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Ryan Cohn: Unmasking the Facebook controversy facts, truth

One of the biggest takeaways from watching several hours of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s congressional testimony was the sheer lack of understanding among many lawmakers about how Facebook actually works.

The latest controversies surrounding this global social network, from Cambridge Analytica to Russian election meddling, have been twisted and misconstrued by pundits and politicians — similar to an elementary school game of telephone. Few understand what actually happened and even fewer know what needs to be done to solve the social network’s challenges.

All of this was best revealed when Sen. Orrin Hatch purposely questioned how Facebook could make money without a paid subscription model. Zuckerberg paused and then responded with a smile, “Senator, we run ads.”

Facebook does have user data issues, which show up through apps and ads. The Cambridge Analytica controversy, which involved a third-party app developer selling user data to an advertising agency, was made possible by a 2014 vulnerability (now solved) in how Facebook shares data with app developers. Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections was an advertising issue, with masked Russian agents paying to place divisive, emotionally charged social media posts in front of various groups of the American electorate in hopes of creating confusion and consternation.

To clarify what’s actually at stake, answering several questions that keep popping up, but that few seem to understand, will be helpful.

Does Facebook sell user data?

No. In 2017, Facebook made 98.2 percent of its revenue from advertising. The remaining 1.8 percent was a result of people buying virtual goods from games they play on Facebook (think Farmville), with the social network taking a small cut from each transaction. These payments, similar to how Apple takes a cut on every app purchased through iTunes, are shrinking each year as more users move to mobile — where fewer users play Facebook games and buy virtual goods.

Rather than sell user data, Facebook leverages it to offer advertisers some of the best and most accurate targeting tools available anywhere today. If you want to place your ad in front of a 36-year-old woman in Nashville, for instance, you could use Google, but their targeting tools are primarily built on guessing games (supposing, for example, that people who visit 14 particular websites are likely 35 to 44 years old). With Facebook, users voluntarily provide this data, making it unprecedented for its accuracy and potential to place highly relevant ads in front of the right groups of people.

That’s what this all comes down to: Facebook wants its users to be presented with as many highly relevant ads as possible. If Facebook users consider the ads in their news feeds to be relevant, then they are more likely to click through and engage with the content and take an action, whether that means buying a product, attending an event, downloading a mobile app, or voting for a political candidate. If advertisers do not receive a sufficient return on their investment, they will abandon Facebook and shift their advertising budgets to other advertising platforms.

Our firm has conducted Facebook advertising campaigns — promoting products and issues — for more than a decade, spending millions of dollars on behalf of hundreds of clients. At no time have we had access to the personal data of individual Facebook users. Even when Facebook is provided with a list of people to target with ads (e.g., a company’s existing customers or subscribers), Facebook encrypts that data and removes all personally identifiable characteristics.

For example, no one could specifically target “John Smith in Springfield, Missouri” by name with a particular ad. You could target groups of hundreds, thousands, or millions of users with advertising content that you hope is relevant enough to encourage them to interact with the content and take additional action.

In the Russian election scandal, foreign agents attempted to cloud and cause fallout on the American political landscape by creating Facebook Pages about various controversial issues, running ads encouraging people to follow those pages and then publishing divisive content into their news feeds. They used the ad targeting tools mentioned earlier for nefarious purposes, attempting to manipulate Americans.

Did this Russian campaign impact the 2016 U.S. election and its campaigns? That all depends on whether you believe people have control over their own viewpoints or if they are molded entirely by the messages they see on a daily basis. We all surely hope the outcome was not shaped by this dark work.

What actually happened with Cambridge Analytica?

In 2014, Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan created a Facebook quiz app called “This Is Your Digital Life.” In order to use the app, 270,000 Facebook users gave Kogan permission to access their public profile, page likes, friend lists and birthday. By gaining access to these friend lists, Kogan also received access to the friends’ public profiles.

When media and politicians refer to 87 million users, they are talking about those friends’ public profiles. It’s important to note, however, that the information Kogan received about users’ friends from their public profiles is what anyone could have accessed with a simple search for Facebook users. Kogan did not receive access to private data, such as credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, purchase activities and travel history. All accessible information was publicly available. There was no breach or hack of Facebook’s system — Facebook merely made it easier for Kogan to have access.

Once Kogan had this user data, he sold it to Cambridge Analytica and a couple of other research firms, which violated Facebook’s terms of service. When Facebook found out, they told them to delete the data. Cambridge Analytica reported to Facebook that it had deleted the data, but this was untrue. Facebook now acknowledges it should have conducted a more thorough audit to confirm the deletion and should have informed users about the violation at the time it occurred.

