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Saturday, Sep 20, 2014
Politics

Business paved their roads to leadership

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Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg

For Jeff Brandes, the leap from business to politics wasn’t that big of a deal.

“For me, the upside of working for a family business is there’s politics involved with a family businesses as well, so (getting into) politics wasn’t that bad,” the St. Petersburg Republican said. “The hardest part of the transition was realizing the breadth of issues you’re going to deal with, many of them you haven’t dealt with in your line of work.”

Brandes was elected to the Florida Senate in 2012 after serving one term in the state House. Before he was elected to the House in 2010, Brandes had never served in public office. The St. Petersburg native, 38, spent much of his professional life helping run his family’s lumber company.

The family owned Cox Lumber Co., which Brandes said had more than 20 lumber yards throughout the state. According to his state Senate campaign website, Brandes grew up working in the lumber yard.

“I think the most important thing, before you get involved in public service, is to have a career, to have that perspective, to have that ability to bring those lessons you learned in life to this process,” he said. “I think the wisdom in a citizen legislature is that we want public servants to have perspective.”

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville

Don Gaetz was no stranger to politics.

The Niceville Republican’s father served in elected office and Gaetz, the Senate president, even worked at the U.S. Senate when he was younger.

Still, Gaetz, the 66-year-old retired vice chairman of a health care company based in Miami, said his decades as a CEO helped prepare him for his life in office.

Gaetz said he got involved in Okaloosa County politics in the 1990s. A debate was raging about whether to keep a beloved art teacher or hire an assistant principal at his children’s school. Gaetz said school board members told parents they didn’t have a say in the decision. That’s when he knew he had to act.

Gaetz served on the Okaloosa County School Board from 1994 to 2000. In 2000, he was elected as the Okaloosa County superintendent. He served as superintendent until 2006, when he was elected to the state Senate.

Gaetz said years in the private sector means he can “read a balance sheet and income statement” better than most, but there are facets of life as a chief executive that didn’t prepare him for serving as a lawmaker.

“A business can become insular; a business can become an echo chamber,” he said. “If I walked into an office and said something, everyone said ‘yes, sir.’ In politics, you can walk into a meeting and meet with folks, and you can get plenty of disagreement.”

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

Alex Sink

Fresh off a disappointing loss, Alex Sink, 65, appears not to have shut the door on politics.

Sink is keeping an open mind about running for Florida’s District 13 congressional seat after coming up short in a special election March 11. It was a tight race, with Sink losing by less than 2 percentage points after an ugly campaign.

Sink, a Democrat, lost to David Jolly, but a second go-round is possible. Jolly is up for re-election in November, after replacing the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young, who died in October.

Sink, a former teacher and banker, first was elected to office as the state’s chief financial officer in 2006 after a 26-year career in business. She is the former president of Florida operations for NationsBank, which became Bank of America.

In 2010, she unsuccessfully ran for governor, narrowly losing to Gov. Rick Scott. In her campaign, Sink emphasized her business experience, playing up that she wasn’t a “career politician.”

Laura Layden

Jeb Bush

There is growing speculation Jeb Bush will enter the 2016 presidential race.

The 61-year-old Republican spent two terms as Florida’s governor after a stint as Florida’s secretary of commerce, a governor-appointed post he left in 1988 to help his father, George H.W. Bush, run for president.

In his early career, Jeb Bush worked for the international division of Texas Commerce Bank. He later worked in real estate in Miami-Dade County with IntrAmerican Investments, formed by a Cuban-American self-made millionaire.

Bush first ran for office in 1994, narrowly losing. Four years later he came out the winner, garnering 55 percent of the vote. When he ran for governor again in 2002, Bush won with 56 percent of the vote.

Laura Layden

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