Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 of 41

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: Sarah Sanders incident latest step into the abyss

It is wrong that Sarah Sanders was asked to leave the Red Hen restaurant over the weekend because the staff and owner don’t like her politics and her presence made them feel uncomfortable.

I don’t like her politics either. I disagree with almost everything she says and, especially, the man she represents in the White House press briefing room.

But if we’re going to stop what looks like a steady descent into an abyss from which it may be hard to recover, we have to acknowledge that what happened with Sanders is no different from a Donald Trump supporter refusing to serve, oh, Nancy Pelosi.

If you say that either option is OK depending on how you look at the world, we’re just one step away from food testers.

And yes, I think Trump uncorked the hate when he kicked off his presidential campaign after he said about Mexico, “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Actually, it was quite a weekend for hate.

Sanders’ father, the incredibly hypocritical former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, fired off a sickening tweet that showed a picture of gang members with the words, “Nancy Pelosi introduces her campaign committee for the take back of the House.”

Huckabee was a Southern Baptist minister before entering politics. He parades his faith as both an appeal to voters with similar values and a dog whistle to their worst instincts, as we saw in that tweet.

It’s up to God to give him final judgment on that tweet, but I’ll say it is unhinged piety and represents a side of the Christian faith with which I am not familiar.

But hey, it’s all politics, right?

That makes it OK, right?

There is very little going on right now in our national discourse that qualifies as OK.

Politicians have been making their case for as long as I can remember mostly by talking in platitudes about themselves while casting their election opponent as a spawn of Satan.

What’s happening now is not just about downgrading a person from the other party anymore, it’s about making your supporters hate whole groups of people that might have thought differently.

We see that in Adam Putnam’s repeated references to “liberal elites” on the campaign trail. Students from Parkland have been targeted with outright lies, including a Photoshopped image that made the rounds of a student ripping up a copy of the U.S. Constitution.

Some conservative college students complain they have been targeted for ridicule and abuse by liberal professors. Liberals fire back that the President of the United States is an arrogant bully who started all this.

It goes on, and on, and on.

So where does it stop?

One person at a time, I think.

I imagine those migrants stuck at the U.S. border because the leader of the free world decided to play politics with their lives. Do people really believe those immigrants woke up one day and decided they would undertake a perilous journey so they could bring crime, drugs, and violence to this country?

BuzzFeed reported in late March that what it called a “large caravan” of would-be immigrants, mostly from Honduras, was making a monthlong journey through Mexico to the U.S. because they were running away from all the stuff Trump said immigrants were trying to bring here.

We don’t think about that though, do we?

Nope. We just assume the worst and hide our best instincts.

So, the intensity of distrust grows on both sides to the point where someone can’t even order dinner without being told to leave.

Time to pump the brakes, folks.

Joe Henderson: For now (at least), sanity carries the day

Let’s take a deep breath and briefly examine what we have learned over the last several days.

Lesson No. 1: Separating children from their parents and locking them in cages is bad.

Lesson No. 2: When in doubt, refer to Lesson No. 1.

Sometimes, it really is that simple.

Someone finally got that message through to President Donald Trump, and he announced an executive order that reunites previously separated children and parents. A modicum of compassion and sanity was restored to this nation’s border policy, and I guess we take victories where we can find them.

Hysteria, for the moment, was trampled by millions of Americans who said in loud, unmistakable voices that this isn’t the kind of country we want.

It’s possible to have security without being terrified of the border boogeyman.

That’s a conversation for another day, but it’s an important one — especially here in Florida.

For now, though, just look at how we got to the point where the leader of the free world had to have it pounded through his thick skull that there are lines that can’t be crossed, especially when crying children are standing on the other side.

The arrogance of hard-liners in the Trump administration got us here, along with the president’s unswerving belief that anything which makes his 40 percent base happy is good public policy.

Consider how Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, showed the Fox News audience he had the heart of pit viper when he mocked a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome who had been separated from her parents at the border.

This is a guy who had Trump’s ear, and he evidently thinks situations like this are funny. Offered a chance Wednesday to apologize, he declined. Repeat: Lewandowski used to manage Trump’s campaign, and if he had his way that little girl would be nothing more than collateral damage on the way to building a border wall.

