Andy Gardiner Archives - SaintPetersBlog

INFLUENCE talks with Jack Latvala on life, political success and ‘what he’s learned’

Recounting an impressive list of achievements spanning four decades, veteran lawmaker Jack Latvala seems to have done it all: an effective Florida Senator and political consultant, a self-described “environmentally-conscious” Republican and the proud father to state Rep. Chris Latvala.

The Clearwater senator, chair of the influential Senate Appropriations Committee, recently sat down with FloridaPolitics.com’s Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster to reflect on his life, successes and years in Tallahassee.

“Most senators are sincere,” the 65-year-old Latvala said. “I learned who in this body can be counted on and who can keep their word. Of course, I’ve always been a good vote counter on issues or whatever, because I look people in the eye and then I can usually tell if they’re sincere or not.”

Born in Oxford, Mississippi in 1951, Latvala talked about his start in politics, working for the Republican Party of Florida in 1975, a role he continued for five years.

“The last couple of years, I was the ex­ecutive director of the legislative campaign committee,” he said. “After Jack Eckerd ran for gov­ernor, he agreed to stay active in the party, and he was the chair of that committee. He hired me and brought me to Pinellas County.”

It was there Latvala started Largo-based GCI Printing Services, his government affairs and direct mail business, which the senator said grew into one of the largest GOP direct mail companies in the nation outside of Washington, D.C.

“I did the direct mail fundraising for the state Repub­lican Party in 28 states at our zenith,” Latvala said, including all of George H.W. Bush’s direct mail in the South. After Bush’s election in 1988, Latvala said they split he became one of the three vendors nationwide for direct mail services.

That experience helped Latvala hone his talents for his own political ambition.

In 1993, after local state Rep. Sandra Mortham chose to run for Secretary of State, Latvala made the decision to run for the Florida House.

“I raised money and had a lot of money in the bank, and 10 days before qualifying in ’94,” he said, “the incumbent Republi­can state Senator in my district resigned to run statewide for Lieutenant Governor. So I shifted over to the Senate race.”

And the rest, as they say, is history.

It was a lot different (then),” Latvala said “There were 40 leaders raised up by their communities, who came to Tallahassee and did what they thought was best for their communities. No one told a Florida Senator how to vote. You could get 21 votes; you could pass something.”

But with term limits and more House members winning Senate seats, Latvala believes there’s a lot more “follow the leader.”

“It was the worst when I came back in 2011,” Latvala said. “Then after I stood up to them and got a group of other people to stand up to them, it slowed down a little bit. But the House members that are coming over are very used to following their Speaker, to following their leader. I don’t think it’s all that good. That means one Speaker, one President makes all the decisions. And I just don’t think people want that.”

For Latvala, the most difficult years in the Senate were 2011–12, under President Mike Haridopolos. The last two years with Senate Pres­ident Andy Gardiner weren’t that great either, he said.

“The House ran over us on redistricting, ran over us on Medicaid expansion,” Latvala said. “Now it’s like nobody wants to extend the session because it makes you look bad. So, if you can get all the way to 60 days, you get your way.”

Latvala’s proudest accomplishments include the Florida Forever bill, which extended the state’s land-buying program, as well as measures creating the state’s chief financial officer office after constitutional amendments. He also played a key role in implementing the net ban law in 1994, taking another three years “to close all the loopholes,” as well as passing series of criminal justice bills that became a crucial part of Florida’s now 45-year low crime rate.

When Latvala returned to the Senate, he said he came back an “environmentally conscious Republican,” something a little bit harder to find than back in the 1990s.

“I’m kind of a conservative, but I’m a centrist,” he said “I take care of a lot of issues that independents and Democrats are concerned about, whether its environmental or whether it’s protecting our public employees, public safety employees, public schools.

“A lot of Democrats and independents care about that.”

Read Latvala’s entire interview, now available in the spring 2017 edition of INFLUENCE Magazine.

 

Senate Judiciary Committee gives big win for ridesharing regulation

Momentum remains strong in Tallahassee for the first bill in Florida to regulate ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft.

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the proposal (SB 340) unanimously without debate.

The bill, sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes, would require ride-sharing companies to carry $100,000 of insurance for bodily injury or death and $25,000 for property damage while a driver is logged onto their app but hasn’t secured a passenger. While with a rider, drivers would be required to have $1 million worth of coverage.

It also requires transportation network companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers.

While all indications are the bill will get through the Legislature this spring, opposition from certain groups continues.

