Rick Scott

Senate president: Sexual misconduct inquiry not slowing down process

20171208_105141Senate 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.

 

Latvala lashes out at Scott

Gov. Rick Scott stopped short of calling for the resignation of Sen. Jack Latvala yesterday, but made his harshest comments yet about the Clearwater Republican under investigation after being accused of sexually harassing a top Senate aide and others.

Scott yesterday branded Latvala, who has steadfastly denied that he groped anyone, a “distraction” in the Senate, and reiterated previous remarks calling for Latvala to step down if the allegations are true.

Latvala and his lawyer remained mum all day, until 7:39 p.m., when Latvala dropped this bomb on Twitter:

 

JackLatvala's avatar

@FLGovScott 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!

 Latvala was referring to Scott’s repeated use of the Fifth Amendment — which he used 75 times — during a deposition in 2000. Later that year, Columbia/HCA, the hospital company which Scott founded, agreed to pay $1.7 billion in fines to the federal government. Scott had stepped down from the company three years earlier.

Scott: Roy Moore needs to get out of the race. “This is about victims.”

A day ago, Gov. Rick Scott called allegations that Alabama Senatorial candidate Roy Moore had sexually molested underage girls “disgusting,” and said the firebrand Republican should drop out of the race “if the allegations are true.”

But today, Scott dropped the qualifier and said Moore needs to exit the race.

Scott was in Texas for a Republican Governors Association meeting; he’s the vice chairman of the group.

Here’s an excerpt from an Austin American-Statesman report by Jonathan Tilove:

Republican Govs. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Rick Scott of Florida did not hesitate for a second Wednesday when asked what Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore should do amid accusations that he was engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior with teenagers as young as 14 when he was in his 30s.

“He should get out,” said Walker, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, which is holding its annual meeting a the JW Marriott Austin Wednesday and Thursday.

“This is way above partisan politics,” said Scott, the association’s vice chairman. “This is about doing the right thing. It’s pretty clear what’s right and what’s wrong. This is not about Roy Moore. This is about victims.”

“I think about my family,” Scott said. “I have daughters and I have grandsons and when you hear these media reports, it’s disgusting. You just can’t imagine that these things are happening. Whether you are talking about what’s happening in Alabama or L.A., D.C., or the media reports coming out of my state capital.”

“He needs to do the right thing, and the right thing for the citizens of his state, and that means he gets out of the race,” Scott said.

Walker was asked whether the controversy surrounding Moore might affect gubernatorial races next year and place Republican candidates on the defensive.

“No,” Walker said. “No more than the Democrats had to answer for (former U.S. Rep.) Anthony Weiner or (former New York Gov.) Elliot Spitzer or anybody else out there,” Walker said.

“Anthony Weiner did something wrong and I didn’t say all Democrats are Anthony Weiner, that’s just a ridiculous assumption,” Walker said. “Voters in our states are smart. I think a lot of people in politics or covering politics assume that people aren’t very smart. They are. Whether they vote for us or not, I think voters are smart and they are going to want you to answer for things you are going to do as governor, not what somebody else does in some other state.”

But, Walker was asked, if Alabama voters, knowing what they know, elect Moore to the Senate, should Republicans in the Senate seek to keep him from being seated.

“I think they’ve made it pretty clear. You heard Cory Gardner the other day,” said Walker, referring to the Colorado senator, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who said Monday that if Moore is elected, the Senate should expel him.

“I think other leaders have said repeatedly they wouldn’t seat him,” Walker said.

Scott pitches Florida budget — to Congress

The day after rolling out his state spending proposal, Gov. Rick Scott — who’s widely expected to run for the U.S. Senate next year — urged Congress Wednesday to include money in the federal budget:

  • Florida agriculture in future disaster funding;
  • Speed repairs on the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee.
  • repay the state for helping displaced Puerto Ricans from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
  • reform the National Flood Insurance Program.

“Over the past two months, as Florida has responded to and now recovers from this devastating storm, we have identified critical areas in which the support of the federal government is essential to our full recovery,” Scott wrote House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today.

