Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 13

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.

Shawn Harrison holds on in rough-and-tumble HD 63 race

Republican Shawn Harrison held on in a rough-and-tumble race against challenger Lisa Montelione to represent House District 63.

With all precincts reporting, Harrison had 51 percent of 71,483 votes cast. Montelione held a close early lead but Harrison overcame that and steadily pulled ahead as the night progressed.

“Obviously, we’re very happy,” Harrison said in a statement. “We executed what was a perfect game plan. We had a very targeted and specific message to Democrats in this district, and we executed it. We tried to appeal to Democrats, which you have to do in a swing district like this.”

The race to represent this moderate swing district covering parts of New Tampa, Lutz, Carrollwood, and the University of South Florida area, turned nasty in the closing days.

Harrison, the incumbent, ran a TV spot with an empty chair to symbolize what he said was Montelione’s 33 percent absentee rate on votes at the Tampa City Council.

Montelione and the Florida Democratic Party demanded that Brighthouse Networks stop airing the spot over copyright issues related to an ad she ran against Harrison.

Republicans also hit Montelione hard on her vote supporting free parking for council members and her support for a controversial stormwater assessment fee.

That vote drew the ire of La Gaceta, a tri-language weekly newspaper that traditionally endorses Democrats. However, publisher Patrick Manteiga, a Democratic activist, threw his support behind Harrison in this race. In an editorial, the newspaper said “normally, we support Democrats, but lately we’ve noticed some Democrats aren’t acting like Democrats. Lisa Montelione is on that list.”

It also said Democrats can work with Harrison, a moderate Republican, adding: “He’s smart, compassionate, focused, and does his homework. He can build coalitions.”

Montelione, endorsed by President Barack Obama, raised more than $246,000 for this race, including more than $53,000 from the Florida Democratic Party. Harrison reported nearly $298,000.

A former Tampa City Council member, Harrison first won election to the old HD 60 in 2010. He lost in 2012 after redistricting placed him in the more moderate HD 63, but came back in 2014 and won.

Montelione was elected to the city council in 2011 and ran unopposed in 2015. She resigned her council seat to run in this race.

Kathy Castor, Dennis Ross returning to Congress

In a pair of results that could not be called surprising, Democrat Kathy Castor and Republican Dennis Ross won re-election to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Castor took about 61 percent of the vote in her race, while Ross took 58 percent.

Neither race was expected to be closely contended.

Castor, a liberal Democrat who was facing political newcomer Christine Quinn in the race for Florida’s 14th Congressional District, will be starting her sixth term in Congress.

Ross faced Democrat Jim Lange for the right to represent CD 15, covering parts of Polk and Hillsborough counties. It was a mismatch. Ross raised more than $1.1 million to about $35,000 for his opponent. Ross will be returning to Congress for a fourth term.

He is a senior deputy whip for the Republican leadership.

Castor was first elected in 2007 after serving four years on the Hillsborough County Commission. She has been a champion for health care, LGBT rights, women’s issues, and the normalization of relations with Cuba.

She also worked to secure funding for the I-4 connector road with the Selmon Expressway in Tampa.

In October, she announced a $6 million grant to Hillsborough Community College to boost STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) opportunities for Hispanic students.

Ross, a Lakeland native whose district covers Polk County, was first elected to Congress in 2010 after two terms in the Florida House.

Ross Spano victorious over Rena Frazier in HD 59

Incumbent Ross Spano was returned to the Florida House, defeating Democratic newcomer Rena Frazier.

With all 41 precincts reporting in the HD 59 contest, Spano led by about 10 points out of 73,095 votes cast.

This race to represent a district that covers much of eastern Hillsborough turned ugly in the closing days, with charges by Democrats that a Spano mailer that cited Frazier’s lack of experience was sexist.

That prompted the House and Senate Victory Committee to issue a statement that said Republicans “should be ashamed of themselves for this baseless and sexist attack on Rena Frazier.”

Frazier, who declined to sign a pledge offered by Spano that called for no negative campaigning, sent out mailers critical of her opponent’s alleged cozy relationship with lobbyists.

Spano, a staunch conservative, served two previous terms in the House. He opposes Medicaid expansion.

Frazier is a partner in the law firm of Quarles & Brady and graduated cum laude from Stetson University College of Law. She is considered a rising star in the local Democratic Party. She has worked with the Brandon Regional Hospital and has argued for issues that include expanding health care options.