Former state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, now a lobbyist for the Florida Taxi Association, said the bill would tie the hands of local governments from regulating their own communities. Bogdanoff referenced problems with “exorbitant” numbers of cars circling around Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Port Everglades. She said issues that had been resolved between local governments and Uber and Lyft would be removed from the books, and also acknowledged the cold hard reality of the political calculus this session.

“I realize the train has left the station, or the car has left the Port, or whatever you want to call it,” she said.

Megan Samples, with the Florida League of Cities, again called the bill a pre-emption on local governments, particularly decrying what she said would be looser background checks for ride-sharing drivers.

Rich Templin, representing the Florida AFL-CIO, testified on behalf of the Amalgamated Transit Union. He said he was hoping to draft an amendment before the next stop for the bill that would address additional safety guidelines in the bill, considering that more public transit agencies are working with Uber and Lyft on options like first-mile last mile and paratransit options. He said he was worried the Brandes bill would undue guidelines already in place.

Immediately after the bill’s passage in committee, spokespersons for Uber and Lyft immediately issued statements praising the vote.

“Lyft applauds Chairman Greg Steube and sponsor Sen. Jeff Brandes for guiding SB 340 to approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee,” said Chelsea Harrison, communications manager for Lyft.

“This is important legislation that brings Florida one step closer to a consistent statewide framework for innovative services like Lyft,” Harrison added. “Floridians want access to ridesharing, and we look forward to providing the state’s residents and visitors with a safe, reliable transportation option for many years to come.”

“Today’s unanimous vote on Senate Bill 340 by the Senate Committee on Judiciary is a positive indication that Florida lawmakers support the safety, economic, and mobility benefits that come from ridesharing services like Uber,” said Stephanie Smith, Uber’s senior manager for public policy. “We are grateful to all of the Senators who voted ‘yes’ on the bill, with special thanks to Sen. Jeff Brandes … who continues to be a champion for modern transportation options.”

During the past two sessions, the House had pushed similar bills, but the issue tangled up in the Senate, where former President Andy Gardiner wanted to address more narrow issues such as insurance requirements for ridesharing drivers. After Gardiner left office last fall, the way eased a bit in the Legislature’s upper body.

Safety Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant are sponsoring the companion bill moving in the House (CS/HB 221).

Floridians for Ridesharing Coalition pushes for statewide bill to get passed this year

Last year in the Florida Legislature, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill to create statewide regulations regarding ridesharing, but the bill died ignominiously in the state Senate.

Similar bills are winding their way through committees in both chambers already in 2017, and on Wednesday, the group Floridians for Ridesharing Coalition announced their support for that legislation, being sponsored in the House by Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls and Tampa Republican Jamie Grant and in the Senate by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes.

“We fully support legislation that embraces innovation, and legislation that creates predictable regulatory climate across the entire state for ridesharing companies,” said Frank Walker, Vice President of Government Affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce on a conference call.

Florida is one of only 12 states in the nation that has yet to create a statewide law regarding ridesharing, or transportation network companies (TNC’s) as they are also known.

In 2016, the drama was in the Florida Senate, where Uber blamed Senate PresidenAndy Gardiner for the inability for the ridesharing legislation to advance. He’s been succeeded by Palm City Republican Joe Negron, who has praised the current legislation.

“I think you’ve got two different bodies then you had last year,” said Walker, when asked why he’s more optimistic that the bill will pass this year. He also said that there is simply more demand for Uber and Lyft. “Environment plays a big role, and so does demand,” he said.

No region of the state has more interest in seeing a ridesharing bill passed than in the Tampa Bay area. That’s because of the large unpopularity with the body charged in Hillsborough County to regulate Uber and Lyft, the Public Transportation Commission.

Over the years, PTC officers have cited numerous Lyft and Uber drivers for operating illegally. Those actions ceased after the PTC finally passed a bill last fall bringing the two companies into compliance.

“Local regulations at best have been problematic and dysfunctional, and have not been helping to foster and grow the local economy, and that’s why we need a statewide regulation,” said Bob Rohrlack, President/CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

Rohrlack blamed “the status quo,” meaning the taxicab industry predominantly, for putting up roadblocks to protect, and not grow markets. “The local regulations penalize entrepreneurs. That’s something that none of us should be accepting,” he said.

In previous years, there has been criticism that the ridesharing companies have not been accommodating towards the disabled. But Kim Galban-Countryman, Executive Director of Lighthouse of the Big Bend, says the TNC’s are helping people with disabilities, especially those living with vision loss.

