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Don Gaetz strikes back against ‘bully’ Jack Latvala

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For the first time in recent memory, a sitting Florida senator invoked the Senate Rules during a floor session to call out a colleague specifically for impugning his integrity.

State Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican and previous Senate President, raised a “question of personal privilege” to defend his honor against attacks made in the press by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala.

Latvala is vying for the next Senate presidency against Stuart Republican Joe Negron; Gaetz previously committed his support in that race to Negron.

In recent months, Latvala excoriated Gaetz for creating what he called the “hot mess” that led to a lawsuit over the Senate map drawn after the 2010 census. The Senate settled the case by admitting it had gerrymandered that map to benefit Republicans and incumbents.

Gaetz chaired the Senate’s redistricting panel in 2012.

Latvala accused Gaetz of masterminding the redrawing of district lines to benefit those members supporting Negron in the presidency contest.

Before starting in on his defense, Gaetz asked the Senate sergeant at arms to bring Latvala back to the floor because “he should hear what I’m about to say.”

Latvala, however, was nowhere to be found; Gaetz’s comments came after the Senate’s vote on a new remedial map.

“I am sorry,” Gaetz said. “I made mistakes,” explaining he should have required people presenting maps to do so under oath and attest that their efforts were free from undue influence from political parties or operatives.

“I didn’t do it (and) I should have,” he said. “Perhaps that could have prevented some abuses.”

But Gaetz said Latvala was as much to blame for any constitutional infirmities of the current Senate map.

He mentioned Latvala’s drawing of southwest Florida districts that ensured then-state Reps. Bill Galvano and Denise Grimsley wouldn’t have to run against each other for a Senate seat.

Gaetz finally told the chamber again he was “sorry for my mistakes (but) Sen. Latvala should be sorry for his.”

He added that “when a bully throws a sucker punch, you hit back and never give in.”

Latvala was traveling back to Pinellas County Wednesday afternoon and not immediately available for comment.

Coincidentally, Gaetz, also a member of the Rules Committee, attended an Oct. 7 meeting in which chair David Simmons, an Altamonte Springs Republican, clarified the chamber’s procedure for raising questions of personal privilege.

The Rules say members may have time to discuss the “rights, reputation, and conduct of senators individually, in their representative capacity only.”

But Simmons said such a move is “limited to charges against a senator’s character which, if true, would incapacitate that senator from membership.”

“…When speaking about personal privilege, senators have no right to speak about anyone other than themselves,” he said. “They are limited to serious allegations made against that particular senator.”

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at

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