Protesters gather outside of Florida state senator Frank Artiles asking for his resignation after reports came out that he used a racial slur against fellow legislators. José A. Iglesias Miami Herald
Protesters gather outside of Florida state senator Frank Artiles asking for his resignation after reports came out that he used a racial slur against fellow legislators. José A. Iglesias Miami Herald

Politics

Miami lawmaker resigns over racial slur scandal

By Patricia Mazzei and Mary Ellen Klas

pmazzei@miamiherald.com

April 21, 2017 10:42 AM

UPDATED April 21, 2017 07:12 PM

TALLAHASSEE

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 immediately for the sake of his family and the institution of the Senate, whose work ground to a near halt this week as Republican leaders grappled with Artiles’ political future.

Read Artiles’ resignation letter here

“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 in a letter hand-delivered by his staff. “I am responsible and I am accountable and effective immediately, I am resigning from the Florida State Senate.

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“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 Wednesday on the Senate floor for his alcohol-fueled tirade against Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville in which he called her a “bitch” and a “girl” and referred to some Republicans as “niggas.” But outraged black lawmakers said his apology was not enough: They formally sought his expulsion from the Senate.

Black lawmakers call for Frank Artiles' expulsion

Calling Sen. Frank Artiles a "bully," members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus are seeking the expulsion of the Miami Republican from the Florida Senate after he insulted a black female senator using curse words and a racial slur.

Kristen Clark Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau kclark@miamiherald.com

Negron, R-Stuart, whom Artiles had derided in his rant as a “pussy,” ordered an investigation. On Friday, he commended Artiles for putting an end to the controversy.

“He made the right decision,” Negron said in a last-minute Friday afternoon press conference outside the Senate. “All of us are accountable for our actions and comments.”

“Despite the events of the last week, Senator Artiles has a long and proud record of public service,” Negron had said earlier in a statement. “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’s office did not know the whereabouts of Artiles, a married father of two who turns 44 on Saturday.

READ MORE: Hooters ‘calendar girl’ and Playboy ‘Miss Social’ were Artiles’ paid consultants

As a result of the resignation, Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, who filed the complaint accusing Artiles of violating Senate conduct rules, withdrew his charges.

“We regret that this action was necessary, but we believe it was the right action to take,” Thurston said in a statement. “The actions of this Senate, and those of the multitude of Floridians who stood up in objection to the events of this week are to be lauded. They underscored the critical lesson that words can be painful, they can be hurtful, and they can have consequences.”

“This has been an ordeal that no one should have to endure,” Gibson said in a statement that didn't even mention Artiles by name.

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

In a letter Thursday 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 Artiles would call to answer questions under oath.

READ MORE: Replacing Artiles: Who’s in and who’s out (so far)

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.

Pressure mounted for Artiles to resign as the state’s two top Republicans suggested he should step down. Speaking to reporters Thursday, Scott said if he had an employee “who said what he said, I would fire him.” Attorney General Pam Bondi also urged Artiles to quit.

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

By Friday, fellow Miami Republican lawmakers were openly relieved about Artiles’ decision, and uniformly praised him for making it.

“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.

In his letter of resignation 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.”

Sen. Frank Artiles apologizes for using racial slurs

Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles formally apologized on the Florida Senate floor on Wednesday, April 19, 2017, for insulting and using racial slurs against two black lawmakers two days prior.

Kristen Clark Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau kclark@miamiherald.com

A Miami-Dade County police officer, Orlando Fleites, parked across the street from Artiles’ West Kendall home Friday and told a reporter who went to knock on his door that the former senator was not giving any interviews. Two trucks were parked outside the house, including one sporting a state legislator tag.

Friends of Artiles, who said he 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 the standards they held him to. In the end, the friends persuaded him that he would not weather the storm of public opinion and, even if he overcame the expulsion threat, his return to the Senate would become a drag on an already-divided GOP caucus.

Weighing on Artiles were past incidents of using crude language and demonstrating aggressive behavior, including when a college student accused him of punching him in the face two years ago. An earlier fracas with another lawmaker’s legislative aide drew laughs when outgoing Rep. Doug Holder teased Artiles about it on the House floor in 2014.

But the more collegial Senate operates differently, and Artiles had not made the same loyal friendships in the more deliberative chamber.

Last month, Artiles was feted at the Daytona 500 where he sported a brown jacket emblazoned with “NextEra,” the parent company of Florida Power & Light, and started the annual truck race. As one of his first acts as chair of the Senate committee overseeing public utilities, Artiles then boosted a pair of bills sought by FPL.

“I take no pleasure in these unfortunate events,” Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens said in a statement. “But I urge that we learn from them. In our communities, our state, and our country, there should be a message of hope, of tolerance, of unity. We cannot afford the high cost words of divisiveness and cruelty leave in their wake.”

Artiles insisted after his public apology Wednesday that he had no intention of leaving the seat.

“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 told reporters.

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.”

