Jeff Brandes Archives - Page 3 of 33 - Florida Politics

The Mitch Perry Report for 10.4.16 — And now for something completely different

Since his selection to be Donald Trump’s running mate back in July, it’s been downright amusing at times to watch Mike Pence have to answer for his new boss while being asked about his latest outrageous comment.

“Torturous” might be the best term to explain some of the responses he’s had to come up with to defend or deflect the latest comment by the GOP standard bearer. Sure, Katrina Pierson and Jeffrey Lord have lost their dignity at times on cable news, but Pence is the current governor of Indiana and a former member of Congress who had his own political persona swallowed up because of the unique position he’s in.

Tonight, Pence takes on Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine in the vice-presidential debate from Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. They’ll be questioned by CBS’ digital news anchor Elaine Quijano, the first Asian-American moderator for a presidential or vice-presidential debate, and believe it or not, at 42, the youngest such host since Judy Woodruff in 1988.

One would presumably trust we’ll hear more about policy than we did in either the first presidential debate or on the campaign trail in general. But Quijano is going to have to be compelled to ask Pence to deal with some of Trump’s statements. No doubt we’ll hear talking points from Team Trump — that their man’s ability to use the tax code to (presumably) not pay taxes for years was “brilliant” — which is what Trump surrogates (and the man himself) have been saying for the past two days after the New York Times report on the nearly billion-dollar loss he wrote off in 1995.

And what about Kaine? While he’s been a loyal soldier to Hillary Clinton on the trail (mostly by bashing Trump), there are a few policy positions that distinguish himself from the top of the ticket. For example, Kaine supports the Hyde Amendment, which has banned taxpayer-funded abortions for nearly 40 years, yet he says he will work with Clinton to overturn it as vice president. And he was a fan of the Trans-Pacific Partnership the same week he was selected as Clinton’s running mate, then came out against it (after Clinton herself reversed her stance on the TPP).

Then again, will this matter that much? The VP debate certainly did four years ago, when Joe Biden came on incredibly aggressive (almost rude) against Paul Ryan from the jump, so determined was he to be the aggressor in win the debate after Barack Obama laid an egg against Mitt Romney in their first presidential debate.

An ABC News poll released last week found that more than 40 percent of the American public couldn’t pick Kaine or Pence out of a line-up.

In other news…

Who says Charlie Crist can’t laugh at himself? The CD 13 Democratic candidate is airing a new television ad which includes an admission about his infatuation with devices that keep him cool.

Meanwhile, the David Jolly campaign team is pumped up about a D.C. website’s projection of the race to be tightening. 

Jack Latvala announced last week he opposes the medical marijuana constitutional amendment. The reaction on Facebook was fierce.

Joe Redner has gone up with the first TV of his SD 18 campaign.

Hillary Clinton has new radio ads in English and Spanish airing in South Florida pounding Donald Trump on that whole doing business with Cuba report from last week’s Newsweek.

Tampa Democrats are working hard to get as many people registered as possible before next week’s deadline to vote in the November election.

The Tampa Police Department has received a $1.9 million grant from the Department of Justice to hire 15 community police officers.

Not that it’s a surprise, but Jeff Brandes was “elected” the new state senator of District 24 yesterday, after his write-in opponent dropped out.

Jeff Brandes wins SD 24 seat after write-in candidate drops out

Jeff Brandes has won the state Senate District 24 seat.

Although the 40-year-old Brandes had no Democratic opponent (or a Republican one in last month’s primary), he was facing write-in candidate Alexander Johnson in the Nov. 8 election.

However, Johnson has now dropped out of the race, effectively making Brandes the winner.

Brandes has been in the Florida Legislature since 2010, when he defeated Democrat Bill Heller in the House District 52 race in Pinellas County.

After a single term in the House, Brandes ran for Senate District 22 in 2012, where his greatest challenge was in the Republican primary against longtime Pinellas County lawmaker Jim Frishe, who Brandes defeated 58 to 43 percent.

In 2014, Brandes’ faced University of South Florida-St. Petersburg professor Judithanne McLachlan, who the Democrats had great hopes for a serious challenge in the Hillsborough/Pinellas seat. But Brandes won easily, 58 percent to 42 percent.

