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Lizbeth Benacquisto: Frank Artiles made the ‘best decision for himself and his family, his constitutes, and the Florida Senate’

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto said she believes Frank Artiles’ decision to resign was the “best decision for himself and his family.”

Benacquisto, the Fort Myers Republican who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, said Sen. Perry Thurston has withdrawn his complaint against Artiles, and as such “no further action on the part of the part of the Rules Committee is warranted in connection with this matter.”

Artiles resigned his seat Friday rather than face a hearing that could have resulted in his explusion from the Senate. He made national news after he accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee Monday night. Thurston and Gibson are black.

Artiles also used a slang variation of the ‘N-word,’ referring to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. While Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday, many said it wasn’t enough and called for his resignation.

“I believe Senator Artiles made the right decision for himself and his family, his constituents, and the Florida Senate,” said Benacquisto about Artiles decision. “I join my Senate colleagues in wishing Frank and his family all the best.”

Thurston, the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, subsequently filed a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his explusion.


Audrey Gibson responds to Frank Artiles’ ‘horrific’ tirade

Sen. Audrey Gibson on Thursday publicly responded to fellow Sen. Frank Artiles‘ racially-charged invective aimed at her earlier this week, saying she’s unsure she can be “comfortable” continuing to serve with Artiles in the Senate.

Gibson appeared at a press conference with Sen. Perry Thurston and a group of Tallahassee-area pastors at the city’s Bethel Missionary Baptist Church.

“It was horrific,” Gibson said, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. “No one has ever addressed me in such a manner in my entire life. I’ve never heard such nasty comments about leadership in my entire life and really denigrating the entire Senate as far as I’m concerned and the constituencies around the state.”

Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County, made national news after he accosted Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee Monday night. Thurston and Gibson are black.

Artiles also used a slang variation of the ‘N-word,’ referring to her and to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Thurston and Gibson are black. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Thurston subsequently filed a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his expulsion. Artiles, who is represented by Tallahassee attorney Steve Andrews, has called efforts to remove him politically motivated.

Gibson, 61, recalled an incident for the Democrat “when she was a young girl at a department store where African-Americans were allowed to shop.”

“There was a young girl with her mom and we were playing together and her mom yanked her away and said ‘you don’t play with those people,’ ” she said. “Such is life. Back then. But this is today and there is no earthly reason for using any N-words whether you’re referring to Perry and I or your own colleagues. There’s no place for that word.”

In an interview with The Florida Channel, she added, “I need to feel, and I have the right to feel, as comfortable as he does in that body, to which I was elected. And I don’t know that I could do that with him there.”

Senate General Counsel Dawn Roberts is investigating Thurston’s complaint and is scheduled to issue a report to the chamber’s Rules Committee next Tuesday.

Lawyer: Frank Artiles’ racial slurs offensive, but also free speech

A lawyer representing a state senator who could be punished for using a racial slur and other vulgarities said Thursday that the remarks — as offensive as they were — are protected by free speech and that other senators have used similar language.

Tallahassee attorney Steve Andrews wrote to the Senate lawyer reviewing the case of Republican Frank Artiles and said that a complaint filed by black lawmakers shouldn’t be pursued because Artiles is protected under the U.S. Constitution.

He also said Artiles’ comments should be judged side-by-side with the remarks of other senators.

“Should this matter be sent to the Senate floor, my client intends to put evidence of other similar speech by other Senators,” Andrews wrote to Senate lawyer Dawn Roberts.

He also said Roberts should step down from the case because of conflicts of interest, having previously represented Artiles and witnesses that could be called.

The matter began Monday night during a private conversation with two African-American senators at a members-only club near the Capitol. Artiles used obscenities with Sen. Audrey Gibson, including one particularly offensive to women.

Sen. Perry Thurston intervened and Artiles, a Cuban-American from the Miami area, used a variation of the “n-word” and used a vulgarity to describe Republican Senate President Joe Negron, according to the complaint filed Wednesday by Thurston.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, reviewed the complaint and found it’s likely Artiles’ comments and behavior violated Senate rules.

The Florida Legislative Black Caucus is asking for Artiles’ expulsion, which would be an option if the full Senate determines there was a rules violation.

Negron asked Roberts to make a recommendation by Tuesday.

In the meantime, Republican Gov. Rick Scott weighed in on the matter while speaking with reporters in Tampa.

“If I had an employee that said what he said, I would immediately fire him,” Scott said.

Thurston wasn’t immediately available for comment, according to a receptionist in his Senate office.

In a separate letter to Negron, Andrews told the Senate president that he should avoid voting on any punishment because he has already prejudged Artiles by condemning the comments earlier this week.


AP writer Gary Fineout contributed to this report. Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

David Simmons condemns Frank Artiles comments; calls for due process, suggests PTSD might be factor

Republican state Sen. David Simmons sharply condemned racist and vulgar comments made earlier this week by state Sen. Frank Artiles. 

The behavior is nothing new, Simmons said, but he puts his faith in the Senate’s due process to determine a judgment by the body.