Artiles’ resignation completes a stunningly swift fall from grace. After six years in the state House in his first year he was forced to admit he didn’t live in his district — Artiles ran for the Senate last year and was considered an underdog in a Southwest Miami-Dade district that strongly supported President Barack Obama in 2012.

But the district, which includes Kendall, South Miami and Westchester, also is 67 percent Hispanic. That favored Artiles, a Cuban-American, against Sen. Dwight Bullard, an African-American, who struggled to compete with the Republicans’ vaunted fundraising apparatus.

Backed by the Republican Party and by political committees controlled by key GOP senators, Artiles overwhelmed Bullard in fundraising. He raised $850,000 compared to Bullard’s $199,000 and won easily, with 51 percent of the vote. Bullard had 41 percent, and an independent candidate got the rest. Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump in the district by 57-40 percent.

Artiles’ campaign had a “military feel,” Negron said in admiration after Election Day. “He won us over by earning it on the ground.”

Partly at the direction of future Senate President Bill Galvano of Bradenton, the Florida Republican Senate Campaign Committee spent $1.9 million to help Artiles’ campaign. And Galvano used a political committee he manages called Innovate Florida to invest another $275,000 directly into Artiles’ campaign.

“I regret this situation but I don’t regret the decision to engage in that race,” Galvano said Friday. “We picked up a seat. I found Frank to be the best organized candidate we had in the election cycle and as a member of the Republican Caucus, I felt like we did the right thing in supporting him and getting him elected.”

With Artiles’ resignation, his constituents will have no Senate representation for the last two critical weeks of the annual lawmaking session, though his staff will keep providing constituent services until a new senator is elected. What happens to his legislation will depend on each bill’s co-sponsor. Senate Republicans will now be down two votes; Sen. Dorothy Hukill of Port Orange has been out all session recovering from cancer.

Artiles’ demise recalls another case in which a Miami-Dade lawmaker was forced from office for racist language involving alcohol. Former Rep. Ralph Arza, a Hialeah Republican, resigned in 2006 after he left crude, threatening and racially charged messages on a colleague’s cell phone. Arza pleaded guilty in 2007 to two misdemeanor counts of tampering with a witness and received 18 months probation.

Gov. Scott will call a special election to replace Artiles. Potential candidates are already lining up.

On the Republican side, the likely list so far includes state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz; former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla; former congressional candidate and early Donald Trump supporter Lorenzo Palomares-Starbuck; former U.S. Rep. David Rivera, who was spotted in Tallahassee on Thursday, and former County Commissioner Juan C. Zapata. State Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, who doesn’t live in the district, said “there will be plenty of time” after session ends to make decisions “on political scenarios that may pan out.”

As for Democrats, Bullard said he may try for a comeback. Bullard’s friend Annette Taddeo, who also lives in the district, said she would consult with Bullard and other black lawmakers before deciding on a run. Freshman state Rep. Robert Asencio said he might also be interested. Former state Rep. Ana Rivas Logan said her interest depends on when the special election takes place. Another possible contender: Marisel Losa, who heads the Health Council of South Florida.

The Florida and Miami-Dade Democratic parties used Artiles’ resignation to ask supporters for money via email Friday.

“GONE,” the state party’s fundraising pitch read.

Herald/Times reporters Michael Auslen, Steve Bousquet, Kristen M. Clark and Jeremy Wallace contributed to this report. Herald staff writer Lance Dixon contributed from Miami.

Read Artiles’ resignation letter

April 21, 2017

Dear President Negron,

Seven years ago, I began my public service with one goal in mind, and that was to serve a cause greater than my own.

Serving my constituents and improving their lives is why I serve. On many important issues, caring for the elderly, education and job creation, I have made it my personal mission to put others first. It’s the way I was raised, and the way I still choose to live my life today.

As a Marine, this attitude was embodied in our motto: Semper Fidelis, or “Always Faithful.” Be faithful to God, to country and to our fellow soldiers.

As a father and husband, despite the daily demands of elected office, I always keep the promises that I make to my two beautiful daughters, Bella and Giavanna, and my loving wife Aimee. I’m a fulfilled man, because of their unconditional love and support.

It is clear to me my recent actions and words that I spoke fell far short of what I expect for myself, and for this I am very sorry. I apologize to my family and friends and I apologize to all of my fellow Senators and lawmakers. To the people of my district and all of Miami-Dade, I am sorry I have let you down and ask for your forgiveness.

My actions and my presence in government is now a distraction to my colleagues, the legislative process, and the citizens of our great State.

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.

I leave this office knowing that despite my shortcomings, I have fought hard to change the status quo while remaining true to myself. I’m grateful for those that have stood by my side, including my family, friends, and supporters.

Serving my community in the Florida Legislature has been the honor of a lifetime and I do not leave this process lightly. I will discover ways to continue to serve my community in the future.

God bless the great state of Florida and our great country.

Sincerely,

Senator Frank Artiles