Jack Latvala – Page 7 – Florida Politics

Congressman says Jack Latvala Senate investigation is a ‘sham’

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz thinks the Senate sexual harassment investigation into Sen. Jack Latvala is a “sham” and refused to speak to the attorney leading the investigation, according to a POLITICO Florida report.

“The Florida Senate’s ‘investigation’ into Senator Latvala is a sham. I will not validate it by participating,” Gaetz wrote in a letter to Gail Holtzman, the third-party investigator hired by Senate President Joe Negron.

Gaetz said the Senate probe, which has been going on for about a month and has already prompted Sen. Lauren Book to file a complaint against Latvala for interfering with it, is not “serious” because it has not protected “those (Latvala) has harmed.”

“Accusers know it. Senators I’ve spoken know it. And so do I. Sad!” Gaetz wrote in the Nov. 30 letter.

Gaetz, who was the only Republican to go on record with POLITICO in early November when it reported six unnamed women were accusing Latvala of sexual harassment and groping, called the Clearwater Republican an “absolute hound.”

Joe Negron: Sexual misconduct inquiry not slowing down process

Senate President Joe Negron covered a vast array of topics —including nursing homes, tax breaks, gambling and the state’s $85 billion budget — during a nearly hour-long pre-Session interview with The News Service of Florida this morning.

The news team was warned beforehand that questions about the investigation into allegations of sexual harassment levied against Sen. Jack Latvala by a high-ranking aide to Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson were off limits.

The News Service of Florida tried to tap-dance around the restriction, but Negron, a lawyer, stuck closely to comments he’s already made about the investigation and the charges, which have rocked the Capitol and caused what one Republican senator called “paralysis” in the upper chamber.

Even Gov. Rick Scott called Latvala — a Clearwater Republican who insists he is innocent and that he is a victim of a political smear campaign — a “distraction” and said that “it seems that everyone in Tallahassee is talking about this and not how to make Florida better.”

The governor’s critique came more than a week ago; since then, there’s been almost a daily development in the increasingly toxic battle.

But Negron, a Stuart Republican headed into his second and final Legislative Session as the man with the gavel in the Senate, disagreed that the drama has eclipsed all other business in the Senate.

“That’s not what I see. I’m visiting with senators constantly and talking about projects. There are bills being referenced,” he said. “A lot of bills have been filed. Committee meetings are moving forward. Some bills have been voted down. Some bills have been voted up. So, I think that the people’s business is being done. And we’re going to let the process that’s set forth in our rules move forward and then there will be a resolution.”

Negron relied on talking points from memos distributed in the early days of the investigation, launched after a POLITICO Florida story early last month detailed the allegations against Latvala, when asked if the revelations exposed activity in the Capitol that had been kept under wraps for years.

“In the Senate we have zero tolerance for sexual harassment. We have zero tolerance for any mistreatment of any senator, of staff, of guests and citizens who visit us in their Capitol. That has always been our policy and will continue to be our policy. I believe that the vast majority of individuals who work in the Capitol treat people fairly, treat people appropriately, and show respect to everyone in the process,” the president said.

Negron reiterated that he wants individuals who’ve been the victim of sexual harassment to come forward.

Rachel Perrin Rogers has accused Latvala and his supporters of retaliating against her and her husband, GOP political consultant Brian Hughes. The Senate aide hired an armed guard to protect her in the Capitol, and Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, this week filed a complaint against Latvala, accusing him of “outing” Perrin Rogers.

“With regard to the specific instance where there’s been a complaint filed that’s being investigated, the process will move forward,” Negron said, referring to the sexual harassment complaint Perrin Rogers lodged against Latvala. “There will be an outcome to that. And I’m committed personally, in my own role as the Senate president, that we’re going to respect the rights of everyone in the building and that any person who feels that they’ve been a victim of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct should feel free to confidentially come forward and report that and it will be dealt with appropriately.”

When pressed about whether the Florida Legislature was caught up in the #MeToo wave that’s gripped Congress and statehouses around the country, Negron demurred.

“In the culture generally, there’s enhanced attention to this issue. That’s a good thing. In terms of what happens in the Senate and in the Capitol, I’ll stand by my assessment that the vast majority of elected officials conduct themselves appropriately and treat people in this process with respect and in a business-like manner,” he said.

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.

