Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham says it’s high time for Tallahassee to crack down on ethics, unveiling a series of proposals Thursday which she says will put the state’s capital city in check.
The former U.S. Rep. from North Florida held a press conference in Tallahassee Thursday to highlight a series of ethics reform measures, including a reform of how the state handles sexual harassment in government agencies.
Graham, citing a “zero tolerance” policy for sexual harassment, says she would hire an independent ombudsperson to address the issue of harassment in state government if the people of Florida elect her as governor next fall.
The ombudsperson would “serve as a resource” to identify and explain policies against sexual harassment and would also receive complaints about workplace harassment from all state employees “without retribution.”
After receiving the complaints, the ombudsperson would then have the authority to investigate and refer harassment claims to the attorney general for prosecution.
Graham’s proposal against sexual harassment comes at a pivotal moment in Florida’s political history when the issues of sexual misconduct and harassment are running rampant in Tallahassee.
Two state lawmakers -- former Sen. Jeff Clemens and current Sen. Jack Latvala -- have come under fire in recent weeks for sexual misconduct. Clemens resigned from his post in November after a POLITICO Florida report found he had engaged in an extramarital affair with Tallahassee lobbyist Devon West, while Latvala is currently being accused by six different women of making inappropriate comments and groping them.
Graham has already called for Latvala to resign from the Florida Senate, but Latvala appears to be prepared to fight to the end against the allegations, which are currently being investigated by a Special Master.
Some have accused Latvala of running a counteroffensive against one of the women, top Senate aide Rachel Perrin Rogers, in order to intimidate the others from speaking out or going public with their allegations.
“It's insulting that he hasn't [resigned] yet,” Graham said. “It's equally infuriating that he has been allowed to abuse his political power to cowardly intimidate his victims. By continuing to harass those he attacked, he is doubling down on his unethical behavior and undermining the investigation. Enough is enough.”
Sexual harassment isn’t all Graham plans to tackle if elected governor next year. She also intends to ban state lawmakers from voting on bills providing them, their families or their employers with financial gain.
Graham has also vowed to pump extra funding into the Florida Commission on Ethics to initiate independent investigations with a supermajority vote.
Another proposal floated by Graham: banning former lawmakers, statewide elected officers and agency heads from lobbying or working for a lobbying firm for eight years after leaving office, with elected officials also being prohibited from lobbying their former colleagues.
State lawmakers have previously supported imposing a six-year ban for former lawmakers’ lobbying efforts in order to close the “revolving door” in Tallahassee.
"Floridians would be disgusted to learn how chummy their elected officials are with lobbyists. The politicians in Tallahassee treat committee weeks and session like spring break," Graham said. "When I'm governor, the party is over. It's time our public servants truly serve the people and that can only happen when politicians stop serving themselves."