“Convenient transportation options are an absolute necessity for people with vision loss, and ridesharing introduces a simple affordable means to get around,” Galban-Countryman says.”Through various voice activated systems and services, individuals with visual impairments who otherwise would not have access to convenient transportation options can maintain their independence, and call a Lyft or Uber driver to take them where they need to go.”

Floridians for Ridesharing Coalition was formed before the 2016 legislative session.

Legislature to hear this week bills regulating ridesharing companies

Will 2017 finally be the year the state of Florida implements a statewide regulatory framework for ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft to operate under?

Legislators have failed to produce a bill over the past three regular sessions in Tallahassee, but hope springs eternal that all parties can come together this year.

On Wednesday, members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure will discuss a bill sponsored by Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls (HB 221). St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes is sponsoring a companion bill in the Senate.

The bill has the backing of Uber and Lyft, as well as Associated Industries of Florida (AIF), the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Technology Council and the Tampa Bay Partnership.

A similar bill failed last year, but because of a change in Senate leadership, Brandes is predicting it will have a better chance of passing in the upcoming session. Uber contended that former Senate President Andy Gardiner was the obstacle to the Senate passing the bill that was sponsored by former Rep. Matt Gaetz in the House.

As has been the case at the local level, the taxi industry is intensely against the bill, arguing it gives transportation network companies an advantage. County governments have long regulated taxi cabs, setting their rates, determining how many can be on the road, requiring background checks and demanding services such as the ability to accept credit cards or serve disadvantaged people and neighborhoods.

Florida Senate reopens chamber after $6 million upgrade

The chamber of the Florida Senate is reopening after a $6 million upgrade.

Outgoing Senate President Andy Gardiner showed off the renovated chamber on Monday.

Workers spent the last eight months tearing out carpet, replacing desks and installing a new stained glass dome and new wood columns. The state motto of “In God We Trust” is now displayed prominently above the president’s rostrum.

Senate leaders had been considering renovations for more than a decade, but Gardiner said they went ahead with the renovations because the 2016 session ended in early March.

The renovations mark the first substantial work that has been done to the Senate chambers since it was opened in the late ’70s. The Florida House renovated its chamber in 2000.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Blaise Ingoglia announces he’s running for re-election as Florida GOP chair

Announcing earlier than he intended to do, Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia said Thursday he will run for re-election to his post next January.

“I was hoping to announce this after Thanksgiving so everyone could spend time with their families and give everyone a much-needed break from politics, but the events of today will not allow me, or us, that luxury,” Ingoglia wrote on his Facebook page. “I want everyone to know that I will indeed be running for a second term as the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.”

The “events of today” Ingoglia was referring to was the announcement earlier Thursday that Sarasota state committeeman Christian Ziegler will challenge Ingoglia for party chair.

In his statement, Ingoglia said when he declared his candidacy for chairman two years ago, he promised “much needed reforms” and delivering the state’s 29 electoral votes to a Republican presidential nominee.

“We not only delivered on our promises, we delivered historic wins for Sen. Marco Rubio, our Congressional delegation, our Florida Legislature, and delivered by winning the State of Florida for the first time since 2004 for now President-elect Donald Trump. I humbly ask for your continued support as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.”

In addition to serving as party chair, Ingoglia was just re-elected to his House District 35 seat in Hernando County, and makes his living as a home builder.  A New York City native, Ingoglia developed a side career as a skilled poker player, and years ago began producing a series of videos and seminars called “Government Gone Wild,” where he decried the rising federal debt.

In January of 2015, he upset incumbent Leslie Dougher in the race for party chair. Dougher was Gov. Rick Scott’s handpicked candidate, and afterwards he took the hundreds of thousands he had raised out of the party’s account and put into his own political committee, “Let’s Get to Work.” Later, Senate President Andy Gardiner followed suit, removing more money and putting it into the Senate Republicans’ fundraising committee.

Nevertheless, speculation that schism would hurt the party in last week’s election proved not to be the case, with Trump defeating Hillary Clinton by 1.2 percent, a seismic achievement in a state both candidates desperately fought to win.

Christian Ziegler announces his candidacy for Republican Party of Florida Chair

Christian Ziegler, the 33-year-old state committeeman for the Sarasota Republican Party, has announced his candidacy for chair of the Republican Party of Florida.

“As we turn the page from the election, we have a lot of work to do over the next two years to ensure victory in 2018 — work that takes focus and resources,” Ziegler said in a statement sent to members of the Florida Republican Party Thursday.