The letter outlining the need for federal assistance also highlights Scott’s $21 million 2018 state budget request for the citrus industry, the $50 million he’s asking state lawmakers for the dike, and the $12 million he’s proposing to assist students that need help learning English.

Read the letter here.

By Jim Turner.

 

Rick Scott, Jeb! weigh in on Roy Moore

Gov. Rick Scott called allegations that Sen. Jack Latvala had groped women and made unwelcome remarks about their bodies “disgusting.”

On Tuesday, the governor used that same description when asked about Alabama GOP senate candidate Roy Moore, but this time he softened it with a qualifier.

Moore, the firebrand who was twice ousted from Alabama’s highest court, has been accused by five women of sexual misconduct, including one who said that Moore groped her in a locked car when she was 16 and another.

Moore has denied the allegations, and threatened to sue.

At a press conference in Jacksonville after announcing his budget proposal this morning, a reporter asked Scott if Moore should step aside from the Senate race.

“Whether it’s Roy Moore or what you read about the media reports from California or D.C. or Tallahassee, it’s disgusting. So, if any of those allegations are true, he ought to resign,” Scott said.

The governor was then asked if a different threshold exists regarding predatory behavior with minors.

“I think whether it’s minors, whether it’s women, anybody. I mean, let’s think about it. We all have children. We have nieces and nephews. I have daughters. Now I have grandsons. I expect people to be treated with respect. That’s what you always expect. So, if the allegations are true, he has to get out,” Scott said.

Other Republicans have been more pointed about wanting Moore, a former prosecutor, to get out of the race.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush weighed in during an appearance on CNBC this week.

“This is not a question of innocence or guilt like in a criminal proceeding, this is a question of what’s right and what’s wrong. Acknowledging that you’re dating teenagers when you’re 32 years old as assistant state attorney is wrong. It’s just plain wrong,” Bush, a former Republican candidate, said during the CNBC interview.

“We need to stand for basic principles, and decency has to be one of those,” he went on. “In the really poisonous political environment we have right now, one of the rules I think has to apply is that when you attack somebody on the other party, and the other team, for doing something wrong, when it happens on your team you have an obligation, I think, to speak out as well.”

Nation’s deputy AG blames opioid crisis on docs and big pharma

Gov. Rick Scott’s boasted about the $53 million in his budget proposal targeted toward the state’s opioid epidemic.

But more than half of that money — $27 million — is from a federal grant.

It’s the second year of the “State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis” grant in Florida, which the feds recently approved, according to a state Department of Children and Families deputy secretary who spoke at a House committee meeting last week.

Like Scott, his pal President Donald Trump and his administration have targeted the opioid crisis as public health crisis.

Here’s an excerpt from a speech U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made at the 50 State Summit on Public Safety in Washington, D.C., this morning. (Maybe his boss, AG Jeff Sessions, was tied up nearby testifying before a House panel).

We are also facing the challenges resulting from the unprecedented opioid crisis.  The news is full of heartbreaking stories of parents burying their teenage children, of Neonatal Intensive Care Units overflowing with opioid-addicted babies, of EMS workers racing from one drug overdose to another, and of medical examiners running short of resources to handle the somber extra business.

The overdose numbers are astounding.  In 1990, there were 8,000 deaths. The rate was relatively constant as a proportion of the American population for decades.  Then it increased approximately 700 percent over the next 26 years.

In 2016, more than 64,000 Americans died of drug overdoses.  On average, that means during this speech – another American will have died from a drug overdose.  This is unacceptable.

Opioids are driving this increase in overdose deaths.  The opioid problem began several years ago when doctors — aided by pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies — began overprescribing and diverting powerful prescription opioids.

In some instances, the doctors were untrained and unaware of the addictive nature of the drugs they were prescribing.  In other instances, the doctors were little more than drug dealers with advanced degrees. They operated “pill mills” where medical care was nonexistent, cash was king, and prescription opioids flowed freely.

Our newest challenge is fentanyl, a synthetic drug produced primarily in China. It is up to 50 times more potent than heroin.  It is so powerful that a quantity equal to a few grains of table salt can kill a person.

