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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Don Gaetz takes on Jack Latvala over Florida Senate redistricting clash

28

October

The personal and political conflicts that have divided Florida Senate Republicans for months reached the boiling point on Wednesday as the Senate narrowly approved a redrawn redistricting map 22-18 and two powerful senators pointedly used the opportunity to finger each other for the chamber’s mistakes.

Democrats voted together in opposition to the map, which they said would be struck down by the court as unconstitutional violation of the anti-gerrymandering rules of the Florida Constitution. They were joined by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and three other Republicans.

Following the debate, however, angry emotions spilled into view as Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, who was redistricting chairman when the invalidated 2012 maps were approved, rose for a rare “point of personal privilege,’’ a rule that prevails over all others, and used it to criticize Latvala for blaming the need for the special session to redo the maps on him.

“Sen. Latvala says Don Gaetz is the cause for the special session. You decide. I am am sorry for my mistakes. Sen. Latvala should be sorry for his,’’ said Gaetz, reading from prepared remarks. “But when a bully throws a sucker punch, you hit back and never give in.”

 

Over the last two months, Latvala has been harshly critical of Senate leadership because of the court’s rejection of the map drawn during the 2012 term, pointing out a Herald/Times report that the taxpayer cost of the redistricting litigation has risen to $11 million and suggesting the blame should be placed on Gaetz.

In arguing against the map on Wednesday, he did not mention Gaetz by name but said, “there’s a lot of doubt whether we here in this Senate have handled this issue in a way that we can be proud of.”

The he warned that the costs will continue to rise. “I predict if we pass this map, we’re in it for another million – at least.”

The comments, and the others made to reporters that Gaetz was “the cause of the hot mess that we find ourselves in” did not sit well with Gaetz.

Latvala had left the chamber after the vote and Gaetz asked the Senate sergeant at arms to find him so he could hear his admonition.

Gaetz distributed a copy of the complaint filed by the redistricting challengers which detailed Latvala’s role in an amendment to the 2012 Senate redistricting map that removed Sen. Denise Grimsley, then a House member, from the same district as Sen. Bill Galvano, who was not yet elected to the Senate. The change, the plaintiffs alleged, was an example of the intent to favor a political party or incumbent.

Gaetz admitted that he had made mistakes, including not putting political operatives under oath when they appeared before his committee claiming they were unaligned members of the public. But he also called Latvala a “bully” and suggested that it was Latvala who should apologize.

Gaetz’s 17-minute tirade was followed by a stern warning from Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, not “to keep this going.”

But it was too much for Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, a Latvala ally, who rose to rebuke Gaetz.

He said it was "beneath the dignity of the this chamber" for Gaetz to "label another member as a bully."

Latvala, who said he left to attend an event for former Sen. Jim Sebesta in Clearwater, said he did not hear Gaetz’s remarks but considered them inappropriate.

“It seems now Sen. Gaetz is trying to deflect some of the blame for this whole fiasco,’’ he said. “I’ve got a reward for anyone that can find any mention of my name in the Supreme Court opinion of having any secret meetings. It ain’t there. His is.”

He defended the changes made to Grimsley’s district as changes later commended by the plaintiffs as an improvement and he accused Gaetz of using a last-minute change to the district to punish Grimsley, who was chair of the House Appropriations Committee in 2012, for not giving Gaetz all he wanted in the budget process.

Latvala said he filed an amendment to change the change Gaetz had inserted. “If my political activity is undoing his political activity then so be it,” he said.

He noted that the Supreme Court ruling also named Gaetz, and not Latvala.

The entire exchange discouraged many in the Senate.

“We’re at one of the lowest points I can ever recall,” said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, a former Senate president. “We’ve got a lot of healing to do.”

During the tense debate over the Senate maps, Lee was noticeably absent. He had blasted the map last week as a “defiant” answer to the court’s rebuke of the Legislature. He told the Herald/Times on Tuesday that he believed the redistricting drama that had marred the Senate map would be played out in court and he would be a willing witness for the plaintiffs.

But when it came for a vote, Lee joined with the majority, later explaining he was “supporting it on a coin toss” to move it to the House.

“I’m tired of the B.S.,'' he said. "I’ve said plenty. My views haven’t changed.”

Over the last two months, Latvala has been harshly critical of Senate leadership because of the court’s rejection of the map drawn during the 2012 term, pointing out a Herald/Times report that the taxpayer cost of the redistricting litigation has risen to $11 million and suggesting the blame should be placed on Gaetz.

In arguing against the map on Wednesday, he did not mention Gaetz by name but said, “there’s a lot of doubt whether we here in this Senate have handled this issue in a way that we can be proud of.”

Then he warned that the costs will continue to rise. “I predict if we pass this map, we’re in it for another million – at least,'' he said.

[Last modified: Wednesday, October 28, 2015 2:36pm]

    

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