Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 38

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.

Joe Henderson: No game worth price Scot Brantley is paying

Scot Brantley was one of my favorite football players to cover during my years as a sports writer.

That goes back to his days as a ferocious linebacker at Ocala Forest High School, and later with the Florida Gators and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

His trademark southern drawl came through when he co-hosted a sports talk show in Tampa after he finally quit football. He always has been as real as a person can be.

That’s why it is especially painful to hear that at age 60, the man I knew is likely headed down a road from which there presently is no return.

In an interview with HBO sports, his wife, Mary, said Scot has Alzheimer’s disease. That’s not even the worst of it though.

She says the National Football League has denied his claim for assistance from the settlement it reached after retired players began reporting abnormally high rates of brain-related diseases and other ailments.

A study showed that compared to the rest of the U.S., NFL players are three times more likely to die from neurodegenerative diseases and four times more likely to die from Alzheimer’s or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — Lou Gehrig’s disease.

There is no telling how many concussions Brantley endured from high school through seven years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 1979, Brantley took a knee to the head and was knocked unconscious in Florida’s opening home game of the season.

He never played another down for the Gators.

He was advised to quit football then but received another medical diagnosis that convinced him and the NFL that he would be OK. The league and players weren’t knowledgeable about long-term effects from head injuries then, certainly not to the degree we see today.

Brantley kept on delivering his signature hard hits, and he said in interviews that he figured headaches and concussions were just part of the game.

You know what else should be part of the game?

How about some compassion.

Players like Scot Brantley helped make the NFL into the multibillion enterprise it is today. The league owes him and all those former players with similar problems compassion, care, and money.

I was part of a team at the Tampa Tribune and WFLA-NewsChannel 8 in 2010 that did a series we called “Broken Bucs.”

We sought to find as many players from the 1979 division championship team that we could to see how they were doing years later. It was the first time any media outlet had undertaken such a project on a single team.

One of my tasks was to find Jerry Eckwood, who was a standout running back on that team. I flew to Nashville, where he was staying in assisted living. He had been homeless for a while and was battling both physical pain and mental deterioration.

He could talk lucidly one minute, then go into a rambling, nonsensical paranoid delusion the next. He had suffered multiple concussions as a player.

Eckwood eventually did get some assistance from the NFL, but the game can never adequately replace what it took from players like him and Scot Brantley.

In reporting that series, we held several meetings with former Bucs at a North Tampa hotel. Many told similar stories of being turned down for injury claims.

“You know what they call it, right?” former quarterback John Reaves said. “Delay, deny and hope you die.”

Reaves died last year at age 67.

In a 2013 interview with the Tampa Bay Times, Brantley talked about his failing memory and admitted he had no idea how many concussions he might have suffered over the years. Who knows how that might have changed if he had heeded the advice to give up football while he was still with the Gators.

All I know is, a guy I like and respect is fighting the battle of his life, and I believe football is the reason why.

I enjoy watching football as much as anyone, but no game is worth the price too many are paying.

Joe Henderson: Sure, young people are registering to vote, but for whom?

The New York Times reported that the number of young people registering to vote since the Parkland killings continues to, using the newspaper’s word, “accelerate.”

That trend is likely to spike upward again following Friday’s massacre at Santa Fe High School in Texas. The overriding factor for the increases obviously would seem to be gun violence in schools, and that is an issue that Democrats in Florida and elsewhere should own.

For Democrats though, there is a disturbance in the force of that narrative.

The Florida Supervisor of Elections Office shows that compared to the end of 2017, the number of registered Republicans increased by 11,065 through the end of April while the number of Democrats declined by 8,977.

It also shows an increase of 11,427 in registrations for what it calls “minor parties.”

Democrats still have more than 200,000 registered voters than Republicans statewide, but they have had that advantage forever and still lost the last five Governor’s races.

In this century, Democrats have won just one statewide legislative race — Alex Sink beat Tom Lee for CFO in 2006.

True, Dems have had some surprising special election success in unlikely places. In HD 72 in Sarasota, Democrat Margaret Good prevailed in February over Republican James Buchanan in a district Donald Trump won by 4.4 points in 2016.

