Jack Latvala appears destined to be remembered as a state senator for a long time — and for all the wrong reasons.
A pillar of Tampa Bay politics for three decades, Latvala now faces the inevitability of a highly damaging report by a special master who found probable cause that the veteran lawmaker repeatedly sexually harassed a Senate staffer, and even more damaging, that he may have broken the law by trading sexual favors for legislative action.
The 33-page report quoted an unidentified woman, who recently took a job in the Senate after a career as a lobbyist, as saying Latvala “touched and groped her in an unwelcome manner every time she went to his office” from 2015 to 2017, and “placed his hands up her dress, touched the outside of her underwear at her vaginal area, her buttocks and her breast.”
“The content of the report is deeply disturbing and I find it very troubling,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, a member of the Senate Rules Committee that’s scheduled to sit in judgment of Latvala at a hearing in Tallahassee on Jan. 11, two days after the start of the annual legislative session.
The overwhelming majority of the special master’s report agrees with the version of events of Latvala’s accusers — and that means that momentum will quickly intensify against the senator.
Latvala answered, “No,” Tuesday when asked if he will resign his seat, and leave a half million residents of Pinellas and Pasco counties with no voice in Tallahassee. If he does stick it out, he’s likely to find that he has few allies when he needs them the most.
Another Rules Committee member, Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Lauderhill, said he did not think it was proper to say much about the report because he may yet sit in judgment of Latvala.
“I’ll say this. I think it’s going to get more stressful before it gets less stressful,” Thurston said. “If it comes down to a fight and a battle, it’s going to be very stressful for everybody.”
Gov. Rick Scott, who previously had called the accusations against Latvala “disgusting,” had no immediate comment on the report Tuesday night, but his office said he would have something to say Wednesday.
“We are reviewing it,” spokesman McKinley Lewis said.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, who immediately called for Latvala’s resignation when the allegations first surfaced in a Politico story on Nov. 3, declined to comment and referred reporters to his original statement.
“The speaker stands by his past comments,” Corcoran’s spokesman Fred Piccolo said.
Latvala’s son Chris, a Republican state representative from Palm Harbor, tweeted: “I am as proud today to be the son of @JackLatvala as I was yesterday or last month.”
Latvala posted on Facebook Tuesday night that he has a medical procedure scheduled for this week and planned to go to Mississippi to visit his stepfather and brother for the first time since his mother died this summer.
He said he will return to Tallahassee on Dec. 26 “and will meet with my legal and political team then to consider the future.”
To fight the allegations against him, Latvala now must confront a national awakening over sexual misconduct at the outset of the legislative session — a time when lawmakers are swept up in the emotion of a fresh start and the enthusiasm of a new session.
Latvala’s fate rests in the words of Senate Rule 1.35, which states: “A senator shall conduct himself or herself to justify the confidence placed in him or her by the people and, by personal example and admonition to colleagues, shall maintain the integrity and and responsibility of his or her office.”
Tampa Bay Times staff writers Alex Leary contributed to this report.
Contact Steve Bousquet at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @stevebousquet.Steve Bousquet