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Lantana Democrat Lori Berman

Lori Berman’s special election victory certified

Lantana Democrat Lori Berman’s special election victory for a Palm Beach County Senate district, which moved her up from the Florida House, was quickly certified Tuesday.

The Elections Canvassing Commission — comprised of Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis — certified the April 10 election results in which Berman defeated Lake Worth Republican Tami Donnally. Secretary of State Ken Detzner oversaw the brief telephonic meeting in which all three members of the commission participated.

Berman captured 75 percent of the vote for the Democratic-leaning Senate District 31 seat that was vacated in October by Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat who stepped down after admitting to an extramarital affair with a lobbyist.

Berman’s Senate term will expire after the 2020 Legislative Session.

Less than 10 percent of the 312,967 registered voters in the district participated in the special general election, according to the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections website.

Berman’s District 90 Palm Beach County House seat will be filled in the November general election.

Berman’s election to the 40-member Senate leaves the upper chamber with one empty chair. The lone vacancy, District 16 in Pinellas and Pasco counties, will be filled in November. Former Sen. Jack Latvala, a Republican from Clearwater, resigned from the seat in December, following a sexual-harassment investigation.

Electoral map scrambles race for Senate presidency

For the first time this decade, a race to one day lead the Florida Senate is not confined to an intra-party scrum among Republican lawmakers.

And while Naples Republican Kathleen Passidomo is now the slight front-runner to hold the gavel beginning in 2022, she and her GOP colleagues must first navigate two election cycles in which control of the Senate could be at stake.

Passidomo is emerging as the leading candidate to succeed Senate President-designate Bill Galvano and Majority Leader Wilton Simpson after Tampa Republican Dana Young declared that she would not pursue the Senate presidency. That left Passidomo and St. Augustine Republican Travis Hutson as the two contenders for the position.

Based on not-for-attribution conversations with at least four members of the 2016 class of the Florida Senate, other Senators, and key staff and lobbyists close to Passidomo, Hutson, Galvano, and Simpson, it appears that Passidomo holds a one-  or two-vote lead over Hutson within the nine-member class of Republicans.

In addition to Passidomo, Hutson, and Young, the other Republican members of the 2016 class are Dennis Baxley, Doug Broxson, George Gainer, Debbie Mayfield, Keith Perry and Greg Steube.

Steube is exiting the Senate to run for Congress, so he’s not part of the math here.

Almost all of those tracking the race peg the vote at 5 to 3 for Passidomo with Baxley, Broxson, Gainer and Young behind her. Hutson can count on the support of Perry and Mayfield.

The consensus that Passidomo is leading the race gelled last week when Senate leaders and elite-level lobbyists raised money for the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee at a series of events in Nashville. According to an itinerary obtained by Florida Politics, lawmakers were treated to a private concert by Phil Vassar at the Loveless Barn and a songwriters luncheon at the famous Bluebird Cafe.

With the twang of country music in the background, a handful of Senators and other Adams Street players talked openly about two factors driving the race in Passidomo’s direction.

The first is Young bowing out of the race and squarely backing Passidomo. Sources close to both Passidomo and Young say that the Tampa Republican has, indeed, signed a pledge card for Passidomo.

The second factor has a tinge of post hoc ergo propter hoc, specifically that since Hutson was not able to win his own class, he could not win the race at large.

“If you can’t even win your own class, your butt has no business being up there [in the president’s rostrum],” said one member aligned with Passidomo, who asked to speak without attribution so as to provide clearer insight into the workings of the Senate.

Hutson has told a handful of Republican lobbyists and donors that he expects the contest between him and Passidomo to be a “long slog” and may involve the votes of members from the incoming class of Senators.

However, Hutson’s position runs counter to what President-designate Galvano and Leader Simpson have reportedly told other members. Fearing a repeat of the kind of race between President Joe Negron and Jack Latvala, which divided the chamber for years, the incoming leaders want the matter settled before the November elections.

