Hours after POLITICO Florida reported that powerful state Sen. Jack Latvala had sexually harassed six women who work in the legislative process, the Clearwater Republican said in a Friday night statement that he “unequivocally den(ied) the allegations.”
But the news dealt a stunning blow to the powerful Appropriations Committee chairman and Republican gubernatorial candidate, with House Speaker Richard Corcoran also calling for Latvala’s resignation.
Moreover, Senate President Joe Negron ordered an investigation into Latvala, asking “anyone with information regarding today’s report to confidentially come forward to the General Counsel’s Office.”
In his statement, Latvala said it was “hard to confront anonymous accusers, and even more difficult when the news is manufactured by a fake news entity like POLITICO, who gave me less than a half hour to respond to this smear campaign.”
“And I find it interesting that these anonymous complaints have only come forward after I began my campaign for governor,” the 66-year-old Clearwater Republican added.
“I am in consultation with my attorney and will take all legal actions necessary to clear my name,” Latvala said. “I also welcome a complete review of these allegations by the Senate. If my political opponents want a fight, then it’s a fight they will get.”
Negron earlier had called the allegations that Latvala sexually harassed and groped the women “atrocious and horrendous.” He ordered the investigation, to be led by Senate general counsel Dawn Roberts.
“As Senate President, my first priority is the safety of our staff and visitors,” Negron said in a statement.
According to the POLITICO report, the women “described their physical interactions with Latvala as anything but welcomed. They said they felt degraded and demeaned when he touched their buttocks or other private areas of their bodies, or when he commented on their weight and their breast size.”
On Thursday, Latvala had strongly denied any ties to sexual misconduct after he spoke at the Associated Press’ legislative coverage planning session in the Capitol.
The website previously reported he’d been the subject of surveillance, including while he kissed a lobbyist in a parking lot after a dinner meeting in Tallahassee.
“I asked the (Senate’s) general counsel to find out whether I had any problems with this,” Latvala told a POLITICO Florida reporter. “And she wrote a memo to your boss — I didn’t know she was writing a memo — that said I never had any incidents like that.”
He added: “But that very day, you were on the phone trying to stir up one.”
The allegations against Latvala come a day after Negron defended a controversial sexual harassment policy change that some said would make it harder to report complaints when they occur.
Negron, a Stuart Republican, said in a news conference Thursday that he was not aware of any “formal or informal” sexual harassment complaints against members.
Though Negron has not said anything about relieving Latvala from his chairmanship, Corcoran—the Land O’ Lakes Republican expected to announce his own run for governor after the 2018 Legislative Session—was quick to call for him to step down from office.
“This behavior should never be tolerated. He should resign immediately,” Corcoran said in a statement. “The most dangerous threat to self government is morally corrupt leaders acting in their own selfish interests.”
Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat, said the allegations are “appalling and disgusting” and called on Negron to at least remove Latvala from his role as budget chairman.
“Additionally, I call on Speaker Richard Corcoran to tell the Senate that the House will refuse to go into budget conference with Senator Latvala in that position,” said Moskowitz, the Democratic ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee.