Progressive blogger Ben Kirby: 'Don't make me defend Jeff Brandes'

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Editor’s note: The following is a post from progressive blogger Ben Kirby,which originally appeared on his must-read blog, The Spencerian.

Peter Schorsch has a post on his Battleground Tampa Bay website aboutRepresentative Jeff Brandes (R-52). It’s worth unwrapping this post and looking a little more closely.

But first, the caveats and exceptions!

I don’t like Jeff Brandes. Though I concede the point that Bill Heller’s campaign was a disaster in a heavily Republican year, I thought the Brandes Campaign was unnecessarily mean to a pillar of the community (don’t start with me, either; I am fully aware that many would argue that Brandes simply ran anaggressive campaign. Fine, but when you mix aggression withstuff that is just factually incorrect, that’s what you call mean.) I don’t like thathe doled out extra cash for himself at the end of the campaign to continue to bash Heller (yes, I recognize Democrats have done it, too; I still don’t like it.)

I don’t like that he voted for “leadership funds” — the thing Troxler has gone off the rails about — and I thoughthis claim — in the midst of parrotting GOP talking points — that Troxler was practicing “irresponsible journalism” in calling him out on his support was downright laughable.

Editor’s note: Please visit the Spencerian.

This is less about Representative Brandes, but I don’t particularly care for the fact that voters would give up a St. Petersburg icon for this guy.


So let’s get to it. As Peter says:

On Tuesday, Tampa Bay progressives will be joining with their colleagues throughout the state for a second set of ‘Awake the State‘ protests and rallies to protest the just wrapped-up 2011 Legislative Session. A protest outside ofRep. Jeff Brandes?legislative office is planned.

Unfortunately, the protesters are wasting their time.

Yes, Rep. Brandes voted for the Republican budget. Yes, Rep. Brandes voted for most of the Republican legislation progressives hate. So if protesting Republicans is your deal, have at it.

I read Peter’s stuff and frequently I find myself mentally nudging him, questioning something, karmically pushing him in a different direction. Every now and then he and I will engage in a manner of conversation about one issue or another.

In this instance, I am forced to agree with him wholeheartedly.

Again: it is not because I like Jeff Brandes so much. I don’t. It’s that I’m not sure what we’re doing with theAwake the State stuff.

Please, please don’t misunderstand me: I think it’s a great idea. I think it’s awonderful idea, and if you don’t, you clearly aren’t familiar with the legislative session we just… experienced. We need grassroots activism, and we need it fired up.

Editor’s note: Please visit the Spencerian.

My question is around targeting and timing.

I got the alert about the event outside Rep. Brandes’ office. Come show up! Protest the budget!

Um. Okay.

But see, that’s the thing. Rep. Brandes hadnothing to do with the budget, except vote for it. He’s a very junior, newly elected Representative. I am forced to wonder if House Speaker Dean Cannon even knew his name going into session.

Look, in my view, protests accomplish something. They’re not protesting in North Africa and the Middle East because Facebook and Twitter make it so easy. They’re trying to foment change. They are hunting democracy, even as their oppressive regimes hunt them.

Brandes didn’t get to be a State Representative for nothing, either. He must be aware that he’s in a political split district (relatively; I mean, theydid send Bill Heller to the legislature, after all). I am sure the man knows that his Democratic and liberal constituents hate this budget deal — which, in fairness to the Awake the State folks, is pretty shitty.

Schorsch is right: Brandes wasawarded a “Defender of Freedom” designation by the ACLU (of all things) for opposing drug testing of TANF recipients. I may have a lot of qualms with Mr. Brandes, but that’s one for which I would gladly shake his hand. His opposition was a good call — and his opposition of his leadership on the issue was brave.

Here’s what I’m worried about: we’re going to protest the likes of Jeff Brandes, and others (I assume) well over a year out from the election.

You know what I’dreally like to do? Two things. One, instead of protesting a guy who made a vote we all knew he’d make, go out and find Jeff Brandes’ Jeff Brandes. Know what I mean? I want Democrats to announce a candidate that gives Jeff the shivers, makes him start working hard to defend that budget vote.

And the other is, I want that “protest” to move down to District 53. Only let’s not protest. Let’s welcome homeRepresentative Rick Kriseman from one of the worst legislative sessions, ever, and thank him for taking a stand on the tough issues, and for introducing good legislation.

Let’s show Floridians what we’refor, not just what we’re against.

Talk about a good reason to get everyone together.


Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, 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.