Five questions and pork tenderloin (!) with Senator Jack Latvala

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If you are a fan of Senator Jack Latvala, you’re really going to like this post. The first part of it is a five-question interview with the senior State Senator from Pinellas. The second part, and in my estimation, the more interesting part, is a video I found of an interview Latvala gives while preparing pork tenderloin and risotto. Seriously. If you know Senator Latvala, I think this video really captures who he is, quick on his feet, authoritative, yet, as my wife is quick to point out, inviting, if not downright warm and fuzzy. Be sure you scroll down to the bottom to see the video.

First elected in 1994, the Pinellas County Republican rose to leadership, was termed out in 2002 and returned to the Legislature in 2010. In November; Latvala easily won the redrawn Senate District 20 seat.

Latvala is a successful businessman and political consultant. His involvement with the GOP goes back to his student days at Stetson University, after which he started his own direct mail company. He is the chief executive officer of GCI Printing Services, Inc.

Latvala takes in a lot of turf. All lawmakers win awards, but Latvala’s are startling for their sheer reach: builders and environmentalists, teachers and administrators, Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Bar Association, port and apartment associations, police and firefighters, cities and counties.

Latvala is the chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, faced with making recommendations for correcting Florida’s lapses in both areas. He is widely considered a contender for the Senate presidency in 2016, but preferred not to discuss it in this interview.

The News Service of Florida has five questions for Jack Latvala:

Q: Are all elections options on the table? Restoring early voting days?

LATVALA: Yes, I think going back to the old way of early voting that we’ve done for the last 10 years is one of the options. I’ve even had people suggest that perhaps we should open all the precincts for early voting, not just certain locations but maybe have all the precincts open for early voting the weekend before the election. So the suggestions run the full gamut of possibilities.

I handed out a map of the country to the members of the committee, and I think some of them were very surprised to see that there are still 18 or 20 states where there is no early voting. And in many of those same states, you have to have an excuse to get an absentee ballot. Those states include a lot of the bastions of Democratic political success: New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts. I haven’t heard an outcry from the people in those states saying they need more opportunities to vote.

Q: Legislative leadership has expressed the desire for ethics reform. Given Florida’s dismal record for public corruption, what can be done?

LATVALA: Well, it’s obviously embarrassing to those of us that try to conduct ourselves honorably, and that’s the vast majority of people in elected office that I know. We’re all tarnished by the same brush when there’s a bad apple there. You know, you can’t legislate morality or legislate ethics. It still rests with the values of the people we elect.

But I think there’s some things we can do to continue to raise the bar a little bit. I think these folks that get elected to the Legislature and then find themselves on the payroll of a junior college or a school board or a university – I think there’s something wrong with that.

But by the same token, I think there’s potentially something wrong with legislators who have a constitutional ban on lobbying for the two years after they leave office all of a sudden signing up with lobbying firms to lobby the executive branch. I mean, if the bulk of the firm is spending their time with legislative lobbying, that’s a very poor appearance to be working in that kind of firm. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s usually a duck.

Q: You represent an area that’s strongly identified with Citizens Property Insurance Corp. Given the challenges Citizens faces, how would you like to see the Legislature respond?

LATVALA: Almost half of the homes in my district are insured by Citizens. And I think Citizens is out of control in numerous respects. I don’t think they’ve had the oversight of a company that’s basically a monopoly or that’s set up by the government. We have a responsibility to make sure that it runs correctly, to make sure that they have ethical standards. And I’ve been really shocked by a lot of what I’ve seen there. I don’t know yet what I would propose to do to clean it up, but it’s definitely something that we ought to look at.

Q: You’re considered to be a moderate in a chamber moving to the right. How do you see that role going forward?

LATVALA: I think that we all have learned a lesson from the election: that the Republican Party has to have a broader appeal. We need to be inclusive, not exclusive. And I’m going to continue – which is what I’ve been telling people here for the last two years, since I’ve been back – and I think it’s validated by the election. Now, how that works on specific issues, I’m not ready to say until the issues are put in front of us.

Q: Given Florida’s previous opposition to the Affordable Care Act and the fierce resistance that remains, how should the state approach implementation?

LATVALA: I think that those of us that are sworn into office in Florida are sworn to uphold the laws and the Constitution of the state and of the nation. This issue has been decided by the highest court in the nation, and I think that to continue debating it is really pretty ridiculous. And I think it’s down to a fairly small, vocal band of people that are involved in it.

I think that Senator Gaetz and Senator Negron are committed to implementing the law of the land. We could have [health insurance] exchanges that are forced on us by the federal government and have to do things their way, or we could have a program that is modified to our way in Florida. I always would prefer to do that. I’m not involved on that committee, but I’m supportive of their efforts to try to move this down the road toward implementing the law of the land.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.