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  1. Opinion

Times recommends: Latvala, McLauchlan for Florida Senate

There are just two general election races in Tampa Bay for the Florida Senate, which needs more independent voices.

Jack Latvala

District 20

Jack Latvala remains a powerful force in the Senate who is as effective building support for smart ideas as he is at rounding up votes to stop bad legislation. The outcome of the Senate elections also should help determine whether the Clearwater Republican can muster the backing to become Senate president in 2016. That would be good for Florida and good for Tampa Bay.

Latvala, 62, remains a pragmatic voice for environmental protection, strong ethics and campaign reforms and orderly government in a chamber that has grown more conservative. He helped lead this year's successful push to allow undocumented immigrants who graduate from Florida high schools to pay in-state tuition at colleges and universities. He passed legislation to create a fair system for professional sports franchises to compete for state money to build stadiums. He also passed legislation to force developers to disclose to home buyers if the seller is retaining the mineral rights. Last year, he voted with a bipartisan group of senators to accept Medicaid expansion money to expand health coverage, but the House refused to act.

Latvala also blocked unneeded changes last year to the state's pension system. He supports gun rights, but this year he helped kill a foolish bill that would have allowed gun owners without concealed weapons permits to carry their guns during emergencies. He will push badly needed legislation next year to reform state utility regulations in the wake of public outrage over several Duke Energy issues.

Tony Caso, 65, is a Libertarian Party candidate who opposes the Common Core State Standards for public schools and government regulation. He helped lead the fight against adding fluoride to the drinking water in Pinellas. Caso is out of touch with mainstream voters and is not a credible alternative.

District 20 generally covers Pinellas County north of Seminole, including Largo and Clearwater. For Florida Senate District 20, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Jack Latvala.

Judithanne McLauchlan

District 22

Voters in this Senate district that encompasses most of south Pinellas County and south Tampa have a distinctive choice between an out-of-step incumbent and a well-prepared challenger. First-time candidate Judithanne McLauchlan of Madeira Beach would better reflect the values of this swing district.

McLauchlan, 46, understands both the issues and politics that define Florida. Before finishing her doctorate at Rutgers University, she worked in Washington on both congressional and White House staffs. She is the founding director of the Center for Civic Engagement at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, where she is also an associate political science professor. As part of her job, she seeks opportunities for students to see candidates and elections up close, including taking them to New Hampshire for presidential primaries.

McLauchlan supports public schools and wants private schools that receive state money to be held accountable for students' performance. She backs the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum and wants to repeal the nuclear cost recovery fee that enabled Duke Energy to bill customers more than $3 billion for plants that are closed or were never built. A previous bankruptcy as a young adult, caused by medical debts she incurred while a graduate student, makes her a passionate supporter of accepting federal money for Medicaid expansion so others don't suffer similarly.

Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, 38, has been a disappointment, supporting private school choice with no real thought to how to improve the public schools. To his credit, he pushed for a private alternative to federal flood insurance. But he also cast the only Senate vote against accepting Medicaid expansion money to subsidize private coverage; pushed to recklessly expand the right to carry concealed weapons during times of disaster or civil unrest; and tried to undermine Greenlight Pinellas. He also has failed to support fellow Pinellas Republican Sen. Jack Latvala's bid to become Senate president, and a Tampa Bay senator leading the chamber would benefit the entire region.

In Senate District 22, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Judithanne McLauchlan.