Jack Latvala – Page 2 – Florida Politics

Tallahassee house used by Jack Latvala on sale for $1M

The Tallahassee residence used by former state Sen. Jack Latvala is on the market.

The four-bedroom, five-bathroom, 4,554-square-foot abode was recently listed for $1 million by Armor Realty of Tallahassee, according to Zillow. The owner of record is listed as his wife, Connie Prince, who bought it in 2004. She married Latvala in 2015.

Latvala

Latvala, a 66-year-old Clearwater Republican, resigned from the Senate in December after two damning reports on his alleged serial sexual harassment. He first served in the Senate 1994-2002, then returned in 2010.

Built in 1985, the house has “a dramatic foyer and beautiful hardwood floors, and “beautifully-crafted cabinetry” in the kitchen, which has “a DCS gas range, Sub-Zero refrigeration system, a wine cooler, granite countertops, a generous pantry (plus a 6′ x 8′ butler’s pantry), double ovens, and more.”

Outside, there’s a “beautiful pool, outdoor kitchen, outdoor fireplace, gazebo, and paver-lined pathways. The entire property is fenced and gated at the entry and exit ways of the driveway.”

The master bedroom “has a separate 15′ x 15′ sitting room complete with a private fireplace, a 6′ x 7′ dressing area, and a generous amount of closet space and storage.”

Latvala, who is technically still running for Governor, was term-limited in the Senate next year. His other home-away-from-home in Boothbay, Maine, does not appear to be on the market.

In wake of Parkland shooting, gun control become an issue in state Senate race

With Democrats and Republicans sharply divided on the issue of gun control and gun rights, it’s little surprise that less than 24 hours after 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 people at a Broward County school, the issues would come up in a race for a contested open seat in the Florida Senate.

Democrat Bernie Fensterwald is running against former Rep. Ed Hooper in Senate District 16, a Pinellas-Pasco seat currently vacated by Jack Latvala‘s ignominious exit following damaging reports of sexual misconduct.

Fensterwald fired the first salvo Thursday, putting out with a news release stating that if he were elected, he would never vote to expand the use of firearms in Florida. He then blasted Hooper as a “consistent friend of the gun lobby,” and specifically called out the Clearwater Republican for voting on legislation to allow open carry, permitting guns in schools, and preempting municipalities from enacting local gun safety legislation.

Taking exception to Fensterwald’s comments, Hooper said there were occasions when he opposed the NRA during his time in the House. He also questioned the accuracy of Fensterwald’s claims regarding his support for permitting guns in schools.

In fact, in 2014 Hooper did support HB 753, a House bill to let school leaders designate certain employees to carry concealed weapons on campus. To be considered, employees would have to have a concealed weapons license and either military or law enforcement experience.

Hooper, a concealed weapon permit holder, said the solution of what happened in Parkland is not to ban guns, but to enact a plan in all schools where more than one person is armed to defend teachers and students. But he doesn’t believe students or teachers ought to be carrying concealed weapons on campus.

“It’s a terrible tragedy when it’s not safe to go to schools,” Hooper said. “But I’m also a very strong believer that if (the)s right to have a firearm is taken away, that doesn’t end stupid or craziness.” He did say he could support tightening background checks at gun shows.

Hooper, who served as a firefighter for 24 years, also took a verbal shot at Fensterwald for criticizing his public safety record.

“Mr. Fensterwald has probably not been involved in anything pertaining to any type of safety for our community or our schools, so it’s easy to sit back and throw stones,” Hooper said.

Fensterwald says he has tremendous respect for first responders, responding that while he does not have any direct experience, he’s learned a lot about them through his son, who serves as a firefighter in Fairfax County, Virginia, and on a FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force that goes to natural disasters domestically and overseas.

He also emphasized that he supports the Second Amendment and has no issue with gun ownership, but wants to make sure that “certain people shouldn’t be able to have guns, certain places you shouldn’t be able to bring guns, and in certain circumstances, we shouldn’t be able to display guns.”

Shortly before publication, Hooper contacted Florida Politics, saying that he was extremely disappointed Fensterwald had opted to “make political points” so soon after the tragedy.

“Let’s let the families at least start healing and do what they have to do to get those victims taken care of before we start making political points, and I would be disappointed if I had started this. This is not the time for politics,” Hooper said. “There’ll be a day when we can have this debate.

“Today’s not the day.”

Jack Latvala begins refunding money to gubernatorial campaign contributors

The checks are in the mail.