All 40 Senate districts are up for re-election this fall because of redistricting, but those districts assigned odd numbers get four-year terms, while even-numbered districts get two-year terms that would require senators to run again in 2018 to get a full four-year term. In this case, Brandes will once again be running for this seat in two more years.

Jack Latvala comes out against medical pot; the internet reacts

Last Friday, Clearwater Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala announced he would be opposing Amendment 2, the imitative calling for legalizing medical marijuana in the Sunshine State.

“Amendment 2 is bad for Florida,” Latvala says in a short video on the Facebook page created for his election campaign. “The constitution is forever,” he says. “Future legislators or judges can’t change it, even if science finds it harmful.”

The reaction has been fierce on social media, with the announcement generating more than 100 comments on his campaign Facebook page, most of them negative.

“How much are you getting from liquor and beer companies to make this PA?” wrote Jose Carlos Buraschi. “Thanks to people like you, my son could not get the medicine he needed back in 2014. Now he is dead!!! Please do research before you say all this nonsense about low THC, and how that is enough. What research have you personally done to say that ‘Charlotte’s Web’ is enough to cure cancer, treat Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, etc.?”

There were plenty of comments suggesting Latvala was heeding the wisdom of “Big Pharma” and that he’s endangered his chances of getting elected. The odds of that happening are virtually nonexistent, however, considering that not one Democrat or Republican even bothered to file to run against him in his bid to win his state Senate District 16 next month. Katherine Perkins is a write-in candidate listed as also running for the seat.

“Apparently you’ve never saw someone who has suffered through chemotherapy and its side effects,” wrote Gail Bender. “If you had, I’ll wager that you would do ANYTHING that would help. It’s so much more important to you that you listen to those drug lobbyists. Well, guess what. Whether you like it or not, it’s coming. Oh, and like I said. Your straight answer was quite telling in whom you’ve sided with. Good luck on winning the next election. Marijuana use will help thousands of registered voters live long enough to vote you out on your next election cycle.”

Some reactions were extremely personal.

“I hope that someday your life is touched by you or a loved one having a chronic and painful illness,” wrote Norie Berndt. “Then you will understand why it’s important to make medical marijuana legal.”

It should also be noted more than 133 people gave a “like” to the video. And the reaction is much more balanced on his personal Facebook page.

The senator responded Saturday by posting a photo of marijuana edibles. “Tell me kids won’t get ahold of this pot candy if it comes to Florida. #VoteNoOn2,” he wrote.

That also generated similar negative feedback.

“Why are you blurring the lines and making up lies?” wrote Tommy Frain. “Amendment 2 gives a ton of power to the Department of Health for implementation and is very restrictive on the illness medical cannabis is allowed to be given for. What’s up with these scare tactics, Jack?”

In an interview Monday, Latvala said he wasn’t surprised by the reaction, but, to him, it’s a moral issue and doesn’t have anything to do with politics.

“I just draw the line,” he said. “It’s what you’ve got to do sometimes if you’re a leader.”

Latvala has received contributions from 10 different pharmaceutical companies in his 2016 election campaign totaling $5,500, including $500 contributions from companies like Pfizer, Merck Sharp & Dohme, and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Latvala notes the total amount of those contributions just above 1 percent of the $508,712 he’s collected in his campaign account as of Sept. 16 (there have been a handful of contributions from pharmaceutical companies to his political action committee).

“I generally take money from all legal sources, and I generally don’t worry about who I irritate to give me money,” he says, adding that he’s been tough on groups like the utility companies in Florida, yet has received contributions from them. “There’s no connection.”

Some fellow Pinellas Republicans disagree with Latvala’s stance.

“Our government has failed its citizens on medical marijuana policy,” St. Petersburg state Sen. Jeff Brandes said Friday, referring to the “Charlotte’s Web law,” which legalized the use of a non-euphoric strain of marijuana to treat conditions such as epilepsy, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and cancer (and which Latvala opposed).

