Joe Henderson, Author at Florida Politics

Joe Henderson

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

Joe Henderson: Candidates should let it rip at gubernatorial debate

You can’t have a major political campaign unless the candidates debate, right? Usually, they are over-scripted, overhyped and underperforming, but a Florida Governor’s debate between Andrew Gillum and Ron DeSantis should be memorable.

Both sides were working out the specifics on Monday, but it looks like this is going to happen.

You would assume someone will be trying to convince Gillum it is his chance to show voters he is not, as DeSantis has painted him, a tax-loving far-left wacko. But you know what? If he retreats too much from the populist proposals that got him this far, his campaign wouldn’t be intellectually honest.

So, he should go for it.

Medicare for everyone? Medicaid expansion? Lots more money for schools? Raise teachers’ salaries after years of GOP mockery about public education? And by the way, remember that “monkey it up” comment DeSantis made on national television? Let’s revisit that.

Damn straight.

And for DeSantis, it’s a chance to show voters he can be his own man if he is put in charge of the state and not just a Donald Trump Mini-Me — but that wouldn’t be honest either.

DeSantis has made it clear he completely supports President Trump’s policies and agenda. His whole primary campaign against Adam Putnam was built around the endorsement by “the big man himself” and he can’t run from that now.

I don’t believe he will, either.

That’s why I believe sparks should and will fly when these two.

They offer completely different visions for the state, and it could (cross your fingers) get testy. But that’s what we all should want.

Remember the infamous “controversy” around Charlie Crist’s use of a fan in his podium during his 2014 debate with Rick Scott? Scott threatened to call the whole thing off, with a national TV audience watching, because he said the fan violated agreed-upon rules.

Florida looked pretty silly that night to the rest of the country, even by Florida standards. If there is controversy during DeSantis-Gillum, I want the real thing.

Let ‘er rip, gentlemen.

These men passionately believe that Florida will thrive under their plan, and that fire and pestilence will rain down from the sky if the voters choose the other candidate. They should conduct themselves accordingly.

I almost wish they would stage these things without moderators. Just have the candidates on stage in easy chairs, arguing back and forth about health care, immigration, minimum wage, and whether Ryan Fitzpatrick should remain the Tampa Bay Buccaneers starting quarterback when Jameis Winston returns.

A Florida Governor’s debate like that would be just like what plays out every day in living rooms and corner bars across the state. It would be real.

Consultants would never let it happen though, so we have to hope for the next-best result.

Both men are confident that they are the right choice for the state, even if they speak for distinctly different audiences.

Gillum appeals to younger voters, the disenfranchised, minorities, and people who think Republicans care only about the wealthy.

DeSantis appeals to those who believe all Democrats want to do is create expensive government-controlled boondoggles that simply won’t work as well as the free market.

Both men have compelling personal stories. Both have powerful political donors and machines behind them. They need something else, though. They need to convince voters that they are the right choice, and they won’t do that by playing it safe.

Game on, gentlemen.

You want to be Governor?

No holding back.

Dana Young vs. Janet Cruz race contentious now with more to come

Everyone knew Florida’s Senate District 18 battle between Democrat Janet Cruz and Republican incumbent Dana Young would be contentious. Both women are strong, smart, battle-tested, and play to win – just what we want from candidates.

There is no middle ground here. Voters have a clear choice, and that’s always good.

Democrats targeted the Hillsborough County district as a must-win if they want to take control of the Senate, and Republicans responded accordingly in what will be one of the most-watched races in the state.

So, here’s what we have so far: The Young camp said Cruz was “caught red-handed” cheating on unpaid property taxes, while the Cruz camp basically said Young hates public school children and teachers.

My guess is they’re just getting started.

Young was already scorched by Democrats for being absent from the Senate floor last spring for three votes on three amendments related to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre – including requiring armed security officers in every school.

Young later recorded her vote later in favor of the proposals. She explained that she had to step away from the floor during the eight-hour special Saturday session for quick meetings. She called it a non-issue.

I’m sure it won’t look that way if, or when, the ads roll out.

Cruz, the House Minority Leader, also released a Facebook video, then doubled down with a mailer, that slammed Young over the issue of air-conditioning breakdowns and lead problems in Hillsborough County public schools.

