Latvala's campaign launch adds color — and a dolphin — to the GOP governor's primary

The Clearwater lawmaker launched his bid with jabs at his toughest opponent, who did not have a dolphin at his rally.

click to enlarge Nicholas the dolphin headlines Latvala's campaign kickoff. - Kimberly DeFalco
Kimberly DeFalco
Nicholas the dolphin headlines Latvala's campaign kickoff.

It was sweltering by the time Republican State Senator from Clearwater Jack Latvala approached a podium that stood behind a large pool of water on Clearwater Marine Aquarium's outdoor Stranding Deck Wednesday for his first speech (locally) as a candidate for governor.

After leading a short moment of silence for the victims of neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, he noted how his toughest announced primary opponent, Florida Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam, had a marching band for his very down-home opening campaign rally in the inland town of Bartow — and that Latvala's campaign would be marking the start of its quest a little differently.

"We have Nicholas," he said, and Nicholas, one of the aquarium's resident dolphins, who was rescued and rehabilitated at such a young age that he likely could not have survived in the wild, swam into view and did a flip.

By the time he spoke, several of Latvala's best-known backers, mostly prominent GOP elected officials, had been singing his praises for at least half an hour.

Unlike Putnam or other, as-yet unannounced possible challengers, supporters said, Latvala cares less about blindly kowtowing to his party than he does about looking out for his constituents.

Take home rule, said longtime ally State Rep. Kathleen Peters (R-Treasure Island).

Even though party leadership at the state level is aggressively trying to preempt local governments in a variety of ways — from not allowing them to ban plastic bags to barring them from protecting LGBTQ citizens from discrimination via human rights ordinances — Latvala fights such efforts.

“He is a superhero for home rule," Peters said. "There is a sentiment in Washington that — and our [Speaker of the House] said that House [of Representatives] are more in touch with local [residents] than local, municipality elected officials. And now that is just absolutely wrong. And there is a whole movement to completely eliminate local government... [Latvala] has killed every one of those bills that would truly hurt local government.”

click to enlarge Latvala and his family. - Kimberly DeFalco
Kimberly DeFalco
Latvala and his family.

Florida's Speaker of the House Richard Corcoran (R-Lutz) also happens to be a likely gubernatorial candidate. He, like Putnam and former Congressman Ron DeSantis, has his own Tea Party cred.

Not lost on anyone in the crowd or at the podium was the inevitability that these Guns-n-KFC candidates (however newly minted the persona) will go after Latvala for having committed such sins as expressing concern about things like water quality, workers or consumer protections. But they appeared optimistic that they'll be able to make their case to the same primary audience that went for hardline conservatives like Rick Scott and Donald Trump.

“My dad may not be the current frontrunner in the race for governor of Florida, but he's never been afraid of a challenge, and he's never had anything handed to him in his life," said State Rep. Chris Latvala (Jack Latvala's son), who emceed the event. "Jack Latvala may not be willing to say what he should to get along... but if you think Jack Latvala will roll over and let a career politician who's been standing in line for years have this without a fight, then you don't know Jack.”

After all, if the past year has proven anything, personality apparently goes further than once thought.

“All of you know my dad, and you know this campaign will be unconventional and out-of-the-box, with a lot of blunt, straight talk — not because it's campaign season, but because it's who my dad is,” the younger Latvala said.

When it was his turn to speak (after Nicholas did his thing), the elder Latvala eschewed naming names as he outlined how his experience in both the private and public sector — with current Governor Rick Scott having only experience in the former and Putnam only being experienced in the latter — he's the one best equipped to tackle pressing issues like the opioid crisis and the state's infrastructure needs.

“We've tried it with just full-time politicians, electing them to be governor, people who've never worked in private [industry]. And we've tried it with people who only have worked in private business, who've never worked in government," he said. "And I just personally believe that we need a combination of both to do the best that we can.”

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