This said, Galvano and Simpson are both said to want to be careful about not interfering in the Passidomo vs. Hutson contest. They, like other Senators, prefer not to openly discuss leadership races other than to note that the Senate conducts its business differently than the Florida House, which has endured back-to-back internal conflicts about who will lead the chamber after Jose Oliva.

Yet what is really concerning Galvano, Simpson, and other GOP members is not which Republican will follow them, but whether it will even be a Republican.

With Lantana Democrat Lori Berman‘s unsurprising win Tuesday night in a special election for a seat in the Florida Senate, the chamber is now divided 23 to 16 between Republicans and Democrats.

As previously reported on Florida Politics, state Democrats are systematically laying out a plan to recapture the upper chamber. They hope to win at least four of seven battleground seats on the ballot in 2018.

To that end, Rep. Janet Cruz has entered the race for SD 18, where she will try to pick off Young and trial lawyer Carrie Pilon has filed to challenge incumbent Jeff Brandes in SD 24. The party likes its chances with the campaigns of Kayser Enneking and Bob Doyel, two first-time candidates challenging Republican incumbents Keith Perry and Kelli Stargel, respectively.

It is also recruiting former state Rep. Amanda Murphy to run for the open seat in Senate District 16, once held by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala and Alex Penelas, the former mayor of Miami-Dade County, to run for SD 36, where Republican Rene Garcia is term-limited.

On Wednesday, Democrats were relieved to learn that Jose Javier Rodriguez will remain in SD 37, giving the party a better shot of funding those campaigns.

Even if Democrats fall short of winning control of the Florida Senate, the results in these competitive seats could impact Passidomo vs. Hutson (assuming Passidomo doesn’t have the race locked-up by November. If Perry loses his re-election bid, Passidomo would have a hammer-lock on the contest, but her chances could be hurt if Young were to lose.

All the more reason for Passidomo to conclude her business by the summer.

Scott Maddox campaign contributors OK with covering legal bills

Are Scott Maddox’s financial supporters mad that he spent $125,000 in political donations on legal fees arising from the federal investigation into Tallahassee’s City Hall?

Not especially, judging from conversations with some of those supporters.

“I don’t blame him for using it for that. It doesn’t bother me,” said Kevin Collins, a Tallahassee real estate agent who contributed $500.

Added Karen Koelemij, president of Orange State Construction Inc., “Whenever you give money to a politician, you don’t know how they’re going to spend it.”

She gave Maddox, a Democrat, $500 because she liked his record as mayor of Tallahassee. Her brother, Kevin Koelemij, also was an aide to Maddox when he was the city’s ‘leadership’ mayor.

“No objection at all,” attorney Reginald Garcia, another $500 donor, said. “I understand Commissioner Maddox got a legal opinion stating it was a permissible campaign-related expense. His lawyer. Mr. Stephen Dobson, is a former FDLE agent and assistant U.S. attorney, so Scott is in good hands.”

Florida Politics reached out to people who contributed money to the city commissioner’s 2016 campaign for Leon County school superintendent. Maddox dropped out of that race and rolled the contributions into a state Senate campaign planned for 2020. The seat he was aiming for is now held by Democrat Bill Montford, whose term is up then.

With an FBI corruption investigation pending, Maddox nearly zeroed out that campaign chest with his March 23 payment to the Baker Donelson law firm. He said he got a legal opinion that the expenditure was legally proper, and considered it necessary to keep his Senate hopes alive.

Maddox’s contributors include people well familiar with the political process, both at the Capitol and at City Hall, as well as retired public employees and homemakers.

Collins described Maddox as an old friend. They grew up in Tallahassee and attended high school together. “He’s somebody I’ve known for a long time. I just chose to support him,” he said.

Collins has given to a range of candidates over the years, and said he understands these gifts as expressing broad support for their careers. “It depends on the candidate,” he said. “It could be a personal relationship. It could be somebody I’ve known for a long time. I’m going to support their political positions.”

