Jack Latvala Archives - Page 3 of 68 - Florida Politics

Jack Latvala won’t be charged, prosecutor says

Tallahassee’s top prosecutor says he won’t pursue criminal charges against former state Sen. Jack Latvala.

Campbell

State Attorney Jack Campbell‘s decision, announced Thursday, had been eagerly awaited by the state’s political class – and by Latvala himself.

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

The Senate had sent on its findings to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which did its own investigation that was passed to Campbell’s office for review for a possible public corruption case.

The most damaging allegation was that Latvala, who had risen to influence as chair of the Appropriations Committee, “on multiple occasions” offered to trade his vote for sex with a female lobbyist.

But Campbell this week decided he couldn’t bring a case that he could prove by the stringent criminal legal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” and said he’d “take no further action.”

The bombshell ‘sex for votes’ finding came toward the end of Special Master Ronald V. Swanson‘s report into a complaint filed by Rachel Perrin Rogers, a top legislative aide for future Senate President Wilton Simpson, in which she accused Latvala of sexually harassing her and assaulting her.

And a second investigation into sexual harassment claims against Latvala, prompted by a POLITICO Florida story, turned up a witness who bolstered the allegation that the senator would offer to trade sex for favorable votes on legislation.

Those revelations and other complaints not only led Latvala to resign, but also to abandon his exploration of a run for governor. But the FDLE’s report said its investigation “did not develop an indication that Latvala exerted his influence as a Florida senator to assist (the lobbyist) in any issues she presented … in exchange for a continuing sexual relationship.”

In comments to The Associated Press’ Gary Fineout on Thursday, Latvala praised FDLE and lambasted his handling by Senate President Joe Negron of Stuart and Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers, both fellow Republicans.

Negron released his own statement later Thursday:

Campbell’s office also released the FDLE’s investigative report, below:

__

Capitol correspondent Jim Rosica contributed to this post.

Florida Retail Federation endorses Ed Hooper for SD 16

The Florida Retail Federation said Tuesday they were backing former Republican Rep. Ed Hooper’s bid for Senate District 16.

“As a member of the House, Representative Hooper supported legislation that enhanced Florida’s job creation efforts, including our retail industry,” said FRF President/CEO R. Scott Shalley. “As a Senator, we know he’ll continue this effort and work towards ways to make Florida the best state for business.”

The retail trade group’s endorsement also cited Hooper’s decades of service as a firefighter in Clearwater, for which he was named the Professional Firefighter of the Year by Gov. Jeb Bush and the Cabinet in 1999. Also highlighted was his seat on the board of the Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce, his role in founding the Florida Firefighter Caucus and his service awards from Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Florida Sheriffs Association.

Hooper, who served in Florida House from 2006 through 2014, is up against former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy in the fall.

Through June 22, he held a lead in the money race with $527,000 raised and $419,400 banked between his campaign and political committee, Friends of Ed Hooper. Murphy, who filed for the seat on May 9, has raised $81,090 and has $76,595 in the bank.

A recent poll shows Hooper and Murphy in a competitive race, with Hooper holding a 45-43 advantage. That edge falls within the poll’s margin error.

SD 16 covers northern Pinellas and southwestern Pasco counties. The seat has a Republican edge — it voted plus-12 for Trump in 2016 and was held by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala until he resigned the seat in early January.

Jack Latvala prosecution decision will likely come next week

The capital area’s top prosecutor on Monday said a decision whether to press charges in the Jack Latvala investigation won’t come till next week at the earliest.

A spokesperson for State Attorney Jack Campbell said Friday a decision could have come as early as this week.

Campbell called Florida Politics Monday morning to say he was now “getting deeper” into the 90-page report.

“I am off the Fourth and taking off Thursday and Friday, so I can promise I will not offer an opinion before then,” he said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has delivered its findings to Campbell, the chief elected prosecutor for the 2nd Judicial Circuit, which includes Tallahassee.

Latvala, a former state senator from Clearwater, was under investigation for months following complaints of sexual misconduct that led to his resignation from office in December.

Campbell previously said he would review the FDLE’s findings and decide whether to press criminal charges against Latvala, who first served in the Senate 1994-2002, then returned in 2010. He would have been term-limited this year.

Latvala has said that his “political adversaries have latched onto this effort to rid our country of sexual harassment to try to rid the Florida Senate of me.” He also admitted, however, that he “ … perhaps (had not) kept up with political correctness in my comments as well as I should have.”

