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Brian Hughes drops a dime

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you may have wondered how much holiday eggnog I had to drink Friday night after I launched a series of tweets directed at Republican political consultant Brian Hughes.

Please allow me to explain what prompted my broadside.

Up until about a month ago, Hughes and I worked closely together on a variety of campaigns and political issues. Although he has a tendency to be antagonistic, if not combative — even with his allies — Hughes can be a very capable operator. I even featured Hughes in INFLUENCE Magazine as one of the top communicators in Florida politics.

I don’t recall what the issue was, but a few months back Hughes had reached out to me (or vice versa) to tout one of his clients for inclusion in our weekly “Capitol Directions” feature that is included in the “Takeaways from Tallahassee” email.

Inexplicably, I copied Brian on an email to Fred Piccolo, a spokesman for Speaker Richard Corcoran, who moonlighted for me as a graphic designer. Piccolo was responsible for building out the graphics for “Capitol Directions,” so I needed to make sure he could update that week’s edition with whatever it is Hughes was asking for.

In tennis, this is what’s known as an unforced error.

That Piccolo did graphic design for me was not a secret, but neither was it well-known. When he took the position in the Speaker’s Office, I casually reminded him that he would need to fill out some form or another about doing outside work. After that, I never thought twice about any conflict of interest Piccolo’s working for me might raise.

Hughes, however, took great umbrage with the arrangement once he learned about. However, for a reason I’ll explain later, Hughes agreed to let the matter drop.

Fast-forward to L’ Affaire Latvala.

If you are a reader of this website, you are likely acutely aware of the investigation into allegations of sexual harassment levied against Sen. Jack Latvala by a high-ranking aide to Senate Majority Leader Wilton SimpsonRachel Perrin Rogers has accused Latvala and his supporters of retaliating against her and her husband, the aforementioned Brian Hughes.

Throughout this entire scandal, the staff at Florida Politics has remained impartial, reporting the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some of that ugly has included stories about sworn testimony given as part of the investigation. That sworn testimony has, for the most part, portrayed Perrin Rogers in an unfavorable light. This is unfortunate because, as Sen. Lauren Book so ably reminded us all, it is not ever OK to publicly attack or shame possible victims with character assassination. But these are court documents and sworn testimonies and have to be reported about whether we’re comfortable with that.

For the record, I never ‘outed’ Perrin Rogers AND resisted any attempt by external forces to do so via Florida Politics. I would have deleted this website before I would allow Perrin Rogers’ name to be made public before she was ready. Keep in mind, the first inkling of Perrin Rogers’ charges against Latvala was in comments she left on a Facebook version of my op-ed, “The Harvey Weinsteins of Florida politics are hiding in plain sight.”

Also for the record, I’ve not once judged the merits of Perrin Rogers’ accusations against Sen. Latvala. I haven’t commented on her at all, in fact. Meanwhile, I have been, on several occasions, very hard on Sen. Latvala, although I have never said he should resign.

Admittedly, it’s a difficult, complicated spot, as it is for many people involved in the process. All I can do is what I have done, which is do what I think is best and fair as each new development arises. For example, if a second accuser came to me today and said they wanted to go on the record against Sen. Latvala, I would not hesitate for a moment to share their story.

None of this has been good enough for Hughes, who, although he is in an impossibly difficult situation (what good husband would not forcefully defend their wife?) has moved from friend and strategic partner to a blood enemy.

In addition to some so subtle trolling of my family (here and here), Hughes has attempted to inflict damage on my business by actively contacting advertisers and strategic partners with a message of, “Him or me.”

My response to this has been to let Hughes punch himself out. So many of those he has contacted have described his communications as “bizarre,” that he really is doing more damage to himself than he could ever do to me. To date, not a single advertiser has asked for their ads to be pulled. In fact, two politicians who had been working with Hughes before he took the job as Lenny Curry’s chief of staff reached out to me this weekend to make sure I knew that they were independent of Hughes and did not want to be associated with his efforts.

Hughes has been peddling a four-part tale about me that asserts that a) I accepted a payment from a prominent reporter so as to not out them during the Ashley Madison scandal; b) my business is secretly funded by a major lobbying firm; c) the usual charges about being pay-to-play; and d) I pay Fred Piccolo to be my graphic designer so that I can have heightened access to the Speaker’s Office.

