Florida senators’ affair rocks Legislature’s opening day

5:14 p.m Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018 Politics
Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, (left) with Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, (center) in Pahokee in 2017. (Michael Ares / The Palm Beach Post)

Florida Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, and Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, issued a joint statement Tuesday acknowledging that “our longtime friendship evolved to a level that we deeply regret” after an anonymous website claimed the senators were “actively engaged in inappropriate extramarital activities with each other.”

The website featured what appeared to be video and photos from a hidden camera. Braynon told Politico Florida in October that he had found camera equipment in the hallway of the condominium where he stays during legislative sessions.

RELATED: The Post’s coverage of the 2018 session

Braynon and Flores issued a joint statement through longtime Tallahassee public relations firm Sachs Communications just before the Senate convened to open the 2018 legislative session.

“As this 2018 session of the Florida Legislature gets underway, we do not want gossip and rumors to distract from the important business of the people,” the statement said. “That’s why we are issuing this brief statement to acknowledge that our longtime friendship evolved to a level that we deeply regret. We have sought the forgiveness of our families, and also seek the forgiveness of our constituents and God. We ask everyone else to respect and provide our families the privacy that they deserve as we move past this to focus on the important work ahead.”

The Senate is already reeling from the October resignation of Palm Beach County Democrat Jeff Clemens, who admitted to having an affair with a lobbyist, and last month’s resignation of Republican Jack Latvala, who left amid accusations of sexual misconduct that a Senate investigator deemed credible.

Braynon, like Latvala, also had a bit role in the events leading to Clemens’ resignation. Politico Florida reported in October that the lobbyist having an affair with Clemens had his laptop computer when the affair disintegrated in the spring. According to Politico, Clemens asked Latvala to help retrieve it, and Latvala, in turn enlisted Braynon.

Braynon confirmed to The Palm Beach Post in October that he ended up retrieving Clemens’ laptop after the lobbyist left it at the concierge desk of her condo building.

Gov. Rick Scott, asked about Braynon and Flores, said: “First off, your heart goes out to anybody that their family goes through some of the things that those two senators are going to deal with with their families. You hate for it to happen to any family, and so my prayers are with them.”

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, who is heading up the Senate’s effort to update its sexual harassment policies, said the relationship between Braynon and Flores is “a private matter.”

Benacquisto added: “We’re all elected officials who stand in the public square and we do that willingly. And we all have an obligation to behave in a way that honors the time away from our family and the service on behalf of our constituents.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land-O’Lakes, was asked by reporters if he had concerns about lawmakers being under surveillance. Corcoran said legislators need to recognize “the world we live in” and behave appropriately.

“If you walk down the street, if you come in this chamber, if you’re out at dinner, whatever — if you don’t think that someone can flip up a phone and video you and now we’re going to say that those are the bad guys? Not the behavior that they caught on video?…It’s the world we live in. Wake up every day and try to be the best you can to be a good person. We’re all going to fail. We’re all going to come short. But recognize in this era, the thing that you might fall short on could be very likely on video and in most cases is,” Corcoran said.