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Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Tea party supporter reminds us we’re all Americans

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Published:   |   Updated: October 8, 2013 at 06:38 AM

I had a message Monday to return a call to Dennis Higgins. He wanted me to know that he is a conservative American, and he wondered why I took a jab at the tea party last week in a column about the Rays and their playoff series against Boston.

It was a line about jumping on the Rays’ bandwagon, and how the tea party shouldn’t confuse that with trying to push through light rail around here. I probably should have hit the delete key on that, but sometimes I just can’t help myself.

Anyway, I try to be accountable for everything I write, and Mr. Higgins sounded reasonable. He deserved an explanation. What followed was as pleasant and civil a conversation as I can remember having about politics and the state of things today with, well, just about anyone.

Let me introduce you to him.

He lives in Citrus Park, where he owns a small business. He’ll be 62 years old soon, and admits he once voted for Jimmy Carter. I told him that was OK, that I once voted for Ronald Reagan. Higgins attends Idlewild Baptist Church, and he prefers the King James version of the Bible.

“We’re all Americans, my brother,” Higgins said. “I probably tend toward the tea party. A lot of my friends are tea party. Why does everybody have to take shots at us?”

He asked, so I tried to answer as straightforwardly as I could.

My experience with the tea party has been that it’s all or nothing. I could agree on 49 of 50 points of a given subject, but I’ve had tea people seize on the one point like it’s a total rejection of their position. That’s what we’re seeing now in Washington (not just on the tea party side, either).

I’ll give my new friend a lot of credit, though. Just as you can be liberal without being a communist, you can be conservative without wanting to leave the poor and defenseless to fend for themselves.

Take the Affordable Care Act, for instance.

“You can’t just say here’s 2,000 pages of Obamacare and you have to take what’s in it,” he said.

As we are seeing, there are a lot of problems with this thing, starting with the fact many low-income people are finding it’s not affordable at all.

Higgins told me of a woman he knows who can’t get help with insurance because she makes too little money.

“Tell me how that’s right?” he said.

I can’t, because it isn’t.

These are real-world problems. Instead of our finger puppets in Washington and Tallahassee playing this idiotic game of chicken with our lives, why doesn’t everybody put on their grown-up pants and talk this out like adults? Everyone could benefit. Would that be so terrible?

“We all just need a voice,” Higgins said. “We have to be able to talk about these things.”

I have to believe that’s what the majority of Americans want. I believe it’s what Dennis Higgins, my new tea party friend, wants as well. And, sorry about that shot last week. As the guy says on TV, I’ll try to do better the next time.

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