HIALEAH — State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, formally launched his Republican bid for governor here by casting himself as both an old-school Republican and a nonpartisan dealmaker who’s neither a career politician like former Gov. Charlie Crist or an “outsider businessman” like current Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
Latvala also said he’s not a “sellout” — a reference to Republican primary rival Adam Putnam, who recently described himself as “proud to be an NRA sellout” — and said his experience running a direct-mail printing business makes him different from Putnam, who has worked in his family’s citrus and cattle businesses but has spent most of his adult life in politics.
While making reference to other Florida figures, Latvala said he hasn’t been following President Donald Trump‘s recent series of controversial remarks about the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
Latvala began his event by asking for a moment of silence for the two police officers and counterprotester who were killed in Charlottesville.
Speaking to reporters afterward, Latvala was asked if neo-Nazis bore 100 percent of the blame for what happened in Charlottesville.
“I wasn’t there. I condemn all violence,” Latvala told reporters. “If people are peacefully exercising their rights, whether they be white supremacists or whether they be Black Lives Matter folks, you know, they have a right to demonstrate without having a mob attack them. I wasn’t there. I’ve heard a lot of different stories about what may or may not have gone down. I’m sure the president and people closer to it have a lot more information than I do. I’m involved with what goes on in Florida.
“I’m sad about what happened. I think the three people that lost their lives were innocent people,” Latvala said.
A reporter asked if Latvala was equating Nazis and Black Lives Matter.
“I just said whoever it might be that’s out there protesting…I’m not supporting Nazis,” Latvala said.
Latvala appeared at a fire station here with police officers and firefighters behind him as he made the first of three scheduled announcement speeches today. He’s heading to his hometown of Clearwater and to Panama City later today. In an unusual sight for a Republican event, several members of the Democrat-leaning public employee union AFSCME were also on hand in green t-shirts to thank Latvala for pushing for a pay increase for state employees.
“I’ve always been very proud of the fact that I have friends on both sides of the aisle and sometimes peole criticize me because I have friends on both sides of the aisle,” Latvala said in his announcement speech. “But I think that the people that we represent want results. And they know that to get results you have to sit down with other people across the table and work things out. We don’t see much of that in Washington, D.C., anymore but we still get that done in Tallahassee and that’s what I want to continue doing.”
Latvala noted his reputation as a gruff figure, but said he gets things done and cited Everglades Restoration as an example. He supported a plan by Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.
“He got that bill to a certain point and then he called me in and said ‘I need you to help finish the job.’ And that’s when I started busting heads to get it done. You know, sometimes you do things the nice way in Tallahassee and then sometimes you do things my way,” Latvala said.
Everglades Trust Executive Director Kimberly Mitchell, a former West Palm Beach city commissioner, attended the event and praised Latvala’s work on the Everglades.
Bobby Jenkins, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police for Florida, was one of several police union officials on hand to back Latvala.
“He’s got our back. Now it’s our turn to get his back,” Jenkins said before Latvala spoke.
Latvala said Scott deserves “a lot of credit” for job growth in Florida over the past seven years. But he said 36 counties have lost jobs in that time and said the state doesn’t spend enough on mental health or infrastructure.
Speaking to reporters later, Latvala differentiated himself from Scott and Crist, who was elected as a Republican in 2006 but eventually became a Democrat.
“We’ve tried it both ways. We tried just an outsider businessman. We’ve tried just a career politician. The last two governors have fit those two molds…I think now is probably a good time to try somebody that’s got a little bit of experience in both.”
Latvala and Putnam have formally entered the GOP race for governor. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, could enter the race as well.