Simmons, of Altamonte Springs, then suggested that Artiles’ behavior might be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder — or some other circumstance — and the Senate needs to hear of any aggravating or mitigating circumstances before passing formal judgment.

Artiles has acted like this before, he added.

“I consider his comments reprehensible and unacceptable. I believe that at the same time that he is entitled to a full and fair hearing,” Simmon said.

On Tuesday night, in the Governors Club in Tallahassee, Artiles reportedly accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, who are both African-American, calling her a “b***h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation.

Artiles also used a variation of the “N-word,” referring to her and to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday, but refused growing calls for his resignation.

Thurston has lodged a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his expulsion. An investigative report by General Counsel Dawn Roberts is due next Tuesday. Simmons said that process needs to proceed.

“I do not believe this is an isolated incident of conduct. I believe that Sen. Artiles has spoken to multiple people in this fashion,” Simmons said.

“I also know that he is an Iraq veteran. I know while there’s no question that he said these things, because he’s admitted it and apologized fort them. The question I have is what aggravating and mitigating circumstances exist regarding why he is and has been acting in this manner. I don’t believe that he should be denied the ability to show that he may have PTSD; he may have some other circumstances,” Simmons continued. “I don’t know. I’m not going to prejudge the type of judgment that we should impose upon him as a Senate.”

Simmons explicitly said he condemned Artiles’ comments Thursday, a declaration that came after the Orange County and Seminole County Democrats jointly issued a statement Thursday afternoon demanding that Simmons speak up. Simmons said he had previously spoken up, giving a similar response to another reporter before the Democrats’ joint statement.

The Orange and Seminole Democrats’ statement, signed by Orange Democratic Chair Wes Hodge and Seminole Democratic Chair Jeff Wilkinson, denounced Artiles’ comments as “bigoted” and called on Simmons, “to immediately condemn his colleague’s remarks. They do not represent Central Florida’s values, and cannot be allowed to go unaddressed.”

Simmons, who says he’s 98 percent decided to run for Congress in Florida’s 7th Congressional District for Orange and Seminole counties, a seat currently held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, did just that, calling Artiles’ comments “reprehensible,” and part of a pattern of behavior.

“We all know they’re not the only comments he’s made. He made comments against the Senate president. He’s made comments against other Republican senators. And he’s made comments to other senators, on other occasions,” Simmons said.

Florida’s NAACP joins those calling for Frank Artiles’ resignation

The head of the NAACP Florida State Conference is calling for state Sen. Frank Artiles to step down. 

The organization “stands fully behind the Florida Legislative Black Caucus … and several groups who have called for the resignation of Miami Senator Frank Artiles,” said Adora Obi Nweze, president of Florida’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County, made national news after he accosted Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation at a private club in Tallahassee Monday night. Thurston and Gibson are black.

Artiles also used a variation of the “N-word,” referring to her and to white Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President. Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday.

Thurston has lodged a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his expulsion. An investigative report by General Counsel Dawn Roberts is due next Tuesday.

“The racial slur, profane language and degrading tone used to members of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus—in particular, a black woman—has no place in our society,” Nweze said in a statement. 

In 2017, it’s unfortunate we still must remind everyone about the N-word and the negative impact it has had in the black community for many years,” she added.

“A public apology is not good enough … Do us a favor, take your racist language and racist actions and resign,” said Nweze, also a member of the NAACP’s National Board of Directors.


Lottery gambling warnings clear two more committees

Proposals to require gambling warnings about the Florida Lottery moved closer to the floors of their respective houses Wednesday as committees in both the Florida House and Senate approved the bills.

Senate Bill 1377 and Committee Substitute for House Bill 937 would require warnings to be printed on lottery tickets, and on signs posted in ticket retailers declaring, “WARNING: GAMBLING CAN BE ADDICTIVE.”

SB 1377 was approved Wednesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, its third of four stops, while CS for HB 937 was approved by the House Commerce Committee, with one stop to go.

Neither bill got unanimous committee approval, and some lawmakers used the opportunity to both defend the beneficiary of the lottery proceeds – education – and to question whether the lottery actually should be considered a form of gambling.

“I don’t consider lottery ticket sales as gambling,” said Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville, who voted against it.

Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Anitere Flores of Miami disagreed, declaring her support for the measure.

It is a reality that sometimes we don’t talk about in the state, when we talk about gambling and whether it is here in the state or not: the Florida Lottery,” Flores said. “I think most people would say it is a form of gambling.

The bills progressed despite inquires about warnings they would not require.

In the Florida House, Republican state Rep. Tom Goodson of Rockledge – who voted  no – wanted to know if the warnings would also be included in lottery advertising. No, Republican sponsor state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan of Mount Dora replied, but that might make for a good amendment.

In the Senate, Gibson wanted to know why the warnings wouldn’t also include the state’s gambling addition hotline toll-free number. Republican sponsor state Sen. Keith Perry of Gainesville replied that, too, might make for a good amendment.