Last week, Hughes narced Piccolo doing design work for me to Gary Fineout of The Associated Press, which prompted this story.

How scandalous!

Undoubtedly, Piccolo should have submitted the right paperwork.

But what kind of nickel-dick man tattle tales to a reporter about someone making a few extra dollars designing invitations to a children’s party?

That AP story doesn’t hurt me — Hughes’ supposed target — one iota.

But it does hurt Fred Piccolo. And here’s why this really sucks.

The main reason I’ve kept Fred on is that he battling a horrible degenerative disease, the details of which are not mine to share beyond that disclosure. But Fred has told me that the graphic design work he does is therapeutic. So that’s why he sends me — sometimes unsolicited — Photoshopped images of Rick Baker and Rick Scott or whoever is in the news and our website needs art to accompany those stories. That’s the extent of Fred’s work for us.

For that, he makes from me what he’d make working for Uber.

Oh, and what was Fred earning that money for? So that he and his wife could pay for an adoption.

Yes, it was Fred’s fault for not doing the right paperwork.

But the more I thought about it — with the image of Fred’s slightly shaking hands foremost in my mind — I grew incensed at the collateral damage caused by Brian Hughes.

Hughes knew full well about Piccolo’s health issues and he still dropped a dime to a reporter.

If he wants to come at me by intimidating my advertisers or leaking to POLITICO, that’s one thing; I’ve been down the road of controversy before. But when you rat out a guy just working hard for his family, you’re a coward.

Joe Negron: Senate likely to consider tax amendment

Senate President Joe Negron said Friday he is open to the concept of a constitutional amendment that would make it harder for the Legislature to raise taxes.

In an interview with The News Service of Florida, The Stuart Republican said the Senate is working on a measure “that will be similar in goal” to Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposal to amend the state Constitution to require two-thirds votes by the Legislature before raising taxes or fees or creating new ones.

Negron said the measure is being developed by Senate Finance and Tax Chairwoman Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican.

In August, Scott called for a constitutional amendment that would require a “supermajority” vote before raising taxes and fees, which now can be created or raised by majority votes in the state House and Senate.

Scott said increasing the voting requirement “would make it harder for politicians in the future” to raise taxes or fees.

In November, the House unveiled a proposal (HJR 7001), sponsored by Rep. Tom Leek, an Ormond Beach Republican, that would require two-thirds votes by the Legislature to raise taxes or fees. That would translate to support from 80 members of the 120-member House and 27 members of the 40-member Senate.

The House proposal also would require each tax or fee increase to be passed as a single-subject bill.

The House proposal is pending in the Appropriations Committee, where if it gets a favorable vote, it would be ready for a debate on the House floor.

As the former chairman of budget committees in the House and Senate, Negron was asked about the impact of raising the threshold for passing taxes or fees.

“It’s highly unlikely that the Legislature would raise taxes,” Negron said. “I think the real issue is going to be, what should the percentage of the vote be? Should it also include fees?”

Kurt Wenner, vice president for research at Florida TaxWatch, testified at a House Ways & Means Committee in November in favor of an approval threshold of three-fifths votes by the House and Senate.

“It doesn’t get to where, basically, a third of the members could defeat something,” Wenner told the committee.

The Florida Constitution already contains a provision requiring a three-fifths vote by the Legislature to raise the state corporate income tax.

Negron expressed some doubt about including fees in the amendment. He recalled his time as the House budget chairman looking at agriculture-related fees that had not been raised in decades.

“If you’re making a fee actually reflect the current cost of something and it’s a fee, I think that’s a different issue than raising taxes,” Negron said.

But Negron said he expects the Senate to consider some version of an amendment increasing the voting threshold.

“I do think the Senate will take up a proposed constitutional amendment, which Sen. Stargel is working on, that addresses that issue and I am open to that,” Negron said.

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years and has the power to place constitutional amendments on the November 2018 ballot, will take up a measure (Proposal 72) next week that is similar to the House proposal, requiring two-thirds votes to raise taxes or fees.

The proposal, sponsored by Commissioner Fred Karlinsky, is scheduled to be heard by the commission’s Finance and Taxation Committee on Tuesday.

All of the proposals, if they are passed by the Legislature or the Constitution Revision Commission, would require approval by at least 60 percent of voters during the November 2018 election.

At least 14 other states require extraordinary votes by their legislatures when raising taxes, according to House analysts.

