In the aftermath of tawdry allegations ending the career of a state senator (Democrat Jeff Clemens of Palm Beach County) and threatening to end another’s (Republican Jack Latvala of Pinellas), more than 200 Florida political pros are nearly unanimous: More legislators will face public accusations of sexual harassment or extramarital affairs.
A whopping 97 percent said so in the latest Tampa Bay Times Florida Insider Poll of lobbyists, fundraisers, political operatives, academics and others.
"Safe to say that some former and current legislators and lobbyists are losing sleep waiting for the next sex scandal shoe to drop. There will be many many more," said a Republican. "However these are merely manifestations of a widespread cultural problem and lack of morals, ethics and integrity. Doubtful much will change."
More than nine in 10 of those surveyed said consensual extramarital affairs are common in the Capitol, and more than seven in 10 said they’re more common than in other workplaces.
"It may sound quaint, but the sex-and-booze culture in Tallahassee relies on legislators who choose not to live up to basic values of decency," said an Insider registered to neither major party.
The Times allows participants in the unscientific poll to weigh in anonymously to encourage honest answers from people closely involved in the political process.
Asked whether legislators or lobbyists are more responsible for the culture in Tallahassee, 82 percent pointed to legislators.
Nine in 10 of the veteran politicos surveyed think Latvala will quit the governor’s race in the wake of six women accusing him of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior. Latvala staunchly denies the anonymous accusations published in Politico, but nearly two-thirds of the Florida Insiders expect the Clearwater Republican will resign from office.
"Jack deserves to face his accusers, but the damage has been done anonymously and sufficiently to his gubernatorial prospects," said a Republican.
One Democrat defended Latvala as demeaning to everyone, men and women alike. "Regarding some who call him a predator — not true — fake news! .?.?. He likes women, as most of us do (from my generation, not sure about the current generation!). And we all talk about women, just like women talk about men."
We also asked about Donald Trump’s first year in office. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed — keep in mind, the Insiders tend to be political establishment — said his performance over the past year has been "terrible" or "poor," with a majority saying terrible. Nearly one in five said "fair," 13 percent said "good" and 4 percent "excellent."
More than three out of four Insiders — including 106 Republicans, 87 Democrats and 15 others — predicted Trump will hurt Republican candidates in 2018.
"Trump is setting good policies for the most part — he’s just creating an environment that makes it almost impossible for those who embrace those policies to get elected in the future. His failure on Obamacare is staggering, although the senators who disingenuously voted for repeal when they knew Obama would veto it and are now refusing to do the same are more to blame. If the Republicans fail on tax reform and don’t get their act together soon, next November will be worse than a ‘shellacking’ for Republicans," said a Republican.
"But Trump has only proven all of us fools every time," cautioned one Democrat.
The good news for Trump? Half of those surveyed said Trump would beat Hillary Clinton in Florida again if the election were held today.
This month’s Insiders are listed on the Buzz blog at tampabay.com/florida-politics/buzz/.
Levine takes lead in Dems’ fundraising
In the Democratic gubernatorial field of anemic fundraisers, newly announced candidate Philip Levine already is standing out. He has raised more than $5.7 million to date, including more than $2 million of his own money. Gwen Graham, the Democratic runner-up in money, has raised more than $4 million.
Republican frontrunner Adam Putnam has collected more than $20 million.
Rubio pushes increase of child tax credit
For weeks, Sen. Marco Rubio has waged a high-profile campaign to at least double the child tax credit to $2,000, often invoking a celebrity partner, Ivanka Trump. But when Senate Republican leaders unveiled their tax overhaul package, it delivered a setback. The plan calls for a $1,650 child tax credit up just $50 from what the House has proposed. It shows the limits of Rubio’s influence, though negotiations are just beginning and the Florida Republican can still make his pitch.
"We appreciate all of the work our colleagues have done to draft the Senate tax bill, and the progress for tax reform that it represents," Rubio said in a joint statement with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. "While we are glad to see an increase to the child tax credit, like the House bill, it is simply not enough for working families."
Alex Leary contributed to this week’s Buzz.