Or at least they will be.

According to sources close to former state Senator Jack Latvala, the process of refunding contributions to his campaign for Governor has begun.

Latvala announced last fall that he would run for Florida governor. A prodigious fundraiser, the veteran lawmaker quickly raised nearly $1 million for his bid.

But Latvala’s ambitions came to a screeching halt late last year after he stepped down from the Legislature because of a high-profile sex scandal, which he has denied but which continues to burn,

Since that time, questions have been raised about when Latvala would officially leave the gubernatorial race and what would he do with the money he had raised for his campaign and his political committee.

Now we have our first answers.

Contributors to Latvala’s gubernatorial campaign will receive a refund for approximately one-half of their original contribution, says a source familiar with Latvala’s exit strategy.

***Update – 5:38 p.m.*** According to Latvala’s January campaign finance report, his campaign has made 12 – $1,500 refunds, beginning January 23.

Contributors are receiving pro rata refunds because, as first reported by the Miami Herald, Latvala’s been spending some of his campaign funds on legal fees to defend himself in the scandal.

In December he made payments of $100,000 to the law offices of Steven R. Andrews P.A., and $12,705 to the Adams and Reese LLP law firm, and he made a payment of $40,000 to Andrews in November.

According to the December campaign finance report available (which is a month old; new numbers are due today, February 10), Latvala’s gubernatorial campaign had raised $977,903, and also took a $20,000 loan from the candidate. After expenses, it had $635,686 left.

While this move answers the question about what Latvala intends to do with the money raised for his campaign account, it doesn’t answer what the Pinellas Republican plans to do with the more than $3.9 million he still has in his Florida Leadership Committee fund.

It’s very possible Latvala plans to sit on that account for the foreseeable future.

Florida Politics reporter Scott Powers contributed to this post.

‘Political gymnastics’: House panel kills Kathleen Peters’ ethics proposals

Rep. Kathleen Peters‘ attempt to amend an House ethics reform bill resulted in virtual fireworks Thursday, with a prominent lobbyist saying Peters was targeting him and a lawmaker bemoaning “political gymnastics” that temporarily gummed up the measure.

One of Peters’ amendments would have banned sitting lawmakers and their immediate family members from working for lobbying firms. The other would have barred lawmakers from working for a lobbying firm, including law firms with lobbying teams, while in office. Both eventually were voted down.

“This was geared at one person: He’s here with a target on his chest,” lobbyist Ron Book said, referring to himself. Peters is a political ally of former Sen. Jack Latvala; Book represented women that Latvala had allegedly harassed. And Book’s daughter Lauren is a sitting state senator.

The idea had been for the Public Integrity and Ethics Committee to add to the bill (HB 7007) bipartisan sexual harassment-prevention provisions offered by Republican Jennifer Sullivan and Democrat Kristin Jacobs. Those were accepted.

But Peters, a Treasure Island Republican, also tried to attach the amendments widely seen as a dig at Speaker Richard Corcoran. Corcoran’s brother Michael is a lobbyist.

Peters already has been been “ousted to political Siberia,” as the Tampa Bay Times put it, after she refused to support Corcoran’s efforts to overhaul VISIT Florida and Enterprise Florida last year.

She previously has tweeted that her measures were “not a shot at the speaker. This is good common sense reform.” But on Thursday, she told fellow lawmakers “what happened on the floor last year … was what sparked my desire to do this,” adding she wondered whether her proposals didn’t “go far enough.”

That was an oblique reference to the House’s passage of the “whiskey and Wheaties” bill, later vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott, that would have removed the legal requirement that hard liquor be sold in a separate retail store from other goods. Michael Corcoran represented Wal-Mart, which wanted the wall repeal.

Referring to the state’s ban on lawmakers accepting gifts from lobbyists, Peters said lobbyists “can’t buy us a cup of coffee” but they can “hire us for six figures.”

Others on the panel laid into Peters, calling her proposals both “too narrow” and “overbroad.” Book, in a fiery tirade, called Peters’ proposals “retaliatory conduct.”

That’s “because I willing to step forward and represent several women involved in the Latvala investigation. So let’s just call this what it is,” he told the panel.

Peters denied that, saying she had intended to file her language as a bill last year but ran out of bill allocations.

“I’m all for cleaning up government, but I feel like it’s overly broad,” Republican Jason Brodeur said, adding that Peter’s language could have prevented him from meeting and marrying his wife, Juvenile Justice Secretary Christina Daly, also a registered lobbyist. “My wife might not be my wife.”

