Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 44

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

Marco Rubio kept cool and won by a knockout

Don’t you wish Marco Rubio had just turned around and popped that InfoWars doofus Alex Jones right in his piehole?

I sure do.

I’ll bet Alex Jones was hoping for that too.

I’ll bet he was praying to be arrested.

It would have been ratings gold.

But Rubio, Florida’s junior U.S. Senator, handled his confrontation with that graceless twit in the U.S. Senate halls Wednesday the way a civilized person should and won by a knockout without throwing a punch. Jones will have to settle for being tweeted around the world and being a hero again to the residents of Wingnut Nation.

Yes, I said it.

If you listen to Alex Jones on the radio or internet for anything other than amusement, or if you think one scintilla of what he says is true, you might be a wingnut.

It’s probably a good time to remember that President Donald Trump, has said of Jones, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”

When the Founding Fathers decided freedom of speech is important, I’m not sure they imagined someone like Alex Jones would come along and spout that the Sandy Hook massacre of school children, the Oklahoma City bombing, and 9/11 were either hoaxes or inside jobs by the government.

Actually, the question of freedom is what started Wednesday’s confrontation.

Rubio was speaking with reporters about his concerns that China is suppressing sites like Facebook and Twitter, and thus eroding free speech. Facebook and YouTube have banned Jones and Twitter may eventually do the same.

So, Jones crashed the news conference and yelled, “The Democrats are doing what you say China does” as part of a movement to stifle conservatives.

“Republicans are acting like it isn’t happening,” Jones shouted. “Thank God [President] Trump is.”

Jones is free to say whatever he wants — no matter how hurtful or damaging. There are a lot of ways for Jones to be heard. And with an audience his size, I’m not sure he can make much of a case for being suppressed.

It’s tempting to write him off as a carnival clown, but Jones is a leading spreader of paranoia about the so-called Deep State. The scary part of that is, a statistically significant number of people believe it exists.

A Monmouth University poll in March found there is “a large bipartisan majority who feel that national policy is being manipulated or directed by a Deep State of unelected government officials.”

Trump has complained about the Deep State being at work in the Russia investigation and other areas.

In June, Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz complained that House Speaker Paul Ryan was siding with the Deep State for defending the FBI’s contention it did not embed a spy in Trump’s presidential campaign.

When Ohio Congressman and Trump supporter Jim Jordan was under scrutiny for allegedly keeping quiet about accusations of sexual misconduct by a team doctor at Ohio State when Jordan was a wrestling coach there, he blamed … yeah.

Deep State.

Anyway, it was refreshing to see Rubio win the day by warning Jones, “Hey don’t touch me again, man, I’m asking you not to touch me” after he was patted on the shoulder by the boor.

I still wish Rubio had punched him.

Sure, it would have wrong. But it would have been epic.

No jury of sane people would have convicted him.

Aakash Patel

Joe Henderson: Aakash Patel’s loss not surprising, but margin was

Aakash Patel is bright, energetic, and creative – traits that would be considered valuable at a place like the Hillsborough County Commission.

But when Patel, a Republican, ran to represent a countywide district on that board, he was trounced in the primary last week, losing to attorney Todd Marks by a 2-to-1 margin.

The margin, more than the outcome, seemed out of whack.

No disrespect intended to Marks, but out of 390 precincts, Patel won only 13 and tied two. In the eastern part of the county, which is notably conservative, Marks got 80 percent of the vote or higher in multiple precincts.

It was a bruising campaign – Patel was the subject of 13 negative mailers from Marks – but lots of campaigns are rough and don’t wind up with that kind of margin.

So, what happened?

Well, there is one possible explanation that is a little scary to think about.

Could Aakash Patel’s first name have been a problem for too many voters?

“There is some validity to that,” Republican consultant Mark Proctor said. “I hate to say that, but I’ve seen it happen a couple of times. It’s hard to believe we’re still dealing with that in 2018.”

Proctor helped run Dipa Shah’s 2014 campaign for the School Board. She is an attorney, highly intelligent, and was drubbed in that election by April Griffin.

Again, the margin surprised more than the outcome.

Shah was attacked by a negative mailer that played up her name and suggested she was a liberal Muslim. She is not. Shah is a registered Republican and Catholic.

Voters often aren’t into details, though.

April Schiff, President of Strategic Solutions of Tampa, helped run Patel’s campaign. I asked her the same question: Was Patel’s campaign doomed by his first name?

She answered cautiously.

