SaintPetersBlog’s fifth annual ranking of Tampa Bay’s most powerful pols wraps up today with the (somewhat) surprising reveal that state Sen. Jack Latvala finished ahead of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
A dominant force in regional and state politics for decades, this is Latvala’s first time atop the list.
But how can this be? Isn’t the Speaker of the House more powerful than any individual state Senator?
Yes, of course, the Speaker is more powerful than any senator, including the Senate President. Besides the Governor, the Speaker is the most powerful person in state government.
What’s more, Corcoran is an especially powerful House Speaker. As the Tampa Bay Times’ Tim Nickens wrote last week, Corcoran dominated the 2017 Legislative Session more than any other lawmaker dominated a previous session since Dempsey Barron held the gavel.
But none of this makes Corcoran more powerful in Tampa Bay and that, I would presume, is why our panel gives Latvala the edge.
It’s important to keep in mind that this was a collective decision. The panel includes some of the smartest consultants, lobbyists and operatives in the Tampa Bay region. If anyone can judge who is more powerful between Corcoran and Latvala (which is like asking who is the better NBA player, LeBron James or Stephen Curry?), it’s our panel.
Talking with several panelists, here’s what Corcoran versus Latvala came down to — all politics is local.
While Corcoran can zero-fund Enterprise Florida, he doesn’t have the sway Latvala has in the city halls and regional planning offices of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco.
I’m sure the panelists weren’t suggesting that Corcoran doesn’t have influence with, say, the City of Clearwater or with the TBARTA board — Lord knows the Speaker could light a fire there if he wanted — it’s that the senior senator from Pinellas keeps a close eye on his backyard.
Another factor on some panelists’ minds was Latvala’s influence in local elections.
It’s certainly not what it once was, just as his recent track record across the state has not been good enough to make him Senate President, he’s much more of a force in local elections than Corcoran, who doesn’t really play in sub-legislative contests in Hillsborough or Pinellas.
We know Senator Latvala watches his ranking closely (he’ll occasionally refer to himself as “#4”), so congratulations to him for finally taking the top spot.