Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 44

Joe Henderson

I have a 45-year career in newspapers, including nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Florida is wacky, wonderful, unpredictable and a national force. It's a treat to have a front-row seat for it all.

Joe Henderson: Free press needed now more than ever

The job of the free press is to find out stuff the public needs to know, make sure it’s accurate, and then share that information with the people.

A lot of times the mission means upsetting the powerful and those who support them. These days, it means enduring taunts of “fake news” and people who believe reporters deliberately publish fiction designed to destroy, in this case, President Donald Trump and his administration.

To some, the “media” is even a faceless, soulless agent of the deep state out to ruin the country, but it is none of those things. It is the firewall that protects democracy from the scoundrels and con artists.

So, that’s why Florida Politics has joined with newspapers, online outlets, and other media around the country to denounce what The Boston Globe has called a ‘‘dirty war against the free press.’’

Trump started that war while still a candidate for the most powerful office in the world. As president, he has declared the press is the enemy of the American people. That’s not exactly upholding the oath of office he took, the one where he promised to “preserve, protect and defend” the U.S. Constitution.

The First Amendment to the Constitution clearly states “Congress shall make no law … “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …”

The Founding Fathers understood that absolute power corrupts and that an unfettered press is a vital check on lawmakers who believe rules don’t apply to them.

But it’s not just about keeping Washington honest.

This past week, the Tampa Bay Times illustrated what the free press means to our local community.

The Times, with painstaking research and reporting, uncovered that top officials at the Hillsborough County School District knew about a widespread problem of lead in the drinking water at multiple schools for over a year, but didn’t share that information with the public.

They came clean only after reporters at the Times began nosing around and asking tough questions. Without the effort and skill of the local newspaper, no one might have ever known what was going on.

The recent attack at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md. resulting in six deaths illustrates that this can be a dangerous mission. The International Federation of Journalists reported that 62 journalists have been killed around the world thus far in 2018.

Several of those deaths occurred while reporters were trying to cover bloody conflicts in war-torn areas. At the Tampa Tribune where I worked for more than 40 years, we learned the cost that can come with reporting dangerous but important stories.

An ambitious young reporter named Todd C. Smith used vacation time in 1989 to travel to Peru so he could report on drug trafficking. He never got to finish the story. He was kidnapped by Shining Path guerrillas, tortured, and murdered.

Do journalists get it wrong sometimes?

Of course.

And for reputable publications, there are consequences for that — unlike some of the conspiracy sites out there masquerading as real news. Reputable sites admit their mistakes and correct them. They hold reporters to high standards of honesty and accuracy.

An editor at the Tampa Tribune once spoke of the “multiple layers of inspection” a story had to undergo before it reached your doorstep the next morning. Real editors challenge reporters to prove that what they submitted is the truth.

That’s really what it’s about.


That can be lost when many in the public get their news from Russian bots and Facebook memes. All the press can do to combat that is to stay in the game, keep uncovering facts and sharing it with its audience, follow the stories where they lead, and never allow itself to be intimidated.

Trump is not the first president hostile to the press and he won’t be the last. But the work reporters do and the valuable part they play in our democracy won’t change.

It can’t change.

The Founding Fathers understood that, and a free press is more important now than ever.

Joe Henderson: Red tide is an emergency now, but can Rick Scott be surprised?

Red tide is in all the headlines now. It’s bad.

But let’s go back to a time before Florida’s beaches were filled with rotting fish, dolphins and manatees. Back to a time when Rick Scott came to Tallahassee as Florida’s Governor in 2011 with a two-fold mission: Cut the state budget and get people back to work.

He succeeded on both fronts.

More than 700,000 jobs in the state have been created on his watch, and in his early years, he was ruthless about slashing state spending. At one point, he had cut the budgets of the state’s water management districts by $700 million.

While some of that has been replaced, funding is still about $300 million below what it was when he took office.

That’s the kind of thing that people remember when toxic red tide is moving up Florida’s Gulf Coast, killing sea life and stinking to high heavens. That’s on top of the pea-green algae bloom that was making people sick on the Atlantic side of the state.

