Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 15

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: New House rules put lobbyists in their place and increase transparency

Mike Fasano, the Pasco County Tax Collector and former state legislator, lives near incoming Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran. They are friends and they speak frequently with each other.

Sometimes they agree on policies, sometimes they don’t. But they are in total accord about the dramatic changes regarding lobbyists and other measures Corcoran has planned for the upcoming year in the Legislature.

“During my 20 years in the Legislature, I saw firsthand how much lobbyists were in control of the process,” Fasano said. “I told Richard that what he has done will help create a member-driven Legislature instead of one driven by the lobbyists.”

It’s about damn time.

Corcoran is regarded as no-nonsense conservative with zero tolerance for anything he considers a frivolous use of the public’s purse.

His list of proposed rules designed to keep lobbyists in their place and increase transparency is the way the affairs of state should be conducted.

This site and other news outlets around the state reported this week on what Rep. Jim Boyd of Sarasota called “a seismic shift in the balance of power in Tallahassee and a return to a more open, accountable, and responsive state government.”

Among other things, the Corcoran Plan would require lobbyists to declare publicly what bills they are supporting and how they will be paid for. It would prohibit text messages between lobbyists and representatives while business is being conducted on the House floor. That practice has led to lawmakers reading texted “suggestions” from lobbyists straight from their phone like it’s a teleprompter.

Lawmakers can no longer fly on jets provided by lobbyists, even if they pay the regular commercial flight rate.

For taxpayers though, the most important change is Corcoran’s pitch that would end the devious practice of tacking pet projects as conforming bills on to other laws being considered at the end of the session. Such bills would now have to be filed and considered separately.

“This absolutely will cut down on the horse-trading and last-minute deals,” Fasano said.

Loosely translated, that means many of them never will be filed because sponsors know they are turkeys with no chance of passage.

“We commend House Speaker-Designate Corcoran’s efforts to increase accountability and transparency in the budget process,” Florida TaxWatch head Dominic Calabro said in a statement.

“His goal of making sure every appropriation that is placed in the budget be scrutinized and debated is one we share. Floridians deserve assurance that their money is being invested in critical needs and projects that provide the best return.”

Give the man credit. He has seen the enemy — and it is those who view the Legislature as an ATM of self-enrichment.

Now, talk is easy and policing the rules can be hard because, as we know, there are always work-arounds. You can bet a steak dinner lobbyists will try to find them.

Anyone on the prowl for loopholes, though, should be reminded of whom they are dealing with. Corcoran says what he thinks and means what he says.

“The special interests have been put on notice,” Fasano said. “The members of the House have been put on notice. He is sincere about this. Members who might think, ‘OK, we’ll pass these rules and then put in our back pocket’ better think again.”

Joe Henderson: There is no roadmap for where America goes next

If it’s morning after the election and you are reading this, then the exit polls were correct on at least one point. The sun did indeed come up on all the blue states, red states, and especially on the Sunshine State.

So, there is that. But for the moment at least, that’s pretty much the end of normal as we knew it.

We now live in a nation where the president-elect broke every rule of campaigning and won the White House. Whether the outcome of this race was an embrace of the outsider Donald Trump or a rejection of Hillary Clinton as a soiled remnant of the establishment is a debate for pundits and historians.

What is undeniable is that the people wanted change and now they have it. That deserves a moment of pause and reflection.


The moment is over. That crashing sound was your 401(k) as it struck the rocks at the bottom of the cliff. We have entered a world where no one has a map. Everybody wide awake now? No, you aren’t dreaming.

The Republican Party of Reagan has been taken over by a foul-mouthed misogynist outsider who essentially ran against both the Democrats and the party that nominated him. The Bill Clinton Democrats and his successor-designate wife have been rejected by an American public fed up enough with the whole lot of them to roll the dice on a planetary scale.

Trump was supposed to be the wrong messenger; everyone said so. The polls said so, pundits said so, and logic said so. None of that applied, though, because the essence that drove his campaign was spot on. That’s how we got here, and the outcome of this election proves that.

I grew up in Ohio, the son of a working man who spent more than 30 years in a smoky factory in our small town. When he was about 60, the bosses moved that factory and all the jobs to a source of cheaper, southern labor. This proud man learned about age discrimination and the value of a lifetime spent working with his hands and back.

Things haven’t changed that much since 1969, have they? That was Trump’s platform.

Working men and women still feel like they get nothing but the back hand from their government. Unions that were supposed to protect them were impotent in the clutch and are now seen as part of the problem.

They felt abandoned. They felt betrayed.

They decided no was listening to them.

Well, they’re listening now.

I know those people. I love those people. Those are my friends, and I understand at least some of their anger. They want to be respected. I don’t like their solution, but I get it.

They feel like they pay for programs they can’t share. They are handed the bill for benefits they don’t receive. They see big business send their jobs overseas or out of state, while the rich CEO walks away with all their money.

They see elected representatives on the take from lobbyists. Where they saw Washington as the solution, they now see the nation’s capital as the problem. When people ask how Trump could win the presidency, it’s because these people saw him as their only voice.

They struck back the only way they could.

Did you see that sea of red-colored counties on the election maps Tuesday night? That was small-town, rural America screaming ENOUGH!

They believed that strongly enough to hand the keys to the White House to a crude man with a history of bankruptcy, both moral and business, because that man said he heard them.

He was the only one who did.

It was a strong enough message to swamp 15 other Republican candidates in the primaries. It stunned pollsters, pundits, and now the worldwide financial markets by winning the White House against the Chosen One.

What’s weird about this result is that President Barack Obama will leave office with historically high approval levels. The public loved him, but not enough to let him pass the baton to Clinton.

Trump won the day by recognizing millions of people are fed up. Trump made them believe Clinton was the problem and he is the answer. That’s what happened Tuesday night.

As for what happens now, well, we’ll get back to you.

Pat Kemp defeats Tim Schock in Hillsborough County District 6

Democrat Pat Kemp defeated challenger Tim Shock for the Hillsborough County Commission District 6 seat.

Kemp had 55 percent of the vote for a solid victory.

Voters had two strong choices in this countywide race.

Kemp, who narrowly lost to Republican Al Higginbotham in 2014, had transportation as her main issue. She has long been a vocal advocate for solutions to the area’s top long-term issue that goes beyond adding new roads.

She advocates stronger growth management policies to help control urban sprawl, which contributes to transportation problems.

Kemp also has been a voice for transparency in government and diversity. She is a former aide to U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor and the former chair of the Hillsborough Democratic Party.

Schock, a small-business owner who has never held elective office, soundly defeated veteran Jim Norman in the primary. He, too, listed transportation as a major issue.

“It’s a quality of life issue. It’s about getting to work on time, getting home on time, being with our loved ones on time. That’s really what this is about,” Shock said in a video posted on his website.

“The goal for our transportation system has to be free-flow mobility, the ability to move people efficiently and effectively around our county — and in doing so, reduce our overall traffic congestion. It’s becoming a bigger and bigger problem, and it’s something we can no longer ignore.”

Schock advocated a regional solution for transportation, especially in the Hillsborough suburbs.

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.

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