Jack Latvala Archives - Florida Politics
SD 16 - Hooper vs. Murphy

Ed Hooper leads Amanda Murphy by a hair in SD 16 dogfight

Former Republican Rep. Ed Hooper and Former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy are locked in a dogfight according to a new poll of the race for open Senate District 16 seat.

The St. Pete Polls survey, conducted Oct. 18, found Hopper leading Murphy by a basket 19 days out from the election, 48-46 percent with 6 percent undecided. His 2-point lead among SD 16 voters shrinks to just six-tenths of a point, however, among the 36 percent who said they’ve already cast their ballot.

The Clearwater Republican is also up a deuce over his New Port Richey rival among the yet-to-vote crowd, which favored him 47-45 percent. Those voters were the most undecided, with 8 percent saying they hadn’t decided which of the two former lawmakers would earn their vote.

The topline results in the new poll are almost unmoved from where they were a month ago, when Hooper led Murphy 47-45 percent in the Tampa Bay area scrap.

The consistency in the topline numbers belies a few shifts in the senate scrum since that measure.

Hooper and Murphy have both improved among their party’s base, an important accomplishment for Hooper especially, Murphy was peeling away a fifth of Republicans in the prior poll. He’s lost ground among independents, however, who have started to skew more heavily toward the Democrat.

A month ago, Murphy held a 46-41 percent lead among unaffiliated and no-party voters. That lead has more than doubled to a 52-39 percent spread in the interim, heavily augmenting her base in a district where Republicans make up a strong plurality of the electorate.

White voters have been steady in giving a slim edge to Hooper, whom they favored 48-44 percent with 19 days to go until Election Day.

Murphy is still racking up big leads among the handful of black and Hispanic voters polled, though non-Hispanic whites make up 85 percent of the district’s voting age population, and redistricting data shows those voters tend to made up an even larger share of those who make it to the polls.

A full third of white voters said they’ve already cast their ballot.

Hooper has also improved his standing among women, who now prefer him over Murphy by 5 points, 49-44 percent. That step forward was coupled with a backslide among med — Murphy has improved from a 7-point underdog among those voters into a virtual tie at 47 percent all.

Millennials, Gen Xers are still leaning toward Hooper by a material margin although he and Murphy are grappling for supremacy among older voters, who make up a much larger share of the electorate and tend to punch above their weight at the ballot box.

There’s are virtually tie among voters aged 50 to 65, the largest age bracket in the district, while the 70-plus crowd has started gravitating toward Murphy by a statistically significant 51-45 percent margin.

The push poll received 816 responses from registered voters who said they were voting in the Nov. 6 general election. The sample was 41 percent Republican, one-third Democrat and 26 percent independent. The topline results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Though Hooper has held on to a slim in the last couple St. Pete Polls surveys, his inability to muster up an outside-the-margin edge indicates SD 16 voters will make a marked shift toward the Democrats this cycle.

That shift could be due to the now 10-month interregnum since SD 16 voters last had a representative — the seat was last held by Republican Sen. Jack Latvala, who was a vocal Hooper supporter and considered an asset in his Senate campaign before he resigned late last year amid accusations of sexual misconduct.

Additionally, Murphy has shown an unprecedented ability to lull GOP voters in each of her three elections. In a 2013 special election, she took over for exiting Republican Rep. Mike Fasano — with his blessing, no less — and won re-election to a full term the following year.

In 2016, she was booted from office by now-Republican Rep. Amber Mariano in one of the closest state House races in recent history. In spite of President Donald Trump winning the Pasco-based House seat in a 20-point landslide, the Murpy-Mariano contest came down to to just 691 votes, or 0.6 percent.

While SD 16 is essentially an even-money race when it comes to the odds, Hooper and Murphy are nowhere near even in the fundraising race.

As of Oct. 5, Hooper had raked in more than $900,000 for his comeback bid, including $600,000 in hard money and another $300,000-plus in committee cash via Friends of Ed Hooper, not to mention the substantial “in-kind” support he’s received from the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, a cash rich party affiliated committee helmed by incoming Senate President Bill Galvano. Hooper has $421,000 in the bank.

For her part, Murphy has collected $116,500 in hard money and another $276,300 in soft via her two PACs — Working Towards Florida’s Future and Taxpayers for Responsible Government. She had a relatively lean $55,540 banked between the three accounts on Oct. 5.

