Bill favors Chris Latvala, allowing an earlier run for Pinellas commission

If it passes, the lawmaker could run for county commission this year instead of 2024. One commissioner calls it a “rude” move.
State Rep. Chris Latvala attends a meeting of the House Redistricting Committee in January in Tallahassee. Latvala is term-limited in the House and is planning a run for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission.
State Rep. Chris Latvala attends a meeting of the House Redistricting Committee in January in Tallahassee. Latvala is term-limited in the House and is planning a run for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]
Published Feb. 10, 2022

Last year Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, filed paperwork to run for Pinellas County Commission District 5 in 2024, when fellow Republican Karen Seel plans to step down at the end of her sixth term.

But if a bill filed this month passes into law, Latvala, who is term limited out of the Florida House this year, won’t have to wait that long to run for Seel’s seat.

House Bill 7061 is the companion to a Senate bill that would create an Office of Election Crimes and Security to investigate election fraud, an initiative of Gov. Ron DeSantis. But a provision tucked into the House version, filed Feb. 4, would require county commissioners in single-member districts to run again for their seats following a redistricting process, which in Pinellas was finalized in December.

The provision exempts various counties, making Pinellas the only government in Florida it would apply to.

In November, Pinellas County District 4 Commissioner Dave Eggers and District 6 Commissioner Kathleen Peters are already up for reelection. If passed, the provision in the bill would require Seel and District 7 Commissioner Rene Flowers to run for their seats in November as well, midway through their terms.

Latvala told the Tampa Bay Times in a statement he was not involved in writing the provision for the bill. But he defended its intent because it would bring Pinellas in line with other counties that already require elections following redistricting, such as Hillsborough.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Daniel Perez, R-Miami, did not respond to a phone call or email asking if Latvala, or any of his representatives, was involved in the provision targeting Pinellas.

Seel did not respond to a phone call or text message requesting comment. In an interview with the Times, Flowers said the bill obviously targets Seel, allowing Latvala to run for her seat two years earlier.

“It’s evident what’s going on,” Flowers said. “I just think it yet again speaks to the lack of integrity that he holds. It’s rude, it’s disrespectful and it’s dishonoring a woman’s legacy.”

While Latvala has already filed to run for Seel’s seat in 2024, he began talking last year about the possibility he will instead challenge Eggers, a fellow Republican, for District 4 in November.

On Tuesday, Latvala’s campaign issued a press release stating he had raised $100,000 “for his campaign for Pinellas County Commission,” but the statement does not identify which seat he is running for or when.

Eggers’ District 4 covers Pinellas County north of the majority of Clearwater while Seel’s District 5 covers most of Clearwater, Largo and part of the beaches.

Latvala currently lives in Seel’s District 5. If he challenged Eggers and won, he would have to move to District 4 by the date the election results were certified, according to the county charter.

“I have been very clear, when asked, that I may decide to run in a different district this year,” Latvala said in his email to the Times. “For instance, I was born in Dunedin and believe my brand of conservatism will play well in North Pinellas.”

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Eggers, who has raised $45,505 for his re-election campaign, said his reputation as a fiscal conservative stands for itself.

“If he has intentions of trying to change the course of the commission, he’s certainly going about it wrong if he runs against me,” Eggers said of Latvala.

Because Pinellas County’s redistricting process in December moved roughly 16,000 residents, mostly in Clearwater, into a new single-member district, Eggers said there is some justification for having single-member commissioners run again for their seats. However, he said the requirement to re-run should have been implemented last year.

If the provision in this bill passes into law, the timing will make it so Seel and Flowers could have less than six months to raise money for unexpected reelection campaigns. Latvala began raising money for his commission race in January 2021.

“Last year it would have given everybody time to react,” Eggers said. “It’s probably the right thing to do, I’m just not sure the year-of is fair to the people affected.”