Republican gubernatorial candidate, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is facing charges that he inappropriately touched or made demeaning comments about six women who work in the Florida Capitol.
The allegations of sexual harassment against Latvala come at a time when interest in the governor’s race is building. The charges are serious and potentially damning for both Latvala’s Senate career and his future political ambitions.
Even if the accusations are proven to be politically motivated, as Latvala claims, the issue will likely be used against him on the campaign trail and in attack ads.
The women, who include Senate staff and lobbyists affiliated with both major parties, told POLITICO Florida they did not want to be identified for fear of losing their jobs, getting a bad reputation in the male-dominated Capitol or running afoul of an influential politician who can kill their clients’ issues. The incidents, they said, occurred over a period of several years, happening in the privacy of Latvala’s Senate office or in public places like the Capitol rotunda, a bar or an elevator.
According to Politico, five of the six women reportedly decided to go public with their accusations after remarks made by Latvala at the annual Associated Press’ pre-session meeting at the Capitol on Thursday. Speaking with reporters, Latvala was asked about the Senate’s new sexual harassment policy and if there was a problem concerning sexual harassment in the Senate.
Latvala quickly denied he ever has sexually harassed anyone or has been accused of doing so in his 16 years in the Senate. He issued the following statement Friday night:
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.
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 am in consultation with my attorney and will take all legal actions necessary to clear my name.
I also welcome a complete review of these allegations by the Senate.
-Sen. Jack Latvala
Politco reports five of the women claim the harassment was physical.
Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, quickly called for an investigation into the accusations.
“These allegations are atrocious and horrendous,” Negron said in a statement released Friday evening. “As Senate President, my first priority is the safety of our staff and visitors. I have ordered an immediate investigation of these allegations, which will be led by our Senate General Counsel Dawn Roberts. Ms. Roberts will work with our Human Resources Professional Staff in the Office of Legislative Services to ensure a full and fair investigation.”
One woman who works on the Senate staff told Politico of an incident that occurred on an elevator involving Latvala.
“He reached around the far side of my body and just started grabbing. His hand went around my back and grabbed me around my lower frontal abdomen and then wandered,” she said. “He touched the underside of my breast on that side.”
“I jumped and might have said something like ‘whoa,’ but before I could react any further, the elevator ride was over,” she said.
The accusations come a year before next year’s gubernatorial election. Latvala entered the race in August. He and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam are the two big name Republicans in the contest
While addressing reporters on Thursday, Latvala suggested there was an “organized effort to tear down the Senate prior to session and make us weak, so that we have a hard time standing up.”
He pointed to photos taken by a private investigator that surfaced in the past week showing Latvala kissing a lobbyist outside a Tallahassee restaurant.
In comments to reporters Thursday, Latvala was critical of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, who lashed out at the Senate for what he called “a wall of silence” surrounding an affair that former Sen. Jeff Clemens had with a lobbyist. Clemens, who was set to become the Senate’s Democratic leader next year, resigned last Friday.
Corcoran is reportedly considering making a bid for governor next year.
Latvala said Corcoran has his own issues, claiming two House members quit earlier this year because of the control the speaker exerts in his own chamber.
Latvala is known to be a fighter. He is facing the biggest fight of his political career.
“If my political opponents want a fight, then it’s a fight they will get.”