Shortly after, Facebook restricted what information app developers could access via users’ friends lists. Facebook’s app developers have not been able to access the data in question for the last four years.

During the Senate committee hearing, several senators commented about the complexity of Facebook’s Terms of Service, implying that it was the only document users had to accept before the social network would share user data with app developers.

But the truth is Facebook shows users a permissions page and requires their approval before they can use an app and the requested data is then shared with app developers. Here’s an example of the permissions page:

Could Facebook launch a paid subscription, and how much would it cost?

Facebook could launch a paid membership with no advertisements and no capture of user data, but it would be reluctant to take that path. Here’s why:

Facebook earned $82.44 in advertising revenue per average American user in 2017, up 35 percent from $60.90 in 2016.

If a paid subscription merely reimbursed Facebook for the amount it would lose in advertising revenue, then Facebook would have to charge users $6.87 per month. But with advertising revenue per user expected to continue climbing in the years ahead, that subscription fee would have to either increase each year or be set at a much higher price point.

Why do advertisers flock to Facebook more than other social networks, like Twitter? Aside from Facebook’s superior ad targeting capabilities, advertisers have the opportunity to reach many more users on Facebook. If you start chipping away at the number of people you can reach with ads on Facebook, then advertisers may be less likely to invest in the social network, which then dilutes the overall advertising platform’s value.

And who would be most likely to switch to a paid subscription? If it were priced at $7.99 or more, it’s likely that the population of paid subscribers would be wealthier and more educated than the average user. Those wealthier, more educated users happen to be some of Facebook’s most desired users from an advertising perspective. Facebook does not want to lose advertisers’ top targets — or any segment of its massive global audience.

So how do you police Facebook?

Facebook has 2.1 billion users worldwide. That’s 28 percent of the world’s population accessing Facebook at least once a month, and 18 percent accessing it daily.

Even more striking is that 2 in 3 Americans access Facebook each month.

How do you police the communication of 1 in 4 people around the globe, including 2 in 3 Americans? No organization in human history has been tasked with such a monumental challenge. So, to what extent should Facebook police the world’s communication?

Facebook got into hot water in 2017 for censoring conservative news in its Trending Topics section. In response, Facebook replaced most of the human involvement with an automated computerized review, but that has created a slew of new problems. So what’s the right answer?

Facebook has employed hundreds of experts in this arena in hopes that they may continue to research how to best develop an appropriate strong solution.

It is doubtful that Congress will be able to solve this and other challenges facing Facebook’s future. But it is apparent that without careful consideration, members of Congress may create more problems through politically motivated rash and reckless regulations.

That would not serve the interests of anyone except politicians seeking to claim credit and advantage from it in the never-ending quest for sound bites and talking points to use in the upcoming 2018 elections.


Ryan Cohn is a partner, executive vice president of Sachs Media Group.

Major Harding: Protect our constitution from unnecessary clutter and logrolling

The week of April 16, 2018, the 37 members of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) hold the unique power to approve or not approve what proposals will go on the 2018 ballot this November for voters to consider adding as amendments to our state’s constitution.

Given the substance of a number of the remaining proposals, and the grouping of those proposals, there are a number of concerns the Commission should consider.

First, as discussed in prior public addresses, many of the remaining proposals — irrespective of their underlying merits — do not belong in our constitution.

As then-Chief Justice [Alan] Sundberg noted in his dissent in State v. Firestone, 386 So.2d 561, 568 (Fla. 1980): “[t]he predecessor Constitution of 1885 had been repeatedly and persistently amended by inclusion of matters which did not rise to fundamental constitutional dignity. A major objective of the original Constitutional Revision Commission was to impose a more orderly and stringent process for amendment of the 1968 Constitution to curb the excesses which beset the 1885 Constitution.”

A number of the present proposals — regulating everything from naming of buildings to greyhound racing, civics lessons to vaping in public places — objectively do not rise to the level of fundamental constitutional dignity because they do not govern state government, protect fundamental rights and can be enacted through the legislative process.

The Commission must act to prevent these from being placed on the ballot and protect our constitution from unnecessary clutter.

Relatedly, the Commission’s present grouping of proposals makes the problem worse. By grouping proposals, the Commission is effectively depriving the voters of their right to choose what does and does not belong in Florida’s foundational text on a proposal-by-proposal basis. As a consequence, these groupings not only fail to curb the excesses of the constitutional amendment process, they deny the voters the ability to do so as well.

Although the Commission is not required to do so, the Commission should adhere to a single-subject requirement. All proposed amendments that come to the voters — apart from those produced through this process — must be limited to a single subject.