Sullivan grew peeved: “It’s exasperating to me at this point that this bill has been workshopped, voted on last year, and none of these suggestions were made at any of those points … This is stealing the time and the thunder” of the bill.

Peters responded: “With due respect, I’m exasperated that we’re not willing to call a spade a spade,” mentioning that former Florida House Speaker and current U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was hired by a law firm only after his legislative election.

Peters, elected to the House in 2012, intends to leave the chamber to run for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission.

After the meeting, Jacobs said, “I think that in the clash of ideas that happens up here, we’re big girls and boys, and you deal with an issue and you move forward,”

“She felt very strongly … and she had the opportunity to express it clearly. The committee did not agree.”

Minutes earlier, Ormond Beach Republican Tom Leek, the committee’s vice chair, told Sullivan and Jacobs he was “sorry that you, the sponsors, and victims of sexual harassment everywhere had to endure the political gymnastics that took place today.”

Franchisee bill squeaks by first Senate panel

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee narrowly voted in favor of a bill Tuesday that aims to put franchisees on a level playing field with their franchisor.

SB 1076, known as the “Small Business Parity Act,” would shield business owners from restrictions on selling their franchises or passing them on to an heir, and would give franchisees the right to fight legal disputes against the corporate brand in Florida court and under Florida law.

The bill would also block brands from yanking away a franchise without “good cause,” which the bill says includes the owner being convicted of a felony or the bulk of the franchise’s assets being signed over to a creditor.

Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube is sponsoring the bill, which was originally carried by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, who resigned his Senate seat before the 2018 Legislative Session.

Members were split on the bill after hearing from many business groups who said the proposal was an overreach seeking to put the state in the middle of private contracts.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Americans for Prosperity, the Florida Retail Federation, and individual brands from McDonalds to Pinch A Penny came out against the bill on the grounds that franchisees and franchisors are already capable of hammering out their own agreements.

“Nobody forces anyone to sign a contract … it’s contract 101, you learn that in the first year of law school,” said lobbyist Ron Book, who represents franchise brand 7-Eleven.

Business groups also contended the bill would create an uneven business climate among franchisees by putting new franchise agreements into a different class from old ones – the bill states only new or renewed agreements would operate under the rules.

Matt Holmes, who owns four Firehouse Subs franchises in Tallahassee, said if franchise agreements seem tough, that’s because the franchisor is looking out for all stakeholders, including other franchisees who thrive on a brand maintaining a good reputation.

“What’s made us successful over the years is that we’ve had a franchisor whose held us to a high standard and held other franchisees to a high standard,” he said.

If Firehouse didn’t do that, he said people wouldn’t stop at his shops when they pass through Tallahassee.

Still, proponents say the bill isn’t aimed at smacking companies that develop good and mutually beneficial franchisor-franchisee relationships, but some others that have proven to be bad actors.

Miami attorney Leon Hirzel said he’s been on a few cases where franchisors have pulled the rug out from under a franchisee, either to make a quick buck pulling in another franchise fee or, more nefariously, because after the owner has built up the name and stature of their franchise, corporate doesn’t think they need to keep them around anymore.

When that happens, Hirzel said “the franchisor gets to take back all the good will of the business, and the franchisee gets little to nothing” due to equipment or other large capital outlays being depreciated to, on paper, worthlessness over a handful of year.

“Franchisors who want to treat their franchisees fairly have nothing to worry about under this bill,” he said. “This bill does, however, require franchisors to respect the investments franchisees make.”

That sentiment was shared by Henry Patel, a member of the City of Miami’s code enforcement and tourism development boards and past chair of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association.

“This bill addresses bad apples, not good ones,” he said, adding that he would gladly “buy a Marriott or Hilton,” but stressing that not all franchisors are as fair to owner-operators as premier brands.

Dady & Gardner attorney Jeff Haff said franchisors also keep a couple gotchas up their sleeves, such as requiring franchisees agree to comply with “operations manuals” that can run from 80 to 1,000 pages and be amended at any time. The kicker: Many brands won’t hand over the tome before the prospective franchisee signs on the dotted line.

In the end, the bill passed 5-4, with a couple of the yea votes coming from Senators whose support was tenuous at best.

Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young said she was “torn” on the issue, because she wants to “look out for the little guy,” but the breadth of the bill would make it unpalatable if it came to the floor in its current form.

