Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.
Education: Bachelor’s degree, journalism, Michigan State University.
Work: Sales, Energy Systems Group, Indiana-based energy conservation company for large organizations.
When and where did you first arrive in Florida? Moved to Naples from West Virginia in 1997 to work for Naples Daily News as features writer/entertainment columnist.
First job and what you learned from it: I worked at a grocery store sorting bottles and cans for recycling. I left because of poor working conditions, which I find kind of funny these days. I learned that there’s always something better over the horizon. I ended up getting a much better job two days later at a department store.
First political job and what you learned from it: I worked as an aide to former state Rep. Mary Brandenburg from 2002-04. I learned that there’s a lot more to public service than the big issues that we talk about in Tallahassee. Some of the best things that we do in government are the day-to-day supposedly mundane things that we do to help people. It can be anything from helping someone get their food stamps, helping folks with permitting issues. As much as I wish it weren’t like this, sometimes a phone call from a state senator’s office can help accomplish something that an average citizen should be able to but maybe can’t.
Best political advice you ever received? When I was elected (Lake Worth) mayor, I was told by more than one person to pick four or five things you want to concentrate on and get those accomplished. I think that’s important because sometimes we try to be too many things to too many people and end up getting nothing done.
What are your priorities in the Senate? I want to protect the working class, encourage energy diversity, help bring money home to Palm Beach County because we’re a donor county, and work on public infrastructure. I think it’s not only good for the people who benefit from it but it creates jobs.
What do you tell young people about government? Generally I tell them that it’s a fantastic opportunity to change your community for the better. And I really believe that. I talk to school groups all the time and get some fantastic questions. One time a second-grader asked me if we have to wear those white wigs every time we go to work. It was a fantastic question. I said no, my hair’s naturally that color.
What do you see ahead for Florida? In a way it reminds me of Lake Worth. We have so much opportunity but we spend our time often doing things that don’t help. A great example is the emphasis over the past two years on taking the burden off big business and placing it on average people. This crack cocaine-like addiction to tax cuts that we have does very little to create jobs. We need to stop talking about solutions that sound good but don’t really do anything and start talking about things that actually accomplish our goals. Our entire tax structure is based on the housing market and tourism. That’s a recipe for the kind of economic depression that we suffered through the past five or six years. We need to diversify our revenue system. Not raise taxes, but diversify. It’s become poisonous to discuss. And that may make for great campaigning. It makes for terrible public policy because we’re not meeting the needs for people.
You file these marijuana bills knowing they’re not going to get passed by this legislature. Why? I’ve never smoked marijuana in my life even though a lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them that. I don’t drink either even though I spend a lot of time in bars playing music. When people roll into your office in a wheelchair and tell you that this is the kind of help they need to get through their day, it’s hard to look them in the eye and tell them you don’t want to help them. There are people who’ve been given six months to live that say this helps them deal with that. Who are we to tell them that we’re not going to help them?
You’ve been accused by fellow Democrats of ignoring the decorum in the Senate. Do you need to tone it down? I’ll be the first to admit that I have a lot to learn, always. But I’m also going to call it as I see it. For the last two years, the leadership of our Legislature has done everything it can to step on the small guy. So the new leadership may very well be different. But those aren’t the kinds of things you can forget overnight. I’m fully supportive of being kind to your neighbor. But I’m not going to smile while they stick a knife in my back either.
Do you own a gun? No.
Favorite smart-phone app: Facebook.
What kind of car do you drive? A Honda Element. I can fit my entire cadre of musical instruments into it.
You’re in a band? I’m in two bands. I play guitar and sing in Datura Street Band, a local cover band that plays all over Palm Beach County. We play everything from the Rolling Stones to Weezer. And I play in a band called UV which is a U2 tribute band that travels all over the Eastern Seaboard. We played in the Caymans last weekend. It’s a really impressive band. The singer flies in from New York. He sounds and looks just like Bono. I toured with a band called Supermodel. In the end, we just didn’t sell enough albums. Record companies tend to not like that. We played a gig in Fort Myers before about 20,000 people.
Do you text while you drive? I have, yes.