The vote thresholds range from a three-fifths vote to three-fourths votes in Arkansas, Michigan and Oklahoma. The Michigan threshold is limited to property taxes. Seven states have a two-thirds threshold, similar to the House proposal.

The Florida Legislature last voted for a major tax increase in 2009, raising taxes on packs of cigarettes by $1.

Andrew Gillum questions Senate Democrats’ silence on Jack Latvala

While the Florida Democratic Party has called for Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater to step down in the wake of accusations of sexual harassment, only two of the 15 Democratic senators have followed suit.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum says that may be because of the institutional structure and the nature of relationships in the Senate, but he says that Latvala’s “attack dog” tactics are why he should resign.

“What you have in the Florida Senate is a lot of close relationships, a lot of folks who know each other, and a real unwillingness to enter into the divisive fray of having a colleague step down,” said the Tallahassee mayor, following an appearance at Tampa’s Oxford Exchange Friday morning.

“These are uncomfortable positions all the way around for everybody, but it does require leadership.”

One Democratic senator speaking out is Lauren Book, who earlier this week filed a formal complaint alleging that Latvala violated Senate rules by aggressively going after his one public accuser, Senate aide Rachel Perrin Rogers. She has accused Latvala of groping her and using degrading language to describe her body over a four-year period.

“I’ve been most disheartened by what appears to have been a full-on intimidation and attack dog approach when it comes to the victim,” Gillum said.

Last Saturday, Perrin Rogers’ attorney, Tiffany R. Cruz, asked the Office of Legislative Affairs to provide armed security for her client this week as she entered and exited the Capitol and worked in her office.

Gillum said the toxic level of fear that necessitated the request for security was a “horrible way to handle a sexual assault claim in the Florida Legislature.”

“That alone is enough for the Senate, and Senate leadership, to put his party, the institution, the health, the safety, the welfare of those individuals above his own personal interests there.”

An investigation is continuing on Perrin Rogers’ original charges of sexual harassment against Latvala. The Clearwater Republican has denied the allegations, saying the claims are political because he’s running for Governor.

Kathleen Passidomo backs SB 434 push with video of addicted babies

State Sen. Kathleen Passidomo has launched a powerful and alarming promotion of her bill to create a new Florida-based project to take care of babies born to opioid-addicted mothers.

Passidomo, a Republican from Naples, posted social-media advertising featuring a video produced with Golisano Children’s Hospital of Fort Myers, talking about babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, the syndrome’s devastating effects on newborns, and its shocking increase in occurrence.

“We’ve seen a 1,200 percent increase in our babies admitted for neonatal abstinence syndrome,” Golisano Medical Director and neonatologist Dr. William Liu states in the video.

“What we are seeing is our babies are the ones who are collateral damage,” he states.

The babies are born addicted, and must go through painful and risky withdrawal.

Passidomo’s Senate Bill 434 would authorize a statewide pilot project for a new way to treat such babies. The bill is up for a key committee consideration Thursday afternoon.

The bill would authorize the Agency for Health Care Administration, in consultation with the Florida Department of Children and Families, to establish a pilot project to license one or more health centers to treat NAS babies after stabilization, offering a community-based, lower-cost, more baby-centric care. That’s an alternative to the current treatment normally provided in hospital neonatal intensive care units, care that is lengthy [averaging 23 days] and expensive, and a burden on the state’s Medicare program. Much of the the expensive equipment and staffing at the neonatal ICU is not needed after a few days.

The pilot project is part of a national effort.

“We have a responsibility to the babies being born into the devastation of the opioid crisis,” Passidomo stated in a news release issued by Florida Senate Republicans. “The Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Pilot Project takes important steps toward ensuring these babies are not left behind while we as a society work toward tackling the larger crisis we are facing.”

SB 434 was approved by the Senate Health Policy Committee in early November, and on Thursday is being considered by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, which meets at 12:30 p.m.

Order in the court? ‘Courthouse carry,’ gun bills die in committee

A testy meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday saw the deaths of three pro-gun bills, including Chairman Greg Steube’s “courthouse carry” push.

SB 134, Steube’s bill providing for concealed-carry permit holders to store firearms at courthouses, was joined in failure by Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel’s SB 274 and Steube’s other gun-related bill, SB 148.

But not without healthy and at times aggressive debate.

Stargel’s bill provided for people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns at private schools that are on the same property as religious institutions. She made her pro-gun stance clear before the committee.