Water is everything in Florida, and when something like this happens it affects everyone – whether you’re inland or on the beach. The image of beaches covered by poisoned sea life can cripple tourism and the domino effect that can devastate multiple industries.

Scott declared a state of emergency to deal with the problem, but it’s a little late to close the barn door now. Perhaps a fully funded water management district could have taken some preemptive action to lessen the impact of what is turning out to be a full-fledged disaster for the state.

Let’s be honest, though.

To a politician like Scott, these agencies can be seen as money-sucking nuisances. When they work well, the Governor doesn’t get credit because when the beaches are clean, that’s what people expect. You don’t get brownie points for that.

It’s only after the water becomes poisonous to Flipper that the public starts looking for someone to blame.

In Scott’s campaign ads for the U.S. Senate, he has tried to make U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, his Democratic opponent, out to be the guilty party because he’s in Washington, you know. But that’s a hard sell because environmentalists have been blasting Scott since he took office for gutting protections and regulations for Florida’s fragile ecosystem.

Developers always complain about regulations because that cuts into profits, and Scott – like most Republicans – has been a friend to them. With a compliant Legislature eager to tout Florida as a business-friendly, low-tax, low-regulation state, the kind of safeguards for problems like red tide became just more red tape to eliminate.

There is a reason water management districts exist, though. On the Florida Department of Environmental Protection website, it says the agency’s core mission is to protect the water supply, water quality, flood protection and floodplain management, and natural systems.

That’s a big job.

Scott helped undermine that by stocking some of those management boards with developers. Conservation programs were decimated. Development took a high priority over protection.

And now we get dead fish on the beaches.

How can anyone be surprised?

Joe Henderson: What’s reasonable? ‘Stand your ground’ trial may provide answer

It’s not surprising that Pinellas County prosecutors decided not to buy the “stand your ground” argument and charged Michael Drejka with manslaughter Monday in the shooting death of Markeis McGlockton after an argument over a parking space.

This story had gotten much publicity, most of it negative, after Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri initially declined to arrest Drejka because he said the shooting was protected under Florida’s “stand your ground” law. Politics being what they are, something had to give.

I wrote then that I agreed with Gualtieri’s interpretation, and I believe prosecutors will have a hard time making their case that Drejka didn’t feel threatened when he fired the fatal shot.

Proving that the world was turning upside, that earned me a rebuke from Florida’s Mama Gun herself, Marion Hammer. In a comment under that column, she asked if I had actually read the law – implying that it didn’t say what Gualtieri and I believed it did. 

I had read it, by the way.

But I read it again, and here’s the part of that law that will really on trial when Drejka faces a jury of his peers.

Under the heading “justifiable use of force,” it says deadly force is permissible if a person “reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.”

But state Sen. Dennis Baxley, a long-time champion of gun rights and the NRA, told Politico, the law uses a “reasonable-person standard. It’s not that you were just afraid.”

I imagine Drejka’s attorney will have a different take.

Video of the shooting shows McGlockton pushing Drejka violently to the ground during the argument. McGlockton takes a couple of steps back after Drejka aims a gun at him, but it was too late. He was shot in the chest and died.

Mind you, I’m not excusing the actions of either man in that confrontation.

McGlockton’s shove turned an argument into an out-of-control situation.

Drejka sent it over the edge when he pulled a gun.

It wasn’t the first time he had been involved in a dangerous confrontation either. The Tampa Bay Times reported that he had four road rage incidents since 2012 and had pulled a gun at least twice.

But in this case, Baxley’s “reasonable-person standard” will be open to interpretation. Who’s to say what is “reasonable” when you’ve been shoved to the ground with as much violence as Drejka was?

That’s what opponents to this part of the bill warned about. Gualtieri had called the interpretation “subjective” – which is the problem.

A “reasonable person” might conclude Drejka was scared out of his wits. And the twist to SYG now is that prosecutors will have to prove that wasn’t true, no matter what the video shows or seems to show. That is exactly what backers of that law had in mind when they pushed it through the Legislature in 2017.

