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Florida Senate's top Democrat resigns after admitting affair with lobbyist

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Senate's top Democratic leader, Jeff Clemens, resigned Friday after admitting to having an affair with a lobbyist during the last legislative session, saying that repairing his personal life was impossible while serving in the high-profile role.

"Effective today, I am resigning from the Florida Senate," Clemens said in a statement Friday. "I have made mistakes I (am) ashamed of, and for the past six months I have been focused on becoming a better person. But it is clear to me that task is impossible to finish while in elected office. The process won't allow it, and the people of Florida deserve better. All women deserve respect, and by my actions, I feel I have failed that standard. I have to do better."

Clemens, a Lake Worth political consultant, acknowledged an affair with former Martin County lobbyist Devon West in statement first reported by Politico Florida.

Clemens, who is 47 and married, told friends he had discussed the matter with his wife and the couple had entered counseling.

As incoming minority leader, Clemens was charged with leading the election efforts of Senate Democrats in 2018. He won a significant victory in September, when Annette Taddeo defeated Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in the Miami district formerly held by Republican Frank Artiles.

Artiles resigned in late April after a racially tinged tirade against two black legislators in a Tallahassee bar. Artiles was forced to apologize on the Senate floor but resigned when the Times/Herald reported that he used his political committee to hire as "consultants" a former Hooters "calendar girl" and a Playboy model with no political experience.

In an effort to retrieve a personal laptop that had been taken by West, Clemens reached out to Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican and friend of Clemens. According to Politico, West left the laptop at the concierge desk at the Tennyson condominium, where she lives.

Latvala said that as one of the Senate's longest-serving members he is often sought out by his colleagues for advice in sticky situations. He said Friday he wouldn't report on what he told Clemens or West.

"If the story is accurate, telling somebody they need to follow the law and return property is being a good citizen," he said.

Latvala said he is confident the unnamed sources Politico relied on emerged in retaliation for Artiles' forced resignation.

"I think it's related to that special election," Latvala said. "There's been rumors since all this went down on Artiles and, as long as you've got smut-mongers who take things not for attribution to sell subscriptions, you're going to have stuff like this."

Efforts to reach West were unsuccessful. She left work for Martin County after the legislative session and is now employed by Broward County in their public affairs office, working on their lobbying team.

Contact Mary Ellen Klas at meklas@miamiherald.com. Follow @MaryEllenKlas.

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