A special master’s report released by the Senate found Latvala “on multiple occasions” offered to trade his vote for sex with a female lobbyist. Special Master Ronald V. Swanson recommended the sexual harassment allegations against the veteran lawmaker be investigated by criminal prosecutors.

Another investigation into sexual harassment claims against Latvala, prompted by a POLITICO Florida story, turned up a witness who bolsters an allegation that the senator would offer to trade sex for favorable votes on legislation.

Tallahassee attorney Steve Andrews, who represents Latvala, declined comment Monday.

Campbell, first elected in 2016 after serving as an assistant prosecutor for years, is a Democrat. Latvala is a Republican.

Fresh polling: Jeff Brandes, Janet Cruz lead in battleground state Senate seats; Ed Hooper, Amanda Murphy deadlocked.

Poll numbers in two battleground state Senate seats have shifted significantly since last month, while a third race remains essentially deadlocked.

In SD 16, the seat previously held by Jack Latvala, Republican Ed Hooper and Democrat Amanda Murphy remain deadlocked, with Hooper at 45 percent and Murphy at 43 percent. The good news here for the GOP is that this race has shifted ever so slightly to Hooper.

At last check-in, Murphy led by less than a point. Murphy’s May lead and Hooper’s late June one fall well within St. Pete Polls’ margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Like the previous poll, one in eight voters in the northern Pinellas and southwest Pasco district remains undecided. The shift over the past month came from Republican and Democratic voters coalescing around their party’s candidate — Hooper received 72 percent support from Republicans and 15 percent support from Democrats; Murphy received 74 percent support from Democrats and 15 percent support from Republicans.

Unaffiliated and third-party voters, who make up 30 percent of the SD 16 electorate, went plus-7 for Murphy with 14 percent undecided. White voters also favored Hooper, 47-42 percent, while Murphy carried minority voters by a substantial margin, though non-white, non-Hispanic voters only make up about 15 percent of the SD 16 electorate according to the district’s demographic profile.

Hooper holds a 5-point lead among men, while he and Murphy are tied among women. Voters aged 18 to 29 prefer Murphy by 4 points; the 30 to 49 years old bracket went for Hooper by 8 points; those aged 50 to 69 swung back toward Murphy, 45-43 percent; and voters over 70 went plus-6 for Hooper.

In SD 18, incumbent Republican Dana Young now trails Democrat Janet Cruz by a point after entering the candidate qualifying period with a nine-point lead. Of significance, since we last polled, Cruz clarified how her name will appear on the ballot, dropping her second last name, “Rifkin.”

The bounce back was expected for Cruz, who pulled just 62 percent support from Democratic voters in the May poll. The new results show an 8-point bump from her base, while Young saw her support among likely GOP voters dip from 75 percent to 72 percent.

Voters who are not a member of one of the major parties supported Cruz by a hefty 15-point margin. A month ago, those same voters gave Young a slim advantage. The poll also shows Young with a 2-point advantage among men, while Cruz holds a 3-point lead among women.

White voters still preferred Young, though the 46-43 percent split is a massive improvement for Cruz, who trailed by 15 points in the May poll. Cruz holds a near 50-point advantage among black voters, though she trails by 10 points among Hispanic voters, who make up 30 percent of SD 18’s electorate.

Cruz leads among younger voters 49-41 percent; Gen Xers favor Young 46-42 percent; the 50- to 69-year-old bracket went plus-4 for Cruz, 46-42 percent; and those 70 and up slightly favor Young, 43-41 percent.

Over in SD 24, incumbent Republican Jeff Brandes is still ahead of trial lawyer Carrie Pilon46 percent to 41 percent, which is down from the nine-point lead he held at the end of May, but still outside the margin of error.

Much like the poll SD 18, much of the change came from Pilon’s increased support among Democratic voters. She pulls 69 percent support from Democrats in the new poll, compared to 65 percent a month ago. Brandes, like Young, also saw a slight dip in GOP support.

The St. Pete Republican leads by 6 points among white voters, down from 12 points last month. He also saw his leads slip in three age groups, most notably among voters under 30, who prefer him 46-42 compared to the 59-26 margin he enjoyed in the previous poll. Voters aged 50 to 69 flipped from plus-2 Brandes to plus-3 Pilon, while older voters went from plus-22 Brandes to plus-6 Brandes.

His lead among 30- to 49-year-old voters, however, expanded to 52-35.

All three robopolls were conducted over this past weekend and only include responses from those voters who said they intend to vote in the November elections.

The races for Senate Districts 16, 18, and 24 will likely decide the course, if not control, of the Florida Senate as the Democrats have identified the three seats as a package of five to six they are targeting in the 2018 election cycle, the others being Gainesville-based SD 8, Lakeland-based SD 22 and Miami-Dade-based SD 36.