One of the most ardent supporters of that bill?

Dennis Baxley.

He said on the Senate floor during deliberations, “I think of all the people who will be saved because we did this right and put the burden of proof where it belongs.”

A “reasonable person” might disagree.

Melissa Howard HD 73

Joe Henderson: For Melissa Howard, truth should matter more than degree

I grew up about 40 minutes from Miami University. It is a picturesque place, tucked way off the beaten path in the rolling southwest Ohio hills and home to one of the most beautiful campuses you will ever see. I did not attend school there, but many of my friends did.

I did spend a few nights at the long-gone pubs there known as the Purity and Boar’s Head Inn, knocking back 3.2 beer. But that’s another story.

Students and alumni have been known to call it the Harvard of the Midwest.

Perhaps coincidentally, it is located in the quaint village of Oxford. If you were looking to skate through four years at No Challenge U, then Miami probably wasn’t the place to enroll. Its graduates, which it sounds like do not include Republican Florida House candidate Melissa Howard of Sarasota, are a fiercely proud lot. Earning a degree from Miami is a worthy accomplishment and something to protect.

So why would Howard apparently fib that she is a proud MU graduate, and then double-down with what a school spokesman said was a doctored photo that she posted while trying to defend the indefensible?

It’s too soon to tell if the apparent gaffe will end her political pursuits, but when you’ve got this kind of explaining to do, let’s just say it doesn’t help.

She already had strong endorsements, including Lieutenant Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera and the Florida Chamber of Commerce. The polls had her ahead in deeply red House District 73, but who knows if that still holds after Florida News Online reported that her claim to hold a bachelor’s degree in 1994 from Miami didn’t hold up under scrutiny.

She did, indeed, attend MU from 1990-94, but the school later confirmed she did not complete requirements for her degree.

That was bad.

What followed was worse.

A picture posted on her Facebook page purported to show her degree in marketing as well as her college transcript, but that was quickly debunked when Miami general counsel Robin Parker said (paraphrasing here) “nope, she didn’t graduate.”

And, um …. Miami doesn’t offer a degree in marketing.

This is not the first time someone tried to fudge their college credentials, but the lesson to be learned by anyone eyeing public office is that this should be the last. It’s just too easy to check these things, and while newspaper staffs have shrunk and now lack the resources to do comprehensive background checks, there are new sites popping up with professional reporters to fill the void.

I mean, you’re gonna get unmasked – if not immediately, then eventually.

It’s no shame to not graduate from college, either. Stuff happens. Sometimes money runs low. Sometimes other opportunities arise. Sometimes people just need to do something besides grind through to get a degree.

And for what it’s worth, a degree isn’t required to serve in the Florida House. Common sense would be a much more important thing for a candidate to tout. After all, geeze, Howard is said to be a savvy businesswoman.

Play that up, and if anyone asks about college, just tell the truth.

You can always tell them you’re a few credits shy and plan to make it up with some online classes.

Howard’s campaign people tried the ol’ “fake news” ploy, but it is a fact that the photo of alleged degree and transcript disappeared from her Facebook page.

It won’t be a surprise if her campaign soon disappears as well. Good judgment is a critical asset for a candidate to sell to voters, and let’s just say it looks like she didn’t pass that, either.

Joe Henderson: Hillsborough transit tax push will be on November ballot

For Hillsborough County voters, the choice on at least one ballot issue in November will be simple to decide: Are they willing to pay one more cent per dollar on their sales tax, or is being stuck in traffic every day something they enjoy?

Supervisor of Elections Craig Latimer announced Wednesday afternoon that the All For Transportation push has gathered more than the required number of petition signatures to see if voters want to amend the county charter in a major move to address Hillsborough’s increasing traffic quagmire.

That’s something their county commissioners wouldn’t allow voters to do in 2016 when they declined to allow a similar push called Go Hillsborough on the ballot.


Because anti-tax people screamed and the commissioners caved.

This one is out of their hands, though.

The people behind this push have ranged from Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, civic icon Frank Morsani, to just lots of everyday folks who helped gather, organize or sign petitions.