And I’ll bet Lewandowski still has Trump’s ear.

Speaking of collateral damage, few people have had a worse week career-wise than Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen of Clearwater.

She was given the fool’s errand to try and back up her boss’s lie that Democrats were blocking any law that could have reunited those kids with their parents, and she dutifully did as she was told.

Turns out, Trump could fix it with the stroke a pen, like Democrats always said.

But Nielsen’s public face on this issue led to an ugly scene with protesters at, oh yeah, a Mexican restaurant where she was having dinner Tuesday night. It rammed home another important lesson: Trying to defend the indefensible is never a good idea.

And just when we think Attorney General Jeff Sessions couldn’t possibly look worse, he did by quoting out of context Romans Ch. 13 from the Bible. Sessions used that to defend the government’s action, basically saying that God would want people to go along with what the administration is doing.

Religious leaders around the country responded with stinging rebukes, and now Sessions could face sanctions from the United Methodist Church, where he is a member.

About 700 UMC clergy and laity across the land, including ten from Florida, signed “a formal complaint against fellow United Methodist layperson Jefferson Beauregard Sessions” for violating the denomination’s Book of Discipline.

They accuse Sessions, among other things, of “chargeable offenses” that include child abuse, racial discrimination, immorality, and dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church (see Romans, Ch. 13) — all growing out of his enforcement of the unholy zero-tolerance directive.

I’ve never been prouder to be a member of the United Methodist Church.

This won’t be the last time Trump is moved to rapid excess while he occupies the Oval Office. Just because opponents forced him to change this time doesn’t mean he will quit trying. He has enablers like Lewandowski, and if they suddenly go away, there will be new ones to take their place.

But if you like the president and you think on balance that he is doing what you sent him to Washington to accomplish, hopefully, you just learned something important.

There are limits.

Trump and those who support him just crossed one.

Yes, they were stopped — this time.

One we know for sure, though. They will be back.

Joe Henderson: Bill Nelson visit was right thing to do (and good politics)

The best thing that could have happened to Bill Nelson’s campaign so far took place Tuesday.

Florida’s senior U.S. Senator, in a fight for his political life, traveled to inspect the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children facility.

It’s a holding camp keeping an estimated 1,000 children — some came to America without their parents, and others because their parents are being held elsewhere on suspicion of trying to enter the country illegally.

Given what is going on in Texas, where children are separated from their immigrant parents, Nelson was well within the scope of his job to make sure there is no funny business going on at the Homestead facility.

Nelson said he set up the visit in advance through proper Health and Human Services channels but was advised Tuesday it would have to be delayed because applications for such visits must be submitted to two weeks in advance.

He went there anyway but was blocked from going inside for a firsthand look.

“I thought by the time I got here, they (would have) thought better,” Nelson said.

“Refusing a Senator, the Congresswoman (Debbie Wasserman Schultz), and the Representative (state Rep. Kionne McGhee) of checking on the welfare of children and also finding out about the welfare of children that have been pulled away from their parents.”

He might have found a locked door there, but it was campaign gold and it didn’t cost a cent.

As the cameras rolled, Nelson let ‘em have it.

“They obviously are hiding something,” he said. “They are using the excuse (that) you have to apply two weeks in advance (to visit). That is what the deputy secretary told me this morning.

“And I said, ‘Obviously, that is balderdash. You know better than telling me that we’ve got to fill out a form two weeks ahead of time when children’s lives are at stake So, they obviously are trying to cover up. They don’t want us to see it.”

Nelson’s righteous anger should make his Senate opponent, Gov. Rick Scott, squirm a bit.

After all, after hitting Nelson for weeks with a barrage of TV ads suggesting he has been in Washington too long and is out of touch, it raised the question: Why hasn’t the Governor gone to check?

After all, he is top elected official in this state.

To be fair, Scott has spoken out against the policy of separating children from their parents.

In this case, though, he ceded the stage — and a whole bunch of free media — to Nelson.

That’s blunder No. 1.

