While all too commonplace this South Florida cross-party spin on the tired story line lends a new wrinkle to the sheets.
As the Florida Legislature is ramping up its newest session there is a distinctive pall of scandal floating over all chambers in Tallahassee. As broadening sexual aggressions have shaken Hollywood, spreading to D.C., the politicians in Florida have been behaving as if they are jealous everyone else is getting the attention. The newest sex scandal seems a lurch at getting the lurid focus back onto the Florida panhandle.
The State Capital has long been regarded as a hive of lasciviousness, but even by those lowered bedpost standards the months following the Harvey Weinstein revelations seem a desperate attempt to bring the focus back down south, as the state legislature has resembled a frat house on Spring Break at a Hedonism resort.
Sen Democrat leader Jeff Clemens resigned when he was discovered having an affair with a lobbyist. Soon after GOP Senator Jack Latvala was accused of his own lobbyist trysts, and harassing female workers. Things got so blatant the legislature undertook the cause of including sexual favors on the list of illegal political “gifts” lawmakers would be banned from receiving.
On Tuesday Governor Rick Scott gave his State of the State address, and in it mentioned new laws passed last year to protect state employee sexual assault victims. (This was not enough though, as in December he was also compelled to pass an executive order to increase reporting, investigating, and training to help protect state workers.) Earlier that day Senate President Joe Negron gave an opening speech on the Senate floor, saying “Let me be clear: The Florida Senate has zero tolerance for sexual harassment or misconduct of any time against any employee or visitor.”
And of course, in typical Florida political fashion, all that political condemnation was preceded by the released announcement of another sex scandal.
The day began with an official statement from Sen. Oscar Braynon (Miami Gardens) and Sen. Anitere Flores (Southwest Miami-Dade) that they were confessing to sexual indiscretions. Rather than dalliances with lobbyists though they were in a long-term affair together. More unique: Braynon is a Democrat, while Flores is a GOP Senator. And, not content with that novel approach to party unity, they take it to another level of weirdness — the Senators’ apology arrives via a joint statement!
“We do not want gossip and rumors to distract from the important business of the people,” said the two bipartisan-curious politicians, while admitting to gossip-fueling behavior. Too late. Wishing to quell rumors is quaint, considering these two being physically involved had been long suspected in “open-secret” fashion in Tallahassee. So blatant was their affair their joint-confession came about when a website (addressed with their names) went live displaying video of their practical cohabitation. Not only did they both stay at The Tennyson, a popular condo in Tallahassee near the Capitol, their apartments were directly across the hall from each other.
The website (since taken down) displayed video shot from a hidden camera that it declared to be showing on numerous consecutive days when the Senators frequented the other’s dwelling. “Flores also appeared to have a key to Braynon’s unit, and was able to unlock and secure his unit,” claimed the text when the site was active. While the affair was itself consensual what remains to be seen as scandalous are numerous extenuating circumstances.
For one is the issue of state-sponsored trips the two had taken simultaneously — if not together — which could lead to an ethics investigation. Another issue is the possibility of two Senate leaders compromising themselves politically. Braynon is the State’s Senate Democrat leader, and Flores is the president pro tempore, as well as the head of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.
There are some who are questioning whether this affair may have influenced things in the 2016 election. Braynon was essentially tasked with finding a Democrat challenger to oppose Anitere Flores. The selection of politically inexperienced Debbie Mucarsel-Powell looks all the more curious especially, as the sensuous Senators say in their joint statement, they have been “longtime friends”. It seems reasonable to question if Braynon had other priorities in mind.
It is not too hard to imagine that party fidelity may not have been the highest priority for the betrothed Senator.