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

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."

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Where they stand on issues

In separate interviews, the Republican candidates for state House District 67, Chris Latvala and Christopher Shepard, offered their views on several issues:

In-state tuition for children of undocumented immigrants: Latvala said he supports the measure, which was championed by his father and other legislators this year and signed into law by the governor. Shepard opposes it, saying "I don't believe in funding or enabling illegal immigration here in the state of Florida."

Offshore Florida oil drilling: Latvala said he opposes it. Shepard said he can see benefits to the idea, but suspects people in the district oppose it. If he is convinced that they do, he would oppose it too.

Medical marijuana: Both candidates said they personally plan to vote no, but will take appropriate legislative steps if the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot passes.

Greenlight Pinellas: Latvala said he's generally against new taxes, but feels it's a bit different when citizens are getting to vote on a tax themselves. If the election were held today, he says he would vote in favor of the transportation improvement plan, which would use a penny sales tax to pay for expanded bus routes and a 24-mile light-rail line from Clearwater to St. Petersburg.

Shepard is strictly opposed. "I'm going to vote no, and I encourage all my supporters to do so as well."

Global warming/climate change: Latvala said, "I don't believe it's the great issue facing Florida because our climate goes up and down and it has been for hundreds of years. I'm more focused on job creation and growing the economy," as well as education and public safety.

Shepard responded, "the last I checked, the Earth is going into a mini ice age." He has signed a pledge, developed by the group Americans for Prosperity, to oppose any climate change provision "that includes a net increase in government revenue."

Son of Sen. Latvala, and Army vet, run for GOP nomination in Florida House 67 07/12/14 [Last modified: Saturday, July 12, 2014 11:00pm]

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