Jeff Brandes Archives - Page 6 of 33 - Florida Politics

Jeff Brandes gets write-in opponent in bid for re-election to SD 24 race

St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes looks to win re-election easily this November to his Pinellas/Hillsborough Senate District 24 seat.

No Democrat has emerged in 2016 to oppose him, perhaps intimidated by Brandes’s war chest, which includes more than $300,000 cash-on-hand.

An Army veteran, Brandes graduated from Carson-Newman College in Tennessee in 1999 with a degree in business administration. He joined the Army Reserve after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Brandes successfully ran for House District 52 in 2010.

After a single term in the House, Brandes ran for Senate District 22 in 2012, facing nominal opposition in the general election. However, Brandes faced a contentious primary against James “Jim” Frishe, a longtime Pinellas County lawmaker. Brandes defeated Frishe 58 to 43 percent.

In 2014, Brandes’ faced USF Florida St. Petersburg professor Judithanne McLauchlan, a veteran Democratic operative. Despite her with connections to the Clinton family, McLauchlan lost to Brandes 42 to 58 percent.

As chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, Brandes has been a staunch advocate of innovative technology, including driverless vehicles. He has also been a vocal opponent of red-light cameras, sponsoring bills in in both 2015 and 2016 to cut back their use by local governments.

According to LobbyTools, Brandes has also supported criminal justice reform, such as changes to the state’s civil asset forfeiture laws in 2016 and the use of driver’s license suspensions for a range of criminal offenses.

Write-in candidate Alexander Johnson, a Tampa resident, will appear on the ballot against Brandes in the fall.

Court rejects taxi companies request to remove Victor Crist from Hillsborough PTC

A court has rejected a request by a coalition of taxi cab companies to have Victor Crist removed as chair of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.

The Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland issued an order dismissing the request Thursday.

“This was a malicious intent by the taxi coalition and their representatives to discredit me,” Crist said, adding his attorneys had told him that it was a “ridiculous and unfounded claim.”

Crist has increasingly become a source of controversy within his own agency in recent months, as the PTC continues to come up short in trying to negotiate a deal to bring ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft into compliance.

“He’s criticized us, he’s criticized our industry, he’s criticized my lobbyists, he’s criticized just about everybody. He’s even criticized his fellow members recently,” said Yellow Cab owner Lou Menardi.

Crist’s relationship with his own board reached a nadir last month, when Temple Terrace councilman and PTC board member David Pogorilich called unsuccessfully for Crist step down, which came after yet another heated meeting at the PTC.

Pogorilich’s move came after Crist called to abolish the PTC, a move he has furiously resisted when such calls have come from state lawmakers like Jeff Brandes and Jamie Grant over the past two years.

Crist has been subject to intense criticism by the taxicab and limousine industry, which initially accused him of cozying up too closely when Uber and Lyft began operations. Three taxi companies filed a petition in Hillsborough County Court in May to have Crist removed from participating in the rule-making proceedings, but the 2nd DCA ruled against that request Thursday.

“It was in our best interests to at least address it,” said Menardi, adding that it wasn’t just the cab industry but some of his fellow PTC members who feel Crist is no longer capable of running meetings in a fair and impartial way.

There is no doubt Crist was frustrated by the inability to reach a deal satisfying both the ridesharing companies and the Hillsborough County taxi and limousine industry. Despite the hype in the past few months of an imminent deal, nothing has come to fruition, though reportedly representatives from both camps continue to negotiate with PTC staff.

“The right thing to do is level the playing field, open the market, and provide a baseline of regulation that guarantees safety to the community,” said Crist, whose proposal to regulate Lyft and Uber was rejected by the PTC in May. Crist said it was the most progressive and comprehensive regulatory ordinance proposed anywhere in the nation, and could have served as the model for the Legislature when they resume consideration of such regulations next year.

Menardi has also filed an ethics complaint, claiming a conflict of interest on Crist’s part. The claim involves Crist’s wife, Angela, who works at the University of South Florida as the director of the John Scott Dailey Institute of Government. Menardi said he didn’t hear the comments himself, but had affidavits filed from three other cab companies saying they overheard conversations with Crist in which he acknowledged his wife needs the goodwill of legislators like Brandes and Grant to get state grants.

Crist said he expected the ethics commission to dismiss Menardi’s claim as well.

Alan Suskey aiming to be Pinellas’ man in Tallahassee

Attend a political function anywhere in Pinellas County and it’s almost inevitable you’ll see one name consistently listed as a sponsor.

That is, other than Bill Edwards.

The name is Alan Suskey of Suskey Consulting, the governmental affairs firm based in Tallahassee, but with deep roots in Pinellas.

