories and commentary is proof that nothing stays the same.

I get it.

I’m not sure if there are immediate plans for another showing, but Kerr would like to have the film become part of the curriculum in colleges where journalism is taught.

Here is what I am sure of though: Watching that film and printing that final section gave us all some needed closure, and now it is done. We return to our normal routine with a smile for the good times, thanks to one final fond memory of a grand ol’ dame named Mama Trib.

Joe Henderson: While Rick Scott goes on tour to plead his case, Richard Corcoran keeps piling up wins

While it’s clear what Gov. Rick Scott hopes to accomplish with his barnstorming tour of the state over the next few days, it almost certainly won’t make any difference.

He calls it the “Fighting For Florida’s Future” tour because he wants to fully fund Enterprise Florida so it can continue providing $85 million in taxpayer “incentives” for out-of-state businesses to bring jobs here.

Businesses will come to Florida if they believe they can make money. They don’t need what House Speaker Richard Corcoran has mocked as “corporate welfare” to do that.

Simultaneously, Scott wants to make sure VISIT Florida gets $100 million to promote tourism. Corcoran has offered about a quarter of that. While no one argues that tourists aren’t vital to the state’s economy, Scott would have a better argument for full funding if the agency was more judicious in its spending.

VISIT Florida spent $11.6 million to sponsor a cooking show hosted by celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse and $1 million so rapper Pitbull could look cool and hip to potential visitors in the cold frozen north.

Scott’s hope for his speaking tour is that people will get riled up enough to call their legislators and demand they approve his agenda.

Yeah. That’ll happen.

He also wants the Legislature to spend $200 million to help fix the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee. That dam was considered a culprit in last summer’s polluted water runoff that led to the disastrous algae bloom.

Pushing for that money makes the governor look like he cares for the environment. A better time to show that might have been before that runoff and while his administration was gutting environmental laws left and right, but I digress.

The bigger picture is that Scott was essentially neutered during this Legislative Session by Corcoran. The governor is now the lamest of ducks, and that won’t help him as he casts a longing eye toward Bill Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat in 2018.

Corcoran outfoxed the governor at every budgetary turn this year and was very public about it. It goes to Corcoran’s core belief that Tallahassee spends too much money and needs to go on a fiscal diet.

It has been assumed the Speaker has considered running for Scott’s soon-to-be vacant governor’s chair, but what if there is something bigger afoot?

While Corcoran would have a tough time breaking through against fellow Republican Adam Putnam to win the Republican nomination for governor, he could draw a strong contrast between himself and Scott if he decided to go for the Senate seat instead.


In a lengthy profile on the Speaker, the Tampa Bay Times reported he has already met with the billionaire Koch brothers and appears to have their support for his economic agenda. I’m guessing that would help close the fundraising gap with Nelson and/or Scott if this hypothetical showdown ever happens.

Obviously, this is speculation — the mother’s milk of politics.

But while the governor embarks on what would be better described as a self-immolation tour for a doomed agenda, Corcoran keeps piling up the wins.

Joe Henderson: Homestead exemption increase would be great politics, lousy governing

Increasing the state’s homestead exemption by $25,000, which is a priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran and his merry band of tax-slayers, would no doubt be popular with voters.

If the measure gets past the legislative hoops and on the 2018 ballot as a constitutional amendment, I imagine it would easily break the 60 percent threshold required for passage. Corcoran and like-minded Republicans would celebrate. Homeowners would have more cash.

And local governments, where the real heavy-lifting is done to provide needed services to the home folks, would have a meltdown. One estimate said it could reduce property tax proceeds by about $700 million overall. Bigger cities would likely affected more. Something would have to give.

In Hillsborough County, property taxes help pay for things like public libraries, water management, special lightning districts, storm water drainage, and basic services like fire fighters.

One of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s favorite sayings is that big-city mayors love infrastructure. For instance, Tampa has opened several new fire stations on Buckhorn’s watch. Local officials in Tampa warn that there might not be as many options like that in the future if this becomes law.

Perhaps a homeowner trying to put out a blaze could just call their local legislator to come over with a hose.

Yes. That’s an exaggeration – but this isn’t. Tallahassee lawmakers routinely complain when Washington tacks on expensive requirements without providing a way to pay for them. Those same lawmakers do the same thing to cities, though.

Property taxes are a critical piece of funding for public schools in each of Florida’s 67 counties. A new exemption likely would chip away at funding for education at a time when Corcoran and other lawmakers keep diverting larger and larger chunks of public education cash to private charter schools.

Clever, aren’t they?

That’s one way to put it.

