Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday November 22nd 2017

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Outtakes—Sex in the Capital City

By Rick Outzen

Last week, the mighty Florida Senate Appropriations chairman, Jack Latvala, was accused by six women of sexual harassment. Senate President Joe Negron announced a probe into the matter. Latvala, who is also running for governor, accused the media of being fake news and denied the allegations.

“It’s hard to confront anonymous accusers, and even more difficult when the news is manufactured by a fake news entity like Politico who gave me less than a half hour to respond to this smear campaign,” he said in a written statement. “I unequivocally deny the allegations that have been made against me. And I find it interesting that these anonymous complaints have only come forward after I began my campaign for governor.”

I spoke with my friends in Tallahassee. One former government aide told me, “Latvala has always been very touchy and grabby.”

Would this aide or this aide’s associates come forward?

“No, it’s a different world for women in state politics or men who defend them,” he said. “Our careers would be over.”

The Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times interviewed more than two dozen legislators and lobbyists described a Tallahassee culture primed for sexual exploitation. Florida State and Florida A&M draw to the capital young students and professionals wanting to establish themselves. The lawmakers have well-funded political action committees to fund travel, meals and booze. Lobby firms encourage relationships between their interns and young staff with lawmakers.

My phone calls reaped similar information. One regular observer of state politics told me, “The further the lawmakers get into the session, the shorter shirts, deeper the necklines.”

A former lawmaker told me about private parties where lobbyists assigned young girls and boys to specific legislators. He said, “Rick, it’s a culture that’s been allowed to flourish for decades.”

On Saturday morning, several people told me that they didn’t believe an investigation would be possible if Latvala would be allowed to hold his chairmanship and the Senate’s General Counsel Dawn Roberts led the probe.  Roberts worked for Latvala on the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee.

Fortunately, by late that afternoon, the attorney had recused herself.  Negron issued a memo saying he was “ordering a professional, independent, third-party investigation of the allegations regarding Senator Latvala. A professional, independent, third-party investigator will ensure a full, fair, and impartial investigation.”

On Monday, Negron ordered Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, to take over as chairman of the Appropriations Committee until the investigation was completed. One more step is needed to send the message that the culture is changing in the capital.

Latvala should be removed from all committee assignments.