Jack Latvala Archives - Page 3 of 35 - Florida Politics

Here’s where sh*t stands in Tampa Bay’s legislative races

With two weeks to go until Election Day, the Tampa Bay area’s Senate seats are pretty much decided. Welcome back Sens. Jack Latvala and Tom Lee and say hello to Darryl Rouson, who should cruise past John “Mr. Manners” Houman to win the SD 19 seat.

Tampa Republican Rep. Dana Young still has a race ahead of her for the SD 18 seat, however.

Young is running against Democrat Bob Buesing and a pair of high-polling, no-party candidates for the Hillsborough County seat, and has maintained a major fundraising advantage throughout the contest.

As of Oct. 14, the veteran lawmaker had more than $585,000 on hand in her campaign account and another $1 million in her political committee, “Friends of Dana Young.”

Buesing picked up $20,000 from Oct. 8 through Oct. 14, though he only has about $40,000 in the bank, while NPA candidates Joe Redner and Sheldon Upthegrove hovered near the $0 mark.

Young’s only threat in this race is the district’s leanings — it voted narrowly for President Barack Obama four years ago.

In the House, Republican Reps. Jake Raburn, Janet Cruz, and Jamie Grant have secured victory, and Sean Shaw is already on the list for the freshman class. Also expect to see Chris Latvala, Chris Sprowls, and Larry Ahern hang on to their seats with little fanfare.

Many incumbents are still in election mode, though.

Republican Rep. Shawn Harrison is facing Democrat Lisa Montelione in the HD 63 race, which could be tough for Harrison despite his solid fundraising advantage, given the district’s history of flipping parties every two years.

After adding $22,500 in contributions during the last reporting period, Harrison had about $60,000 in the bank compared to $23,000 for Montelione, who added $24,000 between Oct. 8 and Oct. 14.

In HD 69, incumbent Republican Rep. Kathleen Peters is facing a moderate challenge from Democrat Jennifer Webb, who has raised a total of $131,000 so far.

Peters is still far in the lead in fundraising with nearly $350,000 raised and about $135,000 on hand compared to about $6,000 for Webb. The vote could be tight in the Pinellas County district, though.

Back in 2012, Peters won the seat by four points against Democrat Josh Shulman, while that margin exploded to 16 points in the midterm contest against Scott Orsini.

Republican Rep. Ross Spano is also faces a well-funded opponent for the HD 59 seat, but like most other bay area Republicans, he’s managed to keep the lead in the money race.

Spano added $22,500 in contributions during the reporting period for a total of $318,000 raised, with $126,000 of that money on hand. Democratic attorney Rena Frasier added just $5,565 for the week and spent more than $50,000 on campaign communications, leaving her with about $65,000 in the bank.

Republicans hold a slight edge in HD 59, which came through for Spano four years ago when he won a nail-biter against Democrat Gail Gottlieb by about one point.

In HD 68, Democrat Ben Diamond has a slight cash-on-hand lead over Republican Joseph Bensmihen in the race to take over for exiting Democrat Dwight Dudley. Diamond’s total fundraising of $350,000 is nearly 10-fold higher than the competition and this seat is likely his for the taking.

The HD 60 race is playing out similarly, with Republican Jackie Toledo bringing in $29,250 during the reporting period for an on-hand total of about $69,000. Her competition, Democrat David Singer, added $11,360 for the week and has about $33,000 in the bank.

HD 60 has the potential to be somewhat competitive, though the district tends to break towards Republicans as evidenced by current HD 60 Rep. Dana Young’s easy elections to the coastal Tampa seat.

Latest on the legislative staffing merry-go-round

With a tip of the hat to LobbyTools, here are the latest movements — both on and off — the legislative merry-go-round.

Off: Mia Simon is no longer a legislative assistant for Fort Myers Republican state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto.

On: Dane Bennett is now Benacquisto’s new legislative assistant.