“Unfortunately, it would appear that some prejudice prevailed,” she said.

Remember, at the start of the campaign season both Patel and Marks expected to be running in District 1, which stretches from the Town ‘n’ Country area in northwest Hillsborough through south Tampa and into the southern part of the county.

That changed when incumbent Sandra Murman changed her mind about running for the countywide seat and decided to stay in District 1. Patel and Marks changed gears and went to the countywide spot.

The conventional belief is that Patel would have been competitive in a single district, but winning a countywide seat was a much larger challenge.

Interestingly, Aakash Patel raised more money in this race and out-spent Marks, but it didn’t matter.

It’s sad to think people might not look any deeper at a candidate than their name, but the difference in vote totals suggests it was a factor in the margin of victory.

Marks may well make a fine County Commissioner if he beats Democrat Kimberly Overman in November, and none of this about him or the legitimacy of his victory.

Not at all.

It is curious, though, when we see outcomes like this.

It’s hard not to think the worst.

Joe Henderson: Voters in the middle, where is your candidate?

Maybe more than any election in a long time, voters in the middle might as well be people without a candidate.

Think about it.

Maybe your politics are center-right. You might be generally conservative but will vote for something that sounds somewhat liberal if you decide it’s a good thing.

Or, maybe you’re the opposite — center-left. You may agree with some progressive ideas, but you’ll still vote for a more conservative candidate if you believe that person is the best one.

History tells us there are more voters in the middle than on the wings.

But as last Tuesday night, there is no middle ground to be found in either Republican Ron DeSantis or Democrat Andrew Gillum in the race to be Florida’s Governor.

Both men are at the far opposite edges of the political spectrum, and there is little room for a voter looking for nuance when November arrives, and it’s time for the general population to mark their ballots.

There were about 3.5 million ballots cast last week in Florida’s primary election. That’s less than 30 percent of the state’s approximately 13 million voters, and those are the people who gave the rest of Florida voters this choice.

Even more, nearly 3.5 million Florida voters have no party affiliation at all. What do they do? They have two choices: Pick a candidate with whom they might have fewer differences of opinion or sit the election out.

I suppose this was inevitable after the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016. Trump is an all-or-nothing kind of guy, and his legions are proving to be the same. So, after Hillary Clinton spun to the earth in a fireball, Democrats seem determined to be everything that Trump is not when it comes to policy.

That has trickled down to Florida politics.

DeSantis is a Trump “Mini-Me” who echoes the talking points of what his commercials call “the big man himself.”

Gillum had a major endorsement from Bernie Sanders, who calls himself a Democratic socialist. Gillum embraces Sanders’ unabashedly progressive agenda, a marked contrast from the last five Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Florida, who basically were centrists.

But where does that leave people who might like some, but not all, of a candidate’s agenda?

Maybe you support the Second Amendment but think that maybe after Parkland and other school and public massacres we ought to have tighter regulations.

Well, DeSantis has advocated for the expansion of so-called gun rights. He has favored open-carry in places like college campuses. He has an A-rating from the National Rifle Association.

Gillum favors imposing strong restrictions on gun sales, including an outright ban on the sale of assault weapons. He gets an F from the NRA.

Where does that leave you, Middle Ground Voter?


Gillum wants Medicaid extended to cover an additional 1 million low-income Floridians. He favors Medicare for all. It would be expensive, and he proposes raising corporate taxes to pay the bill.

DeSantis suggested during a debate with Adam Putnam during the primary campaign that no, health care is not a fundamental right.

Um, who do you have in that one, voters in the middle?


I imagine you can guess where DeSantis stands on that one, being a follower of President Build That Wall. Gillum said ICE needs to be abolished in its current form and dreamers should have a path to citizenship.

Where’s the in-between on that issue?

An early Public Policy Polling survey, commissioned by Democrats, showed Gillum with a decisive edge in voters with no party affiliation, probably as a reaction to the Trumpian controversies. I wouldn’t read much into that, though, because the full-blown attack ads haven’t started yet from either side.

Those ads will be directly aimed at you, voters in the middle.

They will leave you feeling there is no candidate you can fully support.

Maybe there isn’t. The middle ground can be a lonely place.

Joe Henderson: Ron DeSantis ‘monkey’ comment naive at best, racist at worst

If Ron DeSantis didn’t believe it would be seen as racist when he said of the state’s economy we shouldn’t “monkey it up” by electing Andrew Gillum as Florida’s next Governor, then he is incredibly naive.

