Sexual harassment allegations create “awkward” mood in Senate

Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, took over as the upper chamber’s powerful budget chief Monday after Senate President Joe Negron told Sen. Jack Latvala to step aside, at least for now.

Bradley’s no stranger to the budget process. The former prosecutor has chaired three budget subcommittees since joining the Senate five years ago.

Negron stripped Latvala of his post as Appropriations Committee chairman following allegations that the Clearwater Republican groped women and made unwelcome verbal comments about their bodies. Latvala, who is running for governor, is out of the post while an investigation, ordered by Negron, is pending, the Senate president said Monday.

Latvala has steadfastly denied the allegations, vowing to clear his name.

The investigation into the alleged misconduct by Latvala comes after a high-ranking Democrat, Jeff Clemens, resigned from his Senate seat after admitting he had an affair with a lobbyist.

Bradley said he’s “going to keep the trains moving on time” to make sure the budget process keeps on track in Latvala’s absence.

When asked about the mood of the Senate following Clemens’s exit and the accusations against Latvala, Bradley said it was “awkward.”

“It’s an awkward situation that we find ourselves in. Ever since the Harvey Weinstein story and the Roger Ailes story became national news, I think there’s been an appropriate focus on sexual mistreatment in the workplace. It’s no surprise that Tallahassee isn’t immune from those dynamics and those discussions,” Bradley said in an interview Monday afternoon. “My focus is on making sure that anyone who has been the victim of sexual misconduct while either working for the Senate or visiting the Senate feels completely comfortable coming forward and sharing their experiences.”

Bradley said he was sickened by the allegations.

“What I hear, in terms of how other people perceive they’ve been treated, how other people have been treated, and this concern about retribution going forward, all of that makes me sick to my stomach,” he said.

The spotlight on sexual harassment and sexually inappropriate behavior, as awkward and uncomfortable as it may be, could be a good thing, Bradley said.

“For too long, there was a discomfort in people sharing those experiences, and that’s wrong. I think in some ways, this is going to result in positive changes for how Tallahassee does business, just like I think there’s positive changes for how people to business in the private sector and government throughout our country,” he said.

Some female lobbyists are complaining that the scrutiny is making it harder for them to do their jobs: Some male lawmakers and aides  are refusing to meet after-hours or privately with the women.

Bradley said he treats everyone equally, and called on his colleagues and lashed out at anyone who’s excluding women.

“This concept that women feel like they’re going to be disadvantaged because men are less inclined to deal with females or work with females because they’re afraid of being misconstrued, I think that’s a bunch of hogwash,” he said. “I think it’s hogwash to say that you’re going to change your behavior and not allow women to interact with you under the same set of rules, I think that’s hogwash to make such a statement. Women and men need to be treated equally in this process. And whatever rules one has for dealing with men, they need to have the same rules for dealing with women. It should all be professional.”