Jack Latvala Archives - Page 6 of 38 - Florida Politics

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.

Jack Latvala comes out against medical pot; the internet reacts

Last Friday, Clearwater Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala announced he would be opposing Amendment 2, the imitative calling for legalizing medical marijuana in the Sunshine State.

“Amendment 2 is bad for Florida,” Latvala says in a short video on the Facebook page created for his election campaign. “The constitution is forever,” he says. “Future legislators or judges can’t change it, even if science finds it harmful.”

The reaction has been fierce on social media, with the announcement generating more than 100 comments on his campaign Facebook page, most of them negative.

“How much are you getting from liquor and beer companies to make this PA?” wrote Jose Carlos Buraschi. “Thanks to people like you, my son could not get the medicine he needed back in 2014. Now he is dead!!! Please do research before you say all this nonsense about low THC, and how that is enough. What research have you personally done to say that ‘Charlotte’s Web’ is enough to cure cancer, treat Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, etc.?”

There were plenty of comments suggesting Latvala was heeding the wisdom of “Big Pharma” and that he’s endangered his chances of getting elected. The odds of that happening are virtually nonexistent, however, considering that not one Democrat or Republican even bothered to file to run against him in his bid to win his state Senate District 16 next month. Katherine Perkins is a write-in candidate listed as also running for the seat.

“Apparently you’ve never saw someone who has suffered through chemotherapy and its side effects,” wrote Gail Bender. “If you had, I’ll wager that you would do ANYTHING that would help. It’s so much more important to you that you listen to those drug lobbyists. Well, guess what. Whether you like it or not, it’s coming. Oh, and like I said. Your straight answer was quite telling in whom you’ve sided with. Good luck on winning the next election. Marijuana use will help thousands of registered voters live long enough to vote you out on your next election cycle.”

Some reactions were extremely personal.

“I hope that someday your life is touched by you or a loved one having a chronic and painful illness,” wrote Norie Berndt. “Then you will understand why it’s important to make medical marijuana legal.”

It should also be noted more than 133 people gave a “like” to the video. And the reaction is much more balanced on his personal Facebook page.

The senator responded Saturday by posting a photo of marijuana edibles. “Tell me kids won’t get ahold of this pot candy if it comes to Florida. #VoteNoOn2,” he wrote.

That also generated similar negative feedback.

“Why are you blurring the lines and making up lies?” wrote Tommy Frain. “Amendment 2 gives a ton of power to the Department of Health for implementation and is very restrictive on the illness medical cannabis is allowed to be given for. What’s up with these scare tactics, Jack?”

In an interview Monday, Latvala said he wasn’t surprised by the reaction, but, to him, it’s a moral issue and doesn’t have anything to do with politics.

“I just draw the line,” he said. “It’s what you’ve got to do sometimes if you’re a leader.”

Latvala has received contributions from 10 different pharmaceutical companies in his 2016 election campaign totaling $5,500, including $500 contributions from companies like Pfizer, Merck Sharp & Dohme, and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Latvala notes the total amount of those contributions just above 1 percent of the $508,712 he’s collected in his campaign account as of Sept. 16 (there have been a handful of contributions from pharmaceutical companies to his political action committee).

“I generally take money from all legal sources, and I generally don’t worry about who I irritate to give me money,” he says, adding that he’s been tough on groups like the utility companies in Florida, yet has received contributions from them. “There’s no connection.”

Some fellow Pinellas Republicans disagree with Latvala’s stance.

“Our government has failed its citizens on medical marijuana policy,” St. Petersburg state Sen. Jeff Brandes said Friday, referring to the “Charlotte’s Web law,” which legalized the use of a non-euphoric strain of marijuana to treat conditions such as epilepsy, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and cancer (and which Latvala opposed).

“Today we have a law on the books that enriches a handful of people, and places barriers between doctors and their patients by depriving them access to a treatment that could improve their quality of life,” Brandes added. “The law today must change, and Amendment 2 is a responsible option for sensible medical marijuana regulation.”

Latvala says he believes some people are coming out in support of the measure because the odds of passage look good next month, according to public opinion polls. He says it takes more courage to go against the grain.

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

Here’s where stuff stands in Tampa Bay politics — the ‘it’s October’ edition

Hello, October.

This is the final full month of the 2016 campaign cycle. In five weeks, we will know so much more about the future of the country, the state and our communities. But, no matter what, life will go on.

For those in “The Process” — Florida Politics’ term for the unending legislative campaign/legislative session system — it’s just two months before committee meetings begin.