“Some people believe that if we keep guns out of hands bad things won’t happen,” Stargel said. “I have the school of thought that believes the best way to stop a bad person with a gun is a good person with a gun.”

Following a wave of public comments, both for and against the bill, the committee debated among themselves.

With six Republicans and four Democrats, the committee should be Second Amendment friendly, but Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores has been vocal in her opposition to pro-gun legislation, locking her in as an almost definite no vote.

Sen. Rene Gacia, also a Miami Republican, announced his opposition just before the vote, leading to a 6-4 tally against Stargel’s bill.

Stargel’s provision also had been lumped into Steube’s “courthouse carry” measure, so consistent voting logic didn’t bode well for its hearing later in the committee.

But there were two other provisions included in the “courthouse carry” bill that might’ve appealed to those in favor of tighter gun control: a resolution-like Senate position asking the federal government to revisit bump stocks and a provision for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to forward failed background checks for gun purchases to local law enforcement for further investigation.

A representative from Florida Carry, a pro-gun group, lauded Steube for his efforts, but ultimately did not support the “courthouse carry” bill because of the provision about further investigation of failed background checks.

Before the vote, Garcia again voiced his dissent, but not without expressing his usual support for the Second Amendment.

“I for one have always, for the most part, supported the Second Amendment right and I do not believe that we should take the right of gun owners away,” Garcia said. He then cited the bill’s lack of addressing mental health as his reason for dissent.

With failure of his bill all but certain, Steube closed by pointing out the straw man tactics voiced by those opposing the “courthouse carry” measure, reiterating that the policy would only apply to concealed-carry permit holders. The committee had heard compelling arguments from both sides of the gun issue, with gun control supporters citing mass shootings.

“Nothing in this bill certainly allows people to purchase firearms that aren’t legally allowed purchase firearms,” the Sarasota Republican said. He also said none of the recent mass shootings involved concealed-carry permit holders. (The Violence Policy Center completed research on the number of shootings by concealed-carry permit holders.)

But Steube’s argument was to no avail, and “courthouse carry” died by a 6-4 vote.

The committee had postponed the bill’s hearing in November. Last year, it passed the measure in a 5-4 vote after Steube pledged not to expand the bill.

But it had failed, as the Miami Herald reported, when House Democrats traded its failure in a promise to kill a priority of Senate President Joe Negron.

Florida-based national coalition Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, a leading advocate for home rule, said Steube’s bill was the “latest in a series of heavy-handed preemption bills moving through the Florida Legislature in recent years.”

“This is a bipartisan victory for public safety and common-sense local solutions,” said campaign manager Michael Alfano in a statement. “Now, out-of-touch Tallahassee politicians won’t decide into which buildings guns are allowed – local communities will decide for themselves.”

The other bill heard Tuesday, Steube’s SB 148, would’ve provided for concealed-carry permit holders to not be criminalized for temporary or accidental display of their weapon, but that failed in a tie.

The coming nuclear war in the Florida Senate

If you want to blame someone, blame Charlie Justice.

Or, for that matter, you can blame the late C.W. “Bill” Young.

Because when the Florida Senate is reduced to proverbial ashes in early 2018, those still standing will be left to wonder where everything went wrong.

And that’s why you should start blaming Justice. Or maybe his then-political consultant, Mitch Kates.

Going into the 2010 election cycle, it was more than a rumor that Young, first elected in 1970, might not seek re-election. It was thought that all he wanted was to set the tone for a graceful exit.

Like several other Pinellas Democrats, Justice could read the handwriting on the wall, even if it didn’t tell the whole story about Congressman Young. A former legislative aide turned lawmaker, Justice was an affable first-term state Senator whose term would end in 2010.

Justice could have easily won re-election. He was damn near a unicorn: a scandal-free, white male Democrat with deep connections to the education community and the kind of legislative record that did not raise the ire of the business community.

But Justice was weary of the tone emanating from Tallahassee. He could see which direction state politics was turning and he was less and less interested in being part of it. He’d rather be in D.C., where Barack Obama was president, than Tallahassee, which has been dominated by Republicans for two decades. So, in April of 2009, Justice decided to challenge Young for the congressional seat the Republican held for nearly forty years.

