Article Courtesy of The Orlando
By Dara Kam
Published November 6, 2017
Two months away from home in a highly competitive
environment that is fueled by money, power and booze and in which
careers are made or broken based on relationships built mainly after
That's the backdrop for the unfolding drama in Tallahassee in which
insiders and onlookers have developed an obsession with who is sleeping
with whom, and who will be the next to be outed.
The prurient explosion
began last week, when high-ranking Democratic Sen. Jeff
Clemens resigned from his seat after admitting he had an
extramarital affair with a lobbyist.
On the heels of Clemens's exit came news that state law
enforcement officials are investigating a camera found by
Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon in the hallway of a
condominium building where he --- and other lawmakers ---
live when they are in Tallahassee.
Senate budget chief Jack Latvala, a Republican running for
governor, was caught on camera kissing a female lobbyist on
the lips. The duo denied that they are anything but
friends.The microscope on the off-campus interactions and
bedroom activities of lawmakers and lobbyists has prompted
an examination of sexual harassment in the workplace and the
conduct of legislators and staff.
Florida Senate Democratic leader quits after
admitting affair with lobbyist.
Late Friday, Senate President Joe Negron ordered a
probe into allegations that Latvala sexually assaulted or harassed
legislative staff and lobbyists.
Negron ordered the investigation shortly after Politico Florida
published a lengthy report in which a half-dozen women accused the
Latvala, R-Clearwater, of groping them without their consent and making
demeaning comments about their physical appearances.
Latvala, who is running for governor, denied any sexual harassment and
told Politico he had never had a complaint filed against him in his 16
years in the Senate. Politico did not identify the women involved in the
Friday evening, Negron issued a statement denouncing the alleged
behavior described in the story.
“Today there has been a news report alleging that members of the Senate
professional staff and visitors to the Senate offices were sexually
assaulted. These allegations are atrocious and horrendous,” Negron,
Negron said he ordered the Senate's general counsel, Dawn Roberts, to
launch an immediate investigation into the allegations. Roberts will be
assisted by Office of Legislative Services human resources staff “to
ensure a full and fair investigation,” Negron said.
The Senate president also asked anyone with information regarding the
allegations to reach out to his office, Roberts or the Office of
“The Senate has zero tolerance for sexual harassment, sexual assault, or
misconduct of any kind and takes this issue with the utmost seriousness.
Any allegation will be immediately and fully investigated,” he said.
Latvala issued a statement Friday night saying he "unequivocally" denies
the allegations and that he finds it "interesting that these anonymous
complaints have only come forward after I began my campaign for
"I am in consultation with my attorney and will take all legal actions
necessary to clear my name," Latvala said in the statement. "I also
welcome a complete review of these allegations by the Senate. If my
political opponents want a fight, then it’s a fight they will get.
Everyone agrees that inappropriate behavior, such as unwelcome touching,
is off-limits and should be punished.
But what about the choices consenting adults make about what happens
when the lights go out? To what degree does the Legislature's
influence-based culture play a role in those choices? And what's the
impact, if any, of pillow talk on public policy?
The News Service of Florida explored those issues and others over the
past week in more than a dozen interviews with veterans of the political
process, most of them women who would only speak if they were not
identified by name.
Lobbyists feared retaliation from male legislators or other lobbyists.
Legislators were afraid of ridicule or payback from male legislative
leaders, or of jeopardizing relationships with lobbyists.What's going on
now in Tallahassee isn't new, they said. Nor is it much different than
the behavior that occurs in places like Hollywood, where accusations of
sexual misconduct against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein have drawn
national attention to the issue --- and intensified the scrutiny of
what's going on in and around the Florida Capitol.
“I feel strongly that there is a big gulf between consensual
relationships between consenting adults and something that amounts to
sexual harassment. But that said, there has long been a culture in
places like state capitals or even Hollywood, Calif., where power plays
an almost intoxicating role in how relationships get formed.