The Florida Supreme Court has recognized that one of the principal reasons for the existence of this requirement is “to prevent ‘logrolling,’ a practice that combines separate issues into a single proposal to secure passage of an unpopular issue.” Advisory Opinion to the Atty. Gen. re: Voluntary Universal Pre-Kindergarten Educ., 824 So. 2d 161, 165 (Fla. 2002). As discussed, logrolling is of particular concern as it relates to constitutional clutter.

Regardless of how popular an issue may be, combining proposals of constitutional concern with “ordinary law” proposals is unfair to the voters, and ultimately can result in an unnecessary and improper constitutional amendment. Voters should not be forced to consider approving proposals about which they have no interest, or worse, to consider propositions they would otherwise oppose in order to approve completely unrelated proposals that they like.

The Commission owes it to the voters to allow every proposal to rise or fall on its own respective merits.

The Commission should exercise restraint and reject proposals that detract from the basic purpose of a constitution. The Commission should exercise restraint by asking whether the proposal protects a fundamental right, and whether there is a reason why the proposal cannot be enacted by the legislature.

If the answer is no to these questions, then the Commission should vote to reject the proposal.

The Commission should also reject any attempts at logrolling and embrace a single-subject ballot scheme. The Commission should reject any proposal that groups unrelated propositions because doing so, while not unconstitutional, is nonetheless unfair to the people of Florida. We must keep our state constitution clean.


Major Harding is a former Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court.

Joe Henderson: Parkland protests drove Janet Cruz into Senate race

As we know, the concept of normal went out the window when 17 innocents were murdered in Parkland at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day.

When thousands of people came to Tallahassee to push for tougher gun control after Parkland, it was enough to convince state Rep. Janet Cruz it was time to act.

She announced this week she will challenge incumbent Dana Young in SD 18.

It figures to be one of the most-watched races in the state between two formidable candidates against the backdrop of the Democrats’ quest to flip four more seats and pull even with Republicans in the Senate.

And it goes back to the mass protests in Tallahassee shortly after the Parkland slaughter. Cruz said that after years of being pushed around by pro-gun Republicans and the National Rifle Association, Democrats have started pushing back hard.

“I’ve been (in Tallahassee) since 2010. I’ve seen crowds. I’ve seen protests, but I haven’t seen anything like that,” she said. “And I saw Democrats take a stand against the gun lobby. We were saying to them ‘hit me!’ And we got up and said, ‘hit me again! Is that all you’ve got?’ ”

The experience was enough to convince Cruz, the outgoing House minority leader, to abandon plans to run for a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission she probably would have easily won.

Young has long been a favorite of the NRA, enjoying an A-plus rating and support. She also has had no problem raising money.

But when she left the floor just prior to a Senate vote in March on amendments to a proposed assault weapons ban, Democrats pounced. They said she was trying to dodge a tough vote that could have repercussions in her moderate district.

Young said opponents were playing politics. She did eventually file her votes against the first proposal after the roll call. She later voted in favor of a compromise that imposed modest gun controls but also allowed for armed personnel in public schools.

I asked Cruz if people were making too much of Young’s exit from the floor.

“Absolutely we are not making too much of it,” she said. “It was astounding, egregious. The nation was watching. I think she just left (to avoid voting). In Tallahassee, we call that taking a walk.”

After two terms in the House, Young won election to the Senate in 2016 by 7 points over Democrat Bob Buesing. Against Cruz though, she likely will face a tougher challenge.

Much of HD 62, which Cruz has represented, is within the Senate district she is seeking. She has been dominant there in previous elections.

She thrashed Republican Wesley Warren with nearly 70 percent of the vote in 2012 and ran unopposed in two primary and general elections after that.

Her entry into the Senate race likely signals that Buesing will abandon his plan to run again for the seat. He has said the most important thing for his party is to defeat Young.

Cruz said she has spoken with Buesing, adding, “Bob is being a real gentleman.”

While the fight for tougher gun laws may have pushed Cruz into the race, it’s not her only motivation.

“The very first thing I would like to accomplish is making sure working people have health care,” she said.

She complained that Democrats were such a decided minority in the House that Republicans steamrolled their agenda without regard to compromise.

“Some of this stuff honestly gets shoved down our throats,” she said. “Government is best when there is parity.”

Joe Henderson: Dennis Ross never wanted to be congressman for life

A few years ago, U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross dropped by the editorial board of the Tampa Tribune for a chat. As metro columnist, I was invited to attend.

I don’t recall specifics about the meeting, but I do remember Ross saying emphatically that he didn’t want to be a career politician. He said it with such conviction that I actually believed him. He has repeated that position many other times, in many other places.

On Wednesday, he backed that up with the announcement he will not run for a fifth term to represent CD 15 in Washington.