Political observers speculated at the time that Justice wasn’t really interested in challenging Young as much as building up his name recognition for the inevitable day when Young really did retire, which Justice and local Democrats hoped would be in 2010. But somewhere along the way – probably in between the time Justice criticized his opponent for using campaign funds to purchase a car or produced an online video which attempted to link the veteran lawmaker with jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff – Young decided he would not be muscled out of his congressional seat. He would end up handily defeating Justice.

Unfortunately for Justice, he burnt his Senate seat at the shore of his congressional run. By announcing so early in the election cycle that he would not run for re-election, he essentially created an opening in the heart of Pinellas County. However, this battleground seat, which had flipped from Charlie Crist and Jim Sebesta to Justice, would not really be contested. Almost from the moment Justice announced he would not run again for the Legislature, it was clear who would succeed him in the seat.

Jack Latvala.

Latvala had been termed out of the Senate in 2008 after a forceful career that saw him serve as a chief lieutenant to Senate President Toni Jennings and as a powerbroker who ended a bitter stalemate for the Senate presidency. He used his influence to dominate Pinellas politics in a manner not seen since the days when Charles Rainey held sway. His political consulting and mailhouse was a national powerhouse, aiding presidential candidate and dozens of state parties. Other than Young himself, no other Pinellas politician was as powerful.

Latvala dispatched his Democratic opponent in 2010 with ease and quickly pivoted to rebuilding his power base in Tallahassee. Although many former allies and seasoned lobbyists and staffers were content with Latvala back in the capital, there were more than a handful of insiders who had worked with Latvala during his first stint in the Senate who were not exactly excited to see him return. However, Don Gaetz, the incoming Senate President who would grow to become one of Latvala’s many enemies, made it clear that Latvala would be welcomed back by the Republican caucus.

‘He’s changed,’ hopeful staffers would say to one another.

But like the Pearl Jam song says, Latvala changed by not changing.

In an era of hyper partisanship, the Republican hailing from the county which gave birth to Florida’s modern GOP prided himself on being a moderate. He championed legislation benefiting police and firefighter unions; he torpedoed bills designed to privatize the state’s education and prison systems.

Yet, he was still a good Republican. He wholeheartedly backed Gov. Rick Scott‘s re-election in 2014, while donating to dozens of GOP candidates throughout the state.

Part of that donating was linked to Latvala’s effort to realize his dream of becoming Pinellas County’s first Senate President in more than a century.

It was a dream that would never come to fruition.

Latvala’s never-ending ambition to be Senate President has dominated the politics of the upper chamber for this past decade. It’s really part of what has led that body to where it is today.

Initially, it was Andy Gardiner who Latvala was competing against to be Senate President. But after a failed coup by John Thrasher – stymied in part by Latvala and his allies – Gardiner would win that race, while Latvala would live to fight another day against Joe Negron. That bitter intraparty scrum took years — and millions of dollars — to decide, with Negron eventually prevailing because, well, Latvala was his own worst enemy.

He backed a series of candidates running in Republican primaries and general elections who were defeated by, in most cases, younger, more tech-savvy candidates. Jeff Brandes defeated Jim Frishe. Aaron Bean defeated Mike Weinstein. Etc.

Make no mistake: Latvala had a band of colleagues who wanted to see him become Senate President, but, collectively, they were neither as numerous or as determined as the forces opposed to him leading the Chamber.

And so Latvala became the Dark Star of the Florida Senate, occasionally plunging it into a parliamentarian abyss, as he did when he helped obliterate the top priorities of President Mike Haridopolos and his conservative allies.

Yet, it cannot go unsaid that these past seven years have been one of the worst periods in the history of the Florida Senate. With the exception of one year of Don Gaetz’ tenure and the final days of Gardiner’s term, the Senate has been a dark, dark place. From the losses it suffered during the redistricting process and trial to the resignations of Frank Artiles and Jeff Clemens, it has been one catastrophe after another in the so-called upper chamber. Meanwhile, a line of House Speakers – Dean Cannon, Will Weatherford, Steve Crisafulli and Richard Corcoran – have essentially had their way with their colleagues across the hall, who end up sounding like they play for the Chicago Cubs: “Wait until next year!”

There have been very few constants during the Senate’s decline, but one of them has been the presence of the senior Senator from Pinellas County.

Jack Latvala.

For all of his legislative successes … for all of the projects he’s secured funding for … for all of what’s he’s done for Tampa Bay … the situation for Latvala is almost a reverse “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Instead of George Bailey having never been born, what if Latvala had not served a second stint in the Florida Senate?