Jack Latvala’s fundraising slows to a halt in November

Gubernatorial candidate and Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala has been fighting back against sexual harassment allegations for more than a month, and the press reports haven’t helped in pull in money for his campaign.

Latvala entered the GOP Primary for governor back in August and after a hot start, his contributions slowed to halt in November after six women told POLITICO the longtime lawmaker had sexually harassed them during his time in office.

Latvala denies the allegations and vowed to clear his name, calling the report ‘fake news.’

Latvala’s fundraising arm, Florida Leadership Committee, finished October with $234,000 in contributions and more than $4.1 million in the bank, much of it left over from his battle to become Senate President.

In November, however, FLC took in just one check for $5,000 from the Florida Association of Health Plans PAC, with another $347 coming by way of interest, but that didn’t keep the committee from spending some of its reserves.

FLC spent nearly $160,000 last month, and had spent another $36,000 through the first week of December.

According to documents on the committee website, $50,000 of that money went to the Republican Party of Florida, more than $37,000 was spent on printing and mailers, $10,000 went to Champion Digital Media for advertising alongside several research, strategy, fundraising and political consulting contracts clocking in at a few thousand a piece.

Latvala is currently one of two major Republicans running for Florida governor. If his campaign weathers the storm, he faces termed-out Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam and likely a couple more contenders, such as House Speaker Richard Corcoran and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

Gwen Graham to ‘chummy’ politicians: ‘When I’m Governor, the party is over’

After saying that politicians in Tallahassee treat Session and committee weeks like it’s “spring break,” Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham said Thursday that if she becomes Governor “the party is over.”

“It’s time our public servants truly serve the people and that can only happen when politicians stop serving themselves,” Graham said at a press conference.

The former congresswoman said that should start with Sen. Jack Latvala, who is facing multiple sexual harassment allegations. She called on him to resign, again. If Latvala does not step down, Graham said, the Senate should expel him.

Graham stopped short of saying Senate Democrats should take a caucus position and call on the powerful Senator to step down, arguing that it should not be a “partisan issue.”

Minutes before, however, she said the Republican-controlled Legislature, with Gov. Rick Scott at the helm, is to blame for the “crisis in confidence” elected officials are facing today because of sexual harassment and conflicts of interest.

“Republicans, they own this because they have been in total control,” she said.

If elected, Graham vowed to take steps to combat sexual harassment across all state agencies. Her plan includes appointing an independent investigator to oversee complaints about workplace harassment who could refer cases to the attorney general for full prosecution under the law.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King also unveiled a plan to clean up the Florida Capitol. In a statement, he said that if elected he would create an Office of Victim Advocacy under the Florida Division of Ethics — a department that does not exist, but likely meant the Florida Commission on Ethics — to handle sexual misconduct complaints. And would require any claim of sexual harassment or assault made against a government employee to be reported to the office within two days.

“If we want to bring ethics and accountability to Florida, we need to create an environment that supports victims and allows them to come forward without fear of retaliation,” King said.

Latvala is also facing claims that he is intimidating sexual harassment victims from coming forward by using defense tactics that aim at publicly shaming his accuser, Rachel Perrin Rogers, a top aide to the future Senate president, Sen. Wilton Simpson.

Sen. Lauren Book, a close ally of the 66-year-old senator, filed a formal complaint with the Senate Rules Committee claiming Latvala was interfering with the Senate investigation by his approach in fighting the sexual harassment claims in the public eye.

Amid the Senate investigation that has been going on for a month now, Scott has called him a “distraction” and senators have slowly called on him to resign. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who is likely to announce his bid for the governor’s mansion after Session, told a national audience this week that Latvala was “heading toward expulsion.

The Latvala sex scandal could be seen as ammunition in the governor’s race. And as the only woman in that race, Graham said she has the “ability to talk about this in a way that resonates with everyone,” because she too has experience sexual harassment.

While she would not go into detail about her #MeToo story, she said that it happened a “long time ago.”

When asked if the back-to-back sex scandals rocking the Capitol in recent weeks have had an impact on her professional life, or the women in her orbit, she acknowledged that there’s been tension.

“I personally have not been treated differently, but I have heard that,” she said. “I’ve heard that at the Capitol men are afraid of getting in an elevator with women, I’ve heard that.”