“After thoughtful prayer and consideration, my wife Cindy and I decided that I will not seek re-election for a fifth-term in office. I am grateful for this incredible opportunity to serve and I look forward to the next chapter of my life which will include, in some way, continued public service,” he said in a statement on Twitter and his Facebook page.

“I never viewed this amazing opportunity as a job or a career. My home has been and will continue to be in Lakeland, Florida.”

This announcement was overshadowed by House Speaker Paul Ryan’s news that he, too, is stepping away. That brings the total of Republican members of Congress who won’t run for re-election this fall to 25.

Some of them were no doubt concerned about being swept away if the anticipated Democratic blue wave this November materializes. Ross, though, had no such worries.

His district, which is about 40 percent in Polk County as well as rural parts of eastern Hillsborough, is reliably ultra conservative. Ross likely could have kept going back to Washington for as long as he wished.

He has an A-rating from the National Rifle Association. He is pro-life, supported President Trump’s tax cut plan and immigration proposals, and was working his way up the House leadership ranks as senior deputy majority whip.

But he also is 58 years old and commuting between Lakeland and Washington is a hassle. He says he will return to practicing law and civic pursuits, like he always said he planned to do.

Who takes his place?

Well, it probably will not be a Democrat. The “blue wave” would have to turn into a flood of biblical proportions for this seat to fall from Republican hands.

Among Republicans, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd will draw some attention as a potential candidate. State Sen. Kelli Stargel could be formidable.

One name I heard tossed as a “what-about-this-guy” possibility is state Sen. Tom Lee, but who knows about that?

He has basically gone dark in the last few weeks while speculation increases that he won’t make a planned run for Florida’s Chief Financial Officer position, after saying for months it was his intention to run.

Lee had said he would announce his plans shortly after Easter and, well, Easter in the rear-view mirror and we haven’t heard anything.

But this day is about Dennis Ross, and this one time we can actually believe it when he says he has had enough.

When the job becomes more about raising money and wondering what will come out next from the president’s Twitter account, heading home to Lakeland for family, friends and weekend hunting trips can sound pretty nice.

As enticing as that sounds to Ross today, it will sound even better in January.

Joe Henderson: We’ve heard this all before from Rick Scott

The Rick Scott who opened his campaign to unseat Bill Nelson in the U.S. Senate was the Rick Scott we have come to know in his two terms as Florida’s governor.

He is still short on details but long about promising to roll up his sleeves and fix what ails our government. He rails against career politicians, but seems to hope no one will notice that he will become of those if he wins this election.

He will have served eight years as governor, and then at least six more as a senator. Fourteen years sounds like a career to me.

Then, there is this.

As Scott Powers reported for Florida Politics from the scene of Scott’s campaign kickoff in Orlando, the governor said, “I didn’t fit in in Tallahassee because I didn’t play the insider game. I never intended to fit into Tallahassee. And guess what? I’m not going to fit into Washington either.”

Well now, hold on just a second there, governor.

Sure, during a campaign every candidate – especially those trying to unseat a three-term incumbent – shouts to the world that they are gonna go up there to that dysfunctional, horrible seat of government and shape it up.

Yeah. Then they get there and learn exactly what they’ve gotten into.

Former U.S. Rep. David Jolly knows about that. When he bucked the system in the House, he quickly became an outcast in his Republican Party.

“If successful, Rick Scott will join the Senate as a junior member of a body dominated by more senior senators, and one in which the agenda is determined solely by a Majority Leader who expects and rewards loyalty and conformity,” Jolly told me Tuesday.

“The difference between serving in the Legislature compared to serving as chief executive is that independence rarely proves effective.”

As Sen. Marco Rubio noted at a rally in Iowa during his ill-fated presidential campaign, “… while as a senator I can help shape the agenda, only a president can set the agenda.”

Rubio got so frustrated with the job that he was going to quit before he changed his mind and ran successfully for re-election.

As governor, Scott was in a position of power. He also showed little interest in any part of the job that didn’t bring jobs to Florida.

He basically was a spectator cutting ribbons at the latest WaWa while more skilled pols like House Speaker Richard Corcoran jammed through controversial changes to the way public education is funded.

Scott was a no-show during the squabble over Florida’s health care.

He didn’t seem interested when environmental regulations were being gutted. He didn’t have anything to say about the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting story how the state Department of Environmental Protection prohibited the use of the words “climate change” or “global warming.”

As a senator, his obsession with job creation would be overshadowed by larger events.

Scott also has never experienced the all-out assault he will receive during this campaign – and not just from inside Florida. This is a national race and Democrats will fight like the dickens to keep Nelson in the Senate.

As governor, Scott enjoyed fortunate timing.