What if Justice had just run for re-election?

Instead, the Senate faces a nuclear scenario. On one side is the increasing level of forces arrayed against Latvala because of a singular public accusation of sexual harassment. On the other side is Latvala himself, the Kim Jong-un of the Florida Senate. The opponents of Latvala are powerful enough that they could easily destroy him if that’s what they wanted. Scott and Senate President Negron could release a joint statement calling on Latvala to resign and that would pretty much be game over. Enough of Latvala’s Republican colleagues could sign on to a petition seeking his resignation and that would tell Latvala it’s time to go.

And the United States could easily destroy North Korea in any exchange of weapons, conventional or nuclear.

The supreme danger in that scenario is the collateral damage. What missiles can North Korea fire off, preemptively or retaliatory, if it is about to be attacked or is attacked?

What missiles can Latvala fire off, preemptively or retaliatory, if he is attacked?

If the special master in the sexual harassment case finds probable cause (and how can he not as that threshold is so easy to reach) and L’Affaire Latvala heads to a “trial” on the Senate floor, what kind of damage will be done to an institution already reeling from a decade of losses?

Because Latvala has said, both publicly and more forcefully in private, that his colleagues will have to vote him off the Senate floor if he is to be expelled from the body. He won’t make a deal. He won’t resign.

Instead, he and his lawyers will conduct a full-throated defense that will involve the public questioning not only of his accuser but many members of the Senate. No one has more institutional knowledge about the Florida Senate than Latvala. No one knows where more bodies are buried.

God only knows what will come from that spectacle.

On Tuesday, Sen. Travis Hutson said that the Senate “is being burnt to the ground and I feel Senator Latvala is running around with the Napalm and the matches.” He’s now calling on Latvala to resign “so that we do not have to deal with this problem anymore.”

Hutson is wrong. Not about Latvala needing or not needing to resign, but of the incendiaries he thinks Latvala has at his disposal.

A nuclear war is coming and I don’t know if anyone knows how to stop it.

State Senator says Jack Latvala is making ‘mockery of serious allegations’

As he advocates for specific changes to the Senate’s sexual harassment policy currently under review, Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez said Monday “serious rules” are needed to make sure powerful senators like Jack Latvala stop making a “mockery of serious allegations.”

“Without independent investigation or serious rules, persons in power will game the system, intimidate victims and make a mockery of serious allegations, exactly as Senator Latvala is doing,” Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, said in a statement.

For the past couple of weeks, the Clearwater Republican’s legal team has sought to discredit Rachel Perrin Rogers, a top aide to Sen. Wilton Simpson who in a sworn complaint accused Latvala of sexual assault and harassment, as it builds a defense in a Senate investigation.

“In a defense, you have to make your case that one party is believable and one is not,” Latvala said. “Sometimes the truth hurts, and I am dealing with the truth.”

Since Perrin Rogers publicly accused Latvala, the 66-year-old’s legal team has released text messages shedding light into their relationship, and a sworn statement from Lillian Tysinger, a 22-year-old former Senate Majority Office staffer, who claims Perrin Rogers has a history of raising allegations against others.

Rodriguez said the current Senate rules have allowed Latvala to “subvert a Senate investigation process that is now spiraling out of control.”

The South Florida senator has been pushing for changes to the sexual harassment policy since POLITICO Florida first reported that six unnamed women, including Perrin Rogers, claimed Latvala sexually harassed them in early November.

Soon after the report, he sent a letter to the Senate suggesting it should implement mandatory anti-sexual harassment training for all staffers, and also create an outreach program that would facilitate victims to come forward and an automatic independent review outside of the Senate when allegations come to light.

Rodriguez said that in order to discipline a senator, rules must be changed and an outside independent investigation is necessary.

Request denied: Rick Scott won’t (yet) appoint special prosecutor in Jack Latvala case

Gov. Rick Scott‘s top lawyer has – at least for now – turned down a request to appoint a special prosecutor from the attorney representing Rachel Perrin Rogers, a Senate staffer who has accused Sen. Jack Latvala of sexual harassment.

The reason: Scott doesn’t yet have “the legal authority” to appoint a prosecutor.

“This morning, the Governor’s General Counsel, Daniel Nordby, reached out to (Tiffany R.) Cruz,” said Lauren Schenone, a Scott spokeswoman, on Monday.

