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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Brandes won't rule out run for state senate

ST. PETERSBURG -- Jeff Brandes keeps on keeping on, despite speculation (which he is not discouraging) that he might switch gears for a state senate run.

On Wednesday, the state representative gave Bay Buzz a sneak peek at an ad produced by the Victory Group for his campaign for reelection in the newly drawn District 68 seat that covers an eastern portion of Pinellas County that includes Pinellas Park and northern parts of St. Petersburg.

But is the 36-year-old Iraq war veteran considering a run instead for the newly drawn Senate District 22, where longtime Republican lawmaker Jim Frishe intends to run?

"We're taking a serious look at the senate seat," Brandes said, noting that he has until the June 8 filing deadline to decide.

His house district, formerly known as 52, has typically been a competitive one. Brandes won it for the first time in 2010 as part of the tea party wave that washed out Democratic incumbents like Bill Heller. The new house district picked up conservative bastions like Feather Sound in redistricting, but it's still considered a toss-up in a close election year.

"It's equally competitive as my previous district," Brandes said.

So until he decides, he says he's focused on winning reelection against Democrat Dwight Dudley and Matthew Weidner, an independent.  

The new 30-second ad, titled "Innovator", shows Brandes driving around Tampa Bay with his 3 1/2-year-old daughter strapped safely in the backseat.

He stresses that he'll come up with innovative solutions to Tampa Bay's transportation problems. He touts driverless cars as a new idea that would help. They are being designed now by Google, which is lobbying state houses across the United States to allow for their use when they finally get developed. This past session, Brandes sponsored a bill that became law that would require the state to study and establish the standards for the safe operation of autonomous cars and produce a report by Feb. 1, 2014.

"It'll make driving easier and our roads safer," Brandes says from a behind the wheel of a car that's obviously not on autopilot. "And it'll create jobs for Florida." (Though perhaps not if you're a trucker or a cabbie).

His daughter adds, "Cool daddy."

Brandes smiles and says, "Very cool."

All very positive stuff.

But the ad undermines the premise that Brandes is an authority on transportation issues.

The autopilot cars are a few years away. Even Brandes says they won't hit area roads until eight to 12 years from now. And when they do, it's not clear what impact, if any, they will have on the overall transportation network.

Meanwhile, Brandes has been a virulent critic of light rail plans in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties at a time when cities like Charlotte, Austin, Denver and Seattle have launched and expanded new lines.

While he calls the driverless cars a 21st century solution, he dismisses light rail as a 19th century solution. But this ad doesn't mention Brandes' view on providing more immediate solutions that would affect Tampa Bay's transportation network today. Bus rapid transit? Toll roads? More roads? Brandes doesn't say in the ad.

The ad comes a month after Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Ananth Prasad told the Tampa Bay Times that he favors turning the Howard Frankland Bridge into a toll bridge when it's rebuilt 10 years from now.

If so, that would have a tremendous impact on the region's transportation flow. Yet the ad gives no indication as to what Brandes thinks of this idea.

The ad does do one thing on the subject of the Howard Frankland.

It misspells it: Howard Franklin.

When Bay Buzz informed Brandes about this, he said he'd would get it fixed.

Minutes later, he sent this version of the ad.

How did Brandes, a St. Pete native, get the spelling wrong of the landmark bridge?

"We Googled it," Brandes said. "It showed up that way."

-- Michael Van Sickler, Times Staff Writer





[Last modified: Wednesday, May 2, 2012 2:58pm]


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