Miami GOP senator loses chairmanship, apologizes for using racial slur


Amid calls for his resignation, Florida Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, apologized Wednesday on the Senate floor for a tirade at a club that included making derogatory comments about a fellow senator and using a racial slur.

He specifically apologized to Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart.

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“I stand up before all of you, every one of you, and with great humility, I ask for your forgiveness,” Artiles said.

Shortly before the floor session, Negron stripped Artiles of his chairmanship of the Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee. Negron appointed Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, to lead the committee. The News Service will have a full story later Wednesday.

The apology and stripping of his chairmanship came after news reports Artiles had berated Gibson on Monday night at the Governors Club near the Capitol. The Miami Herald reported that Artiles also used the word “niggers” — though he later said he had used the word “niggas” and suggested that he didn’t think the slang term was insulting.

Negron issued a statement late Tuesday saying that he was told about the incident by Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens. Negron said he was “appalled to hear that one senator would speak to another in such an offensive and reprehensible manner.”

“Racial slurs and profane, sexist insults have no place in conversation between senators and will not be tolerated while I am serving as Senate president,” Negron said in the statement. “Senator Artiles has requested a point of personal privilege at the beginning of tomorrow’s sitting, during which he intends to formally apologize to Senator Gibson on the Senate floor.”

Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who is expected to become Senate president after the 2018 elections, said Gibson “under no circumstances should ever have been spoken to in such a reprehensible manner.”

“I understand that President Negron is allowing Senator Artiles to formally apologize on the Senate floor tomorrow,” Galvano said. “Such comments cannot be repaired by a formal apology, but I trust that it is an appropriate step to be taken by the president and the Florida Senate to handle this matter, and to ensure that this behavior is not tolerated and does not happen again.”

The Florida Times-Union reported that Artiles’ tirade apparently stemmed from being upset that Gibson had voted against bills he sponsored and had asked critical questions about the measures.

The Herald reported that Artiles made derogatory comments, including referring to Gibson as “this bitch” and “girl.” According to the formal letter of complaint filed by Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, Artiles also called Gibson and Negron other profane names.

Artiles, who was elected to the Senate in November after serving in the House, also told Gibson and Thurston that Negron had become Senate president because of getting votes from “six niggers” in the Republican caucus, the Herald reported. Artiles later told Gibson and Thurston — both of whom are black — that he had used the word “niggas.”

The Herald reported that it was unclear who Artiles was talking about. Negron won a hard-fought race to become Senate president, but he did not have support from any black senators.

Both newspapers said Artiles issued a statement Tuesday apologizing.

“In an exchange with a colleague of mine in the Senate, I unfortunately let my temper get the best of me,” he reportedly said in the statement. “There is no excuse for the exchange that occurred and I have apologized to my Senate colleagues and regret the incident profusely.”

The Florida Democratic Party, however, called on Artiles to resign because of the incident.

“Frank Artiles must resign now,” Democratic Party spokeswoman Johanna Cervone said. “His use of horrific racist and sexist slurs towards his colleagues is disgusting, unacceptable and has no place in our democracy or our society.”

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