Jeff Brandes – integrity, contrarian tendencies and “running into battle”
While no one would confuse Sen. Jeff Brandes for a Democrat, he charted his own course on Republican politics. Among other things, exposure to the state prison system made him a strong advocate for the reform of features such as mandatory minimum sentences and a second chance at voting rights for felons who have served their time.
During his farewell to the Senate, many colleagues who had fought Brandes on other issues praised his commitment to taking a closer look at Florida prisons.
“We share a vision – ‘Please look at criminal justice reform,'” the senator said. Darryl Rousona Democrat, Brandes told before reciting part of Theodore Roosevelt’s prose, The Man in the Arena.
“You are the epitome of a Somali warlord,” Rouson said. “You run for the fight.”
Democratic senator. shevrin jones joked about an experience familiar to many: a sinking feeling when a bill you’ve been working on comes back from Senator Brandes laden with amendments. It might as well be a rite of passage: your bill has been “Jeffed up”.
Even so, Jones told Brandes, “Although we see things differently, we still find ourselves at the center one way or another, whether we like it or not. And I appreciate you for the integrity you demonstrate.
That same commitment likely cost Brandes his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee. At the very least, his opposition last March to the $2.8 billion cut to the state’s corrections budget immediately preceded his reallocation by the Senate Speaker. wilton simpson to another government oversight committee.
Simpson denied a causal link; Brandes emphatically asserted one. The same goes for the senator’s sometimes bumpy but productive journey through the legislative process.
Originally from St. Petersburg, Brandes enrolled in Northside Christian School. His mother, Mary Brandes, was the first teacher hired at Northside. (In 2005, she emerged atop a national search as the school’s new principal.) A three-sport athlete in high school, he worked summers at the family business, Cox Lumber.
Brandes joined the Army Reserve a week after graduating from high school. His father, Russell Brandeshad served in the Marines in Vietnam and was “as black and white a person as you can get,” Brandes told Senate colleagues and an audience of parents and his wife, Natalie.
“There’s probably no one I know in this world that sees anything right or wrong as much as my dad does,” he said. “It’s just the honest truth.”
Brandes graduated from a junior military college, the Marion Military Institute in Alabama, then earned a business degree from Carson-Newman College in Tennessee. He worked for Marriott hotels but returned to Florida after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The Army called him to active duty in February 2003. A first lieutenant trained as a transportation officer, he led more than 75 convoys during 14 months across war-torn Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Back home, he joined the real estate team at Cox Lumber. The family sold the business in 2006. He managed the family real estate, but felt the need to do more. Free Trader, Small Government Economist Milton Freidmanit has seen local schools near the bottom of national performance ratings, while not spending enough on technical education.
He ran for State House in 2010 on jobs and education, against the incumbent Democrat Bill Heller.
“My chances weren’t good,” Brandes said. “My consultant said, ‘Look, if you do everything right – everything right – you’re going to win by 1,000 votes. And we won this race by 999 votes.
He ran in a Senate race representing parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties in 2012, where an endorsement from the former governor. Jeb Bush helped him defeat Rep. james frish in the primary. He ran unopposed in the general election, but faced much opposition over the next eight years, much of it from his own party.
He resisted the governor. Rick Scott on requiring welfare recipients to be tested for drugs and was one of only two Republicans to vote against a bill favored by the governor. Ron DeSantis this would limit what public schools can air on gay or transgender issues. The ‘don’t say gay’ bill, as characterized by critics – and touted by advocates as a vote for parental rights on how much sensitive material their K-3 students need hear from teachers – was adopted on March 8.
Brandes also voted against the “riot bill” signed by DeSantis last year, which grants immunity in certain circumstances to motorists driving through road-blocking protesters. He knew the political risks every time.
“That’s what I love about our Senate staff, their deep knowledge of what’s right and what’s wrong in public policy. And every once in a while, of course, there are quiet nudges that tell me, “If you do this, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble.” I understood that a lot.
After 10 years dominated by legislative sessions for the first three months, Brandes is okay with his term limit.
“When you sign up to get married, you’re marrying Jeff, you’re not marrying the senator,” he said. “I’m ready to go home.”
He has not ruled out running for office again, although it is too early to say when and how. According to Florida trend. Republican Majority Leader Debbie Mayfield was among the senators who referenced the plan.
“I hope you do what you say you’re going to do,” Mayfield said. “And it was to go out, create your (ASBL), bring us suggestions on the work you are going to do outside of this process on the housing shortage, on prison reform, on insurance reform. I really want to work with you.
Brandes leaves office with three combined proposals still stuck in committee. A pair of bills would increase the amount of marijuana a doctor can prescribe to certain patients and conduct assessments via telehealth. Another would allow business owners to install renewable energy devices on their property, or entrepreneurs to sell the electricity generated.
Another sought redress for Robert Earl DuBoise, who spent 37 years in prison, including three on death row, for a rape and murder he did not commit. DuBoise was released on August 27, 2020, after allegedly destroyed DNA evidence ruled him out as a suspect. Brandes’ bill would have compensated DuBoise for the wrongful conviction and paid tuition for his education.
He tweaked his colleagues on the way out.
“I just want to say that I learned something from each of you,” Brandes told his Senate colleagues. “To those who accepted my amendments, I would like to say thank you. For those who haven’t, there’s still time.