Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 25

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: Keeping eye on Hurricane Irma while remembering 2004

I guess I should be scared that North Korea wants to vaporize us, but just now watching a nasty lady named Irma churn her way through the Atlantic, maybe toward us, has priority on my freak-out list.

I fear for the wonderful U.S. Virgin Islands, where I just visited about six weeks ago. They appear to be in the hurricane’s path. But after that, I can’t help wondering if this isn’t the “one” that could turn coastal Florida into the next catastrophe. It has happened before. Read more

Joe Henderson: Richard Corcoran’s tourism threat isn’t bluff

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is right on the money, so to speak, with his latest fiscal gambit.

Corcoran has put 12 tourism development agencies throughout Florida on notice that they better have an accurate and public accounting of how they spend taxpayer dollars — and quickly. That includes big ones in Miami, Orlando and Tampa Bay.

Call it a tactical move if you want to enhance Corcoran’s possible campaign for governor. Call it political grandstanding. And, sure, it’s proper to bring up the fact that Corcoran, a champion of public transparency, negotiated a last-minute budget deal this year in secret.

None of that means what he is doing this time is wrong.

“Let me be painstakingly clear, if you spend one dime of taxpayer money you will do it in a transparent and accountable way,” Corcoran said in a statement.

“It should also alarm every Floridian that these 12 organizations in particular, funded with hundreds of millions of dollars of your money, made the choice to hide from transparency rather than embrace it.”

Local residents usually don’t think about how bed tax money is spent because it is primarily paid by tourists. But in a state like Florida, the pot of gold from these taxes can quickly swell into something close to $1 billion and that demands tight scrutiny.

Among other things, the money finances the local development agencies, who then are supposed to use the cash to push for things that lead to more tourism. It also helps fund some local projects throughout the state.

But it can also lead to some nice cha-ching on payday for top executives like Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago Corrada. Last year he made $338,000 in salary and bonuses. Of course, we all remember (or should) that rapper Pitbull had a $1 million contract with the state to promote tourism. That only came out after Corcoran brought a full-court press for disclosure.

None of this information would have come out without digging by reporters like WFLA-TV’s Mark Douglas and pressure from Corcoran. Tourism leaders have long argued that disclosing anything more than the fact we have great beaches puts Florida at a competitive disadvantage with other states looking to poach the snowbirds who annually flock here.

Baloney. It’s public money and there has to be full transparency about how it is spent.

Corcoran told Douglas that while some tourism organizations have complied with his demand for financial disclosure, others have been slow to respond. The Speaker said they better hurry.

If we don’t hear from them in the next week or two we’ll reach out to them and say what’s your response,” he said. “If they don’t have a response, then obviously we’ll take the next steps.”

One thing we know about Corcoran and issues like this: He isn’t bluffing.

Joe Henderson: Florida take heed from Houston horror

Like all of you, I have been mesmerized watching reports about the catastrophe in Texas from Hurricane Harvey. Just couldn’t believe what I was seeing, and couldn’t help thinking what it would be like if a storm like Harvey washed ashore from the mouth of Tampa Bay.

Florida got a taste of it last year when Hurricane Matthew snaked up the east coast, leaving an estimated 1 million people without power and causing $1.5 billion in damage. And that wasn’t a direct hit.

One of the news reports over the weekend focused on the urban sprawl in Houston and said that helped create this the carnage we’re seeing now.

Miles and miles of land that provided natural drainage has been paved over to create instant communities like Katy, just to the west of Houston. Now, the water has nowhere to go but inside thousands of living rooms.

I drove through Katy a few months ago as part of a Texas trip and couldn’t believe what I saw. They should call that place Concrete Katy, because if there was an open spot of land it looks like developers couldn’t wait to pave it over.

Its population is now estimated at 309,000 – more than the city of Pittsburgh. For perspective: the Katy area had about 140,000 in the year 2000. Annual population growth has been between 4 and 6 percent.

It reminded me a lot of the Brandon area, east of Tampa. People here claim that if Greater Brandon was incorporated into a single entity, it would be the fifth-largest city in Florida.

When I moved there in 1988 though, it was much different. It wasn’t unusual to see lots of green space and even grazing cattle. Much of that space is gone now, sold to make way for planned housing developments and big box stores.

That is setting us up for a nightmare.

Coastal areas in the Tampa Bay area, already saturated with development, would be devastated by a storm like Harvey. Tampa’s landmark Bayshore Boulevard would be gone, along with much of the city’s prized south side.

Stronger statewide building codes put in place after Hurricane Andrew might help more structures stay upright, but the flooding would be epic. The water just wouldn’t have anywhere to go, kind of like we’re seeing now in Houston.

The Washington Post recently sounded the alarm about what it says is the inevitable mass destruction that awaits the Tampa Bay area from a major hurricane.