And in Dade County last September, Democrat Annette Taddeo beat state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in a special SD 40 race to fill the vacancy created when Republican Frank Artiles had to resign following a racist rant.

After those results, it looked like the predicted blue wave for Democrats would sweep over Florida in the midterms, and it still could. For that to happen though, some things have to change — and the kids will have to be the ones to make the difference.

While it’s almost impossible to predict what Trump will do next and how that will affect his popularity in November, he does seem to be better liked in Florida than most places.

A recent Florida Atlantic poll had his approval at 43 percent — not great, but better here than the national average. If that holds, it might mitigate some of the drag on other Republican candidates that Dems have been banking on.

Rick Scott poses the biggest threat of Democrat Bill Nelson’s career in the U.S. Senate.

Although Scott, once considered a darling of the National Rifle Association, helped push through a modestly tougher gun law in the wake of Parkland, but will that be enough to convince young voters that he can be trusted in Washington?

And just as important for Nelson, will those newly registered voters actually cast a ballot? Turnout is usually modest in midterm elections, even when such critical offices are at stake. That has benefitted Republicans in Florida.

The other X-factor is that “minor party” issue. Idealistic young voters often feel neither major party listens to them, and they can be attracted to the message that a candidate out of the mainstream might offer.

That’s where I think Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam has been smart. He has become a champion of expanded vocational education in the state, even to the point of ridiculing the notion that everyone should go to college as some liberal elitist plot.

I think that’s an issue that could resonate with young voters who see a job market that seems to offer them only service positions at $10 an hour.

In close races, those voters can sink the hopes of a candidate from one of the established parties.

Put another way, while major Republican candidates would love to have a big share of the youth vote, they’re probably OK if it goes to anyone else but a Democrat.

That thought alone should keep Dems awake nights.

Joe Henderson: Rick Scott following familiar campaign formula vs. Bill Nelson

The only way to avoid Rick Scott’s ad blitz thus far in his campaign for the U.S. Senate is to unplug your TV set and, well, who wants to do that?

That would mean you missed the Royal wedding and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s ongoing run toward the Stanley Cup, so I guess being subjected to Scott’s “approved” attack on his opponent and incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson is a price to pay we just have to pay.

The latest ad is a real gem.

Scott, the two-term governor, has been attacking Nelson, the three-term senator, as a “career politician.” Now, he is using what looks like the cast of Everyday Folks to paint Nelson as a rubber stamp who always votes the party line for the Democratic agenda — whatever it is.

One guy in the commercial even says Nelson is too influenced by Nancy Pelosi, and while I suppose their paths have crossed I doubt the House Minority Leader has much influence over Nelson’s votes in the Senate.

Ah, but that’s how the game is played.

Republicans believe Pelosi is such a hot-button item that merely hearing her name or seeing her face will send thousands of voters stampeding to the polls to back any GOP candidate.

Scott is not above playing the guilt-by-association game, either. A big part of his strategy as an unknown outsider in 2010 was to label Republican front-runner Bill McCollum as liberal for supporting — wait for it — “pro-abortion and pro-homosexual” Rudy Giuliani in the 2008 presidential primary.

Painting McCollum as liberal was (and is) laughable, except it worked.

Scott then put “let’s get to work” on an endless loop that we’re still repeating eight years later, and I guess he figures if a little distortion worked before, why mess with success?

Besides, Nelson is absorbing a ton of body blows from these ads while sitting on about $10.5 million in his campaign chest. It’s reasonable to ask when he will start throwing punches back before Rick Scott defines himself as an agent of change and Nelson as the face of partisan politics.

While Scott has already spent $8 million on TV ads, including Spanish-language ads, Nelson has essentially been a ghost on TV and puzzling to the Democratic base.

For instance, he voted to confirm Gina Haspel as director of the CIA, choosing not to hold the fact she oversaw “enhanced interrogation” (torture) for a time.

He tweeted his support for relocating the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, calling it the “appropriate place.”   