The big, important element is whether someone is using their position of
power to demand a relationship or sexual favors,” said Susan Glickman, a
lobbyist who was the first chairwoman of the Florida Commission on the
Status of Women after it was restructured in 1992. “There's a big
continuum on which that balance of power can operate.”
When asked about how business gets done in Tallahassee, Lori Killinger,
a veteran lobbyist who's also a lawyer, compared sexual favors to the
money used to influence or gain access to lawmakers.
“In the same way that campaign contributions can play a significant role
in how important public policies are adopted, sex can also drive
decisions legislators make about public policy,” Killinger said.
But, unlike financial-disclosure requirements for lobbyists, legislators
and candidates, details about intimate — or even casual — sexual
relationships are secret.
That's why it's important for public officials, or others in positions
of power, to exercise self-control, many women said.
The legislative environment is a “fictitious world,” said Nikki Fried, a
lawyer and lobbyist.
“You're away from your family. You've got high-energy high stress, a lot
on the line, and alcohol” thrown into the mix, Fried said.“No matter
where you are, you're going to get the same interaction. It's just that
some of these people are elected. That's why it's newsworthy,” she said.
Other women blame that atmosphere for a code of silence around
inappropriate behavior that's been tolerated and largely ignored.For
example, no one ever complained about a legislator whose bear hugs and
smooches kept women from closing the door when they went into his
And people are aware of a checklist involving points for “bagging” women
involved in the legislative process, with female senators targeted as
the top prize. But when asked about it, the common response was to shrug
it off because it's been around for ages.“
It was just surprising to me that it happened, the kinds of things that
happened to me. Physically being touched, things being said that were
inappropriate, had not happened to me and I truly did not know how to
deal with it,” said state Rep. Kristin Jacobs, a Coconut Creek Democrat
who joined the Legislature three years ago after spending more than a
decade on the Broward County Commission. “At first I was so blown away
by it. I was like, what? Who do I talk to about this? What happens to my
bills if I do? What's the best way to handle it? I just simply didn't
know what to do or who to talk to. Ultimately I figured it out and
handled it on my own.”
Braynon, who found the video camera in a hallway outside of his downtown
condo and reported it to state police, said he thinks the scrutiny of
lawmakers' extracurricular activities could lead to a change in
“I do think this is going to change some of the things that happen in
Tallahassee, and in many ways for the better, especially when it comes
to how males interact with females in this process,” Braynon, D-Miami
Gardens, said. “There are a bunch of stories that a bunch of us here
think, man, that's pretty bad. If we can start with a new focus on
respecting boundaries, that's a good thing.”
But some women are worried that a “knee-jerk reaction” could have a
negative impact on female lobbyists, who already are at a disadvantage.
The disclosures about Clemens came as lawmakers and lobbyists prepare
for the January start of the 60-day annual session.
Male lawmakers could become leery of meeting privately, or outside of
the Capitol, with female lobbyists, but they won't have a problem
smoking cigars or drinking cognac into the wee hours with their male
counterparts, one woman said.
“This environment that they are now creating has made everybody so
overly sensitive that it will actually hinder us from being able to do
our jobs,” one female lobbyist said.
Creating a safe process for men and women to report sexual harassment or
other misconduct is critical, said Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation
Democrat who was molested by her nanny when she was a child.
But a frustrated Book believes that the focus on the sexual conduct of
her colleagues is a distraction from the work legislators were elected
Addressing the state's opioid crisis, which is responsible for the
deaths of 14 Floridians each day, is one of the Legislature's top
priorities for the 2018 session.
“So 84 people have died since Jeff Clemens resigned and we're still
talking about who's having sex with who. What are we doing?” Book said
Wednesday. “This brought to light a culture problem. We're going to set
up policies and procedures to address the problem. But let's get back to
what we're here for. As much as I want to change every culture that
exists, this culture has been here long before I've gotten here and it's
going to exist after I leave here because it is a male-dominated world.
That's the reality.”