The first time he ran, his simple message – “Let’s Get To Work” – resonated with recession-weary Floridians. He didn’t have much of a record to attack either.

In his second campaign he could point to the state’s improving economy and jobs outlook. He also was up against a flawed opponent in Charlie Crist.

Not this time.

Nelson, is a strong incumbent in a year where polls suggest it’s a good time to be a Democrat.

We have learned it’s foolish to under-estimate Rick Scott.

But he is not running for governor now, even though everything he said in his campaign rollout was stuff we’ve heard before.

We’ll know soon enough if that’s the right strategy, or if he needs to get to work on something new.

Jeff Kottkamp, Paul Hawkes: Greyhound amendment does not belong in our constitution

Florida voters will be asked in November to decide the fate of the work product of the third Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC) since the 1968 Constitution that created the CRC process. Currently, this CRC has produced perhaps as many as 13 additional ballot questions (total of 18 on the ballot) effecting up to 25 changes to the Florida constitution.

Our current constitution was adopted in 1968 — and is celebrating only its 50th birthday. Florida adopted a new constitution, because the 1885 constitution was deeply flawed. Perhaps in hopes of avoiding the need to completely rewrite the constitution again, the 1968 drafters created the extremely unique process — the CRC — no other state has anything like the CRC, even after watching Florida’s 50-year history with one.

Most individuals would agree that the purpose of a constitution is to establish the basic structure of government and the fundamental rights of citizens. But, is this broad agreement as to the purpose of a constitution similar to agreeing that we should eat more broccoli? Or, is our agreement to this principle more significant?

The CRC was never intended to be a “super-Legislature” or a vehicle to propose putting issues in the constitution that ‘can’t get through the Legislature.’ And, it was certainly never intended they would place proposals on the ballot merely because they were thought to be a “good idea.” The CRC acting in this manner is more likely to lead to the need for a constitutional rewrite, similar to 1968, rather than avoid it.

The language creating the CRC clearly seems to envision a commission that is modest and circumspect in its proposals. Article XI Section 2 (c) of the Constitution states:

“Each constitution revision commission shall … not later than one hundred eighty days prior to the next general election, file with the custodian of state records its proposal, if any, of a revision of this constitution or any part of it.”

Modesty and circumspection can be seen in at least three parts of the provision. First, is the word “proposal.” It is singular — which implies that the CRC may put forward limited proposals — not a long list of proposals. Second, is the use of the phrase “if any” which suggests that the 1968 framers realized that the CRC could reasonable find no need for change to Florida’s constitution. Third, is the word “a” as in “a revision.” Thus, the language in the Constitution regarding the CRC suggests it exists to consider important issues that constitutional attention.

The current CRC has many good proposals that do affect the structure of government or basic rights for its citizens — and for those efforts, they are to be commended. They have worked very hard and devoted significant time away from their families and work to undertake this effort. They have addressed serious issues, which, although qualifying as issues of constitutional magnitude, the CRC members have decided not to place before the voters. That too is hard work.

Historically, the CRC process has met with mixed success with less than 40 percent of their proposals being adopted by voters. None of their work product in 1978 passed and in 1998, although most passed they still suffered some defeats. Compared to legislative or citizen proposals CRC proposals have met with only about half the success. Citizen initiatives and legislative proposals both hover around an 80 percent passage rate.

So, back to broccoli. What is the harm in putting proposals in the constitution that don’t meet the test we all agree they should meet? Proposals that are really legislative issues that ‘seem like good ideas’ or the ‘legislature has refused to pass’ even though they had been repeatedly asked. Besides the possibility of ultimately destroying the constitution they create the risk that good proposals go down with bad proposals, they demean the constitution as the important document we all want it to be, they create policy that is inflexible, and they can create unintended consequences and cost.

The CRC’s greyhound racing proposal is a classic example of a proposal that fails to rise to the level of a constitutional matter. Former Chief Judge of the Florida Supreme Court Major Harding is one of many legal scholars who shares the view that the greyhound amendment should not be in the Constitution.

In a column Justice Harding recently wrote, he identified the proposed greyhound amendment as one of three CRC proposals that do not belong in the Constitution noting that Florida’s Constitution is already three times longer than the U.S. Constitution and is “riddled with countless, ordinary laws and specifics of government policy and regulation, such as confinement of pregnant pigs, that lessen its status.” The Editorial Board of the Tallahassee Democrat/USA TODAY NETWORK shares his view and correctly stated in an editorial that the greyhound proposal “ … can be done by statute and doesn’t need to be in the Constitution.”

