When I talk to Florida politicos from outside of Tampa Bay, I explain to them that this is Bizarro World. Those politicians who are popular in Miami, Orlando and Tallahassee are not exactly popular here. And vice-versa.
This explains how, in Bizarro World, Charlie Crist and Paula Dockery and Mike Fasano are all popular in Tampa Bay, but not exactly beloved in the capital.
If Tampa Bay is Bizarro World, then clearly Jack Latvala is Bizarro Superman. He is feared in Tallahassee, but respected and admired in Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa.
This is only the beginning of why I back Jack.
Yet, make no mistake, I know Jack Latvala is as much grizzly bear as he is teddy bear, despite what my wife insists. Out of college, I worked for a consultant who had worked for Latvala for years. I’ve heard the stories about the younger, tougher and, yes, meaner, Latvala.
It’s that Latvala, circa 1992, which too many people think about when weigh whether he has changed enough to be Senate President. I am not going to say Latvala has changed, nor will I pretend to know him well enough to judge him, but here’s what I do know:
Jack Latvala is a genuine conservative.
Case in point, Latvala’s stance on whether to ban texting while driving. “You know the NRA saying that if they want my gun they’ll pry it from my cold dead hands? That’s what I think about banning cellphones and driving,” Latvala told the St. Petersburg Times. “Absolutely no chance.” Latvala’s stance on this issue is similar to his support in 2000 of a bill that scrapped the law requiring motorcyclists to wear a helmet and eye protection.
I remember being at an otherwise uneventful Pinellas GOP meeting where Latvala explained his position on this matter. He actually had to defend his vote because, while it was the conservative thing to do, it was not considered the common-sense thing to do. Yet it was clear then, and as it is now, that even though he is beloved by the media and many moderates, Latvala is a true conservative.
Likewise, Latvala has emerged as the staunchest defender of the institution that is the Florida Senate. Whether it be his general belief that conforming bills undercut the legislative process or his insistence that every member get to have their say, it’s Latvala, once regarded as a bully, who is the Defender of the Senate.
While Latvala’s affection for his colleague Larcenia Bullard may be the best example of this position, let me offer this personal anecdote: The Senator was not exactly happy with my coverage of two of his allies Greg Evers and Miguel Diaz de la Portilla. And he let me know about his unhappiness, in his own special way. But he never asked me to change the story or where I got my sources, he just kept saying, “Senators don’t do these things to each other.” Meaning, he was not upset with me for my report, he was upset with whoever it was in the Senate who had leaked the information to me.
“Senators don’t do these things to each other.” Remember that.
Going back to the point about Bullard, it’s also important to note just how kind Jack can be to people. My wife thinks the world of him. How can she not. He was one week removed from hip replacement surgery and he still made it to our proposal ceremony.
“Senator, what are you doing here?” Michelle asked him.
“I wouldn’t miss this one for the world,” Latvala replied, propped up on crutches.
Another recent story about Latvala’s kindness I think best exemplifies who he is now at this stage in his life. A local elected official called him, for whatever reason, after they had a very difficult situation with a family pet that they were going to put down. This official was unsure of the role of the Animal Control office and what-have-you. There’s a longer version of this story, but it’s private, so I’ll leave it at this: it was Latvala, bully, Dark Star, etc., who gently referred this elected official to “Lap of Love”, the pet Hospice service.
See, he is a teddy bear, my wife insisted.
Actually, I think Jack Latvala is half grizzly bear and half teddy bear. And that’s why he’s going to be Senate President later this decade.
It’s also why I, and the rest of us in these parts, back Jack.