Gov. Rick Scott is on a statewide tour touting his budget proposal for next year. But the Legislature is distracted, he said Thursday afternoon during a visit to a Miami elementary school.
“You try to talk to people over there, and all they’re focused on is this,” he said.
“This” is sexual harassment. Allegations against powerful Sen. Jack Latvala have embroiled the state Capitol in recent weeks. The Clearwater Republican was, until recently, chair of the Senate appropriations committee, and he’s running for governor.
Earlier this month, POLITICO Florida reported six women accused Latvala of touching them without their consent or making demeaning comments about their bodies. The news organization kept their identities anonymous, because the women feared retaliation. One of the women filed a confidential formal complaint against Latvala with the Senate. She revealed her identity this week, saying in a statement to POLITICO that the senator’s lawyers had outed her anyway.
Rachel Perrin Rogers is the chief aide to Sen. Wilton Simpson, a Republican who is lined up to the lead the chamber in 2020. She’s married to Brian Hughes, a GOP political consultant who once worked for Scott. The connection makes the situation more personal for the governor.
Scott stressed it has become a “distraction” for the Legislature, which he’s worried may not be able to focus on crafting the state budget once the legislative session starts in January. But he’s waiting on the results of a third-party investigation triggered by the Senate before passing judgment on Latvala’s future.
“This is a complete distraction to the Senate,” Scott said Thursday at Coconut Grove Elementary School, where he held an event highlighting his plan for increasing funding to public schools. “They need to be focused on the future of our state, not distractions like this.
“But this investigation is going to happen. … The Senate's going to have to make a decision depending on what comes out in the investigation,” he said. “If the allegations are true, … he needs to resign. … If it's true, he's got to go.”
The governor was asked directly if he believed Perrin Rogers’ accusations that Latvala groped her on several occasions. He responded by saying he had positive experiences with her husband, Hughes, and with her, during the limited times he has interacted with her.
But “there’s an investigation,” he said. “They need to go through their investigation and get the facts out.”
Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a former Miami lawmaker and property appraiser who briefly ran for U.S. Senate last cycle, was with the governor and echoed his sentiments nearly verbatim.
“If these turn out to be true, he should immediately resign,”said Lopez-Cantera, also a Republican. “But I’m sure [Latvala] recognizes that he is now a distraction to the goings-on of the people’s business in Tallahassee.”
Both said they hoped the Senate would complete its investigation and decide on Latvala’s fate quickly. It would take a two-thirds vote of the Senate to expel him.
Latvala has adamantly denied the charges, which he says are politically motivated, and is fighting them fiercely. He did not respond to a text message on Thursday requesting his response to Scott’s comments.
But he tweeted about it, referencing the legal troubles faced by a company the governor once led. Before running for office, Scott was C.E.O. of the hospital chain Columbia/HCA when the company was fined $1.7 billion for Medicare fraud.
Latvala tweeted at Scott on Thursday night: “I'm sure HCA stockholders thought your efforts to defend yourself in theft of billions from taxpayers was a distraction but you had a right to defend yourself! I have that same right!”
Perrin Rogers deferred to her lawyer, Tiffany Cruz, for comment. Cruz said it was appropriate for a politician of Scott’s stature to withhold judgment until the results of the investigation are finalized.
“I agree the senator should resign if probable cause is found,” Cruz said Thursday. “I think that he probably should have resigned at this point. But if he doesn’t resign, it will go to whatever decision is made by the [Senate] Rules Committee.”