Democratic Sen. Perry Thurston also dreaded the implications it could have for contracts already in place, but said something needs to be done about how franchisees are treated when they break up with their brand.

“We’re not talking about the marriage with this bill, we’re talking about the divorce,” he said before voting in the affirmative.

Jacksonville Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson, however, said the bill wasn’t ready for primetime. She said even one bad experience with a franchise, from inconsistency in staff friendliness to the comfort of a mattress, has led her to write off a chain for good, and franchisors should have the latitude they desire to keep the customer experience at a high standard.

Despite questions on the bill’s future, Coalition of Franchisee Associations Vice Chair Terry Hutchinson its passage in a statement released Tuesday night, calling the bill “a major step in the right direction for Florida’s small businesses.”

“We applaud Senator Steube for his leadership in sponsoring this good bill and for the members of the Senate that voted for the bill today. As a Florida franchise owner and Vice Chairman of the Coalition of Franchisee Associations and on behalf of the 40,000 small franchise operations in our state, I am proud of our legislators for taking action to level the playing field and protect Florida small businesses and jobs.“

SB 1076 now moves on to the Judiciary Committee and, if successful, the Rules Committee.

The House version of the bill, HB 1219 by Fort Myers Republican Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, has not yet been heard in committee.

FDLE: Jack Latvala criminal investigation is now ‘active’

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Friday it’s now conducting an “active” criminal investigation into former Sen. Jack Latvala‘s sexual misconduct.

“Regarding Senator Latvala, FDLE’s Office of Executive Investigations is now conducting an active investigation,” the state agency’s spokeswoman Jessica Cary said.

Cary said she could not provide additional details on the investigation.

The case was referred to FDLE last December after two separate Senate investigations found probable cause that the once powerful Republican may have traded support for legislation for a sexual encounter with a lobbyist. Since then, FDLE officials said they were “conducting a review” of documents provided by the Senate. The review included “preliminary steps like interviews and research.”

The sexual harassment allegations against the former Senate budget chair and Republican gubernatorial candidate rattled Florida politics and came amid other sex scandals engulfing the state Senate, including the resignation of former Sen. Jeff Clemens who admitted to an extramarital affair with a lobbyist.

Latvala’s case was sparked by a POLITICO Florida report detailing the sexual harassment and assault allegations by six unnamed women. After the news report, the Senate launched an investigation into the claims and a second investigation was opened by the upper chamber when Rachel Perrin Rogers, an aide to future Senate president Wilton Simpson filed a complaint with the Senate Rules.

The special master investigation into Perrin Rogers’ claims found there was probable cause he harassed her and other women in his orbit. He recommended Latvala’s sexual misconduct case be referred for criminal investigation, adding he may have traded votes for sex. His behavior, the report said, appeared “to violate ethics rules, and may violate laws prohibiting public corruption.”

Latvala told the Associated Press on Friday that his case is now “up to trained law enforcement personnel to actually look and see if they can find any evidence.”

“They will give the opportunity to be heard and get the facts,” he said.

His attorney, Steve Andrews, declined to comment.

Latvala officially resigned early in January, right before Session started.

Labor slams Scott Plakon ‘union busting’ House bill

A controversial bill that opponents call “union busting” was denounced in a conference call just hours before it was scheduled to be debated in the Florida House of Representatives later this week.

The proposal by Longwood Republican Scott Plakon (HB 25) has been introduced for several years now without success in the Legislature. After passing the House in 2017, the bill died in the Senate. It was on “special order” Wednesday in the House, meaning that other members can ask questions of the sponsor.

The legislation would decertify public unions in the workplace if voluntary dues-paying membership falls below fifty percent. The unions would have to report to the state annually how many employees are eligible for representation by the union and then how many of them do and don’t pay annual dues.

Florida is a “right to work ” state, meaning that employees are not legally compelled to pay union dues.

“Why would we create another hurdle to suppress union member and the rights of workers to have a voice in their workplace unless the real goal here is to eliminate the labor movement in Florida as a whole,” asked David Fernandez, communications director for the Florida AFL-CIO.

Plakon’s bill exempts police, firefighter and correctional unions, but that doesn’t mean those unions are OK with it.

“We see this as an attack on unions, and we want to stand strong with our brothers and sisters with the unions who are affected by this,” said Brodie Hughes with the Daytona-area International Union of Police Associations. “The minute you eliminate this type of stuff, you are going to have to open it up to random abuse of employees.”

