Saturday, February 24, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Latvala throws familiar jabs at Putnam, Corcoran

For starters, we can agree that if he decides to enter next year's gubernatorial sweepstakes, Republican Sen. Jack Latvala Clearwater, who is the Yosemite Sam of Tallahassee, would liven things up on the stump.

Let's hope he enters the race — if for no other reason than for entertainment value. After all, Latvala would be squaring off in the Republican primary against ever-cautious Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and possibly Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O'Lakes, who seems to want to upend the state's open government laws and turn Tallahassee into a secretive Scottish Rite Freemason lodge.

With the ever-grumpy Latvala in the race, this could turn out to be the Florida political equivalent of Reservoir Dogs.

The Grinch of Clearwater launched a rocket across the bows of both Putnam and Corcoran a few days ago during a television interview in Miami on Facing South Florida, in which Latvala questioned the governing bona fides of his potential opponents.

Latvala noted Putnam has been a career politician who was first elected to the Florida House at the age of 22 before serving 10 years in Congress and then becoming agriculture commissioner.

And as for Corcoran? So scary. Latvala dismissed Corcoran as — wait for it — a money-grubbing, litigious (cue The Phantom of the Opera theme) dreaded trial lawyer.

Oh, the evil of it all!

Latvala pointed to his experience as owner of a printing company, as well as other interests, as resume points that ought to put him head and shoulders above those mere dilettantes, Putnam and Corcoran.

That sort of contrast sounds swell as a campaign sound bite.

Yet we have an incumbent in the Governor's Mansion who touted his experience running a health care company that paid the largest Medicare fraud fine in American history. So this private sector argument isn't exactly an indication of future returns.

Perhaps Latvala as governor would make LeRoy Collins, Reubin Askew, Bob Graham, Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush look like the Bowery Boys.

But the career politician knock on Putnam would seem a tad disingenuous. Yes, it is true the Opie of Apalachee Parkway has been collecting a public paycheck for his entire adult life. On the other hand, for the past seven years Putnam has managed a vast state agency that employees thousands of people across a multitude of agencies that regulate everything from agriculture policy to consumer affairs to even administering stuff like gun permits.

Putnam, who comes from a family with deep agricultural industry roots, has managed his department relatively free of controversy. It's not as if the ag commissioner has been spending his time selling used golf balls on the side of the road.

Latvala conveniently overlooked he first was elected to the Senate in 1994 and has taken only an eight-year break since then. He now serves as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and is hardly some poor waif unfamiliar with the corridors of power in Tallahassee. Both of these chaps know their way around a lobbyist campaign contribution.

And so does that horrible, dreaded — everybody, now — trial lawyer Richard Corcoran.

Take issue all you want with Corcoran's politics. And while you're at it, feel free to criticize him for attempting to drop an iron curtain across Florida's Sunshine Laws. But isn't this still the United States, where everyone has a right to have access to the court system?

Here's a question for Latvala. If, heaven forbid, because of an individual or a company's negligence, an anvil fell on Latvala's head, whom would the senator call to represent him in a personal injury case?

Latvala told the Miami television station he plans to decide whether to enter the governor's race by August.

All of Florida anxiously awaits the announcement.

Pins and needles. Pins and needles.

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