“Our office clarified that the Governor does not have authority to act until a matter is pending before a state attorney and following an investigation by local law enforcement,” she said. “Additionally, a conflict of interest must also be identified.”

Earlier Monday, Cruz asked Scott’s office to appoint a special prosecutor, saying Latvala may have committed crimes.

POLITICO Florida reported on Nov. 3 that six women — one of them Perrin Rogers now says is her — accused Latvala of sexually harassing and groping them. The others remain anonymous.

Perrin Rogers, 35, is a top aide to state Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican who is expected to become Senate President for 2020-22, assuming the GOP maintains its majority in the chamber.

She filed a grievance with the Senate Rules Committee in early November, and two Senate investigations now are pending into Latvala’s alleged misconduct. They include claims of sexual assault and both sexual and verbal harassment.

Perrin Rogers said there were unwelcome sexual comments about her clothes, breasts and legs. She says the 66-year-old Latvala “assaulted” her in a state Capitol elevator, brushing her breast and trying to touch her groin.

Meantime, Perrin Rogers requested a security guard while in the Capitol out of concern for her safety.

Nordby’s email to Cruz is below:

Nordby Cruz email

Affidavit: Jack Latvala accuser boasted about sabotaging people’s careers

Before she filed a sexual harassment complaint against Sen. Jack Latvala, Senate aide Rachel Perrin Rogers allegedly engaged in a pattern of raising claims against fellow staffers at the Senate Majority Office, according to a sworn affidavit released Monday.

But the head of that office, Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson, now says it is part of a “smear campaign” against Perrin Rogers, who has been a “trusted and valued member of my team for more than five years.”

Further, Perrin Rogers’ attorney called the affidavit by former Senate staffer Lily Tysinger an “uncorroborated statement” and threatened a libel lawsuit against Florida Politics if it were reported.

And attorney Tiffany R. Cruz now has asked Gov. Rick Scott to appoint a special prosecutor in the case, saying Latvala has committed crimes.

Simpson broke his silence Monday and came to the defense of Perrin Rogers, his top aide. He said her publicly accusing a powerful senator of sexual harassment is not a “political campaign,” but rather about the safety and security of someone coming forward with serious allegations.

“If we do not protect those who speak out, we will silence other potential victims who deserve justice,” Simpson, a future Senate president, told POLITICO Florida in a text.

Latvala defended himself by saying his team has only provided sworn statements that are “scientifically authenticated.”

“In a defense you have to make your case that one party is believable and one is not,” Latvala said. “Sometimes the truth hurts and I am dealing with the truth.

“Why should I have to defend myself for attacking her credibility when she hasn’t backed any of her statements,” he said, referring to Perrin Rogers. “It goes down to my word versus her word.”

Simpson’s statement, however, could be a turning point in the Latvala investigation: A powerful Republican now has slammed the former budget chair’s defense tactics, which have included the release of text messages between Perrin Rogers and him and now a sworn statement by a former Senate staffer.

The affidavit released Monday is by 22-year-old Tysinger, who supports Latvala amid his career-threatening harassment scandal. She said Perrin Rogers boasted about sabotaging people’s careers, and raised allegations against legislative aides and staffers.

One of those rumors, she said, included Perrin Rogers telling the wife of Republican Sen. George Gainer of Panama City that Tysinger was “having numerous affairs with people involved in the political process.”

Cruz said Tysinger’s statements are “a complete lie” and that she would pursue legal action against Florida Politics.

“To be clear, Lillian Tysinger is a campaign volunteer for Jack Latvala, since August of this year. If that fact isn’t reflected in your stories, and if you print any other uncorroborated statements made by her, we will pursue legal action against you and your publication for printing libel,” Cruz said in a text.

Latvala said Tysinger has never been a volunteer, “that I know of.” He added in a text message that Tysinger reached out to his legal team “thru friends” and while he has only met her once or twice “she seems to be smart.”

“Very fine young lady,” he said.

Tysinger claims Perrin Rogers’ comments led to some people being terminated or “re-homed” from the Senate Majority Office. That included Tysinger’s own employment, which she had since November 2016, she said.

POLITICO Florida reported on Nov. 3 that six women — one of them Perrin Rogers now says is her — accused Latvala of sexually harassing and groping them. Two days after that report, Tysinger said she was removed from her position within the Senate Majority Office and transferred to the Senate Secretary’s Office.