Koelemij takes the same approach. She doesn’t consider herself “heavy-duty into politics,” and doesn’t want a refund.

“You put them on the honor system, but when you give them the money, you give them the money,” she said.

Honor roll: State legislators receive high marks from Florida Chamber

The grades are in, and from the perspective of those pushing for a more fertile business climate in the Sunshine State, the Legislature is getting better — but there’s still work to be done.

Each year the Florida Chamber grades state legislators after tabulating votes on measures backed by the pro-business group. The 2018 Legislative Report Card, released Thursday, showed significant improvement from the 2017 Session.

Forty-seven percent of legislators earned an A — that’s up from a mere 9 percent in 2017. The average GPA for both chambers came in at 78 percent, up from last year’s 73 percent.

The House performed better than the Senate; 64 representatives earned an A and the chamber’s GPA came to 79 percent, compared to eight A-earning senators and an average GPA of 74 percent for the upper chamber. House Speaker Richard Corcoran earned an A. Senate President Joe Negron earned a C.

A news release from the Chamber attributed the higher overall scores to “cutting red tape, chipping away at Florida-only taxes, funding for economic development, tourism marketing and infrastructure investments, and targeted education reforms.”

Unresolved matters, the Chamber contends, include reforming assignment of benefits and lawsuit abuses, stabilizing workers’ compensation and increasing investments in Florida’s workforce colleges.

“While there is always room for improvement and more work to be done, this legislative session’s grades showed many legislators took steps in the right direction on several policy fronts and voted to prevent harmful ideas from becoming law. We look forward to a session when every legislator earns an ‘A’ and Florida’s competitiveness outranks every other state,” said David Hart, executive vice president of the Chamber. 

The grades shouldn’t come as a surprise to lawmakers. The Chamber released its legislative priorities ahead of the 2018 Session and hand-delivered its agenda to every legislator. The group alerted lawmakers prior to each time it intended to factor a vote into its report card. In total, the Chamber scored 2,900 votes.

Along with the report card, the chamber announced its Distinguished Advocate award winners. The recognition is reserved for a handful of legislators who fought tirelessly for the passage of pro-business legislation – no matter how difficult – and furthered the Florida Chamber’s goals of securing Florida’s future through job creation and economic development,” according to the Chamber. 

Fifteen lawmakers received the distinction this year. Most were recognized for their pro-business efforts. St. Petersburg Rep. Ben Diamond, the lone Democrat on the list, was honored for championing a lawsuit-limiting amendment. Incoming chamber leaders, Republicans Rep. Jose Oliva and Sen. Bill Galvanowere recognized for their roles in championing school safety measures in the wake of the Parkland tragedy.

“We’re pleased to recognize members of the Florida Legislature with Distinguished Advocate awards who had the courage to put free enterprise principles for job creation above special interest,” said Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson.

Other honorees include:

– Rep. Manny Diaz

– Rep. Joe Gruters

– Rep. Clay Ingram

– Rep. Mike La Rosa

– Rep. Scott Plakon

– Rep. Holly Raschein

– Rep. Paul Renner

– Rep. Jay Trumbull

– Sen. Dennis Baxley

– Sen. David Simmons

– Sen. Wilton Simpson

– Sen. Kelli Stargel

Geraldine Thompson is back, filing to run in HD 44

Former state Sen. Geraldine Thompson filed for a chance to return to the Florida Legislature, entering the race for Florida’s House District 44 in southwest Orange County.

Thompson, of Orlando, served four years in the Florida Senate, representing Senate District 12, and six in the Florida House, representing House District 39 before redistricting. She left the Legislature to run for Congress in 2016, losing the Democratic primary to now-U. S. Rep. Val Demings.

“This [HD 44] was a district that previously had been so gerrymandered that a Democrat could not compete. After redistricting, people now will have a choice,” Thompson said.

She hopes to take on incumbent state Rep. Bobby Olszewski of Winter Garden, who won a special election to fill the seat last October.

