Monday, February 19, 2018
Politics

The Buzz: Latvala, Negron face off for 2016 Senate presidency

Locked in a fight for future control of the Florida Senate, Republicans Jack Latvala and Joe Negron both claim to have the inside track to clinch the presidency for 2016.

Negron, for the first time, claims to have "several more" signed pledges from senators than Latvala, but he wouldn't show them or name names.

"I'm several votes ahead. We're in a very strong position," Negron said. "I'm confident I'll have the support to serve as a presiding officer."

There are 26 Republicans in the Senate, so the winner needs 14 votes.

Latvala described the current state of the race as a "virtual tie."

"If he's got the votes, he ought to show his cards," Latvala said, daring Negron to ask Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Negron ally, to call a caucus to choose who'll succeed Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who takes over in November.

Negron, 52, of Stuart is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and has the support of the current Senate leadership.

Latvala, 62, of Clearwater is a skillful tactician who had his most effective session in 2014. He is known for his vote-counting ability as he proved in winning passage of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

"I'll put my vote-counting ability in the Florida Senate up against anybody, anywhere," Latvala said.

He has a potential ace in the hole in South Florida. Former Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale is seeking a comeback in a grudge match with Democrat Maria Sachs of Delray Beach.

Bogdanoff and Latvala are longtime friends and allies, and she supports him for the presidency.

In closely contested leadership battles, pledge cards are closely-held secrets. History shows they can change, too.

The Times/Herald made a written request for pledge cards, which the Senate denied, saying that what determines whether something is a public record is its content, not who holds the record. Pledges are "political agreements (that) do not relate to the official business of the legislative branch," Senate President Don Gaetz's office said.

Fretting over Brandes

Both Latvala and Negron have Senate allies who are up for re-election this fall, and Negron said he's concerned about one of his supporters: first-term Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, who faces a challenge from Democrat Judithanne McLauchlan, a political science professor at USF St. Petersburg, for the District 22 seat in Pinellas and Hillsborough.

"He has a legitimate race," Negron said.

Latvala disagreed. "I think Brandes is pretty strong," he said.

Mack joins Adelson's online gambling fight

Sheldon Adelson has a new partner in his fight to outlaw online gambling: former U.S. Rep. Connie Mack.

Mack is now a lobbyist and records show he's been hired by Adelson to work his cause. The Hill recently reported that seven lobbying firms have worked for Adelson's Las Vegas Sands Corp. this year to battle legalized Internet casinos. A bill to ban that form of gambling is sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Calls to Mack have not been returned.

Adelson pumped $2 million into a super PAC that supported Mack in his 2012 campaign against Sen. Bill Nelson. Adelson recently gave $2.5 million to the campaign to defeat the medical marijuana ballot initiative in Florida.

Sheldon shares views

While George Sheldon is new to Florida's attorney general race, he's no stranger in state politics.

The onetime Democratic representative told the Tampa Bay Times editorial board Wednesday that Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi has been wasting taxpayer resources on partisan crusades that don't directly affect Florida policy.

Citing Bondi's involvement in lawsuits opposing the Affordable Care Act and the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, Sheldon said she had turned a traditionally nonpartisan position into a soapbox. Her vocal support of the U.S. Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling on contraception and declaration that recognizing gay marriages performed in other states would "impose significant public harm" in Florida are further proof, he said.

"I really think she sees herself as the governor's lawyer, not the people's lawyer," Sheldon said.

Sheldon faces House Minority Leader Perry Thurston in the Democratic primary.

Nelson interview

Check out Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson on Political Connections on Bay News 9 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. today.

Adam C. Smith, Alex Leary, Joshua Gillin and Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this week's Buzz.

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