Les Cantrell is with the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE), which represents 3,500 Emergency Medical Technicians and paramedics who would be impacted by the bill.

“When lives are on the line, we trust out EMT’s to do the best and one of the most stressful and difficult professions in Florida,” said Cantrell. “Having a collective bargaining agreement gives them a voice to negotiate for fair wages for their work and to ensure that they have the best working conditions to do their jobs.”

The Florida Senate killed the bill last year, but one of the union’s most significant friends in the GOP, Jack Latvala, is no longer in the Senate, having resigned last month after a special master found probable cause that he violated Senate misconduct rules and sexually harassed a legislative aide.

The bill has three stops in the Senate and Fernandez hopes the chamber can reproduce its opposition to the bill, as it did last year.

“This bill is unnecessary,” he said. “It has too many holes to even count, too many questions that have remained unanswered.”

Updated 5 p.m. — House Democrats peppered Plakon with questions on the bill, such as John Cortes of Kissimmee, a retired corrections officer, asking why the bill couldn’t just “make the unions more transparent.”

Plakon said that’s what the bill is all about: “It will show, for the first time, whether (a) union is at 5 percent or 95 percent bargaining strength.”

When asked whether the bill was a union buster, Plakon plainly answered: “No.”

Senate announces new policy on sexual, workplace harassment

Prompted by a series of sex scandals that enveloped several senators, the Florida Senate on Thursday rolled out new guidelines on how to handle sexual harassment in the workplace.

The new employee code of conduct cites “patting, pinching, or intentionally brushing against an individual’s body,” unwelcome kissing or hugging as part of a greeting — including a peck on the cheek –, and sending emails, text messages or notes — whether it be a cartoon, a photo or a joke — of sexual nature, as examples that could violate the policy.

But any type of sexual harassment, whether verbal, nonverbal or physical, is prohibited. An employee found to be in violation of this policy could face immediate termination.

“The Senate has zero tolerance for sexual and workplace harassment and through these changes to our policies and rules we intend to make our commitment to a safe, professional work environment even clearer and even stronger,” Senate President Joe Negron said in a memo obtained by Florida Politics.

Any individual — including Senate staffers, visitors, senators, lobbyists and members of the media — who experiences sexual harassment in the Senate can log a complaint with numerous individuals, including human resources and their immediate supervisors.

Their identities will be kept confidential and exempt from public records.

Once a complaint is made, the first step is to investigate and try and resolve the issue informally. If no informal resolution is possible due to the severity of the allegations, the Senate may contact an outside professional service provider to conduct an investigation on the allegations. That includes interviewing witnesses.

Once a case is resolved, the Human Resources director will be tasked with provides resources to every complainant.

The new administrative policy takes effect immediately. And in the coming weeks, Negron said online anti-harassment training will be provided to all senators and staff.

The announcement comes as allegations of sexual harassment threatened to overshadow the 2018 Legislative Session since opening day. Gov. Rick Scott, Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran all addressed sexual harassment in their speeches on the first day of session.

But action on this issue became urgent after the conclusion of two separate Senate investigations late last year that said former Sen. Jack Latvala may have violated state corruption laws by trading legislative favor for a sexual encounter.

The reports contained testimony from several women in the legislative process who noted a pattern of sexual misconduct by the Clearwater Republican that stretched for years. No complaints were ever filed against Latvala in the Senate until POLITICO Florida reported the accounts of six unnamed women who accused the once powerful senator of sexual harassment.

Latvala resigned early this month and his misconduct is under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, said Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers has worked to revise administrative policies regarding harassment in the Senate. The proposed change includes annual one-hour anti-harassment training for senators.

Negron said that rule change will be up for a vote on the full Senate floor next week. But Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez is concerned Senate Rules that governor senators have not changed are continue to be vague on sexual harassment.

“If we had another Latvala there are no new rules that would protect victims from the type of behavior his accuser went through,” Rodriguez said. “The rules are the same, very vague. When there are vague rules, the only ones that win are lawyers.”

The House addresses sexual harassment in its formal rules, unlike the Senate. But Negron says a violation of these administrative guidelines would be a violation of the rules.

Phil Ammann contributed to this report.

No special election for Jack Latvala seat, declares governor

There will not be special elections to replace two Florida lawmakers, Gov. Rick Scott said in a press gaggle Thursday.

Scott said that “we have listened to the Supervisors of Elections” and “we’re going to follow their lead.”