It seemed like a longshot when the petition drive was announced just a couple of months ago. But volunteers canvassed the area and got more than 50,000 valid signatures, comfortably more than was needed to get this on the ballot.

We’re kind of like the frog in the boiling pot in this county when it comes to transportation. It has gradually gotten much worse over the years as more people moved here and more cars fought for space on the roads. But people just put up with it because there really hasn’t been much of an alternative, until it dawned on enough people that it doesn’t have to be this way.

The anti-tax crowd will decry anything that brings a lot of money into government as a boondoggle before they ever get a chance to see the results. If approved, the 30-year tax is expected to generate $280 million in the first year alone.

That money will get divided among the transportation agency HART, plus the cities of Tampa, Plant City, Temple Terrace, and the county. The idea is to dramatically improve bus service, make needed road repairs, bicycle lanes, and so on.

There is no mention in the plans of a mass transit system that would include rail or something similar. That won’t stop opponents from screaming RAIL at the top of their nay-saying lungs.

They have been successful so far in stopping most attempts in the Bay area to address transportation through tax hikes, so I would imagine the All For Transportation folks know this is just the beginning.

They’ll have about three months to convince voters the need for major transportation upgrades can’t be solved with band-aids and toll roads. Every part of Hillsborough County has stories of traffic nightmares to share.

So, here we go again.

Opponents will be ready. All For Transporation says it will be ready.

Everybody makes their case, and then the voters choose.

That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Joe Henderson: Memo to Al Sharpton — you missed the target

Memo to Al Sharpton.

Bug out, dude.

The decision by Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri not to immediately arrest the shooter in the latest “stand your ground” case in our state has nothing to do with his reluctance to prosecute a crime.

If you want to blame someone for this fiasco, blame the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature. And while you’re at it, kick Florida Democrats upside their frequently self-righteous backsides for their role in for the state’s lopsided gun laws.

They got their tails outflanked as Republicans took complete control of state government over the last 20 years. While the GOP pressed for education “reform,” pro-growth, anti-regulation, anti-public education and tax-schmax laws, nowhere have the state felt the impact of Republican rule more than in gun laws.

Marion Hammer of the National Rifle Association became better-known as a policy manipulator than anyone the Democrats had to offer as a counterbalance. And so we have “stand your ground” rewritten as essentially a license to kill because now a shooter can claim they felt threatened enough in a confrontation to use lethal force.

That nuance of law led Gualtieri to decline to arrest Michael Drejka for fatally shooting Markeis McGlockton in an argument over a parking violation that spiraled out of control.

At a rally in Clearwater, Sharpton said Gualtieri should “give up his badge” for not immediately arresting Drejka, who is white, for shooting McGlockton, who is black, to death.


The better argument is whether, regardless of color, Drejka felt empowered on some level by the state’s idiotic interpretation of SYG to use lethal force in what should have been a relatively minor scuffle, if that.

A lot of people, including me, warned this type of confrontation was coming once state Republican lawmakers rammed this SYG modification through. I asked Gualtieri on Tuesday night if he would have thought differently about arresting Drejka under the old standard of SYG.

“This is an extremely complicated case,” he told me. “The state statute as I understand it says you can’t arrest without probable cause.”

I believe his interpretation is correct. It’s what GOP lawmakers had in mind when they pushed through the NRA-backed enhancements to SYG. And that, folks, is what Gualtieri is required to enforce.

If outsiders like Al Sharpton really want to make a difference here more than a headline, stop blaming law enforcement officers on the front line for enforcing what legislators forced upon them.

They should stop pretending this is solely a black-white issue. It’s a red issue, as in the blood that is being spilled when lawmakers decide that it’s legal to shoot first and justify later.

That’s what the protest should be about.

Joe Henderson: A warning to the GOP: Parkland isn’t going away

The Parkland kids and their determination to change the culture in Florida is the biggest X-factor in the primaries this month and in the November general election.

