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Brandes, Cross talk transportation, criminal justice reform

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State Senator Jeff Brandes (AP photo), left, and Democratic challenger Lindsay Cross (right).

As the race for the Florida state senate seat for District 24 heats up, Republican incumbent Jeff Brandes and Democratic challenger Lindsay Cross display clear differences in their approaches to public policy.

Brandes generally has less faith than Cross in government’s ability to solve District 24’s problems.

Brandes, who has served as a state senator since 2012, brands himself as a legislator who believes in what he calls “frontier ideas.” Frontier ideas, as opposed to what he calls “fortress ideas,” are ideas created by businesses and market forces. A self-described libertarian, Brandes thinks that frontier ideas are slowed down by fortress ideas put forth by governmental organizations.

A fortress idea is one in which “someone’s trying to build the walls higher and dig the moats deeper,” Brandes said. The goal of a frontier idea, on the other hand, “is to tear down the walls and fill in the moats, and really see Florida as a frontier,” he said.

Brandes referenced Uber versus taxi cabs, craft beer versus Big Beer and solar energy versus utility companies as examples of the clash between frontier ideas and fortress ideas. In all of those pairings, the frontier idea is listed first.

“The taxi cabs want to keep Uber out of business and are using the legislative process to dig the moats deeper and build the walls higher,” he said.

When confronted with the issue of traffic congestion in both Pinellas County and greater Tampa Bay, Brandes sees repurposed parking garages and electric, self-driving and shared vehicles as frontier solutions to the problem.

Brandes’ focus on frontier ideas contrasts with the platform of his challenger Cross, the former executive director of the Florida Wildlife Corridor who replaced Brandes’ prior opponent, Carrie Pilon, in late July after Pilon dropped out of the race for personal reasons.

Unlike Brandes, Cross focuses on bus rapid transit and more government-implemented solutions to address traffic congestion and some of Pinellas County’s other most pressing issues.

“The more we can do to get single-occupancy vehicles off the road, that’s going to help with our traffic congestion, [and] it’s going to help to reduce emissions,” Cross said. She also advocates for cleaner energy sources for all vehicles.

Cross thinks that issues such as the quality and accessibility of healthcare and education are better addressed through governmental involvement. Besides differences in approaches to policy, Cross thinks that she holds a key personality trait that Brandes lacks.

“I listen,” she said. “I’m a collaborator. I’m a coalition-builder. And I think that is what’s really important to tackle all of the issues that we’re facing.”

While Cross stressed her history of environmental advocacy, Brandes referred to his advocacy for solar energy and electric vehicles as evidence of his concern for the environment. The senator also said he enjoys scuba diving and camping with his son on weekends.

One policy area in which the two state senate hopefuls find common ground is criminal justice reform. Although Brandes shied away from commenting on his opponent’s platform, Cross allowed that “criminal justice is an area where [Brandes] has taken some leadership.” Cross underscored the importance of a preventative approach to crime, similar to how Brandes said he has supported skills-building and transitionary periods for ex-convicts to reduce recidivism.

On Nov. 6, voters will decide for themselves which candidate will better serve state senate District 24, a district encompassing most of the southern half of Pinellas County.

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