Florida State Senator Jack Latvala formally launched his campaign for governor amongst family, friends and supporters at a fire station in the highly conservative South Florida city of Hialeah.
Rumors that the state senator would be tossing his hat into the gubernatorial ring were first put to rest last week when Latvala informally announced his run over Twitter.
The Clearwater Republican filed official paperwork declaring his intention to run for Florida governor in 2018 on Friday, Aug. 11. With plenty of room left in the candidacy pool, Latvala's entrance will most likely rock the boat of Adam Putnam, who so far, has been the only major GOP name in the race.
Joining the 65-year-old career politician on stage for his announcement in Hialeah Wednesday morning was Florida State Senator Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, and former Senator Roberto Casas.
“His word is his bond,” Garcia told the crowd. “And something that I have learned from Jack Latvala is that through his time in the legislature, he is someone who really cares about the State of Florida.”
Before taking the stage, Latvala received further praise for being a man of his word and for following through on promises, something that would quickly become the central theme of his campaign in its nascent state.
The white-bearded, firebrand politician – whose fatherly demeanor is a far cry from the status quo – took the stage to a backdrop of supporters holding up campaign signs in both English and Spanish that read, “Hialeah Backs Jack!”.
“I’m going to cut my remarks short because obviously, it’s very hot out here,” said Latvala in his opening remarks. He then asked the crowd to partake in a moment of silence for the three who were recently killed during the events in Charlottesville, Va.
“Very senseless violence cost us three lives up there this week, two first responders, who were just trying to do their job,” said Latvala, followed by a contextual nod to those who were working at the fire station that morning.
"The most important journey in my political career starts right here at this fire station with these first responders in the city of Hialeah," he said.
Latvala also paid respects to a few of his more prominent conservative supporters in attendance that day including, Jim Tolley, CEO and president of the Florida Professional Firefighters, John Rivera, president of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, and Robert Jenkins, president of the Florida Fraternal Order of Police.
We are off and running! Outstanding support from first responders and the Hialeah community! More than 100 police officer and firefighters. pic.twitter.com/VilEOpl2ti— Senator Jack Latvala (@JackLatvala) August 16, 2017
“And one of the reasons I am running for governor and announcing today in front of this fire station is in acknowledgement to these people who put their lives on the line every single day and many of my colleges in government have no appreciation for that,” said Latvala.
The Republican senator quickly, yet subtly, started the windup into his announcement speech by discussing law enforcement pension issues that have frequented various cities around the State of Florida over the past few years, and were most recently on display in Jacksonville.
“They want to give them the same kind of pension you can get for working at Walmart,” Latvala said. “A 401(k) instead of a real pension and I think that’s the least we can do for people who put their lives on the line every day is show some appreciation in giving them a good retirement.”
After the greetings and salutations, Latvala cut right to the heart of his candidacy by discussing some of the conservative issues he plans to address as governor. One of the first topics Latvala brought up was business and how he is the only candidate currently on the GOP ticket that has run one.
“I’ve run a business,” Latvala said. “I’ve made a payroll. I’ve made that slow walk to the post office box or to the mailbox on Friday, just praying that there is a check big enough to cover the payroll that comes into the mail in the morning on Friday.”
The senator referenced his experience working blue-collar jobs in Bartow and running his printing business in Largo in an effort to connect with the audience and separate himself from other politicians. Latvala said being governor is a “tremendous responsibility” and the “lifetime of experience” as a state legislator is not enough to qualify a candidate for the top position in the state.
“All those guys do is pass laws,” Latvala said. “We, you and I, have to live by those laws when we run businesses.”
TY for tax cut proposal. Over 20 a day dying on opioids 36 counties lost jobs last ten years. Those are my priorities right now #sayfie— Senator Jack Latvala (@JackLatvala) August 14, 2017
Latvala rolled his blue-collar rhetoric and thoughts on gubernatorial qualifying conditions into a backhanded compliment to Governor Rick Scott and the job growth the State of Florida has experienced over the past eight years.
“Governor Scott gets a lot of credit for that, 1.4 million new jobs in Florida,” Latvala said. “But there’s 36 counties in Florida that have actually lost jobs in that same period of time.”
Latvala further rolled out his campaign platform by briefly discussing some statewide issues, such as dwindling infrastructure, water resources, funding for mental health, elderly care and the opioid epidemic, which has reached fever pitch on a national scale.
“We are facing a healthcare crisis with one of the fastest growing elderly populations in the nation and I know Hialeah has a lot of elderly folks,” said Latvala. “We have an increasing need for effective healthcare options.”
Sticking to traditional conservative ideals, Latvala also mentioned the threat that localized terrorism poses to Florida’s economy.
“A terrorist attack on one of our theme parks or on one of our tourism areas would have dramatic and devastating impact on our economy in Florida,” Latvala said. “So, we’ve got to be proactive and do what we can to prevent that.”
Latvala made a point to tell the crowd before closing that he would not use the title of governor as a step stool to a more prestigious and grandiose position, playing to the abundant rumors that Gov. Scott will run for U.S. Senate in 2018.
“This office is the end of the line for Jack Latvala,” he said. “I’m running to be the best governor we’ve ever had not to be something else.”
In closing, Latvala acknowledged he may not be the youngest, best looking, physically fit or even smartest candidate for governor, but said he will be the candidate who “tells it to you straight.”
“Anyone who I’ve served with will tell you that if you don’t think Jack Latvala keeps his word, then you don’t know Jack.”
“I was a Republican in Florida before it was cool to be a Republican,” Latvala said on Wednesday in Hialeah. “I was a Republican in Florida when we were in a very, very small minority.”
Woodrow John “Jack” Latvala was first elected to the state legislature in 1994, representing District 19 of the Florida State Senate. He was eventually termed out of office in 2002, but reemerged with all new fervor in 2010 to make a run at District 16.
He led a successful campaign to seize the Democratic-held state senate seat, swiftly defeating Democrat Nina Hayden in the general election by 36,454 votes. He raised over $800,000 in donations for the 2010 election, the most he has raised in any election since.
Redistricting in 2012 forced Latvala to run for election in Florida State Senate District 20, which was situated entirely in Pinellas County. He won by 57.8 percent of the vote, defeating Democrat frontrunner Ashley M. Rhodes-Courter.
Latvala would go on to win reelection two years later against Libertarian candidate Tony Caso, maintaining his Pinellas County seat for 2014.
After running unopposed in 2016, Latvala's district was reconfigured to include northern Pinellas and southwestern Pasco Counties. Prior to his most recent election, Latvala conceded to rival Republican Sen. Joe Negron in 2015 for the position of Senate president for the 2016-2018 legislative term.
Since 2010, Latvala has served on as many as 15 different Florida Senate committees and is currently serving as Chair of the Florida Senate Appropriations Committee. Outside of politics, the 65-year-old senator is currently CEO of GCI Printing Services, an envelope printing company based out of Largo, Fla.
In July, Latvala received a total of six distinguished honor awards from the likes of the Florida Sheriff's Association, the Florida Public Defender Association and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
Latvala wasted no time in campaigning after filing his official paperwork with the Florida Division of Elections last week. One of the first stops he made was in Jacksonville for a photo op and handshake with members of the Fraternal Order of Police.
“Always a great day when Jack Latvala stops by the same day he filed to run for governor,” Steve Zona, Jacksonville FOP Lodge President, said on Twitter.