That much has become increasingly evident as the campaigns have wound their ways toward the citizens’ right to determine what kind of state we want to be. Parkland’s influence can be seen in the latest ads by Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Philip Levine

It showcased the endorsements the former Miami Beach Mayor received from the parents of Joaquin Oliver and Jaime Guttenberg — students who lost their lives during the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

That’s after Democrat Jeff Greene also invoked Parkland in a recent ad, while Democratic front-runner Gwen Graham has promised to issue an executive order as Governor that would ban the sale of assault-style weapons like the one used at Parkland.

Democratic candidates Chris King and Andrew Gillum have made similar gun-control pitches as part of their basic platforms. 

At this point, it should be clear to Republicans and their NRA supporters that just shouting “Second Amendment rights” might not cut it this time. The memory of 17 funerals at Parkland, including 14 students, remains fresh and raw.

The backlash put Adam Putnam into full retreat in the Republican gubernatorial race as he sought to distance himself from the dreadful “proud NRA sellout” line. And Ron DeSantis, the current GOP front-runner, has embraced the expansive gun rights agenda championed by the NRA.

While the Second Amendment isn’t on the ballot in November, the emphasis it will be given by state government really is front and center.

Some Republicans, regrettably, have trashed Parkland survivors who spoke out for stronger gun laws in the wake of the slaughter. None were worse than state Rep. Elizabeth Porter of Lake City, who dismissed them as ill-prepared children who should trust the, ahem, “wisdom” of the adults in Tallahassee.

“We’ve been told that we need to listen to the children and do what the children ask,” she said on the state house floor. “Are there any children on this floor? Are there any children making laws?

“Do we allow the children to tell us that we should pass a law that says ’no homework’? Or you finish high school at the age of 12 just because they want it so? No.”

And then, oh dear, she went on to say. “The adults make the laws because we have the age, we have the wisdom, and we have the experience.”

Tell you what, Ms. Porter. These “children” as you so blithely dismiss them have the “experience” and “wisdom” of living through a horrific experience no person should ever have to endure.

They have the “experience” and “wisdom” of attending funerals of their high-school classmates while you slurped at the trough of the NRA.

But it was exactly that kind of “oh child” back-of-the-hand dismissal of the Parkland kids that has led to this showdown. It has been nearly six months since Parkland, and, sadly, in many other events of mass killing that has been more than enough time for the memory to fade from the public consciousness.

Don’t think it’s gonna happen this time, though.

Those kids aren’t going away.

Parkland isn’t going away.

Joe Henderson: Andrew Learned knows about the extra mile

Andrew Learned took time off Sunday from his campaign represent Florida’s 15th Congressional District.

Instead of hanging out or lounging around the house though, Learned competed in the Siesta Key Triathlon. He finished 13th overall.

Supporters shouldn’t fret though. He was back on the trail by midafternoon, tweeting his disdain for President Trump and other political matters.

I mention this because he is a Democrat and the district he wants to represent covers largely conservative parts of eastern Hillsborough and Polk counties and has generally regarded as reliably Republican.

Conventional wisdom says that a Democrat can’t win there.

If politics has shown us nothing else in the last couple of years though, that seems to matter less and less.

For the last year he has been essentially going door-to-door throughout the district, accepting every invitation to meet with civic groups, attending house parties, and building relationships the old-fashioned way — making time, listening, and when asked a question choosing direct answers over talking points.

He is personable, just 32 years old, confident, he has a compelling personal story, too.

He grew up in Valrico and graduated from the University of Tampa, and later interned for a pair of Hillsborough County Commissioners — Republican Mark Sharpe and Democrat Kevin Beckner.

“The first time I met him, I was really impressed,” Sharpe said. “He is a very sharp young man, and I’m not the least bit surprised that he is running for Congress. I’ve been really impressed with him. He has run a very smart campaign. I definitely think he can win.”

Learned was a Republican as a student majoring in economics and political science, but converted because, he said, “the Republican Party left me a long time ago” by its policies on public education, health care, women’s issues, immigration and tax policies that he says hurts the middle class and makes rich guys richer.

“All that money is flying off to the Caymans,” he said.