SD 16 covers northern Pinellas County and southwestern Pasco County, including Clearwater, Dunedin, Safety Harbor, Palm Harbor, New Port Richey and Oldsmar. Republicans make up about 38 percent of the district’s electorate, while Democrats make up about a third. Two years ago, President Donald Trump carried the district by 12 points.

Ed Hooper rakes in corporate cash for SD 16 bid

Former state Rep. Ed Hooper grew his campaign and committee coffers to more than $900,000 during the most recent campaign finance reporting period, covering Sept. 29-Oct. 5.

The Republican state Senate candidate’s fundraising more than doubles his opponent’s: Amanda Murphy’s campaign and affiliated committees together have brought in $393,000.

Hooper’s campaign raised $48,000 during the latest reporting period. His committee, Friends of Ed Hooper, raised $13,000.

The two candidates are facing off in a battle to replace former state Sen. Jack Latvala in Senate District 16. He resigned earlier this year amid sexual misconduct allegations.

SD 16 covers parts of Pasco and Pinellas counties, including Clearwater, Dunedin, New Port Richey, Oldsmar, Safety Harbor and Palm Harbor.

Fundraising trends between the two campaigns mirror that of other state matchups where Republicans are far out-raising their Democratic candidates.

Democrats, including Murphy, are raising funds locally through smaller dollar gifts while Republicans are relying on special interests and outside groups for high-dollar contributions.

Hooper raked in money from the pharmaceutical industry with giants like Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly and Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb making large-dollar contributions to his campaign.

Hooper also received cash from entities affiliated with Walt Disney World, beer distributors and the auto manufacturing and sales industry.

Hooper’s campaign brought in 65 individual contributions during the latest reporting period, with those averaging $738 each.

Meanwhile, most of Murphy’s contributions came from Tampa Bay area residents. Her campaign received 54 contributions averaging $352 each.

Murphy tapped contributions from teacher’s and ironworker’s unions and the Flippable Florida Victory Fund created to push the so-called “blue wave.”

Hooper spent $15,000 this report with most of that going to Direct Mail Systems for campaign mailers. His committee did not report any recent expenses.

Murphy spent $19,000 this report with $17,000 of that going to Tallahassee-based VancoreJones Communications for consulting. Her committee spent $39,000, but not for campaigning activity. The fund made payouts to other groups including Emily’s List, Flippable Florida Victory Fund and Sensible Gun Laws Now.

Hooper had a combined $421,000 banked at the end of the reporting period, while Murphy had a relatively lean $55,540 banked between her three accounts.

Murphy lost her previously held House district by fewer than 700 votes to now-Republican Rep. Amber Mariano. The race was considered a huge loss for Democrats despite the narrow majority in a district that went against Hillary Clinton in 2016 by double digits.

Hooper left the house to run for Pinellas County Commission in 2014. He lost to Democrat Pat Gerard.

The race is considered competitive. A St. Pete Polls survey in June put the race at 47-45 percent with Hooper holding the advantage, though his edge falls within the poll’s 3 percentage point margin of error.

SD 16 is, however, a “red” district. Republicans make up about 38 percent of the district’s electorate while Democrats account for about a third. The district went plus-12 for Trump in 2016.

State Senate now suing to stop federal harassment probe

A federal judge has set a hearing for next Tuesday in the state Senate‘s lawsuit to put an end to an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigation into a top aide’s sexual harassment and retaliation claims.

Rachel Perrin Rogers, chief assistant to Senate Republican Leader and future Senate President Wilton Simpson, says former Sen. Jack Latvala repeatedly groped her and made unwelcome comments about her body over a four-year period.

The Senate’s legal complaint, filled earlier this month, counters that “the ongoing EEOC action violates the Florida Senate’s sovereign and constitutional rights,” including “violat(ing) the Senate’s sovereign immunity.”

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. The Senate is first seeking a “temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction” to suspend that inquiry.

But Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle faulted the Senate’s lawyers for not giving any notice of that request to Perrin Rogers herself.

“The Senate should take note (that) the likelihood that preliminary relief will be granted without giving Ms. Perrin Rogers notice and an opportunity to be heard is low,” he wrote Monday.

The hearing next Tuesday is for “only matters of timing and procedure, not matters of substance, (and) the conference will be conducted entirely by telephone,” Hinkle wrote.

He said “attorneys for all parties must confer … in a good faith effort to reach agreement on the scheduling of a hearing on the motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction and on other procedural and substantive issues.”

Perrin Rogers first lodged harassment allegations last year against Latvala, the once-powerful Senate Appropriations Committee chair and Republican gubernatorial candidate from Clearwater.

An internal Senate investigation led to a special master’s report finding probable cause to support the allegations. Latvala resigned Dec. 19. A separate criminal probe ended in July without any charges being brought.

Perrin Rogers since filed a complaint with the EEOC, saying she was the victim of discrimination and retaliation after she came forward. Her case has been assigned to EEOC Administrative Law Judge Alexander Fernandez.


Updated 2 p.m. — Holland & Knight attorney Tara Price, outside counsel for the Senate, told the court Tuesday her client “did not name Ms. Perrin Rogers as a defendant out of respect for and as a courtesy to her.

“(The Senate) did not think it appropriate — and indeed, thought it would be heavy handed and inappropriate — to seek … relief against Ms. Perrin Rogers as a private citizen …

“However, (the Senate) has no objection to Ms. Perrin Rogers appearing before the court and participating in this action in whatever manner the court deems appropriate … Also, (the Senate) has already taken steps to alert” all of the defendants in the case, Price said.


Orlando correspondent Scott Powers, Tallahassee correspondent Danny McAuliffe, and Senior Editor Jim Rosica contributed to this post.

Forget Brett Kavanaugh; Florida facing its own ‘Supreme’ drama — in triplicate

While the nation was fixated on the drama surrounding Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, Floridians were reminded this week that they have their own Supreme Court controversy in triplicate.

Gov. Rick Scott reasserted his claim in court that he has the power, before he leaves office in January, to appoint replacements for three Florida Supreme Court justices who have reached a mandatory retirement age. Opponents contend the next governor, who takes office on Jan. 8, has that right.

Meanwhile, former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee for governor, told the Florida Chamber of Commerce this week that he intends to appoint the new justices.

“It’s important that we have a governor who understands that we have to appoint solid constitutionalists to our state courts, including our state Supreme Court,” he told the chamber members, who were meeting in Orlando.

“The next governor probably, and I know there’s a little bit of controversy about when these appointments happen, but I’m presuming that I get elected governor and get sworn in, that I will have three appointments to the state Supreme Court,” DeSantis said.

It’s not the first time DeSantis has asserted his right to make the court appointments. It became an issue in his final debate with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

“They’re not your appointments. They’re Gov. Scott’s appointments,” Putnam told him, saying DeSantis was aligning himself with groups like the League of Women Voters of Florida, who is challenging Scott on the court appointments.

For his part, Scott, who expects to get a list of potential court appointees by Nov. 8, has said he will work on the appointments with the winner of the Nov. 6 election.

Reaching an accommodation with DeSantis, who shares a similar conservative philosophy with Scott, seems possible. But if Democrat Andrew Gillum prevails, Floridians can expect the appointment controversy to intensify.


Scott’s lawyers on Wednesday argued the governor has the authority to appoint the replacements for justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince, who are all leaving the court in early January because they have reached the mandatory retirement age.

The lawsuit, filed by the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause, has asked the Supreme Court to block Scott’s action, through a procedure known as a “writ of quo warranto,” arguing the new governor who takes office on Jan. 8 should have that appointment power.

But in a 33-page res1ponse, Scott’s lawyers said he is following the precedent of beginning the appointment process before the vacancies actually occur, noting numerous justices have been appointed using this procedure in order to avoid prolonged vacancies on the court.

“The petitioners’ interpretation of the applicable constitutional provision is contrary to its plain language, the long-standing historical practice of the judicial nominating commissions for the Supreme Court and district courts of appeal, and the clearly articulated public policy underlying Article V of the Florida Constitution: avoiding extended vacancies in judicial office,” the lawyers wrote.

Earlier this month, Scott directed the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission to begin accepting and reviewing applications for the court appointments. The commission has set an Oct. 8 deadline for the applications, followed by a Nov. 8 deadline — two days after the general election — for submitting names of potential justices to the governor.

Scott, a Republican who is running against incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, said he has the “expectation” that he and the incoming governor could reach an agreement on the appointments.

Underscoring the legal challenge is the fact that the new appointments are likely to reshape the seven-member Supreme Court for years, if not decades. Pariente, Lewis and Quince are part of a liberal bloc, which now holds a slim 4-3 majority, that has thwarted Scott and the Republican-dominated Legislature on numerous occasions since the governor took office in 2011.