Already in the race are Olszewski’s Democratic opponent in the 2017 election, Eddy Dominguez of Orlando, Democrat Matthew Matin, of Winter Garden, and Republican Usha Jain of Windermere, who finished a distant fourth in a four-way Republican primary last year.

Thompson said she ran for Congress wanting to expand her ability to serve her constituency, but now believes the best platform for her to do so is the Florida Legislature. Her old Florida Senate District 12 seat is now held by Democratic state Sen. Randolph Bracy of Oakland. Due to the redistricting, Thompson had to run for re-election in 2014 after just two years, and won the re-election in SD 12 in a landslide.

HD 44 includes some of west Orlando, parts of Ocoee and Winter Garden, Windermere, and southwest Orange County.

“I think I have solid name recognition in the district. I’ve served the district. I’ve worked with the mayors in the cities of the district, so I think that gives me an advantage,” Thompson said Monday. “With regard to House District 44, I think this is a race where there is an opportunity break down years of history of exclusion. I’m interested in being a part of that.

“Because of gerrymandering … for years the Democrats didn’t really field a candidate.”

Dennis Baxley and Linda Stewart turn debate to defining assault weapons, defense rifles

The breadth of the chasm between Second Amendment advocates and gun law reformers became apparent Tuesday when the Florida Senate’s leading pro-gun champion squared off against the same chamber’s top advocate for firearms reform at the Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida.

Republican state Sen. Dennis Baxley defined a fear among firearm owners that gun control advocates want to take away their weapons, deny them freedom, and strip away their abilities to defend their homes and families against even the most extreme of threats.

The guns of question should be considered defense rifles, Baxley, author of the state’s Stand Your Ground Law, stressed repeatedly.

He argued that the gun debate now is that of an urban mindset versus a rural one. Those who believe guns are key to freedom, he said, are quiet now but will storm the polls in November.

“This [attempt to ban sales of certain kinds of guns] is only the beginning of taking your personal freedom,” Baxley said.

Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart defined a belief that the high-powered, rapid-fire rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines used in the mass shootings at Parkland, Pulse, Las Vegas and so many other places are the reasons for mass fatalities in such incidents, and their sales should be banned to stop their proliferation.

The guns in question should be known as military-style assault weapons, Stewart, author of the assault weapons sales ban bills the past two years, insisted, adding that even the National Rifle Association defines them as assault weapons.

And she said the wave of protests led by young people wanting action is not going to stop, and she predicted it will send a message in the November elections.

“What I am proposing does not take any of your guns away. It allows you to protect your family,” Stewart said.

The question from Baxley: To what extent?

Baxley openly hypothesized dystopian scenarios in which society either breaks down into violent lawlessness, and he offered New Orleans in the days after Hurricane Katrina as an example; or the American government becomes totalitarian and comes after people, and he offered Cuba as an example. This, he said, is what the Second Amendment protects against, and why it must be defended.

“The last thing we want to be is underpowered for whatever is coming at you,” Baxley said. “And we have that potential for society. We’ve seen it happen all around the world. If society unravels, what are you going to do to be safe in that environment?”

“If we lose this ability, it’s all gone,” he said.

But Stewart argued that the preponderance of mass shootings has risen since the ban on assault weapons was lifted 10 years ago.

“If you look at what the causes of these massacres are, it’ s not just mental health… The root cause of all of these is the assault weapons,” Stewart said.

Bill Montford still on the fence on TLH mayoral run

State Sen. Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat, had said he would announce a decision on running for mayor of Tallahassee this past weekend, but a spokesman said the longtime elected official has not yet made up his mind.

Montford did not respond to calls and messages left Sunday.

Montford, 70, was a popular school principal, Leon County commissioner and schools superintendent before running for and winning his current position in 2010. His current Senate term is up in 2020.

Montford has faced growing local pressure to run for mayor. Since late January, he has said he would wait until after the end of the legislative session to decide. The session ended March 11.

