Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Politics

Romano: Forget the accusers, Latvala is taking himself down

His run at the Governor’s Mansion is dead. And now Jack Latvala seems oddly determined to torch what’s left of his career in the Florida Senate, too.

Yes, it’s been a strange month in the life of one of Tampa Bay’s most recognizable and respected politicians. He’s crossed the bridge from a vigorous defense against sexual harassment allegations to take part in an all-out war with his accuser, as well as much of the Tallahassee establishment.

There will be no soft landing from this. Maybe he survives with diminished power to reach the end of his term limit next spring, or maybe there will be a historic vote to remove him from office.

Either way, it’ll be an unfortunate — and largely self-inflicted — end.

And that’s not a judgment on the veracity of the allegations against him. Other than Latvala and his accuser, no one knows whether the complaints against him are absolutely true, absolutely false or fall in some middle ground of misconstrued inappropriateness.

But this much we do know:

In his zeal to defend himself, Latvala crossed a line.

If we go back to the beginning, the story was salacious but not entirely damning. Six anonymous women claimed varying levels of unbecoming behavior in a story published by Politico.

Latvala acknowledged using unfortunate language at times but denied any physical contact and, understandably, pushed back against the accusations. Only one of the six women filed a formal complaint with the Senate. At this point, it was a single case of he said, she said.

Instead of staying quiet while providing the special master with evidence, Latvala began dropping pretty specific hints to reporters about the identity of his accuser. Eventually, Rachel Perrin Rogers, an aide to Sen. Wilton Simpson, acknowledged she had filed the complaint.

Almost immediately, Latvala released more than 200 text messages he had exchanged with Rogers that appeared to show a casual, and friendly, relationship. The text messages also included Rogers referring to some senators in off-color, and unflattering, terms.

The messages clearly should be brought to the attention of the special master. And just as clearly Latvala should not have leaked them to reporters.

Whether it was his intention or not, the result was this:

Latvala effectively outed his accuser, and then sent a chilling message to other women that coming forward with a complaint could quickly turn ugly for them.

In a way, this is a fitting coda to a fighter’s legacy. Latvala built his reputation as a no-nonsense politician, to the point of being unnecessarily dismissive and rude to others.

His bare-knuckle style brought him to the top of the power establishment in Tallahassee, but it also brought him fewer friends than he might have imagined. Prominent House and Senate members have publicly called him out in recent days, as well as the governor and the entire Cabinet.

At a time when he needs all the support he can get in the Senate, Latvala is still punching back.

Based on the merits of the case and the extenuating circumstances raised by his attorneys, I would have thought Latvala had a chance to walk away with a reprimand or censure.

I’m just not sure he’s capable of laying down his gloves.

Comments
Romano: Florida’s dangerous prisons costing us more than money

Romano: Florida’s dangerous prisons costing us more than money

Two things you need to know about Florida’s prison budget:1. It was $2.3 billion this year.2. It was still not enough.Kind of staggering when you think of it that way, huh?We keep spending more and more on housing prisoners, and it’s like throwing mo...
Published: 09/18/18
Kavanaugh to testify after denying sexual assault allegations

Kavanaugh to testify after denying sexual assault allegations

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh said Monday he was willing to speak to a Senate panel to "refute" an allegation he sexually assaulted a woman while in high school, after his accuser said via her attorney that she was ready to testi...
Published: 09/17/18
California professor, writer of confidential Brett Kavanaugh letter, speaks out about her allegation of sexual assault

California professor, writer of confidential Brett Kavanaugh letter, speaks out about her allegation of sexual assault

Earlier this summer, Christine Blasey Ford wrote a confidential letter to a senior Democratic lawmaker alleging that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her more than three decades ago, when they were high school students in subu...
Published: 09/16/18
Cuban refugee numbers plummet in Tampa area with cuts at Havana embassy

Cuban refugee numbers plummet in Tampa area with cuts at Havana embassy

It’s been nearly a year since the U.S. embassy in Havana suspended processing requests from people hoping to leave the island nation as refugees. The reason: Staffing was reduced to a skeleton crew in the wake of mysterious health attacks on em...
Published: 09/17/18
Romano: Rick Scott’s do-it-yourself guide to rigging a Supreme Court

Romano: Rick Scott’s do-it-yourself guide to rigging a Supreme Court

His time in Tallahassee is coming to an end. Eight years of triumph or shambles, depending on your point of view. And yet, Rick Scott’s legacy may not be written until his final minute as governor.For several years, Scott has been plotting a judicial...
Published: 09/15/18
Fraying Ties With Trump Put Mattis’ Fate in Doubt

Fraying Ties With Trump Put Mattis’ Fate in Doubt

WASHINGTON D.C.? — Back when their relationship was fresh and new, and President Donald Trump still called his defense secretary "Mad Dog" a nickname Jim Mattis detests ? the wiry retired Marine general often took a dinner break to eat burgers with h...
Published: 09/15/18
Carlton: The mayor, the restaurateur and the giant statue that had to go: A Tampa tale

Carlton: The mayor, the restaurateur and the giant statue that had to go: A Tampa tale

You would have thought the controversy over whether chickens should be left alone to keep boldly roaming the streets of historic Ybor City — and the impressive pro-chicken lobby that showed up to argue on their behalf — would be the quintessential on...
Published: 09/15/18

5 takeaways from Paul Manafort’s plea agreement

Five takeawaysWASHINGTON — Paul Manafort’s agreement to plead guilty and cooperate with the special counsel marks a milestone in the investigation led by Robert Mueller. Here are several key elements:Mueller knows more than we doThe public doesn’t kn...
Published: 09/14/18
Clearwater voter forums will discuss referendum on strong mayor charter change

Clearwater voter forums will discuss referendum on strong mayor charter change

CLEARWATER — Residents can hear varying perspectives on the Nov. 6 referendum on whether to change Clearwater’s form of government into a strong mayor system at two upcoming forums.The Clearwater Regional Chamber of Commerce will host a forum Monday ...
Published: 09/13/18
Woman who says she exchanged sex for rent with Hernando commissioner describes political alliances

Woman who says she exchanged sex for rent with Hernando commissioner describes political alliances

BROOKSVILLE — Valerie Surette, the woman at the heart of prostitution-related charges against former Hernando County Commissioner Nick Nicholson, told Sheriff’s Office detectives in March that he frequently talked to her about county business. In a r...
Published: 09/12/18