As much as I hope state and local governments see this as a warning to ratchet up drainage projects and other things that could mitigate the damage, I don’t how much good it would really do. There has been too much unchecked and unplanned development,

I was thinking all that over the weekend – fearing for my in-laws in Houston, and wondering if, or when, it will be our turn to be in the eye of a storm like Harvey. Every day we get a little bit closer.

Joe Henderson: Impending execution raises old questions on death penalty

Mark Asay

If Mark James Asay is executed tonight, that will be the first time the state of Florida has used capital punishment on a white man for killing a black person.

It’s a grim reality that’s worth noting, and I would respectfully disagree with Mark Elliott, executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. Elliott told the Tampa Bay Times, “This does nothing to change the 170-year long history of Florida not executing whites for killing blacks.”

Well, yeah it does — although no one is saying it balances the scales. If we’re going to have the death penalty in Florida, then Asay’s forced departure from the realm of the living is justice — delayed, for sure, but justice.

He was convicted of premeditated murder for killing two men in Jacksonville in 1987. One of them, Robert Lee Booker, was black. Prosecutors said Asay made racist comments during all this. This is not a man who will generate, or deserve, much sympathy. But his execution, the 93rd since Florida resumed the death penalty in 1976, does come at a time when capital punishment is under siege in this state.

A survey from Public Policy Polling found 62 percent of Floridians prefer a life sentence to execution. The state also was forced to change the law to require unanimous jury consent before the ultimate punishment can be imposed.

That’s a little late for Asay, whose death sentence came after a 9-3 jury verdict in favor. The state Supreme Court ruled that the law isn’t retroactive for other cases on death row.

Florida also changed the drugs it uses in executions, replacing the sedative midazolam — which is getting harder to acquire because drug companies don’t want to be complicit in executions — with etomidate. It’s the first time that drug has been used for this purpose.

What could go wrong?

I guess we’ll find out. Florida has botched executions before, which brings up another point. Although the state keeps looking, there is no surefire way to help a condemned person go peacefully to such a deep sleep that they will never notice that they are dying.

Critics would call that terrible. Proponents would likely say “who cares?” And I say that this is an issue society will grapple with as long as the state wants to put people to death.

I don’t like the death penalty, but we have it, and some crimes are so horrible that death seems a just punishment. If a jury unanimously decides that execution is justice, so be it.

But the world won’t be a better place tomorrow morning if Asay leaves it tonight. Actually, if it weren’t for the newsworthy aspects of this execution, I doubt people would even notice. They also wouldn’t notice if he were locked away with no chance of getting out. Maybe it’s time for that.

If Florida wants to change the law to halt executions for good, that’s fine by me.

Joe Henderson: What kind of ‘heritage’ are Civil War monument supporters celebrating?

The argument made by supporters of Confederate monuments is based on the premise that the statues and markers preserve southern heritage.

I have heard that point repeated often by those folks and so have you. So, in the interest of moving the discussion forward, I ask a simple question: What is so great about the heritage that it’s worth creating a community-wide divide to preserve?

Let’s explore that.

By February 1861, seven southern states had seceded from the Union and formed the Confederacy. The issue was over slavery, pure and simple. Slavery was a major part of the economic engine of southern agriculture.

By April of that year, Confederate ships began bombing Fort Sumter in South Carolina, where Union troops were running out of supplies. It was game on.

These events are historic and not in dispute. So, again I ask, what is so great about the actions of these southern renegade states more than 150 years ago that make it worth fighting to keep monuments on public property to commemorate a bloodbath that split the country apart?

At a campaign stop Monday, Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam tippy-toed around the issue of taking down the monuments when he said, “It’s far more important to eradicate hate today than it is to sanitize history.”

I’ll agree on the first point, but the thing about “sanitize” is where everything hangs up. It’s not “sanitizing” history for citizens to say using public property to celebrate a war to preserve slavery is a bad thing. Yes, soldiers who fought on either side should be remembered, but history shows these weren’t men marching gallantly off to war.

When volunteers didn’t come forth insufficient numbers after the war began, both sides instituted the first military drafts to fill their ranks. That was bitterly opposed in the South particularly, where eventually the draft took men from age 17 to 50, unless you could buy your way out of service.

Soldiers often went hungry, unpaid, and about 620,000 men overall died either in battle or from disease. Based on population, an equivalent war today in the United States would claim about 6 million lives.

Are supporters celebrating that heritage?

The Save Southern Heritage group compiled a list of more than 100 people who spoke in favor of removing a monument from downtown Tampa at a Hillsborough County Commission meeting last month. The list includes photos, addresses, phone numbers and labels.

Some are called “resentful black man.”  Others are “anti-Trump” or “LGBT” or “Black Lives Matter.”