On her website, she said it was “inexcusable that over 800,000 Floridians, including 40,000 veterans, do not have health care and Tallahassee isn’t doing anything about it.”

Spano focused his energy on jobs.

“The No. 1 issue for me is to make sure we have a business environment that allows for and incentivizes job creation,” he wrote. “Understanding that government cannot create jobs, we must continue to remove the limitations placed on our small businesses by reducing taxes and removing burdensome regulations.”

Bob Henriquez gets another term as Hillsborough Property Appraiser

Hillsborough County voters have given Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez another four years in office.

Henriquez held a comfortable 57-43 percent lead with 293 of 340 precincts reporting over Todd Jones, who was making his first attempt at public office.

“I’m very pleased and honored to have the opportunity to serve another four years,” Henriquez said. “We ran our campaign based on the results we have been able to achieve over the previous four years.”

Jones tried to paint Henriquez as a political insider whose credentials didn’t measure up to his. Jones pointed to his long career as a certified property appraiser.

“I’m an appraiser running to be an appraiser, not a politician,” he said.

But Henriquez, a former state legislator and local high school football coach, had the edge in name recognition against Jones, who was making his first try at public office. Henriquez also pointed to his record of both modernizing the office and reducing costs since he was elected four years ago.

The two men had decidedly different takes on how Henriquez was doing his job. Jones complained that 96 percent of appeal cases on property valuation were decided in favor of the county, while Henriquez said that taxpayers got relief through either a ruling or a settlement in about 85 percent of the cases.

Jones also criticized Henriquez for using aerial mapping as part of the appraisal process. Henriquez responded that he was required by law to submit aerial photos to the state.

Sandy Murman cruises to victory over Jeff Zampitella in Hillsborough County Commission

Incumbent Sandra Murman cruised to victory Tuesday over Democrat Jeff Zampitella in the Hillsborough County Commission District 1 race.

With 69 of 86 precincts reporting, Murman held a 57-43 percent lead over Zampitella.

“I knew this was going to be a tough cycle, so we ran a whole campaign all the way,” she said. “A lot of people in my district have benefitted from the hard work I’ve done on their behalf, and I think that showed.”

Murman, a longtime political fixture in Hillsborough, was elected to the County Commission in 2010 after serving eight years in the Florida House. She was re-elected without opposition to the commission in 2012.

Zampitella, a commercial airline pilot, has been active in neighborhood issues and associations. He was a strong opponent of the $6 billion Tampa Bay Express transportation plan known as TBX. He also served on Tampa’s Downtown Partnership parking task force.

Murman has supported TBX, which Zampitella tried to use against her in the campaign. Murman also advocates expanded bus service and use of the new Cross Bay Ferry.

Zampitella faced long odds from the outset. Murman raised more than $300,000 and had strong name recognition, far more than Zampitella.

He banked his chances on competing in a diverse district that runs from Lutz in northern Hillsborough to Ruskin in the south part of the county.

Joe Henderson: It all comes down to unpredictable, inexplicable Florida

You know Florida is important. You know our history with elections. And you know the nation, along with every late-night comedian, will be glued to everything that goes on within our borders on Election Day, ready to scream foul play at anything that looks askew.

We know all this. But why us? Floridians are good people. We didn’t ask to be under the microscope like this every four years. Why can’t they just let us run our elections in peace?

Just lucky, I guess. We are the Kardashians of the Electoral College. The nation loves us or hates us in equal measure, but they can’t stop watching us.

The numbers back this up.

Start with the five most populous states in the nation. We generally know how those states will vote for president long before Election Day.

California? Voted for the Democratic nominee every year since 1992.

Illinois? Six consecutive wins by the Democrats.

Texas? It has gone red nine straight times, mostly by blowouts.

New York? Seven straight blue finishes, also by blowouts.

But then there’s good ol’ Florida — good ol’ unreliable, unpredictable, and often inexplicable Florida. Since 1996, the state we call home went Democratic three times. It went Republican twice. Only once in that time was the winning margin more than 3 percent.

We are a split personality of about 20 million people in a place where everyone wants to move. We even have one Democratic senator and one Republican senator.

So, yeah, we’re a little indecisive. We are the electoral equivalent of Suspense Theater. From hanging chads to voter purges, and polls that show a state where the mood shifts daily, Florida loves to keep the candidates guessing. You don’t think they keep coming here because of the sunshine and seafood, do you? They need us.