Blunder No. 2 was the refusal by HHS to allow Nelson’s visit to continue. Officials could have told him that cameras had to stay outside but to walk around and check things for himself.

By blocking Nelson, HHS only served to heighten suspicion that something really is wrong there. If he eventually is allowed in and everything looks good, suspicion will be that the place was cleaned up before letting Nelson inside.

It hasn’t been a good week for the Trump administration on this issue.

The president has been loudly criticized on both sides of the political aisle for the zero-tolerance policy that led to this fight.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions tried to use the Bible to justify the policy, and there are calls for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen of Clearwater to resign.

Nelson’s visit will undoubtedly be criticized as a political stunt by some, but after absorbing body blows from Scott’s TV blitz, it was a strong countermove.

It had the added the virtue of being the right to do.

Joe Henderson: Making sense of the Susan Valdes paperwork-controversy

If everything goes as planned, Democrat Susan Valdes will travel to Tallahassee early morning and file paperwork to run for House District 62.

Normally, this would be an uneventful event, barely noteworthy.

But, of course, that race has become anything but uneventful since Valdes’ surprise and controversial decision to resign from the Hillsborough School Board to run for the House seat being vacated by House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, who is challenging for Dana Young’s state Senate spot.

At issue is the charge by a consultant for the Michael Alvarez campaign that Supervisor of Elections Director Craig Latimer’s office accepted Valdes’ irrevocable letter of resignation from the School Board — a mandatory first step to run for another office — after the deadline to make such a declaration.

Political activist Chris Cano also is running.

What is clear so far is that Valdes’ resignation letter arrived and was certified after the close of business at the elections office, but before midnight.

People I have spoken with say the law doesn’t specify that the letter had to be in by the end of the business day, so long as it arrived by the calendar day.

Latimer’s acceptance of the letter would seem to validate that position, although it did open a legitimate question about whether any other candidate would have such an accommodation.

On the other hand, it doesn’t appear that any other candidate asked for that.

Either way, it’s a big deal for Alvarez, who might have been the favorite in that race before Valdes — popular in that heavily Hispanic district — joined the party.

The protest coming his camp, amid suggestions that Latimer’s office unfairly played favorites, would indicate he understands that his campaign just got complicated.

All I can say is this: While it’s obvious that the Valdes resignation came in after the close of business (it was time-stamped at 7:30 p.m.), there is nothing in prior campaigns to suggest Latimer’s office bent the rules for one candidate’s benefit.

Alvarez likely will have to win the Democratic primary on Aug. 28 — and, with that, likely secure a seat in the House — the old-fashioned way: on the merits of his campaign, which are not insignificant.

It won’t be easy, though.

Valdes has the support of both Cruz and Hillsborough Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez, who also served in the state House.

The outcome, however it goes, seems unlikely to have much impact on the big picture for the balance of power in Tallahassee, though. The seat almost certainly is going to remain in Democratic hands.

Lest we forget, this also impacts the School Board, where Valdes, first elected in 2004, had two years remaining on her third term. It means the potential for four new Board members at a time when the school district is undergoing considerable financial pressure.

And she also faced two state ethics charges from her time on the Board, which undoubtedly will lead to uncomfortable questions during the campaign.

For now, though, she sounds like someone not worried about anything but running for the state House. She plans to be in Tallahassee bright and early Thursday to make it official.

Joe Henderson: Trump giving supporters exactly what they voted for

In his campaign for the presidency, Donald Trump basically told the American people what he was going to do about immigration.

He was going to be tough. He was going to be ruthless.

Mercy was only for the weak.

He would show the world his version of America. It was a two-handed shove to the chest.

So, if you voted for him, don’t pretend you’re surprised border agents are tearing families apart and you didn’t think it would go that far.

This is the nation Gov. Rick Scott had a hand in creating during the campaign when he backed Trump at every turn.

It’s what Republican gubernatorial candidates Ron DeSantis and Adam Putnam endorse every time they use Trump’s name.

This is the America religious leaders like Franklin Graham supported throughout the campaign and in the first year and a half of Trump’s presidency, even as evidence piled up daily that he was a bully-in-chief.

