Joe Henderson – Page 7 – Florida Politics

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.

Richard Corcoran: 2017 Florida Politician of the Year

Richard Corcoran apologized as he slid into his seat on the outdoor patio at The Capital Grille, an upscale eatery at Tampa’s swank International Mall. He was running a little late and battling a head cold.

Corcoran passed on his usual glass of red wine. Instead, he opted for chilled Fiji bottled water.

Our waiter smiled, welcomed him back by his name, said it was good to see him again and left to fetch the water. And things were going smoothly as I threw out questions to the Florida House Speaker and — he didn’t know this at the time — Florida Politics 2017 Politician Of The Year.

Corcoran, a Republican from Land O’Lakes, discussed policies he will pursue when his second and final term as Speaker begins in January.

Basically, if you liked his performance in 2017, you will love it in 2018.

And if you didn’t, well, buckle up.

His agenda will include continued battles for tax reform, immigration reform, regulatory reform, and, as always, an emphasis on transforming the way students receive their education.

“Hopefully, it will be the same (as last Session),” he said. “Hopefully it’s just as disruptive and just as transformative.”

We won’t learn whether he plans to formally enter the 2018 race for Governor until after the Session, but if you’re looking for clues, consider this statement: “I do things a little unconventionally, but we’re still raising money” for a possible campaign.

He talked with an obvious love for the values his parents instilled in him. He swapped stories about his friends, including Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco. He spoke of his faith, which is deep and central to his being. He said Gov. Rick Scott “has done a great job.”

“We’re now No. 1 in fiscal health. That’s an amazing stat, to be the third-largest state in the union and No. 1 in fiscal health,” Corcoran said. “If you look at all the other large states — California, New York, Pennsylvania — they’re all at the bottom five. The closest (big state) to us is Texas, and they’re like No. 27 or 26.

“For us to be No. 1 in fiscal health says something. That’s a focus on creating an atmosphere that the small businesses can go out there and create jobs. It’s about deregulation, tax cuts, and getting out of their way.”

But about 25 minutes into a 40-minute give-and-take, I asked if he wishes he could take back the widely referenced remark that the Florida public school teachers union is evil.

I think he had been waiting for that one. He sat straight up in his chair, his voice rising, arms waving; even through a raspy, congestion-clogged voice, you could tell the question touched a nerve.

“I didn’t say that,” he said, eyes narrowing. “Go back and listen to the tape.”

I did go back and listen, and it’s true. Corcoran did not call the union evil, although a quick Google search reveals a string of stories with headlines saying he did.

Corcoran’s statement then was that the union’s lawsuit to stop his ambitious plan to expand Florida’s education voucher program for low-performing schools was “evil.” If successful, he believed the suit would keep primarily low-income, minority students trapped in an education system that was failing them.

He didn’t back off then. He isn’t backing off now.

“Does the teacher’s union want to be honest? Do the Democrats want to be honest? Does anyone want to debate me, anytime, anywhere in this whole state, on that lawsuit? No!” he said.

“Does Andrew Gillum (want to debate)? No! Does Gwen Graham? No! None of ‘em. I’ll do it any place, anytime, anywhere. Instead, they just go around saying, ‘Richard Corcoran said teachers were evil.’ No, that’s a lie. They say, ‘Richard Corcoran said the teacher’s union is evil.’ No, that’s a lie.

“What Richard Corcoran said, for the whole world to hear, in a very public setting, was that a lawsuit that takes the most underprivileged, underserved children and takes them out of a failing school and puts them into a school that gives them a 40 percent greater chance of going to college, and you file a lawsuit to end that program, that is evil.”

That exchange captures the essence of Richard Corcoran, as explained by people who know him best.

He is master of details, fiery and unapologetic when he believes he is right, and on a mission to turn the status quo into rubble.

Away from the office, he loves Florida Gators basketball and Tampa Bay Buccaneers football. He is all about family. He is a loyal friend and a relentless foe, but if you have earned his respect, he can easily separate the personal side from professional.

Take Janet Cruz, for instance.

As House Minority Leader, Cruz is a liberal Democrat and was outspoken at her belief that Corcoran’s education overhaul — his cherished House Bill 7069 that passed last spring — was an unwarranted attack on public schools.

But even though she said then she was “shocked” at Corcoran’s remarks, the two get along well.

“Janet is a great person. We’ve sat right there and smoked cigars together,” Corcoran said, pointing to an outdoor spot.