If he leaves the chamber early, Democratic Rep. Loranne Ausley of Tallahassee and GOP Rep. Halsey Beshears of Monticello are said to be interested in the seat.

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

If Joe Negron plans to resign, he should…

Joe Negron is making the rounds.

The outgoing Senate President is doing post-Session interviews and sit-downs with the News Service of Floridathe Palm Beach Post, his hometown TC PalmWPTV, and pretty much anyone else with a pen and notepad at the ready.

For the most part, Negron is focusing on policy, including offering his personal reaction to the “unfathomable” tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

However, as much as the button-down’ed Stuart Republican would like to stick to policy, the political is what has made the headlines.

Negron is, yes, mulling an early exit from the Legislature.

He’ll formally relinquish his leadership role to Sen. Bill Galvano after the November elections. After that, Negron says, he might just resign and not serve out the remainder of his four-year term.

While many lawmakers are term-limited after eight years, Negron can stay in the Senate until 2020 because certain quirks, including redistricting, give him more time.

“That’s an extra two years added on through the vagaries of litigation and reapportionment, so we have term limits for a reason,” Negron said. “That extra two years is an option. I literally just got home. I still haven’t unpacked everything.”

Negron’s probably right about wanting to give up the final two years of his term. Ex-Senate Presidents have the same shelf-life as fish and out-of-town visitors. Just look at how curmudgeon-y Don Gaetz and Tom Lee have been in the Senate after having wielded the gavel.

After all, what’s Negron gonna do? Chair an appropriations subcommittee?

Better to go out on top, Mr. President.

And if Negron is going to resign, it would be much better for all involved if he were to make a decision about his future plans BEFORE statewide qualifying in June.

He should announce his resignation plans in enough time for Gov. Rick Scott to call for a special election to coincide with the upcoming primary and general elections.

This way, not only is there no additional cost to taxpayers, but Negron’s Senate district won’t run the risk of going without representation during the run-up to the 2019 Session.

Negron is a considerate man who seems to pride himself on evaluating all options before deciding on a course of action.

He should be afforded enough time to make the right decision about his future political plans. But if he’s leaning toward an early exit, he should also do what’s best for his district and the state and announce those plans in a timely fashion.


Background from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

The ‘policy wonk’ in winter: Joe Negron looks back on lawmaking

Senate President Joe Negron isn’t known for his wisecracks or snappy comebacks. The Stuart Republican, whose time leading the Senate will end after the November elections, instead has a reputation as a sometimes verbose — by his own admission — policy wonk with a methodical and deliberate approach to problem-solving as well as politics.

Negron, who was elected to the Florida House in 2000 before joining the upper chamber in 2009, hasn’t decided whether to stay for the last two years of his final term in the Senate. Negron, 56, will hand over the gavel to his roommate, Bradenton Republican Bill Galvano, in November.

In a wide-ranging interview last week, a relaxed version of the typically buttoned-down Negron spoke about his personal reaction to the “unfathomable” tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, growing up with seven brothers in what sounds like an austere household, and the significance of using fewer words and saying them slowly.

The News Service has five questions for Negron:

Q: You’ve been in politics a long time. What knowledge did you gain that you didn’t have when you started your term as president two sessions ago?

JN: The first is how valuable of a commodity legislators are who are prepared, who do the basic blocking and tackling of presenting their bills, who can be counted on to make persuasive arguments. … Before, I aspired to be one of those people. Now, though, in this position where I’m not doing that, I’m not in committees, the value of that, in my estimation, is very high, even higher than it was before. The value of someone you can rely on. Secondly, it’s the end of the day (during the interview). It’s like the Seinfeld episode. He says one thing funny, and then he tries to do something at the end, so maybe I’m doing that. So I’ll give you an honest one, which is the power of narrative in this town. And narrative is established in the first nine minutes of a circumstance or occurrence and, once established, nearly impossible to rebut. So those would be two things.

