Tampa Bay Times

Top Democrat in Senate quits as affair revealed

- BY MARY ELLEN KLAS Times/Herald Tallahasse­e Bureau Contact Mary Ellen Klas at meklas@ miamiheral­d.com. Follow @ MaryEllenK­las.

TALLAHASSE­E — The Florida Senate’s top Democratic leader, Jeff Clemens, resigned Friday after admitting to having an affair with a lobbyist during the last legislativ­e session, saying that repairing his personal life was impossible while serving in the highprofil­e role.

“Effective today, I am resigning from the

Florida Senate,” Clemens said in a statement Friday.

“I have made mistakes I

(am) ashamed of, and for the past six months I have been focused on becoming a better person. But it is clear to me that task is impossible to finish while in elected office. The process won’t allow it, and the people of Florida deserve better. All women deserve respect, and by my actions, I feel I have failed that standard. I have to do better.”

Clemens, a Lake Worth political consultant, acknowledg­ed an affair with former Martin County lobbyist Devon West in statement first reported by Politico Florida.

Clemens, who is 47 and married, told friends he had discussed the matter with his wife and the couple had entered counseling.

As incoming minority leader, Clemens was charged with leading the election efforts of Senate Democrats in 2018. He won a significan­t victory in September, when Annette Taddeo defeated Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in the Miami district formerly held by Republican Frank Artiles.

Artiles resigned in late April after a racially tinged tirade against two black legislator­s in a Tallahasse­e bar. Artiles was forced to apologize on the Senate floor but resigned when the Times/Herald reported that he used his political committee to hire as “consultant­s” a former Hooters “calendar girl” and a Playboy model with no political experience.

In an effort to retrieve a personal laptop that had been taken by West, Clemens reached out to Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican and friend of Clemens. According to Politico, West left the laptop at the concierge desk at the Tennyson condominiu­m, where she lives.

Latvala said that as one of the Senate’s longest-serving members he is often sought out by his colleagues for advice in sticky situations. He said Friday he wouldn’t report on what he told Clemens or West.

“If the story is accurate, telling somebody they need to follow the law and return property is being a good citizen,” he said.

Latvala said he is confident the unnamed sources Politico relied on emerged in retaliatio­n for Artiles’ forced resignatio­n.

“I think it’s related to that special election,” Latvala said. “There’s been rumors since all this went down on Artiles and, as long as you’ve got smut-mongers who take things not for attributio­n to sell subscripti­ons, you’re going to have stuff like this.”

Efforts to reach West were unsuccessf­ul. She left work for Martin County after the legislativ­e session and is now employed by Broward County in their public affairs office, working on their lobbying team.

 ??  ?? State Sen. Jeff Clemens was incoming minority leader.
State Sen. Jeff Clemens was incoming minority leader.

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