The organization says it is merely identifying the motivations of those against the monument, but c’mon. It’s an attempt at intimidation, period. A disclaimer on the list saying the organization “assumes no responsibility” for damages arising from the list is nothing more than a dog whistle for hate.

There is a whole lot about the South and its heritage worth celebrating, and I’m not just talking about the weather. I grew up in Ohio but I’ve lived in Florida for more than 40 years. This is a great place with great people.

Build monuments to that.

That’s not what happens though. We get arguments about heritage. I’ve got a little news flash. A hundred years from now, people will look at the “heritage” of these days and wonder if some people hadn’t lost their freaking minds.

Joe Henderson: Adam Putnam knows what his audience wants and serves it up well

The buffet restaurant owned by my friends Ralph and Nancy Lupton in Temple Terrace was as stuffed Monday morning as one of my plates when I go through the chow line there. Don’t tell my doctor about the times I piled it high with fried chicken, bacon, sausage gravy and all those other things that are supposed to be bad for a body.

Put it this way, if that’s bad then I don’t want good. Read more

Tom Lee reintroduces two insurance-related bills for 2018 Session

Republican state Sen. Tom Lee of Thonotosassa doesn’t give up easily. He has filed two bills that for the 2018 session that are essentially repeats of proposals that didn’t pass this year.

If enacted, SB 150 would eliminate the state requirement that would require motorists to carry $10,000 in personal injury protection. The 131-page measure would increase the minimum coverage requirement to $20,000 per individual and $40,000 per incident.

It updates the state’s no-fault insurance provisions that were enacted nearly 40 years ago to reflect inflation.

“The Senate has wrestled with this for 20 years,” Lee said. “From my perspective, it’s about adequacy of coverage.”

Lee also introduced SB 80, which would focus on direct primary care agreements between doctors and patients, employers or guardians. It would provide a system where physicians could receive a monthly retainer fee that would cover agreed-upon services.

“That’s a growing movement in this country,” Lee said. “The physician gets the ability to work directly with the patient and bypass the insurance bureaucracy.”

Lee said he was especially surprised and disappointed that the measure didn’t pass last year. He pulled it from the floor after last-minute amendments were added.

Joe Henderson: We’re heading for a defining showdown in the battle against hatred

Sometimes you just have to get away, and for the last month or so I tried to do just that. I really did. I went to the U.S. Virgin Islands to watch my oldest son get married, and I highly recommend the island of St. John to anyone considering a Caribbean trip.

It’s the place to go if you want to unplug for a while.

To be honest, though, the events of last weekend prove that suspicion, hatred and mistrust doesn’t take a vacation.

Neither does racism, so here we are — still fighting the Civil War, with some Republicans still making excuses for Donald Trump, and with Democrats still unable to turn all of this into a coherent vision of how things would better if they were in charge.

This time it was Charlottesville’s turn to be in the bullseye of the insanity that seems to be boiling toward an eruption that can only deepen the divide that exists in this country. The same level of hatred and violence that was on display there could easily have happened in any major Florida city though.

For instance, the debate is still raging in Tampa over what to do about the Confederate war statue that is being moved from its current location in front of the county courthouse. As Mitch Perry reported for SaintPetersBlog, a new survey by St. Pete Polls showed a majority of Hillsborough County residents support the county commissioners who voted to keep the monument on public property.

Yes, that will be an issue when Ken Hagan, Victor Crist and Sandra Murman run for new commission seats in 2018.

There’s a guy out by the junction of Interstates 4 and 75 in Tampa who for years has flown a humongous Confederate flag, visible to thousands of motorists driving past it every day. I wonder how many people quietly give that display a thumbs-up when while motoring down the road. I’m thinking that number would be a lot higher than many of us want to believe.

It has been encouraging to see many prominent members of President Trump’s party condemn is tepid response to the hate on national display in Charlottesville. On Twitter, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said it was important for the president to describe the events there for what they are — a terror attack by white supremacists.

Gov. Rick Scott noted, “We must be very clear — FL stands against all forms of racism & bigotry. The hatred displayed in VA is despicable & has no place in America.” And House Speaker Richard Corcoran wrote, “We must fight against evil whatever form it takes….”

Good words, all.

It’s going to take more than a few well-expressed tweets to really change attitudes though. Bigotry is a learned behavior, reinforced by decades of ignorance and suspicion, and now it has a toehold with a president who seems oblivious to the damage he is causing. Alt-right supporters have already vowed that Charlottesville was just the first act in the chaos they have planned.

This is heading for a showdown, folks, in the streets and at the ballot box. The outcome will define who we are as a people.

