State Politics

Incoming leader of Florida Senate’s Democrats admits to affair with lobbyist

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, debates on the medical marijuana bill during session, Monday, March 7, 2016, in Tallahassee. Clemens, the incoming Senate minority leader, has admitted to having an extramarital affair with a lobbyist.
Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, debates on the medical marijuana bill during session, Monday, March 7, 2016, in Tallahassee. Clemens, the incoming Senate minority leader, has admitted to having an extramarital affair with a lobbyist. AP

Just days after the designation of the incoming Senate president by Florida Republicans, the incoming leader of the Senate Democrats admitted having an affair with a lobbyist during the last legislative session.

The affair, between Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth political consultant, and former Martin County lobbyist Devon West, was first reported in Politico Florida.

Clemens, who is 47 and married, acknowledged the affair Thursday and apologized in a written statement provided to Politico and the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times.

“I used poor judgment and hurt people that I care about, and for that I apologized long ago,” he said. “But I also owe my constituents and colleagues an apology and I intend to do just that.

“No excuses are good enough or can undo the pain I’ve caused. I have spent a lot of time, long before I was contacted by a reporter, focusing on improving my behavior. I will always aim to be a better person, be as honest in my private life as I am with my public one, and continue to seek forgiveness from the people I have wronged.”

As minority leader, Clemens is charged with leading the election efforts of Senate Democrats in 2018 and won a significant victory in September, when Annette Taddeo defeated Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in the Miami district formerly held by Republican Frank Artiles.

Artiles, resigned in late April after a racially-tinged tirade against two black legislators in a Tallahassee bar. Artiles was forced to apologize on the Senate floor but resigned when the Herald/Times reported that he used his political committee to hire as “consultants” a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy model with no political experience.

Read more: “Hooters ‘calendar girl’ and Playboy ‘Miss Social’ were Artiles’ paid consultants”

The rumor about Clemens’ affair had been circulating for months. Clemens told friends he had discussed the matter with his wife and the couple had entered counseling.

According to the Politico report, which relied on unnamed sources, “West came into possession of Clemens’ Apple laptop, and gained access to all his contacts and personal information and then informed his wife of the tryst.”

In an effort to retrieve the laptop, which was his personal property, Clemens reached out to Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican and friend of Clemens. According to Politico, West left the laptop at the concierge desk at the Tennyson condominium, where she lives. When Clemens couldn’t pick up the laptop before the concierge left for the day at 6 p.m., he asked Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Lakes, who also lives at the Tennyson during session, to pick it up for him.

“Sen. Clemens acknowledged his poor judgment and for hurting those he cares about,” Braynon said Friday. “He has apologized first and foremost to his family and did the same to his constituents and colleagues.”

Latvala said that as one of the Senate’s longest-serving members he is often sought out by his colleagues for advice in sticky situations. He said Friday he wouldn’t report on what he told Clemens or West.

“If the story is accurate, telling somebody they need to follow the law and return property is being a good citizen,” he said.

Latvala said he is confident the unnamed sources Politico relied on emerged in retaliation for Artiles’ forced resignation and the Democrat’s subsequent victory in the open seat. On Tuesday, Republicans formally elected Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, to be the next Senate president if they retain a majority. Artiles was in the audience.

“I think it’s related to that special election and probably the root cause of that special election,” Latvala said. “There’s been rumors since all this went down on Artiles and, as long as you’ve got smut-mongers who take things not for attribution to sell subscriptions, you’re going to have stuff like this.”

Galvano could not be reached for comment.

Efforts to reach West were unsuccessful. She left work for Martin County after the legislative session and is now employed by Broward County in their public affairs office, working on their lobbying team. According to her profile on LinkedIn, she has a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State (2006) and a master’s from East Carolina (2012).

Clemens removed his Facebook page and Twitter account when the story broke. Christian Ulvert, a Democratic political consultant and spokesperson for Clemens, said removing the accounts was done to avoid distracting from what Clemens wanted to say.

“In this day and age, where people like to use social media to drive a message, he felt it best to drive his message through traditional means,” he said.

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