Senate Democrats not completely shut out of power in Negron administration

Senate President Joe Negron
Senate President Joe Negron

With his three fellow Palm Beach County senators all Democrats, new Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, only went so far Tuesday in his approach to power-sharing with the minority party.

Sens. Jeff Clemens, D-Atlantis, Kevin Rader and Bobby Powell all picked up vice-chairmanships in the Negron administration. But Negron did name a few Senate Democrats to more muscular roles as chairs of four committees, although Republicans rule the rest.

Within the county’s delegation, Clemens will serve as second-in-command of the Community Affairs Committee; Rader, vice-chair of the Agriculture Committee; and Powell, the number two of the budget panel overseeing transportation, tourism and economic development.

Rader also will alternate with a House counterpart to be named later as chair of the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee.

Senate Democrats Bill Montford of Tallahassee, Lauren Book of Plantation, Randolph Bracy of Orlando and Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville were named chairs of Commerce and Tourism, Environmental Preservation and Conservation, Criminal Justice, and Military and Veterans Affairs, respectively.

Ruling Republicans control the remainder of the committees, including the powerful Appropriations Committee, led by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, a one-time Negron rival.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, who once represented Wellington, is the new Rules chair, directing the course of legislation in the Senate.

Republicans command 25 of the 4o seats in the Florida Senate, with Democrats making a net gain of only one seat in this month’s elections.

With pay raises likely a victim of tightening state budget, union says “enough is enough”

Will state workers get shut out again?
Will state workers get shut out again?

With prospects of a pay raise for Florida’s 113,00 state workers looking iffy at best, the public employees union told legislative leaders Monday that “enough is enough.”

“Every year, we are told that there is enough money to spend on giveaways to big businesses and enough pork to grease the wheels for re-election back home,” the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said in a statement.

“But when it comes to helping state workers putting food on the table there is suddenly a budget crisis that prevents it,” AFSCME said, days after House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes,  laid out a stark picture for next year’s spending plan.

“Enough is enough,” the union said. “In a budget of $80 billion there is more than enough to invest in our state’s future by investing in those that will make it happen.”

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, also acknowledges that state money is tightening. But his budget chief, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, has already declared that his “highest personal priority” will be to approve some kind of state worker pay raise.

Latvala also is a supporter of including a pot of money in the state budget as business incentives, designed to lure companies to Florida. Corcoran is dead set against that, and killed the approach last year when Gov. Rick Scott wanted a $250 million incentive package.

The state’s full workforce has drawn only one pay hike in the last decade, increases in 2013 of $1,400 for workers making under $40,000 a year and $1,000 for those making more. The last straightforward, three percent pay raise came in 2006.

Even the increase three years ago, for many, only partially offset what they’d lost when in 2011, Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led Legislature ordered state workers to contribute 3 percent of their pay to their state pension fund.


Lingering feud with Scott reflected in tea party scorecard

AFP scorecard reflects lingering feud with Gov. Rick Scott
AFP scorecard reflects lingering feud with Gov. Rick Scott

Most Florida House and Senate Republicans drew high marks Tuesday from Koch brothers’-founded Americans for Prosperity, despite the organization’s lingering conflict with GOP Gov. Rick Scott.

AFP spearheaded opposition to Scott’s coveted $250 million economic incentive package, which ultimately failed to win approval from lawmakers.

While Scott wasn’t graded by the organization, a leading supporter of the incentive proposal, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, drew a ‘C’ rating on AFP’s scorecard, the lowest mark among the Senate’s 26 Republicans.

“It was a tough year with us and the governor,” said AFP Florida Director Chris Hudson, whose father, Rep. Matt Hudson, R-Naples, was given an ‘A+’ by the group.

“But we still think (Scott) did a pretty bang up job,” he added.

No surprise, Republicans generally did better than Democrats in the eyes of AFP. Locally Rep. MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta, was the only lawmaker to score an ‘A+’ and appear on a list of “champions of economic freedom.”

AFP is a grass-roots organization which claims more than 100,000 members in Florida, many of them scattered through the ranks of tea party groups.

Many are backers of Republican Donald Trump for president. While some Florida lawmakers gaining praise from AFP may, in turn, keep their distance from Trump this fall, Hudson said he hopes the organization will help elect state legislators who adhere to its limited government philosophy.



Negron calls for more university, environmental spending in accepting the Senate reins

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart

Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican whose district includes a portion of northern Palm Beach County, was designated Wednesday as the next Senate president by the chamber’s Republican caucus.