In another Florida parallel to the Kavanaugh controversy, where the nominee has been accused of sexually harassing women while in high school or college, a sexual discrimination case involving the Florida Senate advanced this week.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and four high-ranking senators — including President Joe Negron — are among the witnesses being asked to testify in a discrimination case filed by legislative aide Rachel Perrin Rogers, who accuses the Senate of retaliation after she filed a sexual harassment complaint last year against former Sen. Jack Latvala.

Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who held the powerful post of Senate budget chief and was a candidate for governor when Perrin Rogers’ allegations against him first came out, resigned from the Senate shortly before the legislative session began in January. He has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing.

Latvala is among the witnesses Tiffany Cruz, a lawyer who represents Perrin Rogers, is asking to appear at a Jan. 14 federal administrative-court hearing in Tampa, according to court documents first reported Wednesday by Politico Florida.

The list of witnesses gives just a glimpse into the allegations made by Perrin Rogers, who filed the discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in January.

One of the witnesses is Jean Seawright, who was hired by the Senate to conduct an investigation into Perrin Rogers after the aide filed the complaint against Latvala, according to court documents. Senate Special Master Ronald Swanson, who investigated Perrin Rogers’ allegations against Latvala, is also on the witness list.

Negron, a Stuart Republican who is leaving office after the November elections, “has knowledge that complainant suffered retaliation for making a report of sexual harassment,” Cruz wrote in a four-page list of witnesses submitted Tuesday to U.S. Administrative Law Judge Alexander Fernández.

The Senate president denied anyone punished Perrin Rogers, a high-ranking aide who works for Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, after she complained about Latvala.

“The complaint of sexual harassment, in this case, was immediately and fully investigated. At all times the Senate has acted appropriately and there has been no retaliation,” Negron said in a text message Wednesday.

But Cruz told The News Service of Florida on Wednesday that “there has been constant retaliation” against Perrin Rogers since she first complained about Latvala last fall. And the retaliation got worse after Swanson’s report was completed and the Senate aide filed her discrimination complaint, Cruz said.

“Instead, what we’ve seen happen here is the Senate has taken almost no action as the employer to protect Rachel when the retaliation was happening, and then subsequent to the investigation, they’ve actively taken steps to treat her differently as a result of her complaint,” she said.

The investigation into Latvala came amid a national spotlight on revelations of sexual harassment lodged against powerful men in Hollywood, business and politics that led to the demise of entertainment-industry titans such as Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose and Les Moonves.


Gov. Scott reasserted his right to appoint three new justices to the Florida Supreme Court before he leaves office in early January.


“The message that women are receiving, to me, is you become a pariah for saying something about any type of misconduct that’s happening to you by a man, especially by a man of power. If you say something too late, you get attacked for that. If you say something right away, you get attacked for that. So essentially the message is, be silent, or these are the consequences.” — Tiffany Cruz, a lawyer who is representing legislative aide Rachel Perrin Rogers, who is suing the Florida Senate in a discrimination case.


Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Tallahassee who’s-who on Rachel Perrin Rogers’ witness list in Florida Legislature suit

Rachel Perrin Rogers is seeking court testimony from a who’s-who list of Tallahassee powers and insiders in her lawsuit alleging discrimination and retaliation against her from the Florida Legislature regarding the sexual harassment claims she raised last fall against former state Sen. Jack Latvala.

Perrin Rogers, who is pursuing a lawsuit case through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, informed an administrative law judge Tuesday that the witnesses she intends to call include Latvala, outgoing Senate President Joe Negron, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, other lawmakers, as well as Florida Legislature staff, lawyers, lobbyists and others including Florida Politics Publisher Peter Schorsch.

Her witness list was first reported Wednesday by Politico Florida.

Perrin Rogers, chief legislative aide for Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, alleged late last fall that the once-powerful Senate Budget Committee chair and Republican gubernatorial candidate from Clearwater, Latvala, had repeatedly groped her and made unwelcome comments about her body over a period of four years. A legislative investigation of allegations against Latvala led to a special master’s report finding probable cause to support allegations. Latvala resigned Dec. 19. A separate criminal probe ended in July without any charges being brought.

Perrin Rogers filed a complaint with the EEOC, against the Florida Legislature, alleging she was the victim of discrimination and retaliation after she came forward with her accusations against Latvala. Her case was assigned to EEOC Administrative Law Judge Alexander Fernandez.