Off: Cameron Pennant is no longer a district secretary for Naples Republican Rep. Matt Hudson.

Off: Collin Kenline is no longer a district secretary for Tallahassee state Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda.

On: Carlecia Collins is a new Tallahassee office legislative assistant for Clearwater Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala.

Bipartisan backing finds Tracie Davis, but Mark Griffin holds HD 13 money lead

In recent debates and interviews with this outlet, HD 13 Democrat Tracie Davis has discussed being trusted by both sides of the aisle.

Davis’ latest campaign finance report, spanning the gap between Oct. 8 and Oct. 14, shows that trust for Davis, who just got into the race as a general election candidate in early October.

Davis raised $5,200 in that week, including from political action committees that make a habit of supporting Republicans as much as they do Democrats.

The “Citizens for Principled Leadership” political committee  gave Davis $1,000 on Oct. 10. The committee also has given money in the past to Republicans, including Sen. Jack Latavla, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, and Rep. Debbie Mayfield.

“North Florida Citizens for Justice” gave Davis $1,000 on Oct. 12. The committee works both sides of the aisle, giving to Democrats such as Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Mark Pafford, while also backing Republicans such as Sen. Travis Hutson, Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, and Rep. Paul Renner.

The “Florida Justice” political action committee likewise maxed out for Davis. This committee is a frequent donor to the Florida Democratic Party, but also has been known to give money to Republican Party of Florida chairman Blaise Ingoglia.

All told, Davis has just under $8,000 on hand for the stretch run of her campaign.

Davis’ Republican opponent, Pastor Mark Griffin, both raised and spent more than his Democratic opponent in the same week, however.

Griffin raised $5,710 during the week, and spent $10,343; all told, the reverend has just over $23,500 on hand.

Among Griffin’s donations: $1,000 from Swisher International, a notable donation in light of his remark during a debate with Davis on Friday that the Jacksonville cigar company has outsourced some operations to the Dominican Republic.

Of the $10,343 of expenditures Oct. 8-14, $9,973 went to IHeart Media for campaign ads, ensuring Davis and Griffin will have dueling radio spots in the Jacksonville market for the balance of the campaign.

Party, PAC money seeps into nonpartisan municipal races

When candidates run for local nonpartisan offices — mayor, council member, or commissioner — they’re supposed to keep party politics out of the conversation.

And, for the most part, that’s the way it is. But in some races this year, partisan money is helping finance local candidates.

Take the City of Largo, for example, where incumbent Curtis Holmes is facing Neil McMullen in the race for Seat 3 on the city commission. McMullen is a descendant of one of Pinellas County’s founding families.

Thus far, Holmes is outpacing McMullen in fundraising. The incumbent has raised $17,335 to McMullen’s $9,550.

Holmes is showing $500 each in donations from the Suncoast Better Government Committee and the Florida Leadership Committee. Both groups say they are not affiliated with any political party or other political action groups. But, the Suncoast Better Government Committee is affiliated with Republican state Rep. Chris Latvala (who also donated $50 to Holmes). And, the Florida Leadership Committee is affiliated with Chris Latvala’s father, state Sen. Jack Latvala, also a Republican.

Holmes also received $100 from Mike Mikurak, the Republican running against Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice, a Democrat.

McMullen is benefiting from the other side of the political aisle. He’s received donations from the Greater Pinellas Democratic Club ($250), the Stonewall Democrats ($200) and the Largo/Mid-Pinellas Democratic Club ($100).

McMullen also received $40 from Lorena Grizzle, the Democrat who wants to unseat Republican state Rep. Larry Ahern in HD 66.

In Dunedin, some races are notable for the amount of money being raised and spent: Bruce Livingston, who’s running for mayor, has raised about $53,757 for a part-time job that pays $10,000 a year. Maureen Freaney, a former assistant county administrator, has raised $34,640 in her run for the Seat 1 on the commission. Heather Gacy, running for Seat 3 on the Dunedin commission, has raised about $29,392. Dunedin commissioners earn $8,000 a year.