Now that children are being separated from their parents at the border with no timetable for seeing them again, Graham told the Christian Broadcasting Network, “It’s disgraceful, and it’s terrible to see families ripped apart and I don’t support that one bit.”

Disgraceful? He didn’t see this coming?

How could he not?

Trump’s supporters voted for a man who bragged that his celebrity status gave him the right to grab women anywhere he wanted. He supported white supremacists.

He hired Steve Bannon.

They cheered when he shook a fist and shouted repeatedly about building a wall between Mexico and the United States. They stood with him when he insulted our closest allies.

He called Canada a national security threat, but said of Kim Jong Un, “I think it’s great to give him credibility.”

He tripled the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and if some of them act like jackboots, well, that’s just the Trumpian way of enforcing the law, eh?

Trump has been exactly what he promised to be. Did anyone think he was kidding during the campaign and would somehow realize he is the president of 320 million people, not just those who voted for him?

What’s unfolding over immigration is just the next logical step.

He gave people like Attorney General Jeff Sessions power, who now says separating families is OK because the Bible supports it.

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained the government for his purposes,” Sessions said.

Sessions has been justifiably skewered for taking that out of context, but he also ignored the instruction from Jesus in Mark 12: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”

But hey, people should have seen that coming, too.

After all, Trump told students at Liberty University about a verse in “Two Corinthians” instead of 2nd Corinthians, and he told a group of evangelicals in Iowa that he had never asked God for forgiveness.

Um, the Bible kind makes it clear that seeking forgiveness is important.

Evangelicals voted him anyway in large numbers because he pandered to them. They helped create this. It’s too late for some to say they don’t like it.

None of this is an argument against immigration laws and border enforcement, but there is a way to do it without blowing families apart – and on some level, Trump and his minions know this, don’t they?

But they’re all so focused on being tough that they forget everything else.

On Sunday, Father’s Day, Fox News reported Melania Trump’s office said: “Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families & hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform. She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws but also a country that governs w/heart.”

A heart.

That would be nice. But that’s not what his supporters voted for. They voted for a crude brute who told them what he was going to do. They believed him.

He didn’t let them down.

They own this.

Joe Henderson: Money no object in Jeff Greene’s bid for Governor

It’s debatable if money can buy happiness, but there is anecdotal evidence that it can buy the keys to the Florida Governor’s mansion.

Rick Scott proved that by spending millions from his considerable personal bank account to win the Republican nomination in 2010, then the general election and finally a second term.

Now, Democrat Jeff Green says he is prepared to follow Scott’s script and spend, as he told the Miami Herald, “ … whatever it takes” to become Florida’s next Governor.

Not only that, Green told the newspaper he’s willing to lend a financial hand to other state Democratic candidates to flip the Legislature after 20 years of Republican rule.

Sure, he’s jumping into the race so late that most conventional candidates wouldn’t bother. The primary is only 2 ½ months away, and his rivals — Philip Levine, Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum and Chris King — have been crisscrossing the state for months.

The electorate has reacted mostly with a yawn though, and Green told the Herald that’s why he decided to go all-in.

The leader is clearly Mr. Undecided. None of these candidates have really been able to inspire the voters,” Greene said.

Money can buy a lot of inspirational TV ads, and Greene is worth an estimated $4 billion.

He does bring a lot of baggage to the race, starting with the fact he once ran for Congress in Los Angeles as a Republican, but Charlie Crist used to be a Republican too and, well, things change.

Greene did make a mess of things the last time he ran for elected office though. That was an ill-fated 2010 U.S. Senate bid, which blew up following reports Greene was partying hard with people like Mike Tyson and Lindsay Lohan.

Do people even care about things like that any more (see Trump, Donald)?

I guess we’ll find out.

Besides, Greene says he strictly a family man, interested in education, and that all those party stories were exaggerated anyway.

“Here I am eight years later, and thank God I have three beautiful sons,” he told The Associated Press.

“When you have kids who are starting to grow, you start thinking about things like education and what kind of world they’re going to have.”

Well, OK.

In the past or not, that won’t stop rivals from bringing up the party stuff anyway if Greene starts to gain traction. It also could complicate a Democratic race that was increasingly beginning to take on a Levine-versus-Graham look.

