Republican members of the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation faced scrutiny Thursday morning from a slew of conservative commenters calling for a Special Session to ban mask and vaccine mandates.
The commenters, many from the county’s Community Patriots group, pointed their criticisms toward conservative members of the delegation — including Reps. Chris Latvala and Nick DiCeglie and Sens. Ed Hooper and Jeff Brandes — during the delegation meeting.
The speakers urged lawmakers to call a Special Session in support of a bill (HB 75) filed by Howey-in-the-Hills Rep. Anthony Sabatini that seeks to ban COVID-19-related mandates, like those requiring vaccines or masks.
“You are in a really unique position to uphold our constitutional rights to make ethical decisions for our community,” said Christine Bauhs, with Florida Freedom Keepers. “For all the conservatives sitting before me I’m putting you on notice — if you will not take a stand for bodily autonomy in Florida, we will replace you.”
Although the conservative members addressed by the speakers sat maskless, contrasted by their Democratic counterparts, the commenters were clear in their message — Republican lawmakers who don’t call for action will be challenged in the 2022 Primary Election, despite the shaky viability of such campaigns.
“We already plan on giving you a Primary from hell. We already have people,” said Audra Christian, of Pinellas Community Patriots, about Latvala’s seat. “I’ve been a registered Republican since I was 18 years old. You have left us.”
Latvala is not up for reelection as he faces term limits. He’s instead mulling a run for Pinellas County Commission.
The commenters notably honed in on Latvala, with some criticizing him for looking down at his phone while they were speaking, causing some commotion between DiCeglie, who was chairing the meeting, and commentators.
“Rep. Latvala could you get off your phone please, I’d appreciate it if you’d pay attention,” Isaiah Niel said, who was then met with echoes of support.
“My last concern is the lack of response I’ve seen from this delegation on these issues. Your silence is deafening,” he continued, advocating once again for a Special Session banning COVID-19-related mandates.
But, masks and shots weren’t the only things the delegation’s Republican majority was criticized for — the group also heard from community members about voter fraud, going as far as to claim that Pinellas County is rampant with such activity. There is no credible evidence to suggest widespread voter fraud occured in the county.
The claims showed further rifts in the party, and its leadership, with one commenter calling out Republican House Speaker Chris Sprowls for saying that Florida’s elections ran smoothly in 2020.
“No sir, they did not. Our voter rolls will be used against you,” said Cathi Chamberlain, with Defend Florida, about Sprowls’ comments. “There was fraud here, right here in Pinellas. The RNC wants us to ignore what we have seen. We will not.”
Such a claim prompted response from Brandes, who told the commenters that they should go to the Sheriff’s Office with any information pertaining to election fraud, rather than lawmakers.
“We make the laws, they enforce them,” Brandes said.