(Can you elaborate on that? What narratives do you think ran away from you?)

There was first the narrative that the House was ultraconservative and the Senate was not, was moderate. I think we showed there are a lot of issues where, on the Senate side, we took a more conservative position. Whether it was on stand your ground, whether it was on freedom of expression in public schools, I think some of our consumer positions are the more classically (conservative). So that was a narrative. Then the narrative that the House was getting everything and the Senate’s not doing well. That narrative. Those are sort of meta-narratives to contest. There are little narratives and issues that I would look at and say, “I didn’t even know we were fighting about that.” It could be just a policy area or it could be an industry fight. There is a constant battle to create and sustain narratives from large issues to small issues, from funding issues to … Everything that affects a legislative session, whether it’s a policy item, whether it’s a budget item, there is a constant, unremitting battle for narratives. The person or group who wins the battle to frame an issue on favorable terms, their success rate in achieving their goal goes substantially up. I knew that people try to tell a story. But the narrative that’s out there has a wide-ranging effect on the state of mind of legislators, their view of the world. People read something and even if they were part of it actually occurring, the narrative that’s out there will affect their interpretation of events they were actually a part of and saw. If I was going to give advice to a successor, I would say you should have a chief narrative officer in the president’s office.

Q: What advice have you given to Sen. Galvano?

JN: He doesn’t need my advice. I need advice from him. I wasn’t joking when I said we have a lot in common. His leadership race took 3 ½ weeks. Mine took 3 ½ years. He doesn’t need advice from me. We talk about ideas. He’s been alongside for most of this journey. I’ve probably learned more from him than he’s learned from me. One thing I’ve learned from him that’s practical, is to talk more slowly, and fewer words. Sen. Galvano’s very measured in his words. I tend to, when I get a question about something I feel strongly about, I tend to (say), I have three points, here’s point one, here’s point two. I’m still ridiculed in a playful way. … Playful’s not the right word. Friendly. In a friendly way by my colleagues for — remember I rolled out an amendment in Appropriations … an amendment that I lost — for the four privileges. There’s the husband-wife privilege. There’s the doctor-patient. I went through like all the different privileges and I was trying to get to a point and I was just like losing everybody. See, Galvano doesn’t do that. Galvano has another move, too, where he kind of answers the question and then just sort of stops, like, how’s this question still going on? Whereas I tend to go bop, bop, bop. So I’ve learned that from him. And we both have good preparation skills. That’s one reason why we get along so well. We both get books out and we spread them out on the kitchen table and work through things, and he’s known for his attention to detail, as I think I am. But I’ve learned that from him. Fewer words and delivered more slowly.

(Have you done that?)

I have. I don’t mind you asking. In meetings, especially. People that are talking aren’t necessarily interested in your opinion. They more want to tell you what they want you to hear, what they want to communicate to you. So in meetings, of course I’ll respond to questions if asked and I’m polite and respectful, but I think I’ve learned to listen more and to talk less. There’s a verse in Proverbs that is good for all this. This is the King James, because that’s how we were brought up. It says, “In the multitude of words, there wanteth not sin.” Which is an Elizabethan way of saying, if you keep talking, eventually you’ll say something that’s regretful. It’s true. So I’m going to start talking a little less in this interview.

Q: How did the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and meeting with the students and the parents, affect you on a personal level?

