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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.

*                              *                              *           


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.

Text messages: Jack Latvala accuser dreamed of him as younger, skinnier

More text messages from the Senate staffer accusing Sen. Jack Latvala of sexual misconduct show her describing her dream of a younger, thinner Latvala and calling him “mo betta.”

The exchange between Rachel Perrin Rogers, top aide to Trilby Republican and future Senate President Wilton Simpson, and Lillian Tysinger, then a Senate Republican Office legislative analyst, was obtained by Florida Politics on Friday afternoon.

“All I can tell you is, I would question their veracity in light of the person that they came from,” said Perrin Rogers’ attorney, Tiffany R. Cruz, when asked for comment.

Later, she texted a reporter, “Florida Politics has printed false information. Lily Tysinger does not work in the Senate Majority Office. She was removed because she was incapable of telling the truth.”

The 35-year-old Perrin Rogers is one of six women to tell POLITICO Florida they were groped or otherwise sexually harassed by Latvala,  a Clearwater Republican who has repeatedly denied the claims and continues to campaign for governor. Perrin Rogers also has filed a sworn complaint with the Senate Rules Committee.

In the undated virtual conversation, which Tysinger certified under “penalties of perjury,” Perrin Rogers asked her if she had told Latvala about “our messiness.”

“I sort of mean our friendship but messiness seems like a good way of putting it,” she wrote. (It’s not entirely clear whether Perrin Rogers is referring to her and Latvala, or her and Tysinger.)

“Flashback,” Perrin Rogers continued. “Last night Latvala was in my dream. He lost over 100 lbs.” Tysinger responded, “Oh wow.”

“He also had dark hair. It was like his official Senate photo came to life,” Perrin Rogers wrote.

“Oh that’s creepy,” Tysinger replied.

“When are you coming back? Have we lost you to Jack forevvvverrr,” Perrin Rogers wrote.

“Saturday. Lol,” Tysinger said.

“What are you doing tomorrow? I wish we would. He’s mo betta,” Perrin Rogers said.

Previously released messages between Perrin Rogers and Latvala on Wednesday show a friendly relationship between the two throughout the last Legislative Session. They include a meme, and a text saying “Smile, somebody loves you!” followed by a heart emoji.

Cruz has previously said any texts her client sent to Latvala were “an effort to accomplish one goal: Garner his support for Sen. Simpson and his agenda.”

While these text messages are surfacing, the state’s executive cabinet has made a point of distancing itself from the Clearwater Republican.

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis was the last to disavow the ongoing investigation, telling POLITICO Friday he’s “disappointed in this entire situation.”

Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam have made similar remarks distancing themselves from the suspended Senate budget chief.

Attorney General Pam Bondi said on Friday her “heart breaks” for the alleged victims.

Capital correspondent Ana Ceballos contributed to this post. 

Sexual harassment complaint against Jack Latvala released

There were the unwelcome sexual comments about her clothes, breasts and legs. And there was the time that he ‘assaulted’ her in a state Capitol elevator, brushing the lower half of her breast and later, his hand attempting to reach her vagina, she said.

In the three-page sexual harassment complaint filed with the Senate Rules Chair earlier this month, and released by POLITICO Florida, Rachel Perrin Rogers cited a list of six grievances from her interactions with Sen. Jack Latvala that stretch back four years.

The release comes at a time when one of Latvala’s attorneys, Steve Andrews, says there is a sense of “urgency” to wrap up the Senate investigation into the allegations. He says it could come as soon as next week.

Perrin Rogers, a 35-year-old legislative aide to Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson, publicly accused Latvala of sexual harassment on Thursday. Later that day, Latvala’s legal team released a series of text message exchanges between the two, showing a cordial working relationship.

But she claims the unwanted sexual advances occurred during several Legislative Sessions, starting in 2013.

The text messages, though, include jokes, memes featuring the Clearwater Republican and encouraging words like, “smile, somebody loves you!” followed by a heart emoji. They also include her asking Latvala for a favor to get her stepdad out of jury duty, texts saying that she donated to his campaign and her asking him to meet privately to discuss policy.