Cruz confirmed that.

“The Speaker and I have always had a good relationship that I believe we were able to build over our shared love and dedication for our families. Although we rarely agree on policy, his door has always been open, and even when we argue, I know that there will never be any hard feelings because of the mutual respect we have for one another,” she said.

“Richard is genuine in his beliefs, as I am in mine, and I know that when we walk off the floor for the last time after this session, we will depart as we arrived — as friends.”

This is the Richard Corcoran his supporters expected to get when he was elected to the Florida House in 2010 after two previous campaigns for a seat ended in defeat.

“I had more doubt that Richard would get elected to the Legislature than that he would take over a leadership position there,” said close friend Paul Hawkes, who has served as both a state representative and chief judge of the state’s 1st District Court of Appeal.

“Gov. (Jeb) Bush used to say that some guys run to be, and so guys run to do. To be a doer means you upset people. You can never change the status quo without upsetting some people. I always thought Richard would want to run and would run.”

Go back to the words he used to forecast his plans for 2018: disruptive and transformative. They are central to everything about his idea of governing.

“If you have an idea you want to get in front of Richard and you want him to embrace it, show him how it upsets the status quo,” Nocco said. “If it’s a new way to look at the problem and this is how we can change things, he’ll embrace it wholeheartedly.”

That was the essence of Corcoran’s bare-knuckles fight to win approval for his Schools of Hope program. It provided $140 million, or up to $2,000 per student, for expanded programs at struggling public schools in low-income areas.

It also authorized money for state-approved charter operators to open new schools within 5 miles of those at-risk public schools. Corcoran said the program gives parents the chance to opt out of a failing school, but critics say it is a drain on already-strapped public-school budgets.

It was the most divisive issue in the last Legislative Session as state public-school teachers flooded Tallahassee with protests. Corcoran, whose wife, Anne, helped found and operate the Classical Prep charter school as a volunteer, was resolute that offering alternatives is a better way.

“He is determined. He gets an idea in his head (if you will), and he is determined to fulfill that idea, that dream. That’s extremely impressive. He’s very competitive. He doesn’t like to lose,” said Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano, Corcoran’s neighbor and a former state legislator.

“He is one who will do whatever it takes to win a battle — ethically, morally and legally, but he’ll do what it takes to win what he thinks is right.”

I shared that quote with Corcoran, and he nodded in agreement.

“Truth is objective and noble. If there is an objective and noble truth, you pursue it,” he said. “That’s why a lot of speeches I give are about truth and justice. That’s from Socrates. He’s got tons of good lines. He gave one that said show me who’s teaching your kids and I’ll show you the future.”

Corcoran is all about the future, even if — or maybe especially if — that means turning the present on its ear. Controversy doesn’t scare him, and tough fights don’t intimidate him. Being the Speaker gives him the chance to craft a future for Florida he believes will be better than what was here before.

To get there, he will bloody your nose if need be. He knows how to work a room or twist an arm. He knows what he wants and will try to win over opponents with a righteous, confident argument. If that doesn’t work, he knows how the system works and what it takes to win.

No hard feelings, though. When the battle is over, sit down. Have a cigar. Have a glass of wine.

“I’m a nice guy,” he said. “I really am.”

It’s not personal. It’s about a vision, and Richard Corcoran is confident that he has the right one for Florida.

Joe Henderson: Corrine Brown finds rules apply to her too

Miscreant behavior isn’t the exclusive property of either major political party. It’s an equal opportunity career-killer, as former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville learned Monday.

She was sentenced to five years in federal prison for deeds that U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan called “especially shameless.”

Shameless? Yeah, that about sums it up.

It happens when someone feels a title makes them entitled. Offenders often try to justify their actions within narrow legal lines – whether greed, sexual, or anything else – but the common thread is that they run through multiple stop signs on the way to a felony.

The issue in this case was about how Brown spent approximately $800,000 from a charity she established.

Instead of using donations to the One Door For Education foundation on scholarships for needy students, a lot of the money was spent on parties, shopping, a Beyonce concert, and a football game in Washington with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

She blamed her Chief of Staff Elias “Ronnie” Simmons for the misdeeds. He got four years in prison after taking a plea deal for testifying against his former boss.

Carla Wiley, the charity’s executive director, accepted a plea deal of 21 months for spilling the goods.

As the leader of the pack, Brown got hammered the hardest. At age 71, she cashed in the considerable good she accomplished from 25 years in Congress, and for what?

