Why are Tampa Bay progressives wasting their time protesting Rep. Jeff Brandes?

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I get it, I get it. Rep. Jeff Brandes, whose campaign I worked on, is an evil Republican. He voted for that evil Republican budget and dozens of other evil Republican bills certain to destroy Florida. So if you are in the business of protesting evil Republicans, then Rep. Jeff Brandes probably deserves your wrath. Like I said, I get it.

But if you are going to be strategic about such things…if you really want to make an impact on Tampa Bay politics…if you understand anything about real-world legislative campaign politics…then Rep. Jeff Brandes deserves a pass.

On Tuesday, Tampa Bay progressives will be joining with their colleagues throughout the state for a second set of ‘Awake the State protests andrallies to protest the just wrapped-up 2011 Legislative Session. A protest outside of Rep. 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.

But think about it. By protesting Rep. Brandes, you are pushing further to the right a legislator who:

  • Negotiated a win-win compromise on the “Fertilizer” legislation
  • Racked up (unofficially) the most ‘No’ votes in committee of any GOP member
  • Voted against drug testing state employees, going so far as to speak out on the House floor against the legislation
  • Was named a ‘Defender of Freedom’ by the ACLU

I don’t think you can say any of those things about Pinellas Reps. Larry Ahern, Ed Hooper, Jim Frishe or Peter Nehr. Yet, the legislator Tampa Bay progressives choose to protest is Jeff Brandes. I have a feeling this decision has as much to do with Brandes’ voting record as it does with the fact that Brandes defeated the supposedly beloved Bill Heller — a giant-killing that local Democrats have yet to accept.

Get over it, local Democrats. Bill Heller is not walking through that door again. And, considering the lopsided numbers in Tallahassee, it’s better to have a compassionate, intellectual Republican representing the seat than a back-bench Democrat. That’s just realpolitik.

But keep protesting, local Democrats. See where that gets you. Instead of becoming the next Dennis Jones or Jack Latvala, perhaps Rep. Brandes should be more of the conservative firebrand his GOP colleagues would like him to be. Perhaps he should even embrace the Tea Party wing of the party?

Is that what progressives want for District 52? If so, be sure to show up tomorrow at the protest of Jeff Brandes.

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.