“Today we have a law on the books that enriches a handful of people, and places barriers between doctors and their patients by depriving them access to a treatment that could improve their quality of life,” Brandes added. “The law today must change, and Amendment 2 is a responsible option for sensible medical marijuana regulation.”

Latvala says he believes some people are coming out in support of the measure because the odds of passage look good next month, according to public opinion polls. He says it takes more courage to go against the grain.

“I think a lot of people are being quiet about it because they assume it’s going to pass and they don’t want to be on the wrong side, and I think it’d be interesting,” he says. “To get involved in something’s that winning over 70 percent of the vote is not an easy thing to do. It takes a little bit of courage to get involved in an issue where it looks like you’re losing.”

Here’s where stuff stands in Tampa Bay politics — the ‘it’s October’ edition

Hello, October.

This is the final full month of the 2016 campaign cycle. In five weeks, we will know so much more about the future of the country, the state and our communities. But, no matter what, life will go on.

For those in “The Process” — Florida Politics’ term for the unending legislative campaign/legislative session system — it’s just two months before committee meetings begin.

In fact, like many people I talk to who are in “The Process,” we’re planning for the 2017 Legislative Session as they are monitoring the final weeks of the campaign season.

Of course, we all are fascinated by the presidential campaign, while the U.S. Senate race between Republican Marco Rubio and his Democratic challenger, Patrick Murphy, seems uninspiring. It’s like one of those Hollywood blockbusters with a big budget and exciting trailer, yet fails to deliver at the box office.

Fortunately for Tampa Bay politicos, there are several races which are not only competitive but are getting more interesting as Election Day approaches.

Here’s where sh*t stands in Tampa Bay politics …

When I left the Palladium Theater after the debate between David Jolly and Charlie Crist, I could have made a case for either candidate having won the showdown. Jolly landed several sharp jabs, while Crist probably delivered the hardest punch with his “invitation to lead” remark.

In retrospect, I think Jolly needed to have won the debate to be the winner, whereas the expectations for Crist were low enough that he just had to not make a gaffe and he won. That’s not only how the debate went, but how the campaign seems to be proceeding. An elected official who is one of Crist’s loudest detractors recently admitted he was surprised how well Crist did at the debate.

The demographics are just not on Jolly’s side. He has to win independents by a large enough margin to overcome the Democratic performance advantage in a presidential year. And I don’t know that he has the resources to make enough of a case. He’s releasing digital ads because he doesn’t have the money to go up on television. He’s hoping the super PAC funded mostly by money committed to him while he was a U.S. Senate candidate can keep him on par with Crist’s fundraising advantage.

I just don’t know if there is enough gas in the tank. Crist’s latest ad — the one in which he says “I’m a fan of fans” — is much improved on previous efforts. And there’s even this proof of how hard Crist is working:

crist

That’s right, that’s Crist himself putting out signs on a Sunday morning. I haven’t seen that since he was running for state Senate.

Two weeks ago, I concurred with St. Pete Polls’ survey that pegged Jolly the slight leader over Crist. I believe the race has shifted to Crist’s advantage.

Crist and Jolly will face off again this Thursday at a forum hosted by Suncoast Tiger Bay. The event is at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club and begins at noon. The deadline to RSVP is Oct. 3.

The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections will mail more than 264,000 ballots to domestic voters Tuesday. You probably have seen the countless stories about how early voting is changing campaigns, but this point cannot be stressed enough: in one of, if not the, most crucial battleground states in the country, the real Election Day is this week as opposed to the one on the calendar in November.

It’s a story for a larger piece, but in case you haven’t been paying attention, Sen. Jack Latvala has a lot to say. That’s probably nothing new, but as the incoming chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he’s never had the kind of platform he has now. As powerful as he has been, he’s never been this powerful before.

So when Sen. Latvala speaks, it’s more important than ever to listen.

Latvala has opinions on Amendment 2 (he’s against it and spending his own money to oppose it), funding for Enterprise Florida (he’s for it and thinks a compromise between Rick Scott and Richard Corcoran can be reached), raises for state employees (he’s making that his top priority next session) and a host of other issues.

In the run-up to the 2017 Session — and certainly beyond — it is probably more important than ever to listen to what Latvala has to say. After all, he has say on, oh, about $80 billion.