A football game? A concert? A few trinkets she could have bought on her own?

While living it up, it seems likely that it never occurred to her something wrong was happening. She no doubt told herself that Corrine Brown wouldn’t do anything illegal, and that’s the problem.

It’s the same alibi U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore is trying to use in Alabama to justify his taste in young girls. Remember when he said he never dated one without their mother’s consent?

It’s the same mindset that led to all the sexual scandals we see unfolding in Tallahassee. It’s what led former president Bill Clinton to deny he ever had sex with Monica Lewinsky, or that pushed former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn to lie to the FBI.

We have all seen people who thought they were above it all pleading for mercy, as Brown did when it sank in that she was going to prison. By then, it’s way past too late.

Five years is a long time, especially at her age. Considering the crime though, it’s an appropriate sentence. I would add that it’s a cautionary tale for any public official thinking of doing something similar, but I doubt such a person would be paying attention anyway.

That’s what happens when someone thinks they’re above it all. It’s a shock when they find out they are not.

Joe Henderson: Rick Scott poll numbers should concern Dems

My eyebrows arched a bit when reading the Saint Leo University poll that showed Rick Scott with a 10-point lead over incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson in next year’s election for the U.S. Senate.

That’s not because I believe for a second that Scott will win by 10 points. As Democratic strategist Steve Schale tweeted, the last four major races in Florida – two gubernatorial, two presidential – were decided by no more than 1.1 percent.

But Rick Scott has made a political career of confounding convention and beating the odds, something beating a three-term incumbent senator would complement.

We remember 2011, when a Quinnipiac poll showed Scott was the most-despised governor in the country after cutting thousands of state jobs, turning down federal money for high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando, and taking a broadsword to public education funding.

His approval rating of 29 percent was a political pit of misery. He was despised by his own Republican Party because he vetoed many of the lawmakers’ pet projects. Yet, he won re-election in 2014 and has kept a single-minded focus on creating jobs. It has worked.

In July, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University ranked Florida first for fiscal soundness in the United States. Our state was ranked 28th overall by a CNBC survey when Scott was elected in 2010, including 48th in economy.

Scott also was widely praised for how he handled preparations during the last two hurricane seasons, although the Miami Herald reported cleanup in Key West has gone slowly and some residents are still living in tents.

Scott will never bring thunderous oratory, either. As a public speaker, he remains stiff and wooden. His environmental record could become an issue as well. Under his administration, regulations to protect Florida’s fragile lands have been shredded.

Even with all this, Floridians seem pleased on balance with the way Scott has done his job.

It’s a cautionary tale for Democrats, for multiple reasons.

Nelson isn’t the most charismatic candidate either. He was front and center with Republican counterpart Marco Rubio when Hurricane Irma was approaching this year, but a poll in October from the University of North Florida carried a serious warning for Nelson.

That survey showed an astonishing 49 percent of Floridians say they don’t know how Nelson is doing as their senator. That led Michael Binder, faculty director of the Public Opinion Research Lab at UNF, to note: “When a three-term sitting U.S. senator has almost half of the sample unable to assess his job approval, you have a problem.”

As always, our state will be a key player in next year’s midterms and beyond. Democrats can’t take for granted that Donald Trump’s low approval numbers will stay that way.

They seemed to believe Scott couldn’t possibly win election to the governor’s mansion when he first ran. Then, surely voters wouldn’t give him a second term.

How did that work out?

Scott might not really be ahead by 10 points, but by now Democrats should know better than to take any comfort in that.

Joe Henderson: Tax plan forces Marco Rubio’s hand on national debt

While the debate continues in Washington about tax cuts, it’s worth a trip in the Way Back Machine to revisit how U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio felt about the national debt.

To set the scene, Republicans and President Trump are pushing a tax cut plan that will add to the nearly $20 trillion deficit. Outgoing Federal Reserve Board Chairwoman Janet Yellen told the congressional Joint Economic Committee that the consequences of even passing $20 trillion “should keep people awake at night.”

$20 trillion? The debt already is projected to rise another $10 trillion in the next decade, and the tax-cut plan under consideration gives the most benefit to a handful of the richest people in America. At this rate, the national debt should have us hiding under the bed while we’re awake at night.

That brings us back to Rubio, and a January 2016 appearance recorded by C-Span, Rubio, who was still a candidate for president at the time, spoke of a looming crisis if lawmakers didn’t get the debt under control.

