The Florida Legislature faces many familiar challenges, from coping with a persistent budget shortfall to improving public education to making property insurance more affordable and accessible. Tampa Bay voters on Nov. 2 will fill two open state Senate seats.
Jack Latvala | District 16
As the Legislature flirted last year with opening state waters to oil drilling, Jack Latvala could not sit on the sidelines any longer. The Clearwater Republican decided to run again for the state Senate, where he usually was a positive influence before term limits forced him out in 2002. His knowledge of the issues and moderating influence are badly needed in Tallahassee, and his presence would raise the profile of the Tampa Bay area.
Latvala, 58, rubs some the wrong way with his abrasive personality. But he is aggressive, and he gets results. He served eight years in the Senate, his environmental credentials are strong and he has a regional vision that other local legislators often lack. Latvala helped create Tampa Bay Water, and he would explore ways to make that model work for transportation and other issues. It would be particularly helpful to have that vision in Senate District 16, which covers a large portion of Pinellas east of U.S. 19, from northeast St. Petersburg to Oldsmar, and several areas of Hillsborough, from south Tampa to Westchase.
Latvala's pragmatic approach is reflected in his views on other issues. He supports a review of sales tax exemptions and sees collection of the sales tax on Internet purchases as a fairness question. He has good ideas on consolidating state agencies, supports steering growth to urban areas and wants to explore more creative options to make property insurance more affordable and accessible.
Most importantly, Latvala is an independent sort who will stand up to power — including the leaders of his own party. He opposes offshore drilling and would have voted against the teacher tenure bill that Republicans rammed through this year, even though he supports some of its broad concepts. He will not be a passive follower of special interests or more conservative Senate leaders.
Nina Hayden, 36, is an assistant Pinellas-Pasco public defender who has served for two years on the Pinellas School Board. We recommended her for the School Board, where she is still growing into the job. The Democrat is a strong voice on criminal justice and education issues, but her knowledge of other topics is superficial.
Latvala has the experience and knowledge to make an immediate impact in the Senate, and the entire Tampa Bay area would benefit by his return to Tallahassee. For Senate District 16, the Times recommends Jack Latvala.
This recommendation has been revised to reflect the following correction: State Senate District 16 candidate Nina Hayden was elected to the Pinellas School Board in 2008 to fill the last two years of an unexpired term. The length of her term was misstated in a candidate recommendation Thursday.
Jim Norman | District 12
There is no good choice here. Jim Norman's opponent in the Republican primary, state Rep. Kevin Ambler, is suing to remove Norman from the Nov. 2 ballot. Ambler alleges Norman filed false candidate qualifying papers to hide his involvement in a nearly half-million-dollar land deal with a local businessman and political supporter. The courts need to sort this out. Until they do, Norman is unfortunately the only serious choice.
Norman, 57, was a bad option even before the scandal over the land deal broke. He started out as a well-meaning supporter of parks and youth sports, but over his 18 years as a Hillsborough County commissioner, Norman became pushy and thin-skinned. He encouraged overdevelopment and inflamed tensions between urban and suburban residents. Still, Norman is a more credible choice than two write-in candidates. He has a record in office, an agenda and the only serious campaign. For all his faults, Norman keeps in touch with voters and understands state and local government. If the courts or authorities move against him over the land deal, the voters can move for a clean break. Until then, however, he is the only choice in the general election.
For Senate District 12, the Times recommends Jim Norman.
Ronda R. Storms | District 10
Incumbent state Sen. Ronda R. Storms faces token opposition in the general election from a write-in candidate. Storms has made a career by fanning divisive social issues, but she is the only serious choice in this race.
Storms was elected to the state Senate in 2006 after serving eight years as a Hillsborough County commissioner. The 45-year-old lawyer has an in-your-face style, but her conservative agenda speaks to many in this rural and suburban district, which covers eastern Hillsborough, southeastern Pasco and a sliver of Polk county. Storms is a hard worker who brings an exacting eye to state spending. She is not afraid to ask tough questions, and has served taxpayers well on several occasions by slowing down sweetheart deals. Last year, Storms voted against SB 360, which gutted growth management. She keeps her finger on the pulse of what her constituents need.
For Senate District 10, the Times recommends Ronda R. Storms.
Opportunity to respond: The Times offers candidates not recommended by the editorial board an opportunity to reply. Candidates for state Senate should send their replies no later than noon Monday to: Tim Nickens, editor of editorials, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731; by fax: (727) 893-8675; or through our website at: www.tampabay.com/letters. Replies are limited to 150 words.