Speaking of the Latvala clan, state Rep. Chris Latvala handled himself very well at last week’s candidate forum sponsored by Suncoast Tiger Bay. Admittedly, he is a friend. And Chris is a partisan (he says he’s voting for Donald Trump), but his answers on a range of issues were not only smart, but they were also well-articulated and compassionate.

More than anything, Latvala demonstrated that he’s not just his father’s son (although there certainly would be nothing wrong with that).

Latvala’s Democratic opponent, David Vogel, told Tiger Bay organizers that he would not participate in the candidate forum because he objected to questions asked at a previous forum by the moderator. That moderator? Yours truly.

Creative Loafing’s Kate Bradshaw summarizes the situation:

Vogel said he didn’t like the questions Schorsch asked at another forum — namely two he posed to Joseph Bensmihen, a Republican running for a state House seat in St. Pete and a recent transplant. They were designed to show how well — or not well, actually — he knew the district, but his responses were memorable gaffes: his favorite restaurant on St. Pete’s 4th Street was a Chick-fil-A franchise, he said, and he couldn’t name the mayor who preceded current St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman.

“[Vogel] said that those questions are not serious,” Schorsch said.

First of all, Tiger Bay forums are not meant to be entirely serious. They promise to “carve up a politican for lunch,” which we all know/hope is an unserious motto.

But the kind of questions I asked Joe Bensmihen — and it should be noted that I asked each of the candidates a range of policy questions — are essential because they illuminate a candidate’s knowledge of the community he wants to represent.

Just like a question about “Aleppo” gives a voter a sense of a presidential aspirant’s grasp of geopolitics.

Vogel — far behind Latvala in polls and money — missed an opportunity to make his case to Tiger Bay members.

Republican state House candidate Jackie Toledo has a major fundraiser planned for this Wednesday. Here’s the invitation:

toledo-jackie-fundraiser

Newspaper endorsements probably matter less than they ever had, but at least one recommendation is worth noting.

Trilingual La Gaceta, which should be written in blue ink instead of black it leans that far to the Democratic left, endorsed Republican Shawn Harrison in House District 63 over Democrat Lisa Montelione.

“(N)ormally, we support Democrats, but lately we’ve noticed some Democrats aren’t acting like Democrats. Lisa Montelione is on that list” writes publisher Patrick Manteiga.

The endorsement notes that Montelione, Tampa’s District 7 City Councilwoman, “approved two consecutive tax increases in the City of Tampa that combined, are the largest in the city’s history.” She “also recently extended the city’s red light ticket program,” it said. “Democrats don’t privatize our policing to private, for-profit corporations. These programs hurt the poor. These tickets are hard to fight, and the system makes mistakes.” On the other hand, Harrison “is a moderate Republican. Democrats can work with him,” the paper said. … “He’s smart, compassionate, focused and does his homework. He can build coalitions.”

Look for Harrison’s campaign to waste little time printing a direct mailer with Manteiga’s words in big, bold letters.

Perhaps the most despised governmental agency in Tampa Bay is the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission. Beholden to the local taxi industry, the PTC has almost pushed ridesharing services Uber and Lyft out of the market. Yes, a deal has been reached that may keep them here, but it’s not a certainty.

Whichever way that deal breaks, the fate of the PTC will likely be decided by the Florida Legislature, of which several Tampa Bay lawmakers have their knives out for the PTC.

This makes this one of the most interesting lobbying battles shaping up in Tallahassee.

On one side, there is the PTC and its registered lobbyists at Corcoran & Johnston. That is the firm headed by Michael Corcoran, brother of incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran. On the other side, there is Sen. Jeff Brandes and Reps. Larry Ahern, James Grant, and Dana Young, who would like to abolish the PTC.

Oh, also with Brandes, Young and Co. is Speaker Corcoran, who co-signed a pro-Uber letter to the PTC.

The very fact that the PTC is paying $120,000 to lobby the lawmakers who would like to see it abolished only serves to pour gasoline on this flammable situation.

Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez has a grand opening for his campaign headquarters on Tuesday, Oct. 11. Here’s the invite:

henriquez-event

Is Oscar Braynon running the best Senate political operation in years?

