As Tampa Bay’s foremost political historian, State Sen. Jack Latvala, the Republican from the suburbs of St. Petersburg, maintains his grip on #3 this year in the 2014 SaintPetersBlog list of Tampa Bay’s Most Powerful Politicians.
Latvala, who represents Senate District 16, did suffer a few notable setbacks in 2013. For one, Pinellas County’s other senator (who edged Jeff Brandes on the 2014 list by one spot) was a vocal supporter of State Rep. Kathleen Peters for Pinellas County’s 13th Congressional District. “We don’t need a D.C. lobbyist in Congress,” was Latvala’s opening shot, launching a theme that would follow Republican David Jolly the entire campaign. Peters ultimately lost to Jolly in the GOP primary.
Latvala’s stature took another (minor) hit because of his role in a barrage of attack mailers fired at Democratic candidate Rick Kriseman (# 5 on the list) — who won decidedly to become St. Petersburg’s first Democratic mayor in 20 years.
Nevertheless, Latvala still wields enormous power as the Republican standard-bearer in an increasingly purple Pinellas County. He knows all the players and which issues are noteworthy and how to get things done.
Latvala recently blasted former Republican and current Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist for his much-publicized break with the GOP. Appearing at Crist’s St. Petersburg whistle stop/book signing event in February, Latvala — who served with the former governor in the Florida legislature during the 1990s — declared that one doesn’t leave the party just because you don’t agree with it. You stay and “try to change it.”
As chair of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, Latvala has also been on a mission to ensure that Florida legislators live in the districts they represent. Redistricting in 2012 made somewhat of a mess across the state, with many lawmakers now outside of their district boundaries — a situation some observers say affects a disproportionate number of Democrats. Latvala has spearheaded the effort to tighten up the rules and is inching closer to his “white whale.”
For a complete explanation of how this list was created and who comprised the panel that assembled it, please read here.