That doesn’t sound like a Democratic rubber stamp to me.

As long as Nelson lets Scott keep pounding away though, it doesn’t really matter what is true and what is misleading. Yeah, I know — the lead-up to major elections is all about being misleading.

Voters can usually sort through the nonsense, and it is still about 5 ½ months until the election. Neither candidate faces a serious primary challenge.

If I were Democrats though, I’d be worried that Scott is managing to plant enough seeds with voters that it could be hard for Nelson to change minds.

If they doubt that, just ask Bill McCollum.

Joe Henderson: I go to Publix for groceries, not for politics

Yes, the giant Publix supermarket chain has essentially endorsed Adam Putnam to be Florida’s next governor and has thrown a lot of money into his campaign.

Interesting but, in the big picture, so what?

I find shopping at Publix to be a pleasure, especially when its deli fried chicken is fresh out of the cooker. The stores are clean, the worker bees are helpful, and by the time I reach the checkout line, it doesn’t really matter to me what the company thinks about Putnam or any other politician.

I go there for groceries, not for political advice.

A lot about Putnam’s campaign rhetoric has been troubling, especially that “elitist liberal” crap in his latest TV ad, the one that trumpets his Bartow roots, complete with hay bailing.

Guess what, Adam? I bailed hay too, back in the day. I rolled sod. I recapped tires for $2 an hour. I don’t think that qualifies me to lead the state.



Stop with the liberal bashing. You are better than this.

Aren’t you?

But I also understand primary politics today, which basically forces candidates in either party to prove they can appeal to the almighty base. That’s true of Democrats as well as Republicans, and it’s a big part of why politics today is so partisan.

The “base” is filled with dedicated voters who would turn out if the primary was held at midnight on a Thursday during a hurricane. To win the nomination, a candidate has to show he or she can be just as extreme and uncompromising as anyone in the base.

Then the general election comes and everything changes. That’s when the everyday voter, with concerns that include politics but don’t exclude everything else, turns out.

And if Democrats can somehow ride a blue wave and gain control of the state Senate – even if they aren’t successful in winning the Governor’s mansion — having the political savvy to work with the other side will be important.

By that time, I don’t think anyone worth a rat’s patooie will care if whoever wins the race was endorsed by Publix or anyone else.

The issues in Florida are going to be the same for a while – health care, guns, schools, transportation.

The question for all candidates is how do they plan to address those things, not their stance on weekly BOGOs.

If it’s going to be a strictly agenda-based administration, on either side, then people might want to stick their heads under the covers for the next four years.

Rick Scott won two terms by about 1 percentage point each time. I wouldn’t call that a mandate, but Republicans – with the help of gerrymandered districts in the House and Senate – treated it that way and rammed through laws that gave the cold shoulder to about half of the state.

But that’s getting ahead of things.

Publix, based in Lakeland, understandably supports Putnam. He came from nearby Bartow, and he represents much of what that corporation stands for.

Interestingly, there are some things they don’t agree on. Remember how Putnam regrettably referred to himself as a “proud NRA sellout?”

Publix has sought to distance itself from the NRA, if not Putnam, after the Tampa Bay Times initially reported the chain’s significant financial support of him.

I’m not saying that initial story wasn’t interesting.

It was good reporting and it’s helpful to know where the money comes from.

However, it won’t make me decide to shop somewhere else if I decide not to vote for Putnam. I mean, I really like Publix fried chicken.

Joe Henderson: Voices of reason needed in gun debate

Dear Gun Owner.

I have a question for you.

I don’t know what kind of weapon you own, or how many. If you bought them legally and hadn’t shot anyone outside the law, your guns are your business.

But the National Rifle Association likes to say it represents all law-abiding gun owners by protecting their Second Amendment rights, so it became a bit of a deal when the NRA’s new president, Oliver North, said the organization is facing “civil terrorism” from protesters.

“They call them activists. That’s what they’re calling themselves. They’re not activists — this is civil terrorism. This is the kind of thing that’s never been seen against a civil rights organization in America,” he said in a recent interview with the Washington Times.

