Senate President Joe Negron covered a vast array of topics —including nursing homes, tax breaks, gambling and the state’s $85 billion budget — during a nearly hour-long pre-session interview with The News Service of Florida this morning.
The news team was warned beforehand that questions about the investigation into allegations of sexual harassment levied against Sen. Jack Latvala by a high-ranking aide to Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson were off limits.
We tried to tap-dance around the restriction, but Negron, a lawyer, stuck closely to comments he’s already made about the investigation and the charges, which have rocked the Capitol and caused what one Republican senator called “paralysis” in the upper chamber.
Even Gov. Rick Scott called Latvala — a Clearwater Republican who insists he is innocent and that he is a victim of a political smear campaign — a “distraction” and said that “it seems that everyone in Tallahassee is talking about this and not how to make Florida better.”
The governor’s critique came more than a week ago; since then, there’s been almost a daily development in the increasingly toxic battle.
But Negron, a Stuart Republican headed into his second and final legislative session as the man with the gavel in the Senate, disagreed that the drama has eclipsed all other business in the Senate.
“That’s not what I see. I’m visiting with senators constantly and talking about projects. There are bills being referenced,” he said. “A lot of bills have been filed. Committee meetings are moving forward. Some bills have been voted down. Some bills have been voted up. So, I think that the people’s business is being done. And we’re going to let the process that’s set forth in our rules move forward and then there will be a resolution.”
Negron relied on talking points from memos distributed in the early days of the investigation, launched after a POLITICO Florida story early last month detailed the allegations against Latvala, when asked if the revelations exposed activity in the Capitol that had been kept under wraps for years.
“In the Senate we have zero tolerance for sexual harassment. We have zero tolerance for any mistreatment of any senator, of staff, of guests and citizens who visit us in their Capitol. That has always been our policy and will continue to be our policy. I believe that the vast majority of individuals who work in the Capitol treat people fairly, treat people appropriately, and show respect to everyone in the process,” the president said.
Negron reiterated that he wants individuals who’ve been the victim of sexual harassment to come forward.
Perrin Rogers has accused Latvala and his supporters of retaliating against her and her husband, GOP political consultant Brian Hughes. The Senate aide hired an armed guard to protect her in the Capitol, and Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, this week filed a complaint against Latvala, accusing him of “outing” Perrin Rogers.
“With regard to the specific instance where there’s been a complaint filed that’s being investigated, the process will move forward,” Negron said, referring to the sexual harassment complaint Perrin Rogers lodged against Latvala. “There will be an outcome to that. And I’m committed personally, in my own role as the Senate president, that we’re going to respect the rights of everyone in the building and that any person who feels that they’ve been a victim of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct should feel free to confidentially come forward and report that and it will be dealt with appropriately.”
When pressed about whether the Florida Legislature was caught up in the #MeToo wave that’s gripped Congress and statehouses around the country, Negron demurred.
“In the culture generally, there’s enhanced attention to this issue. That’s a good thing. In terms of what happens in the Senate and in the Capitol, I’ll stand by my assessment that the vast majority of elected officials conduct themselves appropriately and treat people in this process with respect and in a business-like manner,” he said.