However, if this Donald Trump Mini-Me was sending a signal to remind his less, um … tolerant supporters that Gillum is, indeed, one election win away from becoming Florida’s first black Governor, then he might as well have announced to the world that he is a racist.

He will deny all that vigorously, of course, but I don’t believe there is any other way to interpret the astonishing interview DeSantis gave Wednesday on Fox News. Instead of just taking a victory lap after his blowout win over Adam Putnam (what must he be feeling right now?) in the GOP Primary, DeSantis took that moment in the national spotlight to utter a phrase that is incredibly offensive to blacks.  

Good Lord, Roseanne Barr — another FOT (Friend of Trump) — lost her highly rated TV show earlier this year with a similar slur against Valerie Jarrett, a former White House aide to Barack Obama.

Didn’t something from that story sink into Ron DeSantis’ brain before he spoke?

Guess not.

Right after this story sent the Twittersphere into a tizzy, I was thinking that I have lived more than six decades on this planet and until now I had never heard the phrase “monkey it up.” I saw shortly after that St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman tweeted the same thing. 

Mess it up? Sure.

But “monkey it up” — um, no. What a coincidence that the first time I heard that combination of words was is in reference to a black man running as the Democratic nominee for Governor.

That was about the time my eldest son sent me a text, weighing in on the topic. I mentioned it sure looked like a dog whistle and sounded like a dog whistle.

Ben Henderson responded: “That’s a full-on dog airhorn.”

You hear something like that, and you start thinking about Charlottesville and how Trump defended some of the white nationalists as “very fine people.”

You start thinking of the president’s jag against the National Football League over players taking a knee during the national anthem. The overwhelming majority of players doing that are black, trying to raise social awareness about issues with police.

Trump calls the protesters “sons of bitches” and even said, “maybe they shouldn’t be in the country.”

You remember the way Trump tried to demonize Obama — the whole issue about the birth certificate, being born in Kenya, and so on.

When you’re riding coat tails the way DeSantis rode Trump’s, and then you say something like this, what are people supposed to think?

I can’t think of a bigger gaffe occurring so soon after a gubernatorial primary win. It sent this Governor’s race straight into the swamp.

Maybe it was just an unfortunate word choice, as the DeSantis camp immediately tried to spin. If so, you would think a man hoping to lead the state for the next four years should understand by now that every word he says will be scrutinized for hidden messages.

Words matter.

When you want to be Governor of the nation’s third-largest state, you must know this.

If he doesn’t, he better learn quickly.

But Ron DeSantis will also have to understand why many people will assume he said exactly what he meant.

Voters around state say yes to local school tax increases

Voters in several parts of Florida approved tax hikes for local school programs and teacher raises, which could be encouraging news to backers of a proposed half-cent sales tax increase in November for Hillsborough County public schools.

By a 13-point margin, Lake County voters approved a property tax increase of .75 mills to help pay for additional school security, the Daily Commercial reports. A similar tax referendum in Clay County was approved by 53 percent of voters, according to WJXT.

The Sun-Sentinel reported that Broward County voters passed a property tax increase to give teachers a 6 percent raise. The money also will help pay for school security officers and student mental health care.

WLRN reported that Monroe County voters by a 60-40 margin gave a resounding thumbs-up tax to pay for security measures, while the Panama City News reported that Bay County voters extended a local sales tax for security and construction projects.

The Orlando Sentinel said 83 percent of voters approved an extension of a special property tax to help pay for teacher raises and school arts programs.

Joe Henderson: Ron DeSantis, Andrew Gillum wins are nothing less than astonishing

If Florida voters wanted a contrast in the election for Governor, they have it. The differences between Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis in the November election couldn’t be dramatic – and it goes far beyond the fact Gillum now stands one election win away from being the first black Governor in the state’s history.

He is a hard-left, progressive candidate who didn’t play it safe in the campaign and was continually overlooked, but he never went away. He shocked pollsters, pundits, and everyone but himself Tuesday night in winning the Democratic primary.

DeSantis is the anointed acolyte of Donald Trump who surged on the president’s endorsement and blew out Adam Putnam, the one-time heir apparent to the governor’s mansion, to secure the Republican nomination.

DeSantis had a 20-plus point lead in the polls leading to Election Day with his complete embrace of the president and his policies.

It is set up as a national referendum on the president, and maybe it was always going to be that – just not like this, though.

Gillum lagged well behind early in the polls. Even as he surged at the end behind a populist and positive message of change against the status quo, he was basically dismissed by the pundits.

