Ed. note — It’s almost time to say goodbye to several lawmakers, all moving on due to term limits. We thought now would be a good time for a curtain call, a chance to reminisce on serving their districts in Tallahassee.
In this series, which initially appeared in INFLUENCE Magazine, you’ll hear about highlights and challenges, how they pursued politics and where they’re headed now. You’ll also get a glimpse of the state as the coronavirus was kicking into a higher gear. The pandemic tests safety standards and hurts the economy, and ideas about how to handle it differ sharply.
The COVID-19 pandemic might have something to say about when lawmakers meet again, possibly sooner than anticipated.
The joint budget commission worked its way to the wire before approving a $93.2 billion budget for 2020. That sum included $52 million in mostly federal aid in response to the novel coronavirus.
Then it turned out COVID-19 was just getting started. Rob Bradley, who chairs the Senate side of the Joint Budget Committee, has seen other emergencies play havoc with state resources. In each of his three years as budget chair, the state has been rocked by a school shooting, a killer hurricane and, now, a pandemic.
“What this taught me, and hopefully this is a lesson for those that follow, is that the state should always prepare financially for the unexpected,” Bradley said. “It seems so simple, but it takes discipline.”
He’ll soon return to private life because of term limits. The past eight years have given him a chance to serve the state in which he grew up, to protect its waterways and endeavor to help its young people, even those who have gotten in trouble with the law, in keeping with the compassionate conservatism he champions.
As COVID-19 forces legislators to reevaluate the budget they just passed, Bradley looks for ways to ensure both physical and economic health for Floridians.
“The state can’t print money like the federal government,” he said. “You need cash to spend when a hurricane or other unexpected event hits the people of your state. You owe it to them to be disciplined financially and stockpile reserves, so that you are prepared to help when bad things happen.”
When thinking of how he has tried to help Floridians, Bradley mentions his mother, Gail Roberts, who taught him not to rush people who were trying to tell you something.
“It was just the idea that we have to really stop and listen to people and try to put yourself in their shoes,” he said. “Everybody has their journey, and those journeys are not always the same. We need to stop and listen to people when they’re talking to you and telling you their story.”
Born and raised in Green Cove Springs, he spent weekends with his father, Bob Bradley. They explored state parks, hiked the William Bartram Trail and canoed the St. Johns River. Young Rob also maintained close ties with both stepparents.
As a Senator, he has been a strong proponent of drug courts and treatment over prison for youthful offenders.
He met RayAnn Moseley, an 11-year-old with cerebral palsy, whose epileptic seizures were so severe enough they sometimes landed her in the hospital. After that, Bradley backed the decriminalization of a low-dose THC extract for the treatment of epilepsy. The 2014 Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act, the so-called “Charlotte’s Web” measure, established the groundwork for the 2016 bill allowing medical marijuana for patients with terminal conditions.
“We’re talking about things in criminal justice reform that were third-rail issues just a few years ago,” Bradley said. “And we continue to move the pendulum more and more toward sentencing that is proportional and not one-size-fits-all. We continue to invest in data-driven decisions about what’s working and what doesn’t work.”
A graduate of the University of Florida and its law school, Bradley, in 2007, accepted an appointment to the Clay County Commission by then-Gov. Charlie Crist, replacing John Thrasher, who had resigned. He is proud of his support for environmental legislation, including Everglades restoration and safeguarding the Lake Okeechobee Reservoir, and of the people around him.
“I’ve been part of Team Negron and Team Galvano,” he said, referring to the former and current Senate presidents, Joe Negron and Bill Galvano. “I’ve been a part of team DeSantis. The great part of being part of those teams is that you don’t feel like you’re successful unless everybody is successful. You don’t worry too much about who’s getting credit, you just worry about getting the job done.”
Bradley looks forward to resuming full-time work at his Orange Park law firm; Bradley, Garrison and Komando; where he specializes in city, county and local government law, and spending more time with his wife and three children. He has no plans to run for another public office any time soon.
“As far as down the road, in later years, who knows?”
In the meantime, Jennifer Bradley, also a lawyer, is running to succeed her husband in the Senate’s District 5.
“I look forward to being a supportive spouse,” her husband said.
The state will recover from the pandemic, Bradley thinks.
“Maybe I’m too much of an optimist,” he said, “but I believe that Florida is going to be OK. This virus is awful. It’s taking a terrible toll on those directly affected, and it’s having a shocking effect on our economy. But I still believe in the fundamentals of Florida. I think we can snap back quickly.”