“Obviously, the more debt (there is), the more capital is being dedicated to debt and less is available to the private sector. But beyond that there is the specter of a debt crisis. A debt crisis is not a good thing for a country that is trying to grow (the economy). It doesn’t inspire confidence in the future,” he said.

“If nothing changes, if we continue doing things the way we are now, we will have a debt crisis. We have been insulated up to now because of the global reserve currency, because so many other places are unstable. But eventually investors – the people who loan money to America by buying our debt – are going to insist on a higher yield.

“That means higher interest rates, higher return on their loaning of money to us. When that happens, interest payments alone will trigger the debt crisis. The result will be catastrophic for the most important economy in the world.”

If the nation was approaching economic catastrophe with the debt we have, imagine what would happen if the Trump tax cuts become law and the deficit gets even larger.

So, naturally, if Rubio truly believes in the potential calamity of a debt crisis, he will vote against the tax plan, right?

Well, we’ll see.

So far, Florida’s junior senator has expressed reservations about the plan, but so what? He expressed strong reservations about Rex Tillerson’s cozy relationship with Russia before falling in line and voting to approve him as secretary of state.

Rubio has joined Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah in proposing reducing the corporate tax rate to 22 percent from its current 35 percent; the Trump plan would cut the rate to 20 percent. Rubio says his plan would expand the child tax credit, which is laudable. Experts say it would increase the debt, though – and it won’t pass anyway.

In that same C-Span clip, Rubio said the only way to get the debt under control is to reform Social Security and Medicare, because those are programs that spend more money than they take in.

OK, assuming the basics of this tax cut proposal don’t change all that much and the bill is passed into law, there is going to be a lot less money coming into the government than is going out.

It is a given that the wealthiest people get the biggest break in this plan. The nonpartisan Policy Tax Center estimates the richest 1 percent of Americans will receive 20 percent of the benefit while the national debt expands to unimaginable levels.

Marco Rubio is a smart man, and I’m sure he knows what this plan does. He has warned about the impact the debt will have on this country, and he is faced with a vote that could make it worse.

So, what’s it going to be?

Joe Henderson: NBC handled Matt Lauer only way it could

Millions were stunned Wednesday morning when the Today show led with the news that NBC fired host Matt Lauer after receiving a detailed complaint about what it called “inappropriate sexual behavior” from its high-profile morning anchor.

Twitter exploded, the internet erupted, and President Donald Trump couldn’t resist taking a jab at NBC, saying top executives also should be fired “for putting out so much fake news.”


This comes while the president apparently now is saying the infamous Access Hollywood tape might be a fake. That’s where he bragged about the advantage he believed his power gave him over women – and he apologized for the behavior last year when the story broke during the campaign.

The New York Times reported the president now is suggesting that the tape was all some Clintonian plot and that it might not have been his voice that we heard. He said his staff is “investigating.”

I guess it means he made a fake apology last year, unless Hillary somehow created a devious hologram that made it sound like he was admitting to saying bad, bad things.

Really bad.

But seriously folks, keeping it in the here and now, he has also urged Alabama voters to choose accused pedophile Roy Moore in the upcoming U.S. Senate race because Republicans need his vote to get their political agenda passed.

Way to take a stand, sir.

So, who is doing the right thing here – NBC, or the president?

While no one is saying that a morning news anchor packs the same clout as the president, the loss to NBC is immense. Forbes reported that the Today show generated an estimated $435 million for NBC in 2015 and accounts for about half of the network’s annual news budget.

Lauer was paid handsomely for his role in this, an estimated $25 million per year. He sat in the anchor’s chair for 20 years and often was the first face TV viewers saw in the morning. People liked and trusted him.

A recent report on said Lauer was planning to leave when his contract expired in 2018, but, if true, that would have been an exit complete with hype, celebration and blockbuster ratings.

Instead, it is in disgrace.

NBC has pledged transparency on this story, so I assume we will learn more details soon enough about what Lauer did. It had to be reprehensible and verifiable to get him fired, but it had to be worse for the person he harassed. It took guts for her to come forward.

By now, there should be no need for another lecture about the disgusting ways powerful men use their status to intimidate women. Heaven knows we’ve had enough examples lately.

This story, though, is more about how a major corporation – or the American people – decide how they will handle these stories going forward.

NBC likely will take a major financial hit with Lauer’s departure. Viewers will feel betrayed. There will be much work to do to regain the kind of trust the audience gave to Lauer.

