CLEARWATER — Influential Republican State Sen. Jack Latvala is not endorsing any of the seven Republicans running for the Pinellas County Commission District 4 seat being vacated by his former wife, Susan Latvala, who is retiring from office.
But he isn’t being shy about saying whom he does not want elected.
In an open letter sent Monday to local media, Latvala took the unusual step of issuing a “non-recommendation” of former state representative Peter Nehr and urged friends and supporters not to vote for the fellow Republican who served for six years in Tallahassee alongside Latvala.
In the letter, Latvala blasted Nehr, saying the 62-year-old has a “long history of what I consider to be personal financial and ethical lapses.” The letter also states that Latvala is worried after seeing a poll that shows Nehr leading the Republican primary.
“I believe elected officials should hold themselves to a high standard, which most of our Pinellas County elected officials of both parties continue to do. In my heart, I believe Peter Nehr misses that mark,” Latvala wrote.
Nehr said he expected attacks to come from his opponents but was puzzled by Latvala’s letter since he believed they had a good relationship. Voters will not be swayed by the attack, he said.
“I expected someone to write something negative about me, but I certainly didn’t expect it to be someone other than the other candidates in my race,” he said. “When something negative comes out, it’s usually the desperate act of candidates who know they are losing.”
Nehr has 10 years of political experience, serving on both the Tarpon Springs City Commission and Florida House of Representatives. He lost his seat in 2012 to Democrat Carl Zimmerman and now runs a medical courier business.
He twice filed for bankruptcy, and in 2012 he faced questions after reports showed he paid his then-girlfriend about $22,000 from campaign funds. Nehr said the payment was for work she did on his campaign as a consultant.
Latvala did not return calls for comment Monday. On his Facebook page, Latvala wrote that he agonized over sending out the letter but that it was the right thing to do.
Though not endorsing any candidate, he describes Dunedin Mayor Dave Eggers, former Oldsmar Mayor Jim Ronecker and Largo firefighter Macho Liberti as “fine public servants.”
He also praises retired pediatric dentists Johnny Johnson, whom, Susan Latvala has endorsed, as a competent and ethical man.
“I believe residents of District 4 would be well served by any of these four men,” Latvala wrote.
Local business owner Tim Keffalas and retired county worker Wanda Kimsey also are on the ballot in the Republican primary, scheduled for Aug. 26.
The winner will face Mark Weinkrantz, a Democrat, and Carl Folkman and Marcus Harrison, who both registered to run as unaffiliated in the general election Nov. 4.