Republicans currently hold a 23-16 advantage in the Florida Senate, with SD 16 currently vacant.

___

Jeff Brandes is a client of Extensive Enterprises Media, the holding company that owns FloridaPolitics.com.

#1 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Chris Sprowls

As any observer of Florida politics will tell you, this 34-year-old Palm Harbor Republican is on the move.

First elected to House District 65 over Democratic incumbent Carl Zimmerman in 2014, Chris Sprowls had little difficulty getting re-elected in 2016 against Democrat Bernie Fensterwald. At this point, 2018 appears to be shaping up the same way. Sprowls currently serves as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and he’s eyeing the top spot in the House.

The former Pinellas-Pasco prosecutor is a likely (and favored) contender for the 2021-2022 House speakership.

That would be a huge deal for Pinellas, which hasn’t seen a representative ascend to the speakership since Democrat Peter Rudy Wallace held it in 1995.

Insiders say it’s not just his intelligence and savvy that got him here.

“Chris’s rise to leadership so quickly is a testament to the respect that members of both parties have in his unique ability to understand complex issues and forge a solution that is fair,” said Southern Strategy Group’s Chris Dudley.

Tampa businessman Akash Patel, a Republican running for Hillsborough County Commission District 7 said: “Chris has been a strong leader since I served with him on the Senate at Boy’s State when we were young.  He will continue to grow his leadership skills and will be one of the strongest House Speakers of our day.”

As a lawmaker, Sprowls has shown considerable muscle.

During the 2017 Session, he and Rep. James Grant shepherded a bill through the legislature that created a uniform statewide policy for ride-share companies like Uber and Lyft. In 2018, Sprowls was a driving force behind an effort to secure funding for SPC and USF St. Petersburg, namely as a way to help students graduating with associate degrees from the former transition into higher degree programs at the latter — the aim being to help ensure local students will continue to have access to four-year and advanced degrees despite USF’s growing prestige. Conversely, he also backed the locally unpopular bill to pull all USF campuses under the same umbrella.

Outside Tallahassee, Sprowls earned praise earlier this year by convincing Citizens CEO Barry Gilway to personally visit a condominium complex in Sprowls’ district that had seen extensive sinkhole damage. The state insurer had previously refused to pay out on condo owners’ claims. As a result of Gilway’s visit, Citizens paid out at least $12.7 million to the affected homeowners.

Of course, whether Sprowls will hang on to all the clout hinges on the November election. Newcomer Alex Toth, a Palm Harbor entrepreneur and Air Force veteran, became Sprowls’ Democratic opponent in March. Sally Laufer, another Democrat, then filed in late May. Neither has shown significant fundraising, while Sprowls’ campaign has amassed nearly $151,000. A PAC that backs Sprowls, Floridians for Economic Freedom, has meanwhile taken in more than $1.1 million in contributions so far this election cycle.

Sprowls tops this year’s list after coming in ninth last year and No. 14 in 2016. He replaces former Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who dropped his bid for governor and resigned in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations, suggesting what a difference a year (and a powerful movement like #MeToo) can make.

Joe Henderson‘s take: “A young man on a fast track. House Speaker in 2020, and after that opportunities could abound.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

Southern Strategy Group lands Pinellas Co. lobbying contract

The Pinellas County Commission has selected Southern Strategy Group (SSG) to handle its lobbying needs in Tallahassee for the next two years.

SSG was one of several firms to respond to the Pinellas Commission’s call for contract proposals and, as reported last week, their pitch made the shortlist alongside Dean Mead and GrayRobinson.

Dean Mead had held the contract for years, and though they made the top three, it seems the writing was on the wall.

As one commissioner, who did not want to be named, earlier told Florida Politics: “Dean Mead sold their relationship with [former state Sen. Jack] Latvala to their advantage. With him gone, most likely so is their contract.”

While the choice was likely a smart one in a post-Latvala world, Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice said Thursday that the decision to move forward with another firm wasn’t easy.

“It was a tough decision. We appreciate the good work of Pete Dunbar and his team. I think the commission wanted to make the change to be more focused on the appropriations process. We look forward to working with Laura Boehmer and Seth McKeel to get the job done for Pinellas,” he said.

Southern Strategy Group, which is consistently among the top-grossing Florida lobbying firms, said it would represent Pinellas County for $158,000 in lobbying pay over the next two years. Dean Mead asked for $200,000 in pay and GrayRobinson asked for $144,000.