Republicans have been blamed for slashing the public budget in favor of funding charter schools and, well, Young did vote in favor of those budgets that cut $1.3 billion from state public schools – a charge PolitiFact rated “mostly true” in 2013.

Republicans say the money has since been more than restored, but Democrats say the original cuts put public schools in a hole they have been unable to escape.

In the video shot in front of Tampa’s Plant High School, Cruz points to the building where repairs are being made on the cooling units and shouts: “Dammit Dana, tell the truth. Stop telling lies.”

Young’s camp isn’t backing down.

The attack ad over Cruz’s tax issue has played relentlessly on local television. Cruz had unpaid property taxes from 2004 through 2008 for a home she owned in Tampa.

It misrepresents what really happened, of course, but isn’t that true of most attack ads, if not all of them?

Cruz has explained she self-reported a mix-up after she got married to a man who owned his own home and had a homestead exemption. Cruz had one as well on a house she owned.

Florida law allows only one. She paid a $32,000 penalty – or, as the ad says, “was caught red-handed.”

And then, the ad says ominously, she voted against a controversial increase in the homestead exemption because Democrats argued it would strip local municipalities of desperately needed cash. Or, as the ad says, after “cheating” on her taxes, “she voted to up yours.”

Interesting choice of those last two words in the previous paragraph.

Cruz said that Young’s step-out, combined with the massive march in Tallahassee by students and others demanding tighter gun laws, was what pushed her into the race.

That works both ways, of course. Young has an A-plus rating from the NRA, an organization that has been known for rallying support for candidates it likes.

That’s another way of saying people should stay tuned to what’s happening in SD-18.

They’re just getting started.

Joe Henderson: Tampa Bay Rays are winning, fun. Will it matter?

It is nearly mid-September and the Tampa Bay Rays are playing meaningful baseball games. They still have an outside shot of making the playoffs.

Being the wise baseball sage that I am, I certainly saw this success coming after the club ran off all its high-priced talent in an offseason purge that at the time looked, walked and smelled like a complete tank job.

Oh, who am I kidding? I thought they’d lose 100 games, minimum — what with playing a bunch of kids and that wacky pitching plan where certain games are designated as “bullpen” outings.

But it has worked. They’ve been beating good teams, bad teams, and in between.

Even more than that, they’re fun to watch.

So, you might think that is a good thing for those in Tampa and Hillsborough County who are itching to build the Rays a glittering new stadium in Ybor City priced at, gulp, $892 million.

If the team is young and good, it could help build enthusiasm for a move from St. Petersburg to a new home just off downtown Tampa. Before that happens though, a lot of hard questions need to be answered.

The need is obvious.

Start with this number: 10,654.

That was the announced attendance for Wednesday afternoon’s game at Tropicana Field when the Rays beat division-leading Cleveland 3-1 behind terrific young pitcher Blake Snell. The Rays once again are last in the American League in attendance by a lot. Winning hasn’t made any difference at the turnstiles.

They will break a six-year streak of finishing last in the majors this season in attendance only because the Miami Marlins blew up their franchise and fans reacted accordingly. That will help elevate the Rays to 29th overall instead of their customary 30th.

Let’s have a parade.

Would it be any better in Tampa?

Well yeah, I think it would be. I think it would a lot better, given that downtown Tampa is the geographic center of the Bay area. The local business community has been out beating the drums for corporate support for a stadium, which is something the Rays sorely lack in St. Petersburg.

That support could include suite sales, season tickets, and naming rights. It is not insignificant. They say they’re doing well but won’t offer many specifics. And while Rays owner Stuart Sternberg has said that’s a fine and necessary step, he, too, continues to be coy about how much he would be willing to pay.

This is starting to look like some middle-school dating ritual.

Is this a good time to mention that earlier this year the 30 club owners received a reported $50 million each from the sale of BAM media, a digital company spun off from MLB Advanced Media?

Well, you can bet a lot of things are going to be mentioned between now and when the final financing plan is presented for public scrutiny. It is going to be an issue in local political races in November, particularly in the Hillsborough County Commission races.