Negron outlined priorities that include a $1 billion increase over two years for state universities, restoring the Bright Futures scholarships’ top level so that it provides 100 percent college or university funding for students, and heightened state efforts to ease environmental woes caused by runoff from Lake Okeechobee.

“I believe in the supremacy of the individual,” said Negron, a lawyer with the Gunster firm who works in West Palm Beach and Stuart.

“We’re here to serve. And the citizens remain our sovereign,” he added.

Negron’s Senate presidency was cinched following a lengthy leadership struggle with fellow Republican Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, which ended last month when his rival bowed out, throwing him his support.

Latvala will be budget chairman under Negron, who will take office following next year’s elections, if Republicans maintain their Senate majority.

Negron delivered a wide-ranging acceptance speech Wednesday, mixing in memories of a childhood growing up on Military Trail in West Palm Beach — he moved to Martin County at age 14 — with an attention to public policy, introducing each with the title “Issue” followed by a number.

He had four of them, including a commitment to adjusting penalties for juvenile crime and respecting the right of Floridians to not have government breathing down their necks.

Negron finished with a lengthy quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the late German theologian and anti-Nazi dissident, that affirmed the strength and limitations of the individual.

While Negron was largely cerebral and focused in his address, fellow senators recalled a lighter side of the lawmaker, who was first elected to the Senate in 2009, after serving six years in the House beginning in 2000.

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, recalled Negron as somebody who prefers Chick-fil-A to a steak house, can quote Seinfeld and is an adept ping-pong player. As a surprise to Negron, a diehard Atlanta Braves fan, a videotaped salute from former slugger Dale Murphy capped the hourlong ceremony.

“Great leaders are great teammates,” Murphy said. “Their success will be your success as well.”

Negron’s wife, Rebecca, a Martin County School Board member, is a Republican candidate for Congress, seeking to replace U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter in a district that includes northern Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.

Sen. Negron also ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2006, when Florida Republicans drafted him as its late replacement candidate after scandal-tarred U.S. Rep. Mark Foley resigned. Negron narrowly lost the race to Democrat Tim Mahoney.

Negron’s Senate presidency was cinched following a leadership struggle with fellow Republican Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, which ended last month when his rival bowed out, throwing him his support.

Latvala will be budget chairman under Negron, who will take office following next year’s elections, if Republicans maintain their Senate majority.


After long intra-party feud, Negron to be designated next Senate President this week

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, (left) is set to be designated Senate President this week. Sen. Jack Latvala (right) dropped his challenge to Negron's bid this month.
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, (left) is set to be designated Senate President this week. Sen. Jack Latvala (right) dropped his challenge to Negron’s bid this month.

Sen. Joe Negron is set to be designated this week as the next president of the Florida Senate, with the event following the Palm Beach and Treasure Coast Republican lawmaker’s successful capping of a long intra-party fight for the top post.

The 26-member Republican caucus, which controls the 40-member Senate, is scheduled to meet at 2 p.m., Wednesday to formally select Negron as the chamber’s next leader.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, earlier set the date. But Negron’s claim remained clouded until earlier this month because of a challenge from Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who had his own pack of supporters.

Latvala, though, abruptly dropped his bid for the presidency in the closing hours of a special session on Senate redistricting. In throwing his support to Negron, whose district currently includes northern Palm Beach County, Latvala was named appropriations chairman under his former rival.

In the exchange, Negron will rise to one of the most powerful posts in state government, provided that Republicans maintain their Senate majority following next November’s elections. Latvala gets arguably the most influential job beneath the Senate president.

Less clear, however, is where Senate districts fall — and whether Negron, who lives in Stuart, will continue to represent Palm Beach County.

Lawmakers failed to reach a consensus during the special session on redistricting, leaving it to Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds to sort through proposed maps, sending what he considers the best to the Florida Supreme Court, which will decide the matter.  A trial is set for Dec. 14-18.

In the map recommended to Reynolds by the Florida Senate, Negron’s district is pushed out of Palm Beach County. But in four maps proposed by a voters’ coalition challenging the Senate’s line-drawing, Negron would continue to represent a northern portion of the county.


After session filled with Frankenstein maps, Senate Republicans piece together new leadership team

Sen. Joe Negron and Sen. Jack Latvala
Sen. Joe Negron and Sen. Jack Latvala

For Florida Republican senators. the special session on redistricting dissolved in bickering over a map — but there also was a big moment of unity.