“You go back to the terrible days of Jim Crow and those kinds of things — even there you didn’t have this kind of thing. We didn’t have the cyberwar kind of thing that we’ve got today.”

He’s right. There wasn’t that “kind of thing.”

There were lynchings.

Just saying …

North told of blood being splashed on the home of an NRA leader in Virginia and said there have threats against others in the organization.

Fair enough. People shouldn’t do that.

But then he said, “What they did very successfully with a frontal assault, and now intimidation and harassment and lawbreaking, is they confused the American people.

“Our job is to get the straight story out about what happened there, and to make sure that kind of thing doesn’t happen again because the proper things are being done with the advocacy of the NRA.”

Let’s break that down. 

The “frontal assault” that got all this going occurred on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when 17 people were shot to death with an assault-style weapon.

No one is confused about that.

I’m also pretty sure there was a lot of intimidation and harassment going on there, not to mention lawbreaking. If anyone is confused about that, it seems to be the leadership of the NRA.

About that “straight story” North wants to get out?

The straight story is that 17 people died because a disturbed young man got his hands on a powerful weapon and went to the school with the sole intent of killing as many as possible.

If you are an NRA member, I assume you are appalled by that action, just like the rest of civilized society. I also think you should be deeply disturbed that a guy like Oliver North is saying these things in your name.

Yes, some people say that in a perfect world they would take your guns away. They will not succeed because the Constitution says you can own them.

Yes, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens called for the abolishment of the Second Amendment. It won’t happen.

Some wingnuts even believe they need a personal armory to defend themselves against the tyranny of government. Those loose screws forget that the government has a large army, tanks, missiles and, if need be, nukes.

The government would probably win.

Oliver North talks about threats, but how are anti-gun protests any different from Marion Hammer hitting the “send” button on her vast email list to mobilize supporters against even the hint of gun restriction? Does that mean she is a civil terrorist?

I’ll answer: No. She is not.

Somewhere, somehow, voices of reason have to emerge in this debate.

So, the question I have for you, gun owner, is simply this: How many of you will raise your hand and become that voice?

Several Florida politicians properly ripped North because, as you might expect, the subject of guns is a little sensitive here. But this issue, and nation, needs more than politicians to be effective.

The nation needs you.

Joe Henderson: Cover your ears, the sports betting debate is about to begin

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that it’s legal for Congress or individual states to allow gambling on college and pro sports if they want to.


It might be a good idea to cover your ears now because the noise on both sides of this issue is sure to reach brain-splitting levels. This battle for or against making this legal in Florida might be unlike anything the people of this state have ever seen, and that’s saying a lot.

But here’s a little something to consider while Floridians work this out: Sports wagering in our state will continue whether it’s legal or not.

It always has.

It always will.

Do lawmakers who stand in front of a microphone and rail about the evils of gambling really believe that puts even a BB-sized dent in the innate desire of some humans to take the Bucs and 6 ½ points against the Patriots?

And you know those office fantasy leagues? Money is changing hands, people. The next time you get stuck in an elevator with a guy who wants to tell you how his fantasy baseball team is doing, remember, he probably has a wad of cash riding on the outcome.

All those March Madness pools?

Um, in the largest percentage of them the winner gets more than bragging rights.

The amount of money already wagered on sports is staggering, and most of it is done illegally. Forbes estimated that $93 billion — with a B — was ILLEGALLY wagered on college and pro football in 2015.

Fox Business reported that nearly $5 billion — with a B — was wagered on the Super Bowl this year. Of that, an estimated 97 percent was done ILLEGALLY.

Well, it’s a new dawn, maybe.

Against that backdrop is a little thing called Amendment 3 that will in front of voters in November. It basically says that it passes, any future expansion of gambling would have to be approved by voter referendum. That almost assuredly will include sports wagering.

Here’s where the noise will be the loudest.

One side will be screaming “VOTE NO” and defeat the measure so pro-gambling interests can get busy lining up support in Tallahassee for the next Session to pass a sports-betting bill. My guess is that hotel owners will be particularly receptive to this argument.