Partisan and money from political action committees are also showing up in Dunedin races.

Mayor Julie Bujalski has received donations the Stonewall Democrats of St. Petersburg ($500). She’s also received $1,000 each from the nonpartisan Realtors Political Activity, the Realtors Political Action, and the Realtors Political Advocacy committees. The first two share an address in Tallahassee. The Political Advocacy group is from Orlando.

Her opponent, Livingston, has received $1,000 from Liberty Florida, a PAC tied to Liberty Insurance. Former Republican County Commissioner Susan Latvala has donated $100 to his campaign.

Freaney received $500 from the Florida Leadership Committee. She also received donations from the nonpartisan Florida Fire PAC and the Dunedin Firefighters Association. Susan Latvala and former Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats, a Republican, also donated $200 each to her campaign.

Freaney’s opponent, Mike Jones, has raised about $10,996.

Gacy received $1,000 from Floridians for Economic Freedom, a political action group chaired by Republican state Rep. Chris Sprowls. Sprowls, a Republican, is facing Democrat Bernie Fensterwald in the HD 65 race.

Gacy’s opponent, Reuben Hepburn, has raised $7,188.39.

Jack Latvala calls for delegation to meet again to discuss Pinellas sewer woes

State Sen. Jack Latvala has called for a follow-up workshop meeting of the Pinellas legislative delegation to hear and discuss the effects of the recent discharge of untreated sewage into Tampa Bay waters by cities in Pinellas County during Hurricane Hermine.

The meeting will be Nov. 16, from 9-11:30 a.m. at the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital Education and Conference Center, 701 4th St. S. in St. Petersburg.

Part of the event will be a presentation by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. This meeting will be in a workshop format, and while the public is invited to attend, it must end promptly at 11:30 a.m., so there may be limited time for public input.

It will be the second time the Clearwater Republican called a delegation meeting to discuss the county’s sewer woes.

The first meeting, in September, came after St. Petersburg discharged untreated and partially treated wastewater into Tampa Bay as Hurricane Hermine passed in the Gulf.

That discharge was the second time this year St. Petersburg had to pump wastewater into Tampa Bay. When Tropical Storm Colin hit in June, water made its way into leaky pipes and overloaded the system.

Part of the problem arose from the closure of the Albert Whitted sewer plant, which reduced capacity in the city’s sewer system.

Although St. Petersburg has been the main focus for sewer problems, other Pinellas municipalities — including Gulfport, St. Pete Beach, and Tarpon Springs — also experienced sewer overflows.

The delegation is only one group focusing on the county’s sewer issues, which local officials blame on an aging system and long-term failure to maintain the overall system.

Gov. Rick Scott called for a DEP investigation into St. Petersburg’s sewer discharges, which his office said amount to more than 150 million gallons.

A few days before, St. Petersburg had signed a consent order with the DEP after the agency found environmental violations to have occurred at three specific times. The first was Aug. 2-10, 2015, when more than 31.5 million gallons of raw sewage dumped into Clam Bayou and surrounding neighborhoods.

Mayor Rick Kriseman and the St. Petersburg City Council have authorized an investigation into the city’s water resources department to find out why information concerning the closure of the Albert Whitted plant was not given to higher ups.

And on Monday, a task force met for the first time to discuss possible countywide solutions to the issues. The panel, convened by Pinellas County Commissioner Charlie Justice, is made up of elected and technical representatives from the county, cities, and community and privately owned sewer systems.

Janet Long donates to Chris Latvala’s HD 67 campaign

Janet LongPinellas County Commissioner Janet Long donated $100 to Chris Latvala’s re-election campaign.

Long is a Democrat. Latvala is a Republican.

“I support those who I think are really, really good leaders,” Long said. “I have found him to have quite a bit of depth for a man of his age.”