In fact, like many people I talk to who are in “The Process,” we’re planning for the 2017 Legislative Session as they are monitoring the final weeks of the campaign season.

Of course, we all are fascinated by the presidential campaign, while the U.S. Senate race between Republican Marco Rubio and his Democratic challenger, Patrick Murphy, seems uninspiring. It’s like one of those Hollywood blockbusters with a big budget and exciting trailer, yet fails to deliver at the box office.

Fortunately for Tampa Bay politicos, there are several races which are not only competitive but are getting more interesting as Election Day approaches.

Here’s where sh*t stands in Tampa Bay politics …

When I left the Palladium Theater after the debate between David Jolly and Charlie Crist, I could have made a case for either candidate having won the showdown. Jolly landed several sharp jabs, while Crist probably delivered the hardest punch with his “invitation to lead” remark.

In retrospect, I think Jolly needed to have won the debate to be the winner, whereas the expectations for Crist were low enough that he just had to not make a gaffe and he won. That’s not only how the debate went, but how the campaign seems to be proceeding. An elected official who is one of Crist’s loudest detractors recently admitted he was surprised how well Crist did at the debate.

The demographics are just not on Jolly’s side. He has to win independents by a large enough margin to overcome the Democratic performance advantage in a presidential year. And I don’t know that he has the resources to make enough of a case. He’s releasing digital ads because he doesn’t have the money to go up on television. He’s hoping the super PAC funded mostly by money committed to him while he was a U.S. Senate candidate can keep him on par with Crist’s fundraising advantage.

I just don’t know if there is enough gas in the tank. Crist’s latest ad — the one in which he says “I’m a fan of fans” — is much improved on previous efforts. And there’s even this proof of how hard Crist is working:


That’s right, that’s Crist himself putting out signs on a Sunday morning. I haven’t seen that since he was running for state Senate.

Two weeks ago, I concurred with St. Pete Polls’ survey that pegged Jolly the slight leader over Crist. I believe the race has shifted to Crist’s advantage.

Crist and Jolly will face off again this Thursday at a forum hosted by Suncoast Tiger Bay. The event is at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club and begins at noon. The deadline to RSVP is Oct. 3.

The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections will mail more than 264,000 ballots to domestic voters Tuesday. You probably have seen the countless stories about how early voting is changing campaigns, but this point cannot be stressed enough: in one of, if not the, most crucial battleground states in the country, the real Election Day is this week as opposed to the one on the calendar in November.

It’s a story for a larger piece, but in case you haven’t been paying attention, Sen. Jack Latvala has a lot to say. That’s probably nothing new, but as the incoming chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he’s never had the kind of platform he has now. As powerful as he has been, he’s never been this powerful before.

So when Sen. Latvala speaks, it’s more important than ever to listen.

Latvala has opinions on Amendment 2 (he’s against it and spending his own money to oppose it), funding for Enterprise Florida (he’s for it and thinks a compromise between Rick Scott and Richard Corcoran can be reached), raises for state employees (he’s making that his top priority next session) and a host of other issues.

In the run-up to the 2017 Session — and certainly beyond — it is probably more important than ever to listen to what Latvala has to say. After all, he has say on, oh, about $80 billion.

Speaking of the Latvala clan, state Rep. Chris Latvala handled himself very well at last week’s candidate forum sponsored by Suncoast Tiger Bay. Admittedly, he is a friend. And Chris is a partisan (he says he’s voting for Donald Trump), but his answers on a range of issues were not only smart, but they were also well-articulated and compassionate.

More than anything, Latvala demonstrated that he’s not just his father’s son (although there certainly would be nothing wrong with that).

Latvala’s Democratic opponent, David Vogel, told Tiger Bay organizers that he would not participate in the candidate forum because he objected to questions asked at a previous forum by the moderator. That moderator? Yours truly.

Creative Loafing’s Kate Bradshaw summarizes the situation:

Vogel said he didn’t like the questions Schorsch asked at another forum — namely two he posed to Joseph Bensmihen, a Republican running for a state House seat in St. Pete and a recent transplant. They were designed to show how well — or not well, actually — he knew the district, but his responses were memorable gaffes: his favorite restaurant on St. Pete’s 4th Street was a Chick-fil-A franchise, he said, and he couldn’t name the mayor who preceded current St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman.

“[Vogel] said that those questions are not serious,” Schorsch said.

First of all, Tiger Bay forums are not meant to be entirely serious. They promise to “carve up a politican for lunch,” which we all know/hope is an unserious motto.

