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Frank Artiles dropped as Senate committee chair

As the sordid story of Sen. Frank Artiles’ Monday night rant, replete with racist and sexist phrases, continues to develop, Florida Senate President Joe Negron issued a punitive action Wednesday morning.

Negron removed Artiles from his chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities.

Kelli Stargel will replace Artiles.

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Negron took his time on Tuesday formulating a statement, releasing something after 9:30 p.m.

“(Senate Minority Leader Oscar) Braynon reported this incident to me earlier today, and I was appalled to hear that one Senator would speak to another in such an offensive and reprehensible manner. My first priority was to ensure that this matter was promptly addressed between the two Senators involved, which occurred this evening. 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. 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.”

Artiles, of course, did apologize to Gibson and others on Wednesday, as Negron indicated.

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Artiles extended a “heartfelt apology” to the body, signaling out Gibson.

“There’s no excuse, nor will I offer one … no one deserves to be spoken to that way, much less a person of your stature, dignity, and integrity.”

To Sen. Thurston, Artiles lauded his “friendship” as a “man of principle.”

And Sen. Negron got an apology also, for Artiles’ “crass and juvenile comments.”

“With regard to the word which I used to no one in particular,” Artiles noted that he grew up in a “diverse community” with what apparently was a robust “vernacular.”

No opportunity was immediately ceded for Gibson, Thurston, or Negron to respond to those comments, as the Senate moved immediately into the consideration of bills.

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Negron’s response was measured, given that he himself was a reported target of Artiles’ vitriol.

The Miami Herald reported Artiles’ assertion that Negron “had been risen to his powerful GOP leadership role because ‘six niggers’ in the Republican caucus had elected him.”

Pressure is coming, especially from Democrats, for Artiles to resign.

Thus far, the GOP appears willing to weather the storm.

Daniel Sohn announces Agriculture Commissioner bid

A South Florida Democrat has announced he plans to run for Agriculture Commissioner in 2018.

Daniel Sohn announced Wednesday he was throwing his hat in the race to replaced Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in two years. In a 2 minute and 30 second video announcing his intentions, Sohn he plans to meet with Floridians, business and environmental groups about how to improve the state.

“Now there is no harm in recognizing that the success of Florida’s economy lies within the agricultural industry, for after all it is Florida’s economic engine,” he said in the video. “But Florida deserves a leader that can continue focusing on the needs of our industries, while beginning to do what Florida should have already been doing best — taking care of our people.”

Sohn is expected to kick-off a statewide tour at the Democratic Veterans Caucus of Palm Beach County meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Guatemalan Mayan Center in Lake Worth. He’s expected to attend the Broward Democratic Progressive Caucus meeting in Plantation on Thursday, before attending the South West Florida Clean Water Festival in Fort Myers Beach on Sunday.

This won’t be the first time Sohn has sought public office. While he initially expressed interest in running for Dania Beach City Commission in 2016, records show he failed to qualify for the spot on the ballot. Instead he ran for the Palm Beach Soil & Water Conservation board, losing that election to Matthew Bymaster.

According to the campaign’s Facebook page, Sohn current serves as the district aide to Palm Beach County Soil & Water Conservation District Supervisor Pat Edmonson. Edmonson, according to a news release Wednesday, is coordinating his campaign.

Sohn will be the second Democrat to jump into the race to replace Putnam, who can’t run again because of term limits. State records show Michael Damian Christine filed to run for the seat on April 11.

Republicans Denise Grimsley and Paul Paulson have already to file to run for the seat, and Matt Caldwell is widely expected to file to run later this summer.

 

How ‘F-bomb’ Frank Artiles shamed the Florida Senate

When looking for evidence of racism, sexism, and vulgarity, you don’t have to look farther than Tallahassee.

Consider the example of Sen. Frank Artiles, who plumbed the depths of all three in an unhinged string of expletives directed primarily to Sen. Audrey Gibson.

The Miami Herald, writing about this, made the indelicate decision to quote Artiles directly.

“Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles dropped the N-word to a pair of African-American colleagues in private conversation Monday night — after calling one of them a ‘fucking asshole,’ a ‘bitch’ and a ‘girl,’ the two senators said,” Patricia Mazzei wrote.

Artiles’ issue?

An apparent belief, per Mazzei, that Joe Negron “had been risen to his powerful GOP leadership role because ‘six niggers’ in the Republican caucus had elected him.”

Artiles served up even worse to Gibson, calling her “this fucking asshole” and “this bitch.”

Gibson told Mazzei that an apology would be meaningless.

“You’re just talking — loud — to a table of people about leadership. It made me sad … I can’t remember a time in my life when anybody called me either one of those things … It’s just the most disrespect I’ve ever encountered.”

Artiles served up a half-assed apology Tuesday evening.

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

We’ve reached out to Gibson for her take.

There is no recent analogue for this, save Matt Gaetz‘s tweet of recent vintage.

That material drew censure from Republicans and Democrats alike.

The Florida Democratic Party is already calling on Artiles to resign, citing “horrific racist sexist slurs … the latest in a string of violent, hateful incidents.”

How do Republicans counter this?

Updated 10 p.m. — Senate President Negron released a statement this evening:

“Senator Braynon reported this incident to me earlier today, and I was appalled to hear that one Senator would speak to another in such an offensive and reprehensible manner. My first priority was to ensure that this matter was promptly addressed between the two Senators involved, which occurred this evening.

“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. 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.”

Updated 10:15 p.m. — Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican expected to be Senate President in 2018-20, issued the following statement:

“Senator Audrey Gibson is an admired colleague and a personal friend, and 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. 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.”

Updated 9:00 a.m. Wednesday — Sen. Artiles is expected to led off Wednesday’s session of the Florida Senate with an apology to Sen. Gibson, even as there are real questions as to both the utility of an apology and the slowness and mildness of the response from GOP Senate leaders.

Meanwhile, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Chris King weighed in.

“The way this usually plays out is that Senator Artiles will apologize, and we’ll all move to the next news cycle, and this will be forgotten about in a few weeks. But we can’t keep doing things the same way and expect different results.”

“Our politics in Florida and the way we treat one another must improve. This is another example of how Tallahassee and its one-party majority leadership is not serving this state with the excellence our citizens deserve,” said King.

“Senator Artiles should do the right thing and step down immediately. I call on Governor Scott to join the chorus of Democratic voices in saying that the remarks made by Senator Artiles were not just hurtful but set us all back, and to join us in demanding meaningful accountability.”

“The message needs to be clear – from both parties – that racism will not be tolerated and people will be held accountable for racist action. Because in an era of Donald Trump, we all must also hold ourselves accountable to the the idea that we will never allow these sentiments to be normal and without consequence,” King added.

10:05: Artiles extended a “heartfelt apology” to the body, signaling out Gibson.

“There’s no excuse, nor will I offer one … no one deserves to be spoken to that way, much less a person of your stature, dignity, and integrity.”

To Sen. Thurston, Artiles lauded his “friendship” as a “man of principle.”

And Sen. Negron got an apology also, for Artiles’ “crass and juvenile comments.”

“With regard to the word which I used to no one in particular,” Artiles noted that he grew up in a “diverse community” with what apparently was a robust “vernacular.”

No opportunity was immediately ceded for Gibson, Thurston, or Negron to respond to those comments, as the Senate moved immediately into the consideration of bills.

Rick Scott, Donald Trump to be together on Wednesday

So much for not having a “partner” in the White House.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who bemoaned the lack of effective White House partnership for the first six years of his tenure, closes out his time in Tallahassee with close political ally Donald Trump heading the Executive Branch.

Scott will be at the White House at 11:30 a.m. for a bill signing: the Veterans Choice Program Extension and Improvement Act.

“My father served in WWII and I proudly served in the United States Navy, and I appreciate President Trump’s commitment to our military and our veterans. I look forward to joining him today as he signs this important bill for our veterans,” Scott said in a statement.

The ultimate importance of this bill is in question. The bill will be a stopgap measure, asserts Trump’s own Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

“We need to make sure the Choice program not only continues, but it works better for veterans,” he said. “And we know it hasn’t worked the way we wanted it to work. It’s too complex; it’s too hard to use. So we are working hard now with Congress to redesign a better, improved way of accessing care in the community,” asserted VA Secretary David Shulkin.

Another issue that needs a fix: a backlog in internal disability claims, related to a shortage of staff to process them.

Don’t expect the bill signing ceremony to get too deep into those issues.

Chris King calls on Rick Scott to call for Frank Artiles’ resignation

Saying that otherwise the incident will be shortly forgotten and no one will be held accountable, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King called Wednesday for Gov. Rick Scott to demand that Sen. Frank Artiles resign over his reported racist and profane comments to black colleges.

Artiles was reported, first in the Miami Herald, to have launched a tirade full of n-words and profanities at Democratic state Sens. Audrey Gibson and Perry Thurston Tuesday night at the private Governors Club in Tallahassee.

King, an Orlando businessman, joined the chorus of calls of Democrats that Artiles should resign immediately. And he urged Scott, a Republican like Artiles, to join the call.

Artiles is set to apologize from the Senate floor today, but King said that will just allow the incident to disappear into future news cycles, which would become another example of Florida’s one-party leadership not serving the state with excellence.