While GrayRobinson didn’t snag the Pinellas County gig this go around, they haven’t struck out on other county or municipal clients.

Their most recent lobbying compensation reports, also among the best in the state, showed they were the firm of choice among many municipal clients. Making their client roster were a half-dozen county governments and some of the largest metros in the state, including Miami-Dade County, Tampa and Orlando.

#12 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Janet Cruz

First elected to her Tampa state House seat in 2010, Janet Cruz served as House Minority Leader over the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions. She’s the first Latina to serve in that capacity.

While Democratic leaders in the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature often have little influence, Cruz has managed to have some sway.

She has been effective at getting her party’s message across in the critical months leading up to the 2018 midterms.

When Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel was accused of inappropriate behavior toward female staffers in November 2017, Cruz was the first to issue a statement condemning his actions. Following a report dealing with multiple allegations of sexual misconduct in the Capitol, namely against former Republican Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, Cruz said she was “horrified.”

At the start of the 2018 Session, Cruz also called out House Speaker Richard Corcoran on a bill targeting so-called sanctuary cities.

She’s terming out at the end of this year, but she’s far from finished.

In 2017, she announced a run for Hillsborough County Commission. But Cruz dropped that bid in April and then jumped into the race for state Senate District 18 against Sen. Dana Young, the incumbent Republican elected to the newly-drawn seat in 2016.

Cruz cited a desire to pass laws that may prevent mass shootings like the one that occurred in Parkland as a key reason for jumping in and criticized Young for missing three votes on amendments to the gun bill the legislature was debating earlier this year.

“I love our community and I am fed up with lawmakers who put the interests of the NRA, the for-profit school industry, and insurance companies before the people they represent,” Cruz said in a news release heralding her candidacy.

SD 18 went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but winning wouldn’t exactly be easy. For one, Young is a well-funded Republican incumbent with moderate sensibilities not too far off from those of the district, which runs from South Tampa up through northwestern Hillsborough County. Plus, some Democrats aren’t happy that her entrance into the race prompted Bob Buesing (who had also been Young’s Dem opponent in 2016) to exit.

Given her track record in the House — and her tendency to gravitate toward leadership roles, should she and a handful of fellow Democrats manage to flip the Senate in November, good things would likely be in store.

Cruz Rifkin climbed to No. 12 from the No. 19 spot last year.

Joe Henderson‘s take: “Probably could have easily won Hillsborough County Commission race, but Parkland massacre set her eye on Young’s Senate seat.”

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

#24 on list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians — Chris Latvala

If anyone is the antithesis to the notion that Republicanism’s days are numbered, it’s state Rep. Chris Latvala. First elected to his north-central Pinellas district (House District 67) in 2014, he was just 32 when he took office.

Since then, he’s brought a fresh perspective to the Legislature and hasn’t been afraid to take positions that are unpopular to many of his fellow Republicans.

Take LGBTQ equality. In 2016, he co-sponsored a bill that would have outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill died, but Latvala’s drive to make change has not. He’s currently part of the group Conservatives on the Right Side of Equality, which consists of high-profile Republicans who are trying to get their party to embrace the LGBTQ community.

Like almost any coastal lawmaker, Latvala has supported a ban on drilling off Florida’s coasts. In his first term, he sponsored a bill banning backyard gun ranges in residential areas. He has bragged about his unfavorable NRA rating and probably didn’t lose any sleep over the tea party group South Pinellas 912 Patriots’ not endorsing him in 2016.

Yet Latvala is still very much a conservative, especially on fiscal and tax issues. He’s backed controversial education bills that promote charter schools. He sponsored a bill in 2017 that would have required felons and suspected drug users to take drug tests as a condition for receiving public aid. The list goes on.

One likely reason he’s not a party-line kind of guy: He listens to the people who live in his district.

“Resilient. Steady. Dependable. Chris has a keen focus on the needs of his constituents. He always makes sure Pinellas citizens are represented at the table in state policy decisions,” David Shepp of Southern Strategy Group said of Latvala.

Late last year, he made headlines for his fierce defense of his father, then-state Sen. Jack Latvala, whose career collapsed in light of sexual misconduct allegations. The ordeal was undoubtedly difficult for the younger Latvala, but in his work as a lawmaker (and as a candidate), he appears unfazed.

This year, Latvala, who qualified for the ballot by petition, is running for a third term. As of this writing, it’s unclear who his Democratic challenger will be, but the Dems appear to want to run a candidate against him. In 2016, he defeated Democrat David Vogel by 16 points.

