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Brandes reflects on time in office, announces nonprofit policy firm

Mark Parker



St. Petersburg State Sen. Jeff Brandes believes the governor could call lawmakers back to Tallahassee for a second special session on property insurance. Photo provided.

For the last 12 years, St. Petersburg Sen. Jeff Brandes represented the city where he was born and raised, often in a way that bucked the status quo and found the Republican crossing party lines.

Following his final legislative session in Tallahassee last week, the term-limited state senator reflected on more than a decade in state politics and his plans for the future.

“I’m ready to go home,” Brandes succinctly told the Catalyst before announcing his next chapter in life.

In addition to spending more time with his family, Brandes plans to establish a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization in St. Petersburg. Brandes envisions the organization as a think tank focused on helping to solve problems he spent years addressing in Tallahassee, including criminal justice and property insurance reform, affordable housing and transportation.

Brandes said he would spend his summer securing funding for the nonprofit policy firm, and he realized the need for such an organization after watching state leadership address issues “in a tactical format that doesn’t play to a larger strategy.”

Brandes, who fought in the Iraq War during an 11-year stint with the Army Reserve, relayed a story by motivational speaker Zig Ziglar to describe how he perceived the legislative process. In the story, a group of soldiers are marching through a jungle. Two months into the journey, one decides to climb up a tree to get a sense of their location.

Once reaching the top of the tree, the soldier exclaimed that they were marching through the wrong jungle. An officer on the ground told him to shut up – they were making progress.

“I feel like the Legislature oftentimes failed to send people up the tree,” said Brandes. “And when they do, the answer is ‘shut up; we’re making progress.'”

Following a tribute to Brandes on the Senate floor last Monday, Republican Majority Leader Debbie Mayfield credited the senator with always advocating for issues from his heart. She also hopes to see his vision for the nonprofit policy firm come to fruition.

“I hope you do what you say you are going to do,” said Mayfield. “And that was to go out, create your 501(c) and bring us back suggestions on the work that you’re going to do outside of this process.

“When it comes to your thoughts on the housing shortage, on prison reform and insurance reform – I really do want to work with you.”

St. Petersburg Sen. Darryl Rouson, a Democrat and staunch ally on the fight for criminal justice reform, referenced Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech when describing Brandes’ time in office.

“You run to the fight as opposed to away from it,” said Rouson. “We can all learn from that.”

Brandes told the Catalyst he regrets Florida did not establish itself as a state that sets and follows best practices during his time in office. He said his biggest frustration with the Legislature is its failure to set a strategy and execute plans accordingly every year.

The most serious problems, Brandes said, are not fixed in one session and require constant improvement. He added that it is impossible to gauge progress without a clear strategy.

“I can’t tell you in any given year if we’re moving the ball 10 yards forward or whether we’re getting sacked for five yards,” he said. “This year, in property insurance, we got sacked for 10 yards …”

Brandes said he is proud to have stopped or changed several pieces of bad legislation during his time in office, either through posing difficult questions or by his votes. However, when he looks back on his time in the House and Senate, he said his proudest accomplishment is building a team that has gone on to achieve success.

Brandes credited the team spirit and camaraderie for helping his office achieve legislative victories that others found elusive. He said it was never “his” office, but rather “our” office, and he believes the foundation they built together is one reason so many former members continue to thrive in new roles.

While Brandes said he would not rule out running for office again, he knows it is time to take a break. His oldest child is 13, and his youngest is 8. After 12 years as a public servant, he said his kids do not know him outside of the political process.

“They know their dad disappears off the face of the earth for 120 days a year,” he said. “I know I need to be home for a while.”

Brandes will run his nonprofit policy firm from his hometown of St. Petersburg. He has secured a researcher and hopes to launch the project in the next couple of months.

He looks forward to partnering with other local officials and said the city uniquely faces the problems he hopes to address. He called the Tampa Bay market “ground-zero” for property insurance and affordable housing challenges, and hopes his organization can help lead the conversation on those issues.

“But my goal is that this is the organization that’s at the top of that tree looking around and making sure that we’re in the right jungle,” he said.





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  1. Avatar

    John Donovan

    March 21, 2022at3:05 pm

    He is a good man.

  2. Avatar

    Marty Shapiro

    March 22, 2022at11:38 am

    I wish senator Brandes success in his new venture and thank him for his service to the people of Pinellas County.

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