Commissioner Ken Hagan is running for re-election to a fifth term against Democrat Angela Birdsong in November. Hagan has been most identified with the stadium issue but hasn’t been a fountain of information about how talks with the Rays are proceeding.

Are they proceeding?

I assume so, but who knows? This whole stadium plan seems shrouded in mystery.

When it is eventually revealed, I promise you this: Unless Sternberg announces he will write a check for the full amount, which he won’t, opponents will go buggy crazy and politicians will ponder their political future as they figure out how to vote.

Meanwhile, hey … that’s a really fun team are running out there.

The Tampa Bay Rays are good. They’re young.

They’re winning.

Will it matter? Too soon to say.

Joe Henderson: If Andrew Gillum is radical, so are lots of people

The Republican game plan to defeat Andrew Gillum has been clear from the start: Paint him as the compromised puppet of billionaire Democratic donors who want to unleash a radical socialist agenda on Florida that would END LIFE AS WE KNOW IT!!

Sorry, I didn’t mean to shout.

We saw some evidence of that on this most excellent website just the other day in a commentary by conservative John Stemberger, head of the Florida Family Policy Council.

Stemberger noted that Gillum opposes “robust Second Amendment rights” and even bragged about leading protest marches.

Well, to a lot of people, that isn’t exactly a “radical” idea. In the wake of the Parkland massacre, there were massive protests and several polls showed between 65 and 70 percent of Floridians wanted tougher regulations on firearms. Maybe those who oppose that are the radical ones, huh?

Stemberger also referred to Gillum as “impressive” — which obviously he is. He stormed from behind in the final days of the primary campaign to win the nomination. Somebody must like him. We know Bernie Sanders does.

That group won’t include Republicans, of course — but it likely does number a majority of Florida’s 3.5 million voters who have no party affiliation.

If I may offer just a tiny bit of advice to my GOP friends, it would be this: Be careful with all that “radical” talk.

It’s not “radical” to say health care isn’t a privilege reserved for those who can afford good insurance. It’s not “radical” to say the failure to expand Medicaid to the neediest citizens is a moral failing by a government that should try to represent all the people.

It’s not “radical” to say our public schools deserve better than they have gotten from a state government masking attacks on the teachers’ union as educational reform.

Nor is it “radical” to question why Tallahassee, under Republican control for 20 years, has taken to slashing and burning environmental protections in a state where the great outdoors is kind of important.

Here’s what has happened, though.

After controlling everything in Tallahassee for two decades, Republicans have become tone-deaf. They believe they’re responsible only to people who believe in the same things they do, and to hell with everybody else. That ignores the fact, by the way, that Rick Scott won two elections to be Governor by about 1 percentage point each time.

They haven’t had to care what opponents thought and wanted for so long that anything beyond their own agenda seems, well, radical.

That’s why in their deepest recesses, they are afraid of Andrew Gillum.

They should be.

I’m sure they noticed how he squashed his opponents in South Florida in the primary.

Andrew Gillum got nearly 40 percent of the vote in a 5-way field in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and the turnout was significant. Getting out the vote has always been a problem for Democrats, especially in nonpresidential years. That might be changing.

Gillum has tapped into the frustrations of people who feel left behind and ignored by the GOP, and they vote too — especially when the Republican candidate, Ron DeSantis, clings to Donald Trump like a shadow.

None of that is “radical” Republican friends.

It’s just reality.

Joe Henderson: Judy Genshaft did what many believed impossible at USF

Judy Genshaft has been many things during her nearly two decades as president of the University of South Florida.

She has been relentless. Focused. She was the center of nearly every room she entered. She had a vision for USF that probably sounded ridiculous when she arrived on campus in 2000, but then made it happen.

She wanted to turn an urban commuter college filled with nontraditional students into what it is today — a preeminent university with rigid admission and academic standards, an economic powerhouse, and focused on helping guide the Tampa Bay region into whatever the future brings.

By any measure, she has succeeded beyond everyone’s expectations except maybe her own, but her era is coming to an end.

Genshaft as first reported in Florida Politics, announced her retirement Monday from USF — effective July 2019.

