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Jack Latvala Resigns In Wake Of Report

State Sen. Jack Latvala resigned from the Senate Wednesday, just a day after a report concluded there was evidence that he sexually harassed several women.

The announcement is a stunning fall for a politician who was at the top of his power several months ago, when he announced a run for governor.

"He was one of the most powerful individuals in the Legislature, House or Senate, chaired the appropriations committee," said Darryl Paulson, emeritus professor of government at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. "You can't get much higher - or in some respects, fall much lower - than he's gone in a relatively short period of time."

Since then, Latvala resigned his post as head of the Senate appropriations committee.

The resignation forestalls a Senate investigation into charges he traded physical engagements in return for political favors.

But Paulson notes the resignation doesn't close the door on any criminal charges that may come from the charges of sexual harassment.

It is now up to Gov. Rick Scott - who repeated a call for Latvala to resign before the announcement Wednesday - to announce a special election early next year for his Pinellas County seat.

Here's a portion of Latvala's resignation letter:

Our country has been caught up in a movement to shine a spotlight on behavior that dishonors women. Even though I have spent my entire career helping women advance in public service, such as the l4 current female judges in the Sixth Circuit whose campaigns I ran, my political adversaries have latched onto this effort to rid our country of sexual harassment to try to rid the Florida Senate of me. As a husband, father, and grandfather of women, I have been steadfast in my efforts to promote them professionally, but perhaps I haven?t kept up with political correctness in my comments as well as I should have.
I have maintained that the charges in the original complaint are fabrications and say that still today. Unfortunately, except in the one instance where there were third party witnesses, the Special Master took the word of the accuser over mine on every count. He also went outside the realm of the original complaint and unknown to me introduced an entirely new issue into the process that I had no ability to challenge or rebut.
All of this occurs today even though we still have anonymous accusers with no opportunity for me to have the privilege our US. Constitution affords to confront our accusers in cross examination.
But, I have had enough. If this is the process our Party and Senate leadership desires, then I have no interest in continuing to serve with you. I, therefore, will resign my seat in the Florida Senate at midnight, January 5, 2018.

Tuesday, former Judge Ronald Swanson conducted the investigation into Latvala and found that the woman who filed the complaint against him was likely telling the truth, but details from other witnesses described even more extreme behavior.

Swanson said some of Latvala's actions may have violated public corruption laws and recommended that allegations be referred to law enforcement.

One former lobbyist said that Latvala would touch her inappropriately, including touching the outside of her bra and panties every time they were alone in the office. She said he "intimated to her on multiple occasions, that if she engaged in sexual acts or allowed him to touch her body in a sexual manner he would support legislative items for which she was lobbying," Swanson wrote. That included explicit text messages sent to the woman.

The woman said she tolerated the unwanted touching for two years. "I felt it was something he felt entitled to," she said in the report.

The investigation began after a complaint filed by Rachel Perrin Rogers, a top aide to Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson. Perrin Rogers accused Latvala of inappropriate touching in a Capitol elevator, at a private club and other occasions.

She said on many occasions, Latvala would comment on her appearance by saying she looked "hot" and would stare at her chest as she tried to talk about legislative issues with him.

Other witnesses said Latvala is known to make grunting or growling sounds aimed at woman, and a lobbyist said she was touched her in an unwelcome manner three or four times.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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