The first step toward that already has been taken, though. NBC didn’t equivocate once executives believed they had all the facts. They acted swiftly and will take whatever is coming their way from the public.

That’s how it should be.

The Today show will continue to come on the air, promptly at 7 a.m. Reporters will continue to cover the major stories – from Matt Lauer, to Roy Moore, to President Trump.

This is what real news outlets do, even when the dirty laundry is their own.

Joe Henderson: Textbook challenge gives school boards more headaches

You may remember last summer, when state Rep. Byron Donalds successfully pushed to expand the pool of people who can challenge the content in public school textbooks.

Rather than trust professional educators to do their jobs (which we all know are best done by those with political agendas), school boards were required to hire an “unbiased hearing officer” so any resident in their district, whether they have kids in school or not, can formally object to what children are being taught.

The officer hears the textbook challenge and then makes a recommendation to the board. The board has the final say.

And this accomplishes … what?

I mean, besides causing more headaches for school board members, as if they don’t have enough? I can almost picture some lawmakers laughing over drinks at the club at the potential chaos they had unleashed.

The law opened the door widely for self-appointed watchdogs to quibble over the wording of every single line in a textbook, particularly those used to teach history and science — which, I’m guessing, was the idea all along.

This might be a good time to note that Donalds’ wife, Erika Donalds, wants a constitutional amendment that would eliminate salaries for school board members throughout the state.

In addition to serving on Florida’s Constitutional Review Commission, she is a member of the Collier County School Board. Donalds argues that it isn’t a full-time job and certainly isn’t worth a $40,000 salary. I think a lot of peers would disagree.

It doesn’t look like that idea will make it to the ballot.

I always shake my head at the gall of those who complain loudly when Washington sends an edict out to the states, but have no problem when Tallahassee does the same to local communities.

If she thinks her school district would be better served by making the board a volunteer position, fine. She should bring to a vote at her next meeting. She also should let other districts handle their own business.

That brings us to back to the textbook challenge law.

The Associated Press reported on some of the issues raised. One person wanted Ray Bradbury’s classic book “Fahrenheit 451” pulled from the classroom because it had some rough language.

The irony of trying to ban a book about banning books says a lot about this challenge bill.

The Florida Citizens Alliance doesn’t seem too keen on teaching the effect man is having on climate change, at least not without adding counterarguments that basically go, “Nah.”

Grown-ups have been complaining forever in every corner of this country about what children are taught in schools. Usually, the complaints center around topics that clash with a person’s views on religion, sex, values, or political persuasion.

School boards have dealt effectively with those things over the ages. What the Legislature did, though, was legitimize anyone pushing an agenda, no matter how extreme.

Yes, boards have the final say on any recommendation from the “unbiased hearing officer” — but how long until someone in the Legislature decides that isn’t working and tries to require boards to adopt what the officer says?

Then, of course, lawmakers would eventually want to dictate who is hired as that “unbiased hearing officer.”

When that happens, you can hear the battle cry: Let the textbook scrubbing begin.

Joe Henderson: Dems better hear John Morgan’s warning

Et tu, John?

That’s the question many Florida Democrats are still asking as they seek salve for the Thanksgiving weekend stab in their collective backs from powerhouse Orlando attorney John Morgan.

It wasn’t enough that after many months of teasing, he announced – on Facebook, of course – that he would not enter the 2018 race for Governor. He said he couldn’t jam up enough “enthusiasm” to run for the nomination, despite some polling that suggested he could win.

Then in a classic blindside, he added, “They are all the same. Both parties. I plan to register as an Independent and when I vote, vote for the lesser of two evils. And if I ever ran, run as an Independent. #ForThePeople.”

I did not see that coming. Raise your hand if you did.

Morgan joins the approximately 3.5 million Florida voters who have no party affiliation. He leaves Democrats to stammer and stutter in the wake of a sneak attack from a guy who has been one of their few sugar daddies over the years.

He leaves Democrats a valuable gift, though, if they’re willing to accept it.

Morgan is more than a marketing genius, he has consistently shown that his finger is on the public’s pulse. His words should be a warning to a party that has been wandering lost in the desert in this state for about 20 years. Public disgust with the political elite has been trending for a while. Gov. Rick Scott swept to power in 2010 as a Republican, but he was really an outsider. So was Donald Trump.

Morgan is telling his soon-to-be former party that people have turned them out. He is not wrong.

