Jack Latvala – Page 7 – Florida Politics

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 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.

Florida Democratic Party: Jack Latvala ‘must resign’ 

The Florida Democratic Party now says Sen. Jack Latvala “must resign” in light of “the numerous allegations of sexual harassment against” him.


The party released a statement Tuesday through its spokeswoman, Johanna Cervone. It follows calls from fellow GOP senators also calling for him to, or suggesting that he, step down from office.

“Latvala’s behavior is unacceptable and there is no place for it in our government or our state,” Cervone said. “Using a position of power to harass, touch, demean and pressure women—or anyone else—is wrong, plain and simple.

“Now, Latvala’s smear campaign against (Senate aide) Rachel Perrin Rogers has resulted in her needing armed security. He must resign.”

Hours later, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum released his own statement calling on the powerful senator to resign.

“His intimidation of a sexual harassment victim is repulsive and disgusting, as is his alleged behavior,” Gillum said.

“I believe these women, and we need Florida’s Capitol to be a welcoming place for all people — not a place where sexual harassment victims need police protection.”

Latvala responded to those calls on social media, reasserting his innocence and saying he will “keep fighting.”

POLITICO Florida reported on Nov. 3 that six women—Perrin Rogers says one of them 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.

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 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 accosted 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.

“Instead of taking steps to discourage this behavior, (Senate President) Joe Negron‘s mishandling of the complaint filed against Latvala has resulted in an environment where women continue to feel unsafe and afraid to come forward,” Cervone added.

“Anyone who is guilty of using their power to harass or compromise women should resign immediately.”


Sen. Travis Hutson, a St. Augustine Republican who chairs the Regulated Industries Committee, also is calling for Latvala to quit the Senate “so that we do not have to deal with this problem anymore,” he told POLITICO Florida.

In that same story, Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Rockledge Republican, said “it might be better for him, and his family and the Senate if he considered stepping down.”

And Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, said Monday that “serious rules” are needed to make sure powerful senators like 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 said in a statement.

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.

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