1. Opinion

Ruth: Women accusing Latvala of harassment should come forward

It's been a rough few days for Sen. Jack Latvala, the Clearwater Republican who is also (for the moment, at least) a candidate for governor.

A week or so ago, Latvala was a gruff-talking curmudgeon of the Florida Legislature, attempting to parlay his "tell it like it is" persona into the Governor's Mansion.

And then it all came crashing down around his Falstaffian shoulders, beginning with the release of a photograph of the senator kissing a lobbyist in the parking lot of an Italian restaurant. Latvala attempted to dismiss the photo by arguing the lobbyist was a dear old platonic friend, as if it is quite normal for a married man to plant a buss on another woman. Perhaps it is an old Clearwater custom.

It's entirely possible Latvala's parking lot indiscretion might have been dismissed as merely the chianti talking. And that would have been that. Alas, the senator's woes were only just beginning.

Within days of the photo's release, Latvala had to contend with allegations by six unidentified women to Politico that the senator had sexually harassed them with unwanted advances involving inappropriate touching or making demeaning remarks about their bodies. It would seem at this point Latvala would have a hard time getting elected governor of the planet Zircon 7, much less advancing up the political food chain of Tallahassee.

Florida Senate President Joe Negron has appointed a third-party investigator to look into the allegations against Latvala. And the senator has been removed as chairman of the Appropriations Committee from whence his considerable political power once flowed. Now he's just another guy in the back of the Florida Legislature's bus.

Latvala has done himself no favors since the controversy erupted.

Days ago, the senator defiantly noted he had signed a sworn affidavit denying the charges against him and passed a polygraph exam with flying colors, exonerating him of any hint he had engaged in boorish behavior.

Well! That certainly clears everything up, don't you think?

Really now, did Latvala actually expect anyone to believe a lie detector test (which is inadmissible in court) arranged by his own legal counsel would put to rest the allegations against him?

Latvala has argued plots (!), conspiracies (!) and duplicity most foul (!) are afoot in Tallahassee to besmirch the integrity of the Senate in general and his electoral fortunes in particular. Now there's some keen political analysis for you.

Still, it would be fair to argue that while Latvala may be less than a gentleman in the hallways of government, he is still the victim of a smear campaign.

In recent weeks, all manner of men have been accused of pretty awful behavior toward men and women — producer Harvey Weinstein, Republican Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, Bill O'Reilly and entertainers like Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, Richard Dreyfuss and others.

But in each of those cases, the victims making the allegations have been willing to go public by name.

Not so with Latvala. So far, none of the women who accused him have had the courage to attach their names to the allegations. And that's not fair. Latvala has a right to know, and so does the public.

If you are going to destroy a candidate's gubernatorial ambitions and a longtime elected official's reputation, perhaps even deservedly so, you also have an obligation to step forward publicly with your charges.

Whatever sins Latvala may have committed, he still has a right to confront his accusers. Maybe there's an explanation for everything. You never know. It's the parallel universe of Tallahassee, after all, where reality goes to die.

Latvala can sign all the affidavits he wants. He can have polygraph exams administered by Pope Francis. And yet the dark cloud of suspicion will hang over him as long as his detractors decide to remain in the shadows.

That's life in Tallahassee. Why bother with transparency when a knife in the back works just as well?