DeSantis cruised in the closing days of the primary, seemingly at ease and assured.


He ran hard the entire way.

He didn’t have enough money, at least until a late infusion of cash from George Soros, progressive billionaire Tom Steyer, and Collective PAC, a group dedicated to electing African-Americans.

He didn’t have enough experience.

It wasn’t his “time” in 2018. Maybe later.

But something about his campaign connected with voters. His upbeat message, his unabashed progressive platform – it all worked and set up the November showdown against DeSantis and/or Trump, depending on how you view the race.

Yes, Florida politics rarely ceases to astonish, and we greet this morning with the news that the son of a bus driver is now the Democratic nominee for Governor.

Gillum never stopped believing, even if most others did.

Even as late polls showed Gillum was surging, he still trailed Gwen Graham by 5 points. She was trying to make history, too, by becoming the first woman to hold Florida’s top office.

So, what happened?

An endorsement by Bernie Sanders certainly helped. Gillum pushes a populist agenda – a $1 billion increased commitment to public education. Increased vocational training. A ban on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and bump stocks, and tougher background checks.

He will actually use the words “climate change” from the Governor’s pulpit if elected.

He proposes raising corporate taxes or, as he calls it, “ask the richest corporations to pay a little more of their fair share.”

It is a reliably progressively agenda, against what is sure to be a 180-degree opposite in DeSantis.

But let’s leave the policy wonk stuff for another day and focus on what we just saw.

While Gillum might have been mayor of Florida’s capital city, he still was largely an unknown through the rest of the state. He called himself the only “non-millionaire” in the race. It’s true he was out-moneyed by billionaires Philip Levine and Jeff Greene.

Graham had a famous last name; her father, Bob Graham, served both as Governor of Florida and in the U.S. Senate.

How could the son of a bus driver overcome that?

It started with a message that resonated. His Democratic rivals stressed many of the same points, but Gillum’s progressive and “why not now?” platform seemed to connect. Voters clearly saw him as the face and voice of change they were looking for.

It’s a remarkable achievement to get this far.

The journey isn’t done, though.

To break 20 years of Republican rule in Tallahassee, Gillum will have to convince a statewide electorate that he is more than a fresh face and more than just the latest face of history. It will be his challenge to prove he has answers as well as a great story.

Tuesday was a night for Gillum and his supporters to celebrate and reflect. They have accomplished something that wasn’t supposed to happen. They proved the experts wrong. They believed when few others did.

The son of a bus driver is the Democratic nominee for Governor in Florida.

They made history. But as the primary result proved, anyone who believes Andrew Gillum is satisfied with getting that far is mistaken.

Mike Beltran wins tough GOP primary in HD 57

Attorney Mike Beltran is the Republican nominee in HD 57 after his victory in Tuesday’s primary over challenger Sean McCoy.

HD 57 is currently represented by Lithia Republican Jake Raburn, who announced he was not running for re-election to devote more time to family and business.

Democrat Debbie Katt was running unopposed.

The Republican side of the ballot was quite the scrum, though.

Beltran sued McCoy for defamation following a mailer that accusing him of helping an illegal alien get out of jail and back on the streets.

Beltran, a Harvard Law School alum, called it a “defamatory hit piece” and said he was appointed to defend the client by a judge. Beltran said he asked for a 15-year sentence followed by deportation.

Raburn endorsed McCoy, a West Point graduate and U.S. Army veteran.

“Sean’s record of service to his country and his commitment to our conservative principles makes him the best choice to serve our community in Tallahassee,” Raburn said.

“I know Sean will work tirelessly to fight for the conservative values we hold dear and protect our local agriculture industry to help grow our economy. With Sean McCoy in Tallahassee, District 57 will be in good hands.”

Katt, a software designer from Valrico, is a political newcomer.

Kristen Carlson - CD 15

Kristen Carlson tops Andrew Learned in Dem CD 15 race

Lakeland lawyer Kristen Carlson cruised to a solid victory over top rival Andrew Learned to secure the Democratic nomination for CD 15  in Tuesday’s primary.

Carlson took 53 percent of the vote, and Learned took 32 percent. Ray Pena was the third Democrat in the race, and he had 15 percent of the vote.

CD 15 covers parts of eastern Hillsborough, Polk and Lake counties and is considered an uphill battle for Democrats, although the Cook Report moved it in July from “safe Republican” to “leans Republican.”

Democrats have targeted the district as winnable in their efforts to take control of the House. Carlson will face state Rep. Ross Spano in the general election on Nov. 6.

