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Jack Latvala sees 'organized effort to tear down the Senate'

Turmoil involving a senator’s extramarital affair and the covert surveillance of another powerful lawmaker is threatening to disrupt the next session of the Legislature, a senior legislator said Thursday.

Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, a Republican candidate for governor, said Thursday that there’s an “organized effort to tear down the Senate ... and make us weak, so that we have a hard time standing up” in the 2018 session.

Latvala, entering his 16th and final year in the Senate, is the second most influential senator as chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

His remarks, which are likely to increase tensions with the House, came during the AP legislative planning session during a question-and-answer session with Florida reporters. Some questions cited last week’s revelation that a private investigator was hired to follow Latvala to a dinner at a restaurant with a female lobbyist he has described as a friend for 20 years.

Latvala did not cite anyone by name Thursday. But he made the remark at the end of a lengthy critique of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, who he accused of “a reign ... I won’t say a reign of terror, but there is not a good feeling by many, many members of the House about the control that’s exercised on them.”

Corcoran is considering entering the GOP primary for governor against Latvala and state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Latvala said Corcoran’s crusade last session against tourism and economic development programs was not about policy, but was done to attract publicity. He said House members, who he did not name, have engaged in extramarital affairs during Corcoran’s tenure but nothing was done.

Corcoran criticized the Senate for a “wall of silence” following last week‘s abrupt resignation of Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens of Atlantis.

Latvala said the fallout from the Clemens controversy underscores the need for a package of ethics reforms in the 2018 session of the Legislature, including a ban on family members of legislators lobbying the Legislature and a ban on legislators’ law partners lobbying the Legislature.

"The bottom line is, you can legislate till the cows come in, but you can‘t legislate ethics and morality in people,” Latvala told reporters.