Allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct continued to send shock waves through the Capitol on Monday, as an appointee of Gov. Rick Scott to the state’s utility-regulatory board withdrew from the job after an influential senator accused him of manhandling her at a charity event last year.
Ritch Workman, a former state House member who was supposed to begin work next month on the state Public Service Commission, walked away from the appointment, which would have required Senate confirmation.
Senate Rules Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, said Monday she would not put Workman’s appointment on her committee’s agenda because of his “abhorrent” behavior a year ago.
Workman, a Melbourne Republican, “approached me from behind, pushed his body up against me and made vulgar and inappropriate gestures,” Benacquisto said in a statement. Beanacquisto is a former Wellington councilwoman who also served as a state representative for western Palm Beach County.
Benacquisto, who has said publicly that she was raped as a teenager, said she immediately asked Workman to stop, but he continued to make the comments and gestures until others intervened.
“As such, I will not agenda his appointment to the Public Service Commission for a hearing in the Senate Committee on Rules,” she said.
An emotional Workman told The News Service of Florida he did not recall the incident, but that “the right thing to do is to get out of the way.”
“I have absolutely no recollection of being inappropriate with Sen. Benacquisto. I have nothing but respect and admiration for her. It breaks my heart that this has come out like this because it’s not the kind of person that I am,” he said.
Workman also said he did not want to be a “distraction” to the governor or the Senate.
“The best thing for me to do is apologize,” he said. “I sincerely apologize to Lizbeth Benacquisto for having in any way offended her. I apologize for letting the governor down and I hope that by me just getting out of the way the distraction to the Legislature will be a minimum.”
Workman’s withdrawal from the job came as the Capitol has been dominated for weeks by allegations and speculation about sexual harassment — and amid an increasingly venomous investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct levied against Sen. Jack Latvala by a Senate aide.
Scott appointed Workman to the $131,000-a-year Public Service Commission job in September. While Workman was scheduled to be seated on the utility panel next month, he would have had to go through the confirmation process in the Senate during the 2018 session.
Scott said he approved of Workman’s decision to step away from the job.
“The governor has consistently said that any misconduct cannot be tolerated. He supports his decision to resign,” Scott spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said in an email.
Workman served in the House from 2008 to 2016, and was a top lieutenant to then-Speaker Steve Crisafulli during his last two years in office.
Workman drew attention while in the House for a part-time job as an Uber driver. Among his highest-profile legislative issues, Workman sought to overhaul the state’s alimony laws — controversial efforts that were thwarted twice by Scott vetoes.
In 2013, Workman asked his then-girlfriend, now his wife, to marry him during a House Finance and Tax Subcommittee meeting.
Forced to leave the House last year because of term limits, Workman lost a heated August 2016 primary race in Senate District 17 in Brevard and Indian River counties. The winner of the primary, Rockledge Republican Debbie Mayfield, went on to win the seat in the November general election.