Of course, Suskey doesn’t have the millions of dollars Edwards has, so its noteworthy to see him as a patron of so many diverse interests, from the Warehouse Arts District to the University of South Florida–St. Pete campus, as well as a headline sponsor of at least one political fundraiser a week.

Over the last 18 months, Suskey has built a lobbying practice that represents almost all of the major players in the Pinellas community before state government. And with leaders from the area set to have a major impact on the next two sessions (at least) of the Florida Legislature, Suskey Consulting can expect even more growth.

Already a part of Suskey’s client roster are Drug Free America (which connects him to Mel and Betty Sembler, as well as board chairman Jim Holton), Eckerd CollegeSolar Sanitation (whose owner is Pinellas GOP Chairman Nick DiCeglie), the Warehouse Arts District (which indicates Suskey’s close relationship with major player Rob Kapusta), among others.

Even Edwards and former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker have turned to Suskey, like they did when they wanted the North American Soccer League included in the mix for sports facilities incentives money or when they sought state funding for improvements to Mahaffey Theater.

Suskey was recently hired by Great Explorations Children’s Museum as it embarks on a $2 million capital campaign to construct a final mezzanine of 2,600 square feet to add classroom and group activity room space, as well as funding a freshening of exhibits.

Even though Great Explorations has never asked for public funding for capital projects in the past, it was decided by the museum’s board to employ an experienced lobbyist to guide the process of asking for state funding. That’s when Great Ex reached out to Suskey.

“He is very effective in telling the story of several worthy nonprofits to state legislators, building the case for the wise use of taxpayer funds,” said board member Scott Wagman.

Suskey’s effectiveness is based on his knowledge of the appropriations process — he cut his teeth in politics working for the master of the purse strings, the late Congressman C.W. “Bill” Young — and the strength of his relationships with the local delegation and key lawmakers, including Sens. Jack Latvala (the incoming Senate Appropriations Committee chairman) and Jeff Brandes, and several members of the state House, including Speaker-to-be Chris Sprowls.

Today, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is deciding whether to include Suskey in a contract for governmental relations services. A committee smartly recommended Tampa-based lobbyist Ron Pierce of RSA Consulting and Suskey share the contract.

There may not be two lobbyists who care more about the Tampa Bay area than Pierce and Suskey (uh-oh, I might get in trouble now with my friends at Corcoran & Johnston and Southern Strategy Group). There certainly is not another lobbyist who cares more about Pinellas than Suskey.

PSTA would do well to go with the hometown guy.

Kathleen Peters to hold St. Pete fundraiser with Jeff Brandes

Rep. Kathleen Peters will look to infuse her House District 69 re-election campaign with a festive, craft beer-fueled fundraiser on Tuesday.

The Gulfport lawmaker will be hosted by fellow Pinellas Republican, Sen. Jeff Brandes at the Green Bench Brewing Company in St. Pete on Tuesday, June 21.

Peters is seeking a third term in the House in a moderate swing seat. She drew a Democratic challenger in Jennifer Webb in April, but expects local GOP support to rally around her.

The HD 69 seat includes Gulfport, Madeira Beach, Pinellas Park, South Pasadena, St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island and parts of St. Petersburg.

Maximum contributions are $1,000 under state law.

See below for the invitation:

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 9.40.11 AM

Where sh*t stands in Tampa Bay legislative races

Five months from Election Day, Republican Sens. Jeff Brandes, Jack LatvalaTom Lee and Bill Galvano are still running unopposed. The only two bay area Senate seats in contention so far are the Senate District 18 contest between Tampa Republican Rep. Dana Young and Democrat Bob Buesing and the three-way Democratic primary going down in SD 19.

Young had built up quite the lead in her jump to the Senate, and though Buesing posted more than $100,000 in contributions in his May campaign finance report, Young responded with more than $166,000 in contributions to her campaign account and another $115,000 for her political committee, “Friends of Dana Young.”

The May performance left her with more than $1 million in funds across the two accounts, compared to about $96,000 for Buesing, whose total includes $5,500 in loans.

In SD 19, first-term Democratic Rep. Ed Narain piled on another $17,130 last month for an on-hand total of about $79,000. Fellow Democratic Rep. Darryl Rouson out-raised him on the month, though he holds just $31,000 in his campaign account. Rep. Betty Reed fell further behind in the race after adding just $2,075 for an on-hand total of about $16,500, while John Houman, the lone Republican in the race, recorded a $3,000 loan as his only income since filing in the middle of May.

The race to replace Narain is just as lopsided. Since filing for the HD 61 seat in March, Tampa Democrat Sean Shaw has raised more than $52,000 and has about $30,000 of that money on hand, compared to about $12,000 for Dianne Hart and $3,500 for Walter Smith.