As Jim Rosica of reported Sunday night, the House made sure the proposed increase in the exemption has been tied to some of the Senate’s priorities, and the message is clear – approve putting the exemption on the ballot, or else.

In case you haven’t noticed, Florida is growing by like, well, a lot. This probably would be a good time to be planning for growth like that by building the infrastructure Buckhorn has talked about.

Instead, Tallahassee responds with something that, if passed, could make it harder for local leaders to provide the services people expect. But hey, Republicans would celebrate the fact that they cut taxes.

It’s great politics, but lousy governing.

Joe Henderson: Tearing down ‘booze wall’ is right choice for consumers

Assuming Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill repealing the state’s so-called “booze wall,” I suspect it won’t take long before we all wonder what the fuss was about.

The euphemistic wall is one of those Prohibition-era creations that mandated hard liquor can’t be sold in regular grocery stores. That might have made sense 82 years ago when it was enacted, but in 2017 — when convenience and one-stop shopping drives the market — it no longer does.

Repealing the law will allow shoppers the convenience of stocking up on their favorite spirit in the same store where they’re buying milk, lettuce, cheese and something for the grill.

Mom and pop liquor stores likely will feel the most pain from this, since their prices generally run higher — but that’s market forces at work.

The Senate’s already approved the measure, dubbed the “Whiskey & Wheaties” bill, and it passed the House by a single vote, 58-57. Lawmakers obviously were queasy about this. Some of them no doubt bought the argument by Charles Bailes III, chairman and CEO of ABC Fine Wine and Spirits, that removing the law would encourage under-aged drinking.

“The wall, which has separated minors from hard liquor for decades, has never hurt competition in Florida but it has kept young people from stealing bottles or drinking them in stores,” he said in a story by Jim Rosica on SaintPetersBlog.

“We are grateful for the 57 members who voted to fight for that protection and respect their political courage to do the right thing.”

It should be noted, though, that ABC offers a home-delivery service for those times when your supply is running low, and you don’t feel like leaving the house.

The argument against was disingenuous to me. It was really about protecting a monopoly.

I suspect shopping is about to become even more pleasurable at Publix, even though the grocery giant also opposed tearing down the wall. It will be interesting to see if Publix shrugs and goes along with the new reality, especially since it could have a big impact on the more than 200 Publix Liquors stores it has opened since 2003 as a separate business model.

I’m sure opponents of this measure will cry that this speeds the further decay of America, but to me removing that last barrier makes sense. The consumer wanting to buy a bottle of booze while shopping for groceries will able to do so without going to a separate store.

The consumer wishing to avoid that aisle will have the choice.

Isn’t that how it is supposed to work?

Joe Henderson: In wake of Frank Artiles’ departure, Democrats have chance to offer something new

Frank Artilesforced resignation last Friday from the state Senate provides the first real test for Democrats to show they have finally learned they can’t keep offering up the same ol’, same ol’ and expect to win enough seats in the Legislature to make a difference.

No one articulated that better than Dwight Bullard, the former state senator from District 40 in southwest Miami-Dade County. Bullard is the Democrat who lost by about 20,000 votes (out of 200,000 cast) as an incumbent last November to Artiles.

It was a bitterly disappointing rebuke in what is considered a Democrat-leaning district. Now that the seat will up for grabs again in a special election to replace Artiles, Bullard gave the Miami Herald an honest assessment of the landscape.

“I have a lot of folks that were supporters that would like to see me back in the Legislature, but at the same time you have a lot of considerations,” he said. “I’m a pragmatist in the sense that sometimes you need new energy, new ideas.”


Part of the problem for both major parties is that court-ordered redistricting introduced unpredictability into the mix. Bullard, who served as chairman of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, was an icon in local politics.

After his district was redrawn though, it put him face-to-face with a lot of new voters who weren’t in the mood to endorse the status quo. Name recognition wasn’t the asset it used to be.

Artiles, who ran an aggressive (and borderline smear) campaign against Bullard, appeared to benefit from the fact the new district had an influx of Hispanic voters. I would imagine many of those same voters felt betrayed following the sexist, racist and any other “ist” you want to add rant that rendered him doomed in Tallahassee.

Democrats have a chance to get back an important seat now, but that isn’t the biggest opportunity here. With so many eyeballs watching the outcome of the election to replace Artiles, it gives Dems a rare chance to hog the spotlight and show off the “new energy and new ideas” Bullard was talking about.

They have been relegated to little more than an afterthought in statewide politics. Republicans have won the last five governor’s races and have controlled both legislative chambers since 1996.

Winning back a single Senate seat won’t change that, but you take victories where you can get them and, wow, do Democrats need one.