Long said Tuesday that, at the beginning of the campaign season, she said she would not work against any incumbent who had done good things for Pinellas. Latvala, whom Long has known since he was a child, fit in that category.

Latvala, she said, always has had an open-door policy and has helped with some issues important both to her and to Pinellas.

“He’s very positive about helping me with my transportation issue,” said Long, who is urging that transportation issues be handled on a more regional basis.

“Do I agree with everything he does?” she asked. “No, I do not.”

But, she said, it’s important for the county to have good relations with all elected officials in order to get things accomplished. And that means crossing party lines to collaborate and work to achieve goals.

“Do you have to hate someone because they’re a member of a different political party?” Long asked.

Long said she has nothing against Latvala’s opponent, Democrat David Vogel. Long has never met Vogel and has only heard him speak once. During that forum, Long said Vogel did not explain why he’s running. Instead, “all he did was tear down Chris, and I don’t like that,” Long said.

Latvala, the son of state Sen. Jack Latvala, is running for his second term in state House District 67. Like Long, Latvala says he prides himself on being able to work across the aisle to “do what’s right.”

Among his first-term accomplishments are laws that would bolster resiliency and self-motivation in the classroom by teaching resume writing and job interview strategies, and another that makes it easier for nonviolent, non-habitual juvenile offenders to overcome past mistakes and find work.

District 67 covers a portion of Clearwater, Largo, Pinellas Park and the unincorporated High Point area. The election is Nov. 8.

business meeting

Personnel note: Crystal Sircy heads to Orlando EDC

Crystal Sircy, the chief operating officer of Enterprise Florida (EFI), the state’s public-private economic development agency, is leaving to join the Orlando Economic Development Commission as its new executive vice president.

Sircy, who has been with EFI since 1997, announced her resignation in an email to “stakeholders” last Thursday that was provided to FloridaPolitics.com on Monday.

“I am so proud of the work we have done together to expand and diversify the state’s economy through job creation,” she said. “I am honored to have been a part of this team and thank you for being great partners.”

Her move comes as lawmakers gird for a fight this upcoming session that could lead to the agency’s demise. It acts as a conduit for economic incentives to lure companies and jobs to the Sunshine State.

State Sen. Jack Latvala, in line to become Appropriations chairman under Senate President Joe Negron, said he will support money in the state budget for business incentives. This year, Latvala championed Gov. Rick Scott‘s request for a $250 million business incentive fund that ultimately died by session’s end.

On the other side is House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran, a bitter opponent of business incentives, or what he calls “corporate welfare.” When recently asked whether he would back disbanding the organization, he said: “I think that’s definitely a discussion that’s going to take place this coming session.”

Sircy said she still believes in the agency’s mission.

“Like you, I believe economic development is vital to our state’s resilience and prosperity,” she said in her email. “I want to assure you that Enterprise Florida is in good hands. The organization has the support of the governor and is led by a board of directors comprised of professionals highly respected across the state.”

Enterprise Florida has been without a leader since former CEO Bill Johnson stepped down in late June. The process to hire a new agency head was stalled by Hurricane Matthew.

medical marijuana

Some Florida Republicans AWOL on talking about Amendment 2

Florida Republican leaders have been conspicuously quiet about where they stand on Amendment 2, the ballot initiative that would legalize medical marijuana.

“I think a lot of people are being quiet about it because they assume it’s going to pass and they don’t want to be on the wrong side,” incoming Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Latvala said last week about the relative scarcity of GOP leaders opposed to the measure.

After speaking with Latvala, FloridaPolitics.com reached out last week to four leading Republicans in Florida to determine where they stand on the issue, but five days later, only incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran responded to our entreaty.

“In 2014, the Florida House passed the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act that eventually became law,” Corcoran emailed Florida Politics. “The law created a strict regime for dispensing non-smoked low-THC cannabis to patients who had run out of traditional pain management options. I believe that Amendment 2 is both unnecessary and is merely a steppingstone in the full legalization playbook. The law in place strikes a balance between compassion and control and poses no danger to our kids and grandkids.”