JN: It’s devastating. One reason I don’t talk a lot about it is because I get too emotional just talking about it. Sen. (Lauren) Book I thought was incredibly moving and powerful and persuasive on the Senate floor. The one young man she talked about, Kyle, I was with her when we saw Kyle. That was not an exaggeration. A third of his foot was blown off. The only reason he wasn’t killed was — and he volunteered to tell us this story, some people didn’t want to talk but he did — so he told us that he saw the killer and his instinct was to jump and get out of the way, so literally, he starts diving in mid-air and going through the air horizontally, and by the time the gun was fired, it hit his foot. So about a third of his foot, from the shot, was missing, and they’re trying to put his foot back together, having to get tendons and ligaments from his upper leg to basically rebuild his foot. Then we saw another young man in the hospital who also had injuries from being shot and was recovering. And then, and I don’t even know if I can talk about it, but the Peter Wang funeral that we went to, was … She mentioned it, and her words can speak for, but that — the family and the close Chinese community in that area and just hundreds and hundreds of people who came to walk by to pay their respects and the immense sense of loss the parents felt. I asked the mom, through an interpreter, because, to me, it was a morally correct position when someone is shooting that you would try to escape. There’s nothing immoral about that. Nothing unethical about that. Somebody’s shooting, everybody has a right to leave. And instead of leaving, he’s holding the door and letting multiple people go ahead of him, which resulted in him being killed. Then she told about how he was brought up to care for others. They have a large extended family of cousins. He looks after the younger ones and will even check in on the older ones. Then West Point came down and class of, I believe 2024, and in my head I’m thinking, just the enormity of the whole situation. Then, of course, seeing the school and seeing, there was a stool in one of the classrooms, because we could look through the windows of the classrooms. And there was a stool and there’s blood behind there. And you realize somebody was sitting there. And then there were carnations all over the school and all over the desks, and on one of them, you know how we all have the little Apple earbud things, just sitting there, someone’s Apple thing just sitting on their desk. Stuff strewn all over the campus. People running for their lives. You can see where the coach, Coach Feis that we included in the bill, where he was killed and what happened. I can’t really explain it. It’s overwhelming. There are certain places in our society that are sacred places, sacred spaces. To me, I include courthouses in there. Courthouses are where important things happen and people’s lives are changed. I’ve always considered that a sacred place. And then schools. I have three children. We’ve all waited in line at the pick-up line, and when you see an invasion of that and a temporary destruction of that — and ultimately, the school will prevail and the parents and the community will prevail — but to see the loss that was visited upon people that are just sitting in a classroom, it’s still unfathomable to me. All we can do is, we talked to the parents and we talked to law enforcement, and do our best to address it in a responsible way to try to reduce the risk of it happening again, but on a personal level it’s … It’s bad. Everyone feels safe at school. There’s a whole feeling you get at school — the backpacks, and the routine, and the lunches — and we’ve all spent a lot of time on campuses, volunteering for things, and just to see that turned into a horrible scene, it’s, it’s just devastating.

Q: What are you reading?

JN: My colleagues got me, “Letters from Prison,” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and I read that poem at my designation, the “Who am I?” poem which he wrote when he was in prison. … In my portrait, there’s a book called “The Cost of Discipleship,” that he wrote. My dad gave that to me when I was 12 or 13 years old. That’s one reason I’m the earnest person that I am. There was not a lot of frivolity in our family growing up. I hear about kids that are running around, there’s balloons. No. We’re reading. We’re going to church. We’re serious-minded people, and you guys need to work really, really hard if you want to move up. That was the whole theme of our house growing up. I’m not joking at all. My mother said, “You’re born to work. If you have any fun along the way, that’s great, but essentially you’re here to work.” No, I’m not making this up. It’s come full circle. That’s true.

(Negron’s spokeswoman, Katie Betta, says the other book in the portrait is “Little Women,” by Louisa May Alcott.)

Yeah, Little Women. My mom read that to us when we were kids. She read us “Little Men” and “Little Women.” For some reason I remember “Little Women” better so I picked that one. But yeah, we were readers. It was a serious operation, the nine of us, seven boys and two parents. On Saturdays, my mom would write a list. And you had to get all your jobs done on the list and when that was done, then we would do something, go to the park or play Monopoly, or get ready for church on Sunday. But we had a list of things and those things all had to get done. But, you know, list-making works good for appropriations. How do you think I got this job?

Q: What do you listen to on the 5 ½-hour drive home?