The other side will be screaming “VOTE YES!” Betting on sports BAD. Gambling in general BAD!

If that side wins the argument, the savvy or determined sports bettor here will grumble and do what they’ve always done — call their bookie. And the state gets zero.

The expansion of casino gambling in Florida has been a contentious issue for years that the Legislature doesn’t seem to be able to solve and probably never will. For one thing, Disney’s official tsk-tsk on the expansion of casinos has carried considerable sway.

This seems different though.

This isn’t about building more casinos, at least not yet. This is something the state could strictly control at what likely would be a considerable profit.

A lot of current wagering is done online at offshore sites. The state could put those cats out of business in a hurry and reap a considerable profit while doing so.

Pro sports leagues have been preparing for this day for a long time. While the official stance remains that they’re not big fans of wagering on their games, they know what a financial bonanza this could be.

It’s not just owners, either. Unions in the four major sports already are clamoring already for players to get their share of the money.

A statement from the National Football League summed it up nicely:

“We intend to call on Congress again, this time to enact a core regulatory framework for legalized sports betting. We also will work closely with our clubs to ensure that any state efforts that move forward in the meantime protect our fans and the integrity of our game.”

Translation: We don’t really like this idea, but if it’s happening then we’re damn sure going to get our cut.

That’s one of only two sure things in all of this.

The other is that no matter what happens, sports wagering will continue in Florida.

You can bet on it.

Joe Henderson: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn gives Tallahassee an earful

Whoever succeeds Bob Buckhorn next year as Tampa’s mayor will have a tough time matching his ability to deliver a speech.

His pace and timing are excellent, his voice rising and rising when he wants to engage the listener fully and hammer home a point.

Then again, Buckhorn’s message Friday in his “State of the City” address would have come through loud and clear even if Tom Fumbletongue had been speaking.

Buckhorn went beyond the usual cheerleading and optimism that has characterized most of his speeches. He blasted — and I mean BLASTED — the Republican-led Legislature for passing laws that have hamstrung the ability of big-city mayor, most of whom are Democrats, to raise money and provide services for a rapidly growing population.

Buckhorn called it “an outright attack on local governments by leadership in the Florida Legislature.”

He was just getting started.

“I’ve been around city government for 30 years, and I’ve never seen such a blatant attack to undermine local government and to strip away the powers of self-governance. It’s wrong, and it needs to stop. It’s not all of them, but it’s a lot of the leadership. And you can vote against those who vote against you.

“During campaign season they run around talking about their conservative principles, how less government is better, how smaller government is more efficient, how government closest to the people is the best government. Well, guess who the hell that is? That’s us, that’s us,” he thundered.

His voice kept rising, reaching a crescendo when he said, “ … or, God forbid, (when) we want to pass common-sense gun legislation, they say, ‘Oh no! We know better! We know what’s good for you! We’re going to decide for you.’ Tallahassee knows better? Are you kidding me? Not now, not ever. Let us do our jobs.”

He wasn’t finished.

“This is the same Legislature that pays a lot of attention to the NRA and very little attention to the PTAs.”

That sounded an awful lot like a campaign speech and not so much about the state of the city.

Maybe it was.

While Buckhorn decided against running for governor, he hasn’t ruled out taking the No. 2 spot on a Democratic ticket if he is asked. That idea has been floated.

I talked to him about that recently. The most telling thing Buckhorn said was that he would only agree to seek the lieutenant governor’s job if he felt he had a chance to really contribute to policy.

I’ve known him a long time. He doesn’t have the kind of personality that would handle four years of ribbon-cuttings and Kiwanis Club speeches.

In two terms as mayor, he was often on the business end of edicts from Tallahassee on issues that included attempts at gun control, so-called sanctuary cities, limits on the ability of cities to raise taxes, and even an attempt in the last Session for the state to pre-empt all local tree-trimming laws.

As a No. 2, Buckhorn might flourish as an enforcer and be the advocate for local cities that mayors across the state say is needed.

Would he do that?