Chris King calls for sexual misconduct victims’ advocacy in ethics office

Declaring again that it’s time to “change the toxic culture in Tallahassee,” Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King on Thursday laid out a plan to address sexual misconduct allegations including the creation of a victims’ advocacy program.

In a video he launched on his campaign’s Facebook page Thursday, King declared it is time to end “the abuse of power against women in politics in Florida.”

He did not name any names, but King decried the state of affairs that has resulted in several recent reports of sexual misconduct against public officials, and expressed awe of the courage of the women coming forward. Among those being accused are one of his opponents, state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, a Republican candidate for governor. Sexual misconduct allegations also cleared out the leadership of the Florida Democratic Party last month.

King first faces several Democratic rivals for the 2018 primary nomination: former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. The leading Republican candidate is Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

King said his plan is intended to make it easier for women to come forward. Among the points:

– Require that sexual misconduct lawsuit settlements involving legislators, cabinet secretaries, and municipal and county elected officials be made public, including the accusations of what was done, and how the settlements were paid.

– Create an office of victim advocacy under the Florida Division of Ethics, set up specifically to handle sexual harassment and assault cases.

– Require that any allegations be reported to that office within 48 hours of being reported to any other governmental unit.

– Shielding victims’ identities from being made public so they never have to choose between their careers and reporting misconduct.

The sexual misconduct proposal follows King’s statement Wednesday regarding revolving-door politics, including a proposal for an eight-year ban on former lawmakers lobbying the Florida Legislature.

“We’ve got to start holding our leaders accountable for bad behavior. This is not a partisan issue,” King said of sexual misconduct. “This is not about left or right. This is about right or wrong,

“I am deeply, deeply appalled at the behavior of folks that are in positions of power that are abusing women. That’s why we need new ideas to address it,” he said.

In C-SPAN interview, Richard Corcoran says Jack Latvala is ‘heading toward expulsion’

In a brief interview with C-SPAN Wednesday morning, House Speaker Richard Corcoran said Sen. Jack Latvala is “heading toward expulsion” and that he likely has not resigned amid the sex scandal because of an “entitlement mentality.”

During the 12-minute interview, Corcoran was asked about the month-long Senate sexual harassment investigation against the Clearwater Republican. One that has intensified in the past week as his defense team tries to build a defense in the public eye.

“I think there’s clearly probably cause, and honestly, it looks at this point that they’re heading toward expulsion,” Corcoran told a national audience.

Corcoran, who will likely announce his bid for governor after the 2018 Session, was one of the first Republicans to call on Latvala to resign when the sexual misconduct allegations were first raised in a POLITICO Florida report.

In the interview, conducted inside a big C-SPAN bus in the Capitol Courtyard, Corcoran said elected officials should be held to a “higher standard” and stripped from titles when accused of sexual harassment, rather than remain fighting in office.

“We have elected officials that you would think would be held to a higher standard,” Corcoran said.

“There’s an entitlement mentality.”

Et tu, Lauren Book

There is a scene in the always-watchable movie “The Late Shift” — a behind-the-scenes look at the network politics that embroil television executives responsible for late-night programming after 1991’s retirement announcement of Johnny Carson — in which Tonight Show producer Peter Lassally (played by Steven Gilborn) has a come-to-Jesus conversation with David Letterman in which he tells him he will not — nor should he want to — replace Carson in the 11:30 p.m. slot.

Letterman, of course, does not want to hear that. “Jesus, why are you doing this to me?” Lassally reminds him that he was the one who “moved heaven and earth” for Letterman to be in the position to replace Carson, so trust him when he says Letterman should not do it.

Come-to-Jesus conversations are never easy.

Sooner rather than later someone needs to have one with state Sen. Jack Latvala.

Latvala could have/can “beat” the sexual harassment charge leveled against him by Senate aide Rachel Perrin Rogers. Yes, it’s likely the special master will find that probable cause for the complaint to move forward exists, but it will essentially come down to a “he said, she said” situation. Latvala has repeatedly said he will fight all the way to a final vote on the Senate floor, which would require a two-thirds vote of the body to expel him.

Up until a week ago, Latvala may have been able to survive this. Whereas other reporters have suggested that the entire Democratic caucus would vote to expel Latvala, until recently, I was not sure about that. I have spoken to at least three who had serious reservations about voting to expel Latvala. I also believe a handful of Republican members — Wilton Simpson, Lizbeth Benacquisto — would have had to recuse themselves from a final vote. In other words, no one really knows the math behind an expulsion vote.