But the kind of questions I asked Joe Bensmihen — and it should be noted that I asked each of the candidates a range of policy questions — are essential because they illuminate a candidate’s knowledge of the community he wants to represent.

Just like a question about “Aleppo” gives a voter a sense of a presidential aspirant’s grasp of geopolitics.

Vogel — far behind Latvala in polls and money — missed an opportunity to make his case to Tiger Bay members.

Republican state House candidate Jackie Toledo has a major fundraiser planned for this Wednesday. Here’s the invitation:


Newspaper endorsements probably matter less than they ever had, but at least one recommendation is worth noting.

Trilingual La Gaceta, which should be written in blue ink instead of black it leans that far to the Democratic left, endorsed Republican Shawn Harrison in House District 63 over Democrat Lisa Montelione.

“(N)ormally, we support Democrats, but lately we’ve noticed some Democrats aren’t acting like Democrats. Lisa Montelione is on that list” writes publisher Patrick Manteiga.

The endorsement notes that Montelione, Tampa’s District 7 City Councilwoman, “approved two consecutive tax increases in the City of Tampa that combined, are the largest in the city’s history.” She “also recently extended the city’s red light ticket program,” it said. “Democrats don’t privatize our policing to private, for-profit corporations. These programs hurt the poor. These tickets are hard to fight, and the system makes mistakes.” On the other hand, Harrison “is a moderate Republican. Democrats can work with him,” the paper said. … “He’s smart, compassionate, focused and does his homework. He can build coalitions.”

Look for Harrison’s campaign to waste little time printing a direct mailer with Manteiga’s words in big, bold letters.

Perhaps the most despised governmental agency in Tampa Bay is the Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission. Beholden to the local taxi industry, the PTC has almost pushed ridesharing services Uber and Lyft out of the market. Yes, a deal has been reached that may keep them here, but it’s not a certainty.

Whichever way that deal breaks, the fate of the PTC will likely be decided by the Florida Legislature, of which several Tampa Bay lawmakers have their knives out for the PTC.

This makes this one of the most interesting lobbying battles shaping up in Tallahassee.

On one side, there is the PTC and its registered lobbyists at Corcoran & Johnston. That is the firm headed by Michael Corcoran, brother of incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran. On the other side, there is Sen. Jeff Brandes and Reps. Larry Ahern, James Grant, and Dana Young, who would like to abolish the PTC.

Oh, also with Brandes, Young and Co. is Speaker Corcoran, who co-signed a pro-Uber letter to the PTC.

The very fact that the PTC is paying $120,000 to lobby the lawmakers who would like to see it abolished only serves to pour gasoline on this flammable situation.

Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez has a grand opening for his campaign headquarters on Tuesday, Oct. 11. Here’s the invite:


Jack Latvala says bill may put PSC over local utilities

State Sen. Jack Latvala, his chamber’s next budget chief, Friday said he might file legislation for next year to put municipal utilities under the supervision of the state’s Public Service Commission.

“I think you’re going to see a bill dealing with the municipalities that are currently not supervised by anybody above them, in terms of their (storm) preparedness, their rates,” he told reporters in Tallahassee.

The commission already oversees investor-owned utilities, including rate increase requests.

But the head of the organization representing municipal electric utilities said they already are well regulated by the cities they serve or by separate utility authorities.

Earlier this month, Latvala — a Clearwater Republican — said he was considering legislative action to address the City of Tallahassee’s response to Hurricane Hermine.

Specifically, he said he questions whether community-based power operations — such as City of Tallahassee Utilities — are positioned as well as they could be to recover after major storms.

Hermine, a Category 1 hurricane at landfall, knocked out electric service to hundreds of thousands across North Florida, including nearly 68,000 in Tallahassee alone. About 90 percent of customers had power restored in six days.  

Latvala used Vero Beach as an example, where he said 60 percent of utility customers live outside the city limits and don’t have a say in utility governance.

“There will very likely be some legislation that will … maybe put the municipals under the purview of the Public Service Commission,” he said. “Maybe the bill will just put emergency preparedness under the PSC. I don’t know yet.”

Barry Moline, director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association, said Kissimmee, Orlando, and Lakeland, for example, have put non-resident utility customers on their utility system’s governing boards.

Vero Beach has the same opportunity to do so and has so far declined, he said.

As to further oversight, Moline added that the PSC already regulates municipal utilities on “storm hardening” and when they seek to build new power plants.  

“And our rates are already regulated by local governments all over Florida,” he said.

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