In a letter to the USF community, Genshaft noted, “We are reaching milestones once reserved for universities twice our age. We are being recognized by everyone from local supporters to state leaders to national and global higher education stakeholders. We continue to make groundbreaking strides in research, student success, teaching and community impact. And we are coming together, for the good of our students, as one united, strong and dynamic university.”

On her watch, the six-year graduation rate rose from 38 percent to 70 percent. Admission standards got much tougher, a shock to some in the community who always looked at USF as a fallback option if their sons or daughters couldn’t get into Florida or Florida State.

It should be acknowledged that some of the changes at USF were launched by Betty Castor while she was President. Genshaft followed Castor and kept pushing, engineering a major overhaul of the campus both on the inside and out.

As a commuter school, few students lived on campus. That changed after a building boom of multiple residence halls. There is a Greek village. An expanding athletic presence, with more to come. The aging Sun Dome was refurbished into a first-class arena.

She engineered a $1 billion capital campaign.

She forged important business and political relationships to fight for USF’s fair share in a state dominated by leaders who attended Florida or FSU.

She sharpened USF’s identity as a medical research giant. Construction is underway on a USF med school in downtown Tampa.

On and on.

There were controversies, of course.

Shortly after 9/11, USF came under national criticism for having Sami Al-Arian on the faculty as a computer engineering professor. The U.S. Justice Department ordered Al-Arian arrested, alleging he was the leader of a jihad. Genshaft and the USF trustees board eventually fired him, landing her in the middle of a bitter debate over academic freedom.

She could be testy if crossed, as the head of USF St. Petersburg learned. She forced out USFSP regional chancellor Sophia Wisniewska for mishandling preparations at the school a year ago for Hurricane Irma.

All those things are important pieces of her legacy.

But a lot of people will also think of her as an unabashed cheerleader for her university and everything that went with it. Judy Genshaft believed in USF before it believed in itself. That wasn’t easy to do.

I’m sure she’ll be given all the appropriate honors and the proper send-off before she leaves. I have no doubt we’ll see her name on the side of a building or two at some point.

I’m sure USF will conduct a nationwide search for her replacement. It will be an attractive position for a proven leader. But whoever that person turns out to be, all I have to say is this: good luck following this dynamo of a lady named Judy Genshaft.

You’re going to need it.

Joe Henderson: David Straz may find he needs political skills to be Tampa Mayor

David Straz Jr. didn’t say anything wrong during the kickoff for his self-funded campaign to be Tampa’s Mayor. Give the billionaire philanthropist that much.

But as he outlined his platform in a one-minute, 52-second video, he didn’t say much that would get anyone excited either. There were a lot of platitudes and a bunch of real non-specific stuff, like this:

“We need a commonsense approach to protect our quality of life. That means focusing on people, not politics,” he said.

What exactly does that mean?

When is the last time anyone running for public office said, “You know what? We really need a whacked-out approach that will screw up everything that is good about our city. I’m going to focus on grabbing all the gold I can, and I can promise the people this: As long as you don’t ask too many questions, I won’t bother you again until it’s time to re-elect me.”

And, with all respect to Mr. Straz, if he is successful in winning, politics will be a skill he will have to master. He will have to work with people he may not like and cannot make them go away. As Mayor, he won’t wield the same authority as someone in charge of a large corporation.

A Mayor can’t just fire people because they disagree with him, no matter what “the big guy himself” (channeling my inner Ron DeSantis) in Washington would have people believe. I mean, Jeff Sessions still has a job. Robert Mueller still has a job.

Just sayin’.

Yes sir, Mr. Straz, politics are important in running a city.

David Straz, at age 75, has lived a successful life and has given back to his community. I mean, the musical Hamilton is coming next year to the terrific performing arts center in downtown Tampa that bears his name.

Drop the mic, sir.

It’s fine that he wants to choose public service, but the video bugged me on a couple of levels.

Start with the part where he said, “I am the only candidate for Mayor who has managed a large, complex institution anywhere close to the size of the city of Tampa.”

Well, he clearly is a successful businessman who built a chain of community banks in Wisconsin after sweeping floors and mowing lawns as a teenager to make some cash. He moved to Tampa in 1980, got married, sold his businesses, and started a charitable foundation.

Laudable.