Of the remaining CRC proposals — the greyhound amendment received the fewest votes in the full CRC. The greyhound proposal most certainly does not belong in the Constitution. In fact, you could call the proposal the “Pregnant Pig Amendment” of 2018. It is purely a legislative issue. In past years individuals have aggressively sought gaming rights, card rooms and slot machines, to ‘protect the historic pari-mutuel industry’ and to ‘enhance prize purses.’ Now, many of these same individuals seek to rid themselves of the ‘historic pari-mutuel industry’ so that they can maintain their gambling monopoly (the proposal is very clear about protection of all gaming monopolies) and enhance their profits because they will not have to roll any of the gaming proceeds into prize purses.

Some of the advocates of the greyhound proposal tell stories of animal abuse that are flat out fiction. Stories, which if true, would result in prosecution. No state attorney or jury in Florida would tolerate the animal abuse described nor would the Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering which closely inspects tracks and kennels every week. The only individuals that would suffer as a result of these alleged abuses would be the dog owners who have invested thousands of dollars to purchase each racing greyhound and thousands more to raise and train each dog.

If the greyhound amendment passes it could extinguish 3,000 direct jobs and 10,000 indirect jobs within 45 days of passage. It would also put the well-being of as many as 15,000 greyhounds in jeopardy. If you take away the ability of their owners and trainers to make a living—you also take away their ability to care for the dogs.

In addition, the amendment would have a significant financial impact on Florida. Over the last five years over $1.2 billion has been bet on live greyhound racing just at track ticket counters (that number is even higher if you count internet bets). The track in Orlando would be forced to close. The state would lose tax revenue and would also incur liability for a taking as they render the hundreds of millions of dollars in property invested by Floridians in this legal enterprise — worthless.

But beyond the economic impact, the gross misrepresentations from the advocates, the unfairness in preserving monopolies while creating — in essence — mini-casinos, there is a much more important reason that the greyhound proposal should not be advanced by the CRC — it simply does not belong in the Constitution.


Jeff Kottkamp is an Attorney Practicing Law in Tallahassee. He served in the Florida House of Representative and was Florida’s 17th Lt. Governor. He is Jackson’s dad, Cyndie’s husband and the Human caregiver to 2 Dogs.

Paul Hawkes is an Attorney Practicing Law in Tallahassee. He served in the Florida House of Representatives. He is the former Chief Judge of the 1st District Court of Appeals.

Joe Henderson: Guns and Trump form backdrop of Rick Scott

Guns and Trump.

Let’s just cut to what figures to be the essence of a showdown between three-term incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson and two-term Republican Gov. Rick Scott for a Florida U.S. Senate seat.

Scott’s entry into the race, long a foregone conclusion, becomes official Monday and signals the start of what could the most expensive and nasty race in the country. These days, that’s a high bar to hurdle but it can be done here.

There also could be a false assumption about this election.

So, you think Democrats are building toward a blue tsunami this fall? You think Donald Trump’s record unpopularity will suck down Republican candidates like the vacuum effect from a sinking ship?

Maybe so.

As we know in Florida all too well though, it’s dangerous to make assumptions about politics. And Scott’s candidacy already is a problem for Democrats.

To have any hope for their party to gain control of the Senate, Nelson must win. To do that, he will need lots of money from the national Democratic machine, potentially taking resources away from races in other states.

Scott, meanwhile, could again choose to self-fund a large part of his campaign, which would be heaven-sent to Republicans.

There are 33 Senate races this fall and nearly a dozen are expected to be competitive. Democrats must defend 25 seats, including 10 in states where Trump won in 2016. Eight of those seats are considered tossups.

Florida, of course, is one of those and it figures to be the big prize for both parties. Polls have been all over the place in this race so far.

That brings us back to the two things that matter most in this campaign: Guns and Trump.

Scott has been joined at the hip to Trump, which Nelson’s camp will exploit to the max. It may not matter as much as Democrats would like, though.

While Trump’s approval is hovering around 40 percent, and perhaps a little higher in Florida, his people will turn out and vote no matter what. In a mid-term election, turnout is the key and Democrats have fallen short there in the past.

The X factor is whether the slaughter of innocents at Parkland brings out thousands of new voters. If so, it could turn the election in Nelson’s favor.

Although Scott pushed through and signed a law imposing modest gun restrictions after 17 people were shot to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he still is closely identified with the National Rifle Association.

Nelson, on the other hand, proudly points to his F rating from that organization. And in an interesting twist, he has developed a close working relationship with his Republican counterpart in the Senate, Marco Rubio.

They have appeared together several times, and Rubio has vowed he will not campaign against Nelson.

Scott is not happy about that.

There’s another bit of unpredictability tossed into the stew. Start with how they got to this position.

Neither candidate is dynamic on the stump. Even their record of election wins comes with question marks. Nelson won three races against Republican opposition that seemed to get weaker every time.