The witness list Perrin Rogers’ attorney Tiffany Cruz  filed with Fernandez on Tuesday included Bondi; Latvala; Negron; Simpson; Schorsch; Negron’s Chief of Staff Cheri Vancura; Florida Senate Legal Counsel George Meros; Jean Seawright; former Judge Ronald Swanson, who was the Special Master; state Sens. Lizbeth Benacquisto and Lauren Book; Caitlin Murray; Nancy Black-Stewart; and Florida Senate Sergeant At Arms Tim Hay.

Ray Blacklidge closes on hand cash gap with Jennifer Webb

The race to replace outgoing state Rep. Kathleen Peters in House District 69 has become one of the closest funding races this election cycle among Florida state races.

Republican Ray Blacklidge is leading his Democratic opponent, Jennifer Webb, by a comparatively small margin compared to other political contests that put Democratic challengers at a funding disadvantage.

Blacklidge has raised $236,000 to date while Webb is trailing just behind with $189,000 in total contributions, according to the most recent campaign finance filings through September 14.

Still, Blacklidge doubled down his fundraising efforts during the first two weeks of September, bringing in $57,000. During the same period, Webb raised just $7,500. Until the end of August, Webb had been leading Blacklidge in fundraising.

Blacklidge, a Madeira Beach attorney, depleted his campaign war chest during a competitive primary against St. Petersburg attorney Jeremy Bailie in which he spent nearly $71,000. Most of that spending went to Tallahassee-based Front Line Strategies for political consulting.

Blacklidge defeated Bailie 58 to 42 percent.

Webb did not face a challenger in the Democratic primary.

That shows in the two candidates’ cash on hand. Blacklidge has just $56,000 remaining in the bank while Webb has just over $80,000.

The HD 69 seat is open because Peters decided not to seek re-election. Instead, she’s running for Pinellas County Commission to replace the late John Morroni who passed away earlier this year after a long battle with cancer. Peters is considered the front-runner in that race.

Contributions rolled into Blacklidge’s campaign from conservative political committees including the political action committee that supported Jack Latvala who resigned from office earlier this year amid sexual misconduct allegations and suspended his gubernatorial bid.

Webb’s top donations this period came from the plumbers and pipefitters union and Representative Democracy, which each contributed $1,000.

Blacklidge did not have any meaningful expenditures. Webb cut two checks totally about $13,000 to the St. Pete-based political consulting firm Parsons Wilson.

SD 16 - Hooper vs. Murphy

Ed Hooper buys ads through former Roy Moore campaign consultants

Florida Senate candidate Ed Hooper paid $200,000 to the same campaign consulting group that worked on President Donald Trump’s campaign and for former U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore.

A consultant working for Hooper’s campaign insisted that the payment was a pass through media buy and that the consulting group was not directly doing work on the campaign.

Still, Murphy’s campaign fired back at the media buy.

“We generally do not comment on another’s campaign vendors, but in this case it is appropriate to make an exception.  For Ed Hooper to go out-of-state to hire the firm that worked for the disgraced pedophile, Roy Moore, is a bridge too far,” Murphy said in a statement. “Ed Hooper should immediately fire the firm and apologize to the voters of Pinellas and Pasco County for bringing these vermin to our state.”

The Strategy Group Company worked on Moore’s successful Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice campaign. Moore lost a contentious Special Election to a Democrat last year after allegations of assaulting underage girls plagued his campaign. The Special Election was held to replace now Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Moore’s district is heavily conservative.

Hooper reported the expense in his most recent campaign finance filings with the Florida Division of Elections covering contributions and expenditures from September 1-14.

The Delaware company also worked on high profile campaigns for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Congresswoman Michelle Bachman and former House Speaker John Boehner.

The GOP campaign shop’s resume reads like a who’s who of conservative victories, according to its website.

A video on the company’s home page shows a reel of candidates including Trump and Pence.

Hooper did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The former state Representative is running against another former Representative, Democrat Amanda Murphy, for the Senate District 16 seat covering parts of north Pinellas and Pasco County.

Campaign filings show Hooper, like other GOP legislative candidates, massively out-raising his Democratic opponent.

Hooper raised $17,000 during the first two weeks of September bringing his total campaign contributions to date to $500,000. Murphy raised just $15,000 during the most recent campaign reporting period bringing her total contributions to $89,000.

Murphy did not have any notable campaign expenses in her latest campaign finance filing.

