With committee assignments, Jack Latvala’s Senate President ambitions get desperately needed boost

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For a moment there, it looked like it was time to pull the plug.

It was time to call the priest and ask him to deliver the last rites.

For a moment there, state Sen. Jack Latvala’s ambitions to be president of the Florida Senate in 2016-18 were in their death throes.

This past November, the senior state senator from Pinellas County lost a high-profile proxy battle in Senate District 34 pitting his ally, Republican Ellyn Bogdanoff, against Democratic incumbent Maria Sachs. Latvala had painted himself into a corner, framing the race almost like a loser-leaves-town fight between him and his rival for the Senate presidency, state Sen. Joe Negron. Had Bogdanoff won in SD 34, Latvala may have had an edge over Negron, but since she didn’t, he was, at best, tied with Negron in how many secret pledges he had from Senate colleagues. It’s more likely Latvala is down a pledge (or even two) to Negron.

So when Bogdanoff lost, Latvala’s hopes faded.

But just as the monitor was about to flat line, in steps Senate President Andy Gardiner, almost like one of those doctors you see on television, to resuscitate Latvala. (Picture Gardiner standing over a shirtless Latvala, holding defibrillator paddles, yelling, “Clear!”)

Latvala will chair the appropriations subcommittee dealing with transportation and education development. That’s the post both Gardiner and state Sen. Don Gaetz held before ascending to president.

Meanwhile, Negron goes from emceeing the full Senate Appropriations Committee to chairing a subcommittee overseeing civil and criminal justice spending.

Advantage Latvala, who was already smarting over the fact that his bête noire, John Thrasher, is no longer in the Senate and, as he’d likely tell you, “his guys” — Gardiner and Tom Lee — are in the top two posts.

Of course, no one has ever denied that as a legislative session approaches, Latvala seems to gain strength, as if committee meetings were some sort of reverse Kryptonite to the Dark Star of the Senate. It’s after Sine Die, when everyone’s back on the campaign trail, that Latvala has recently had issues. Whether it be with Bogdanoff or former state Rep. Mike Weinstein or former state Rep. Jim Freshe, Latvala’s proxies can’t seem to win key primaries. And that’s why Latvala and Negron find themselves where they are, with neither contender able to seize victory.

Negron’s supporters say their guy has time on his side because the electoral map favors him. Some of Latvala’s key allies are term-limited from running again in 2016, meaning Latvala has to play a lot of defense just to stay in the game. Where he gets to play offense is unclear. Already the candidate in the special election in Senate District 6 he reportedly recruited or was connected to, Beth Sweeny, has dropped out of the race, while the remaining frontrunners, state Reps. Travis Hutson and Doc Renuart, are both committed to supporting Negron.

In other words, while Latvala has certainly won the week, his being unable to field a candidate in Senate District 6 keeps it from being a clear-cut victory.

Still, the story for now is, as far as Latvala’s presidential ambitions in the Florida Senate go, there is life after death.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.