Scott likely will be a tougher opponent, but by how much? He won both his gubernatorial races by about 1 percentage point. A win is a win, but wins like that are hardly an overwhelming mandate.

Democrats will attack Scott’s record on the environment, various scandals that popped up during his two terms, and – did we mention – he endorsed Trump.

He is friends with Trump.

He hangs out with Trump.

Trump. Trump. Trump.

Guns. Guns. Guns.

The question becomes whether making that argument to voters over the next seven months will convert hearts and minds or just reinforce existing opinions.

My guess is the latter. We’ll find out soon enough.

Game on.

Joe Henderson: Changing Hillsborough Commission makeup worth a look

You could say Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman was thinking outside the box when she proposed a major change Wednesday to how that governing body is chosen.

On the other hand, you could say it was all about the box — the ballot box, that is.

You probably would be correct on both points. It also doesn’t mean she was wrong to argue that the Commission should eliminate countywide seats in favor of single-member districts.

It also is a fact, though, that commissioners have used countywide seats as a way to stay in power.

Doesn’t that trump everything?


Hang with me for just a bit.

Hillsborough’s charter, approved by voters 35 years ago, provides for seven county commissioners. Four of them represent a single district; three are chosen countywide.

The rationale behind that is that voters will always have a say in the majority makeup of the board.

In 1983, when the referendum passed creating the current setup, Hillsborough’s population was a little over 700,000. Today, it is 1.4 million and expanding rapidly.

In the Tampa Bay Times story about Murman’s proposal, she made the point that the county has more people than 10 states.

I looked it up. She is correct.

There are more people here than in Alaska, Delaware, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming. For good measure, we’re about equal with Hawaii.

Another fun fact: Hillsborough’s population has jumped by about 200,000 since 2010. To put that in perspective, basically, the population of Richmond, Va. moved into Hillsborough County.

By the year 2030, only 12 years from now, that number is predicted to increase by another 300,000 — roughly the population of Cincinnati. If that happens, I hope they’re thoughtful enough to bring more Skyline Chili outlets here, but I digress.

Murman argues that changing the commission makeup to single-member districts — and maybe expanding the board by two members — makes sense because Hillsborough is too large for anyone to effectively represent everyone in the county.

That point is worthy of discussion.

But critics were quick to pounce on Murman, and they had a point too. After all, she plans to run for a countywide seat this fall even though voters in District 1 elected her in 2016 to a four-year term.

With a big, blue Democratic wave forecast for November, Murman, a Republican, might face a tough battle in a hotly contested countywide race.

If her idea passes, though, she could suddenly have a change of heart and stay in District 1 until 2020. There’s a good chance new boundary lines would leave her in good shape to win another election.

Such intrigue.

Let’s be honest, though. Commissioners have been using these countywide seats to bob and weave around term limits. We’re seeing that play out again this fall.

Commissioner Victor Crist can’t run again in his single-member district because he has served the maximum of two consecutive terms. Ah, but he can run countywide and start the clock over.

That’s what he is doing.

Ken  Hagan, who has served two countywide terms, is running for Crist’s District 2 seat.

Crist is running for Hagan’s countywide chair.

See how this works?

Yes, voters have the final say whether that tactic is successful, but generally, incumbents and familiar names have a great advantage in these situations.

I doubt Murman’s gambit will be approved, if the initial reaction from the board means anything. It was tepid, to say the least.

Since five of the seven members would have to approve putting the idea on the ballot, and then voters would have to decide, getting enough support is a long-shot.

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.

Just look at the mishmash way the Commission has handled the county’s already-explosive growth. Then imagine what we’ll look like when Cincinnati moves to town little more than a decade from now.

Traffic will be worse than we can imagine. Sprawl, already a major problem, could reach nightmare proportions.

Having a more-nimble Commission that represents smaller parts of the county isn’t the worst way to think about dealing with this.

Joe Henderson: FEA’s message: Seize the day at ballot box

It’s against the law for the Florida Education Association to encourage members to go on strike, but that doesn’t mean the FEA can’t strike back at lawmakers they believe have unfairly targeted teachers.

With that in mind, FEA President Joanne McCall has a message for those in Tallahassee who pushed through major changes to the way public schools are funded and operate.

“They say we are playing politics,” she told me. “We are playing politics, and the tide is turning in our favor. The public is with us.

“We have 140,000 members and there are 2.8 million public school students in Florida versus 300,000 (students) in for-profit charter schools and 80,000 in voucher programs. We need to keep them angry about what’s going on.”

Her group is currently studying voting records for all state lawmakers up for re-election in November and will invite candidates to interview with FEA officials.