My guess is he would, if the right person asked, said the right things, and then let Buckhorn be Buckhorn.

If that happens, one thing is certain. Tallahassee would get an earful.


Joe Henderson: We haven’t seen the last of Richard Corcoran

While it unquestionably is the right time for Richard Corcoran to go home to Land O’Lakes, as he promised to do if he didn’t run for Governor, that doesn’t mean he will stay there.

At age 53, Corcoran has a lot of hop left on his political fastball. I would be stunned if we don’t see him in a significant role if Adam Putnam is elected Governor this fall.

It became clear in recent weeks that a Corcoran candidacy was attracting stifled yawns from the electorate. I’ll give him credit for seeing the landscape as it really was and not pushing a losing hand. Aligning with Putnam was the smart play for him, and we’ll see how that unfolds.

I’m not saying there was a quid-pro-quo between Putnam and Corcoran that led to the outgoing Florida House Speaker’s exit Wednesday from a race he never officially entered. But his rapid endorsement of Putnam means we shouldn’t be surprised if Corcoran shows up somewhere in a Putnam administration.

For instance, would anyone be shocked if he took a prominent role in education leadership? Those aren’t elected positions, and Corcoran is passionate about changing the way Florida’s children receive their education.

He is a lawyer, so he can go back to that full-time if he chooses. He is a family man with growing children, so staying closer to home would have appeal. His political expertise would be in demand if he wants to do some consulting.

Obviously, all that is speculation until we see how the election shakes out. And while pundits are combing through the story of Corcoran’s gambit looking for deeper meaning, I doubt it will have much impact on the Republican primary or general election.

Corcoran had raised a lot of money and spent time trying to build drama for what looked like a commitment to run, but his campaign that technically wasn’t a campaign didn’t go anywhere.

It wasn’t happening.

It’s interesting how someone who spent as much time in the headlines as Corcoran couldn’t penetrate the public consciousness. His name recognition, for good or not, should have been considerable.

Political writers penned a lot of stories about Corcoran, and the impact of his two years as Speaker was considerable.

Florida’s public-school leaders basically spit on the ground when his name is mentioned.

He was an unapologetic antagonist to the education status quo, and that meant shepherding through laws that benefitted charter schools and forced cash-strapped public schools to look for pennies in the seat cushions.

For all that impact, though, his name didn’t connect with a big majority of Florida voters.

Even after his ill-considered attempt to terrify citizens with that horrible commercial about undocumented immigrants and murder, his name still didn’t register on the radar of everyday Floridians.

So, even though he is in Putnam’s corner, it’s likely nothing that will tilt the election.

Corcoran would have been the X-factor in the Republican primary, which now is a two-man scrum between Putnam and Fox News darling Ron DeSantis.

But even though he won’t be on the ballot this time or maybe ever again, we haven’t seen the last of Corcoran.

It’s up to the individual to decide if that’s good news or ill.

Joe Henderson: David Straz Jr. officially joins Tampa mayor race

It’s been rumored for months that Tampa philanthropist, retired banker, and all-around rich-guy David Straz, Jr. would join the race to be the city’s next mayor.

So, it’s no surprise that he has formally announced he is running.

It will be a surprise if he wins, but more on that in a bit.

The Tampa Bay Times scored an interview with Straz, who is 75 years old and has never held elective office.

“I love our city. And I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to give back to our city financially and culturally over the last few years as a result of my business success,” he told the Times.

“And now I feel a calling to give back talent, leadership, and vision to move Tampa forward.”

There is no question that Straz has the money to self-fund a campaign. That’s not the only advantage he has in this quest. His name ought to sound familiar to residents, particularly those who visit or work downtown.

They likely have passed by the impressive David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts hundreds or thousands of times. WMNF radio reported he gave a gift rumored as much as $25 million in 2009 to the facility previously known as the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center — hence, the name change.

On a campaign website, it says, “David Straz has lived the American dream, and it started with a broom in his hands.”

But he’ll have some explaining to do about his political leanings. When I said it is no surprise he got into the race, that’s because Straz telegraphed the move recently when he registered as Democrat after previously having no party affiliation.