Even if Greene’s bid is not successful, it could force the other Democrats to spend even more resources now instead of keeping some cash in the bank for the general election.

And that benefits … guess who?

Adam Putnam.

For as much bad press as Putnam has gotten lately, he has only one rival for the Republican nomination and Ron DeSantis, despite his regular appearances on Fox News and the endorsement from President Donald Trump, hasn’t made much headway.

Putnam has money. Name recognition.

And for now, at least, he seems to have withstood the twin haymakers from the Publix controversy and the bungled handling of concealed weapons permits by his office at the state Agriculture Department.

Even if Greene somehow wins the Democratic nomination, he would find Putnam (I’m assuming) to be a formidable opponent.

But hey, eight years ago I thought the idea of a businessman spending millions of his own dollars to win the Governor’s race was laughable.

No one is laughing anymore.

Joe Henderson: Maybe only Donald Trump could go to North Korea

It has been a little more than 46 years since President Richard Nixon made his historic visit to The People’s Republic of China.

It turned out to be a major diplomatic coup for the darkly devious president, breaking through a quarter century of ice between China and the United States.

Even the most malevolent president in U.S. history (at the time) was able to accomplish something important. As historians noted, only Nixon could go to China.

Maybe they’ll be saying the same thing about Florida’s part-time resident, President Donald Trump, for his just-concluded summit with North Korea’s malevolent dictator Kim Jong Un.

History might show that only a scoundrel could talk to a scoundrel.

Trump’s arms-length relationship with the truth, his juvenile insults, and his penchant for answering every question about ethical lapses with the same two-word answer — Hillary Clinton — may have convinced his North Korean counterpart that this was his kind of guy.

And President Trump got to enjoy a brief respite in the news from Robert Mueller’s investigation into his ties with Russia.  


Of course, the president also is a little shaky with details about what he just agreed to, so for all we know he may have signed over Seattle to the North Koreans as part of the art of this deal.

But seriously, this could be the breakthrough of all time — and, obviously, we hope it is. I guess we’ll find out when we do.

It seems that Trump dangled the promise of prosperity for the notoriously poor people of North Korea, and that was smart — although it wouldn’t surprise anyone if all that money and so on wound up in the vault at the North Korean presidential mansion.
But hey, if it works and the rogue nation really does dispose of its nuclear stockpile — color me skeptical — then Trump will add that to the lists of things he pulled off that no other U.S. president could accomplish.

Alas, that list also includes insulting and threatening longtime allies while continuing to insist Vladimir Putin is really just misunderstood.

After Trump’s abysmal showing at the G-7 summit last week, the question went out far and wide to Republicans across the land — why aren’t your voices raised in thunderous protest?

Do you really want foreign policy operating under the doctrine, as one top inside source told the Atlantic this week, “We’re America, Bitch.

Somewhere around 40 percent of the country apparently does.

 We’ll find out if that number increases by November’s midterms because Democrats are going all-out and Trump will be at the center of everything they say — even when they’re not saying his name.

That’s true in Florida especially, where Democrat Bill Nelson is in the fight of his political life to hold on to his U.S. Senate seat against Gov. Rick Scott.

But for now, Trump has something to talk about besides investigations and angry allies.

Good for him.

He might be wise to keep a little history in mind though.

Nixon called his China trip “the week that changed the world” — and history has shown that to be true.

He also hoped it would make people forget about the Vietnam War and the exploding Watergate scandal.

They did not.

Still, Nixon, a scoundrel of the highest order, was forced from office two years and odd months after that breakthrough.

And it’s about two years and odd months before the 2020 presidential election.

It’s just something to keep in mind.

Joe Henderson: Susan Valdes turns Hillsborough races topsy-turvy

Normally, the decision of a local school board member to run for another office — in this case, the Florida House — would be interesting, but not seismic.

But this is Hillsborough County, where people have learned to expect the unexpected.

So it is with the now-irrevocable decision by Susan Valdes to resign from the Hillsborough School Board, presumably, so she can run as a Democrat for the House District 62 seat being vacated by Janet Cruz, the political scene in the county just got a little bit crazy.