Her attorney, Tiffany Cruz, said the string of texts does not change the fact that Perrin Rogers did not “invite or encourage Latvala to touch private parts of her body.” She added her behavior was a shield to accomplish one goal: do her job.

In the complaint, Perrin Rogers said Latvala’s misconduct started with verbal harassment. And when she asked him to stop by calling him an “obese, disgusting and dirty old man,” it took a turning point. She claims that once the unwanted comments stopped, the unwelcome physical advances began.

In one instance that occurred on February 2015, she said the physical harassment got so bad that she submitted her resignation to Simpson.

“I cited personal family reasons but also informed Simpson that I felt that the Senate was a cesspool and that Senator Latvala had upset me,” she wrote. “I did not explicitly tell him it was sexual in nature.”

Simpson was not immediately available to comment on this claim. Perrin Rogers ended up coming back to work for him.

In the midst of the month-long sex scandal, the 66-year-old senator has not yet pulled his name from the governor’s race, Andrews continues to deny all the allegations cited in the complaint.

Latvala, however, has defended himself differently in the public eye.

In recent interviews, Latvala denied touching women against their will, but said “who knows” if what he has said to women has been perceived as sexually unwelcomed.

“He denies ever doing it, and if he did do it and he doesn’t remember it, it certainly wasn’t intentional,” Andrews said.

Cruz says Latvala is not in the clear because he says he never intended to verbally harass Perrin Rogers.

“It’s not a valid defense,” she said

Text messages shed light on working relationship between Jack Latvala, accuser

The Florida Senate employee who sparked a Senate sexual harassment investigation against Sen. Jack Latvala called Senate President Joe Negron a “douchebag” during a text message exchange last Session with the Pinellas lawmaker.

Rachel Perrin Rogers, a top aide to Republican Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, was texting Latvala when news broke in April about ousted Sen. Frank Artiles referring to Negron as a “pussy.”

“Well maybe DB should not have rolled his eyes at me, and then walked out with LB and Flwhores when I suggested an actual PR plan,” Perrin Rogers wrote. (Editor’s note: LB presumably refers to Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto and “Flwhores” to Sen. Anitere Flores.)

When the 66-year-old Clearwater Republican asked what “DB” stood for, she said “douchebag.”

While the text messages released between Latvala and Perrin Rogers on Wednesday show a friendly relationship between the two throughout last Session — including a meme, and a text saying “Smile, somebody loves you!” followed by a heart emoji — Perrin Rogers’ attorney, Tiffany Cruz, said any texts she sent to Latvala were “an effort to accomplish one goal: garner his support for Senator Simpson and his agenda.”

The text messages, all of which were sent between Feb. 12, 2014, and June 22, 2017, reveal a complex, albeit comfortable relationship between Latvala and Rogers.

“If I’d been at the Capitol I would have given you a big hug/bought you a drink after all of that yesterday,” Rogers texted Latvala on Nov. 6, 2015, not soon after Rogers returned to her Senate work after a leave of absence.

“You are a flawed person,” Rogers told Latvala, a sixteen-year veteran of the Florida Legislature, “but I have always felt like I shared the same flaws and that is part of why, no matter what else happened, I admire and respect you and very much want you to succeed. The other part of my admiration and respect is based on what you’ve done for people. I know you will continue to do great things for Florida.”

Latvala’s response: “Thanks … i guess :)”

Cruz told the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald, in a story published after Florida Politics first revealed the existence of these messages, that “the message in which she offered to give Latvala a hug when Rogers returned from her leave of absence occurred after Latvala ‘had done something very helpful to Wilton Simpson that day, which is what she was thanking him for.’ “

Cruz also said that the reason Rogers took a leave of absence from the Senate in March 2015 was because of one of the harassment incidents with Latvala. She returned, Cruz said, “because she was asked to come back.”

Latvala and Rogers exchanged at least eight text messages during the period Rogers was on leave. One of the text messages included an April Fools Day message from Rogers to Latvala that had the words “A day dedicated to fools? I see fools every day. I’m sick of it” constructed around a picture of Latvala.

Weeks after that — after the 2017 Legislative Session had ended and after all of the inappropriate actions Rogers alleges Latvala engaged in took place — Rogers texted Latvala to ask for a personal favor for her a family member and to see if arrangements had been made for her to attend a fundraiser for Latvala held in Maine.