Democratic uber consultant (and frequent Uber customer) Steve Schale contends in a must-read, table-setting blog post about which Florida Senate races are worth watching that “Oscar Braynon is running the best Senate political operation I’ve seen in years.”

Really?

Technically, Schale is absolutely right. Braynon is running the best political shop in years because, when compared to previous Democratic efforts, O.B. looks like a black James Carville.

Beyond Schale, there are other super-smart people in Tallahassee who think very highly of the Florida Democrats’ Senate political arm. Associated Industries of Florida’s Ryan Tyson often sings its praises, warning Republicans that if the Dems ever have more than two nickels to rub together, they’ll be dangerous.

Schale is also right on two more points:

— that, especially based on recent history, if Braynon’s Democrats overreach, they’re more likely to end up with just 14 or 15 seats in the Senate;

— and that if the Senate Dems get to 16 or 17 seats, that would make a huge impact in the chamber.

But I’m not ready to sing Braynon’s praises. One could make the argument that if the Democrats don’t get to 16-plus seats, the fault squarely lies with Braynon.

Putting aside all of the usual knocks on Florida Democrats — can’t raise money, etc. — Braynon has made glaring strategic mistakes for which he must be held accountable.

The first is not being able to recruit a candidate in Senate District 22. Few developments made me more relieved than to see our friend Jeff Brandes go without a challenge this cycle, but SD 22 is a genuine battleground seat that could have been won in a presidential year (and, admittedly, lost back to the Republicans in the 2018 non-presidential cycle). Braynon was left at the altar by Augie Ribeiro, who flirted with running in the seat, then decided to run in Senate District 19. Still, the seat encompasses St. Petersburg and South Tampa — veritable hotbeds for whatever constitutes Democratic intellectualism (for example, several major national and statewide environmental organizations, such as Defenders of Wildlife, have their offices in the district). It’s just a sin of omission that Braynon was not able to field a candidate here.

O.B.’s second tactical mistake is one borne out of his personal loyalty and willingness to reach across the aisle. By not pinning down his friend, Republican Anitere Flores, in SD 39, Braynon has allowed a couple of million dollars of Republican money to be freed up and redeployed to other races. Had a poll shown Flores in the slightest bit of trouble, Joe Negron would have spent $5 million to protect his chief lieutenant. Instead, Negron can now spend that money to shore up Dana Young in Senate District 18.

And while not outflanking the Republicans in SD 39, Braynon also left himself exposed on his left after backing the wrong candidates in two Democratic primaries. Braynon’s caucus of one backed Mike Clelland over Linda Stewart in SD 13, and Ed Narain over Darryl Rouson in SD 19. He didn’t spend a lot of money to do it, but Braynon now has two members who he personally tried to block from coming to Tallahassee. Look for both of them to give Braynon fits during the 2017-18 legislative sessions.

The honest truth about Braynon is that he is one of the smartest, most well-liked Democrats to hold the leadership post in a while. He’s O.B. from the press skits video of him and Andy Gardiner cutting it up as the “honest” Senate President.

But the Democrats were given the greatest political gift they’ve received in decades with the Florida Supreme Court’s redistricting ruling. Some political reporters, such as Mary Ellen Klas, speculated the Democrats were in position to pick-up six seats.

However, at the end of the day, they might just pick up just one seat (SD 13). If that’s what constitutes running the best Senate political operation in years, that’s hardly worth recognizing.

HD 60 GOP candidate Jackie Toledo slams PTC’s ridesharing regulations

Like the many Tampa Bay area GOP state lawmakers she wants to join in Tallahassee this November, Jackie Toledo said Wednesday she is disgusted by the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission’s approval of new regulations that could ultimately lead ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft to leave the region.

“The rules passed by the PTC are clear examples of abuse of power and bureaucratic overreach, plain and simple,” the House District 60 Republican candidate said in a statement issued shortly after the vote came down. “They are designed to push ridesharing companies out of Hillsborough County in favor of a corrupted special interest group with deep pockets.”

