Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Latvala’s departure a lesson for other legislators

We’ll get to the all the sleazy, tawdry, boorish sexual stuff in just a moment. But first let us ponder the doughnut episode.

Had soon-to-be-former Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Krispy Kreme, realized his improbable dream of getting elected governor, some guy on Florida’s death row might have had his execution warrant signed because the chief executive of the state was having a fit over not getting his daily doughnut fix that morning.

The accusations are hot and heavy over what Latvala has been up to during his years of legislative bacchanalia in Tallahassee. And facing expulsion from the Senate and a criminal investigation, he opted to resign. Good riddance.

Latvala’s bid to become governor had already flat-lined, and the former Senate appropriations chairman had become a pariah after the accusations. If he had stayed on and fought, he couldn’t have gotten a bill passed honoring motherhood.

The Clearwater Republican has been accused of inappropriate touching of women including as Rachel Rogers, a Senate legislative aide, who detailed an icky list of alleged violations. But the accusations took on a darker tone when an unnamed victim who once worked as a lobbyist accused Latvala of offering to help her with legislative issues in return for sex. That sounds like a quid pro quo and worth a criminal investigation. Resignation or not, that issue is still in play.

The investigation by the Senate’s special master recounts a pattern of bad behavior, including accounts of Latvala throwing hissy fits if his lust for doughnuts was not satisfied. Rogers recounted having to calm him down when the office doughnuts were not available. Think of this as a sort of Tallahassee "Moe! Larry! Cheese!" moment.

And this guy wanted to be governor? It might be argued the last thing the Falstaffian Latvala needed were more doughnuts.

For his part, Latvala expressed astonishment over his prurient predicament, arguing that he thought the woman who has said he coerced her into a sexual relationship in return for his votes was an old, dear friend.

"I just did not see this coming," the myopic senator told the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau. "It’s somebody I thought was a close friend of mine.’’

You never see the bullet that kills you. And what kind of "friend" uses his political influence to compel someone to engage in unwanted sexual activity in order to protect her job? What kind of so-called "public servant" uses his perch of power to denigrate underlings? What kind of politician would confuse the Florida Senate with Hedonism II?

Not that it matters much now, but Rogers also described the senator in the office sounding a wee bit pickled from imbibing Grey Goose vodka.

It’s no shock that while the Florida Legislature is certainly populated with some good, hard-working, diligent lawmakers, there are a fair number who regard their offices as a license to swill and thrill.

Latvala still deluded himself into thinking he was gubernatorial timber, never suspecting that accusations of impropriety would come up. Stupidity should be a disqualifying factor for the governorship.

There’s a lesson here for other members of the Florida Legislature who may have engaged in similar conduct. You may be able to treat staffers and lobbyists as mere widgets who serve at your whim.

But eventually there is a price to pay for all that arrogance and cruelty.

In Latvala’s case, it is the ruination of a political career and reputation. His hard fall is much more than one senator’s public disgrace. It is a cautionary tale about Tallahassee’s historically corrupting culture of entitlement — if anybody in the Florida Legislature is paying attention.

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