Son of Sen. Latvala, and Army vet, run for GOP nomination in Florida House 67

The GOP candidates for state House District 67 are a study in contrasts.

They're both Republicans who describe themselves as conservative. They're both single men with roots in Pinellas County. They both pledge to represent all the people.

But it doesn't take much to find the contrasts between Chris Latvala and Christopher Shepard, the GOP candidates for state House District 67. The seat is open because Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, can't run again because of term limits.

Latvala, 32, the son of state Sen. Jack Latvala, has a widely recognized name and a campaign war chest exceeding $170,000. He has worked in and around politics for years, including as a legislative aide to Hooper, whom he considers a mentor.

Shepard, 26, is not well-known and had raised less than $2,000, according to recent campaign reports. He's an Army veteran who served in Iraq, and is now enrolled at St. Petersburg College. He also has a connection to Hooper: Shepard ran against him in 2012, getting 31 percent of the vote in the primary.

Latvala sees himself in a tradition of Pinellas Republicans who are independent-minded and have sometimes been known to vote across party lines. Shepard admires the tea party, and says, "I really appreciate what they've done for this nation."

The winner of the Aug. 26 GOP primary will face the winner of a three-way Democratic primary in the Nov. 4 general election. The Democratic candidates are Thomas D. Ryan, Steve Sarnoff and Shawna Vercher.

Latvala was born in Pinellas County, but after his parents divorced, he grew up with his mother in Jacksonville. (County Commissioner Susan Latvala is his former stepmother.) He grew up wanting to be a sports play-by-play man, and loved attending Toronto Blue Jays spring training games with his father in Dunedin. He graduated from the University of Central Florida with a history degree. He managed some political campaigns in Pasco County and moved back to Pinellas in 2008. He is currently vice president of his father's printing company.

He said his experience as Hooper's aide was invaluable, and among other things, taught him the value of constituent services — helping individual citizens with their state government problems. That will help him if elected, he said.

"I'm going to be the better representative because I'm going to work harder both during the campaign and once I'm elected," Latvala said. He stressed that he would do his best to serve all people in the district, regardless of party affiliation.

Latvala said he admires his father and shares many political views, but expects he will sometimes vote differently. A review of campaign finance data shows he and his father also share some campaign donors. More than one-third of the younger Latvala's contributors have also given to his father in the past.

Shepard joined the U.S. Army right out of Largo's Osceola High School, eventually serving in Baghdad as an infantryman, working on "neighborhood pacification, door-to door. Finding bad guys, finding weapons caches." In Baghdad, he said, "I got to experience a country that doesn't have a stable central government … these are people who are living at the bottom of the bottom. It really opened my eyes."

Now he is completing his associate's degree at St. Petersburg College and aiming toward an accounting major. He works as a membership services associate at Sam's Club.

Shepard said he is running "to give people the voice that they deserve in Tallahassee." He said he will bring "my military experience, my world views, my strong conservatism."

Shepard said he's concerned about how independent Chris Latvala will prove to be from his father, and said "to have a family, any family, decide what the majority of Floridians are going to do, that's what I really don't want to see here."