In addition to Corcoran, this reporter also reached out to incoming Senate President Joe Negron, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.

This is the second consecutive statewide election with the issue of medical marijuana on the ballot.

In 2014, the measure received over 57 percent support at the polls, short of the 60 percent required for a citizen’s led initiative to pass. Nearly every respected poll published this year shows the measure getting over the required threshold, though the polls were also favorable at this time two years ago.

Latvala took a beating on his Facebook page when he announced his opposition in September, but the Clearwater Republican said it actually demonstrated his political courage.

“To get involved in something’s that winning over 70 percent of the vote is not an easy thing to do,” he said. “It takes a little bit of courage to get involved in an issue where it looks like you’re losing.”

Many, if not most, Republicans opposed the measure in 2014, but some have come on board this year, including Tampa Bay area Republicans Jeff Brandes and Dana Young.

While some lawmakers like Corcoran says the law previously passed by the Legislature serves its purpose, critics note it also limits the growing and distribution of marijuana to just six nursery owners in the state.

“The Legislature screwed up the opportunity in the medical marijuana law,” says Brandes. “What you’ve seen them do is create a situation where only a handful of families can get wealthy.”

The measure also is getting more buy-in from the editorial boards of some of the state’s biggest newspapers. In the past two days, three newspapers — the Florida Times-Union, the News Herald of Panama City, and the Ft. Myers News-Press — have all urged their readers to vote “yes” on the proposal. All three papers’ editorial boards had opposed Amendment 2 in 2014.

The Orlando Sentinel came out with an editorial opposing the measure, saying: “It’s the right policy, but the constitution is the wrong place to do it.”

auger boggio

Who watches the low-income housing watchmen? (Part III)

Now that the ink is dry on a federal criminal plea deal that put an end to a $36 million housing fraud, what will legislators do now to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

To recap, federal prosecutors had alleged 70-year-old developer Lloyd Boggio of Carlisle Development Group and others defrauded the government out of millions. They did so by padding South Florida affordable-housing projects to get federal tax credits and grants, then keeping the excess.

Last month, Boggio pleaded guilty and agreed to turn over his Coconut Grove mansion and an initial $2 million in cash to begin making amends.

This waste of taxpayer money happened because a key watchdog agency seemingly fell asleep at the switch: the Florida Housing Finance Corporation (FHFC), led by Steve Auger, its executive director.

Court records tell us “FHFC authorized the allocation of (the) tax credits and grant monies,” which raises the question of how no one at the agency had an inkling they were getting swindled.

But the corporation was created by the state Legislature, which means it should answer to some pretty powerful people. The following lawmakers should be outraged their own constituents got screwed and should demand answers:

Jack Latvala, the incoming Senate Appropriations chairman. He formerly headed the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development, which had oversight of the agency.

Several years ago, Latvala’s feud with Auger nearly cost him his job. Also, Latvala already is loaded for bear over municipal utilities’ storm preparedness, for one example, so the agency should tread lightly if he starts asking questions—which he should.

— State Sen. Anitere Flores. She also represents part of Miami-Dade and has the ear of Senate President-designate Joe Negron.

— State Reps. Jose Felix Diaz and Carlos Trujillo. The money that was heisted was supposed to go toward housing for Miam-Dade’s neediest citizens, many of whom these two lawmakers represent.

Both have been in House leadership, with Diaz most recently heading the Regulatory Affairs Committee and Trujillo chairing the Criminal Justice subcommittee. Of concern to the agency: Diaz is familiar with affordable housing issues and Trujillo is rumored to be on the short list for chairman of House Appropriations.

We’ll start things off with a little research and some suggested questions.

Many of the frauds involved an arrangement where tax credits are awarded to a developer for a proposed affordable housing project, and those credits are good for 10 years.