Shortly before the plan for new Senate boundaries was voted down, a political marriage was announced: Two GOP rivals for the Senate presidency, Sen. Joe Negron of Stuart, whose district includes northern Palm Beach County, and Cleawater Sen. Jack Latvala, had cut a deal.

Negron was endorsed by Latvala for the Senate presidency next year — and Latvala was handed the coveted post of budget chairman in the administration poised to take over next November.

“We want to start rowing in the same direction,” Latvala said.

No longer will the two rivals and their respective allies be sniping at each other. And no longer will the pair be recruiting Republican primary rivals to run against each other, with each man hoping to gain a new pledge in the presidency contest.

But the union also is born of expediency. And Senate boundaries may be the shotgun that brought this couple together.

With the courts now taking over Senate redistricting, there’s a good chance that the Republicans’ 26-14-seat advantage over Democrats in the chamber will narrow.

Helped by court-drawn boundaries that could prove more balanced, Democratic leaders are predicting that after next year’s elections, Republican dominance could fall to 23-17 or 22-18 in seats.

That’s still a GOP edge, but one that’s close enough for the minority party to occasionally exert control over issues and have a loud voice on policy.

The last thing the GOP needed facing that kind of political reality was a fractious caucus of its own.

Instead, what it now has is a leadership team headed by two very different politicians.

Negron is staunchly conservative, a measured lawyer in speech and in policy matters; Latvala, a moderate, with a long history in the Senate, is prone to angry and moody blowups over many issues.

Negron now also could be forced to make a quiet apology to one of his early supporters who may have had eyes on that budget chairmanship. Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, is seen by many as the likely loser of that coveted role handed to Latvala as a peace offering.

The Negron-Latvala union was a strange end to an equally strange special session.

It was one where maps of proposed Senate boundaries were floated, and when they drew resistance, leaders would make fixes, sometimes by linking parts of other maps to them in hopes of gaining support.

Such mash-ups became known as Frankenstein maps. And in the end, the Negron-Latvala deal could create something of a Frankenstein Senate presidency.

“I’m very comfortable with where we are,” Negron said. “I believe there will be lots of opportunities for everyone in the Senate to have their voices heard.”


Florida Senate presidency fight ends — with Latvala backing Negron for top job

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, appears to have Senate presidency locked up
Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, appears to have Senate presidency locked up

The Florida Senate‘s lingering leadership fight ended Thursday, with Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala endorsing rival Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, for the presidency next year.

Negron had declared victory in August. But Latvala refused to surrender — saying he still had enough pledges from fellow Republicansw for the powerful post to continue the fight.

Until Thursday.

“Senator Negron and I are focused on moving the Republican Caucus forward in a unified manner,” Latvala said in a statement.

For his part, Negron said that Latvala would be his budget chairman — arguably the most influential post in his administration of the Senate, set to begin following next year’s elections.

Sen. Jack Latvala
Sen. Jack Latvala

The deal was announced in the closing hours of a special session on Senate redistricting. The Negron-Latvala feud has proved a subtext to the effort to draw Senate boundaries, with the two men and their supporters watching carefully which contender could be helped by how districts are contoured.

Senate boundaries may not be set for months — until a review by the Florida Supreme Court is completed. But it appears likely that Negron’s district will be moved out of Palm Beach County.

Negron has represented the Jupiter-Tequesta area, but maps advancing in the House and Se

nate have moved him into a seat comprised of Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties.

“I look forward to working with Senator Latvala and the entire Republican Caucus as we represent the citizens of Florida,” Negron said. “The Senate is comprised of 40 strong, independent voices and I will ensure that every senator is heard.”

Senate to begin debate on district boundaries

Florida senators are poised to debate election boundaries.
Florida senators are poised to debate election boundaries.

Florida senators today are slated to begin debate on new boundaries for their election districts — which in Palm Beach County will shrink the number of state senators from four to three.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, would lose the sliver of north county that he currently holds and move into a Treasure Coast district under the plan advanced by Redistricting Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, a Negron ally in a leadership fight that is clouding the latest line-drawing.

Negron’s rival for the powerful post of Senate president next year, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, took the unusual step of testifying before Galvano’s committee last week, condemning the proposed boundaries as certain to be rejected by Florida’s courts, which are overseeing the Legislature’s redistricting attempts.

Lawmakers are in a three-week special session — scheduled to continue until Nov. 6 — to redraw 2012 Senate boundaries under a legal settlement with the Florida League of Women Voters, Common Cause and other groups.

