TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A powerful Republican state senator and candidate for governor will be investigated by the Senate after a report came out that said he had harassed and groped women during his time in office.
Senate President Joe Negron on Friday called the allegations against Sen. Jack Latvala "atrocious and horrendous." Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, is the Senate budget chairman.
Politico Florida reported that six women said Latvala had either touched them inappropriately or made demeaning comments about their bodies. The news outlet said the women did not want to be identified for fear of losing their jobs. The women included legislative staff members and lobbyists.
In a statement, Latvala denied the report and suggested they were part of a "smear campaign" that only began once he started running for governor. He said he would "take all legal actions necessary to clear my name."
"I unequivocally deny the allegations that have been made against me," Latvala said. "And I find it interesting that these anonymous complaints have only come forward after I began my campaign for governor."
He added that "if my political opponents want a fight, then it's a fight they will get."
Negron ordered the Senate general counsel to investigate with the human resources office of the Florida Legislature.
The state Senate has been rocked with turmoil for months.
Sen. Frank Artiles, a Miami Republican, resigned last spring after using a racial slur in front of two African-American colleagues during a private, after-hours conversation. Sen. Jeff Clemens, who was poised to become the next Senate Democratic leader, officially quit this week after reports he had an extramarital affair with a lobbyist.
After reports surfaced that a private investigator had photographed Latvala kissing a female lobbyist, he said that there was an "organized effort" to "tear down" the Senate ahead of the 2018 legislative session. Latvala said the lobbyist — who had not been publicly identified — is a longtime friend.
Some House members quickly criticized Latvala after the story came out. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has routinely clashed with Latvala, said he should resign immediately.
Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat, said Negron should strip Latvala of his chairmanship and that the House should refuse to hold budget negotiations with the Senate if Latvala still held the position during the 2018 session.
""Today's allegations reported against Senator Jack Latvala are appalling and disgusting," Moskowitz said. "There is no explanation or rationalization which could ever account for this type of behavior and there should be no room for it in our Legislature or in society as a whole."