But other candidates, including former Police Chief Jane Castor, have run large, complex institutions too. Try being a gay female in charge of a metropolitan police department. Castor did so admirably.

He also said:

“I’m a proven job creator, and I believe our city government, colleges and universities, and the business community must work together to create jobs in Tampa. That means encouraging start-ups, growing existing small businesses, recruiting Fortune 500 companies, and attracting high-paying jobs.”

Well, that’s kind of already being done.

Two-term Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has been doing pretty much everything that Straz said needs to be done. The city’s downtown looks nothing like it did when he took office. He has recruited big companies, supported small business expansion, and tried hard to bring high-tech jobs here.

I know, it’s early.

Platitudes rule.

The Tampa mayoral election isn’t until March 2019, and it is being starved of oxygen now by the statewide elections – especially the Governor’s race. In pushing so hard, maybe David Straz has been told he needs to introduce himself to get some name recognition.

Fair enough.

But as we go along, I hope we hear some more specifics.

This is a job that is accountable to the people. And the people are in charge.

Marco Rubio kept cool and won by a knockout

Don’t you wish Marco Rubio had just turned around and popped that InfoWars doofus Alex Jones right in his piehole?

I sure do.

I’ll bet Alex Jones was hoping for that too.

I’ll bet he was praying to be arrested.

It would have been ratings gold.

But Rubio, Florida’s junior U.S. Senator, handled his confrontation with that graceless twit in the U.S. Senate halls Wednesday the way a civilized person should and won by a knockout without throwing a punch. Jones will have to settle for being tweeted around the world and being a hero again to the residents of Wingnut Nation.

Yes, I said it.

If you listen to Alex Jones on the radio or internet for anything other than amusement, or if you think one scintilla of what he says is true, you might be a wingnut.

It’s probably a good time to remember that President Donald Trump, has said of Jones, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”

When the Founding Fathers decided freedom of speech is important, I’m not sure they imagined someone like Alex Jones would come along and spout that the Sandy Hook massacre of school children, the Oklahoma City bombing, and 9/11 were either hoaxes or inside jobs by the government.

Actually, the question of freedom is what started Wednesday’s confrontation.

Rubio was speaking with reporters about his concerns that China is suppressing sites like Facebook and Twitter, and thus eroding free speech. Facebook and YouTube have banned Jones and Twitter may eventually do the same.

So, Jones crashed the news conference and yelled, “The Democrats are doing what you say China does” as part of a movement to stifle conservatives.

“Republicans are acting like it isn’t happening,” Jones shouted. “Thank God [President] Trump is.”

Jones is free to say whatever he wants — no matter how hurtful or damaging. There are a lot of ways for Jones to be heard. And with an audience his size, I’m not sure he can make much of a case for being suppressed.

It’s tempting to write him off as a carnival clown, but Jones is a leading spreader of paranoia about the so-called Deep State. The scary part of that is, a statistically significant number of people believe it exists.

A Monmouth University poll in March found there is “a large bipartisan majority who feel that national policy is being manipulated or directed by a Deep State of unelected government officials.”

Trump has complained about the Deep State being at work in the Russia investigation and other areas.

In June, Florida Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz complained that House Speaker Paul Ryan was siding with the Deep State for defending the FBI’s contention it did not embed a spy in Trump’s presidential campaign.

When Ohio Congressman and Trump supporter Jim Jordan was under scrutiny for allegedly keeping quiet about accusations of sexual misconduct by a team doctor at Ohio State when Jordan was a wrestling coach there, he blamed … yeah.

Deep State.

Anyway, it was refreshing to see Rubio win the day by warning Jones, “Hey don’t touch me again, man, I’m asking you not to touch me” after he was patted on the shoulder by the boor.

I still wish Rubio had punched him.

Sure, it would have wrong. But it would have been epic.

No jury of sane people would have convicted him.

Aakash Patel

Joe Henderson: Aakash Patel’s loss not surprising, but margin was

Aakash Patel is bright, energetic, and creative – traits that would be considered valuable at a place like the Hillsborough County Commission.

But when Patel, a Republican, ran to represent a countywide district on that board, he was trounced in the primary last week, losing to attorney Todd Marks by a 2-to-1 margin.