The National Journal tracks the trips by candidates. Since July 30, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have made a combined 26 trips to Florida – 15 by Trump.

The total number of campaign visits to the other four states we mentioned: 10, including none to California.

They like the money that comes out of California – a whopping $83.7 million alone to the Clinton campaign ($9.9 million to Trump), according to the Federal Elections Commission database. But since Florida is the only place in the top five where the vote is close, the candidates make believe we’re the most important place on the planet — which, of course, we are.

For what it’s worth, Florida has kicked in $19.6 million to Clinton’s campaign and $9 million to Trump.

Florida has been trending for Trump in the last week, so much so that Nate Silver’s site gives the Republican a 52.6 percent chance of carrying the state’s 29 electoral votes.

If that is wrong, though — and Silver rates Florida tops on a measure he calls “tipping point chance” — it’s lights out for Trump. He would have no effective path to overall victory. It’s going to be a tight squeeze anyway, and possibly a long night.

It’s also possible, given how close Florida is, we could wind up with another recount like in 2000. Trump’s charges of a rigged election in the weeks leading up to Nov. 8 only increased that possibility. Any abnormality, no matter how slight, will be blown up into a full-blown conspiracy to defraud whichever candidate is on the wrong side of that count.

It can be maddening, but it’s also a fascinating spectacle. And with the destiny of the union hanging like a paper chad, here we go again — our quadrennial big tease to the rest of the country. What’s the rush? When we make up our minds, we’ll be sure and let everyone know.


Joe Henderson: State Senate race was better when it was just about puppies

I just watched about the billionth TV ad for the Senate District 18 race with Dana Young and Bob Buesing. I thought the one she ran in the primary with all the adorable puppies couldn’t be topped, but she outdid herself this time.

This one features her two daughters defending their mom against all the nasty things the pro-Buesing forces supposedly have said.

That was sweet. I mean, who doesn’t love a tight-knit family? But something wasn’t adding up. Dana Young needs defending because someone was mean to her during a political campaign?

That’s when I remembered a 2010 campaign mailer from Young when she was running for the Florida House. She was pictured aiming an assault rifle while laying on top of the U.S. Constitution, along with a sticker showing her “A” rating from the National Rifle Association.


This has been way nastier than your average state senate race. With the way both candidates are going after it, you might forget that the job pays a whopping $29,697 per year.

A pro-environment group, Florida Conservation Voters, attacked Young recently for her ties to phosphate giant Mosaic.

“Rep. Dana Young’s environmental record is as dirty as her campaign contributions,” Jonathan Webber, Deputy Director of Florida Conservation Voters, said in a news release.

Also, Democratic committee ads have attacked Young as a supporter of fracking — which she strongly denies. She did vote for a bill that allowed a study on the impact of fracking, so there is that.

This race, which includes independent candidates Joe Redner and Sheldon Upthegrove, already was weird. Now it’s borderline ridiculous.

I guess we know why, though. This is a new district, created out of the Florida Fair Districts court fight. It is more moderate than the one Young represented as House Majority Leader (hence: puppies and daughters instead of assault rifles).

Democrats see it as a chance to cut into the Republican majority in the Senate, and they outnumber the GOP 37-35 in registered voters in the district covering most of Tampa and the western part of unincorporated Hillsborough.

Young led in a recent St. Pete Polls assessment 40-35 over Buesing, with 14 percent going to Redner.

A political action committee, Friends of Dana Young, has raised $1.3 million and has spent most of it. Additionally, Young has raised $1.67 million, while Buesing has raised less than half that.

Buesing has been attacked for his connection to a controversial courthouse project in 2007. He also has been accused of trying to close a senior living center, perhaps forcing grandma and grandpa to live on the streets.

In both cases, though, Buesing’s law firm was representing clients in the legal actions. While it makes a dark and stormy ad for evening TV, I don’t think Buesing wants to see your grandparents holding up a “please help” sign by an interstate off ramp. I must admit something, though. The first time I saw the courthouse ad, my immediate reaction was “what a jerk.”

About 1.2 seconds later, though, my reporter instincts kicked in and I went web surfing to find out the real story. Google is one of the worst things that ever happened to politicians trying to slip a fast one past voters.

That leaves us with this long-accepted political axiom: Nothing succeeds like puppies and family ties.

