January 13, 2016

Capitol Buzz: Five things to watch today in Tallahassee

Via @stevebousquet

Day 2 of the Florida legislative session is here. Here are five things to watch:

* Focusing on education, a Senate budget subcommittee considers a bill to let students count computer coding as a foreign language, and will discuss whether to use alternative exams in lieu of the Florida Standards Assessments, as well as how much local property tax money should be spent to increase spending for schools.

* Another Senate budget subcommittee will allow groups from across the state to make pitches for taxpayer dollars. The panel's chairman, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, held a similar hearing last year.

* A House panel takes up a bill (HB 505) to allow Florida voters to use their concealed weapons license as a form of identification at the polls for future elections.

* The Florida Chamber of Commerce kicks off its annual two-day Capitol Days with speeches and panel discussions focusing on major issues facing the Legislature.

* Senate President Andy Gardiner. R-Orlando, will speak at the annual dinner of Florida TaxWatch at the Hotel Duval.

December 11, 2015

Will Jack Latvala run for Congress? Against Charlie Crist?

By William March, Tampa Bay Times

State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, dropped a tantalizing hint Friday that he may have political plans beyond the state Senate.

Asked in a public meeting about his loss of a campaign for the Senate presidency, and what he hopes to accomplish despite that loss, Latvala said, “I think that I’m going to sort of paraphrase what Mark Twain said -- rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated. I don’t think that we’ve written the last chapter of what I’m going to try to do in the public service arena. So stay tuned.”

After the Tampa Tiger Bay meeting at which he made the comments, Latvala refused to elaborate or directly answer questions about what office he might run for in the future, including the District 13 Congressional race to replace Rep. David Jolly.

Through his long career in Florida politics, Latvala hasn’t previously expressed much interest in leaving Florida to go to Washington.

But his loss of the Senate presidency frustrates a goal he’s had for years, and he has no love for the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for the D-13 seat, Charlie Crist.

After a battle lasting several years, Latvala agreed recently to cede the Senate presidency from 2016-18 to Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, in return for a promise that he’ll chair the powerful appropriations committee.

Re-elected to the Senate in 2014, he is currently in what would be his final term unless redistricting affects his term limit.

He told the Tiger Bay audience he’s not bitter. He said the fact that there’s been no senate president from Pinellas County for 90 years was “one of the driving factors of me trying to get that job.

He added, “I am satisfied with the outcome that was worked out. I think I’ll be able to make a significant contribution to our area in the role that I’ll be assigned and I am satisfied with the kind of president that Sen Negron will be.

November 09, 2015

Joe Negron's Florida Senate presidency designation set for December



With the battle for the next Senate presidency settled last week between Sens. Joe Negron and Jack Latvala, Senate Republican leaders announced today the date for Negron's designation ceremony.

It will be held 2 p.m. Dec. 2, during the middle of the final committee week scheduled in advance of the 2016 legislative session.

The planned vote by the Republican caucus is to designate Negron, R-Stuart, as the next Senate president for a two-year term starting in November 2016.

Praising Negron's legislative experience and leadership, current Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said he is “pleased to see the caucus unite around Senator Negron.”

Up until Thursday, Negron had been engaged in a three-year battle for the chamber's top post with Latvala, a Clearwater Republican. In exchange for Latvala withdrawing from the race, Negron announced he would make Latvala the next chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Photo credit: tampabay.com

October 28, 2015

Conflicts erupt as Florida Senate passes map 22-18

via @MaryEllenKlas

The personal and political conflicts that have divided Florida Senate Republicans for months reached the boiling point on Wednesday as the Senate narrowly approved a redrawn redistricting map 22-18 and two powerful senators pointedly used the opportunity to finger each other for the chamber’s mistakes.

Democrats voted together in opposition to the map, which they said would be struck down by the court as unconstitutional violation of the anti-gerrymandering rules of the Florida Constitution. They were joined by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and three other Republicans.

Following the debate, however, angry emotions spilled into view as Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who was redistricting chairman when the invalidated 2012 maps were approved, rose for a rare “point of personal privilege," a rule that supercedes all others, and used it to criticize Latvala for blaming Gaetz for the Legislature having to redo the Senate map.

“Sen. Latvala says Don Gaetz is the cause for the special session. You decide. I am am sorry for my mistakes. Sen. Latvala should be sorry for his,’’ he said, reading from prepared remarks. “I take no satisfaction from this exchange. I did not seek it. But when a bully throws a sucker punch, you hit back and never give in.”

Over the last two months, Latvala has been harshly critical of Senate leadership because of the court’s rejection of the map drawn during the 2012 term, pointing out a Herald/Times report that the taxpayer cost of the redistricting litigation has risen to $11 million and suggesting the blame should be placed on Gaetz.

In arguing against the map on Wednesday, he did not mention Gaetz by name but said, “there’s a lot of doubt whether we here in this Senate have handled this issue in a way that we can be proud of.”

Continue reading "Conflicts erupt as Florida Senate passes map 22-18" »

September 15, 2015

Florida Republican lawmakers court donors during committee week


Lawmakers are multi-tasking their brief time in Tallahassee this week between official duties and fundraisers to bolster their re-election campaigns in 2016.

By day, lawmakers are attending committee meetings in advance of the 2016 legislative session, but by night, they're wining and dining with campaign supporters at fundraisers, where cocktails are openly served. 

The festivities are being hosted tonight through Thursday by the House Majority and are perfectly timed to the designation of Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, as House speaker. Corcoran is in charge re-electing Republicans and is focused on retaining a strong majority. (More here on that.)