The text messages are part of a sworn affidavit signed by Latvala on Wednesday as he continues to mount a defense against the sexual harassment allegations he is facing. They were released on the same day Perrin Rogers decided to go public with her accusations, who told POLITICO Florida that one of the reasons for doing so was to stop Latvala, a “malevolent” politician from spreading lies about her and her husband, Brian Hughes.

When Perrin Rogers’ identity was anonymous, Latvala claimed his accuser’s husband was working for one of his political opponents in the race for governor.

Cruz added that the release of the affidavit is “another blatant attempt to spread misinformation and distract from the real issue.” She also said “Flwhores” was a typo for Flores, and not a nickname for her.

“I will say it again, at no time did my client invite or encourage Latvala to touch private parts of her body. At no time did my client ask to be subjected to verbal or physical harassment,” she said.

Cruz confirmed the authenticity of the text messages to Florida Politics.

According to the affidavit, John D. Sawicki, the president of the Forensic Data Corp. verified their authenticity. Florida Politics also called the number listed and it went directly to Perrin Rogers’ voicemail.

The 35-year-old was one of six women who told POLITICO Florida that she was sexually harassed and groped by Latvala, who has repeatedly denied the claims and continues to campaign for governor.

Five days after the news report came out, Perrin Rogers filed a sworn complaint with the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Benacquisto, a close ally of Negron who is overseeing the complaint and will eventually determine if there is probable cause with the facts presented in the case.

While it’s unclear how much power Negron has over the complaint process, he could have influence over Benacquisto based on their longtime association.

Perrin Rogers’s identity also raises a potential conflict of interest with Benacquisto, who in 2016 paid her husband more than $9,000 in media buy and consulting services.

Negron’s office and the lead investigator in the probe, Tampa-based attorney Gail Holtzman, declined to comment on the potential conflict of interest.

While these text messages are surfacing, the state’s executive cabinet has made a point of distancing itself from the Clearwater Republican.

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis was the last to disavow the ongoing investigation, telling POLITICO Friday he’s “disappointed in this entire situation.”

Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam have made similar remarks distancing themselves from the suspended Senate budget chief.

Attorney General Pam Bondi said on Friday her “heart breaks” for the alleged victims.

Jack Latvala accuser outs herself, sets up potential conflict of interest in Senate probe

Rachel Perrin Rogers, an aide to future Senate President Wilton Simpson, has publicly identified herself as one of the women accusing Sen. Jack Latvala of sexual harassment, according to a POLITICO Florida report.

In doing so, a potential conflict of interest is raised in the Senate investigation into the claims because Perrin Rogers is married to Brian Hughes, a consultant to Senate Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto.

According to campaign finance records, Benacquisto paid Hughes’ company, Meteoric Media Strategies, $9,325 in media buy and consulting services in the 2016 election cycle.

Benacquisto is tasked with overseeing the complaint Perrin Rogers filed with her committee on Nov. 8. The contents of the charge are not public, but her attorney, Tiffany Cruz, has said it relates to sexual harassment.

Under Senate rules, if Benacquisto finds probable cause in the complaint, a special master would be involved and conduct their own investigation as to what the appropriate punishment would be for the accused.

Rogers told POLITICO Florida that Latvala groped her — something he has time and time again denied — and said she came out publicly because he was spreading lies about her and her husband.

Latvala, who knew Rogers was behind the complaint after a deal was struck with investigators in exchange for anonymity, falsely said Perrin Rogers was married to one of his political opponents. The Clearwater Republican is running for governor.

“The confidentiality that I was promised under Florida law has been violated,” Perrin Rogers said in a written statement.

Steve Andrews, one of Latvala’s Tallahassee-based attorneys, declined to comment on the allegations raised by Perrin Rogers. But in the past, he called for Benacquisto to recuse herself from any involvement in the investigation claiming she violate Senate privacy rules.

Senate President Joe Negron denied Andrews’ request.

Katie Betta, a spokesperson for Negron’s office, and Gail Holtzman who is the lead investigator in the Senate probe, both declined to comment on the potential conflict of interest citing the ongoing investigation.

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