Joe Henderson: Ross Spano mailer in HD 59: Tacky? Yes. Sexist? No.

unnamed-11Thanks to the always-working, never-sleeping Mitch Perry, readers of this site are aware of the controversy about a mailer from the Republican Party of Florida supporting Ross Spano in the House District 59 campaign.

After the mailer labeled Democratic opponent Rena Frazier’s experience as “INSUFFICIENT” — in all caps, big red letters — the House and Senate Victory committee fired back, saying Republicans “should be ashamed of themselves for this baseless and sexist attack on Rena Frazier.”

Take a deep breath everyone.

Was the ad misleading?



Yeah, that too.

But sexist?

The Frazier side should have kept its powder dry on that one.

Real sexism is the kind of garbage spewed during this campaign by Donald Trump. His insults, lies, taunts and audio where he brags about his sexual conquests is sexism to the power of infinity. That kind of talk needs to be stamped out with a million voices screaming condemnation.

I received the mailer in question — along with several others supporting Spano — at Casa Henderson in beautiful Brandon, gave it a read, and stuck it in the box for recycling, only pulling it out again when I read Mitch Perry’s story.

I never once thought of it as sexist.

Still don’t.

I thought it was goofy, considering that Frazier is an accomplished attorney specializing in commercial litigation. She graduated cum laude from the Stetson University College of Law. She is a partner in the firm Quarles & Brady and has a string of honors long as my arm.

And she is working hard on the campaign. She got the endorsement from the Tampa Bay Times, for what that is worth. So yeah, just because she hasn’t been in the cauldron of muck in Tallahassee doesn’t mean Frazier lacks experience.

I still think she has a tough climb.

Spano has spent two terms in the Florida House and has the edge in name recognition. After beating Democrat Gail Gottlieb in 2012 by a scant 1,015 votes out of more than 67,000 cast, Spano was a comfortable winner against Donna Lee Fore two years later.

Spano works it hard, too. He tries to stay in touch with the people of his district. He is a traditionally reliable conservative — no boat rocking there. He even was one of three House subcommittee votes against a measure in 2015 that would have repealed Florida’s ban on unmarried couples living together.

To be fair, he did vote this year in favor of repealing the ban. Gov. Rick Scott signed that into law.

Spano also is active in efforts to combat human trafficking in the state.

These are two well-qualified candidates who offer voters in this relatively moderate district attractive options. That never seems to be enough though, does it?

So, let’s clear it up: Spano’s edge in “experience” consists of hanging out in a dysfunctional Legislature for the last four years. I wouldn’t automatically consider that a plus.

But as silly as the mailer in question is, to label it sexist is a leap I’m not willing to take.

Too bad both sides can’t hit the reset button on that exchange.

Joe Henderson: Bob Henriquez, Todd Jones spar over issues in Hillsborough property appraiser race

Since Bob Henriquez took over as Hillsborough County’s property appraiser four years ago, he has taken several steps to modernize the office. There are nine fewer employees than the office had before Henriquez arrived, and the department’s budget is lower.

Most important, though — Henriquez hasn’t had a batch of negative headlines. That’s no small matter. The last time an incumbent property appraiser in the county failed at re-election was 1988, when Bud Parker lost to Ron Alderman.

Both Alderman and his successor, Rob Turner, lost their jobs following scandals — something Henriquez has avoided during his first term.

So, it’s likely that Republican Todd Jones, who is challenging Henriquez in the Nov. 8 general election, faces some challenges in his first attempt to win public office. He is not deterred, though.

“I’m an appraiser running to be an appraiser, not a politician,” he said.

Jones, who has a lengthy career as a certified appraiser, took out a $100,000 loan last October to help finance his campaign. He has been active at local forums and on social media, but Henriquez — who trounced longtime political icon Ronda Storms in 2012 to win this job — is a former state representative and high school football coach with high name recognition among voters.

“That has obviously been one of the challenges in my race,” Jones said.

Henriquez said he has independent polling and one from the local Democratic Party that shows him with a double-digit lead.

“Our polls have been constantly good since August,” he said. “The undecideds (voters) have come down considerably lately.

“I’m not taking anything for granted, though. My opponent is largely an unknown quantity, but he is a credible candidate.”

The two have sparred over multiple issues, including privacy rights. As technology has evolved, the old practice of assessing property by personal inspection has largely given way to aerial mapping by low-altitude planes.

