Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Politics

For C.W. Bill Young, Jack Latvala it's like father, like son

Ever since he turned 16, people have been asking Bill Young II the same question: When are you going to run for office?

Until now, Young, son of U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young, has left the politicos guessing. But the answer is likely 2014, an election season that could be the year of dynastic politics in Pinellas. At the same time that Young, 29, is seriously contemplating a run for the District 68 seat in Florida's House, state Sen. Jack Latvala's son, Chris Latvala, 31, is thinking of making a bid for the District 67 House seat.

In other words, the sons of two of the most powerful politicians in the Tampa Bay area are preparing to extend their fathers' legacies.

Though neither man has committed to running, both are leaning heavily in favor of it, according to party leaders. And on Twitter, where they trade frequent jabs over college football, they have taken to encouraging each other to run. In January, Chris Latvala registered the Web domain chrislatvala2014.com.

Running for office as a son-of has become common in Florida, where the descendents of governors and presidents have had varying degrees of coattail-riding success. There are a handful of local examples, such as in 2006 when Michael Bilirakis retired from Congress and his son Gus Bilirakis, a member of the state Legislature, ran for the seat and won.

At the time, Republican state Sen. John Grant of Tampa, who was thinking of challenging Bilirakis quipped: "Congress is something you earn and not something you inherit." Four years later, Grant's son Jamie won a state House seat in a district that straddles Pinellas and Hillsborough.

Should the younger Latvala and Young run and win, three of the seven Pinellas representatives in the state House would be descendents of political families. Two of the county's three representatives in Congress — Bilirakis and Kathy Castor — already are.

"Obviously, the first question a lot of people ask is, are you running or is it really your relative," said Susan MacManus, a University of South Florida political scientist. Being a legacy candidate inevitably raises questions about the person's competence compared to that of the better-known family member, she said. The more acclaimed that relative is, the more unflattering the comparison can be.

But there are benefits, too. Political dynasties come with established networks of donors and volunteers that newcomers can only dream of tapping, as well as built-in name recognition. And in Florida, there's a less obvious bonus to having a parent in politics, MacManus said. The generational divide is magnified here by the thousands of people who come to retire, creating districts with large age splits that a parent-child political duo can tag team. In the districts Latvala and Young are eyeing, more than half of recent voters are over the age of 50.

"You've got the older one, who knows how to reach the older voters, but the younger ones are more social media savvy, which is critical," MacManus said.

Latvala and Young, who goes by Billy, have been immersed in Republican politics since childhood, appearing in their fathers' ads and at public events and victory parties.

"Both of our dads are larger-than-life political figures in this area," said Young, who began volunteering for his father's campaigns at age 18, and continued after graduating from the University of South Florida. He is now in charge of business development for the National Forensic Science Technology Center.

"We've been able to learn firsthand from some of the best," he said. "But I'm not running on my name, I'm running on me as an individual. And for anyone that looks at that district, this isn't nepotism, that's not an easy seat to win."

Democrats have a slim majority in District 68, which includes most of St. Petersburg and some of Pinellas Park. It's known for swinging out of one party's grasp and into the other's every few years. Its current representative, Democrat Dwight Dudley, said he knows "virtually nothing" about his would-be opponent, except, of course, who his father is.

"People these days don't love the idea of being born an insider," he said. "That's something I think people want less of."

The younger of two children from Jack Latvala's first marriage, Chris Latvala went to work for his father's consulting business after attending the University of Central Florida and then, for three years, as an aid to Rep. Ed Hooper, whose house District 67 seat he is eyeing. Hooper is term-limited.

Chris Latvala is now vice president of his father's printing company. His views and style have been shaped by both men, he said, a combination of his father's "in-your-face" approach, and Hooper's "laid-back" personality.

"I'm not going to take anything for granted," he said. "I know the people of District 67 are informed voters and they're not going to vote for me just because of my last name."

But his last name doesn't hurt either.

Chris Latvala recently updated his Facebook picture, choosing one of him and Gov. Rick Scott. Sandwiched between them is an exuberant-looking Jack Latvala.

Contact Anna M. Phillips at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.

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