Joe Henderson: There is more to being patriotic than wrapping yourself in the flag

Kellyanne Conway, as she has a way of doing, said something Friday on “Good Morning America” that was over-the-top baloney to, well, everyone – including supporters of President Donald Trump.

If they don’t realize that, they should.

Asked about the escalating war between the president and the media, Conway defended her boss by saying, and I quote, “It doesn’t help the American people to have a president covered in this light. I’m sorry. It’s neither productive nor patriotic. The toxicity is over the top.”

Well, you know what they say – when in doubt, question the patriotism of the opposition. Conservatives have been doing it for years, labeling liberals as subversive cretins out to destroy America.

For the most part, liberals let that happen, and so gradually the American flag became a weapon to be unfurled by conservatives – as Conway just did – whenever things get rough and logic won’t win the day.

Over the years, the attacks have gotten more personal – like the outrageous video the NRA just released with conservative radio host Dana Loesch that sounded an awful lot like a declaration of war against the faceless “them.”

“They use their media to assassinate real news,” Loesch begins. “They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler. They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again.”

It gets worse.

“The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country, and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with a clenched fist of truth,” she said. “I’m the National Rifle Association of America and I’m freedom’s safest place.”

Notice the wording: save “our” country.

Not “their” country.

“Our” country.

Last time I checked, we’re all in this together. I was born in Dayton, Ohio nearly 66 years ago and that makes me as American as apple pie. Just so my NRA friends understand, I’m not declaring war on anyone who thinks differently, acts differently, looks different, or worships differently.

If someone wants to wave the Second Amendment, fine. But then don’t tell me the First Amendment is “unpatriotic.”

You want to wrap yourself in the flag? Go ahead.

But the holiday we’ll celebrate the Fourth of July got its start because a group of Patriots decided to be decidedly unpatriotic and questioned authority.

While we’re on the subject, just because someone uses the name “patriot” doesn’t make them righteous. The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified 623 “Patriot organizations” in 2016 that it says really are “extreme anti-government groups” in the United States, including 28 in Florida.

A lot of them have names like America, Freedom, Liberty and, of course, Patriots.

So, Kellyanne Conway, it absolutely is “patriotic” for the media to aggressively challenge the most powerful man in the world. That check and balance – or, as you might call it, that freedom – is what really makes America great.

You can wrap yourself in the flag and paint your face red, white and blue. You can change your telephone ringtone to the national anthem. You can trim your bushes in the likeness of Mount Rushmore and ride around with a big American flag flapping proudly from the back of your Ford F-150.

None of that will matter two hoots, though, unless you understand this essential truth: America belongs to all of us and we don’t have to think alike.

Joe Henderson: Hillsborough Confederate monument controversy isn’t going away

The four Hillsborough County commissioners who voted to keep a Confederate monument on public grounds may have thought/hoped the issue was behind them.

If so, they are mistaken.

That much was clear from Tuesday’s rally in downtown Tampa by a coalition of leaders, clergy and people who are just plain fed up with the divide the monument has created in the community.

That divide can only be closed when the monument is more to a more appropriate location.

Commissioner Pat Kemp, who voted to remove the monument featuring two Confederate soldiers, has said the issue almost certainly will be raised to the county’s governing body again — and it should be.

That will put even more pressure on commissioners Sandra Murman, Victor Crist, Ken Hagan and Stacy White — who were depicted in a protest sign as the “Confederate 4” because of their votes to keep the monument where it is in the name of history.

This is a good time for everyone to take a deep breath and remember that while Tampa has made great strides in race relations, that often has come with great struggle.

Interestingly, protesters have never called for destroying the monument. They have asked that it be moved to a more fitting spot, like a museum or cemetery. They say having it on the county courthouse grounds — where people go for impartial justice — is a stinging reminder of the struggle blacks in Tampa have faced.

Many still remember the violent 1967 riots that were triggered when a black teenager was shot and killed by a white police officer.

Henry Bohler, who died at age 82 in 2007, fought in World War II as a member of the famous Tuskegee Airmen. But he also endured harassment after he filed a federal lawsuit in 1962 to open the city’s parks and recreation centers to blacks.

Police stopped Bohler five times one morning on his way to the courthouse. Clarence Fort remembers the community vitriol that came after he joined with other blacks demanding to be served at the segregated F.W. Woolworth lunch counter in downtown Tampa.

There are many, many other examples.

So, you want to argue the monument today represents history?

Segregated lunch counters were part of history. Denying blacks the right to use public parks was a part of history. Police harassment was a part of history. All of that used to be “just the way things are” until Tampa moved on, but always with a struggle.

That’s really the message from this latest protest.

The vote to keep the monument in place was basically the commissioners telling blacks to get over it. The backlash, including a stinging rebuke of the vote by Mayor Bob Buckhorn, was the community telling commissioners they made a mistake and they better fix it.

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