Jack Latvala Archives - Page 6 of 63 - Florida Politics

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.

Hmmm … poll shows Rick Scott with 10-point lead over Bill Nelson for U.S. Senate seat

A new poll from St. Leo University found Gov. Rick Scott has surpassed U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in a hypothetical head-to-head matchup in for Nelson’s seat in 2018.

The poll, conducted online between Nov. 19 and Nov. 24, showed Scott with a double-digit lead over Nelson in the matchup, 42-32, with 8 percent preferring another candidate and 18 percent undecided.

Eight months ago Nelson held a 5-point lead over Scott, 39-34, and in September the Scott took a slim 35-33 lead.

Scott, a Republican, has not formally entered the race for U.S. Senate, but he is termed-out as governor and is almost sure to challenge Nelson, a Democrat, in his campaign for a fourth term next year.

“We’re still almost a year out from the 2018 elections, but Rick Scott is in the best position he’s been in yet against incumbent Bill Nelson,” said polling institute director Frank Orlando. “It will be interesting to see if he can maintain this support while his party is hurting electorally throughout the country.”

Scott has also made considerable strides over the last two months when it comes to voters’ perception of his job performance.

Back in March, about 56 percent of Florida voters said they had a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” view of the second-term governor, while about 39 percent said they viewed Scott, a Republican, in a “somewhat unfavorable” or “not at all favorable” light.

Last month, the positive view climbed to about 61 percent while the negatives had dwindled to about 31 percent. The other 8 percent said they were unsure how they felt about Scott.

The poll also touched on the leading candidates to replace Scott in the governor’s mansion, though the bulk of the survey was conducted when Orlando attorney John Morgan was still considering a run in the Democratic Primary.

Morgan, who said the day after Thanksgiving he would not run for governor as a Democrat, had the most support among Dems at about 13 percent, followed by former congresswoman Gwen Graham at 9.4 percent.

Among all voters lumped together — Republicans, Democrats and independents — Morgan again came out on top with 24 percent support, followed by Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam at just under 19 percent.

About 53 percent of Democratic voters said they were unsure, leaving the race wide open for fellow Democratic candidates Andrew Gillum (6 percent), Orlando-area businessman Chris King (3 percent) and Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine (2 percent).

“No one has been able to rally establishment support and win the invisible primary. With some uncertainty removed as Morgan took himself out of contention, the process of winnowing the field might finally begin in earnest,” Orlando said.

Putnam, who has gone gangbusters on the fundraising trail, leads the Republican field with 15 percent support, though nearly 63 percent of GOP respondents were unsure.

U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, not yet a candidate, was second-place among named options at 4.8 percent, followed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran and embroiled Clearwater Sen. Jack Latvala, both with under 3 percent support.

“Adam Putnam isn’t in an insurmountable position, but he’s at least the leader in the clubhouse,” Orlando said. “Other prominent GOPers are busy fulfilling the duties of their office or in the news for the wrong reasons. It’s difficult to compare Putnam against Morgan at this point, as our results show that voters would still prefer someone else in the governor’s mansion.”

The poll took in responses from 500 Florida voters — including 181 Democrats and 166 Republicans — and has a 4.5 percent margin of error at a 95 percent confidence level. More detailed information on the poll’s methodology and findings can be found on the St. Leo University polling website.

Senate advances ‘modern-day piracy’ bill requiring marine towing estimates

A Senate bill seeking to control overcharging by marine salvage and towing companies passed its first committee Monday — despite some industry concerns.

SB 664, sponsored by Tampa Republican Dana Young, will require written cost estimates — if requested by customers — before a salvage or towing company can provide work costing more than $500.

Young filed the legislation last month to prevent what she called “modern-day piracy.”

“The actions of a limited number of these companies amount to a form of modern-day piracy, and it must stop,” Young said. “Unfortunately, there have been some terrible abuses in a system that many boat owners rely on.”

Young said consumers throughout the state feel “misinformed and misled” by ambiguous salvage claim fees that pop up when a boat owner requests last-minute aid on the water — particularly in a state such as Florida with an abundance of waterways and boating.

On Monday, Young told members of the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee of meetings she had with several industry representatives concerned about the bill.

Young said she expects to amend the bill to avoid deterring companies from “saving human lives, rescuing vessels and ultimately saving money over the long run by not having them sink.”

Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala wondered if Young wanted to build a “consensus package” instead of just kicking the bill “down the road.” She explained she wanted to work with the industry for an agreement, but did not promise a “Kumbaya moment.”

“I think we can get pretty darn close,” she added. “I am committed to working to do that.”

Bonnie Basham, who represents the BoatUS boat towing and insurance company, pointed out that the state of Florida is banned by maritime law against regulating price and penalties.

“We believe there is a better way to skin this cat and help these boaters, and we look forward to working with the senator on that,” she told the board.

Latvala was the only vote in opposition.

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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Latvala accuser seeks armed security in Capitol

Rachel Perrin Rogers, the high-ranking Senate aide who accused Sen. Jack Latvala of groping her and making lewd comments about her physical appearance, has asked for security guards when she returns to the Capitol tomorrow.

Perrin Rogers, the chief district legislative assistant to Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, came forward last week and identified herself as the woman who accused Latvala of sexual harassment on several occasions over the past few years.

Perrin Rogers’s lawyers, Tiffany Cruz, sent a letter to Negron on Thursday blaming Latvala and his supporters of forcing Rogers to go public, and accusing the Clearwater Republican and his paid minions of “engaging in serious acts of retaliation” against Rogers, “both directly and indirectly through attempts to harm her spouse’s employment.”