“No reason was provided for my transfer, and the demotion resulted in an $11,000 a year pay cut,” Tysinger said.

Cruz has said Tysinger was the only staffer who was ousted from the Majority Senate Office and that it was a result of her “own conduct” and not any action on the part of Perrin Rogers.

Cruz declined to expand on what type of conduct, but in the past said she was removed from her post because she was incapable of telling the truth.

Under penalty of perjury, Tysinger, who had been a low-level staffer, maintained Perrin Rogers made general comments to her about “having sabotaged other people’s careers” and getting a former female press secretary to Simpson “removed” from her post.

Perrin Rogers is the only woman who has publicly accused the powerful Clearwater Republican of sexual harassment. Her grievances, filed with the Senate Rules Committee in early November, have launched two Senate investigations into his alleged misconduct, and include claims of sexual assault and both sexual and verbal harassment.

In the sworn complaint, Perrin Rogers says there were unwelcome sexual comments about her clothes, breasts and legs. And there was a time that Latvala “assaulted” her in a state Capitol elevator, brushing the lower half of her breast and later with his hand attempting to reach her groin, she said.

As the investigation into these allegations escalates, the 35-year-old Perrin Rogers requested an armed guard out of concern for her safety. Cruz said she wrote a letter to Senate President Joe Negron on Nov. 30.

In her request, first reported by News Service of Florida, Cruz said Perrin Rogers faces the threat of “serious acts of retaliation” from Latvala and those who are being “paid to assist him.”

On Monday, Cruz also sent a letter to Scott asking him to assign a special prosecutor to the case, saying Latvala has committed criminal actions. The letter, published by POLITICO Florida, said the request was bring made to determine if criminal prosecution is warranted.

“This request is not made lightly, but to ensure that there is not a dual standard of justice that benefits only the powerful and politically well-connected,” Cruz wrote.

Latvala’s legal team declined to comment on these allegations, but one of his attorneys, Steve Andrews, has said in the past that as part of the powerful senator’s defense they have collected the sworn statements of 22 people.

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Pam Bondi calls for legislation to protect sexual harassment victims

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on Friday said her “heart breaks” for the Senate staffer who in a sworn statement said Sen. Jack Latvala groped her private body parts and sexually harassed her for years, and called for legislation to protect sexual harassment victims.

“I was astonished to learn that one of the victims of the recent allegations in Tallahassee is a woman who I’ve known and respected for years,” Bondi said in a statement.

Rachel Perrin Rogers, a legislative aide to Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson, went public with her accusations against Latvala this week saying she was tired of him lying about her intentions and those of her husband, Brian Hughes, a political consultant.

“My heart breaks for her. We must respect the investigation by the Florida Senate and the privacy of all parties involved,” Bondi said.

Bondi encouraged women who have experienced sexual harassment to come forward, and while she did not give specifics, she said she reached out to House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who is handling the complaint against Latvala, to preserve a spot for legislation that would “provide protections to victims of sexual harassment complaints.”

Corcoran, who is mulling a run for governor, has called for Latvala to resign. Bondi said he was supportive of a law that would protect all women working in state government.

“It is remarkable what women can do when we all stand together,” she added.

The sex scandal rocking the Republican gubernatorial candidate intensified this week after Perrin Rogers went public and Latvala’s legal team released dozens of text message exchanges in counter defense that showed a cordial working relationship between the two. The complaint detailing the sexual harassment allegations was also made public this week.

Soon after that happened, Gov. Rick Scott said the powerful senator — who is running to succeed him –was a “distraction” in the Legislature.

Latvala slammed Scott for his comment hours later, taking to Twitter to say Scott’s “theft of billions in taxpayers” was also a distraction, referring to his defense in a Medicare fraud case against Scott’s former hospital company.

“I’m sure HCA stockholders thought your efforts to defend yourself in theft of billions from taxpayers was a distraction but you had a right to defend yourself! I have that same right!” he tweeted.

The Senate continues to investigate the allegations of six women, one of them being Perrin Rogers, brought to light by a POLITICO Florida report. There is a separate Senate probe sparked by the complaint Perrin Rogers filed with the Senate Rules Committee.

Latvala’s defense team said there is a sense of “urgency” to wrap up the investigation and that it could be resolved as soon as next week.

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