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PROTESTERS GIVE BRANDES FAILING GRADES AT RALLY

Pinellas County

More than 100 people lined a St. Petersburg block to protest at state Rep. Jeff Brandes' office Tuesday afternoon, part of the latest round of Awake the State rallies in Florida. They attacked Gov. Rick Scott as much or more than Brandes, who is serving his first term in the Florida House.

The crowd, filled with Democrats, union members, teachers and progressive activists, waved signs - "Take Jeff to the woodshed" and "Brandes = Scott" - to protest laws they say are crimping public workers, the unemployed, teachers and voting. They delivered a giant, fake report card filled with Ds and Fs on worker rights, women's rights, the environment, jobs and education.

"I think if he sees that all of these people are here, he's young enough and smart enough to be able to change," said Tom Bedwell, 50, of Gulfport, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union, who waved signs with his daughter Rosabella, 8. "He's not so far to the right that he can't come over and move more to the center."

Protesters had everything except Brandes, 35. The office was dark. Reached by phone, Brandes said he was finishing up work in Tallahassee after the session ended. Learning of the protest, he sent district staffers home from the office off Fourth Street N.

"I told my staff to go home. There was no need to expose them to that," said Brandes, who noted that he received few if any personal e-mails about issues during the session.

Police at the scene reported no problems.

Why there? Brandes represents a swing district. Last year, he defeated Bill Heller, popular among Democrats. The next election is only 18 months away.

"I think I am in a great location, and I think I am a freshman legislator that defeated a two-term Democrat. They're not happy about that," Brandes said.

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Feds may force Pinellas to use bilingual ballots

A rise in the Hispanic population in Pinellas County could trigger a new addition to voting: bilingual ballots.

Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark told the County Commission on Monday that her office has begun preparations for bilingual balloting because census results showed Pinellas' Hispanic population over age 18 crossed the 5 percent threshold to reach 6.8 percent. The U.S. Justice Department could then require Pinellas to join 11 other Florida counties in offering bilingual ballots, Clark said.

The additional requirement also could add to a ballot expected to run at least two pages due to constitutional amendment contests and legislative races, Clark said. The feds also might require the county to have bilingual poll workers.

"We've reached out to them (federal officials). We've done a lot of preliminary research and legwork on this. This isn't something we can wait for," Clark said.

The additional cost - in a year when the budget is being cut - is uncertain, she said.

"And all of this of course would be an unfunded mandate?" asked Commissioner Norm Roche.

"Ch-ching," she replied.

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Ex-Largo candidate to run for Seel's spot

Robert Avery, who lost a bid last year for the Largo City Commission after flinging a slew of ethics charges, has found a new goal: running for the Pinellas County Commission seat held by Republican Karen Seel.

Avery, 26, filed to run Wednesday as a Republican. His website still focuses on his city campaign from 2010.

Seel, who has previously expressed interest in running for Congress, hasn't filed to run yet. She's the senior-most member of the board. Avery didn't immediately return a message seeking comments.

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Brickfield, Roche will play their final rounds

Airco Golf Course off Ulmerton Road will shut down today to make way for development. To commemorate it, Pinellas County Commissioners Neil Brickfield and Norm Roche are running the "last annual Airco Open" at 3 p.m. today as a charity event for Meals on Wheels. All proceeds will be donated to the local Meals on Wheels program to help offset the increase in gas prices.

"This is a great opportunity to play a final round at a historical golf course and help out a very worthy cause," Roche said.

"If you're a duffer like me, playing the last round will be a lot of fun. If you cause a divot, you don't have to fix it, " said Brickfield.

David DeCamp contributed to this report.

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