Cheers, activists give state Rep. Jeff Brandes "unwelcome" home party
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03/19/12 Janelle Irwin
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On Friday, 75 activists from several progressive groups gave state Representative Jeff Brandes what they called an unwelcome home party. It was complete with party hats, noise makers, champagne, and a Monopoly guy jumping out of a box. One protester at Brandes’ office on North 4th Street in St. Petersburg, Bill Hurley, said he was there to send a message: don't be Governor Rick Scott's patsy.

“Loopholes on repairers of private jets. For-profit charter schools that, the schools, we can take their money away because they can have bake sales to make it. Progress Energy again, is allowing their constituents to be charged in advance so that my fat cat friends at Progress Energy can pretend to build a nuclear plant and hopefully that pesky reporter at that other place won’t ruin things for them. And not raising taxes no me and my rich residents. And for bankers making it easier for us to throw people out of their homes and we tell them, they don’t need their homes. They just built a new homeless shelter. They can go live over there.”

Hurley was dressed in a black tuxedo with fake money spilling out of his pockets. He popped out of a box to the sound of noisemakers making it difficult to tell whether this was a children’s birthday party. The differentiation came after Hurley read through a host of complaints. But Tim Martin, a co-founder of the organization Awake Pinellas, said Brandes is just one bullet point on a long list of political issues.

“Jeff is just one small piece of the problem, but you can’t fix it all at once. You have to go one seat at a time. So, the idea here was to create this unwelcome home party for this one specific candidate so we can hold him accountable in his district in front of his own constituents. And then what we hope also is to export this idea to other areas across the state so that other activists and constituents across the state can do the same with their local representative as well.”

One of the biggest issues plaguing this group is Brandes' support of education reform. Martin said any legislator who votes to privatize public schools isn't thinking of the people.

“A lot of the bad stuff that could have happened actually didn’t happen like the parent trigger bill reaching a tie vote and therefore not passing. So, some of the worst of what we saw proposed didn’t come to fruition, but just the overall support for defunding public education in favor of charter schools and that sort of thing. That’s really one of the biggest issues we’re upset about with this particular legislature.”

A lot of the protesters echoed that displeasure; some through varied chants, but most by messages on the signs they waved at passing motorists. Activist Craig Glaser was one of them. But he said that wasn’t the only fish he had to fry.

“The real problem is corporate personhood and corporate legislation and the plutocracy that we live in today is a corporate democracy. They throw us a few crumbs to fight over, whether it’s abortion or perhaps some tax breaks or whatnot, but in the end the policies are just about the same.”

The legislative session that just concluded came with a lot of contentious proposals. Among them were several that some say attacked women’s reproductive rights. From legislation that would put restrictions on who can own an abortion clinic to implementing mandatory waiting periods, Terrie Weeks couldn’t say much more than it’s all just ridiculous.

“And that is mindboggling to say the least. I can’t believe we’re in the 21st century right now and these things are coming back up. I don’t know what they’re trying to prove.”

Weeks also talked about the failed so-called anti-Sharia bill. The measure would have outlawed foreign laws in Florida courtrooms. The measure was seen by some as an attack on Muslims. It passed in the Florida House where Brandes voted for it, but it was never taken up on the full Senate floor.

“I think it’s idiotic, frankly. Nobody cares about this. This is not a threat. This is propaganda that they’re just trying to get certain factions stirred up about.”

Activists attending the protest hope that with continued efforts like this one, legislators will finally begin to listen to constituents. One protester noted that of all the passing motorists, most either honked or waved in support of their efforts. None showed any signs of criticism. WMNF tried to reach Representative Brandes for comment, but he did not respond by air time.





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