Thursday, October 18, 2018
Politics

Whatever happens next with Jack Latvala’s district, this much is clear: The voters lose

ST. PETERSBURG ó Jack Latvalaís decision to resign Wednesday makes one thing certain: A state Senate district represented by arguably the most powerful man in the Senate is now going to be without any representation at all for the upcoming legislative session.

"Not just North Pinellas, but the entire Tampa Bay area, has lost an effective and influential voice," said Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos, a fellow Republican.

Republicans polled Wednesday preferred to leave the seat open until the November 2018 election. Democrats, though, were eager to mount a vigorous campaign to capture the seat whenever it may come up for grabs.

According to the Florida Department of State, a special election is required to be held if a state Senate seat comes open before the end of a term. But Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, a Democrat, acknowledged that the session will be over by the time anyone is seated.

"There are no good answers," Welch said.

State law requires 45 days for absentee voting before special elections, which could include a separate primary and general election. If the qualifying period is included, that would push the final election to at least 90 days from now and well past March 9, when the legislative session ends.

Welch said he thought Democrats could wage a strong effort to capture the seat, which covers northern Pinellas and western Pasco counties, but cautioned the districtís next senator needs to follow Latvalaís lead in fighting for local interests.

"One of the things that Sen. Latvala did was to stop some of the worst legislation that tried that to pre-empt local control," Welch said, referring to state laws that inhibit self-rule on an assortment of issues, ranging from guns, the minimum wage and taxes.

As of last yearís general election, the district leaned red with nearly 20,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats. About 70 percent of its 322,601 registered voters live in Pinellas County.

Former Clearwater City Council member and four-term state Rep. Ed Hooper, a Republican, has announced his intention to run. Democrat Bernie Fensterwald of Dunedin has also said heíll run. So far, Hooper has a sizable fundraising lead, having raised nearly $360,000 and spending only about $31,000.

State Rep. Kathleen Peters said Hooper has the support of the Senate GOP leadership, which will likely discourage any serious intraparty challenger.

"Unless youíre going to self-fund for a $29,000-a-year position," she said. "With everything going on in the news right now, I donít know how appealing it would be. The driver, though, is that you can really make a difference."

On Wednesday, Hooper said a special election would require a qualifying period, primaries and a general election that could push a final decision into April or May.

"I donít know if thereís time to do that," said Hooper, who said he would run in a special election if one is called by Gov. Rick Scott.

As of late Wednesday, Scott hadnít done that. The Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Office hadnít heard from the governorís office, said spokeswoman Julie Marcus.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, argued that keeping the seat vacant with Latvalaís staff continuing to provide constituent service made the most sense.

"My sense is just keep the seat open. Obviously, thereís no time to have a special election in time for session. And there is very little value in being the senator from July to November. A special session is very unlikely this late in the cycle," Brandes said.

Brandes said he would be happy to help Latvalaís office conduct the districtís business.

Pinellas County Republican chairman Nick DiCeglie didnít return a call for comment, but Pinellas County Democratic chairwoman Susan McGrath said recent polling has shown a favorable district climate for her party.

The North Pinellas Democratic Club had just a handful of members a year ago. On Tuesday, a couple of hundred people showed up for a meeting, McGrath said.

On the heels of Mayor Rick Krisemanís hard-fought win over Rick Baker in St. Petersburg, Pinellas Democrats are energized, she said.

"Itís also a year where women are expected to perform well politically. If ever there was a year for women candidates, this is shaping up to be that year," McGrath said.

Two politically experienced woman have surfaced as possible Democratic candidates: former state Rep. Amanda Murphy of New Port Richey and Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski.

Murphy didnít return a call for comment. Bujalski said she was flattered but hadnít considered the race.

"Itís not something thatís floating around in my head at this point," Bujalski said. "But I never say never."

Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.
Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.

Comments
Some of these Florida amendments arenít worth your time

Some of these Florida amendments arenít worth your time

For such a sacred document, we seem to give little thought to scribbling on, erasing and haphazardly expanding the Florida Constitution.Since a revised version was established in 1968, Florida voters have been asked to consider more than 175 differen...
Published: 10/18/18
Florida House District 67 candidates agree education is a priority, but disagree on what to do about it

Florida House District 67 candidates agree education is a priority, but disagree on what to do about it

Democrat Dawn Douglas says charter schools pull money from public education, while incumbent Republican Chris Latvala backed bill that sent construction money to charters.
Published: 10/18/18
In House 36, it's youthful incumbent vs. life-experienced activist

In House 36, it's youthful incumbent vs. life-experienced activist

Rep. Amber Mariano, R-Hudson, faces her first re-election test since her upset win two years ago.
Published: 10/18/18
Nevadaís famous pimp expected to win election despite death

Nevadaís famous pimp expected to win election despite death

LAS VEGAS ó Nevadaís most famous pimp tried to bring the stateís legal brothel industry into the mainstream by mingling with celebrities, showcasing his business on HBO and staging outlandish publicity stunts.Dennis Hofís fame made him an attention-g...
Published: 10/17/18
Daniel Ruth: For Hillsborough voters, transportation tax is leap of faith they can ponder while stuck in trafffic

Daniel Ruth: For Hillsborough voters, transportation tax is leap of faith they can ponder while stuck in trafffic

Perhaps one way to approach the ongoing community-wide debate over imposing a one-cent sales tax to pay for a variety of transportation needs is to think of all this dickering as a sort of family Thanksgiving dinner that has suddenly turned into a Th...
Published: 10/17/18
Approach to charter schools separates Toledo, Bellanti in state House 60 race

Approach to charter schools separates Toledo, Bellanti in state House 60 race

TAMPA — Republican state Rep. Jackie Toledo won her first term by 14 percentage points, a lopsided victory that shows how the district she represents favors a Republican.Two years later, Toledo has drawn a challenge from Democrat Debra Bellant...
Published: 10/17/18
John Romano: Liberals are dreaming when it comes to holding on to Floridaís Supreme Court

John Romano: Liberals are dreaming when it comes to holding on to Floridaís Supreme Court

This was a smackdown, no doubt about it.The state Supreme Court just rendered the judicial equivalent of a loud guffaw regarding Gov. Rick Scottís claim he is entitled to replace three retiring Supreme Court justices before he leaves office.And yet, ...
Published: 10/17/18
In race to represent Hernando residents in Tallahassee, it's prominent Republican incumbent versus optimistic Democratic newcomer

In race to represent Hernando residents in Tallahassee, it's prominent Republican incumbent versus optimistic Democratic newcomer

Much as it did two years ago, this year's race for the Florida House of Representatives' District 35 seat casts a titan of his party against an underdog political newcomer.Blaise Ingoglia, the Republican incumbent who also chairs Florida's GOP, has o...
Published: 10/17/18
Florida House District 66: Candidates differ on education, school security

Florida House District 66: Candidates differ on education, school security

Republican Nick DiCeglie and Democrat Alex Heeren have widely different viewpoints on key issues
Published: 10/17/18
It's a battle of numbers in Pasco County commission races

It's a battle of numbers in Pasco County commission races

Incumbents tout job growth. Challengers focus on poverty, low wages.
Published: 10/17/18