The former lawmaker, a St. Petersburg native, recently launched the Florida Policy Project (FPP) to advance research-based initiatives he championed in Tallahassee from 2010 to 2022. Focus areas include affordable housing, transportation, criminal justice and property insurance reform.
The nonprofit will utilize academic research to foster collaboration, compile best practices and inform decision-making that improves the lives of average Floridians. FPP will feature a national expert network, and Brandes stressed it would operate differently from traditional consultancy firms, “which sit around and think about problems.
“We think many of these problems already have best practices to implement,” Brandes said. “Florida is – in many ways -far away from what the best practices are, but we have to identify the best practices first.”
He explained that lawmakers must debate hundreds of topics during legislative sessions. They also look for a trusted voice to help inform decisions, and Brandes believes he earned that recognition through his extensive tenure in the state capital.
In addition, he understands how legislators think and the most efficient routes to advance policies through the legislative process. The ultimate goal is to create a “bank of best practices” that solves “real problems.”
FPP will release its first research report on affordable housing solutions by early May.
“The interesting thing to me is that Florida really doesn’t have a lot of these policy groups compared to other states,” Brandes said. “Nothing that’s actively partnering with public universities on an ongoing basis to try and address some of these bigger challenges.”
One of those “bigger challenges” is prison reform, and Brandes noted former inmates receive $50 and a bus pass when they return to society. He said no one believes that is a best practice and called it one of the nation’s worst policies.
Brandes is also a longtime proponent of insurance reform, and FPP’s website states that “we are running out of road to kick the can.” Many of his ideas that failed to become legislation – sunsetting the Tampa Bay Area Transit Authority, increasing electric vehicle infrastructure and property insurance initiatives – were included in new bills.
“This could be one of my better legislative sessions, and I’m not even in the Legislature,” Brandes said. “Sometimes it takes a few years for the Legislature to marinate on an idea for it to come to fruition.”
FPP commissioned experts from Florida State University to complete the affordable housing study. Organization officials have held discussions with the University of South Florida, the University of Florida and the University of West Florida on research initiatives.
Brandes said his group would also meet with academics from outside Florida to discern their respective areas of expertise. That network will testify before and help educate lawmakers on policy solutions.
He added that the best practices bank would also include a network of county commissioners and city council members. Working with what he considers the brightest minds in their fields is imperative for Brandes, as he believes “the team with the best players usually wins.”
Funding will come from corporations and private donors rather than government grants. Brandes wants FPP to provide unbiased solutions, and said they would turn away anyone seeking a specific study outcome.
While it could grow over time, FPP launched with two employees. Amy Maguire, founder and CEO of Delta 12 Consulting, will serve as executive director.
Maguire was also a government relations executive at Orlando Health and vice president of Coca-Cola Florida. The nonprofit’s six-person board includes former Senate President Bill Galvano.
“We’re an outcomes-based entity,” Brandes said. “And we’re going to work with the best people.”
Brandes also continues to work on public projects outside the recently-launched nonprofit. The first is creating a “world-class” nursing school at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
Brandes wants it to intertwine with St. Petersburg College and, eventually, John Hopkins University. He said the city has a “tremendous opportunity” for a much-needed facility that neighbors Bayfront Health, St. Anthony’s and John Hopkins All Children Hospitals.
He is also working to establish a statewide law enforcement training center between Orlando and Lakeland that would standardize instruction. Brandes said that is “greatly lacking” in a state with 67 counties and over 400 cities.
As for the first legislative session since his term-limited tenure as a state senator, Brandes said he is “ready for it to be over.” He compared the rhetoric with little actionable results to the old “Where’s the Beef?” Wendy’s commercials.
“I think, largely, the Legislature is playing the best supporting actor or actress role,” Brandes added. “To a governor who is running for President of the United States.”