Or, maybe a whole lot crazy.

It appeared for a time Friday that the whole plan, which had been rumored for weeks, had imploded. It was initially reported that the paperwork for her resignation from the Board, a necessary first step if she intends to run for another office, had not been filed with county elections supervisor by the deadline.

That was premature.

Communication Director Gerri Kramer said the office received Valdes’ official resignation notice at around 7:30 that night, after the close of business.

After conferring with legal counsel, Kramer said it was determined that Valdes had met the deadline. She will continue to stay on the Board until either her successor is sworn in or she assumes another office, but she cannot withdraw the resignation now.

She still has to file qualifying papers for the House race, but resigning from the School Board, where she has served since 2004 and two years remaining on her current term, is a clear signal about what she has in mind.

Qualifying for that race runs from noon on June 18 through noon on June 22.

“I think she immediately would be installed as the favorite,” Hillsborough Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez told Florida Politics “She has name recognition, she has experience, and she certainly understands education. That’s the most important thing we do there.”

Henriquez served in the House from 1998 until 2006.

“Susan has been a friend for a long time,” he said. “When I ran for (property appraiser) she supported me without hesitation. I know her well. She certainly isn’t a wallflower. She doesn’t shy away from controversy

“But the biggest thing is that she knows her community and her district. She would go to Tallahassee to serve them, not because she would be thinking of the job as a springboard to the next big thing.”

Valdes will also likely have the support of Cruz, who is the outgoing House Minority Leader and is currently challenging Dana Young for a seat in the State Senate.

The HD 62 race has been topsy-turvy since presumed front-runner, John Rodriguez, dropped out and took a lobbying job instead with St. Petersburg.

While no Republican has declared for the August 28 primary in the staunchly Democratic district, Valdes will face competition from her own party.

Other Democrats in the primary include Chris Cano, Michael Alvarez, and art teacher Alicia Campos. No party affiliated Jason Stube also is in the race.

Valdes was one of the four Board members who voted to fire former Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, who was a rock star to many in the local business community.

The backlash from those people was considerable. Valdes won her 2016 primary election against Bill Person by just 267 votes out of more than 23,000 cast.

Valdes has been the target of a pair of ethics investigations, and her 10Investigates in Tampa reported in 2016 that in one year she had racked up over $14,000 in travel expenses to conferences around the country, more than the other six Board members combined.

Valdes’ impending departure also shakes up the School Board race, as if it wasn’t already uncertain enough.

The next Board will continue to grapple with a debt crisis, many buildings in need of major repair, millions in state funding being diverted to charter schools and vouchers, and a cap on property tax millage rates that compounds the problem.

There will now an election to replace Valdes in District 1, along with three other contested Board seats in the nation’s eighth-largest district.

With potentially four new members coming on board, well, it’s hard to imagine what that could mean. Longtime board member April Griffin announced earlier she will not be running for re-election to the District 6 countywide she won easily in 2014.

Six challengers are vying to replace her.

In District 2, incumbent Sally Harris faces three opponents, while incumbent Melissa Snivley has only one declared opponent in District 4, LaShonda Davison.

Stay tuned. This just got really interesting.

Joe Henderson: Being front-runner now just makes Philip Levine top target

The primaries are about 2 ½ months away, and so much can happen before voters choose their candidates for Florida’s next Governor that being the front-runner now only means you’re the main target.

With that in mind, Democrat Philip Levine, who is leading polls mostly (I believe) because he has been the only candidate from his party to put a lot of ads on TV, might want to go easy on the whole “I’m the front-runner” idea.

Ask Adam Putnam how much it means to be ahead before most people have even begun to pay serious attention to the elections. Get real.

But that didn’t stop Levine from a groan-inducing moment during Saturday’s Democratic debate.

When his three opponents on the stage — Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum and Chris King — put Levine on the defensive by bringing up his 2010 contribution of $2,400 to Republican Marco Rubio’s U.S. Senate campaign.

That prompted this ill-advised quip from Levine: “Boy, it’s sure fun to be the front-runner.”

It was not well-received by the audience at Pinellas Park High School, and it just reminded everyone that Levine has a reputation as thin-skinned.