The two legislators: Villages Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, an HD 33 Republican who passed away in December; and Clearwater Republican Sen.  Jack Latvala, who resigned his SD 16 seat amidst the scrutiny of multiple accusations of serial sexual harassment.

Neither forsaken special election will affect solid Republican majorities in either chamber.

Cost was a determinant, at least in the recommendations of elections supervisors in Pinellas and Pasco: Per the Tampa Bay Times, that could have cost upwards of a million dollars.

“I really feel that this is a common-sense decision,” Pinellas Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark told TBT. “The information that we’ve provided makes a clear picture.”

In the case of the Hahnfeldt vacancy, the local SOE expected a special election when the representative passed on.

But that won’t come to pass either.

In both cases, the elections would have come after the 2018 Legislative Session and the winners would have had to immediately turn around and run for re-election in the fall.

The reprieve from back-to-back elections was appreciated by former Republican Rep. Ed Hooper, the leading candidate in the SD 16 race.

“I think it was the right call. I’m not a big fan of doing two elections for the same job in one year,” he said. “That doesn’t allow you to spend time working for your constituents, and you’re spending about $1 million of other people’s money. It doesn’t affect my campaign. I would have been ready if there was a special election, or on Nov. 9.”

In addition to the Hahnfeldt and Latvala vacancies, four other seats in the House and Senate are empty: HD 39, HD 72, HD 114 and SD 31.

Only HD 72 will hold a special election before the end of the 2018 Legislative Session, which runs through early March.

Joe Henderson: Legislature move on USF could leave St. Pete rattled

Boom!

That sound you heard emanating from the western side of the Tampa Bay area wasn’t a sonic blast, or the exhaust fumes from an unidentified flying object.

But if you’re still searching for answers to why your windows rattled this morning, check out the University of South Florida St. Petersburg – or, as that campus likes to call itself, USFSP.

Officials and faculty are no doubt still pondering how their life will different if a move in the Florida Legislature to combine USF’s three branches – Tampa, St. Pete, and Sarasota-Manatee – into one big single university is successful.

So what, you ask?

So, here’s what: goodbye relative autonomy for the smaller schools and hello to a new identity of being simply a branch off the giant USF main tree in Tampa. And if you don’t know how much they would hate that in St. Pete and Sarasota-Manatee, then you don’t understand university politics.

USFSP has a history of going rogue against the authority of the Mother Ship on Fowler Avenue in Tampa. The short version is this: the good educators in St. Pete don’t want to be a branch on anyone’s tree. They have wanted to be a separate entity, making their decisions.

With the blessing of the Legislature in the 1990s, that’s kind of what they got after faculty and officials in St. Pete complained about being disrespected by the larger campus in Tampa.

There were limitations to that independence, as now-former USFSP regional chancellor Sophia Wisniewska learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.

She was fired by USF President Judy Genshaft for essentially dereliction of duty when she left town during the storm but tried to imply that she was on the job protecting students and the campus.

“Your conduct created an intolerable safety risk to our students and the USFSP community,” is how Genshaft phrased it.

St. Pete got the message: You still belong to me.

Not long after that, the St. Pete campus lost one its main defenders when powerful state Sen. Jack Latvala resigned after being caught up in a sex scandal that swirls today.

Latvala fiercely fought for the autonomy of USFSP while in office, and officials in Tampa were concerned that he might try to break off the St. Pete campus altogether – following the model by former state Sen. JD Alexander who hijacked the USF campus in Polk County to create Florida Polytechnic University.

Tampa officials were concerned Latvala might try to include the prestigious USF College of Marine Science in a hostile takeover. The college, while located on the St. Pete campus, has been under full control of Tampa and is a cash cow in terms of generating donations.

With Latvala gone, though, the relative silence coming from Tampa after Tuesday’s news that Rep. Chris Sprowls filed a bill that would combine the campuses indicates Genshaft probably is smiling quietly.

For what it’s worth, Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican, is a USF graduate.

Without Latvala to break knees and lead the opposition, the odds that this consolidation happens would seem to be greatly increased. Sprowls told the Tampa Bay Times that everyone should be happy about this because, “It’s an opportunity for St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee to have a pre-eminent university in their community. I think, naturally, it will have them rising together as opposed to being separate limbs.”

I doubt seriously that’s how USFSP is looking at this.

It goes back to the long regional rivalry between Tampa and St. Pete, and the complaint from the west side of the Bay that Tampa gets everything.

That’s not as true as it used to be. In this case though, it might the best way to describe what might happen.

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