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Joe Henderson: Kevin Beckner made a difference, which should never be forgotten

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

All politicians start out by saying how they want to make a difference. Well, Kevin Beckner did.

His now-former colleagues at the Hillsborough County Commission acknowledged that Wednesday during his final meeting as a member of the board. He is leaving because of term limits after serving eight years.

Yes, Beckner was the first openly gay man to serve on the commission, which by itself was highly significant given that just a decade ago Hillsborough banned any recognition of gay pride at county-sponsored events. Former Commissioner Ronda Storms even stipulated the ordinance would be spelled with lowercase “g” and “p” in case anyone doubted we were serious around here about bigotry.

When Beckner led a contentious but successful push to overturn that law, he stipulated it would be spelled with a capital “G” and “P” in case anyone doubted it was a new dawn.

Beckner wasn’t a one-issue commissioner, though. Far from it.

He pushed for juvenile first-time misdemeanor offenders to be issued civil citations so they wouldn’t be tagged with a police record so early in life.

He championed the push to shut down pill mills and insurance fraud. He pushed for the county to amend its Human Rights Ordinance to include prohibitions against discrimination based on sexual or gender identity.

He was a strong voice for transparency in government and fiscal restraint. He helped create an animal abuse registry so that people convicted of abuse on our four-legged friends could no longer own an animal.

But the thing that always stood out to me about Beckner was his determination. Once he set his mind on accomplishing something, he went after it with a righteous zeal. He is one smart guy, too. If you wanted to debate him on an issue, you had better come armed with the facts to back up your argument.

He pushed for the board to act on tough issues when it was clear some members would prefer to avoid that, oh, forever.

It is true that his campaign for Hillsborough Clerk of Courts was basically a disaster. It was sometimes over-the-top negative against incumbent icon Pat Frank, which was out of character for Beckner. I think he would have made a fine Clerk, but going negative backfired and Frank beat him easily last August in the Democratic primary.

Beckner has a lot of fences to mend after that, but here’s where the bigger picture needs to evolve for local Democrats who say they’ll never get over what he did. Beckner is exactly the kind of person needed in government.

We need intelligence. We need visionaries. We need people whose motto isn’t go-along-to-get-along. We need boat rockers. We need people who can take the heat. We need people who aren’t afraid.

Kevin Beckner checks every box and he made a difference. That never should be forgotten.



Joe Henderson has had a 45-year career in newspapers, including the last nearly 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. He covered a large variety of things, primarily in sports but also including hard news. The two intertwined in the decade-long search to bring Major League Baseball to the area. Henderson was also City Hall reporter for two years and covered all sides of the sales tax issue that ultimately led to the construction of Raymond James Stadium. He served as a full-time sports columnist for about 10 years before moving to the metro news columnist for the last 4 ½ years. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. He has been married to his wife, Elaine, for nearly 35 years and has two grown sons – Ben and Patrick.

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