A final Senate vote may not come until Wednesday. And the House isn’t scheduled to take up the revamped Senate boundaries until next week.


Palm Beach County loses Senate seat in redistricting plan

Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami, and Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, warn that Senate redistricting plan is still flawed
Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami, and Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, warn that Senate redistricting plan is still flawed

A Florida Senate panel Friday approved a plan that would reduce Palm Beach County’s four senators to three while likely forcing all 40 senators back onto the ballot next year.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, whose district currently includes the Jupiter-Tequesta area, would be moved out of the county and further up the Treasure Coast under the redistricting plan approved in a 4-3, party-line vote by the Republican-dominated Redistricting Committee.

Negron is positioned to become Senate president following next year’s elections.

But Negron’s rival for the powerful post, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, took the unusual step of testifying before the committee. He condemned the proposed Senate district boundaries as certain to be rejected by courts overseeing the Legislature’s redistricting attempts.

Latvala warned that the latest district lines continue to protect incumbents, fracture minority communities and split counties – flaws that courts ruled unconstitutional in earlier congressional redistricting plans and in the 2012 Senate map challenged by voters’ groups.

Lawmakers are in a three-week special session to redraw those 2012 boundaries as part of a legal settlement with the Florida League of Women Voters, Common Cause and other groups.

“I see history repeating itself,” Latvala told the committee.

The Latvala-Negron presidency fight appears to be shadowing the latest attempts at line-drawing.
Senate Redistricting Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, is a Negron ally and earlier enflamed talk that he was taking sides by arguing that not all senators would have to go before voters next year even, if their districts changed.

Galvano’s position would’ve shielded a majority of Negron’s 13 Senate Republican supporters from the risk of facing re-election. But the committee agreed Friday to a Galvano alternate proposal that imposed new, random numbers on Senate districts — a change that he said will force all 40 seats to be up for election next year.

Galvano, though, said the Senate leadership battle didn’t play a role in the map-drawing.

“When you have contested leadership race, that plays into it. In terms of playing into any product of this committee, the answer is no,” he said.


Number please? Senate proposes random scheme for numbering districts

A random numbering scheme for Senate districts is created
A random numbering scheme for Senate districts is created

In an attempt to blunt criticism that a Senate district numbering plan is designed to protect some incumbents from having to face re-election next year, redistricting staff Thursday unveiled an alternate, random-numbering plan.

The random scheme will be presented as an alternative to an approach proposed by Senate Redistricting Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, that would shield from re-election next year a majority of senators who support Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, for the powerful post of Senate president next year.

Negron, whose district includes northern Palm Beach County, is in a leadership battle with Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. Reducing the number of Negron supporters who have to run next year is certain to help increase his odds of winning the tussle.

The Redistricting Committee is scheduled to meet Friday to begin working through a dozen maps that have been proposed by lawmakers and staff.

District numbers normally decide which senators have to run for re-election.

Only odd-numbered seats are scheduled to be on the ballot next year — although Senate Democrats argue that a 1982 Florida Supreme Court ruling makes it clear that the entire Senate should face re-election after redistricting, which changes many of the voters in each district.

Galvano, though, said he will leave it up to the Senate Redistricting Committee to decide whether to select the random numbering plan or the proposal that could keep the Senate’s current seat numbering — and set the stage for having only half the chamber run next year.

Democratic Sens. Oscar Braynon of Miami and Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth argue that the Senate is on a collision course with the state Supreme Court by attempting to keep incumbents off the ballot.

Florida’s voter-approved Fair Districts amendments prohibit drawing district lines intended to help incumbents or a party retain power.

“There’s some political taint in this process,” Braynon said. “When you go before the court and they say ‘we think there may be some (political) intent here, we’re just trying to do our parts as senators and saying, ‘look be prepared for that to be said.'”

Clemens added that a majority of the maps prepared by Republican lawmakers and legislative staff risk being declared unconstitutional by justices, at least because he said one district spanning Tampa Bay helps assure the re-election of a GOP incumbent by fracturing a community of black voters.

Justices have already condemned similar line-drawing in throwing out a congressional district plan approved by lawmakers. A map proposed by a lower court is now awaiting review by the Supreme Court.

“You can draw your own conclusions from that,” Clemens said. “I’m just saying…this is unconstitutional by previous court decisions.”

The court will ultimately decide the Senate boundaries as part of an agreement between Senate Republican leaders and voters groups, which challenged the 2012 redistricting map as being crafted to help the GOP maintain its powerful majority.