TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Democratic Party chairman resigned Friday in shame. A Republican state senator faces possible expulsion for sexual harassment. The state Senate’s top Democratic leader abruptly stepped down after admitting an extramarital affair with a lobbyist.
Even amid the flood of sexual misconduct revelations that have rocked state capitals across the country, the nation’s biggest swing state has lived up to its reputation for political drama and excess over the past month, with major implications for next year’s contested U.S. Senate and gubernatorial elections — and the next presidential race.
“Florida is on fire. And it’s not a controlled burn,” said John Morgan, a major Democratic donor, godfather to the state’s medical-marijuana initiative and wildcard possible candidate for governor.
“It was already insane here,” Morgan said. “It’s like Florida just can’t get out of its own way.”
The biggest shock to the system unfolded Friday when the state’s Democratic Party chair, Stephen Bittel, quit after POLITICO Florida reported numerous women and men complained he created an uncomfortable work environment for young women, from leering at them and trying to persuade them to fly on his private plane to using a stress-relieving squeeze-ball shaped like a naked breast.
Bittel’s resignation was a major blow to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson — Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat – who spent political capital on his friend and longtime donor to become chair of the state party in a bitterly contested race this year. Also backing Bittel was U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The former national party chair had made Bittel a top party financier, having hosted President Obama and Vice President Biden at his home in the past.