Rachel Goode had no idea who Chris Latvala was. She had been busy struggling for two years to find a diagnosis for her young daughter, who had suddenly become paralyzed at 14 months old.
Lyla was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and she would need to begin transfusions and keep doing them on a regular basis. Lyla rebounded quickly. Doctors had warned the family Lyla may take years to walk, but she began taking steps. The future looked bright until the insurance company called in January; the transfusions were deemed “not medically necessary.”
Education: Bachelor in history, University of Central Florida
Political Experience: Former aide and successor to Florida House Representative Ed Hooper
Occupation: Florida House of Representatives, District 66 (R); Vice President of GCI Printing Co. in Largo, FL
And then came Chris Latvala.
Goode’s father attended the same church as Latvala. When he heard about the insurance company cutting off his granddaughter’s benefits, he encouraged Goode to call Latvala directly. She did and Latvala called the insurance company’s lobbyist daily over the course of three weeks. Goode was nervous; Lyla’s next transfusion date was coming up. When Latvala called Goode back, it was to tell her that the decision had been appealed.
Since then, Goode has gone to work for Latvala’s campaign. She was inspired that someone in government would take the time to help her and she never even thought to try.
Latvala did not always know he was going into politics. As a teenager at Terry Parker High School in Jacksonville, he says he was much more interested in sports and harbored a fantasy of being a play-by-play broadcaster. He worked concession at a movie theater after school and had a part-time job for one season as a bat boy for the Jacksonville Suns baseball team.
“It was really the 2000 election that got me interested in politics,” said Latvala. “That was the first year that I could vote.”
He was a freshman at Valencia College at the time, working toward getting his associate liberal arts degree. That was right around the time his father, Jack Latvala, won re-election to Florida Senate, a job he has held in one of two Florida districts since 1994. Latvala’s former stepmother, Susan Latvala, spent a combined 22 years in office between the Pinellas County School Board and the county commissioner’s office.
It may have been his political surroundings that convinced him to write a book at age sixteen. Titled “What Has America Come To: A Young Man’s Views on Various Moral Issues,” Latvala shared his thoughts on multiple issues: gay marriage – against, abortion – against, prayer in schools – for. He referenced his Christian faith throughout the book and quoted Bible verses in support of his reasoning.
“It started it when I was 16 and finished it my senior year of high school, so I was 18,” said Latvala. “It started out as a school report and then it just evolved. I [wanted]what word are you replacing? to see if it was something I could do. I used to go to the library before school and after work. I think I ended up selling 15 copies.”
While he is still committed to his faith, his views have also evolved as time passed. In terms of same-sex marriage, he still believes a marriage is between a man and a woman, but he is not going to “march in the brigade” against it. He actually voted to lift the ban against adoption rights for same-sex couples.
“By and large that’s an issue conservatives have lost,” he said adding, the courts have already spoken on that issue.
His views sometime run up against traditional Republican views as well. He was one of six Republican representatives to vote against open carry laws, and one of six to vote against fracking. Latvala has never voted against a pro-life bill, but he has never sponsored one either and says he won’t. He has met with Planned Parenthood “four or five times,” and has never turned them down for a meeting. He feels that there are issues worth discussing and coming to an agreement on.
“We shouldn’t have first-graders putting a condom on a banana,” he said, “but sexual assault awareness? Common sense transcends political parties.”
As he prepares to run against Democratic opponent David Vogel, Latvala said the biggest difference between the two of them is he has a better grasp of local issues. Vogel has lived in the area for only a year and that will hurt him, Latvala said.
Thais Leon-Miller is a student journalist attending the University of South Florida Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications. This story was produced as part of the school’s Advanced Reporting for Public Affairs class this semester, under the leadership of instructors Wayne Garcia and Wendy Whitt.