Latvala did not make last year’s list.

For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who made up the panel that amassed it, please read here.

Blake Dowling: All apologies

Last night, I was watching a Celtics game. Late in the half, during a timeout, there were back-to-back commercials — each a message of apology.

Wells Fargo was very sorry they created millions of fake accounts to cook the books; Facebook is very sorry about, I guess, lots of things.

Wells Fargo’s message was pretty clear, but the FB ad was a bit like a hurricane of messaging.

Bottom line, apologies are everywhere these days.

Or, maybe, are we a nation of apologists? Perhaps we have always been.

Are these nationwide campaigns helpful? Are they even necessary?

While Zuck was testifying to Congress and scandal after scandal was unfolding for his firm, meanwhile the company’s financials were skyrocketing, in fact, their first-quarter earnings for 2018 were up 60 percent over the same time last year.

All situations are unique, and maybe FB is bullet resistant (not bulletproof, mind you. No one is.) Its offering has integrated itself into the fabric of our personal and professional lives, and it is an extremely “sticky” company/offering to simply toss out the window.

Most of us are in professions where apologies are required and necessary. Think about KFC this year. They ran out of chicken. Ummm. Oops to the guy ordering the chicken.

You had ONE job, Daryl. 😊

How did they respond? With a pretty cheeky PR campaign.

How about politics? Apologies are welcome (it would seem) but a “there’s the door” approach appears to be the common end game. Plus, in situations last year involving state Sens. Jeff Clemens and Jack Latvala, we are not talking about creating fake bank accounts (or running out of chicken).

In these cases, more serious issues are at play. In the political world, once trust is broken and alleged bad behavior is exposed, it is much harder to get it back.

City of Tallahassee mayor? Apology.

More apologies in our state.

Joy Reid calls Charlie Crist “Miss Charlie.” Classy. Another apology.

Why are people apologizing so much these days? Doesn’t it seem as if apologies are rampant — money, data, sex (and chicken)?

Perhaps, the world of social media and our press focuses so much on those doing wrong and the apologies that come after.

Just a crazy thought: Maybe we should focus more on those business leaders and companies that are not apologizing for anything?

For example, Gov. Rick Scott’s leadership during recent hurricanes. No apology required. Thank you, sir.

Another is Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, who are fighting the good fight for the people of Puerto Rico. Great job, guys, as 10 percent of this U.S. territory is still without power.

So, if my thoughts in this column have offended you in any way, email me at the address below. Perhaps I will send an apology. (HA!)

As my friend Brad Swanson likes to say, if you aren’t taking any flak, you aren’t on target.

Have a great weekend.

___

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He enjoys sports, IPA’s and can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

With Facebook page, Becca Tieder inches toward challenging Chris Latvala

Democrat Becca Tieder took another step toward challenging Clearwater Republican state Rep. Chris Latvala in House District 67.

Tieder, a Clearwater native and third-generation Floridian, has set up a Facebook political candidate page — @BeccaforFlorida — slated to “start May 1.”

According to DNS records, the domain name Becca4Florida.com has also been registered since March 28.

As Florida Politics reported earlier, House Victory and incoming Democratic leader Kionne McGhee confirmed the Florida Democratic Party is actively recruiting Teider to face Latvala, who will be seeking a third term in the Clearwater-area HD 67.

“If I run, it’s because I’m the best candidate for the seat. I’m not doing this for me — I have a great life,” Tieder, a mother of two, told reporters. “But if I feel like I can make a difference, I will run, and I will win.”

What did resonate was complaints of Tallahassee’s overreach, which included increased funding for charter schools.

“Charter schools serve a purpose, but not as a replacement for public schools,” she said; it was wrong to “give away so much of what feels like our — the public’s — responsibility.”

Tieder is active in the movement against sexual assault on college campuses. Joined by fellow activist Kelly Addington, Tieder has traveled up to 150 days a year since 2003, speaking about sexual assault awareness, prevention and sexual empowerment. According to her website, the pair has taken their message to more than a half-million students at nearly 400 college campuses.

Previously, Tieder considered a run for Pinellas County School Board in 2020 but said that after attending several board meetings, she felt the current crop of elected officials were “well suited for their jobs.”

Latvala has held the Republican-leaning HD 67 since 2014, after defeating Democrat Steve Sarnoff by six points. In 2016, he defeated Democrat David Vogel by 17 points in the district that went for Republican Donald Trump by around 4 points. Wednesday evening, Latvala is holding a campaign kickoff event in Clearwater, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Island Bay Grill, 20 Island Way.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons