After offensive comment, Miami state senator fends off calls for resignation, condemnation

Redacción Agencias | 4/20/2017, 7:25 a.m.
After offensive comment, Miami state senator fends off calls for resignation, condemnation
Frank Artiles | Foto Cortesía

A Miami state senator is fending off calls for his resignation, a possible Florida Senate complaint and the condemnation of fellow Republicans after he oddly referred to six white colleagues as the N-word during a heated discussion with a black lawmaker, one of whom who he called a “bitch.”

As pressure mounts, state Sen. Frank Artiles plans to formally apologize to the entire Florida Senate on Wednesday and ask for forgiveness. He apologized Tuesday evening — after his alcohol-fueled racist language the night before was reported to Republican leadership, and the Miami Herald and Florida Times-Union began asking questions.

Artiles insists he is not a bigot and noted that he used the phrase to refer to white GOP senators, not blacks.

“It was a slang term, and I am not a racist,” Artiles, who is Cuban-American, told POLITICO Florida via text message. “I am not a racist.”

Republican leaders — sensitive to charges of racism after last year’s brutal presidential race — were privately horrified with Artiles’ comments but initially held their tongues until he came to realize he needed to do more to make amends.

Artiles let the pejoratives fly during a private conversation Monday in the members-only Governors Club, where he was complaining about what he sees as the failed leadership of Senate President Joe Negron, who was not moving enough Republican legislation event though Republicans outnumber Democrats 25-15 in the chamber.

“Joe Negron is a pussy,” Artiles told Democratic senators Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville and Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale. “Things are running the way they are because of the six [N-word} who put him there.”

Thurston and Gibson are black. Gibson was stunned silent at first. And Thurston, who leads the legislative black caucus, told POLITICO Florida that he couldn’t believe what he heard.

“Excuse me?” Thurston said he responded to Artiles at the time. “Did you just say ‘niggers?’ Am I hearing that right?”

“No,” Artiles replied. “I said ‘niggas.’”

Artiles then explained it was OK because, though he now represents the Kendall area, he’s originally from Hialeah, the large Hispanic-heavy working class city in Miami-Dade County. At one point, he told her she should stop acting like a “bitch.”

“OK, Perry, I’m done,’” Gibson told Thurston, according to the Miami Herald. She soon stormed out.

Thurston told Artiles he should apologize and arranged a meeting the following morning, Tuesday. But Artiles didn’t show. He said he had bills to present. He later acknowledged it was a mistake to miss out on the meeting.

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

Thurston said the black caucus will decide on Wednesday whether to call for his resignation or file a complaint with the Rules Committee accusing him of unbecoming conduct. The Democratic caucus — led by Miami Gardens state Sen. Oscar Braynon, who is also African-American — will make a similar choice.