“Senator Artiles should do the right thing and step down immediately. I call on Governor Scott to join the chorus of Democratic voices in saying that the remarks made by Senator Artiles were not just hurtful but set us all back, and to join us in demanding meaningful accountability,” King stated in a news release issued by his campaign Thursday.

“The message needs to be clear – from both parties – that racism will not be tolerated and people will be held accountable for racist action,” King continued. “Because in an era of Donald Trump, we all must also hold ourselves accountable to the the idea that we will never allow these sentiments to be normal and without consequence.”

 

Lauren Book unveils display on resilience, triumph over sexual abuse in Capitol rotunda

Book

Child advocate and state Sen. Lauren Book‘s inspirational story will be featured in Sheryl Sandberg‘s newly launched initiative on themes of resilience through tragedy.

On April 19, Book — a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who became an internationally renowned activist — will exhibit an installation decorating the Capitol rotunda, made up of more than 750 shoes worn and submitted by sexual assault survivors of all ages throughout Florida. The display will be up through April 21.

Book also plays a role in  Option B, Sandberg’s imitative on resilience that arose from the unexpected death of her husband. Sandberg, the Facebook chief operating officer turned author, had spent several months examining resilience as a way for her two sons to cope with tragedy, adversity and loss. She is now using those lessons learned to serve others thrive through challenging times. As part of the Option B community, Sandberg features inspiring voices of resilience and triumph, including that of Book — an advocate, author, state Senator and new mother. Book’s story of surviving child sexual abuse is also on the Option B website, under “Expert Talks and Advice.”

Book’s Capitol display also coincides with National Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention month. Book’s organization Lauren’s Kids and the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence (FCASV) are hosting the display, which asks viewers to “walk in the shoes” of survivors.

Both Book, of Plantation, and State Rep. Kristin Jacobs of Coconut Creek are supporting the event, which is intended to raise awareness and end stigma surrounding sexual violence, giving victims, families and those affected by the issue a larger voice in Tallahassee.

The display’s presentation will be at a news conference Wednesday, April 19, at 12:30 p.m. in the Capitol rotunda. Fifteen child victims — now survivors — will “unveil” the display in the Capitol rotunda and speak with legislators. In addition, members of Bikers Against Child Abuse Florida (BACA) will attend after biking across Florida in solidarity.

Donald Trump inaugural attracts record $107 million in donations

President Donald Trump raised $107 million for his inaugural festivities, nearly double the previous record set by President Barack Obama eight years ago.

Trump’s inaugural committee is due to file information about those donors with the Federal Election Commission and said it would do so Tuesday. The committee doesn’t need to publicly disclose how the money was spent.

Trump placed no restrictions on the amount of money donors could give. Obama limited contributions to $50,000 in 2009 but lifted that cap four years later.

After raising about $55 million in 2009, Obama used excess funds to help pay for the White House Easter egg roll and other events, his former inaugural committee chief executive officer said.

Trump promised to give any extra money to charity, but didn’t specify which ones.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Jesse Jackson to testify in Corrine Brown’s defense

Keep hope alive?

Rev. Jesse Jackson is one of more than 30 defense witnesses to be called to testify in the defense of Corrine Brown during her One Door for Education trial starting later this month.

Former Congressional colleagues will testify also, including Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Rep. Bennie Thompson.

Jacksonville luminaries will testify also, including former Mayor John Delaney, who has emphatically spoken of Brown as a useful Jacksonville asset in Congress.

As well, Brown’s former co-defendant Ronnie Simmons, who flipped to state’s evidence in exchange for a plea deal, is slated to testify both for the defense and the prosecution.

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The Feds have their own big-time witness list.

Corrine Brown faces charges in federal court this month — and the feds have a star studded witness list.

Among the names reporters will track starting Apr. 26: Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel, former Jacksonville Sheriff Nat Glover, current Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Gaffney, Jacksonville superdonors John Baker and Ed Burr, JEA Board member Husein Cumber, Jacksonville lawyer and one-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Pajcic, and former chair of the Donald Trump campaign in Florida, Susie Wiles.

Also testifying for the state: the Congresswoman’s daughter, Shantrel Brown, and her two alleged co-conspirators in the One Door for Education trial: Carla Wiley and the aforementioned Ronnie Simmons.

Both Wiley and Simmons have pleaded out, and their sentences are contingent on cooperation with the feds.

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Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and her chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, were named as co-defendants in a federal suit about One Door for Education.

One Door was a charity, marketed with Brown’s name and likeness, that did a great job bringing money in: $800,000 of it over four years earlier this decade.

The money, however, went elsewhere — while roughly $2,000 went for the purposes of helping underprivileged students achieve educational parity, the feds claim the vast majority of it financed the lifestyle of Rep. Brown and Simmons.

