A pillar of Tampa Bay politics for three decades, Sen. Jack 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.
Already, the report has triggered calls for Latvala to resign from Gov. Rick Scott, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.
"The content of the report is deeply disturbing and I find it very troubling," Brandes said.
Brandes' opinion carries more weight that either Scott's or Putnam's because he sits on the Senate Rules Committee, which is 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.
If Latvala does stick it out, it's Brandes and 13 other Senators he'll make his case to.
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."
The 14-member Rules Committee includes 14 senators — nine Republicans and five Democrats — and it's dominated by veteran senators from Tampa Bay and South Florida.
Latvala is a member, as are three other Tampa Bay Republicans: Sens. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, Tom Lee of Thonotosassa and Majority Leader Wilton Simpson of Trilby.
Five members of the panel are from South Florida.
They are Republicans Anitere Flores of Miami and Democrats Jose Javier Rodriguez of Miami, Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens, Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale and Lauren Book of Plantation.
The Rules Committee's recommendation will then be subject to a vote by the full Senate, which is comprised of 39 members — 25 Republicans and 14 Democrats — with one seat vacant.
It requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate, or 26 members, to expel Latvala from the body, in what would be a dramatic and unprecedented action.
No senator has been expelled from the Senate in the state's 172-year history.
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.
Corcoran is expected to run for governor in 2018 against Latvala. Another candidate for the same office, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam, tweeted Tuesday that Latvala should resign.
Latvala's son Chris, a Republican state representative from Palm Harbor, tweeted: "I am as proud today to be the son [email protected] 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."