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After maverick stances, Jeff Brandes loses Senate Judiciary Committee post in Tallahassee

The St. Petersburg Republican has been replaced by Sen. Danny Burgess, a close political ally of Senate President Wilton Simpson.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, has been removed from his position as chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, has been removed from his position as chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee.
Published Jul. 10

After a legislative session where he took maverick stances at odds with several GOP ideological priorities, state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, has been removed from his position as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, replaced Brandes with Sen. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, a close political ally.

The Judiciary Committee is one of the Legislature’s most powerful and important, handling a wide range of legal and criminal justice issues.

In an interview, Brandes said he’s certain the reason for the change is stances he took opposing such measures as the “anti-riot” bill; a law seeking to control social media companies; new limits on mail-in voting; and a limit on contributions to constitutional amendment petition campaigns.

“I have a more libertarian view than many of my colleagues … more freedom-focused,” Brandes said. “I can’t vote for things I think are unconstitutional.”

Federal judges have already made initial rulings against the petition campaign contribution limits and social media regulations, which seek to punish giant social media companies that boot abusive users off their platforms.

Brandes said his Judiciary Committee normally could have blocked both bills, but Senate leaders pushed them through alternate committees.

Burgess, a friend of the Simpson family, favored both bills.

In a statement, Simpson gave other reasons for the change.

He said Brandes “has showed a great interest in the operations of state government,” and that forming a new committee to deal with the once-a-decade legislative redistricting required changes to committee assignments.

Brandes is term-limited next year.

Makki tours border, prepares another run for congress

Amanda Makki, who ran in the 2020 Republican primary against Anna Paulina Luna for St. Petersburg’s U.S. House seat, has been prepping to announce that she’ll run again this year by visiting the southern border in New Mexico on what she said is a fact-finding tour on illegal immigration.

Amanda Makki, who ran in the 2020 Republican primary against Anna Paulina Luna for St. Petersburg’s U.S. House seat, has been prepping to announce that she’ll run again this year by visiting the southern border in New Mexico on what she said is a fact-finding tour on illegal immigration.
Amanda Makki, who ran in the 2020 Republican primary against Anna Paulina Luna for St. Petersburg’s U.S. House seat, has been prepping to announce that she’ll run again this year by visiting the southern border in New Mexico on what she said is a fact-finding tour on illegal immigration. [ Amanda Makki ]

Makki’s candidacy could add serious competition to an already-weird GOP primary.

So far, the contest has featured another candidate, William Braddock, secretly recorded appearing to describe a Ukrainian-Russian “hit squad” and suggesting Luna might be “taken out,” and Luna obtaining a stalking injunction against Braddock, saying her life was in danger.

Congressional candidates William Braddock, left, and Anna Paulina Luna.
Congressional candidates William Braddock, left, and Anna Paulina Luna. [ Times ]

Makki this week spent three days in southern New Mexico — ironically, Luna County — where construction of Donald Trump’s wall was halted. She was accompanied by the county sheriff, she said.

The tour is clearly intended to highlight her use of illegal immigration as a campaign issue.

In an interview with the Times this week during her three-day visit, Makki said that while Texas border crossers are often families with children intending to turn themselves in and seek asylum, New Mexico authorities told her border crossers in their more hostile terrain were often adults “wearing camouflage and armed.”

She said that threatens Florida because Interstate 10 passes nearby.

Makki, a lawyer who has worked in the Bush administration and as a Congressional adviser, said she expects to announce her candidacy this month.

In 2020, she appeared headed for the GOP nomination to challenge Democratic Rep. Charlie Crist, with backing from GOP congressional leaders, until Luna got support from some in the Trump wing of the party, including U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.

Luna ended up winning a five-way primary with 36 percent to Makki’s second-place 28 percent, then lost to Crist. Crist is now vacating the seat to run for governor.

Makki said she believes she’ll again have the support of GOP congressional leaders, and that she is “the only candidate who “has shown fitness to be in office and willingness to work hard.”

Gingrich backs Luna

Republican District 13 congressional candidate Anna Paulina Luna has announced an endorsement by former House speaker and Republican icon Newt Gingrich.

Luna is one of two Republicans filed in the race along with Will Braddock.

In a statement from the Luna campaign, Gingrich called Luna “a conservative leader (and) a true patriot, not compromised and unwavering.”

Schiff challenges Waurishuk

April Schiff, a top officer of the Hillsborough County Republican Party, has filed a grievance with the state party seeking the removal of other local officers including Chairman Jim Waurishuk.

Hillsborough County Republican activist and political consultant April Schiff
Hillsborough County Republican activist and political consultant April Schiff [ April Schiff ]

Schiff’s grievance cited what she says are violations of party rules, personal attacks against her and inflammatory social media postings by Waurishuk that she says have damaged the state and county parties.

It’s the sharpest sign yet of the division between local establishment Republicans, including some elected officeholders, and the leadership group surrounding Waurishuk, an ardent Trump backer fond of conspiracy theories and bitter rhetoric against Trump opponents.

Schiff, a longtime local party stalwart and political consultant, was elected last year as state committeewoman, one of two county delegates to the state party’s governing board, in an election in which all registered county Republicans could vote.

Meanwhile, Waurishuk was re-elected chairman in an election only among local precinct representatives, who party insiders say are now dominated by a hard core of his supporters.

In the grievance, a copy of which was obtained by the Times, Schiff seeks the removal of Waurishuk, party Secretary Jeanne Webb and precinct representative Clarice Henderson, the former state committeewoman who lost to Schiff.

The complaint contends the three improperly used local party resources including email to oppose her campaign for the post; sought to prevent her from functioning in the post by, among other things, denying her access to the position’s official email address; and engineered a failed attempt to have her reprimanded at a May party meeting.

It charges Waurishuk violated party rules by acting to make himself chairman of a committee of party officials representing Tampa’s 14th Congressional District even though he doesn’t live in the district; and by appointing unauthorized members to the county party’s executive board to dilute Schiff’s influence on the board.

The complaints cites various social media posts by Waurishuk including one that said, “Need some hangings” in reference to the impeachment of Trump, and one saying Democrats intend to murder Trump supporters — “You will be dragged form your burning home and beat to death.”

Schiff declined to comment on the grievance. Waurishuk, Henderson and Webb also declined or didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.

State party spokeswoman Alia Faraj said the party “does not publicly discuss grievances,” but that party rules require a review by a grievance committee and final decision by a board of top party officials.