A testy Sen. Jack Latvala, Republican candidate for governor, had earlier turned questions about sexual harassment in the Senate to his advantage, saying the Legislature needs wholesale ethics reform.
“An entire package of ethics reforms is probably overdue,” he told the crowd at Thursday’s Associated Press pre-Legislative Session planning meeting.
Latvala also said that former Sen. Jeff Clemens‘ extramarital affair with a lobbyist was leaked by “somebody that has an ax to grind.” He added that he had “figured out” by whom, but wouldn’t name names.
Some privately have suggested it was former Sen. Frank Artiles or his allies, seeking payback for his ouster from the Senate after accosting two black lawmakers last Session at the Governors Club and using racially charged language.
But in a gaggle with reporters, the Clearwater Republican and Senate Appropriations Committee chair made clear he would have no more of the “sex” questions.
POLITICO Florida has reported that he had been the subject of surveillance, including showing him kissing a lobbyist in a parking lot after a dinner meeting in Tallahassee.
“Latvala vehemently denied any romantic relationship with the lobbyist in an interview with POLITICO Florida,” the website reported. “The lobbyist sent POLITICO a sworn statement to the same effect.”
“I asked the (Senate’s) general counsel to find out whether I had any problems with this,” Latvala said Thursday, speaking to a POLITICO Florida reporter who asked if the chamber had a sexual harassment problem.
“And she wrote a memo to your boss — I didn’t know she was writing a memo — that said I never had any incidents like that,” he added. “But that very day, you were on the phone trying to stir up one.” He then walked away.
Latvala earlier took a swipe at Republican contender Adam Putnam, the current Agriculture Commissioner who’s also campaigning for governor in 2018, saying the state’s next chief executive needs “business experience.”
Latvala owns his own printing business; Putnam has a stake in Putnam Groves, his family’s citrus business, but has been in elected office since his twenties.
As he promised, Latvala has not toned down his gruff, sometimes combative style: “I’m an old school Republican. I’m not going to be one of those guys who changes their philosophy to run statewide.”