JN: I’m not listening to Hits 1 on my Sirius so much anymore. I listen to the comedy channel. There are so many comedy channels. I’m a huge fan. Oh, I went and saw Jim Gaffigan in Jacksonville. Do you guys know Jim Gaffigan? Hot pockets. He’s a comedian. So I listen to comedy, news and then the ‘70s channel. You can’t go wrong with rolling out a Supertramp song every now and then. “Take the Long Way Home.” It’s a classic.

Tampa Bay Times editorial board disgustingly misframes the Jack Latvala scandal

Up until the moment a special master’s report found credible evidence of Jack Latvala‘s sexual misconduct, I was a defender of the Republican state Senator’s right to due process and, to some extent, an opportunity to confront his accusers.

But after former Judge Ronald Swanson issued a report that Latvala inappropriately touched a top Senate aide and may have broken the law by offering a witness in the case his support for legislation in exchange for sex acts, there was no way anyone could still stand by Latvala’s side, especially since he kept many of those close to him in the dark about the full extent of his legal vulnerabilities.

Yet, apparently, there are still a few people not related to Latvala taking up his cause, namely the editorial board of the Tampa Bay Times.

In an editorial lamenting the hits, errors and misses of the 2018 Legislative Session, Tim Nickens and Co. rightly criticize lawmakers for failing to deliver on reforming sexual harassment laws and policies.

Yet, inexplicably, if not mind-bogglingly, the editorial board writes that “the rhetoric from many lawmakers about changing a toxic work environment in the state Capitol appears to have been cover for ousting a moderate Republican who made too many enemies.”

I don’t write this lightly, but are you f*cking kidding me?

Is the Times really suggesting that Richard Corcoran, Lizbeth Benacquisto, Rob Bradley, Matt Caldwell and others spoke out loudly about “the toxic work environment in the state Capitol” as a ploy to sideline Latvala?

Wasn’t it rather that they, like Latvala’s attorney Steve Andrews, almost threw up when they learned about the extent of Latvala’ serial abuse?

A former lobbyist whose name was redacted in the released copy of Swanson’s report said Latvala would touch her inappropriately, including touching the outside of her bra and panties, every time they were alone in his office.

She said he “intimated to her on multiple occasions, that if she engaged in sexual acts or allowed him to touch her body in a sexual manner he would support legislative items for which she was lobbying,” Swanson wrote. That included explicit text messages sent to the woman.

But if you go by the Tampa Bay Times editorial board, Latvala’s problem was not forcing a lobbyist to engage in a quid pro quo for sexual favors, it’s that he was a “moderate” who “made too many enemies.”

Alexandra Glorioso, one of the POLITICO Florida journalists who first reported about Latvala’s pattern of sexual harassment, took to Twitter Sunday to comment about the Times editorial board’s position. (I took to Twitter Friday night to criticize the editorial as soon as I read it).

Among the smart points Glorioso makes:

— It’s inexplicable that the Times editorial board can criticize the Legislature for failing to take sexual harassment seriously, yet criticize some lawmakers for investigating “its hometown Senator.”

— The Times editorial board “continues to refer to Jack Latvala as a ‘moderate Republican who made too many enemies’ and not a former Senator who resigned in disgrace after two independent investigators concluded he likely sexually assaulted and harassed women.”

This is an interesting point because on the same weekend this editorial ran, the Times published a story about former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, whom it describes as “disgraced” even though his sins were, arguably, not as consequential as Latvala’s.

If you read between the lines of this editorial and the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald’s coverage of L’Affaire Latvala writ large, it’s that – darn it – Florida would have been a lot better off if Latvala had been around to stick up to Corcoran’s House, etc., on the hometown issues the Times feels passionately about (consolidation of the USF system, for example).

Think of it as some sort of victim shaming in which the few lawmakers who spoke out (early) against Latvala are now being editorialized against for having done so.

And one final note: As Glorioso notes, editorials of the Tampa Bay Times are unsigned and “represent the institutional opinion of the newspaper.”

Accordingly, this editorial brings shame to the entire institution.


Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

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