On Tuesday, Dana Young, current occupant of the HD 60 seat in South Tampa and western Hillsborough County, penned a letter to the PTC co-signed by virtually the entire Tampa Bay area legislative delegation, with the exception of Tampa Democrats Ed Narain and Arthenia Joyner (Narain informs us that he was never asked to sign on to the letter). The missive called the PTC’s proposed new rules — which included a Level II background check for ridesharing drivers that includes fingerprinting — “plainly designed to be an anti-competitive attempt to push ridesharing companies out of Hillsborough County.”

“If this occurs,” Young added, “our constituents will pay the price by losing a safe and reliable transportation option.”

Young, along with Tampa Bay area Republicans Jeff Brandes and Jamie Grant, supported Uber’s entrance into the Hillsborough market in the spring of 2014 with enthusiasm, and have been persistent critics of the PTC. However, they’ve not been able to persuade their colleagues to date in Tallahassee to pass a statewide regulatory framework for ridesharing companies, leaving it to local governments like the PTC to work it out. Uber and Lyft continue to face similar issues of not being in compliance in Orange and Duval counties, though they were able to clear up their issues over the past year in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

In her statement, Toledo is now calling for the PTC to be “disbanded.”

“For too long, the PTC has stood in the way of innovation and the free market,” she said. “The rules passed today are a clear indication that the PTC is more interested in doing what is best interest of special interest groups than what is in the best interest of those who live, work, and visit the Tampa Bay area. It is a glaring example of why we need leaders in Tallahassee who can stand up for pro-consumer policies and push back against efforts by unelected bureaucrats to thwart the will of the people.”

Toledo is running against Democrat David Singer in the HD 60 race. Late this afternoon he, too, said that he did not approve of the PTC’s actions.

“Innovative technologies like Uber and Lyft provide a much-needed boost to our set of transportation options,” he said.

“We are a large and growing metro area, and we should do everything that we can to encourage inventive, market-driven solutions that help our community,” Singer continued. “We need to position Tampa and Hillsborough County as ahead of the curve on new technology so that we can effectively compete with other growing markets. I’m not in favor of regulations passed by the PTC today that stifle innovation and may cause Uber and Lyft to leave our market.”

Southern Strategy Group snags Uber’s local lobbying contract

In a significant “get” for the state’s largest government affairs firm, Southern Strategy Group (SSG) will rep global ride-hailing service Uber for its local-level needs.

The deal comes as ridesharing services heat up the news again.

Most recently, in Tampa Bay, House Republican Leader Dana Young demanded in a letter that local regulators scuttle proposed rules that Uber and others say will force them out of the local market.

Young’s letter was cosigned by 12 members of the Tampa Bay area legislative delegation.

Ballard Partners will continue to handle lobbying for the company at the legislative and state agency level.

SSG will help Uber at the city level, especially in places like Orlando, where lobbyist Kelly Cohen is close to Mayor Buddy Dyer, a Democrat.

SSG also is no longer repping Mears Transportation, a Central Florida taxi and hired-car provider. It controls most of the taxi business in Orlando, as well as much of the charter bus service.

Mears, and its adjunct, the Florida Taxicab Association, have been going head-to-head with Uber as the San Francisco-based company fights to break into — and stay in — local markets across Florida.

It will be interesting to see who picks up Mears next session, as we wait for an epic battle between Uber aficionados like state Sen. Jeff Brandes and soon-to-be House Speaker Richard Corcoran, and state Sen. Jack Latvala, the new Senate budget chief, on the other side.

Stay tuned…

Dana Young urges Hillsborough PTC to reject new rules for Uber, Lyft

Writing that “Hillsborough County is better than this,” Dana Young is the latest Tampa Bay area lawmaker calling for the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission to reject proposed new rules that ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft say would force them out of the local market.

In a letter Tuesday to PTC Chair Victor Crist, Young says the current proposal set for a vote by the PTC “is plainly designed to be an anti-competitive attempt to push ride-sharing companies out of Hillsborough County.”

“If this occurs,” she added, “our constituents will pay the price by losing a safe and reliable transportation option.”

Young’s letter was co-signed by 12 members of the local Tampa Bay area legislative delegation.