Another round of fundraisers will be held for the feuding factions of the Senate, where Sens. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Joe Negron, R-Stuart, continue to compete for the 2016 Senate presidency.

The House Majority fundraisers include events for Republican Reps. Mike La Rosa of St. Cloud and Mike Miller of Winter Park tonight, for Carlos Trujillo of Miami on Wednesday and for Miller, Elizabeth Porter of Lake City, Larry Metz of Yalaha, Ben Albritton of Wauchula, Cyndi Stevenson of St. Johns, Rene Plasencia of Orlando, Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs, Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah, Jason Brodeur of Sanford and Frank Artiles of Miami on Thursday.

More events are planned in the coming weeks, including for Republican Rep. Kathleen Peters of South Pasadena on Sept. 28, and during the next committee week (Oct. 5-9) for Republican Reps. Greg Steube of Sarasota, Heather Fitzenhagen of Fort Myers, Holly Raschein of Key Largo and Brad Drake of Eucheeanna.

Senjacklatvala reception

In the Senate, Latvala is hosting a cocktail reception Wednesday at his Tallahassee home and he's inviting his guests to "please bring your contributions to the re-election campaigns" of Republican Sens. Denise Grimsley of Sebring, Alan Hays of Umatilla, and John Legg of Trinity.

Meanwhile, the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee is continuing its run of extravagant getaways to raise money "benefiting (the) Senate Majority 2016."

Senate Republican leaders are gathering in Chicago on Sunday for a "VIP Dinner Cruise," followed by a Cubs-vs.-Brewers game Monday evening at Wrigley Field. Download Chicago Cubs Invite

The list of hosts includes Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and Republican Sens. Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers, Aaron Bean of Fernandina Beach, Rob Bradley of Fleming Island, Anitere Flores of Miami, Tom Lee of Brandon, Latvala, Joe Negron of Stuart and Wilton Simpson of Trilby.

The trip to the Windy City comes just a couple weeks after Senate Republicans hosted a two-day fishing trip in the Florida Keys. They also hosted a golf fundraiser at California's Pebble Beach in July.

September 14, 2015

Fundraising surge raises financial stakes in Florida Senate presidency race


There is quite a financial arms race developing in the battle to become the next Florida Senate president.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, in May raised $623,550 for a political action committee he leads called Treasure Coast Alliance. He now has raised almost $1.1 million just since the start of 2015 for the committee which can be used to spread his influence around the state by helping his allies win elections.

In August announced he has enough support to become the Senate President starting for the 2017 Legislative Session.

But now State Sen. Jack Latvala is on a fundraising binge of his own and is refusing to concede that Negron has the 2017 presidency locked up. Just since August first, Latvala, R-Clearwater, has raised $442,431 for his political action committee, called Florida Leadership Committee. That surge – including $190,000 in the first five days of September – means Latvala now has raised $1.3 million for his committee.

In late August, Negron released the names of 14 Republican senators who pledged to vote for him, enough to ensure victory in a vote by the 26-member GOP caucus in December. Latvala however is pushing to delay a caucus vote because looming redistricting in October has the potential of shuffling the make-up of the Florida Senate in 2017. In other words, some supporters of Negron or Latvala could be drawn out of their districts in 2016.

September 01, 2015

Latvala's retort: he's with GOP, not all-white men's club; hints Negron was a Democrat

Jack Latvalavia @AdamSmithTimes

State Sen. Joe Negron may have declared victory in his campaign for Florida Senate president, but that message failed to reach more than 400 people turned out to a luncheon fundraiser in St. Petersburg for state Sen. Jack Latvala, who is still campaigning for the job. And with Negron supporters spreading the word that Latvala could even caucus with Democrats to win the post, the Pinellas Republican made noted that he has been working to elect Republicans for 46 years.

"I love my Republican party," he told the crowd at the Hilton Carillon Hilton. "I have never been anything but a Republican."

That was a clear reference to Negron, who used to be Martin County Democratic Chairman and once ran unsuccessfully for the Florida House as a Democrat. Latvala, who joined the College Republicans in 1969 and has been working in Republican politics ever since, noted that unlike many of his colleagues in the legislature, he remembers what it was like to be in the minority party.

"That's why I work so hard to keep from ever going back to a minority. That's why I fight the arrogance I see in many of the people in our party in Tallahassee --- with regard to being exclusive, rather than inclusive, with regard to looking after certain interests but forgetting the interests of the people at large and consumers and so forth," Latvala said. "That's why I'm a little different."

"I don't think we can push away Hispanics and blacks and gays and union members, and still have a majority made up mostly of white men," he continued. "That's what I stand for, and that's why a lot of people target me, because I'm a little different. Now that doesn't mean I ever forgot the fundamentals for why I became a Republican...The government should stay out of our lives and out of our businesses."

He said he candidacy is based on his conviction that senate leaders should not dictate how senators vote, and that his goal is to empower senators to be independent-minded and "the best they can be."

Among the host of Tampa Bay business and political elites in attendance were top Rick Scott donor Bill Edwards, former St. Petersburg Mayor and potential congressional candidate Rick Baker, lobbyist  David Rancourt, former state Sens. Ellyn Bogdanoff, Dennis Jones, and Jim Sebesta, as well as current state Sens. David Simmons, Nancy Detert, Denise Grimsley, Rene Garcia, Alan Hays, Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, and John Legg.

Latvala has refused to categorically rule out cooperating with Democrats to win the presidency. "There will be a Republican president of the senate in 2016 - 2018. I guarantee that," he said. "But we just need to have general respect for each other in this process."