For the most part, House Republicans are faring well, with incumbent Reps. Jake Raburn and Jamie Grant crossing off another month without opposition, while Reps. Chris LatvalaLarry Ahern and Dan Raulerson each continued their fundraising dominance over fledgling rivals.

Tarpon Springs Republican Rep. Chris Sprowls did pick up a challenger last week in Democrat Bernie Fensterwald, though he’ll have a tough time catching up to Sprowls, who has $126,000 in his campaign account and another $197,000 on hand in his political committee, “Floridians for Economic Freedom.”

In HD 69, Republican Rep. Kathleen Peters was out-raised by her challenger, Democrat Jennifer Webb, for the second month running. Peters’ $6,450 haul barely covered expenses in May and left her with about $116,000 in the bank, while Webb added another $19,266 to boost her on-hand total to nearly $37,000 after two months in the race.

Republican Reps. Ross Spano in HD 59 and Shawn Harrison in HD 63 are also facing tough re-election battles, with Spano spending another month in second place behind Democratic challenger Rene Frazier.

The incumbent lawmaker raised more than Frazier and Democrat Golnaz Sahebzemani last month and increased his on-hand total to about $81,000, but it wasn’t enough to erase the gap between himself and the Brandon attorney, who entered June with nearly $87,000 in the bank.

Harrison fared better. The first-term lawmaker brought in $20,550 in May, leaving him with about $133,000 on hand, while his major competitor, Democratic Tampa City Council member Lisa Montelione, raised just $6,275 to bring her war chest to about $61,000.

Harrison’s other challenger, Democrat Mike Reedy, raised just $110 and had about $16,000 in his campaign account.

In HD 68, Democrat Ben Diamond has taken control of the race to replace exiting Rep. Dwight Dudley.

Diamond was able to raise $28,366 in April after Dudley had announced he would forego re-election, and came in with another $75,752 in May. The burst in fundraising left him with about $98,000 in the bank at the end of the month compared to about $5,900 for Republican Joseph Bensmihen.

Diamond will face a tough primary battle against Eric Lynn, however, as the mid-May filer has committed to dumping $500,000 into a political committee supporting his candidacy.

The other two open seats in the bay area — HD 60 and HD 70 — also looked to feature tough primary battles, though Republican Rebecca Smith threw in $165,000 of her own money last month to give her a nearly $200,000 lead over fellow Republican Jackie Toledo in the race to replace Rep. Young in HD 60.

With more than $288,000 on hand for Smith, and $92,000 on hand for Toledo, lone Democratic filer David Singer faces an uphill battle in the GOP-leaning seat despite raising another $25,696 last month.

The HD 70 race is a little closer, with St. Petersburg City Councilman Wengay Newton holding a small lead over Dan Fiorini in the Democratic primary, though a third Democrat, Christopher Czaia, filed for the race on June 1.

AIF kicks off “Helping Florida Work” tour in Tampa

Associated Industries of Florida held the first of three planned town hall meetings to discuss the impact of the state’s workers’ compensation system on employers and employees Thursday.

“Today’s kickoff event was extremely successful in bringing together Florida’s business community to jumpstart an important conversation on workers’ compensation,” said AIF President and CEO Tom Feeney. “We also thank Sen. Jeff Brandes and Rep. Amanda Murphy for being a part of this critical discussion.”

The Tampa event was part of the 2016 Helping Florida Work Town Hall Tour, which aims to find a balanced workers’ compensation solution that provides adequate medical and wage benefits for injured employees at an affordable cost to employers. Small business group National Federation of Independent Business is also involved in the tour.

“We, too, are committed to keeping Florida’s workers’ compensations laws working for our families and businesses across the Sunshine State,” said NFIB legislative director Tim Nungesser. “We look forward to the continued discussions on how we can deliver meaningful solutions to our elected officials so that we can preserve the workers’ compensation system that works here in Florida. NFIB and AIF will work together to deliver rate stability to Florida’s small businesses.”

The Helping Florida Work tour will also include stops in Miami on June 29 and in Jacksonville on July 13, and those looking to attend can register for free. More information on the tour is available at

Jeff Brandes seeds state Senate re-election campaign with $200K of his own money

State Sen. Jeff Brandes has given $200,000 toward his own re-election, May fundraising reports show.

His latest numbers, posted Friday, also show Brandes pulled in another $32,000 in contributions for the month.

That brings the St. Petersburg Republican’s total raised to nearly $480,000 for this year’s election.

He has cash-on-hand of more than $310,000.

As of Friday, he is running unopposed. His area has been considered a swing district.