Jones has argued that the practice of using these high-resolution images to show changes in properties could expose homeowners to unwarranted intrusion in the privacy of their backyards. Henriquez said he is following a state mandate to use that system.

He said the photography is done by a private company and not subject to the state’s sunshine laws. Jones disagreed, saying even potentially compromising photos would be public record.

“We look for roof types, measurements, and things like the condition of the house,” Henriquez said. “You don’t see anything you shouldn’t see. Besides, every three years we are required to provide aerial photography to the state Department of Revenue.”

Said Jones: “(Aerial mapping) is not required. It’s allowed by state law, but not required. I guess we have a different legal opinion there.”

Another point of contention: The number of appraisal disputes decided in favor of the property owner.

Jones said 96 percent of the cases wind up on the side of government. Henriquez said that’s not true, that 85 percent of the cases are either resolved through a settlement or, in case of a hearing, in favor of the property owner.

“You’re entitled to your own set of opinions, but not your own set of facts,” Henriquez said.

The job, which pays more than $159,000 a year, includes managing a department budgeted for 129 employees (there are open positions now). Henriquez pointed to his experience as the head of a large department, while Jones’ experience is concentrated on the actual appraising process.

“He is trying to say I just fell out of a tree in North Tampa and into the job (four years ago),” Henriquez said. “But I think the best way to know the job is to actually do the job.”

Jones understands what he is up against, but says he will continue to press on until Election Day.

“As I’ve said, I’m an appraiser running to be an appraiser,” he said. “What would you do if Derek Jeter showed up and wanted to play on your team? Would you let him?

“But if I can’t overcome (Henriquez’s) name recognition, I will go to my deathbed knowing I gave it everything I had.”


Joe Henderson: Buckle up, Hillsborough, you’re the big political prize

Earlier this week, NBC political chief Chuck Todd was chatting with Republican strategist Jeff Roe, picking out three places around the country where election geeks should focus special attention. Hillsborough County topped the list.

Are we surprised?

Todd noted that Roe considered it “the bellwether county in the country” and added, “you could make that argument.”

As if we needed any reinforcement why both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have made campaign stops this week in Tampa, there’s your answer. As Hillsborough goes, so goes the presidential election, and the county is tough to label.

It was the only Florida county to vote twice for Republican George W. Bush, then twice for Barack Obama. Beth Reinhard, national political writer for The Wall Street Journal, called Hillsborough “molten core of the political universe.”

On the same show where Hillsborough was knighted, Steve Schale, the self-styled “old grizzled veteran of Florida politics,” came up with this factoid: The last Republican presidential candidate to win the county but lose the state was Calvin Coolidge in 1924.

All I know is, as someone who is registered “no party affiliation” I am red meat right now for pollsters and attempts to coerce me into thinking a certain way about a candidate. My home phone has rung about a dozen times today with various political pitches (yes, I still have a landline; don’t judge me). It’s not even suppertime yet.

[Psst, save your breath folks; I already mailed my ballot. Go bug somebody else.]

What we can say from watching the Trump and Clinton rallies is that both candidates enjoy strong support in our bellwether county, which would further explain the high-pressure sales job by both candidates to get out and vote.

Trump had a wildly energetic crowd of 15,000 Monday at the MidFlorida Amphitheatre. About a thousand more people were turned away because there was no room.

He hit the usual themes: Hillary is terrible, the media is terrible, get out and vote, and Hillary is terrible.

Likewise, Clinton drew a large and excited gathering as well Wednesday afternoon at Tampa’s downtown Curtis Hixon Park. After the crowd serenaded her by singing “Happy Birthday” — she turned 69 Wednesday — she, too, hit the usual themes: Trump is terrible, get out and vote, and by the way, Trump is terrible.

There was a bit of news. At one point, Clinton turned to Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and said, “That rail system you want Bob, we’re going to get it.”

She said her staff was prepared to take people to early voting sites after the rally if need be, and that’s what the theme will be between now and Nov. 8. These rallies are more about passionate pleas to people who already have decided how they’re going to vote to actually cast that ballot.

There are nearly 845,000 registered voters in Hillsborough and about 165,000 already have voted. It’s likely that a high percentage of those who haven’t yet voted have made up their mind. And with Roe’s polling showing a 46-44 percent lead for Clinton in Hillsborough, turnout is everything.

So, buckle that chin strap, Hillsborough voter. You are prized like no other place in the country. If you didn’t already know that, I’m sure someone will be glad to explain to you over the phone.

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