March 4, 2024

Florida Politics

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Former Sen. Jeff Brandes is endorsing Mike Harting in his bid for St. Petersburg City Council, District 3.

Brandes’ endorsement lends conservative credibility to Harting’s campaign, while also offering support from someone known for his independent streak.

“He’s an independent thinker with experience as a small business owner and community leader, which will allow him to bring valuable new insights to the City Council,” Brandes said of Harting. “Mike will protect opportunities for current and future generations in our great city, and he has my full support.”

Harting, now registered to vote with no party affiliation, was formerly registered as a Republican. His wife, Leigh Harting, remains registered to the GOP, according to the latest information from L2 Data.

It’s a good place to be in a crowded race for representation in a district that, while voter registration favors Republicans, remains a different kind of GOP epicenter in the otherwise liberal city.

Harting is the co-owner and CEO of 3 Daughters Brewing in the Grand Central District. He announced his bid for the seat, currently held by term-limited Ed Montanari, last week.

His announcement, as his independent voting status suggests, was free from anything overtly partisan. He called for “fresh ideas” and vowed to work toward better public safety, improved infrastructure, and new, good-paying jobs.

The brewery is named in honor of the Hartings’ own three daughters — MeadowLivvi and Madi — after the couple pondered how many beers they’d have to sell to put all of the girls through college. Two of them are now in college, with the youngest not far behind.

The Hartings have had huge success, growing the business from a small, 1,600 square-foot tasting room in 2013 to what is now a massive footprint with several tasting rooms, concert space and more than 250,000 patrons annually.

The couple has also opened a tasting room in Clearwater and another at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport. Their brews are served at every major retailer, amusement park, liquor store and most restaurants throughout the state. And they’ve expanded their beverage offerings from beer to also include canned cocktails, energy drinks and nonalcoholic beverages.

Brandes’ endorsement — which could spur others from local Republicans — is a big first nod for Harting, who may have to answer to the district’s conservatives over a high-profile visit they hosted in 2016. Nearly eight years ago, the Hartings welcomed then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to their St. Pete brewery. The visit was a huge boost to the brewery, with a surge in social media mentions and even some national exposure. But it also drew its fair share of criticism.

However, the Hartings never endorsed Clinton, didn’t weigh in on her then-opponent, now former-President Donald Trump, and made clear that their votes would be carefully considered regardless of party affiliation.

And that’s kind of how Brandes is remembered as a longtime state lawmaker. Brandes, often focused on bringing innovation to the Sunshine State, occasionally bucked party priorities in favor of what he saw as pragmatic decision-making in the state’s best interest.

Harting recognizes that appeal.

“I’m honored to have the support of Sen. Jeff Brandes. Jeff is not just a great friend. He has served the people of St. Petersburg nobly and exemplifies what can be accomplished when you put politics aside and simply do the right thing. I look forward to taking that mindset to the St. Petersburg City Council,” Harting said.

Harting wants to bring his business success to city government. His platform centers on fiscal responsibility while also reducing city taxes and fees to help with the ongoing affordability issues plaguing areas like St. Pete and beyond. He also wants to focus on working with employers to ensure residents have access to good-paying jobs and to streamline government regulations to attract new job creators. He is also running on a pledge to work toward improving the city’s aging infrastructure.

Harting has lived in St. Pete since 1977. He attended Shore Acres Elementary after his father, a Vietnam veteran, was assigned to MacDill Air Force Base.

Harting is a graduate of the University of Florida and, after moving back home to St. Pete, began a fruitful career as a joint venture partner for Outback and later a partner in Bella Brava on Beach Drive.

3 Daughters Brewery is known throughout St. Pete not just for its tasty beverages and lively entertainment venues, but also as a charitable beacon. The company has worked with more than 150 local charity projects each year, including a line of kid’s beverages served with the “Men in the Making” program in Pinellas County School.

3 Daughters was also one of the first in the nation to utilize its production facility to make and distribute — for free — hand sanitizer during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 when stores were struggling to keep commercial products on shelves.

The District 3 race is already a crowded one. It features restaurateur Pete Boland, affordable housing advocate Nicholas Carey, sales executive Juan Lopez Estevez, and Treasure Island and Madeira Beach Chamber of Commerce CEO Barry Rubin.