TALLAHASSEE — Sex-scandal prone Hollywood, it’s increasingly clear, has got nothing on the Florida Legislature.
This past week has brought its share of revelations about state lawmakers that, unfortunately, didn’t get the attention it deserved from what’s left of West Palm Beach’s corporate media.
Photos of Republican Senator Jack Latvala, who’s running for governor, kissing a woman — definitely not his wife — on a cheek then the lips after a late-night dinner popped up from what’s believed to be surveillance footage from a camera owned by a private investigator assigned to dig up dirt on lawmakers.
Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon appeared to have been the target of yet another private eye prowling Tallahassee, and those surveillance videos from the hallway of his capital city condo building have yet to drop — this, at a time when, interestingly, the married Braynon says his colleagues should focus more on cases of sex harassment, not consensual sex between politicians.
And a week ago today Senator Jeff Clemens, a Democrat from Lake Worth, resigned after admitting to an extra-marital affair with Broward County lobbyist Devon West after a story by the out-of-state website Politico.
In an era of increased attention to sexual harassment sparked by numerous complaints that Pulp Fiction producer Harvey Weinstein asked for, and sometimes got, massages and other goodies from dozens of actresses looking for their next role, the spotlight is now on the 160 men and woman whose job it is to make laws that affect every man, woman and child in Florida.
The overall picture, says an insider, isn’t pretty.
“There are dozens of Harvey Weinsteins in the House and Senate,” a Republican politician who served several terms tells me. “There’s practically no rule that governs sexual misconduct in either body.
“It’s unlike any other work place. Legislators find themselves far from home for two or three months a year, and it’s a free-for-all. Married senator with married house member. Married lobbyist with aide. Aide with senator. You name it, it’s going on — and it’s going on at the highest levels.
“I would say that many, many members of the house and senate have something sexual going on in Tallahassee that could be a problem,” our candid source says. “It’s mistresses mostly, or it’s sexual relations that present clear conflicts of interest, like with a lobbyist or a colleague, sometimes across party lines. There have been a few members of the house and senate who got it on with one another, something that can queer the system.”
The photos of Latvala, who’s running for governor, could be the tip of the iceberg. I’m told reporters from several state-wide news outfits are preparing a tell-all on the married senator, who claims so far he knew the woman he kissed on candid camera for 20 years and denied anything improper was happening.
There is, however, rarely smoke without a fire.
I called the Pinellas County Republican two years ago about rumors he was having a fling with a much-younger elected official in South Florida, not the woman on the PI’s tape.
“I’m engaged,” Latvala said at the time. “And I’m getting married in a couple of weeks. So, no, I’m not cheating on my fiancee.”
The then-fiancee, Realtor Connie Prince, is now Latvala’s wife.
Miami Gardens legislator Braynon, meanwhile, has been pretty vocal about the surveillance. After all, he found a small surveillance camera in a hallway near the condo he rents during the session.
He told the Miami Herald he reported it to FDLE agents, who tracked to a Gainesville private investigator.
FDLE told Braynon it was not illegal and suspected the PI was working for “a scorned husband, a divorcee, a business partner.”
Gossip Extra, meanwhile, has learned Clemens’ affair started nearly three years ago, shortly after Clemens married limb loss therapist Sheila Clemens.
Jeff, a close friend of Latvala’s, and his paramour West appeared together at functions in Tallahassee routinely during at least two legislative sessions and didn’t get called out by fellow senators, including Senate President Joe Negron.
“Everybody knew those two were an item,” the former legislator tells Gossip Extra. “They were lovey dovey all over Tallahassee. They didn’t think anyone would ever call them out on it.”
As a matter of fact, the source added, West told friends she was in love with Clemens after they met when she worked as legislative aide for Senator Thad Altman, a Republican from Cape Canaveral.
A contrite Clemens apologized to his family and constituents and is seeking treatment.
As for the source, the former member of the state legislature, he says despite the current scandals, legislators behave better than they used to.
“Who doesn’t remember the closer girls,” he says.
“There used to be beautiful women hired by lobbyists who descended on Tallahassee on the last week of the session to ‘thank’ us for the work we put in. No need to draw you a picture of the services they provided. I’m happy to say that practice has stopped. I think.”