“In addition to supporting the Trump Administration, we will need to strengthen our Republican Party of Florida to send an ally to the U.S. Senate who will work alongside our great senator, Marco Rubio,” he writes. “We will need to replace our term-limited governor and the entire Cabinet, in addition to protecting majorities in the state Senate and House of Representatives. And we will need to win the many congressional and local races across our great state.”

The RPOF is currently chaired by Spring Hill’s Blaise Ingoglia, who last week fulfilled his often-stated No. 1 goal since taking over the reins of the party nearly two years ago — to turn Florida red in the 2016 presidential election.

In addition to being party chair, Ingoglia also serves as a state representative in House District 35, where he successfully won another two-year term in office last week. And in August, he became the Hernando County state committeeman.

In his pitch to party members, Ziegler indirectly refers to Ingoglia’s other activities by saying the party needs a chairman “whose sole focus is strengthening the party,” adding, “I will make this my full-time mission.”

Ziegler is a close ally to Joe Gruters, vice chair of the state party and chairman of the Sarasota Republican Party (who just won his own two-year term in state House last week). Gruters got in early in backing President-elect Donald Trump in Florida, and Ziegler says, “I have built relationships with the current Trump Team … that will help foster a united party.”

Ziegler also serves as the chairman of the 134-member RPOF State Committeeman and Committeewomen’s Caucus, and says he will “bring that same passion and leadership style to the Republican Party of Florida as Chairman.”

The 46-year-old Ingoglia was elected RPOF Chairman in January 2015, when he upset incumbent party chairwoman Leslie Dougher, Rick Scott‘s personal choice to head the state party. He then cleaned out much of the RPOF staff, prompting Scott and Senate President Andy Gardiner to split from the party and begin raising money independently for Florida Republicans and, in the case of Scott, for himself with his “Let’s Get To Work” political committee.

Shortly after Ziegler’s announcement, Ingoglia announced on his Facebook page he was running for re-election for party chair.

Andy Gardiner, business leaders launch Florida Unique Abilities program to help disabled find work

Senate President Andy Gardiner appeared in downtown Orlando Wednesday to promote the launch of the new Florida Unique Abilities partnership, an initiative that businesses can join to support hiring those with disabilities.

Gardiner and business leaders representing AT&T, Walgreens, and SeaWorld, appeared at the Canvs building on Garland Avenue to talk up the program, saying it would behoove businesses all over the state and country to start hiring more people with disabilities. The Florida Unique Abilities partnership, they said, would offer a concrete way for businesses to show support and get the word out.

“Businesses can lead by example,” he said. “Every agency that wants to will have to send a report on what they intend to do to hire those with disabilities. That gives us the ability to promote Florida as the best place to live, work and play.”

To qualify as a partner with the program, businesses must meet one of three criteria:

— Employ at least one Florida resident with a disability for nine months prior to applying.

— Provide a financial or in-kind contribution to programs that serve the disabled.

— Or contribute to the establishment of a program that helps those with disabilities achieve independence.

Gardiner said the initiative was an important first step.

“It’s a good start,” he told FloridaPolitics.com. “It’s about recognition and hopefully recruiting more business partners to help this population of need and get a dialogue started.”

Others, like Steve Pemberton, Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at Walgreens, and Troy McNichols, Director of External and Legislative Affairs with AT&T Florida, spoke of the bonuses of hiring those with disabilities.

They all said it was important to be inclusive and nondiscriminatory in hiring, as those with disabilities, like anyone else, can bring strong new ideas and better quality to the workplace.

The final speaker at the ceremony was Whitney Harris, the Special Projects Coordinator with the Florida Chamber Foundation. Harris, who is disabled herself, quickly shut down any audience misconceptions that she was there to be an “inspirational” figure — rather, she was just like anyone else.

“I’m an eighth generation Floridian and a first-generation person with disabilities,” she said. “I’m not here to tell you an inspiring story or talk about how I can overcome my disability and be like everyone else. There’s nothing to overcome. I’m just a different flavor of normal. There are 1.13 million disabled people in Florida, and I’m just one of them.”

She stressed the importance again of businesses hiring those with disabilities — they, just like everyone else, need to support their families and themselves.

Florida Senate renovations near completion

The Florida Senate’s chamber renovations should be done by early-to-mid November.

Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta tweeted back on Oct. 5: “Chamber Reno Update — About one month to left to go.”

She posted photos showing the chamber with redone walls, new desks, and new carpet going down.