Last week, a PTC subcommittee approved new regulations representatives from Uber and Lyft have said are unacceptable. They include a seven-minute wait time for a passenger to get a for a vehicle for hire in the county, a $7 minimum fare, and Level II backgrounds checks that require fingerprinting their drivers. That last demand actually compelled Uber to leave the Austin, Texas market this past spring, so both companies appear serious about not bending on that issue.

On Monday, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn headlined a news conference featuring members of Hillsborough County’s entrepreneur, tourism, and business sectors. They also called on the PTC to reject the proposed rules.

Although the state Legislature failed to come up with statewide regulations of ride-sharing companies, Young’s letter vows the issue will finally be addressed in the next regular Legislative Session, which begins March. Young says the PTC board should hold off on any action regarding ridesharing in Hillsborough until the 2017 legislative session ends next spring.

Joining her in co-signing the letter are two local Republicans well-known for their enthusiasm for ridesharing and loathing of the PTC — Jeff Brandes and Jamie Grant. Republican legislators Larry Ahern, Danny Burgess, Richard Corcoran, Bill Galvano, Jake Raburn, Shawn Harrison, Wilton Simpson, Ross Spano, Dan Raulson, and Democrat Darryl Rouson also signed onto the letter.

Some Hillsborough Democrats have been much less vocal in criticizing the PTC and speaking up for the ridesharing companies than their Republican brethren since Uber and Lyft began operating in Hillsborough in the spring of 2014.

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Bob Buckhorn, others call Hillsborough PTC to reject rules that Uber, Lyft say could drive them out

Two days before the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission looks to approve new regulations that representatives from ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft say could compel them to leave town, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and others in Hillsborough County’s business community had a simple message for them on Monday: Don’t do it.

Specifically, they warned the agency not to approve new regulations approved by a subcommittee of the PTC last week that include a $7 minimum fare and a seven-minute wait time for passengers — and absolutely do not approve Level II background checks which include having Uber and Lyft drivers fingerprinted.

“We are not going to a city that’s going to be held down hostage by any cabal of any industry,” Buckhorn said, a nod to the fact that the taxicab industry in Hillsborough — as has been the case all over the world — objects to the Transportation Network Companies (TNC’s) operating under different rules of the road.

Since they began operating in Tampa in April 2014, the PTC has been unable to bring the two companies into compliance with their regulations, many of which the companies believe are onerous and out of date. It’s not unique to this community — the ridesharing companies also remain at odds with regulators in Orlando and Jacksonville, for example, while the companies have come into compliance in the past year with local governments in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.

But Uber and Lyft did pull completely out of Austin, Texas, earlier this year over a similar impasse regarding those Level II background checks.

Buckhorn also used the opportunity at the press conference to once again call for the outright abolition of the PTC, the controversial agency created by the Legislature in the 1970s to craft regulations for vehicles-for-hire in Hillsborough County. It’s the only such agency in the state.

The PTC’s heavy-handed tactics in previous years have led to the belief by some that it is a handmaiden of the taxicab industry. It’s a perception that only gained more currency when former PTC Chair Kevin White was convicted of charges of conspiracy, bribery, wire fraud, and lying to the FBI after he was found guilty of accepting thousands of dollars in bribes and a luxury SUV exchange for helping three prospective wrecker company operators win certificates from the PTC.

“I continue to believe it is a dinosaur,” Buckhorn said about the PTC, a belief shared by Tampa Bay area legislators like Jeff Brandes, Dana Young, and Jamie Grant. “Dinosaurs are extinct. The PTC should be extinct.”

“We are not trying to keep anybody out of the marketplace,” insists Kyle Cockream, the executive director of the PTC. “Instead, the focus is on consensus on regulations that ensure rider safety,” he said in a statement. “We want a solid framework that welcomes TNC’s while making the safety of our riding public a priority.”

Buckhorn was surrounded by more than a dozen people at the news conference, held at the Attic, a downtown coffee shop/bar. Many were representatives of the business community and entrepreneurs who don’t want Uber and Lyft to leave, saying such a loss will hurt with the recruitment of businesses and the retaining and/or luring millennials to stay in the Tampa Bay.

