Meet Tim Heberlein — one of the “30 under 30″ rising stars in Florida politics

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Tim Heberlein, 30, grew up “wherever the Army or Air Force told me was home” but has landed in Florida, entering politics after having worked for years in social work and counseling where he was motivated by what he saw as systematic problems with services, resources and socioeconomic conditions. 

“If we resolved these issues on the ‘front end’, we would have less people on public assistance and more people able to pull themselves out of poverty with support systems and safety nets to make sure they stay out of it,” Tim writes.

Bill Newton gave Tim his first shot and hired him as an organizer despite not having the typical political resume.  He has worked on legislative campaigns on the protection of Social Security and Medicaid, Senate Rules reform, Medicaid Expansion, and budget cuts; and now focuses his efforts on the Bay Area through amendment campaigns and local races.  He organized the Awake Tampa progressive table, including an Awake the State rally in Tampa which was the largest of such in the state 3 years running.

Tim looks first for data when beginning a project or campaign and then finds two key people: a spiritual or emotional heart that the team can rally behind, and a staffer who is willing to get the job done no matter what.  Armed with this winning recipe, we’ll be reading about Tim and his community advocacy for years to come.

Latest tweet from @timintampa: “Cool mix of ppl @ Barrio Latino Comm. in support of @TheRoosevelt2_0 mural. Great art creating a unique Tampa flavor pic.twitter.com/FYrd8mG0Zv

Here is Tim in his own words:

I am 30 years-young.

I live in Tampa, Florida and I grew up where ever the Army or Air Force told me was home.  I’ve spent time most of my childhood hopping around from Ohio, Texas, North Dakota, German, England, and landing in Florida.  I went to school at Minot State University, ND and I hope to visit family in the Manila, Philippines in the next 2 years.

I entered politics after having working for years in social work and counseling because, I saw so many systematic problems with services, resources, with socioeconomic conditions that clients, counselors, agencies and families dealt with.  While counseling, I was helping combat the issues on one side of the equation but I wanted to more directly address the root causes of crime, poverty, lack of community resources, etc.  If we resolved these issues on the “front end”, we would have less people on public assistance and more people able to pull themselves out of poverty with support systems and safety nets to make sure they stay out of it.

One principle I always put above politics is working towards an educated electorate so that democracy can do its thing. Everyone has their spin on the information, myself included.  But, when presented with the facts and tools, we need to trust that the public will engage their government to solve problems.  We need to provide the information and ensure everyone has access to the debate.  Interest groups and the parties will always try to sell their ideals to voters, but it only works effectively when people are engaged and informed.

Bill Newton, my executive director, gave me my first shot and hired me as an organizer when I didn’t have the typical political background or resume.  Other community leaders around the state were willing to work with me when I was the new guy: Mark Ferrulo, Monica Russo, Stephanie Porta, Nadine Smith, Susannah Randolph, and Josh Giese.

I’ve already worked on legislative campaigns ranging from the protection of Social Security and Medicaid, Senate Rules reform, Medicaid Expansion, the fight against state budget cuts and I am now focused on transit improvements in the Bay area.  I ran the Bay area Amendment 5 & 6 field campaign in 2010, the Florida New Majority’s Bay area Breakthrough campaign in 2012, and I advised FCAN Foundation’s 10,000 voter registration effort in 2012.  I’ve worked and volunteered on several local race including Kevin Beckner’s, Lisa Montelione, John Dingfelder, and April Griffin, among others.  I also organized the Awake Tampa progressive table, including the Awake the State rally in Tampa which is still the largest rally in the state 3 years running.

When I begin a project or first work on a campaign, I first look at the data, and then find two key people: 1) the person who is the spiritual or emotional heart of the campaign who the rest of the team will rally behind, and 2) the staffer who is willing to get the job done no matter what.  You know the one, who stays to do data entry until 2am and gets up for the press conference at 7am.  I’ve found that these people drive the campaign and I make sure I know them like I know my best friends. I make sure I get them resources to get the job done.

I’ve been blessed to have these people as my mentors: Lynn Dingfelder, April Griffin, Alison Morano, Carin Schiewe, Guario Del Orbe, Doug Douglass.

The people I most admire in politics are the citizens who, despite immense hardships, choose to be part of the political process.  Bringing their perspectives to the debate provides the human context to policy decisions that can be overlooked.  I admire elected officials like Bob Graham, who have vision for our state.  I appreciate local leaders like County Commissioner Mark Sharpe and his perspective on turning the Bay area into a 21st century city to attract the new 21st century economy.  Community leaders like Rev. Nealy and Sharon Streeter who connect the faith community to civic justice have a huge impact on the work that I do.

One lesson I’ve already learned is to take the time for the things that are important.   Even though I’m passionate about the issues and campaigns I participate in, young politicos need to make sure they take enough time for other aspects of life.  There’s no set prescribed amount of “me time” but enough to ensure that we step away from the job once in a while and realize there’s another world out there, where people don’t watch CSPAN 24 hours a day or stream the State Legislature session online.  It helps us be grounded in the work we do.

If I wasn’t working in politics, I’d be working in mental health counseling or disaster management.  I was a mental health counselor before I got into politics.  Real change, whether behavioral or political, happens at the personal level.  Individuals grow, risk and challenge themselves when they feel optimism about the future.  I feel that counseling allows people to explore that future and that optimism. 

I have been a disaster response volunteer for over 7 years and have really enjoyed my experience helping others.  I have worked and trained to represent the Red Cross at the Emergency Operations Center, and the collaboration I see at the planning and response level is inspiring.  My experiences with fires, tornadoes, hurricanes and the Haiti earthquake have really encouraged me to explore this as a career path.

In ten years, you’ll read about me still continuing to organize my community to make sure they get their voices heard in government and at the ballot box.  I don’t mind shaking things up when they need to be shook up.  I love what I do, and I’ll probably keep doing it in some form or fashion, regardless of the title or position. 

You can connect with me via facebook.com/timothy.heberlein or @timintampa.

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.