As planned, the nearly 40-year-old mural that greeted visitors to the 5th-floor gallery has been removed.

Departing Senate President Andy Gardiner has said the mural will be preserved for viewing elsewhere and stored until then.

The 10-foot-by-16 foot “Five Flags Mural” greeted visitors to the Senate since the Capitol opened in 1978.

The work also happens to depict a Confederate general and flag. The Senate previously voted to remove that symbol from its official seal and insignia.

When the chamber is reopened, senators will stand under a new ceiling dome, modeled after one in the Historic Capitol.

Gardiner pulled the trigger on the upgrade, recognizing that the chamber “has received only minimal updates since its original construction in the 1970s,” he said in a memo.

The final product in the Senate will be similar to an artists’ rendering released earlier this year.

It shows the new dome and other design elements that echo the Historic Capitol’s exterior, such as a pediment on top of columns over the president’s rostrum and the words, “In God We Trust.”

The renovation project was budgeted for $5 million. The chamber should be open for the Nov. 22 Organization Session.

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Is Oscar Braynon running the best Senate political operation in years?

Democratic uber consultant (and frequent Uber customer) Steve Schale contends in a must-read, table-setting blog post about which Florida Senate races are worth watching that “Oscar Braynon is running the best Senate political operation I’ve seen in years.”

Really?

Technically, Schale is absolutely right. Braynon is running the best political shop in years because, when compared to previous Democratic efforts, O.B. looks like a black James Carville.

Beyond Schale, there are other super-smart people in Tallahassee who think very highly of the Florida Democrats’ Senate political arm. Associated Industries of Florida’s Ryan Tyson often sings its praises, warning Republicans that if the Dems ever have more than two nickels to rub together, they’ll be dangerous.

Schale is also right on two more points:

— that, especially based on recent history, if Braynon’s Democrats overreach, they’re more likely to end up with just 14 or 15 seats in the Senate;

— and that if the Senate Dems get to 16 or 17 seats, that would make a huge impact in the chamber.

But I’m not ready to sing Braynon’s praises. One could make the argument that if the Democrats don’t get to 16-plus seats, the fault squarely lies with Braynon.

Putting aside all of the usual knocks on Florida Democrats — can’t raise money, etc. — Braynon has made glaring strategic mistakes for which he must be held accountable.

The first is not being able to recruit a candidate in Senate District 22. Few developments made me more relieved than to see our friend Jeff Brandes go without a challenge this cycle, but SD 22 is a genuine battleground seat that could have been won in a presidential year (and, admittedly, lost back to the Republicans in the 2018 non-presidential cycle). Braynon was left at the altar by Augie Ribeiro, who flirted with running in the seat, then decided to run in Senate District 19. Still, the seat encompasses St. Petersburg and South Tampa — veritable hotbeds for whatever constitutes Democratic intellectualism (for example, several major national and statewide environmental organizations, such as Defenders of Wildlife, have their offices in the district). It’s just a sin of omission that Braynon was not able to field a candidate here.

O.B.’s second tactical mistake is one borne out of his personal loyalty and willingness to reach across the aisle. By not pinning down his friend, Republican Anitere Flores, in SD 39, Braynon has allowed a couple of million dollars of Republican money to be freed up and redeployed to other races. Had a poll shown Flores in the slightest bit of trouble, Joe Negron would have spent $5 million to protect his chief lieutenant. Instead, Negron can now spend that money to shore up Dana Young in Senate District 18.

And while not outflanking the Republicans in SD 39, Braynon also left himself exposed on his left after backing the wrong candidates in two Democratic primaries. Braynon’s caucus of one backed Mike Clelland over Linda Stewart in SD 13, and Ed Narain over Darryl Rouson in SD 19. He didn’t spend a lot of money to do it, but Braynon now has two members who he personally tried to block from coming to Tallahassee. Look for both of them to give Braynon fits during the 2017-18 legislative sessions.

The honest truth about Braynon is that he is one of the smartest, most well-liked Democrats to hold the leadership post in a while. He’s O.B. from the press skits video of him and Andy Gardiner cutting it up as the “honest” Senate President.

But the Democrats were given the greatest political gift they’ve received in decades with the Florida Supreme Court’s redistricting ruling. Some political reporters, such as Mary Ellen Klas, speculated the Democrats were in position to pick-up six seats.

However, at the end of the day, they might just pick up just one seat (SD 13). If that’s what constitutes running the best Senate political operation in years, that’s hardly worth recognizing.

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