Five questions for Brian Pitts of Justice 2 Jesus

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It’s impossible to write about Brian Pitts of the self-styled advocacy group Justice 2 Jesus without using the terms ‘gadfly’ and ‘ubiquitous.’ 

From News Service of Florida archives: “Pitts is a ubiquitous presence at the Capitol, testifying frequently before legislative committees.” From the Tampa Bay Times in 2008: “Pitts, 36, of St. Petersburg became this legislative session’s best-known gadfly — attending just about every committee meeting and lecturing lawmakers on the flaws he saw in their proposals.” We could go on. 

Pitts himself summed up how broad his reach is on Twitter this week, in his characteristic all-caps manner, “J2J TRULY THANKS FL LEG & GOVS OFFICE FOR OUTSTANDING 2013 SESS, APPEARANCES IN 3 PRESS SKITS & 132 COMMITTEES.” 

The session wasn’t perfect for Pitts, though, because his claims bill went nowhere. In 2010 he served nearly a year in the Pinellas County Jail, in several stints, after a long dispute with the Florida Bar and state Supreme Court, which found him guilty of practicing law without a license. 

The claims bill for his relief – first filed by then-Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando – called for the appointment of an administrative law judge to conduct a hearing to determine whether there is a legal basis to compensate Pitts for lost income. Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, and Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, sponsored this year’s bill, which called for paying Pitts anywhere from $1 million to $7 million. But it never got a hearing.

Pitts is sometimes seen as annoying – he was told to stop yelling in one committee this year – but he is also known for his ferocious scrutiny of both bills and process. And so, over time, a third phrase has joined the first two: “You know, Mr. Pitts, you’ve got a point.” 

The News Service of Florida has five questions for Brian Pitts:

Q: How do you know so much about so many bills?

PITTS: At the beginning it was many hours. But now, actually, it’s easy…The title of the bill is easy, and the title summary. As you know, it’s an act relating to something, and all the things that are behind it. The drafting helps a lot, and that’s what it’s supposed to do. So actually, I’m just using what they’re supposed to do for a quick fix on the bill.

Now, you still have to know what you’re doing. That concise information don’t really tell you. Well, easy. That’s why they have staff, again. The first page of the staff analysis is a concise summary of that. So if you take the title and the title summary and the first page of the bill analysis [snaps fingers] you know what the bill is.

The first year, it was brutal. I’m going to tell you right now. Forget burning the midnight oil. Forget where the rubber meets the road. Wasn’t no road, wasn’t no oil…Yes, I had to figure it out. And of course, as a regular citizen, they don’t tell you how it goes, and there’s a reason for that, of course, so you can’t figure out what’s going down.

Now I’ll be honest: I would not have gotten involved if it hadn’t been for (the now-defunct community organizing group) ACORN, ’cause ACORN used to have these one-week segments when they would bring people up. If it had not been for ACORN, I wouldn’t have. ‘Cause what happened was, it gave me the interest. I says, “Wait a minute. What else they doin’ up here?”

Q: What year did you start Justice 2 Jesus and how did you get the idea? 

PITTS: 2006 – that’s when we started. To be honest, it was divine, because I did not know what I was doing. And as I see it, it was a spiritual issue. 

I says, “I see what they’re doing up there” after the ACORN week. I says, “Ain’t nobody – don’t they know they just lie?” That’s what I was observing. Don’t they know that’s not in the particular bill I’m looking at? Where are they getting that? And nobody would testify among the members against it. That’s dishonest!

So that’s when the Lord says, “You’re going to go ahead and go up (to Tallahassee).” Didn’t know how financially, definitely no experience – nothing…I didn’t even know what a bill was.

Q: Your donors – do they have an agenda in terms of specific bills, or do they just want someone going to Tallahassee and speaking truth to power?

PITTS: I’ll be honest, many people we had to turn down because they thought we would do that for them. And we said, “No, because that would burn bridges with other people.”

Yeah, that is an issue. If we did like typical lobbyists – obviously, we’d have way more money. Way more. But we couldn’t. Sometimes I get disgruntled with that, but no, if it’s for the people, you can’t be taking.

Unfortunately, we have to do it like that…If we’re the whistleblower, we’re keeping the things in check, then it has to stay that way. Honestly, it is difficult. If things get tight, you’re saying, well, maybe you’re going to compromise…No. When that compromise mind-set comes, no.

When it ain’t Justice 2 Jesus, you better be pumping out something – we know what that name means. So if you’re pumping out something like these lobbyists do, or compromising or doing something corrupt, we don’t know what Jesus you’re talking about. So we’re going to put the acid test: Let’s see if we’re talking about the Jesus you claim. 

Q: When you get up and talk, do you ever feel that lawmakers are taking a dismissive attitude toward you?

PITTS: At the beginning, it was. And at the beginning, I kind of took it personal, but again, we’re talking about freedom of speech and everything. 

It was like sales. Remember, you’re going to get rejection, and that’s part of sales. You’re not going to get yes every time. And if you’re going to be a salesman like this and you’re going to take things personal, you’re not going to make it very far in this. You cannot take it personal.

You’re selling them – not a product, but whatever you’re saying. Your persuasive comments or whatever – that’s what you’re selling them, to do something to stop what they’re doing or to change something in a particular bill. 

Q: Do you think the legislative process is designed to mystify and obfuscate what’s really happening?

PITTS: That’s the way they run it, okay. Now I know it’s not really a complex process, but they try to make it look like that.

So it makes the people look like, “Man, that’s really complicated.” “Wow, you’ve really got to know what’s going on.” No. What’s complex is getting it demystified and deconcocted – like J2J did in less than three minutes on each of the bills, and telling them, “Here you’re again doing it, and this is how you’re doing it.” 

And that’s another reason why J2J came, for that very thing: to bring it back to simplicity. And what happens is you get a lot of people to see that, even people in the audience…Then they’re like, “Oh, so they’re trying to pull one! I’m glad now I know.”

So they may try it, and yes, they do do it, but at least when J2J is here, that’s what we’re supposed to do: Get rid of that garbage in a very quick period of time – and it’s like a spell you have to snap out of.

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.