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.”