Joe Henderson: House just made life a lot more difficult for public school boards, teachers

It’s a good thing the Florida House of Representatives wasn’t in session when Columbus wanted to sail the ocean blue.

Lawmakers would have passed a bill prohibiting the trip because science hadn’t yet proven that the earth was round. Oh, there were those crackpots who said it was, but the representatives of the day would have known better than to let those poor sailors float right off the edge of the flat planet into oblivion.

Alas, the House is in session now and voted 94-25 Thursday in favor of a bill that has been called a science denier’s dream. HB 989 has been pitched as a way for parents to challenge those terrible things in their children’s textbooks, like, you know – reality.

The language of the bill requires that textbooks “be research-based and proven to be effective” along with being “accurate and factual.” It allows residents – not just parents of school kids – to challenge what is being taught in public classrooms.

What’s wrong with that?

That depends whether you embrace fact-based facts or, as someone once said, alternative facts. And that’s the landmine in this bill.

Supporters of the bill, introduced by Rep. Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican, say this will make it easier for parents to weed out objectionable material. They say local school boards will still have the final say over what textbooks are used.

However, you can expect those boards to spend time dealing with issues like the one reported by the Orlando Sentinel. It told of an affidavit filed by Lynda Daniel of Martin County, who was peeved about a textbook used in an Advanced Placement course.

She wrote that she was opposed to: Presentation of evolution as fact … The vast majority of Americans believe that the world and the beings living on it were created by God as revealed in the Bible.”

Actually, a 2014 poll by Pew Research said that 65 percent of Americans believe in evolution, although 24 percent of that number believe it was guided by a supreme being. But what’s a fact among friends, right?

There are already plenty of alternatives for parents who don’t like what they see in public schools. They can home school. The number of charter schools is expanding.

My goodness, if they live in Southwest Florida their children could attend the Mason Classical Academy – the charter school which Byron Donalds helped found.

But no.

Since this bill would widen the pool of potential objectors to what is being taught, how long until someone shows up demanding that the Civil War be henceforth called The War of Northern Aggression?

How long until they try to force teachers to say it wasn’t about slavery, when all anyone has to do is look at the various articles of secession by southern states to prove that it was?

Literature could become an endangered species. I mean, Romeo and Juliet promoted teen suicide and defiance of parents, didn’t it?

And forget about presenting Muslims as human beings entitled to the freedom of religion guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Supporters of this bill will tell you none of that will happen. They say this is legitimate oversight. All I know is, life is about to get more difficult for public school teachers, administrators and board members. That’s a fact.

Joe Henderson: What damage could follow as Frank Artiles’ rant reverberates around the globe?

The damage wrought by state Sen. Frank Artiles’ racist rant has ripples that extend far beyond the seats of power in Tallahassee.

All it took to confirm that was to type his “Senator Frank Artiles” into Google. Within seconds, a collection of stories popped up that confirms how much impact the bile from his bigoted psyche had when he called African-American colleagues … aw, you know what he said by now.

You know what else though?

Readers who follow the BBC‘s U.S. and Canada site now know. They know about him from the Houston Chronicle. The Washington Post wrote about it. Minneapolis. Oregon. The Daily Mail in London. It was even news in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

If I wanted to dig deeper, I’m sure I could have found stories about this in many, many other places.

So, consider this: While Gov. Rick Scott is campaigning to spend $100 million on VISIT Florida to market the state for tourism, the word is going out through media that our state senate has a racist member.

That’s gonna leave a mark.

Artiles, as I write this, is defiant beyond belief. Not only does he say he won’t do the right thing and resign, but he seriously says he will run again when it’s time for re-election. I doubt it will ever come to that, but you never know.

Artiles is now a cancer, both in the Senate and on the way Florida presents itself to the world. Even if just a small percentage of the people who read this story change their minds about visiting Florida or moving businesses here, the economic damage wrought by Artiles’ unhinged tongue could be considerable. We have to do it better in the South.

There are racists in every part of this nation, but whenever something like this occurs in the South it just reinforces the notion that we’re a bunch of redneck yahoos still fighting the Civil War. We have our share of those for sure, but we’ve done a pretty good job of reducing their number.

Then, along came Sen. Artiles. Can’t you just hear the tittering tsk-tsk around the globe as the weight of judgment comes down on 19 million people because one guy shot off his mouth?

Don’t believe me?

Just go to Google.

Joe Henderson: There’s only one ethical course for Senate to take. Ethics? Oh, wait …

If you’re keeping score (and I know you are), Tuesday was a bad day for the Florida Senate. That august body served up a double serving from the “This Is Why People Hate Politicians” buffet.

