Sen. Latvala reacts to being called out by Sen. Gaetz
Reaction was tempered but swift to former Senate President Don Gaetz’s rare and personal 17-minute rebuke against fellow Sen. Jack Latvala on Wednesday.
“It seems now Sen. Gaetz is trying to deflect some of the blame for this whole fiasco,’’ Latvala told the Herald/Times.. “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.”
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,’’ he said. “…But when a bully throws a sucker punch, you hit back and never give in.”
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 suggested that it was Latvala who should apologize.
The Senate feud, which has been festering for months because of the unresolved fight between Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, a Gaetz ally, over which will become Senate president in 2016.
Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, a former Senate president who is counted among Latvala’s pledges for president, called the Senate divide “one of the lowest points I can ever recall” and said “we’ve got a lot of healing to do.”
Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, also a Latvala supporter, chastised Gaetz. “To call another member of the Senate a bully is uncalled for,’’ he said. “If anyone should apologize now, it should be him. It’s irresponsible.”
Rep. Jose Oliva, the House redistricting chairman from Miami Lakes, said it was Gaetz’s right to speak up. “If he felt his name is impugned, he has a right to set the record straight.”
But he said he also believes the conflict is a result of the Legislature’s frustration in trying to apply and adhere to the new Fair Districts laws.
“The result is a major amount of frustration. What is the cause? New laws from these amendments and varied standards,’’ he said. He said that the court has applied different standards for plaintiffs and citizens than it has for legislators and “that creates frustration for everyone involved.”
Among the new standards is the prohibition on the Legislature intentionally favoring an incumbent or political party when drawing the maps. The court found that the Legislature violated those standards when it allowed political operatives to infiltrate the Legislature’s map drawing using phony accounts and names, draw maps in a shadow redistricting process and aide lawmakers to protect incumbents or their favored candidates.
During his 17-minute rebuke of Latvala, Gaetz honed in on this criticism. He said he was distributing a copy of the complaint filed by the redistricting challengers to each senator because it detailed Latvala’s role in an amendment to the 2012 Senate redistricting map.
The amendment 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.
Latvala, who said he left to get on the road to attend an event in Clearwater, said he was not aware that Gaetz had prepared the criticism but later heard about it from others.
"In the numbers of pages of emails – to and from Republican political consultants, I don’t think you will find my name in any emails to and from me,'' he said, referring to the email obtained from political operatives. "There’s a couple of places where my name is mentioned but they are about what they’re trying to do to me."
“How he can say I had any culpability in that I’m not sure,'' he said. "The plaintiffs challenged the changes to the Grimsley district when they did their original complaint. The Supreme Court said my amendment improved the maps because my districts there were more compliant.”
He said he learned this because Negron, who opposed the 2012 Latvala amendment, “sent me a copy and wrote a note on it saying the Supreme Court commended you on this. That’s how I know that.”
Latvala said Gaetz had made changes to a district that would put Plant City into the same district as Lakeland and, after hearing from the former Mayor of Plant City, now state Rep. Dan Raulerson, Latvala said he submitted the amendment.
“They can put me under oath and ask me about this and I’ll be happy to talk about it,’’ he said. “Denise Grimsley had been chrairman of the House Appropriations Committee. During the session, she had irritated Gaetz a time or two.”
To punish her, Gaetz made a late change to the Senate district that she wanted to run for that would put Plant City into the same district as Lakeland Latvala claims. After hearing from the former Mayor of Plant City, now state Rep. Dan Raulerson, Latvala said he submitted the amendment.
The change merged Sun City into the same district with Bradenton “because they had more in common with Bradenton then they do Plant City,’’ he said. Four districts were changed and the configuration became similar to the original one before the Gaetz-approved adjustment, he said.
“I undid something he was trying to do,’’ he said. “For him to point to me when $11 million in taxpayer money is being spent that is just a straw man. That is a guy who doesn’t want to take responsibility for his actions.”
Latvala also said that he was fine with having four of his supporters join with other Republicans to pass the Senate map that he criticized because he is “confident that plan is not going to make the light of day.”
“I knew how everybody was going to vote,’’ he said. “Part of the reason those guys like me is I’m not going to be a dictator and tell people how to vote.”