“The whole country took note when Austin passed its draconian legislation,” said Christopher Emmanuel, director of infrastructure and governance policy for the Florida Chamber of Commerce. “We ask that the PTC suspend consideration of this extreme rule, and work with the new business and responsible partners that are hoping to bring transportation solutions for Tampa and Florida’s future.”

Tony DiBenedetto is the chair and CEO of a tech company called Tribridge. He said he doesn’t even own a car these days, and instead takes Uber to wherever he has to go.

“I think it’s sending the wrong message to everybody,” he said about the proposed regulations, which could prompt the companies to leave the region. “I think this is a devastating decision on their part. I think it would hurt us from a recruiting perspective; it’s already hard to recruit to Tampa.”

Although the Level II background checks have garnered the most attention, Uber and Lyft have serious issues with other proposed rules going before the PTC board on Wednesday, such as a seven-minute wait time for anyone to hail a vehicle-for-hire car in Hillsborough County.

“You request a ride, said Blayn Shamble, a Tampa Bay area Lyft driver.”It takes two minutes to get there, and now I have to lock my doors and roll my window down and say, ‘I’m sorry, you cannot legally get into my car until five minutes passes.’

“In my opinion, that is just picking your winners and losers in a free market,” Shamble added.

The PTC has said the new rules were promulgated by members of the cab industry and would-be TNC DriveSociety, who are pushing the PTC hard to pass the new rules.

“Are you a believer in public safety?,” shouted out DriveSociety proprietor Marcus Carter after Buckhorn explained how he believed competition was good for business. “You’re not a member of the media,” barked Buckhorn, who later said that he “welcomed” DriveSociety to the industry.

The Tampa mayor also said the cab industry needed to “up their game” to stay competitive with the new technology.

Louis Menardi, the chair of the Florida Taxicab Association and president of Yellow Cab of Tampa, issued a statement shortly before the press conference took place.

“Uber and Lyft’s approach to this issue is not unique to Hillsborough County or Florida,” he said. “All across the U.S., many local communities, including Portland, San Francisco, San Antonio, Austin, and Orlando are raising significant concerns about fundamental public safety issues and background checks, whether TNC drivers have any or adequate insurance, and whether the local communities should require better service from them for passengers in wheelchairs.

“In response, TNCs flout the law, ignore local regulations and resort to threatening local cities and counties with leaving and/or state and federal forced deregulation when they are questioned about their business practices as they relate to public safety and well-being.”

The PTC board meeting on the new rules will take place Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. at the County Center, 601 E. Kennedy, Tampa, 2nd floor.

Jeff Brandes turns attention to criminal justice reform

It’s been overlooked for years, but criminal justice reform could be coming down the pike.

Sen. Jeff Brandes said he hopes to make reforming the system a top priority, but told the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists it could take years before reforms are achieved.

Calls for reform aren’t new, but they are growing louder. In March, former Attorney General Bob Butterworth and Judge Simone Marstiller penned an op-ed to outline the need for reforms. Calls for change have come from Florida TaxWatch and the ACLU of Florida. And several other states across the nation are already taking steps to transform the system.

But the process is slow going. The Florida Legislature shot down an attempt to give the Department of Corrections an additional 734 jobs, which the agency said would make Florida’s prisons more secure. The additional positions would have allowed corrections workers to work eight-hour shifts, instead of 12-hour shifts.

“Our prisons are run at a skeleton crew. Guards are on 12 hour shifts, (they’re) tired, they’re angry … and what you don’t want is a (guard to be) tired, angry and watching 140 prisoners,” said Brandes. “I think we have a crisis in our prisons.”

Brandes said while his constituents aren’t clamoring for criminal justice reform, it is an issue that needs to be addressed. He plans to do that over the next few years, spending this year gathering data so lawmakers can better understand the issues at hand. He also plans to introduce a bill to create a task force to study the issue.

In 2018, Brandes said he hopes to run multiple bills to address the state’s prison system.

“I think we can get our arms around it,” said Brandes. “We can’t do it in committee, we’ve seen what happens in the committee process. This is a multi-year process.”

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