National News

I don't miss Jack Latvala -- yet

Posted January 8, 2018 10:11 p.m. EST

Here's a snippet from a column I wrote three weeks ago:

" .?.?. and it's hard to feel much sympathy for Jack Latvala.''

The point I was making is whether you believe his resignation from the state Senate was warranted, his behavior had clearly left him open to the sexual misconduct complaints made against him.

And, as a new legislative session begins without him today, my feelings have not really changed. It's still hard to feel a lot of sympathy for Jack Latvala.

I do, however, feel tremendous sympathy for you.

While inappropriate conduct cost Latvala his reputation and Senate seat, it also cost you -- the voter -- one of Florida's most valuable politicians. You see, Latvala was the rare Florida legislator who didn't think compromise or moderation were evil concepts. He had the clout to stop bad legislation, and he wasn't afraid to cross Republican leadership when he thought it necessary.

Year after year, it was Latvala who stood between common citizens and the hustlers and ideologues of Tallahassee. That's not hyperbole. Heck, I don't even think it's disputable.

Or don't you remember 2011?

That was the year Latvala helped quell the House speaker's kooky idea to grow the state Supreme Court to 10 members, and then split it in half. He also fought, and defeated, an anti-union bill, and took a stand against lawmakers sneaking unpopular policies into the budget on the final day of the session.

And that was just a warm-up for 2012.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos was determined to turn the entire prison system over to private corporations but was rebuffed by his own party with Latvala, Sen. Mike Fasano and Sen. Paula Dockery leading the way. Latvala also was an early critic of the Jeb Bush-backed "parent trigger'' bill that would have made it easier to turn public schools into charter schools.

In 2013, Latvala and Sen. Wilton Simpson shut down the House's plan to close the Florida Retirement System to new employees. And in 2014, he stood with Florida's Sheriffs Association in blocking another House bill that would have allowed people without permits to carry weapons during disasters or other emergencies. In 2015, he made sure Enterprise Florida got about half of what Gov. Rick Scott was seeking because the agency refused to agree to additional oversight.

Now think about all of that for a moment. Latvala has taken on House speakers and Senate presidents. He has waged war with the governor. He has fought the NRA and the utility companies.

And now think about this: Is there anyone still in the Legislature willing to do that? Is there anyone capable of doing that?

Simpson, from Pasco County, has the political muscle, but isn't likely to stand up to House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg has shown signs of an independent streak, but may not have enough thump to pull it off.

And that means the rest of us could be at the mercy of Corcoran and his populist charade.

So, no, you don't need to shed any tears for Latvala as the doors to the Senate open today. He regrettably set the stage for his own downfall.

But 60 days from now, as the legislative sessions ends, don't be shocked if you are lamenting what has become of Florida politics.