Tallahassee’s worst kept secret is out. Ladra had heard about an affair between senators Anitere Flores and Oscar Braynon III for more than a year, maybe two. But we didn’t care. Not then. Not really. Not so much now, either. It was only mildly interesting because of its bipartisan nature. Flores is an ultra conserative Republican in District 39 (Kendall). Braynon is a Democrat in District 35 (Miami Gardens).
Other than that, it’s a pretty garden variety soap opera. What should bother people is that someone put secret surveillance on two duly elected lawmakers for some special interest purpose. It isn’t sexual harassment, though it is being bunched into group thought with Jack Latvala‘s and Jeff Clemens‘ very real transgressions. It isn’t corruption — as in the city of Hialeah, where the former mayor’s chief of staff got his side dish a job she was wholly unqualified for (more on that later). It isn’t even non-feasance — unless there was taxpayer paid travel that was unnecessary so the lovebirds could coo far from home. But, really, who can prove “unnecessary”? You say tomato blah blah.
At the end of the day, we are talking about the actions of two consenting adults, longtime friends, on their own time in their own personal space. It is none of our business. Ladra would be far more concerned with all the people rumored to be sleeping around in local government and at the school board, where it’s allegedly led to jobs and contracts.
So why is everybody getting their panties in a bunch about this? Because of perceived partisan conflicts of interests?
Some folks say Braynon — the minority leader who sought and fundraised for Democrat candidates — tossed his little love bunny an easy peasy candidate in the 2016 election on purpose. Or did you think Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is the best the blue party can do? This is that race that trustfund baby Andrew “Richie Rich” Korge abandoned because, as he said, he was getting no Dem love. Others say the affair may be why Flores blocked those open carry bills last year that most of her colleagues supported. As if Braynon threatened to cockblock her if she didn’t block glocks at committee? Poppycock.
This is all smoke and mirrors intended to keep us away from the real story: Who paid for the secret surveillance and anonymous website and, as importantly, to what end? Is the NRA behind it? This is possible. And the ramifications are far more important than some nerdy policy pillow talk. It’s why there should be an state or FBI investigation.
Many political observers think that former Sen. Frank Artiles — who was forced to resign in shame after a racist and sexist rant with black legislators at a Tallahassee eatery — was the one behind this website as a kind of payback. The video tape that was taken via a secret camera was installed by a private investigator that has reportedly worked for one of Artiles’ well-known Tallahassee lobbyist buddies. But while Artiles certainly has the (un)ethical fortitude to do something like this, we’ve never seen him have such follow through before. He’s all bark, no bite. And how would he fund it? Artiles is mean spirited, but smear campaigns cost money. The NRA has tons of that.
Las malas lenguas told Ladra that there could be an ethics complaint coming. But that was a month ago and nothing has happened. Because there really was no ethics violation. If anything, the relationship proves that Republicans and Democrats can work together if they take their clothes off. I suggest they add a Nude Days to the themed schedule at the capitol, like Lobby Days, Dade Days, Children’s Days and Dentists Day.
No, Ladra thinks maybe the front page story in the Miami Herald was the end game. Maybe that was really the intent of the smear job anonymous website that outed the affair days before session began, with video tape and photographs to go with the allegations but no specific accusations as to just how those affections allegedly affected Florida voters and residents (hint: it didn’t). Ladra suspects there will be no ethics charge coming. In fact, there’s been very little fallout so far, which no doubt was the intention of the lawmakers strange, joint mea culpa “forgive us” announcement as the session began.
“As this 2018 session of the Florida Legislature gets underway, we do not want gossip and rumors to distract from the important business of the people, That’s why we are issuing this brief statement to acknowledge that our longtime friendship evolved to a level that we deeply regret. We have sought the forgiveness of our families, and also seek the forgiveness of our constituents and God. We ask everyone else to respect and provide our families the privacy that they deserve as we move past this to focus on the important work ahead.”
Since then? Nada. Silencio. People have, indeed, given them their privacy.
But (sorry, Anitere) we will hear of this again — in political mailers and TV ads. Not by the Dems. They don’t attack each other with the same relish the Republicans have for one another. And hasn’t Anitere borne the brunt of the slutshaming in this case, although both she and Braynon are married? How sexist is that? Anyway, even though Flores is termed out this year, everyone knows she has (had?) other political ambitions right here at home (otherwise she’d have to get a real job). Some think county commissioner. Others believe Miami-Dade mayor is more her size. She could also be headed up, into Congress or U.S. Senate. Why not? Either way, Flores was unlikely to fade into the footnotes — until now. A young mother of two, this can’t be easy on her personally. And if she runs, especially for anything so fiercely competitive and dirty as county mayor, she will have to face a wildly ugly negative and selatious smear campaign. She may choose not to.
Which may have been the idea. And that is why this needs to be investigated. Because the whole thing could have been set up by political operatives pre-empting Flores’ future electability. Think about it. She would be a formidable fundraiser and supremely viable 2020 candidate for mayor. And you know there is a long list of people already eyeing that job for themselves. County commissioners Esteban Bovo and Xavier Suarez are just the most obvious.
So then wouldn’t this be political extortion? It is not sexual harassment but it is, at the very least, political harassment, which is just as bad if not worse. If the intention here is to run someone out of office, in other words silence Braynon or Flores or, worse, coerce them to vote a particular way — or to push a particular bill through committee — then this entire smear campaign should be investigated as a crime. Even if it was Artiles behind it, the voters in Senate District 40 — where he intends to challenge Sen. Annette Taddeo (never thought I’d be typing those words) this year, believe it or not — deserve to know the lengths to which Magilla Gorilla will go to avenge his detractors.
Who paid that investigator for the video and whoever built the website? Was it Artiles? Was it the NRA? Was it someone else? Shouldn’t we find out?
Ladra calls on the FLDE and Attorney General Pam Bondi to investigate the creation of the website and the video tape that implicated the two legislators. After all, today it’s Flores and Branyon, but tomorrow it could be another senator, a state rep or your friendly, local city council member being strongarmed by the NRA or some solid waste company or gaming giant. Ladra sees a whole cottage industry exploding if there are no consequences.
Not for Flores and Braynon. But for whoever could be extorting them.