Heller rips Brandes at Tiger Bay event; says he has misrepresented his record

And the 75-year-old USF St Pete official lambasted his GOP opponent further in his closest statements, saying Brandes had no record of public service,  but is someone "who seeks to distort facts rather than report them accurately, and has someone who has lots of solutions but no specifics."

Brandes then followed suit, "What you see is a candidate that is running against me, that doesn't know his own record.  That stands here and says he doesn't vote for tax increases or hasn't lobbied for them, but that is simply not true.  He's lobbied to establish a tax on the Internet.  He's lobbied in his spare time, for higher property taxes.  He's lobbied for more government regulation.   I think that's what the amazing thing is: he's trying to leave his own party as we stand here, and move to the middle, and the reality is, that just simply isn't true."

The tone was very different between the two other candidates in the room, Republican Jack Latvala and his younger Democratic party opponent, Nina Hayden.  Of course that might have to do with the fact that unlike the HD52 race, the state Senate race in District 16 is not considered close, with  Latvala, a former state legislator in the 1990's, returning back to the fold against Hayden, who has been criticized for being a tad too ambitious (only 36, she has just finished a two-year term on the Pinellas County School Board after years with the Pinellas County Public Defenders office).

Speaking after Bill Heller's fusillade against Brandes, Latvala got big laughs when he said, "All this talk about woodsheds makes my butt hurt."

He discussed his record when he previously represented Pinellas County as a state Senator in Tallahassee (1994-2002), and took pride on being an independent voice.  "I think we have too many politicians in Tallahassee today that all they can do is talk and they really don't act, and they really don't solve problems, and that's more of what I was about."  He also said there were too many lawmakers from both parties tied to special interests.

When asked what distinguished himself on the issues from Nina Hayden, Latvala said all he could think of were national issues, saying she was a fan of the current administration's health care plan and other parts of the Obama agenda.  Hayden said that she was a supporter of the stimulus, emphasizing that it's been lost that a third of that plan were tax cuts that went to Americans.

In response to a question from retired USF St. Pete Political Science professor Daryl Paulson if the candidates considered themselves 'outsiders' in a political year that has rewarded many with that mantle, Hayden affirmed that she was the most out of the loop citizen running.  "I'm living proof that I'm an outsider, and let me tell you something, this has been a very challenging race," mentioning that she didn't have the connections to get endorsements from unions, or special interests.

The District 16 race is an open seat after Democrat Charlie Justice opted not to run for re-election, instead opting to seriously challenge 40-year incumbent Bill Young for Congress.

The District 52 House race is considered one of the battleground races this year, as the Republicans who dominate that body seeking to gain four more House seats that would give them 80, and the chance to have a veto proof majority if Alex Sink becomes governor next year.

With just a week to go before the end of voting in Florida's midterm election, St. Peterburg House Democrat Bill Heller, feeling the heat against insurgent GOP challenger Jeff Brandes in the HD 52 race that is one of the most watched races statewide, attacked his opponent today at a Suncoast Tiger Bay meeting in St. Petersburg.

In a recent television ad Brandes accused Heller of raising property and small business taxes and suggested “he even wants to tax the Internet." (You can read more about that here.)

Prepared to engage,  and with a large contingent of supporters in the St. Petersburg Yacht Club loudly cheering for him, Heller fired back, first to attack Brandes on his initial TV ad that showed the candidate saying he wanted to take some people back "behind the woodshed" in Tallahassee.

"Who exactly are you planning to take behind the woodshed, and what are you going to do to them once you get them there?" Heller asked. "Because here's the thing. The main reason the St. Pete Times called you short on specifics, is that you talk more about being a member of Tallahassee's majority party, then about what you will do."

"You point to your party's registration as a reason to vote for you," he continued. "But all the problems you point to in Tallahassee… you understand, it is Republicans who have been in control for over a decade... these are the same folks paying for your ads and bankrolling your campaign, and these are the same people you're going to take behind the woodshed. Is that what we're supposed to believe?"

Heller said in his experience, people were weary of campaign rhetoric like "taking somebody to the woodshed." Demonstrating that he isn't a partisan Democrat, Heller boasted that he sponsored "the most expansive ethics legislation in decades, and I will do it again," adding that there are people on both sides of the aisle who would prefer that not happen. He also mentioned a corporate scholarship program for kids struggling in schools that he stood up for it, "my party did not appreciate it, but it was the right thing to do."

When Jeff Brandes was asked by a Tiger Bay member what distinguished him from Heller, he hit back on the taxes issue, saying he differed from his opponent because he believed the role of government is to be small.  "We know people are struggling, and to say that we can raise taxes and that we need more government now is exactly the opposite thing."

Heller immediately responded that he was not for more taxes or regulation, and said Brandes had no clue about what his record was.  "He just needs to get his facts right," he scolded him, sometimes talking directly into mic, making him louder than any of the other candidates in the room.


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