Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, has issued a formal apology for racist and sexist comments made in the presence of two black lawmakers. He has also been stripped of his Senate committee chairmanship, but says he's not stepping down.
Sen. Kelli Stargel will replace Artiles as chair of the chamber's communications and utilities committee. Senate President Joe Negron issued the directive Wednesday. Artiles called fellow Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, a "bitch" and a "girl" and referred to six of his fellow Republicans as the N—word during a conversation Monday night with Gibson and Sen. Perry Thurston, both black. He also lobbed insults at Senate President Joe Negron, calling him a "pussy". The conversation was overheard by several people at the exclusive, members-only Governors Club in Tallahassee.
Wednesday Artiles apologized before the Senate and spoke directly to Gibson and Thurston.
“There is no excuse, nor will I offer one. My comments to you were the most regretful of all because they injured you personally," he said to Gibson. "No one deserves to be spoken to that way, much less a person of your stature, dignity and integrity. I humbly ask you to accept my heartfelt apology.”
Artiles says his words were "crass and juvenile", and attempted to explain his use of the N—word.
"I grew up in a diverse community. We share each others customs, culture and vernacular. I realize my position does not allow me, for the looseness of words or slang, regardless of how benign my intentions were.”
Following his remarks on the chamber floor, Artiles told reporters, “I wasn’t targeting anyone with the word, it was a generality. And both of the Senators who happen to be African-American, it said in the paper they know they weren’t being targeted with the word. I apologized, it was in the heat of the moment between Senator Gibson and I, it was a private conversation and it ended up being in the press.”
Gibson sat stone-faced, and facing forward throughout Artiles' remarks. Ahead of the apology she said, "I'm going to continue to be the person I am, to represent the people I serve, and really, I told one of my reporters from home last night, I'm ready to move past it so we can do the work of the people of Florida. That's why we're here."
Thurston says the apology isn't good enough.
"His racist rant is deeply offensive to people of color, and his arrogant disdain for the leadership of this body, of the Senate, his actions demand no less than his removal," Thurston told the legislative black caucus.
Negron, also a target of Artiles, notes the Miami Republican did not apologize to him directly, but called Artiles' Senate floor apology and the loss of his chairmanship, appropriate.
"My responsibility is to the Senate and to protect the workplace that is the Florida Senate. And I believe from the moment we received knowledge of this at 3:30 p.m. yesterday (Tuesday), we've taken every appropriate step."
Artiles says his comments were fueled by his frustration with getting his measures through the chamber and the perception that the House has the upper hand in negotiations.
The legislative black caucus has filed a formal complaint against Artiles' and is now calling for his expulsion from the chamber.
"There is a decision to be made here by Senate leadership. Are words of contrition sufficient to erase the damage has caused? Or do they finally insist he bear the consequences?" Thurston said.
Numerous people overheard Artiles' words to Thurston and Gibson. The complaint will now be investigated by the chamber's general counsel. Dawn Roberts will issue a formal recommendation by next Tuesday.
Several groups have called for Artiles to step down. It’s not the first time the Miami Republican has come under fire. In 2015 he was accused of punching a 21-year-old college student outside a Tallahassee bar, and he was caught on tape in 2014 referring to Muslims in a derogatory manner.