It’s easy to point a finger at the recent sex scandals that led to the resignations of state Democratic chairman Stephen Bittel and state Sen. Jeff Clemens and say people are fed up with that, but there is a much-deeper disconnect.

After all, Republicans have had their share of scandal this year too, so on that point Morgan is correct – they are all the same. It doesn’t stop there.

Morgan has tapped into the belief that I think many Floridians share: Lawmaking in Tallahassee is the province of lobbyists and outside money. Voters tend to believe that many people they send to the Legislature are puppets who vote as their biggest contributors wish. They believe their state is for sale.

Democrats will argue that many Republicans are pawns to the National Rifle Association and put the interest of business over the environment and the middle class. That may be true, but Morgan is saying he doesn’t believe they would be any different.

He is saying they would be just as beholden to outside influences and would forget they should be working for the people.

With the pending change in party leadership, Democrats have the chance for a reboot. Articulate a vision, for goodness sake. There are important issues out there that can resonate with the right voice.

Under Scott, much of Florida’s environmental protection was gutted. So, tell the people about the damage that will cause and what you would do to fix it because Floridians love the environment and consistently vote in favor of conservation.

With the debate about health care front and center, convince those voters who will be hurt most by the state’s hard-line stance against Medicaid expansion. Talk in specifics, not generalities. Talk about what you will do to make it better. Talk about guns and how it’s possible to respect the Second Amendment and still have some commonsense regulation.

Talk about ideas to manage Florida’s unrestrained growth and the damage we just experienced from hurricanes – and likely will experience in the future. Talk about mass transit.

Show the people you have a plan because, as we just learned, John Morgan doesn’t believe you do.

Prove to everyone you put the people first, because John Morgan doesn’t believe you will.

Joe Henderson: Moral high ground can be pretty low

Sleazy politicians are nothing new and stupidity has no party affiliation.

From the infamous dalliances of Alexander Hamilton with Maria Reynolds to John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, and now to the seemingly ceaseless string of headlines we see about sexual misdeeds and judgment lapses from members of both major parties, we know the moral high ground is often the size of an anthill.

But no matter the perpetrator or party, if what happens under the covers doesn’t stay under the covers, the consequences range from a shattered reputation to a career checkmate.

The latest to tip his king is now-former Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel.

He resigned after a POLITICO Florida report cited six unnamed women who said Bittel made sexually suggestive remarks, created a hostile work environment, and was, in the words of one woman, “creepy.”

This follows the resignation of Democrat Jeff Clemens from the Florida Senate after POLITICO Florida exposed his affair with a lobbyist.

The career of Republican Senator Jack Latvala is in serious jeopardy following accusations of sexual misconduct, and we know what’s going on in Alabama with the U.S. Senate campaign of Republican conservative firebrand Roy Moore.

There is a trend here – powerful men accused of saying and doing things they shouldn’t because they forgot The Old Boys Club today is equipped with cameras, recorders and lots of ways to get the story out.

It doesn’t have to be sexual deviance, either. Republican Frank Artiles can testify to that. He had to resign his seat in the Florida Senate earlier this year after making racially divisive remarks over drinks at the exclusive Governor’s Club.

It’s a standard for political campaigns to produce feel-good ads with their spouse and adorable kids. It’s supposed to make the voter feel like they could meet up with the candidate for a picnic lunch right after Sunday School.

Nice image. The truth is neither major party can claim a copyright on purity. There are scoundrels on both sides of the aisle. Regardless of political stripe, power can bring the illusion of immunity from consequences.

And man, have there been a lot of consequences lately. If someone believes they can get away with something because they have a fancy title, they are delusional — President Donald Trump being a notable exception.

Avoiding that shouldn’t be all that tricky though. Just remember the words of Aretha Franklin, who famously sang about R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Find out what it means, then put it into full-time practice with everyone.

Do that, and you’ll be fine.

Joe Henderson: Kick in pants to St. Pete’s MLS hope?

According to Sports Illustrated, St. Petersburg is not among the finalists for a Major League Soccer expansion franchise. The magazine said sources were saying that the league will add two franchises from among three cities: Sacramento, Nashville and Cincinnati.

In a separate story on Yahoo, St. Petersburg/Tampa Bay ranked only seventh from a list of 12 interested cities.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. After a lot of initial enthusiasm, St. Pete’s chances seemed to be slipping. But still, that’s a kick in the … pants.