Simmons cut a plea deal in February, undermining Brown’s defense — as Simmons admitted culpability to just enough of the federal charges to implicate Brown, and as the Congresswoman’s former confidant is offering state evidence before his own sentencing.

However, Brown’s attorney (James Smith) asserts that Simmons changed his narrative, that Brown was taken advantage of by Simmons and One Door for Education head Carla Wiley, that she was not on the board of One Door, and that other factors, which will come out in trial, reveal that she was the target, not the agent, of a conspiracy to defraud.

That conspiracy, the defense will reveal, took advantage of an older woman, stretched to her limit by unique demands ranging from a far-flung district to fighting attempts to redraw that district.

Brown will have what is being called a “fairly substantial” list of pols — local, state, and national — testifying on her behalf about the process that led them to donate to One Door.

That list is still pending.

Brown now stands alone, ahead of a trial slated to start on Apr. 24. The prosecution case could take six to eight trial days, with the defense case beginning in the middle of the week of May 1.

Bill Nelson presses Tom Price on Florida’s opioid crisis, Medicaid’s ability to fight it

In a letter sent today to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson called attention to Florida’s heroin and opioids crisis and sought answers on how Medicaid can do more.

In his letter, Nelson declared that the heroin and opioid epidemic is “devastating Florida” and he encouraged Price and his agency to continue the fight against opioid abuse and misuse in the United States.”

“Addiction to heroin and opioids has reached staggering levels, and the situation is only getting worse. In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose. That’s 15 percent more people who died from opioid overdoses than in 2014,” Nelson wrote. “The state of Florida is no exception to the national trend. More than 2,200 Floridians died of opioid abuse in 2015.”

He noted that Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Melissa McKinlay‘s effort to get Gov. Rick Scott to declare a public health emergency, and Congress’s efforts to push a comprehensive approach and provide additional funding to approach opioid abuse.

Now Nelson challenged Price to consider Medicaid’s role, and to support efforts to retain Medicaid’s opportunities, even against proposals pushed by Republicans in Congress and in Tallahassee.

“As the single largest payer for substance use services, Medicaid plays a critical role in the fight against the opioid epidemic,” Nelson wrote. “Changing the Medicaid program through block grants or caps will shift costs to states, eliminate critical federal protections, and hurt the more than 3.6 million Floridians who rely on the program, including those struggling from opioid disorders.

“If those cuts are made, how do you propose states like Florida provide the necessary services to help individuals with substance use disorder?” Nelson inquired.

Then he turned to the Medicaid expansion program included in the Affordable Care Act, noting that Florida declined it, leaving an estimated 309,000 low-income Floridians with mental health or substance abuse disorders without easy access to affordable health care.

According to a study by Harvard University and New York University, Medicaid expansion provides drug treatment to nearly 1.3 million Americans,” Nelson wrote. “If Florida expanded its Medicaid program, would it be able to increase access to treatment for those with opioid use disorder? And would expanding Medicaid help the state avoid the rising costs associated with the opioid crisis and mental health needs?

Scott Arceneaux joining Andrew Gillum campaign

Scott Arceneaux, the former executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, is joining Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s gubernatorial campaign as a chief strategist.

“I’m thrilled to welcome Scott Arceneaux to our growing campaign for Governor. Scott brings a wealth of knowledge and savvy about the Sunshine State to our team, and I’m excited to welcome him as our chief strategist,” he said in a statement, which was first reported by POLITICO Florida.

“Over the years he has fearlessly led the Florida Democratic Party on the fights that matter: securing and protecting affordable healthcare; standing up for every Floridian no matter where they come from or who they love; and protecting our natural resources and environment. I can’t wait for him to join us on this journey to win back the Governor’s Mansion in 2018.”

Arceneaux, who had served as the executive director since 2009, announced he was resigning in January. The announcement came just weeks after Stephen Bittel was elected chairman of the state party.

Hired in 2009 by Karen Thurman, Arceneaux stayed on as the executive director during the tenures of Rod Smith and Allison Tant.

While he was praised for setting fundraising records, expanding staff, and building a strong digital and communications program, Arceneaux was criticized for what he couldn’t do — win many statewide elections despite having a voter-registration advantage.

“I have been fortunate to call Scott a mentor and friend ever since he came to Florida. His instincts, strategy, and leadership are unmatched,” said Lydia Claire Brooks. “The Gillum team is lucky to have him — there is absolutely no one better.”

Prior to joining the Florida Democratic Party, Arceneaux served as a general consultant for the Democratic Governors’ Association, was the national political director for Chris Dodd’s presidential campaign; and has served as campaign manager for congressional, Senate, and gubernatorial campaigns.

The Gillum campaign’s announcement about Arceneaux comes just hours after Orlando Democrat Chris King announced another round of hires for his 2018 gubernatorial campaign.

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