Senator Jack Latvala’s quest to become Senate President in 2016 on his second coming to the chamber seems to be an unstoppable force. This week, Jim Norman dropped out of the Senate District 17 race, leaving Latvala free to spend leadership resources elsewhere, and Senator John Thrasher (A former RPOF Chairman and House Speaker) effectively dropped his bid for the Presidency and decided to back Joe Negron. Negron, a Martin County Republican appears to have far from the requisite support to mount a serious effort.
Should Latvala become Senate President the implications would be clear. Following a drift rightward under Mike Haridopolous, and Don Gaetz, a Latvala Presidency would likely reposition the Senate as an effective check on the House and Governor (if the Governor is a Republican in 2016) and work well with Democrats.
Many left leaning groups have been disappointed by Latvala’s voting record on his return to the Senate in 2010. In his previous Senate tenure (1994 to 2002), Latvala was one of the more moderate Republicans often butting heads with the House and Governor Jeb Bush on economic and environmental policy. Latvala was in fact more aggressive on pushing positive Environmental policy for the state than any Senate Democrat at the time, something that irritated many of his conservative GOP colleagues.
Much like John McKay the Senate President from 2000 to 2002 who counted Latvala as a key lieutenant (despite rumors at the time that the Democrats were trying to court Latvala to form an alliance to govern with a bi-partisan coalition, which ended up happening under McKay anyway) Latvala is adroitly playing the game with his more conservative colleagues, supporting their initiatives and building a team of loyalists within the chamber. This will give Latvala a legislative power second to none when he becomes Senate President. Much like McKay who could count on 28-30 votes in the chamber for his non-partisan agenda (generally uniting almost all the Democrats with the centrist core of the GOP Senate caucus at the time), Latvala could emerge as less polarizing and more powerful than his colleagues in the House or the Executive branch.
When John McKay became Senate President he instantly positioned his chamber in the middle ideologically, appointing Democrats to key committee positions and advocating policy that was directly in conflict with the ideological agenda of the House under Tom Feeney and his close ally Governor Jeb Bush
While the sense among many liberals is that Latvala has turned to the right, I am hopeful that he is simply mimicking McKay’s ascendency to the Senate President position. Latvala who is the only Senator to have served in the chamber when the atmosphere was far more collegial and bi-partisan is above all a defender of the institution. My expectation would be that he becomes a titan of the chamber who forges a non-partisan consensus when he becomes Senate President.