Latvala Criticizes House Politics, Right Wing Of GOP
Since his return to the state Senate five years ago, Jack Latvala hasn't shied away from controversy.
At times, the old-school Republican politician has been a thorn in the side of leaders in both chambers, and he hasn't exactly let Gov. Rick Scott off the hook, either.
In 2012, for example, Latvala was instrumental in killing a priority of Scott and top GOP lawmakers that would have privatized more than two-thirds of the state's prisons. The following year, he played a major role in blocking a pension overhaul sought by then-House Speaker Will Weatherford.
But Latvala, a blunt-spoken political consultant from Clearwater, has also taken the lead in passing legislation, including a measure, later signed into law by Scott, that allowed undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Florida colleges and universities.
First elected to the Senate in 1994, Latvala, 64, served eight years before returning to the chamber in 2010. After coming back, Latvala became locked in a brutal competition with Sen. Joe Negron about who would take over as president following the November 2016 elections.
Recently, Latvala surprised Capitol insiders -- and many of his supporters -- when he withdrew from the leadership race. Instead of standing at the podium with the gavel in his hand, Latvala will assume the second-most influential position in the Senate as the chamber's budget chief.
The News Service of Florida has five questions for Jack Latvala:
Q: You conceded the presidency to Sen. Negron just over a week ago. You said that the comments of some of your colleagues who called this a "low period" for the Senate contributed to you changing your mind. Would you elaborate on that?
LATVALA: The general perception of dysfunction in the Legislature and, in particular, the morale in the Senate made it where a lot of us weren't real interested in coming to Tallahassee every week.
I started my 14th year in the Senate last week and I never remember not wanting to go up there. I never remember having two or three things in a row where we failed to get them done. I don't think the Senate leadership race was a cause of that, but I don't think it was helping.
I think maybe it will help unify the Senate so we can be stronger and deal with the House. Because basically we're getting our clock cleaned by the House. We saw it in session. We saw it somewhat in the budget session. We saw it in congressional districts. And now we saw it in the Senate districts. The House has never before involved themselves in Senate districts. And this past week, they did.
What they did was not anything that was in a base map, but they did things that were just retribution for those of us that didn't like one of the base maps. And we saw how that worked.
Q: Some of the leaders in the House are saying it might be time for an independent committee to deal with reapportionment. What do you think?
LATVALA: I absolutely do not agree with that. I think that it is possible to work it out short of that. The problems we had with that Senate map last week, and with the map before it, were not problems brought about by an inability to draw lines. Politics came into play.
The Constitution says you can't use the process to favor or disfavor an incumbent. There's not a doubt in my mind that some of the changes were made after the initial debate on the Senate plan that passed the Senate in effect to hurt some of the people that debated against it. There's not anybody that can change my mind about that.
That doesn't have anything to do with a redistricting commission. That's people who don't know how to work together, who don't know how to compromise. And most of the lack of compromise, as I see it, is coming from the House. They're the ones that just burrowed down and said no changes. They did that on the map on the congressional districts.
They said, 'Here's a staff-driven map. Oh, by the way, we're not going to record our conversations with our map drawers. You guys can, but we're not. And we're going to go with that map.' That just kind of insults my intelligence, that there's not some political advice being given on their map-drawing in the House, especially when we have no way of recording it, especially when I saw the results last week.
So for them to say they'd rather have a commission is really just poppycock.
'For them to say they'd rather have a commission is really just poppycock.'
Q: Is there still room for moderates in the Senate or in the Republican Party in general, anymore?
LATVALA: You can win primaries and lose general elections, and it really doesn't count unless you win general elections. You can't affect policy unless you can win general elections. We would have gotten control of the U.S. Senate a couple of cycles ago if we hadn't had this philosophical purity test in the party and people who could not win general elections hadn't gotten nominated as Republicans for the Senate in places like Delaware and Indiana and Nevada, places that we could have picked up U.S. Senate seats a couple of cycles earlier.
It's because of the so-called philosophical purity that these people are looking for. In a district like mine, a right-wing Republican is not going to win my district. My district goes Democratic top of the ticket most of the time nowadays. We've been able to keep it in Republican hands because I try to represent all of the people in my district, not just the Republicans, not just the tea party Republicans.
(This is a problem for your party. We see it playing out in the presidential primary right now, don't we?)
People that support Donald Trump admit he probably can't win the general election. People that support Ben Carson admit that he probably can't win the general election. Same thing with Ted Cruz. But at the same time, someone like Jeb Bush, who I think would have a shot at winning the general election because of his popularity with Hispanics, particularly, he's having a problem winning the nomination. We just have to come to grips with that. If we want to be pure and we want to be a right-wing party, then we need to be prepared for the consequences.
'If we want to be pure and we want to be a right-wing party, then we need to be prepared for the consequences.'
Q: How has the Legislature changed since you were first elected in 1994?
LATVALA: Term limits have produced a large number of leaders who really don't have the experience to sit down and make the deals, who don't have the experience to know that 50 percent of what you want is better than zero percent of what you want. And the tea party has pushed our party to the right. These are a lot of people who are mad at (President Barack) Obama for various things, and rightfully so, but they take it out on Republicans like me. I've never voted for a tax increase. I've never voted for any of that stuff that the Congress did up there that they're mad about.
But they don't think I'm conservative enough. Then they want to get into a whole bunch of libertarian issues that mainstream voters really don't approve of. We've got to get a grip on that. We've got to nominate people who can win general elections and then who know how to produce results. Because nominating people and they win their elections, for instance in the House because they win their primary in a district that's a Republican district, and then they come to Tallahassee and they don't know how to accomplish anything. They don't produce results. Voters are going to get tired of that.
Voters want results. They don't want gridlock.
Q: You've been at odds with Gov. Rick Scott's administration over his efforts to recruit businesses to Florida. How are you going to resolve that issue as chairman of the budget panel that oversees economic-development funding?
LATVALA: Some of the reforms they have proposed are good. They're things that we've talked about. The amount of money they're asking for is not up to me. That's a leadership issue. They'll give me an allocation, and I'll spend the allocation that I'll get.
As I pointed out in the committee meeting, what he has requested, just for Enterprise Florida, is three times what my total allocation of non-recurring funds were for last session. So if we get into a situation where I can't deliver what the governor wants and it's not my fault, then we're going to have to figure out whether that means that we just do zero of what the governor wants or we try to move in the direction of the governor.
Last year, we gave the governor $400 million in tax cuts, which was about two-thirds of what he wanted. But he's telling people he really vetoed our projects because we didn't give him what he wanted. Well, he got two-thirds of his tax cuts but he vetoed like 90 percent of our projects. So, we need to have an understanding that he's going to accept our best efforts on this stuff, or what's the reason to make the best efforts.
'Voters want results. They don't want gridlock.'
(Has he learned yet how to negotiate with the Legislature?)
Well, the young lady from Louisiana that's running things down there comes from a state where the governor appoints the speaker and the president, I understand. So it's a little different situation there. I stuck my neck out to help the governor in his re-election and with the Legislature for two years, especially when Adam Hollingsworth was his chief of staff. He worked very well with us.
I haven't heard much from the governor in the last five or six months. He called to wish me a happy birthday last week, and I appreciated that.
But how do we do $1 billion in tax cuts, a quarter of a billion dollars in incentives for businesses, and do all the other things? We have mental health institutions. That's darn near criminal, the situation that's been reported in the media over the past couple of weeks. How do we do all that? I don't know. All I can do is the best with what they give me with an allocation, and at the end of the day I can look at myself in the mirror and say I did the best I could do.