The campaign turned testy in the final days when Carlson, a former prosecutor, lobbed a charge of negative campaigning against Learned, a U.S. Army veteran and small business owner from Valrico.

He charged Carlson has received so-called “dark money” in the campaign and criticized her for giving campaign donations in the past to Republican candidates.

Learned has been campaigning for about a year, while Carlson joined the fray on May 2.

Learned received endorsements from the U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa, Hillsborough Democratic Black Caucus, Democratic Progressive Caucus of Tampa Bay, and the Hillsborough LGBTA Democratic Caucus.

Carlson was endorsed by EMILY’S List, a national progressive organization designed to help more women win seats in Congress and state legislatures

Joe Wicker cruises past Ronda Storms in GOP HD 59

Joe Wicker cruised to a solid victory Tuesday night over long-time political face Ronda Storms to secure the Republican nomination in HD 59.

Wicker had 54 percent of the vote to Storms’ 46 percent.

Storms called Wicker to concede, saying she congratulated him and adding, “Obviously this is not the result I wanted, but God is good.”

HD 59 covers most of Brandon, as well as Valrico, Dover, Seffner, Riverview, Palm River and Clair-Mel City.

Wicker, a Brandon businessman and Army veteran, filed for the seat a day after incumbent Ross Spano announced his Attorney General bid, which he abandoned after deciding to run for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Storms, who served in the Hillsborough County Commission from 1998-2006, and later in the state Senate, was a surprise entrant into this race. She didn’t jump in until several months after Wicker’s announcement.

The race turned dirty down the stretch, with mailers attacking Storms that she said wildly misrepresented her views and actions.

One charge was that Storms voted to approve President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus package, which she vehemently denied in a video on her Facebook page, later repeating that in an interview with Florida Politics.

“That is patently false,” she said. “I never – no, never – voted for President Obama’s stimulus package.”

She repeated that denial for another mailer that said she didn’t do anything about illegal immigration while in office.

“That is also patently false,” she said.

Wicker had to take a break from campaigning a week before the primary after his wife gave birth to what Wicker called on his Facebook page “our newest constituent” – 10-pound, 14-ounce Savannah Leigh Wicker.

Wicker explained his momentary absence by saying, “A man that cannot serve his family cannot serve the community.”

He had the endorsement of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and was endorsed by the Tampa Bay Times.

Ross Spano defeats Neil Combee with surprising ease in CD 15 GOP primary

Republican Ross Spano overcame the charge of dirty politics and a late snub by Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd to win his party’s nomination primary Tuesday night in CD 15.

Spano, a two-term member of the Florida House, defeated former state Rep. Neil Combee 44 to 34 percent. He will now face Democrat Kristen Carlson in the general election.

“I want to thank the voters in CD 15 for making me their Republican Nominee,” Spano said after his win. “I’m proud of the campaign we ran and I look forward to continuing with momentum into November as I meet with more supporters and discuss more ways to improve the quality of life for the residents of District 15.”

CD 15 covers parts of eastern Hillsborough, Polk, and Lake counties. It had been represented by Lakeland Republican Dennis Ross, who announced earlier this year he would not seek re-election.

The Republican race turned ugly in the final stages when Combee charged Spano with attempting to buy votes in possible violation of federal election laws.

At issue was a late tactic by the Spano camp to offer 5-cent rebates for each gallon of gas drivers purchased at Lakeland gas station, designed, they said, to show the impact of a gas tax increase Combee voted for during his time as a Polk County Commissioner.

Combee issued a statement blasting Spano’s “blatantly illegal attempt to bribe voters” and added that the gambit “does our party a disservice and reminds people more of Venezuela than Valrico.”

The Spano campaign shot back that there was nothing underhanded about it. They implied they were considering filing a defamation lawsuit over the charge.

The total amount given out one nickel at a time was $145; the largest amount to a single motorist was $1.65, or 33 nickels.

Spano also overcame charges by Judd, the popular and outspoken Polk Sheriff, that he wrongly suggested he had Judd’s endorsement in the final week of the campaign.

“He used my picture and a quote from a press conference, then mailed it to thousands of people, giving the false impression I’m supporting him,” Judd said. “I’m not supporting Ross Spano.”

Judd said he wasn’t supporting any candidate in the primary.

Other Republicans vying for the seat included Sean Harper, Danny Kushmer, and Ed Shoemaker,

State Sen. Tom Lee had considered joining the fray but decided to stay in the Senate.

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