Contributions to Hooper rolled in from a host of conservative groups and special interest groups including Working Together for Florida, the political action committee associated with Southwest Florida Senator Kathleen Passidomo.

Groups representing lawyers, the pool industry and agriculture industry also contributed to Hooper’s campaign.

Murphy received contributions from Ruth’s List, a liberal organization that supports female Democratic candidates, the SEIU, the Plumbers and Pipefitters PAC and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s Sunrise PAC.

Murphy lost her previously held House district by fewer than 700 votes to Republican Amber Mariano. The race was considered a huge loss for Democrats despite the narrow majority in a district that went against Hillary Clinton in 2016 by double digits.

Hooper left the house to run for Pinellas County Commission in 2014 where he lost to Democrat Pat Gerard.

The two are running for the seat formerly held by Jack Latvala who resigned amid allegations of sexual impropriety with a female lobbyist.

The district covers Clearwater, Dunedin, New Port Richey, Oldsmar, Safety Harbor and Palm Harbor.

The race is considered competitive. A St. Pete Polls survey in June put the race at 45-43 percent with Hooper holding a slight advantage, though that edge is within the margin of error.

It is a red district. Republicans make up about 38 percent of the district’s electorate while Democrats account for about a third. The district went plus 12 for Trump in 2016.

Unfriended: Former candidate sues over fib to get access to his Facebook posts

A former Democratic candidate for the Florida House is suing a former Chris Latvala campaign staffer, claiming she wrongly accessed his Facebook account to obtain damaging information.

In 2016, David Vogel ran and lost against the Republican Latvala for House District 67, which covers parts of north Pinellas County.

After announcing his campaign, Janice Silva sent Vogel a friend request. Weary of political operatives, Vogel questioned Silva online about the campaign and (according to a screenshot filed with the lawsuit documents in Pinellas County) told Vogel she didn’t know who Latvala was.

But Silva was actually working for Latvala and had previously worked for Latvala’s father, former Sen. Jack Latvala, according to campaign finance documents.

Vogel’s lawsuit alleges her lie also constitutes a third-degree felony for fraud, but he filed civilly for an undisclosed amount of monetary damages. 

Vogel went on to lose the election to Latvala by roughly 59 percent to 41 percent.

The lawsuit also names the Tampa Bay Times, which reported on the Facebook posts. Its reporter, Megan Reeves, is also named as a defendant; the newspaper and its reporter could both be protected under the First Amendment, however. A request for comment is pending.

Florida Politics reported on the posts at the time, but has since removed that report to avoid litigation.

Publisher Peter Schorsch explained that “although we strenuously disagree with Mr. Vogel’s characterization of our reporting — or the reporting of the Tampa Bay Times — I deleted the blog post in question rather than deal with a losing gadfly like him.”

The Times’ reporting included responses from Vogel and Latvala. Vogel lamented the “deceit” used by Latvala’s campaign to obtain the information and told the paper the posts should not have bearing on his campaign because they were made in a private forum.

Latvala told the Times the information-gathering under false pretenses was “campaign 101” and that he had done nothing wrong. Latvala is not named in the lawsuit, but said the lawsuit is “the very definition of frivolous.” 

“If he thinks that Facebook is the reason he lost, I could give him a number of reasons,” Latvala said. “Maybe the constituents were interested in having a representative that cared about all of his district, not just a particular party.”

Latvala said Vogel ran on a liberal platform and was “only looking for liberals to support him.”

“I have always conducted myself in a bipartisan fashion,” he said, adding, “I think he’s just a sore loser.”

Ed Hooper takes slim lead in SD 16 comeback bid

Former Republican Rep. Ed Hooper has taken back the lead from former Democratic Rep. Amanda Murphy in the race to fill Pasco and Pinellas county-based Senate District 16.

According to a new poll conducted over the weekend, Hooper is the pick for 47 percent of SD 16 voters with Murphy coming in just behind him with 45 percent support. Only 8 percent of those polled said they were still unsure which of the two candidates they would pick to replace former Clearwater Sen. Jack Latvala.

The St. Pete Polls survey comes six weeks after a poll from SEA Polling & Strategic Design showed Murphy on top, 41-39 percent. All public polls of the race released thus far have reflected a tight race between the two former lawmakers, with the early July measure from St. Pete Polls also showing Hooper with a 2-point lead, 45-43 percent.