There was the eye-popping, ear-insulting, are-you-kidding-me story that Sen. Frank Artiles employed the vilest racial insult to describe a pair of African-American colleagues, including the n-word. He called one of them a “f—— a——,” a “b—-” and a “girl.”

He doubled down over adult beverages late at night (senators, take note of the setting and time) to complain to a couple of colleagues that Senate President Joe Negron rose to that position because “six n——-” in the Republican caucus had elected him.

Artiles says he is really sorry.

On that point, he is correct.

Artiles has requested time to formally apologize on the Senate floor, but his speech ought to consist of just four words: “I’m sorry, I quit.”

But there was more Senate buffoonery. The Associated Press reported that the Senate will not consider the sweeping ethics reforms proposed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran on how the Legislature conducts business.

That kills, for now, Corcoran’s gambit to require lawmakers wait six years after they leave office before registering as a lobbyist in Tallahassee

“The Senate has shown us they have expressed zero interest in holding elected officials accountable and draining the swamp,” Corcoran told reporters.

Negron’s comeback?

“The Senate is very committed to the highest ethical standards and we believe that the ethics rules we have in place should be enforced,” he said.

I’ll translate: blah, blah and furthermore, blah.

So, you may ask, how are ethics and racist gutter talk by a sitting senator related?

It goes to perception.

The public already thinks politicians are slimy offspring from a zombie apocalypse. Call me crazy, but I don’t what happened here is going to change that.

Get a hundred people in a room and at least 99 of them would say they don’t like politicians, don’t trust them, and that they’re all on the take.

The last part of that is not true, of course, but the Legislature has helped create its image problem by doing just what the Senate has planned for Corcoran’s bill: closing its eyes, covering its ears, and going “la la la la la la, NOT LISTENING!”

So, as a public service, I offer this bit of sage advice to members of the Florida Senate.

However sincere Artiles’ forthcoming apology might sound (I’m thinking choked-up speech and tears will be involved), don’t accept it. Make it clear that the only acceptable action is his immediate resignation. If he is still in the Senate by the close of business today, that’s too long.

It’s the only ethical choice.

Oh … wait. Ethics. My bad.

Joe Henderson: Richard Corcoran’s invite to Bill Nelson a stick in Rick Scott’s eye, maybe more

There were all kinds of messages being sent to Gov. Rick Scott late last week at the Florida House of Representatives.

The one from Democrat Bill Nelson, a three-term U.S. senator, can be summed up in two words: game on.

Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran had his own two-word message for the governor. I think I’ll leave it at that. Is loathing too strong a word for how those two feel about each other?

Whatever the interpretation of the message, the invitation to Nelson from Corcoran to address the House was intriguing, given that Nelson could face Scott in a bare-knuckle brawl for the 2018 senate race.

It gave Nelson some free airtime on a no-lose issue at a time when Scott’s poll numbers are surging.

His effusive praise of Corcoran for the courageous stand he’s taken with all of those children who are all buriedat the infamous Dozier School for Boys in north Florida” allowed Nelson to look like someone willing to work with everybody for the greater good.

Corcoran came across that way as well, just in case he decides to run for governor in 2018.

Unless …

Corcoran decides to go after Scott for the GOP nomination.

Say what?

That speculation is gaining traction, given the Republican field for governor likely can be winnowed down to “Adam” and “Putnam.”

As a senate candidate though, Corcoran could be the darling of cost-cutters everywhere. He has stood in the legislative doorway to block Scott’s favored programs for business and tourism incentives.

Republicans consider Nelson vulnerable and will pour every nickel they can into the effort to unseat him. And Corcoran is amassing quite a reputation for changing the way business is done in Tallahassee.

It won’t be easy.

Even though a lot has changed since Nelson swamped Connie Mack IV by 13 percentage points in 2012 and much of it hasn’t been good for Democrats, he has made sure to shore up the home front while in office.

He frequently returns to the state to touch base with voters and was a vocal advocate for congressional funding to combat the Zika virus and to address the environmental mess known last summer as the algae bloom.

Just as Republicans will roll out the war chest to unseat Nelson, so Democrats likely will spend what it takes to keep an important seat from going into GOP hands.

That brings us back to Corcoran’s invitation to Nelson. It was a sharp stick in the eye of the governor, one possibly designed to fuel the kind of speculation we have in this column.

Corcoran, a crafty chap, undoubtedly knew that.

He got his wish.

But if his aim is to run against Nelson eventually, why give his rival the chance for free feel-good publicity?

Because he could.

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