“This contribution reflects Sen. Brandes’ continued commitment to serving his constituents and marks over $850,000 contributed by himself to his election efforts since 2010,” said Chris Spencer, his campaign manager.

Brandes’ last election in 2014 had him pulling off a win against Democratic political science professor Judithanne McLauchlan.

Senators typically serve four-year terms, but this upcoming election was required because of a court-mandated redistricting that redrew the state Senate district boundaries.

Other May contributions include $1,000 from the Florida CPA political committee and $1,000 from The Fiorentino Group, a Jacksonville-based lobbying firm.

PR campaign to launch for solar amendment

Wednesday marks the beginning of “the official digital launch of the summer education campaign” of a proposed constitutional amendment on solar power.

Florida for Solar, Inc., championed by state Sen. Jeff Brandes, and Floridians 4 Lower Energy Costs are joining forces to get “Amendment 4” passed on the Aug. 30 primary ballot.

“Both organizations will be working together to gain support from voters through direct mail, digital and traditional media,” they said in a Tuesday press release.

The amendment would be a sort of tax break: It would exempt solar power equipment on homes from being counted toward a house’s value for property tax purposes.

It also would exempt from taxation solar energy devices on commercial and industrial properties. Those tax breaks would begin in 2018 and last for 20 years.

“Growing the solar market offers great opportunities for our economy,” Brandes said in a statement. “Floridians will have additional clean energy options, lower energy bills and lower taxes on this investment.”

The St. Petersburg Republican sponsored the amendment this past session with state Reps. Ray Rodrigues, a Fort Myers Republican, and Lori Berman, a Lantana Democrat, in the House.

It’s now supported by The Nature Conservancy, Conservatives for Energy Freedom, the Florida Retail Federation, and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

“We look forward to our partnership with Floridians 4 Lower Energy Costs and other groups to help move us one step closer to better options for renewable energy equipment in the state,” Brandes said.

Florida for Solar —
Floridians 4 Lower Energy Costs —

Solar groups to unite in support of Amendment 4

A pair of groups pushing solar energy-related changes to the state constitution will collaborate on an effort to pass Amendment 4 on the August 2016 ballot.

Florida for Solar, Inc., spearheaded by Sen. Jeff Brandes, and Floridians 4 Lower Energy Costs will combine forces in order to try to surpass the 60 percent threshold needed for a ballot amendment to take effect.

“The continued collaboration of these two groups will enhance public awareness and give us the positive enforcement needed to pass Amendment 4 in August of this year,” said Chris Spencer, who also works as a legislative aide to Brandes. “We are excited to enhance the future of solar in Florida and we need voters to support this positive and forward-thinking effort.”

Brandes also expressed optimism about the effort.

“Growing the solar market offers great opportunities for our economy,” said Brandes, a St. Pete Republican. “Floridians will have additional clean energy options, lower energy bills and lower taxes on this investment. We look forward to our partnership with Floridians 4 Lower Energy Costs and other groups to help move us one step closer to better options for renewable energy equipment in the state.”

A spokesperson for Floridians 4 Lower Energy Costs responded in kind.

“We are thrilled to be working with Sen. Brandes and Florida for Solar to advance this important amendment that will lower energy costs and create new market opportunities for solar power in the Sunshine State,” said a spokesman. “I know this partnership, which has been cultivated for some time, brings the best chance of victory in August.”

The groups will unveil an online advocacy program in favor of Amendment 4 on July 1, about two months before the Aug. 30 vote.

Florida voters will also be voting in state and federal primary elections on the August ballot.

Independent business group honors Jeff Brandes as ‘Guardian of Small Business’

Small-business group NFIB/Florida named St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes a “Guardian of Small Business” during a luncheon Wednesday.

“As a small-business owner, I have seen firsthand the impact of burdensome government regulations,” Brandes said after accepting the award. “Small businesses are the backbone of our community. We should cut taxes and eliminate unnecessary red tape always and everywhere to keep growing more jobs for Floridians.”

The Guardian of Small Business award is the National Federation of Independent Businesses’ top honor for lawmakers and is awarded yearly to the legislator whose work best reflects the goals of NFIB and the small-business community.

“Sen. Brandes’ support of small business issues makes him one of our true allies in the Senate,” NFIB Florida Executive Director Bill Herrle said. “Sen. Brandes’ leadership on pro-business legislation, including his work on reforms to civil forfeiture laws, and his opposition to expanding Obamacare in Florida have proven his dedication to small business owners and NFIB members, and we’re proud to recognize him for championing these causes.”

Brandes has a 96 percent voting record with NFIB/Florida since 2010, when he first entered the legislature as a member of the House.

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