Those tax credits are then sold by the developer to buyers who then apply the credits against their own federal tax obligation. So if Carlisle was awarded, say $1 million in tax credits, that million is actually worth $10 million in cash or equity.

That means the $36 million they stole was actually worth (or could have been worth) more than $260 million.

Now the questions:

— What was it about the culture or staff at FHFC that let Boggio and Co. think they could defraud the state and federal governments?

— Was the relationship between Auger and Boggio too cozy, as some suggest?

— Has Auger taken any steps to assume responsibility for this?

— What safeguards could be put in place at FHFC to detect this kind of fraud in the future?

It bears repeating that it’s odd no one is talking about this. Maybe that will change between now and next session.

The Mitch Perry Report for 10.4.16 — And now for something completely different

Since his selection to be Donald Trump’s running mate back in July, it’s been downright amusing at times to watch Mike Pence have to answer for his new boss while being asked about his latest outrageous comment.

“Torturous” might be the best term to explain some of the responses he’s had to come up with to defend or deflect the latest comment by the GOP standard bearer. Sure, Katrina Pierson and Jeffrey Lord have lost their dignity at times on cable news, but Pence is the current governor of Indiana and a former member of Congress who had his own political persona swallowed up because of the unique position he’s in.

Tonight, Pence takes on Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine in the vice-presidential debate from Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. They’ll be questioned by CBS’ digital news anchor Elaine Quijano, the first Asian-American moderator for a presidential or vice-presidential debate, and believe it or not, at 42, the youngest such host since Judy Woodruff in 1988.

One would presumably trust we’ll hear more about policy than we did in either the first presidential debate or on the campaign trail in general. But Quijano is going to have to be compelled to ask Pence to deal with some of Trump’s statements. No doubt we’ll hear talking points from Team Trump — that their man’s ability to use the tax code to (presumably) not pay taxes for years was “brilliant” — which is what Trump surrogates (and the man himself) have been saying for the past two days after the New York Times report on the nearly billion-dollar loss he wrote off in 1995.

And what about Kaine? While he’s been a loyal soldier to Hillary Clinton on the trail (mostly by bashing Trump), there are a few policy positions that distinguish himself from the top of the ticket. For example, Kaine supports the Hyde Amendment, which has banned taxpayer-funded abortions for nearly 40 years, yet he says he will work with Clinton to overturn it as vice president. And he was a fan of the Trans-Pacific Partnership the same week he was selected as Clinton’s running mate, then came out against it (after Clinton herself reversed her stance on the TPP).

Then again, will this matter that much? The VP debate certainly did four years ago, when Joe Biden came on incredibly aggressive (almost rude) against Paul Ryan from the jump, so determined was he to be the aggressor in win the debate after Barack Obama laid an egg against Mitt Romney in their first presidential debate.

An ABC News poll released last week found that more than 40 percent of the American public couldn’t pick Kaine or Pence out of a line-up.

In other news…

Who says Charlie Crist can’t laugh at himself? The CD 13 Democratic candidate is airing a new television ad which includes an admission about his infatuation with devices that keep him cool.

Meanwhile, the David Jolly campaign team is pumped up about a D.C. website’s projection of the race to be tightening. 

Jack Latvala announced last week he opposes the medical marijuana constitutional amendment. The reaction on Facebook was fierce.

Joe Redner has gone up with the first TV of his SD 18 campaign.

Hillary Clinton has new radio ads in English and Spanish airing in South Florida pounding Donald Trump on that whole doing business with Cuba report from last week’s Newsweek.

Tampa Democrats are working hard to get as many people registered as possible before next week’s deadline to vote in the November election.

The Tampa Police Department has received a $1.9 million grant from the Department of Justice to hire 15 community police officers.

Not that it’s a surprise, but Jeff Brandes was “elected” the new state senator of District 24 yesterday, after his write-in opponent dropped out.

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