- Dara Kam News Service of Florida
Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday called for the resignation of a fellow Republican, state Sen. Jack Latvala, a day after a special master found that Latvala not only violated rules regarding sexual harassment but should also be investigated for possible public corruption.
“Now that the special master report is complete and probable cause has been found, it is time for Senator Latvala to resign,” Scott said in a statement released by his office. “Resigning is the best thing he can do now for his constituents, colleagues and the state.”
In a report released Tueday, Special Master Ronald Swanson, a retired judge, found probable cause to support nearly all of the allegations lodged against Latvala by Senate aide Rachel Perrin Rogers, who accused the Clearwater Republican of making inappropriate comments about her body and groping her on several occasions.
Perrin Rogers filed the complaint last month with the Senate Rules Committee, which then hired Swanson to conduct the investigation and make recommendations.
The Senate should consider “the full range of sanctions,” which include expulsion, Swanson advised.
In a Facebook post Tuesday evening, Latvala said the timing of the release of the report “created special problems for me” because he is having a medical procedure this week and then is headed out of town to be with family in Mississippi.
“If there is one thing that I have learned the last couple months it’s the value of my family so I am not going to let their holiday be consumed by politics. I will be back in Tallahassee on Dec. 26 and will meet with my legal and political team then to consider the future. I will not have any further comment until at least then,” he wrote.
Perrin Rogers, the chief legislative aide for Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, accused Latvala of engaging in inappropriate acts and comments about her body over the past four years. The Senate aide alleged that Latvala hugged her in an unwelcome manner at least four times during the past two years, “assaulted” her inside an elevator this fall and touched a female lobbyist’s breast in April 2017.
The allegation about Latvala’s treatment of the female lobbyist was the only one that Swanson said was not supported by testimony from Perrin Rogers and other witnesses over the past few weeks.
“The evidence demonstrated a progression in conduct, over time, from unwelcome comments and nonverbal behavior to unwelcome touching,” the report said.
Swanson also said testimony and text-message exchanges between the senator and an unidentified woman who was a lobbyist appear to indicate that Latvala violated ethics rules and may have violated “laws prohibiting public corruption.”
The lobbyist testified that, between 2015 and 2017, Latvala “touched her and groped her in an unwelcome manner every time she went to his office.”
She also said Latvala told her on multiple occasions that “if she engaged in sexual acts or allowed him to touch her body in a sexual manner he would support particular legislative items for which she was lobbying.”
The woman’s testimony is supported by “explicit text messages” sent from the senator to the lobbyist, Swanson wrote in the 35-page report. The most recent text message concerning the possible quid pro quo was sent in February 2016, according to the report. The woman testified that she left her work as a lobbyist “in large part to so (she) would never have to owe (Senator Latvala) anything.”
Swanson recommended the allegations “be immediately referred to law enforcement for further investigation.”
The Senate should also conduct “an internal review of Senate culture,” Swanson advised.
“Interactions between senators, Senate staff and third-party lobbyists, both inside the Capitol and during off-site events and work-related social encounters, should be examined. This may lead to the development of additional guidelines or policy,” he wrote.
In October, Jeff Clemens, an Atlantis Democrat, abrubtly resigned from the Senate after news reports he had an extramarital affair with a lobbyist. The resignation came less than 24 hours after Clemens sent an email apologizing to Senate Democrats on Oct. 26 as Politico was preparing to report that Clemens had an affair with lobbyist Devon West, who then worked for the Martin County government.
Politico reported that when the affair disintegrated in the spring, West had Clemens’ laptop computer and Clemens asked Latvala to help him retrieve it.
Swanson also recommended “increased and routine sexual harassment training” for senators and aides, to include “enhanced training on what elected officials must do if a staff member reports harassment by another elected official, staff member or third party.”
The Senate Rules Committee will meet on Jan. 11, two days after the start of the 2018 legislative session, to consider the matter, Senate President Joe Negron wrote in a memo to the chamber.