Members are even considering applying grades to the candidates, similar to the tactic used by the National Rifle Association to identify those sympathetic to its cause.

“After all, (lawmakers) grade our schools A through F,” she said.

While McCall said it won’t matter if a candidate is Democrat or Republican, generally changes in the law that the FEA has found highly objectionable have come along party lines. With that in mind, she noted that flipping just four state Senate seats could give control to Democrats for the first time this century.

The organization also plans to be active in the Governor’s race.

“If the Senate isn’t flipped, the governor can be the goalie who can veto and unwind the clock on policies from the Jeb Bush and Rick Scott era,” she said. “We’ll be looking for a pro-public education person.”

While that is going on though, McCall is keeping a wary eye on some members who want a more forceful way to express their disgust with the state’s policies.

Independent of the FEA, some teachers are calling for walk-outs similar to those happening in other states to highlight low pay and classroom conditions. McCall is arguing strongly against such action.

“We cannot strike,” she said. “The penalties are large. (The FEA) can’t orchestrate anything like that. We can’t even talk about it. We can’t urge the blue flu. The penalties are pretty stiff.

“I’m trying to keep my members focused on the election cycle. We can change this, but we have to change it at the ballot box.”

While the FEA has been politically active in the past, the changes in state law that shifted more money to charters along with allowing designated school personnel to carry weapons in the name of security has been a galvanizing force.

“This has been going on for 22 years (of Republican control), but these last two years have been the worst,” she said.

“If you think the tide is turning and the public is turning against you and you’re about to be voted out, you tend to over-reach and accomplish what you can while you’re in power. I think that’s what we saw.”

Outgoing House Speaker and potential gubernatorial candidate Richard Corcoran has been the political force behind many of the changes. A strong believer in charter schools, Corcoran has called the changes “transformative” and says public education is adequately funded.

McCall said Corcoran and Scott are “wonderful spin doctors.”

During an interview with me late last year, Corcoran fiercely defended his moves and said he would debate anyone disputing his education push “anytime, anywhere.”

“He probably meant that he would debate anyone but me,” McCall said. “But if he’ll do it in public, with people watching, I’ll be happy to debate him – anytime, anywhere.”

Joe Henderson: Teachers are striking but it probably won’t happen in Florida

Teachers have been used as chew toys by state legislatures across the country for years, and Florida is no exception.

They have been shot at, threatened, and faced great increases in the job demands while the pay and resources haven’t kept up.

When students fail, no matter the reason, the blame often falls on teachers and can threaten job security. Here in Florida, they have seen the state divert millions of dollars from public schools into private charters.

They saw Tallahassee Republicans push through a law that could lead to teachers unions being decertified, a power play to further erode their leverage. Last year, the Legislature passed a law that allows any parent to protest the textbooks being used in classes – whether they have a student enrolled or not.

It’s just part of the sweeping disrespect some lawmakers have directed at the honorable profession of teaching here and in other places.

Well, teachers have finally had enough.

They’re hitting back in places like West Virginia, where teachers staged a nearly two-week strike demanding (and receiving) higher pay and other benefits. There is similar unrest in Oklahoma, Kentucky and Arizona.

Don’t look for something like that in Florida.

While the walk-outs are legal in Kentucky and carry only token penalties in the other states, that’s not the case in Florida. The state’s Constitution here expressly forbids teacher strikes and would carry some potentially severe penalties – including termination and loss of retirement benefits. Even suggesting it can lead to sanctions.

That’s why Florida Education Association has been focused on using the November statewide elections to bring about needed change.

Teachers have been riled enough to put their jobs in jeopardy before by walking out, though.

In 1968, about 25,000 Florida public school teachers resigned their jobs in protests (strikes were not allowed) in a massive protest that won concessions from the state, including the right to collective bargaining.

The pendulum has swung the other way in recent years as teachers faced tighter state rules about evaluations, job requirements, stagnant wages, and challenging working conditions.

In Hillsborough County, for instance, it’s a constant struggle to even keep the air conditioners working in many schools. As the county has grown into the eighth-largest district in the country, maintenance hasn’t kept up with the ever-increasing demands of a growing student population.

The budget was further strained when the state mandated new security measures after the Parkland slaughter but didn’t provide full funding.

Hillsborough teachers have staged large protests at local school board meetings after being told there wasn’t enough money to pay salary increases they say they were promised.

Meanwhile, Florida just keeps growing, bringing more students into an overstuffed school system.

The teacher strikes in other states drew national focus on problems that go beyond school security. In Oklahoma, for instance, long-term budget cuts forced students in many cases to use textbooks that are falling apart and out of date.

So yeah, teachers are fighting back and maybe people are finally saying “Hey, wait a minute….”

It’s a shame it took this long.

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