Enter Lauren Book‘s complaint.

There’s just no way Latvala can survive it. Frank Artiles was forced to resign because he said the wrong thing to another member in a late-night bar setting. What Book is alleging Latvala did is worse than that by a magnitude of five.

And remember, Book has more credibility on the issues of abuse than almost any other elected official, save Benacquisto. Period. If Book says something is inappropriate or wrong, you simply have to trust that she knows better.

I do.

So the reality for Jack Latvala is, yes, he may have been able to survive Perrin Rogers’ complaint, but he will not be able to survive Book’s.

I’ve moved heaven and earth over the last seven years to advance the political career of Jack Latvala, backing his return to the Senate in 2010 and his bid for the Senate presidency. I’ve supported his political allies here in Tampa Bay. And, just so we’re clear, I believe him when he says he hasn’t knowingly touched someone inappropriately.

I’ve moved heaven and earth, but it’s time to end L’Affaire Latvala. His opponents have outplayed him.

Perrin Rogers decision to pre-emptively out her name last week to POLITICO Florida was a brilliant tactical move, whereas Latvala’s clumsy television interviews were a disaster. Latvala probably can’t be blamed for suggesting that Perrin Rogers’ husband, Brian Hughes, was working for a prospective gubernatorial campaign (who knew that Hughes had parted ways with another client?) but Latvala didn’t need to go there in the first place. What he should have done — and to be clear, this is what I suggested to him — was have his attorney ask Senate President Joe Negron to ask Benacquisto to recuse herself because Hughes is her political consultant. That’s an easy-to-understand conflict of interest. It could have been raised privately.

Instead, Latvala went on Bay News 9.

The irony is that Latvala has been so effective in raising questions about Perrin Rogers’ credibility that he has immolated himself in the process.

A month ago, I offered “Advice for Jack Latvala,” writing:

Shut up. No matter what else is reported … no matter how much you want to respond … don’t say another damn word! At least not for 48 hours. 72 hours of silence would be even better. The longer you go without saying anything, the less fuel there will be for the fire.

The truth is your instincts for how to respond are horrible, if not downright incriminating. You are your own worst enemy. This line — “If my political opponents want a fight, then it’s a fight they will get it” — is, without a doubt, the worst thing you can say right now.

… Just go dark for the time being. It’s the last thing the political world expects from you right now.

Obviously, that advice was not followed.

Hopefully, this latest advice will be given its due.

Make a deal.

Perhaps you can make a deal that does not even involve you responding to Perrin Rogers’ complaint. Perhaps you can make a deal that ends the special master’s investigation before he delivers a ruling. Perhaps the deal could include sealing the special master’s findings.

But it’s time to make a deal.

Book’s complaint is the unkindest cut of all and cannot be survived.

Audrey Gibson

Audrey Gibson stops short of calling for Jack Latvala resignation

On Tuesday, the Florida Democratic Party broke its conspicuous silence on whether Sen. Jack Latvala should resign in light of sexual harassment charges and his moves to discredit the one accuser who has been made public, Rachel Perrin Rogers.

However, Democratic Senate colleagues of the former Appropriations Chair are somewhat more cautious.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, the Leader-designate of Senate Democrats, offered a statement Tuesday evening.

“First,” Gibson said, “I have continually maintained my sensitivity and support of women who believe they have been harassed in any way by anyone, being able to come forward and file a complaint. Secondly, Senator Latvala and/or Republican Leadership are the determinants on resignation matters.”

Gibson’s relative reticence on this matter is a marked contrast to the increasingly pitched rhetoric about Latvala from the other side of the aisle.

Sen. Travis Hutson — a colleague of Gibson’s in the regional First Coast Legislative Delegation — made waves with a pyrotechnic quote to POLITICO.

“This highly respected and regarded establishment is being burnt to the ground and I feel Senator Latvala is running around with the Napalm and the matches … This is only going to get worse. And the best thing for everyone — every senator, every staffer, every accuser and/or accused — would be a resignation so that we do not have to deal with this problem anymore,” Hutson said Monday evening.

Another Northeast Florida Republican Senator, Aaron Bean, has thus far withheld public comment.