That brings up two points:

First, it reminded people of his gaffe in the first Democratic debate when the man who has proposed giving $10,000 raises to Florida teachers — estimated cost: $1.8 billion — couldn’t answer a direct question about how much the state already budgets for education.

That was quite the conversation-starter in the aftermath of that debate, and the last thing Levine should have wanted was for people to be talking about this line after the second go-round.

Second, it opened the question of whether Levine was prepared for the grilling a poll-leader should expect.

If this line was a rehearsed response in anticipation of being knocked around, he should have ditched that idea long before he got to the stage.

If it was spontaneous, that doesn’t bode well either. What would he be like sitting in the Governor’s chair when the grill gets a lot hotter than what he faced Saturday night?

To be fair, he did come back with a nod toward party unity in his closing statement, noting, “I hope every single one of you votes for me, but I know one thing. If any of the four of us become Governor, our state will be in way better shape than it is today.”

Levine has reliably progressive ideas and the money to get his message out. And it’s not like his opponents don’t have their own obstacles to overcome.

Graham has been attacked from the left for not being progressive enough, although her declaration during Saturday’s debate that if elected she will sign an executive order banning the sale of military-style assault weapons was a bold gambit.  

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has had to defend his vote as a city commissioner in 2005 to join with other cities to build a $1.5 billion coal-fired plant.

Businessman Chris King is struggling to find traction in a crowded field.

And Jeff Green, a late entry to the race, decided to skip Saturday’s debate. Interesting strategy, eh?

But even though this is his first statewide campaign, Levine surely must know that leading the polls — and he does, by a wide margin — only means his rivals will come at him with more pointed attacks. It doesn’t get easier from now through the August primary, and after that it gets ferocious.

Get used to it.

Joe Henderson: Mitch McConnell’s sneaky move is how they roll in the swamp

If you don’t believe Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s move to cancel that body’s August recess was a snarky political stunt aimed at Democrats, hey, I’ve got some swamp land for sale.

It’s undrained but you’ll love it, believe me.

Still, it was unseemly and even a little whiny for Florida Democrat Bill Nelson to complain out loud that the edict is designed to keep him from campaigning at a critical time in his race against Rick Scott — even though it is.

It’s nonetheless a bad look to say so.

Nelson is one of 10 Senate Democrats up for re-election in states won by Donald Trump in 2016. There are 35 Senate seats up for grabs this fall and 24 are currently held by Democrats.

I guess McConnell really likes being the Majority Leader and wants to make it as hard on the opposition party as possible.

“Mitch is using any excuse he can in order to hold those of us who want to be home campaigning, hold us here in Washington because we have to vote. That’s what he’s doing,” Nelson was quoted as saying in the Miami Herald.

“This is nothing but raw politics. He can do all of that stuff and, of course, I’ll be here voting, which is why the people sent me here, but at the end of the day that’s not going to do him any good.”

Nelson probably would have been better off saying nothing, except for the part about doing the work he was elected to do. And then flood the airwaves with TV showing him at work while Scott, who is the governor the last time I checked, is crisscrossing the state on campaign stops.

Interesting, but shortly after Scott took a jab at Nelson on Twitter, the Tampa Bay Times reported the Governor took off to San Francisco for a swanky fundraiser. 

Let’s get to west … I mean, get to work.

Scott’s TV ads have been relentlessly hammering Nelson as a career politician whose time has passed, while hoping no will notice that if elected to the Senate after serving two terms as Governor, Scott would fit the definition of a career politician.

But Nelson has begun fighting back and is reinforcing his strengths from places where Scott might be considered weak: the environment, gun violence, and women.

Last weekend, he spoke in Tampa at the Florida NOW conference, and he continues to work with Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio on things like hurricane preparation. Scott has thus far shown no ability to reach a hand across the aisle. 

So, McConnell wants to keep Democrats off the trail during prime campaign season on the flimsy excuse that they’ve bottled up many of Trump’s appointments, eh?

Obviously, McConnell forgot about his refusal to even hold a hearing on Barack Obama’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

That’s life in the swamp, I guess.

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