No Republican has ever been elected mayor in Tampa.

Becoming a Democrat now does have the look of expediency, and for what it’s worth Straz voted for Donald Trump for president.

That’s no crime. A majority of Floridians did the same thing.

But it might prove politically dangerous now, and Straz tried to hit that one head-on by telling the Times, “I’m happy to admit I make mistakes. I wouldn’t vote for him again.”

I think his biggest challenge, though, will come from the competition. This is shaping up as one of the strongest overall group of candidates ever to pursue this job.

Former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor is in the race and raised nearly $250,000 right out of the chute.

She spent six years as the top cop for Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who praised her performance without reservation.

“She’s solid. She’s consistent. She’s a known commodity. She has proved she can run a big, big department with a big budget,” Buckhorn told me recently.

“And I have seen her in this city’s best of times, and certainly in its worst of times. She’s unflappable. She did a good job for me, and I think, by extension, she will do a good job for the community.”

Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik has been on the campaign trail for months, and his message of innovation and transportation solutions must be connecting. By the end of March, he had raised more than $155,000.

A pair of Tampa City Council members — Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen — are in the race. They will have a solid core of support.

It could be tough for Straz to break through that gauntlet.

One thing we’ve learned about politics, though: Never underestimate rich guys who decide they want public office, even if they have never shown interest before.

They have surprised us in the past. Straz is betting he can do that in the future.

Joe Henderson: Adam Putnam ensures abortion will be major campaign issue

Nothing divides the people of this nation like the issue of abortion. Not even guns.

If you support a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy, opponents will scream that you’re a baby murderer.

On the other side, if you believe life begins at conception and is sacred, you must be a zealot or a sexist pig trying to control a woman’s body.

There really is no middle ground, and GOP gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam basically just ensured it will be a major issue in the upcoming election, perhaps even eclipsing the battle over gun control.

Saturday at a Republican campaign forum, Putnam said that if he is elected this fall and a so-called heartbeat bill reaches his desk, “I will sign it. That life is real. It should be protected. It should be defended.”

That’s not an example of campaign pandering to friendly voices. That’s a core belief for Putnam and many conservatives, and there is no compromise. To them, Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, is one of the darkest days in the history of the United States.

So, if Republicans keep control of the Governor’s Mansion and the Florida Legislature, we probably should expect that “heartbeat bill” Putnam alluded to will show up here in some form.

And we also should expect opponents will pull out every legal or political means to block passage of such a law.

The heartbeat bill — signed into law last week in Iowa — outlaws abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. That usually happens at about six weeks, and many women may not even realize they are pregnant by then.

There are exceptions for rape and incest.

The previous Iowa law allowed abortions up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds released a statement after signing the controversial bill that said in part: “I understand that not everyone will agree with this decision. But if death is determined when a heart stops beating, then doesn’t a beating heart indicate life? For me, it is immoral to stop an innocent beating heart. For me, it is sickening to sell fetal body parts. For me, my faith leads me to protect every Iowan, no matter how small.”

This may be the opening abortion opponents have longed for, since it obviously will trigger a legal fight that could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court they believe is tilted their way now. The American Civil Liberties Union immediately announced it will sue to have the Iowa law overturned, and others will follow.

Florida is no newcomer to the abortion debate. In January, a judge declared a law requiring a woman to delay an abortion by at least 24 hours after visiting her doctor was unconstitutional.

But none of that likely would deter Florida legislators from moving ahead with their own version of a heartbeat bill.

That’s why it could become the defining social issue of the upcoming campaign for control of the Legislature and governor’s mansion.

Yes, gun control will continue to be a major debate, but there can be nuance there, despite what Marion Hammer and the National Rifle Association believe. People can support the Second Amendment and still favor some restrictions on gun ownership.

There is no such gray area in abortion.

And in saying he would sign a heartbeat bill, Putnam just raised the stakes in a campaign that already was assured of contentious and bitter.

Compromise? On this issue?

Forget about it.

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