And South Florida Republican Sen. Lauren Book filed a Rules complaint against Latvala for essentially outing Perrin Rogers, violating the expected confidentiality afforded her by the investigation.

“It is not ever OK to make attempts to ‘out’ a complainant, or to publicly attack or shame them with character assassination – things Senator Latvala has unfortunately and clearly done through various media outlets,” Book said.

Book’s complaint is the third filed against Latvala thus far; Perrin Rogers filed two already.

Senator files complaint against Jack Latvala for hindering Senate probe

Embattled Sen. Jack Latvala is facing yet another complaint, this time by one of his allies accusing him of interfering in a Senate investigation by using defense tactics that aim to publicly attack and shame the woman who is accusing him of sexual harassment.

Sen. Lauren Book field the formal complaint late on Tuesday with the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto. In it, she alleges that Latvala — the man who she has “admired and respected” for many years — is discouraging “other women who may have wished to come forward” with their own sexual harassment stories.

“It is not ever OK to make attempts to ‘out’ a complainant, or to publicly attack or shame them with character assassination – things Senator Latvala has unfortunately and clearly done through various media outlets,” Book said.

Rachel Perrin Rogers, a top aide to Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson, accused the 66-year-old veteran lawmaker of sexually harassing her over the course of four years, with misconduct that ranged from unwelcome comments about her breasts and legs to touching her in a Tallahassee bar that prompted her to cry. Since then, Latvala’s legal team has released information that aims to poke holes in her credibility.

As part of his defense, which was aired in various media outlets, including Florida Politics, Latvala’s attorneys have released sworn statements that raise questions about Rogers character. That includes an affidavit by a former Senate Majority Office colleague of hers, 22-year-old Lily Tysinger, who claims Rogers boasted about sabotaging people’s careers.

Tysinger also claims she was demoted the day Rogers filed the sexual harassment complaint against Latvala, And that she was never given a reason why.

As of Monday, she is being represented by Tallahassee-based attorney Marie Mattox — who is known for filing workplace harassment and discrimination lawsuits, particularly those involving state workers. Mattox, who once worked with Perrin Rogers’ attorney, Tiffany Cruz, has also been behind a good portion of the sexual harassment cases brought against the state.

Mattox told Florida Politics on Monday that Tysinger is considering suing Rogers for making false accusations against, including claims that the 22-year-old was “mentally ill” and “suicidal” which could have had a direct effect on her demotion that came with a $11,000 pay cut, she said.

“What Rogers had done to her is just wrong,” Mattox said.

The defense tactics used by Latvala have also prompted Gov. Rick Scott to call him a “distraction” in the Senate — and POLITICO Florida reported that Republican Sen. Travis Hutson has called on Latvala to resign.

“This behavior is unbecoming of a sitting Senator, unfair to Ms. Perrin Rogers, and discouraging to others who may have wished to come forward and may not now for fear that “they too” will be publicly shamed, or even jeopardize their employment,” Book said in a statement.

The month-long Senate investigation is currently in the hands of a special master’s findings. The Senate hired retired Judge Ronald V. Swanson to lead the investigation and if Benacquisto finds probable cause in his findings, the report would go to the Senate Rules Committee and later to the Senate floor for debate, followed by a vote on the appropriate punishment, which could include an expulsion from the Senate.

Book’s complaint on Tuesday came hours after Democratic gubernatorial candidates and the Florida Democratic Party as a whole called for Latvala’s resignation.

Gwen Graham, a Democrat running for governor, said “it’s insulting” that the Clearwater Republican, who is vying for the seat, hasn’t stepped down.

“It’s equally infuriating that he has been allowed to abuse his political power to cowardly intimidate his victims,” she added.

Book’s formal complaint with the Senate Rules Committee could spark a separate Senate investigation into how Latvala has fought the sexual harassment claims. This is the third complaint filed in that committee in the course of a month against the former budget chairman.

“The investigation will yield truth in the matter at hand, but in the meantime, we must hold ourselves, and the process, to the highest ethical standard and refuse to allow the kind of behavior and mistreatment we have seen in the wake of the allegations,” Book said.

In her statement, Book did not call for Latvala to resign, but did say his behavior was “unbecoming of a sitting Senator.”

Early on Tuesday, though, before the recent wave of backlash, Latvala wrote on Facebook that even with reports slamming his defense, he would keep on fighting.

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