SD 16 is one of the more Republican-friendly Senate districts being targeted by Florida Democrats in the fall, though Murphy has in the past shown an ability to woo GOP voters. She represented House District 36 from 2013 through 2016, when she lost to now-Rep. Amber Mariano.

That race came down to just a handful of votes despite President Donald Trump winning the Pasco-based House seat in a 20-point landslide.

Murphy is peeling off about a fifth of Republican voters in the new poll. But Hooper has seen a slight bump in support from Democratic voters compared to a few months ago. He was the favored candidate for about 17 percent of registered Democrats in the survey.

By race, Hooper holds a 4-point edge among white voters. The poll included only a few black and Hispanic voters, though it indicates a lead for Murphy among those demographics. Hooper also leads among men, 51-44 percent, while Murphy holds a 46-43 percent lead among women.

By age, Murphy leads 47-44 percent among Millennials and 53-40 percent among 50- to 69-year-olds. Hooper has a 10-point edge among Gen Xers and runs up the score among voters over 70, with 54 percent preferring him compared to a 34 percent share for Murphy.

The St. Pete Polls survey was conducted Sept. 16 via an automated phone call polling system. It received responses from 1,040 who said they planned to vote in the general election. The top-line result has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level.

Hooper has been in the race since early 2016 and has raked in $490,000 in hard money and another $250,000 through his political committee, Friends of Ed Hooper. Heading into September, he had a combined war chest of $515,700.

Murphy, who entered the race in early May, has raised $73,655 in campaign dollars. Two political committee’s chaired by the former lawmaker — Working Towards Florida’s Future and Taxpayers for Responsible Government — have also collected a combined $130,000 since May. Recent finance reports show she has $101,750 banked between the three accounts.

SD 16 covers northern Pinellas County and southwestern Pasco County, including Clearwater, Dunedin, Safety Harbor, Palm Harbor, New Port Richey and Oldsmar. Republicans make up about 38 percent of the district’s electorate, while Democrats make up about a third. Two years ago, President Donald Trump carried the district by 12 points.

Deal on local property tax rates helped stabilize Florida’s budget

A leading Senate budget writer claimed vindication Friday in a lingering dispute with House leaders over whether to allow local school boards to capture all of the value of rising property values when setting local tax rates.

Rob Bradley, co-chair of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission, underscored the point during a presentation on the state’s three-year fiscal outlook by Office of Economic and Demographic Research director Amy Baker.

Baker, the Legislature’s chief economist, expects state revenues to grow by 3.3 percent or so through each of the next three fiscal years. That works out to about $1 billion per year, suggesting a stable budget picture through the near future.

Baker attributed much of that stability to last Session’s legislative compromise on the required local effort, or RLE — the minimum that school districts must raise from property owners to support county schools.

“It would be the RLE decision, mostly — to allow the required local effort to absorb the benefit of new construction,” she said.

For the past four years, the House has insisted on reductions to local property tax rates that leave those taxes level, notwithstanding increases in property values. The Legislature sent state money to help compensate the districts for the revenue losses.

Under the compromise, the House agreed to let local school districts capture the value of new construction for classrooms.

“That one decision really fundamentally changed the nature of short-term and long-term financial outlook for the state budget in a positive direction,” Bradley told reporters following the hearing.

“We need to continue to focus on decisions related to RLE, and we need to very strongly consider going back to the policy of the Legislature from four years ago, whereby the (tax) rate remained the same — there were no tax increases — but there wasn’t a subsidy from the state government to local property taxes,” he said.

Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, took over the chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee after Jack Latvala quit the Senate following sexual harassment accusations.

House leaders, by contrast, had argued that if property owners paid more, that would equal a tax increase — even if their tax rates remain the same.

Capturing the full increase in property values would raise an additional $300 million-$323 million dollars per each of the next three fiscal years, Baker said: “Over the three-year period, that would put you somewhere between $900 million and $1 billion.”

Bradley was asked if he had seen any indication that incoming House leadership might soften its approach to the issue.

“That’s why we have Session — to have these discussions,” he said, adding, “It’s not a tax increase. We’ve plowed this ground before, and I look forward to having those discussions.”

Sanford Republican Jason Brodeur, a leading House budget writer who’s term-limited, and who sits on the commission, said the report vindicated his side’s insistence on budget restraint.

Even though he’s leaving, Brodeur has picked up little enthusiasm among House members for significant spending increases on, for example, expanding Medicare eligibility, as Democrats including gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum have advocated.

Such ideas “are simply out the window,” Brodeur said.

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