Four traits that have made Jeff Brandes effective
Sen. Jeff Brandes.

brandes 3.21.19
How he became a widely respected voice in politics.

It was a standard softball question, tossed out by a group of visitors to the Capitol building.

“What’s it like working in the Legislature?”

If politics really were softball, you’d expect a base hit of an answer, nothing more. It’s challenging but exciting. Sometimes a little draining, sure, but it’s worth it.

Rep. Jeff Brandes, then in his second year, responded with a hard line drive.

“You have to understand, guys,” he told the delegation. “The House is a paramilitary outfit. You have your generals and your colonels and your lieutenants, and it’s all top down and it’s very structured, and you sort of know what’s going to pass and not pass.

“But the Senate is like the Mogadishu warlords. They all sort of ward over different areas, they’ve got lots of autonomy. And you never know if you’re going to be stepping in front of a friendly warlord or not. Maybe you get your arm blown off …”

That answer, said political consultant Nick Hansen (who also reconstructed the quote from memory), “encapsulated Jeff.”

“He looked at the process, he made an assessment of it, he added some humor. He was somewhat self-deprecating as well. But it was true, and everybody got it.”

Brandes would finish out that term, then run for the Senate. He’ll hit the midway point in his final Senate term in November. On the occasion of another milestone today — his 44th birthday — there are at least 44 traits that helped Brandes become a widely respected voice for in a variety of areas, crafting legislation in technology, education, insurance, criminal justice, lowering taxes and transportation. But here are four big ones.


The St. Petersburg native joined the Army not long after graduating from Northside Christian High, where his mother served out her career as an educator, retiring as headmaster. He could have gone directly into his family’s business, Cox Lumber, but elected to serve in combat in Iraq.

Brandes was managing Cox’s real estate portfolio in 2010 when a Republican candidate for the House dropped out before the end of qualifying. Party leaders were fielding suggestions for a replacement; Hansen thought of Brandes.

Brandes checked with Natalie, who gave her husband the thumbs-up. From his freshman term, he stuck closer to his own libertarian principles than party.

“Sometimes I was the only ‘no’ vote on the entire board,” Brandes told a feisty questioner at a Suncoast Tiger Bay Club luncheon, a claim PolitiFact rated True.

A reputation for unpredictability has held. Colleagues in the Senate have given him a nickname the last eight years: “Senator Disruptor.”

“He’s fearless,” said Helen Levine, a regional vice chancellor and lobbyist for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. “Jeff is in the game until the very, very end. And if he cares about something, he simply does not stop.”

Meanwhile, he does not wear his military service on his sleeve.

“I didn’t even know he was a combat veteran until we were about two and a half months into the (first) campaign,” Hansen said.


There’s this unspoken but widely acknowledged secret about bills: Not everybody reads all of them.

That’s one reason why colleagues in the Senate listened so carefully to Brandes’ take. They knew he had.

“He tends to toil away in policy areas that most people don’t think are very interesting or exciting,” Hansen said.

He foresaw an upsurge of driverless vehicles a decade ago and brought it up in 2011.

“Everyone just said, ‘Are you kidding me? Who is this guy?’” Levine recalled. “And lo, these many years later, it’s a thing, right?”

The tiered legislation Brandes introduced will bear fruit within two years, with freight trucks for use in shipping scheduled for testing in Polk County, Hansen said. Other states have followed suit.

“It really became the legislation used by states all over the country now,” Hansen said.


He has put forth nuanced arguments for criminal justice reform, supporting both the possibility of rehabilitation and the state’s financial interest in cutting some prisoners loose. The Second Look Act, which Brandes sponsored in December, would allow the sentences of some young offenders to be reviewed.

After seeing residents who were not helped by their own flood insurance, Brandes is also sponsoring legislation that gives homeowners more coverage options in the state’s emerging private flood insurance market.


Brandes has repeated his “Mogadishu” analogy to the inner workings of the Senate many times. It’s a trademark part of the sly humor he’s known for.

“He’s not one of those ‘tell jokes till the cows come home’ guys,” Hansen said. “He’s one of those guys where you don’t see it coming and you realize he just made you laugh.”

A decade after fielding that request from the Republican party, Hansen’s bond has deepened with Brandes, who he now considers one of his closest friends.

“If you love him, then great because I’m responsible for getting him into politics,” he said. “If you hate him I’m sorry, that’s just how he is.”

No apologies needed, Nick.

Andrew Meacham

Andrew Meacham is a writer living in St. Petersburg. He worked for the Tampa Bay Times for 14 years, retiring in December 2018 as a performing arts critic. You can contact Andrew at [email protected].


  • Andy G Strickland

    February 13, 2020 at 10:37 pm

    Perhaps you can kiss his ass a bit more. Valentine’s Day is tomorrow.

    • Stacie Woods

      February 15, 2020 at 6:06 pm

      Senator Jeff Brandes You are Awesome! Thank you for All that you do!!! 🙏🏼🙏🏼

Comments are closed.


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