The intense turmoil involving one senator’s extramarital affair and the covert surveillance of another powerful lawmaker threatens to disrupt the next session of the Legislature, a senior legislator said Thursday.
Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, a Republican candidate for governor, said he sees an “organized effort to tear down the Senate ... and make us weak, so that we have a hard time standing up” in the 2018 session.
Latvala, entering his 16th and final year in the Senate, is the second most influential senator as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. The next session opens on Jan. 9.
His remarks, which are likely to increase tensions with the House, came during the AP legislative planning session in a question-and-answer session with Florida reporters. Some questions cited last week’s revelation that a private investigator was hired to follow Latvala to a dinner at a restaurant with a female lobbyist he has described as a friend for 20 years.
The unidentified investigator took a picture of Latvala kissing the lobbyist on the lips. After news of the picture circulated in Tallahassee, the lobbyist signed an affidavit swearing that she and Latvala have not had a romantic relationship.
Latvala said he knows who paid the investigator to tail him, but he declined to say who he thinks it was.
Latvala did not cite anyone by name Thursday. But he made the remark at the end of a lengthy critique of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, who he accused of “a reign ... I won’t say a reign of terror, but there is not a good feeling by many, many members of the House about the control that’s exercised on them.”
Corcoran, who declined to comment Thursday, is considering entering the GOP primary for governor against Latvala and state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
Latvala said Corcoran’s crusade last session against tourism and economic development programs was not about policy, but was done to attract publicity. He said House members, who he did not identify, have engaged in extramarital affairs during Corcoran’s tenure, and that nothing was done.
The only House Republican who has gone public with criticism of Corcoran’s aggressive leadership is Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island, a Latvala ally.
Corcoran criticized the Senate for a “wall of silence” after last week‘s abrupt resignation of Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens of Atlantis, who acknowledged an extramarital affair with a lobbyist. Clemens was in line to become leader of Senate Democrats next fall.
Latvala said the fallout from the Clemens controversy underscores the need for more ethics reforms in the 2018 session of the Legislature, including a ban on legislators’ law partners lobbying the Legislature and a ban on family members of legislators from lobbying the Legislature.
The most prominent sibling of a legislator who lobbies the Legislature is Michael Corcoran, the speaker’s brother.
Another example is long-time South Florida lobbyist Ron Book, the father of Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation.
In the 2017 session, the Senate quickly rejected a series of ethics measures pushed by Richard Corcoran and passed by the House. They included extending from two to six years the ban on legislators lobbying in the Capitol and requiring local elected officials to comply with a broader financial disclosure law that applies to legislators.
“The bottom line is, you can legislate till the cows come in, but you can‘t legislate ethics and morality in people,” Latvala told reporters.