The margin, more than the outcome, seemed out of whack.

No disrespect intended to Marks, but out of 390 precincts, Patel won only 13 and tied two. In the eastern part of the county, which is notably conservative, Marks got 80 percent of the vote or higher in multiple precincts.

It was a bruising campaign – Patel was the subject of 13 negative mailers from Marks – but lots of campaigns are rough and don’t wind up with that kind of margin.

So, what happened?

Well, there is one possible explanation that is a little scary to think about.

Could Aakash Patel’s first name have been a problem for too many voters?

“There is some validity to that,” Republican consultant Mark Proctor said. “I hate to say that, but I’ve seen it happen a couple of times. It’s hard to believe we’re still dealing with that in 2018.”

Proctor helped run Dipa Shah’s 2014 campaign for the School Board. She is an attorney, highly intelligent, and was drubbed in that election by April Griffin.

Again, the margin surprised more than the outcome.

Shah was attacked by a negative mailer that played up her name and suggested she was a liberal Muslim. She is not. Shah is a registered Republican and Catholic.

Voters often aren’t into details, though.

April Schiff, President of Strategic Solutions of Tampa, helped run Patel’s campaign. I asked her the same question: Was Patel’s campaign doomed by his first name?

She answered cautiously.

“Unfortunately, it would appear that some prejudice prevailed,” she said.

Remember, at the start of the campaign season both Patel and Marks expected to be running in District 1, which stretches from the Town ‘n’ Country area in northwest Hillsborough through south Tampa and into the southern part of the county.

That changed when incumbent Sandra Murman changed her mind about running for the countywide seat and decided to stay in District 1. Patel and Marks changed gears and went to the countywide spot.

The conventional belief is that Patel would have been competitive in a single district, but winning a countywide seat was a much larger challenge.

Interestingly, Aakash Patel raised more money in this race and out-spent Marks, but it didn’t matter.

It’s sad to think people might not look any deeper at a candidate than their name, but the difference in vote totals suggests it was a factor in the margin of victory.

Marks may well make a fine County Commissioner if he beats Democrat Kimberly Overman in November, and none of this about him or the legitimacy of his victory.

Not at all.

It is curious, though, when we see outcomes like this.

It’s hard not to think the worst.

Joe Henderson: Voters in the middle, where is your candidate?

Maybe more than any election in a long time, voters in the middle might as well be people without a candidate.

Think about it.

Maybe your politics are center-right. You might be generally conservative but will vote for something that sounds somewhat liberal if you decide it’s a good thing.

Or, maybe you’re the opposite — center-left. You may agree with some progressive ideas, but you’ll still vote for a more conservative candidate if you believe that person is the best one.

History tells us there are more voters in the middle than on the wings.

But as last Tuesday night, there is no middle ground to be found in either Republican Ron DeSantis or Democrat Andrew Gillum in the race to be Florida’s Governor.

Both men are at the far opposite edges of the political spectrum, and there is little room for a voter looking for nuance when November arrives, and it’s time for the general population to mark their ballots.

There were about 3.5 million ballots cast last week in Florida’s primary election. That’s less than 30 percent of the state’s approximately 13 million voters, and those are the people who gave the rest of Florida voters this choice.

Even more, nearly 3.5 million Florida voters have no party affiliation at all. What do they do? They have two choices: Pick a candidate with whom they might have fewer differences of opinion or sit the election out.

I suppose this was inevitable after the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016. Trump is an all-or-nothing kind of guy, and his legions are proving to be the same. So, after Hillary Clinton spun to the earth in a fireball, Democrats seem determined to be everything that Trump is not when it comes to policy.

That has trickled down to Florida politics.

DeSantis is a Trump “Mini-Me” who echoes the talking points of what his commercials call “the big man himself.”

Gillum had a major endorsement from Bernie Sanders, who calls himself a Democratic socialist. Gillum embraces Sanders’ unabashedly progressive agenda, a marked contrast from the last five Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Florida, who basically were centrists.

But where does that leave people who might like some, but not all, of a candidate’s agenda?

Maybe you support the Second Amendment but think that maybe after Parkland and other school and public massacres we ought to have tighter regulations.