This is something we could have seen coming, though – starting with the age-old problem facing St. Petersburg and professional sports. Not enough people show up at the games.

The Tampa Bay Rowdies of the United Soccer League drew crowds that averaged 5,894 for 16 home games this season at Al Lang Stadium in beautiful downtown St. Pete.

That ranked well behind USL members Cincinnati (21,199) and Sacramento (11,569).

Plus, Cincinnati’s average attendance was more than 3,000 above the stadium capacity Rowdies owner Bill Edwards made in his MLS expansion pitch. He said he would pay for an $80 million expansion of Al Lang Stadium to 18,000 seats, plus the estimated $150 million fee for the team.

Even if the team sold out every game at that capacity though, it would rank only 16th out of the current 22 franchises in MLS.

Sounds like MLS wants a bigger barn.

There is another problem that St. Pete sports perpetually run up against: location.

Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays have complained that their chronic attendance woes can be partly explained by the fact Tropicana Field is located far from the center of the market. And in competing for a soccer franchise, St. Pete may be a victim of other forces within Florida.

MLS already has a team in Orlando, and it’s a virtual lock that Miami soon will have one too. Expanding to St. Pete might seem like overkill to the league.

Assuming St. Pete is shut out of the expansion derby, there is another possibility, though.

If Edwards doesn’t sour on MLS, he might try to buy and move another team. The Columbus Crew are considering a move to Austin, Texas. Maybe some other owner would be willing to listen to a pitch from Edwards.

It’s a long shot, but maybe Edwards will feel it’s worth a try. I wouldn’t blame him if he didn’t, though. He was already putting up a lot of money, and the league seems to be saying it would have taken a lot more.

Joe Henderson: Let’s hope Stu Sternberg was joking

I assume Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg was trying to make a joke Wednesday when he said his organization might come up with $150 million to help pay for a new ballpark in Tampa’s Ybor City that will cost a lot more than that.

I say that because I literally started laughing as I read his quotes in the Tampa Bay Times.

Speaking to longtime Rays’ writer Marc Topkin at baseball meetings in Orlando, Sternberg said, “We’ve tried to make some guesstimates, some estimates on what would be prudent for us, what would give us the ability to take this step in committing to a physical place for another generation or two, and our thought process is it’s probably in the $150 million range. We might find out that’s too much. We might find out that we can afford more.”

My guesstimate is that with a stadium to replace decrepit Tropicana Field hypothetically priced at $800 million, give or take a luxury suite or two, Sternberg and Major League Baseball can’t be seriously thinking of asking/demanding taxpayers to pay the $650 million difference.

As Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan noted, “I don’t know if we’ll ever get there.”

Hagan, who worked with the Rays on potential stadium sites in Hillsborough, was speaking at a commission meeting that was going on at roughly the same time Sternberg made his opening gambit.

I love baseball and believe the Rays are a major asset to the overall community, but it has limits. What Sternberg offered up sounded more like an extortion note than a pitch for serious public-private partnership.

I believe Sternberg knows that, too. He is a smart man.

As long as we’re tossing numbers around, how about these: Major League Baseball’s revenues reached $10 billion in 2016, with a goal of topping $15 billion within a few years. The Miami Marlins just sold for $1.2 billion, much of it driven by the team’s five-year-old stadium that will cost taxpayers an estimated $2.6 billion by the time it is paid off in 2049.

That made a nice return on investment for former owner Jeff Loria, who bought the team for $158 million in 2002. Sternberg bought a 48 percent stake in the then-Devil Rays in 2004 for a reported $65 million. The Rays are worth a lot more now.

Then, there is this: In 2014, Sternberg said that without a new stadium, he would sell the Rays and the new owner likely would move them out of the area.

That would be bad, but if the alternative is a take-it-or-leave-it pitch to taxpayers, my guess is the Rays will be some other city’s problem at some point.

The usual ideas for what laughably is referred to as the public’s “contribution” have been floated — some combination of tourist taxes, rental car surcharges, special taxing districts, user fees, and so on.

There are several problems with all those pitches.

First, the mood in Tallahassee has swung dramatically against using any public money to enrich private enterprise. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has been particularly outspoken on this subject.

Second, even if lawmakers would soften their opposition to such solutions, all those sources combined probably would still fall well short of the amount needed to pay for this.

Everyone knows that.

If Sternberg’s statement is just an opener to get talks started, OK. But if he’s serious about what he says the Rays will pay, then it’s over.

That’s no joke.

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