2012 was the year we lost heroes
It looked like 2012 would be the year best remembered for the Republican National Convention. It's probably Tampa's one and only; thanks again, Tropical Storm Isaac. But then there was SocialiteGate. The national media that never found its way to Bayshore Boulevard during the GOP convention made up for it. But as it turned out, 2012 was the year we lost heroes. It was the year we lost Sam Gibbons, 92, Bill McBride, 67, and Norman Schwarzkopf, 78. Decorated veterans who dedicated their post-military years to making America better. Army Capt. Gibbons parachuted into Normandy on D-Day and became an avatar of "The Greatest Generation." The Tampa congressman, a courtly gentleman who never lost an election, rose to chair the Ways and Means Committee and fought the good Washington fight for Head Start, anti-poverty legislation and Medicare reform. On the home front, Gibbons was best known as USF's "founding father." He also expanded Tampa's boundaries and helped start the Southwest Florida Water Management District. McBride, a former Marine who earned a Bronze Star in Vietnam, played a catalytic role in building Holland & Knight into a legal colossus. In the process, he pushed H&K into becoming a pro bono force and later became a major player in charitable causes through a foundation he founded. The gregarious, generous McBride was an unrelenting advocate for public education and civil rights.Schwarzkopf brought back a handful of medals, including a Purple Heart, from Vietnam. He later did what U.S. generals don't do anymore: He won a war. Ticker-tape parade down Broadway and all. "Operation Desert Storm" was the antithesis of — and maybe an antidote to — the humiliatingly frustrating experience that was Vietnam. The man they called the "Bear" then stepped down as CentCom commander in 1991 and retired right here. He passed on political opportunity and utilized his commanding presence to further community causes, most notably prostate cancer awareness and the Children's Home. Sam Gibbons. Bill McBride. Norman Schwarzkopf. They truly served in war and peace. They truly left this place we call home better than they found it. We are in their debt — as a community and as a country. City Referendum It's no secret that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn would love for his city's PowerPoint presentation to include a modern mass transit system — aka light rail. Its glaring absence is a major-city marketer's bête noire. He also knows raising sales-tax money for one via a county referendum isn't yet a viable option. Unincorporated Hillsborough made that clear in 2010. As a result, Mayor Buckhorn expects to join four fellow Florida mayors (St. Petersburg, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville) in petitioning the Legislature in the upcoming session to allow an exemption to the county-only referendum law for cities of a certain population. Permit them, in effect, to determine their own destiny on issues such as, yes, light rail. In fact, the Statewide MPO Advisory Council has suggested a bill to that effect. But realistically, this is still a Florida Legislature that relates more to Allen West than to Bob Buckhorn and (Orlando's) Buddy Dyer. Is this windmill-tilting in Tallahassee? "Cities are the hubs of business," explains Buckhorn. "I'd be shirking my responsibility to not continue this cause. We need to start this conversation. Let me take the heat. It's a vote for our kids." Noisemakers Three words: celebratory gun fire. Three more words: idiots among us. Polls And Pols * Polls, we were reminded by the presidential election, don't always measure up. There are so many variables--from sampling demographics to question wording to annoyed-respondee cooperation. But here's a consensus that unsurprisingly continues to resonate: Polls consistently show that an overwhelming majority of Americans are comfortable with President Obama's effort to raise tax rates on Americans earning at least $250,000. Of course they are. That's, quite arguably, because an overwhelming majority of Americans don't earn at least $250,000. It's called human nature with a touch of 2-percenter schadenfreude. The GOP, calculating an image overhaul to appeal to an evolving, more assertive middle class, should actually want to respond--Grover Norquist notwithstanding--accordingly. * For Democrats pondering the prospect of voting for newly-minted Democrat Charlie Crist next year in the governor's race, their biggest hurdle is likely at the gut level. It's not so much that former Gov. Crist used to be a Republican; politicians, even those who once signed a Norquistian, anti-tax pledge, can evolve. Ronald Reagan, after all, was once an FDR Democrat. But how do Florida Dems pinch their nostrils and cast ballots for the guy whose personal political ambition single-handedly opened the gubernatorial door for Rick Scott? Moreover, how do they vote for the guy who walked out on Florida when the Sunshine State--reeling from a blind-siding economy--needed him most?