Brandes unbowed as new poll shows GOP led Legislature in low standing

"I think my constituents want jobs and they want accountability in Tallahassee, and I think that’s what I provided."

Those are the words of St. Petersburg House Republican Jeff Brandes, who spoke to CL on Wednesday morning from his local district office off of 4th Street North. The freshman lawmaker knows he presides over what is considered one of the most evenly divided house districts in the state - a seat that Pinellas Democrats are gunning for already in 2012 after Bill Heller lost it to Brandes in 2010.

Historically, or certainly for at least the last decade at least with the GOP in charge, the Florida House has always been a more conservative body than the Senate, and that proved to be the case again this year, where Tampa Bay area moderate Senators such as Jack Latvala, Mike Fasano and Paula Dockery were able to stop some what of what Democrats would call the more egregious bills from making it through both chambers.

But there were many more bills that Democrats violently opposed that those GOP moderates did support, or at least weren't able to muster sufficient opposition to. And Brandes says most of those bills were worthy, with the exception of the Rick Scott pushed proposal that will require those receiving financial assistance from the feds (from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, a/k/a TANF) to submit to drug tests. Against the rest of his caucus, Brandes stood out on the GOP side by voting against that proposal, but says it's not something he says he could make a habit of doing.

"You can go rogue in the House and your your bills will all die," Brandes confessed, saying that frequently he learned to temper his stance on some issues, "because you can't die on every hill."

He says he stood up to his party's leadership on more than just the TANF issue, but acknowledges that more often he agreed "wholeheartedly with what the Speaker (Dean Cannon) was trying to do." And as far as not being more moderate, Brandes proudly says that's simply not who he is.

At the end of our conversation we asked the state legislator a couple of foreign policy questions. Having served in combat for the U.S. Army at the beginning of the Iraq war, we surely thought he might have opinions about the U.S.' current involvements in Libya and Afghanistan.

Cl asked him with the killing of Osama bin Laden, did he think it was time to begin a serious withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan? Brandes said yes, adding "It’s difficult to see an end-game there. The unfortunate reality is that Afghanistan has been that way for thousands of years and to the extent that the U.S. has been there, I think it’s like digging a hole at the beach. When the U.S. leaves, the water will come up and cover that hole like we were never there. "

He confessed to not closely following the U.S. involvement with NATO in Libya, saying only that "we have great leadership in the U.S military, and I trust their decisions."

click to enlarge Jeff Brandes (center) - photo by Rebecca Wainright
photo by Rebecca Wainright
Jeff Brandes (center)

Jeff Brandes (center)

Republicans in the Florida Legislature applauded themselves at the end of the session earlier this month, proud that they made fundamental changes to the state government as they made spending cuts to alleviate a $3.8 billion budget deficit, all done without raising taxes or fees on the citizenry.

But are the Florida people appreciative of the work done on their behalf earlier this year?

Not according to the just released Quinnipiac poll, that showed of the 1196 people surveyed, 56 percent said they disapproved of the current Legislature, while just 27 percent showed their support.

But one Bay area GOP freshman lawmaker says he's not discouraged by that survey, and is proud of what his party accomplished in the past couple of months.

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