Chinese chemists try to stay a step ahead of law enforcement by making chemical analogues of fentanyl, such as carfentanil. It is 100 times more potent than fentanyl and 10,000 times more potent than morphine. In fact, carfentanil is intended as an elephant tranquilizer. It is manufactured in Chinese laboratories, shipped to the United States or Mexico, mixed with heroin, and then sold to addicts who are often unaware of what they are ingesting. Just last week, the DEA announced its intent to emergency schedule these fentanyl analogues.  This is a major step in cracking down on these deadly drugs.

The President recently declared that the opioid crisis a “public health emergency.”  The declaration will redirect federal resources to help fund treatment efforts.

At the Department of Justice, we use every tool at our disposal to stop the rise in violence and to end the drug crisis.

Scott, Nelson neck-and-neck (redux)

A second poll shows Florida voters are evenly split between U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Gov. Rick Scott are tied in a potential match-up.

Scott hasn’t announced that he’s running against Nelson, a long-serving Democrat, but everybody expects the Republican governor, who’s amassed a hefty campaign war chest, to jump into the race.

A MasonDixon Polling & Research poll released late Wednesday showed both Nelson and Scott with 44 percent support of Floridians, with 12 percent undecided.

That’s a bounce for Scott, who trailed Nelson by 5 percentage points in a February poll also conducted by Mason-Dixon.

Pollster Brad Coker attributed the jump in Scott’s popularity to independent voters, who favored Scott over Nelson 44-40 percent. In February, Nelson held a 9 percentage-point lead over Scott with independents.

Scott is also up among whites, males and older voters, while Nelson has firmer advantages among women, younger voters, blacks and Hispanics.

The poll also showed Scott’s favorability at 44 percent, compared to 38 percent for Nelson. But more voters also view Scott unfavorably, with 33 percent to Nelson’s 21 percent.

Scott also edged out Nelson in job performance ratings, with 53 percent of those surveyed approving of the governor’s performance and 50 percent giving Nelson a nod.

The two-term governor also has a better brand than Nelson, who’s represented Florida in the U.S. Senate for 16 years.

When asked “Do you recognize the name?” of the two politicians, 2 percent were unaware of Scott and 14 percent didn’t recognize Nelson.

The poll, conducted Oct. 17-19,  shows Scott creeping up on Nelson, who held a 5 percentage-point edge over the governor in a survey conducted in February. In that poll, independent voters gave the senator a 9 percentage-point lead.

And the Mason-Dixon poll mirrors results in a University of North Florida survey released earlier this week that found Nelson and Scott virtually tied — 37-36, with Nelson’s slight lead within the margin of error.

Poll results from Mason-Dixon released late Wednesday showed Floridians gave Scott high marks for his handling of Hurricane Irma.

 On the heels of that poll, Scott’s “Let’s Get to Work” political committee launched a $2 million ad campaign this week — starring Scott with his ubiquitous, storm-induced Navy ballcap — that boasts of the governor’s storm relief efforts.

Nelson used Scott’s ad campaign to raise money for his own campaign.

“Gov. Rick Scott just purchased $2 million in TV ads to try to boost his campaign against me here in Florida. And what’s worse: By not ‘officially’ declaring he’s running yet, Scott is able to avoid our campaign finance laws and use the unlimited corporate money in his PAC to pay for them,” Nelson said in a campaign email on Wednesday. “The timing of these ads isn’t a coincidence — just yesterday, a new poll came out showing our race here in Florida is close. And it looks like Scott and his right-wing friends are willing to spend big now to try to take an early lead.”

The latest Mason-Dixon results, show Nelson and Scott with heavy support from within their own parties.

Nelson is up 47-percent to 40-percent among women, 87-percent to 4-percent with black voters and 54-percent to 32-percent among Hispanics.

Scott has the white voters, 54-percent to 34-percent, and men, 49-percent to 40-percent.

Nelson has voters 34 years and younger, 50-percent to 35 percent. It a tie among the 35-to-49-year-olds, a statistic tie favoring Scott among those 50 to 64, and a 49-percent to 41-percent contest for Scott among those 65 years and older.

The poll was conducted Oct. 17-19, with 625 registered Florida self-identified frequent voters interviewed by telephone. The  poll had a 4-percentage point margin of error.

By Dara Kam and Jim Turner.