Joe Negron may be winning Senate president’s race, but there’s no need to question Jack Latvala’s GOP bona fides

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Were Doc Brown to offer Jack Latvala a ride in his time-hopping Delorean, it’s actually easy to identify one of the dates the Pinellas lawmaker would travel to: September 4, 1990.

That’s the date his bete noire, Stuart Republican Joe Negron, lost a primary election to Patricia “Pat” Dailer for the Democratic nomination in House District 80. Maybe a time-traveling Latvala could have used his printing company to send some direct mail for Negron. Something, anything to help Negron win that race. Because if Negron won that race, it’s almost certain he would not be facing off against Latvala to be president of the Florida Senate in 2016-18.

Most reading this post were not involved in Florida politics in 1990, much less remember the fact that at one point Joe Negron was a rising star in Florida Democratic circles.

Observing the neo-libertarian Negron, who now serves in the Florida Senate, it’s difficult to imagine that Negron at 27 was elected chairman of the Martin County Democratic Executive Committee.

Reviewing Negron’s legislative record, it’s difficult to imagine Negron saying, “I support a woman’s right to choose with the same enthusiasm as I support a person’s right to peacefully assemble,” as he once did to The Palm Beach Post.

Looking back at Negron’s decision to switch parties, it’s startling to read his explanation, which was not some Charlie Cristesque metamorphosis: “My views haven’t changed on the issues. The Democratic Party in Martin County has become so small and focused that it does not have room for people with progressive ideas.”

Negron says these issues recycle old news.

“I have been a registered Republican since 1991,” Negron said in response to this story. “I have always supported the pro-life agenda and have a 100 percent pro-life voting record. My conservative legislative record in both the House and Senate speaks for itself.”

Yet, despite Negron’s blue streak, it’s Latvala’s GOP bona fides that are currently being questioned by some.

State Rep. Matt Gaetz, as much an ally of Negron’s as he is a political enemy of Latvala’s, took to Twitter this past weekend to troll Latvala about the who-knows-where-he-got-it possibility of the longtime Republican running as an independent in a hypothetical match-up against state Sen. Jeff Brandes.

Huh?

Gaetz’ trolling comes on the heels of a story by POLITICO Florida that relies mostly on quotes from state Sen. Don Gaetz (also a political enemy of Latvala) to report that Latvala may resort to the “nuclear option” of relying on Democratic state senators’ votes to secure the Senate presidency.

Although this rumor has made its way up and down Adams Street, it’s still only a rumor.

“If you’ve got a Democrat(ic) senator who says on the record that I’ve approached them for support, that’s a story,” Latvala told POLITICO Florida. “For any Republican senator who says it, that would be hearsay.”

But this he said/she said is beside the point, which is: considering Negron’s past as a Democrat, his side of the street should not be questioning Latvala’s GOP bona fides.

The first time I heard Sen. Latvala speak, it was at the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee, where he defended his vote to allow motorcyclists to ride without a helmet if they so choose. As stupid as it may be to ride a Harley without a helmet, Latvala argued that the true conservative would trust the people to make the right decision on their own.

And while Negron was campaigning as a Democrat and leading Democratic organizations, Latvala was neck-deep in Republican politics. Just look at his biography.

Latvala joined the College Republicans at Stetson in 1969. He was chairman of the Florida College Republican Federation from 1972-73. He worked for the Republican Party of Florida from 1975 to 1979 — you know, before it was cool to work for the RPOF.

Latvala was the first executive director of the Florida Republican Legislative Campaign Committee. He co-chaired the Republican Party of Pinellas’ campaign committee in 1980 when it was still a black mark on your record to not be a Democrat. He was the charter president of  North Pinellas Republican Club.

Latvala was all of this years before Negron would run for office as a Democrat.

But Matt Gaetz and others say Latvala is a RINO and, to quote Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “They are all honorable men.”

Which brings me to my second point: the Matt Gaetzes of the world, as hard as it may be for them, should tone it down some (here’s looking at you, too, Chris Latvala). This kind of sniping is not what wins leadership races, but it does end majorities.

On Saturday, after like the 10th anti-Latvala tweet from Gaetz, I asked on Twitter if Dan Webster or the other Republicans who built the Republicans’ legislative majorities were as disrespectful to each other as this generation’s GOP. A prominent former legislative leader sent me a response on Twitter worth sharing. “No. But Democrats were at each other thru late 80s and early 90s, which is what happened. Remember GOP won majority with Dem drawn districts.”

Is that what is in store for the Florida GOP? In its effort to discredit a loyal Republican like Latvala, are Joe Negron’s allies jeopardizing the GOP’s hold on the Florida Legislature?

I’m sure Matt Gaetz has an answer.

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.