Perrin Rogers is married to Brian Hughes, a GOP consultant and former spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott whose clients include attorney general candidate Frank White and Baxter Troutman, who’s running to succeed Adam Putnam as ag commish.

Tiffany Cruz, Perrin Rogers’s lawyer, said she wants a Capitol Police or Florida Department of Law Enforcement officer to be assigned to the Senate staffer as she enters and exits the building and while she’s in her office because she doesn’t feel safe.

(We originally wrote that the request for security came after a whistleblower complaint was filed Friday, which is true. But Cruz said late Sunday evening she was unaware that the complaint had been filed, until reading about it in this post.) 

The complaint, filed with the secretary of the Senate Friday, accuses Perrin Rogers of “displaying a pattern of harmful and retaliatory behavior” toward Lily Tysinger, a former Senate Majority staffer who’s backed Latvala in the increasingly toxic sexual harassment investigation.

“Ms. Perrin Rogers is requesting that someone from Capitol Police or FDLE be provided to her this week while she will be working in the building. She would like someone to be with her when she comes in the building from the garage and when she leaves as well as to remain in her office area whenever she is there,” Cruz wrote to Office of Legislative Affairs General Counsel Allison Deison in an email sent Saturday morning.

Perrin Rogers “does not feel safe with Lily Tysinger in the building and having access to her and her office in light of Ms. Tysinger’s past and present conduct,” Cruz wrote. “If this is not an option, please advise so we can independently retain a law enforcement officer to be present.”

Several hours later, Deison replied that her request had been received.

Tysinger filed a whistleblower complaint Friday accusing Perrin Rogers of numerous workplace violations, including “engaging in a pattern of conduct” designed to “intimidate me due to my status as a witness” in the Senate investigation into Latvala’s alleged sexual misconduct.

Again, Cruz said late Sunday she was unaware of the complaint, which came a day after Cruz asked Negron to intervene on Perrin Rogers’s behalf because of intimidation.

“While the Senator has the right to deny the allegations, he does not have the right to spread false and defamatory information about the complainant to the public in an effort to discredit her claims,” Cruz wrote. “I expect that as his employer, you will ensure that this retaliatory conduct is not tolerated.”

Negron’s spokeswoman, Katie Betta, did not respond to a request for comment over the weekend. Cruz said Saturday she had not yet heard back from the president or his aides.

When asked whether Negron had approved the security guard, Betta said she could not comment.

But, in a text late Sunday evening, Cruz said the request had been denied.

Latvala’s lawyer, Steve Andrews, denied that the senator’s team had done anything to intimidate the senate aide or her spouse.

“Absurd,” he said in a text message.

Cruz also asked for — and was granted — extra staff to essentially provide a buffer for Perrin Rogers, whose office is located near Simpson’s inside the Senate Majority Office.

“Since next week is a committee week and my client will be back in the Capitol working, she said it would be helpful if the Majority Office could have a receptionist and/or administrative assistant sitting out front. This would prevent people from coming in to her office without permission,” Cruz wrote in an email to Deison Wednesday.

“The Senate will make sure that there is an assistant in the front of the Senate Majority Office next week,” Deison wrote back Friday morning.

Rob Bradley on Jack Latvala investigation: ‘There is a process in place’

As storm clouds continue to build around Sen. Jack Latvala in the wake of sexual harassment charges, many politicians with statewide notoriety have made their positions clear.

The tipping point occurred this week, when Rachel Perrin Rogers, a legislative aide to Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson, went public with her accusations against Latvala. Perrin Rogers was tired of Latvala lying about the motivations of her and her husband, political consultant Brian Hughes.

Attorney General Pam Bondi 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,” adding that there must be “respect” for “the investigation by the Florida Senate and the privacy of all parties involved.”

Gov. Rick Scott likewise vouched for the character of Perrin Rogers and Hughes.

“Brian Hughes worked for me. I can only say my experience with him is positive,” Scott said to POLITICO. “My experience with his wife has been very positive. When I’ve been around her, she has been a wonderful lady.”

Scott also deemed Latvala’s continued presence in the Senate a “distraction.”

“It is obvious that Senator Latvala remaining in the Senate is a distraction. It seems that everyone in Tallahassee is talking about this and not how to make Florida better. It is my understanding that there’s an investigation underway, and when that is complete, the Senate will have a decision to make,” Scott said. “As I have said all along, if these allegations are true, he must resign immediately.

Adam Putnam, who still has to deal with Latvala as a nominal opponent in the Governor’s race, has begun to work references to “corruption and predation and harassment” into his stump speech.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that the legislative business has slowed to a crawl as they’ve struggled to deal with multiple complaints. And no woman should have to endure the type of treatment that has been alleged in this situation. And if it’s true, he needs to go,” Putnam told Florida Politics.

However, the calculus is different for those actually in the Senate, such as Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley — who took Latvala’s place as Appropriations Chair last month.

We asked Bradley if Latvala had become a distraction, if Latvala should resign, and if Latvala has the votes in the Senate to survive this.

Bradley, an attorney by trade, framed his comments on the side of due process.

“Regarding the Latvala matter,” Bradley told us Saturday morning, “there is a process in place and we need to let it work.”

“The process may include the Rules Committee and full Senate considering evidence and arguments, and then making judgments. As a member of the Rules Committee,” Bradley added, “it’s appropriate for me to refrain from responding to these questions at this time.”

One can expect that the process that a Senate investigation will take will happen against a backdrop of leaks and allegations from Latvala and his attorneys, as well as from those aligned with Hughes and Perrin Rogers.

It’s an ugly time in Florida politics, and if the last month is any indication, it’s not about to get better anytime soon.

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. 

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