Sen. Jack Latvala used his outsized influence to grope and otherwise sexually harass women in The Process, and intimidate them and others into keeping quiet about it, according to the latest report released Wednesday into misconduct claims against the longtime lawmaker.
The 66-year-old Clearwater Republican also asked at least two women, apparently lobbyists, some variation of “what do I get,” suggesting he was willing to vote ‘yes’ for a bill if he received a sexual favor—an allegation that first arose in a separate investigative report released Tuesday.
And Latvala was able to get away with his behavior because those in his orbit feared that, if they complained or reported him, “wrath would come down on them.”
Tampa-based attorney Gail Golman Holtzman was hired by the Florida Senate to look into harassment allegations detailed by six unnamed women in a POLITICO Florida report. One later revealed herself as top Senate staffer Rachel Perrin Rogers.
Rogers and the other women eventually declined to talk to Holtzman, who went on to speak with 54 witnesses with knowledge of the allegations, including Senators, Senate staff, and lobbyists. Some interviewed told Holtzman or another investigator that Latvala would not have done such things.
Others told different stories.
“One witness reported that when she met with Sen. Latvala to conduct business, he closed the door, gave her a big hug, grabbed her buttocks, kissed her mouth, and put his hand in the top of her dress, grunted in her ear, and made a sexual comment,” the report said.
“She stated that she tried to stop his advances, but he wore her down,” it added. “The witness shared information about her historical personal relationship with Sen. Latvala. The witness stated that the conduct at the time of the meeting was not welcome and that for a period of time before this meeting, she tried to avoid Senator Latvala so that he would not ‘hit on her.’ ”
Another witness account corroborated this pattern of action, with the claim being that Latvala told a woman that “she lost weight, put his arms around her, hugged her tightly, pulled her in at the waist, grabbed her buttocks and grunted in her ear.”
Another witness described a pattern of “forward, flirty and suggestive” behavior from Latvala that lasted “decades.”
Such behavior included Latvala asking “What do I get?” in connection with her work, “a suggested quid pro quo for sexual favors based on a steady pattern and constant ‘hitting on her.’ ” That included being told to come sit by him on an office couch.
Latvala also used his position to create a climate of fear, with yet another woman saying “she had seen him scream and yell when angry, and that if someone is on his ‘bad’ side, he can be aggressive and punitive.”
Female lobbyists, this witness said, were afraid to come forward because that would jeopardize their careers. “Wrath would come down on them,” claimed another witness.
“The witness stated that they are dependent on others to get policy through, and staffers are dependent on a job,” according to the report. “The witness provided an example of why individuals might be concerned about coming forward by describing having observed Latvala using an expletive while telling a colleague never to question or challenge him again after the colleague raised a question about a bill (he) presented.”
Other examples include him calling together a small group meeting, then saying to one of the participants about another: “Did you tell her what I told you what I wanted her to wear?”
He went on: ” ‘I see you have your pearls on, but the request was nothing but.’ “
Another account revealed a Latvalian preference for a female staffer who was “cute, young, new.” And still another alleged that Latvala wanted a female staffer to sit on his lap.
As Latvala fought the career-ending allegations, the claims inspired Attorney General Pam Bondi to call for legislation that aims to protect sexual harassment victims, and Gov. Rick Scott — who had called Latvala a “distraction” — issued an executive order to strengthen sexual harassment policies in state agencies under his authority.
Jacksonville correspondent A.G. Gancarski contributed to this post.