On his website, he addresses immigration like this:

”Besides the obvious policy of deporting Donald Trump and Stephen Miller, we need a new generation of leaders capable of adding some sanity and common sense to our country’s immigration policy.

“Ripping children from the arms of their parents as a deterrent is abhorrent. We should be striving to keep families together, welcoming our new neighbors, and helping them get on their feet so we can get them to work in our high-demand labor economy.”

That stance might make the hair stand up on the back of the necks of immigration hawks but Learned doesn’t care. If they want to accuse him of being soft on that subject, they should first understand that he is a Navy veteran who had three deployments to the Middle East.

While there, he led small teams on confrontations with Somali pirates. He was the Navy’s surface planner in Bahrain. And as he wryly notes, “It will be hard to beat me because I’m the only person with military experience in this race.”

And as he said to me with a big smile when we met recently at a Valrico Starbucks, “I got an F-rating from the NRA!”

He also has the support of several Democratic Party officials, including U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, who has helped him in fundraising.

Even so, winning the nomination in the Aug. 28 primary won’t be easy.

Lakeland attorney Kristen Carlson jumped into the race just before the filing deadline in May. She has been endorsed by EMILY’S List, a group pushing for women to be elected to Congress and state legislatures, and that helped her jump into the fundraising lead. The Cook Political Report has tabbed her as the favorite among Democrats.

And while it said the district could go blue this fall, the report said it is still leaning Republican.

But Learned is not deterred.

He talks about his army of volunteers, contacting each eligible voter in the primary to tell his story. While we were talking, people were stopping by the outdoor table where we sat to shake his hand and just say hello.

Will it be enough?

We won’t know that until Aug. 28.

Here’s what we do know though. Even in a district that has been represented by Republican Dennis Ross, skeptics better beware before jumping to conclusions and thinking things can’t change.

Learned is in this race to win, and he knows something about going the extra mile.

Joe Henderson: Vitriol at Trump’s Tampa rally latest sign of the times

By now, I imagine most of you have seen the picture of that lady with blazing eyes and an upraised middle finger at the Donald Trump rally in Tampa Tuesday night. She wasn’t trying to tell the world she thinks Trump is No. 1, either.


She was part of the crowd that screamed hatred at the press, especially CNN’s Jim Acosta, because that’s what the president tells them to do.

I wonder, seriously, if some of those people screaming “liar” and worse things at Acosta have ever actually watched him or that network.

I think they listen to the crowd on Fox, especially Sean Hannity, parrot the president’s disdain for CNN and the media in general, and that’s all they need to know.

I asked Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn what he thought about the spectacle.

“Our democracy depends on a press corps that is engaged and relentless in pursuit of the truth,” he said.

“The demonization and discrediting of the media is the hallmark of third-world dictators who find the truth an inconvenience in their pursuit of total authority.”

That whole debacle was yet another pronouncement to the world that Tampa can be one strange city — sophisticated enough to play host to major events like the Super Bowl and the Republican National Convention, redneck enough to display, well, what the nation saw at this rally.

I have lived here for 44 years. Got married here, raised a family here, had a career here. I love the casual lifestyle. I have witnessed many unforgettable positive things. I have met and been friends with some amazing people.

I’ve always known there is another side to this city I love, though. For instance, there is that island-sized Confederate flag flapping at the intersection of I-4 and I-75, about two miles east of where Trump spoke. I cringe every time I pass it.

We’ve had our share of racial problems and squirrelly politicians. We have our portion of people gleeful to let you know what they think through unsigned emails that question your patriotism, salvation, and other less-printable things.

But what we saw this time was something different. That was raw hatred on display during Trump’s visit, and that’s what this president basically stoked since the day he announced he was running. That was bug-eyed irrationality being shared with the world.

No, not every person who supports Trump is like that. I’ve had good conversations with many people who voted for him in 2016 and will do so again. They have their reasons.

But the taunts, vulgarity, harassment, and threats of physical violence coming from his less introspective supporters are the harbinger of a bad moon rising.

What happens if Republicans are swamped in the midterms?

Trump is already setting up a scenario to question the results if that happens. He tweeted recently that Russia is actually helping Democrats in the midterms because they don’t want to deal with him.

You can think that’s balderdash because, well, it is. But the people who were screaming at the media Tuesday night don’t seem like the kind of folks who like to be confused by facts.

I can see that conspiracy theory getting real legs, with Trump tweeting about “fake results” and “crooked Dems” and his followers, the overzealous ones, reacting accordingly.

But the main event comes in 2020.

He knows he can’t win if the country is united because the strong likelihood is that it would be united against him. So he keeps appealing to the almighty base and tells everyone else to take a hike, and the nation’s chasm widens.

If he is voted out, does anyone believe he’ll leave gracefully? Those are the kinds of thoughts that arise after displays like the one we just saw.

If you pinned him down, the president would probably admit he is playing politics to keep his supporters happy.

Division is what put him in the White House, and he isn’t going to change his tactics now because that’s the only thing that can keep him there.

Joe Henderson: That banging sound is just Adam Putnam’s coffin nailed shut

If you heard a pounding sound in the early evening Tuesday that sounded like tap … tap … tap …


Don’t fret.

That was just the sound of the coffin nailed shut on Adam Putnam’s hopes to be Governor of Florida.

The hammer was being swung by President Donald Trump during a rally Tuesday in Tampa at the Florida State Fairgrounds, driving in the nails in Putnam’s campaign at a venue that is under the umbrella of, um, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

But there it was, for an audience of true believers in the president’s agenda.

Trump was effusive in his praise of Ron DeSantis, the darling of Fox News and Putnam’s opponent in the fight to win the Republican nomination for Governor on Aug. 28. Never mind that Putnam is a child of Florida, with a history in Florida, is generally well-liked in Florida, and … oh, never mind.

Fox likes DeSantis.

Ergo: the president endorses DeSantis and, well, that’s that.

Besides that, what could we take away from the president’s in-and-out visit to Tampa?

Same ol’, same ol’ — to be honest.

It was a rally, so we expected Trump to touch all the talking points, and he didn’t fail.

I’ll sum it up: Democrats, BAD!

Me: GOOD! No, wait … GREAT!

Well, we’ll see about that come November.

Depending which poll you trust, DeSantis holds a lead that could be double-digits over Putnam. It’s too soon to tell which candidate the Democrats will choose, but all five candidates have been hitting the same talking points — education, environment, gun-law reforms, and, lest we forget, Trump is awful!

DeSantis, if he is nominated, will have to do more than cuddle up to Trump in the general election. He’ll need a plan that goes beyond saying he supports the Trump agenda, whatever that means to the issues that affect everyday Floridians.

And Democrats will have to offer more than just a rejection of the president.

That was true yesterday before Air Force One set down in Tampa.

It’s true today.

That brings us back to the net effect of what happened Tuesday at the state fairgrounds.

It was not that much.

Unless the president came out and said, “Oops, changed my mind, Putnam: 2018” he only reinforced what seems to be an inexorable trend that will put DeSantis on the GOP ticket in November. Oh, he also endorsed Rick Scott for U.S. senator over Bill Nelson. Color me stunned.

Democrats railed about the Trump agenda, which was to be expected. Gubernatorial candidate Jeff Greene earned style points for being there, but the basic message reverberated across the blue landscape: Trump, BAD!

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who has prided himself on being able to work across party lines, abandoned any pretense of “Welcome To Tampa, Mr. President” with a tweet that referred to the “Venom and Vitriol Tour” coming to the city.

And it was.

That has been the Trump battle plan since the day he rode down the escalator to announce his candidacy.

Divide. Conquer.

Humiliate. Abuse.

Ridicule. Scorn.

If all else fails, lie.

Usually, that applies to opponents from the other party.

However, this morning Putnam, the reliable Republican who supposedly had paid his dues, may be wondering why he bothered to send out a tweet earlier Tuesday that welcomed Trump to Florida while adding, “I look forward to continuing your success in 2020 by keeping our state a conservative stronghold …”

He’s not in your camp, sir.

He wants the other guy.

That won’t change.

Nothing more to say, really.

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