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The race for Senate president has become a Chinese finger puzzle

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The half-decade-long race to determine who will serve as president of the Florida Senate from 2016 to 2018 — either Jack Latvala or Joe Negron — has taken on all the difficulty of a Chinese finger puzzle after a series of recent developments designed to solve the matter have only made the issue more complicated.

Most notable of these developments is the official signing-on of now 10 current members of the Florida Senate to Negron’s political committee, the Treasure Coast Alliance according to registration paperwork filed with the Senate Rules Committee. Four senators filed their paperwork on Wednesday, most notably state Sen. Wilton Simpson, whose district is adjacent to Latvala’s. Also publicly throwing in with Negron is the recently elected Travis Hutson, as well as former Senate President Don Gaetz (absolutely no surprise there) and Rob Bradley.

For more than five months, Negron has contended that he, indeed, has enough votes to become Senate president. Negron told Matt Dixon of the Naples Daily News in January that “… I have a majority of support.

In response to this, Latvala at the time said, “I’ll kiss his feet on the Capitol steps if he can show me he has more than 12 pledge cards from current members of the Senate.”

Since that time, Florida Politics has learned that Negron is now backed by as many as 13 to 14 current members of the Florida Senate — himself, the 10 who have signed on to his committee, and up to three swing votes, including Thad Altman and Garrett Richter.

On Wednesday night, when asked to comment about Negron’s contention that he now has  as many as 14 pledge cards in hand, Latvala said — before making it clear that he’s focused on his work as a state senator, including helping to solve the state budget stalemate — “I’ll go ahead and concede that he may have 14 cards, but only 12 of them will be in the chamber at the time of the vote.”

Latvala is referring to the fact that the actual vote for Senate president is technically not until November 2016 — well after what looks like an increasingly active campaign cycle for the Republican Senate caucus.

Still, this was the first time Latvala publicly conceded that Negron holds a distinct advantage.

While it might seem that Negron is only a caucus vote away from becoming Senate president designate, that’s hardly the case — a situational reality that continues to frustrate Negron and his supporters. They have made several efforts to have the race framed as a fait accompli, but Latvala, despite not being able to pick up a pledge in the 2012 or 2014 election cycles, continues to live to fight another day.

One factor keeping Latvala alive is the unwillingness of Senate President Andy Gardiner and Majority Leader Bill Galvano to hold a caucus vote. Both Latvala’s and Negron’s camps say that Gardiner has said he won’t hold a vote until the end of the year, at the earliest.

Without the prospect of a vote, both Latvala and Negron continue to act as if the issue is far from being decided. Both men recently hired prominent fundraisers — Latvala retained Meredith O’Rourke; Negron brought aboard Ashley Ross.

Meanwhile, candidates are filing to run in possibly decisive Republican primaries, while conspiracy theories float through the Capitol.

The candidate filings include Gary Price for Garrett Richter’s seat, where either Matt Hudson and Kathleen Passidomo were expected to deliver a pledge for Negron. Price, a former Naples city commissioner, is said to be in Latvala’s camp.

The conspiracy theories include the use of so-called “nuclear options” that would obliterate normal rules and procedures. One theory says that the Senate’s districts map will be thrown out by the Florida Supreme Court, thereby plunging the entire body into chaos.

Whether this scenario — or the radical theory about Latvala using the Senate’s Democrats to get his way — has any merit is besides the point and that is, the harder Latvala and Negron attempt to solve this puzzle, the more difficult it is to truly know who has the winning 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.

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