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Latvala's lost Senate pledge: 'He never looked me in the eye'

State Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, may prove to be the decisive vote to break the deadlock for Senate president in 2016 between Sens. Joe Negron of Stuart and Jack Latvala of Clearwater. But tensions continue to simmer.

It was an open secret in the 2015 session that Altman had flipped his support from Latvala to Negron, but it wasn't official until Negron issued a statement Wednesday listing the senators (including himself) who make up his 14 supporters in the 26-member Senate Republican caucus.

"He flipped before the session," Latvala told the Times/Herald. "But he's never looked me in the eye and said he flipped. I still have a signed pledge card from him."

Latvala says Senate President Andy Gardiner's call for a December caucus vote to make Negron president is premature and ill-advised. He said Altman and two other Republican senators are termed out in 2016 and can't run for new terms and the Senate is "dysfunctional" over the need to redraw its own districts, which requires Supreme Court approval.

Altman declined to discuss his change of heart in the closely-fought battle for the presidency. "That's a member to member thing," Altman said. "I have a great regard for Jack Latvala and he's a very talented person. But with Joe, we share a lot of the same values,and I feel he's the right person to lead us at this time."

Latvala insists the power struggle is not over, but Altman sounded convinced that it is. "It's a relief," Altman said. "It's a tough decision and it's one of the most important decisions we make as a body."