Seizing on the sexual harassment scandal roiling Tallahassee's halls of power, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham on Thursday proposed a package of ethics reforms aimed at protecting accusers and reducing the influence of lobbyists.

  • Plan includes creation of point of contact within governor's office
  • Proposals designed to tap into public frustration
  • Proposal come amid investigation into Sen. Jack Latvala

Graham's four-point plan includes the creation of a sexual harassment ombudsman within the governor's office. Such a post, she said, would allow state workers to come forward with claims without fear of retribution by their superiors.

Claims worthy of prosecution would be handed over to the attorney general.

"There is a sexual harassment epidemic across state government, and to restore public confidence we need a statewide effort spearheaded from the very top," Graham told reporters.

The proposals come amid an internal Senate investigation into allegations that Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) sexually harassed six women involved in the legislative process. One of his accusers has gone public; the others have made their claims anonymously.

Latvala denies the allegations, predicting the investigation will clear his name of any wrongdoing.

Enhanced public scrutiny of the after-hours activities of state legislators began in October, when Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) resigned over an extramarital affair with a lobbyist. Legislator-lobbyist relationships have generally intensified in recent years as term limits have forced veteran lawmakers from power, only to be replaced by inexperienced newcomers who often lean heavily on lobbyists to help guide them through the intricacies of the legislative process.

Pointing to the growing sway of the lobby corps, Graham's ethics reform package would also implement an eight-year ban on recently departed lawmakers lobbying the legislature. Lawmakers-turned-lobbyists would under no circumstances be allowed to lobby their former colleagues, and the Florida Ethics Commission would be given more power to initiate investigations.

Graham's proposals are clearly designed to tap into the public's growing frustration with the dalliances of powerful figures. As Florida's 2018 campaign heats up, Democrats appear particularly well poised to take advantage of the environment.

"This is a watershed moment in our history, and it is time to act on what has clearly become an epidemic in state government here in Tallahassee," Graham said. "And the Republicans, for the last twenty years, they own this, because they've been in total control."