Florida Senator Resigns Over Racist, Sexist Insults

by | April 21, 2017

By Patricia Mazzei and Mary Ellen Klas

Florida state Sen. Frank Artiles resigned from the Florida Legislature on Friday, consumed by a scandal that erupted three days earlier over a diatribe of insults the Miami Republican unleashed against two lawmakers at a Tallahassee bar.

In a letter to Senate President Joe Negron, Artiles said he was stepping down for the sake of his family and of the institution of the Senate, whose work ground to a near halt this week as Republican leaders grappled with Artiles' political future.

"My actions and my presence in government is now a distraction to my colleagues, the legislative process, and the citizens of our great State," Artiles wrote. "I am responsible and I am accountable and effective immediately, I am resigning from the Florida State Senate.

"It's clear there are consequences to every action, and in this area, I will need time for personal reflection and growth."

Negron forced Artiles to apologize on the Senate floor Wednesday for his alcohol-fueled racist and sexist Monday night tirade against Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville. But black lawmakers outraged at Artiles for calling Gibson a "bitch" and a "girl" _ and for referring to some Republicans as "niggas" _ said saying sorry was not enough: They formally sought his expulsion from the Senate.

Negron, R-Stuart, whom Artiles had derided in his rant as a "pussy," ordered an investigation. On Friday, he commended Artiles, saying "he made the right decision."

"As Senator Artiles has noted, he holds himself responsible and accountable for his actions and comments," Negron said in a statement.

"Despite the events of the last week, Senator Artiles has a long and proud record of public service. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for serving our country in the United State Marine Corps, where he fought for our freedom in the Global War on Terror. Additionally, his years of service in the Florida House and Senate demonstrate a commitment to helping others that will not end with his departure from the Senate. My Senate colleagues and I wish Senator Artiles and his family well."

Negron noted that as a result of the resignation, Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, who filed the complaint accusing Artiles of violating the rules of Senate conduct, had withdrawn his charges.

"Accordingly, I have directed the Special Master to close her investigation," Negron wrote. "No further action by the Senate will be taken in regard to this matter."

Artiles, an ex-Marine known for his combative style, hired a sharp-elbowed Tallahassee lawyer and vowed to fight. He chose as his lawyer, Steven R. Andrews, one of the most feared lawyers in Tallahassee for his reputation as an opposition researcher and his ability to use public records to fight political battles has extracted settlements from those he has sued, including Gov. Rick Scott.

In a Thursday letter to Negron, Andrews asked that an independent prosecutor with no association with the Senate be named to conduct the investigation. Then, in what appeared to be an overt threat, he twisted the knife, naming the senators whom Artiles would call to answer questions under oath.

But the Senate process does not allow for Artiles to question lawmakers, and Negron simply overlooked the letter, ordering Senate General Counsel Dawn Roberts to continue her investigation as planned.

By Thursday afternoon, even Artiles' friends in the state Capitol, convinced he couldn't possibly redeem himself, had begun to say privately that Artiles had to go. The most evident sign of his looming exit: Political hounds started chatting about his competitive southern Miami-Dade seat soon becoming open.

In a statement Friday, Artiles was more contrite than he sounded when he addressed the full chamber.

"This experience has allowed me to see that for too many years I have sacrificed what I hold most dear in my life, my wife and my two young daughters," he said. "While I take full responsibility for using language that was vulgar and inappropriate, my family has fallen victim to a political process that can distort the truth for the sole purpose of political gain."

Friends of Artiles, who spent the last few days outside of the Capitol seeking their counsel, said he had been angry and indignant at what he saw as a double standard: colleagues whose own behavior in his mind has not risen to their standards.

"Frank has acted honorably in his decision, and my prayers are with him as he moves on from this process," future House Speaker Jose Oliva of Miami Lakes, a longtime Artiles friend, said Friday morning.

Artiles, a former state representative, was elected in November to District 40 in Southwest Miami-Dade County. With his resignation, his constituents will have no Senate representation for the last two critical weeks of the annual lawmaking session.

Gov. Scott would have to call a special election to replace Artiles, probably within the next 60 days. Candidates are already lining up.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday after he apologized, Artiles said then that he had no intention of resigning.

"If every time a senator made a mistake or someone made a mistake that they were going to resign, we'd have half the Senate gone for whatever reason," he said.

Asked a second time, Artiles dug in his heels: "Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, I'm not only (not) going to resign, but I'm also going to file for 2018 and win my election."

(c)2017 Miami Herald