Well, DeSantis has advocated for the expansion of so-called gun rights. He has favored open-carry in places like college campuses. He has an A-rating from the National Rifle Association.

Gillum favors imposing strong restrictions on gun sales, including an outright ban on the sale of assault weapons. He gets an F from the NRA.

Where does that leave you, Middle Ground Voter?

Healthcare?

Gillum wants Medicaid extended to cover an additional 1 million low-income Floridians. He favors Medicare for all. It would be expensive, and he proposes raising corporate taxes to pay the bill.

DeSantis suggested during a debate with Adam Putnam during the primary campaign that no, health care is not a fundamental right.

Um, who do you have in that one, voters in the middle?

Immigration?

I imagine you can guess where DeSantis stands on that one, being a follower of President Build That Wall. Gillum said ICE needs to be abolished in its current form and dreamers should have a path to citizenship.

Where’s the in-between on that issue?

An early Public Policy Polling survey, commissioned by Democrats, showed Gillum with a decisive edge in voters with no party affiliation, probably as a reaction to the Trumpian controversies. I wouldn’t read much into that, though, because the full-blown attack ads haven’t started yet from either side.

Those ads will be directly aimed at you, voters in the middle.

They will leave you feeling there is no candidate you can fully support.

Maybe there isn’t. The middle ground can be a lonely place.

Joe Henderson: Ron DeSantis ‘monkey’ comment naive at best, racist at worst

If Ron DeSantis didn’t believe it would be seen as racist when he said of the state’s economy we shouldn’t “monkey it up” by electing Andrew Gillum as Florida’s next Governor, then he is incredibly naive.

However, if this Donald Trump Mini-Me was sending a signal to remind his less, um … tolerant supporters that Gillum is, indeed, one election win away from becoming Florida’s first black Governor, then he might as well have announced to the world that he is a racist.

He will deny all that vigorously, of course, but I don’t believe there is any other way to interpret the astonishing interview DeSantis gave Wednesday on Fox News. Instead of just taking a victory lap after his blowout win over Adam Putnam (what must he be feeling right now?) in the GOP Primary, DeSantis took that moment in the national spotlight to utter a phrase that is incredibly offensive to blacks.  

Good Lord, Roseanne Barr — another FOT (Friend of Trump) — lost her highly rated TV show earlier this year with a similar slur against Valerie Jarrett, a former White House aide to Barack Obama.

Didn’t something from that story sink into Ron DeSantis’ brain before he spoke?

Guess not.

Right after this story sent the Twittersphere into a tizzy, I was thinking that I have lived more than six decades on this planet and until now I had never heard the phrase “monkey it up.” I saw shortly after that St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman tweeted the same thing. 

Mess it up? Sure.

But “monkey it up” — um, no. What a coincidence that the first time I heard that combination of words was is in reference to a black man running as the Democratic nominee for Governor.

That was about the time my eldest son sent me a text, weighing in on the topic. I mentioned it sure looked like a dog whistle and sounded like a dog whistle.

Ben Henderson responded: “That’s a full-on dog airhorn.”

You hear something like that, and you start thinking about Charlottesville and how Trump defended some of the white nationalists as “very fine people.”

You start thinking of the president’s jag against the National Football League over players taking a knee during the national anthem. The overwhelming majority of players doing that are black, trying to raise social awareness about issues with police.

Trump calls the protesters “sons of bitches” and even said, “maybe they shouldn’t be in the country.”

You remember the way Trump tried to demonize Obama — the whole issue about the birth certificate, being born in Kenya, and so on.

When you’re riding coat tails the way DeSantis rode Trump’s, and then you say something like this, what are people supposed to think?

I can’t think of a bigger gaffe occurring so soon after a gubernatorial primary win. It sent this Governor’s race straight into the swamp.

Maybe it was just an unfortunate word choice, as the DeSantis camp immediately tried to spin. If so, you would think a man hoping to lead the state for the next four years should understand by now that every word he says will be scrutinized for hidden messages.

Words matter.

When you want to be Governor of the nation’s third-largest state, you must know this.

If he doesn’t, he better learn quickly.

But Ron DeSantis will also have to understand why many people will assume he said exactly what he meant.

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