Responding to Democratic state Sen. Bobby Powell of West Palm Beach,  Perry said he did not know if any other states had provided similar warnings on lottery tickets, or if any studies had been done on warnings to show they did any good.

“It would be similar to anything we do, like warnings on cigarettes, just to warn the buyer that there can be consequences,” Perry said. “I do think in the cigarette instance we did, too late in the game, decide to put warning labels on cigarettes. And so we understand it can be addictive. And so for a state-sponsored lottery, we would also have a responsibility to inform people that it can be addictive.”

Black lawmaker seeks to remove Frank Artiles from Senate

Surrounded by fellow black and Democratic lawmakers, Sen. Perry Thurston announced Wednesday he had filed a complaint to remove fellow Sen. Frank Artiles from the Senate.

In a move sure to send chills through the Capitol’s lobbying corps, he suggested influencers who were within earshot when Artiles went on his tirade in the private Governors Club could be called to testify.

Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County, created a national spectacle when news broke that he had accosted Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, calling her a “b—h” and a “girl” in a dispute over legislation.

“This incident is not the first, nor do we believe it will be the last,” he told reporters. Thurston and Gibson are black.

Artiles ran into them at the club on Monday night, just a short walk from the Capitol. He also used a variation of the “N-word,” referring to her and to Republicans who supported Joe Negron as Senate President.

Thurston’s complaint was filed with Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto for the “expulsion” of Artiles, elected to the Senate just last year after serving in the House since 2012. He says Artiles violated a Senate rule on legislative conduct.

Rep. Kamia Brown, an Ocoee Democrat, said Artiles was “unstatesmanlike” and a “bully:” “As a woman … as an African-American, I have to speak out on this. (Artiles) has not shown leadership.”

Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II called it “asinine” that Artiles said his use of the N-word was because he grew up in Hialeah, a “diverse community.”

He also dismissed Artiles’ claim that he was being politically targeted: “This isn’t a Democratic issue—this is a Senate issue, a people issue, this is a human being issue,” Braynon said.

But Braynon also mused whether the election of President Donald Trump, supported by a fringe element of white supremacists, “emboldened” the kind of language that Artiles used.

“The shadow he has cast over our chamber deserves the most severe punishment available,” Thurston’s complaint says. “His public comments were overheard by elected officials and citizens alike who were” in the club. The press coverage over the incident has brought “more disrepute” to the Senate, he added.

Under the Senate’s rules, Benacquisto must find that Thurston’s complaint “support(s) a finding of probable cause” or she can dismiss it.

Otherwise, she must appoint a “special master,” a kind of quasi-judicial officer, who will “conduct an investigation” and hold hearings, ultimately issuing a recommendation to Benacquisto and Senate President Joe Negron.

“The President shall present the (Rules) committee’s recommendation, along with the special master’s report and recommendation, to the Senate for final action,” the rule says.

Florence Snyder: Let’s hope someone loves Frank Artiles enough to get him some help

On a busy day of hearings in a busy week of the legislative session, a south Florida woman wanted a picture of herself and a friend and the rain pouring outside the Knott Building. She scanned the immediate vicinity for a friendly face, and held her iPhone out to Jacksonville’s Audrey Gibson.

Plainly the tourist had no idea that Gibson was a member of an elite, exclusive, and powerful club.

The tourist was utterly unaware that the elegant lady she approached is one of a tiny handful of Floridians upon whom the sun rises and sets in #TheProcess. Most definitely, the tourist had no clue that hundreds of people are paid hundreds of millions of dollars to catch a moment of the time of this woman and her 39 colleagues in the Florida Senate.

Gibson smiled, took the iPhone, and spent a stunning amount of time considering camera angles and composing multiple shots.

This is the gracious public servant that Frank Artiles refers to as a “fucking bitch.” To her face. At the members-only venue where people pay through the nose for a quiet place to eat, drink and do business, and pay extra for private lockers for their personalized cigars.

Artiles has a history of verbal violence toward women, African-Americans, and Muslims. His drunken diatribe Monday at the Governor’s Club is not the first time he has embarrassed himself in a bar. We now know that “pussy” is his go-to insult for a white male lawyer who outranks him in #TheProcess pecking order.

It has been suggested on the Sayfie Twitter Ticker, where some Floridians still get some information, that Artiles. a former Marine, may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Let’s put that one to rest. PTSD doesn’t cause bigotry, but alcohol makes bigots more likely to reveal their pre-existing prejudices.

Artiles didn’t much look like a Marine as he stood on the Senate floor to read an insincere, meaningless apology written for him by some hastily-assembled Committee to Save Artiles Career. The senator from a Diverse Miami Neighborhood shifted on his feet, looking like a rattled schoolboy as he rattled the pages of his prepared text.

When people can’t exercise the control and judgment we expect of a third grader, there is often a medical explanation. Let’s hope someone loves Artiles enough to help him find out.

Senate votes to allow beer ads in theme parks, ‘merlot to go’

Florida senators passed a bill Wednesday that would allow advertising by beer companies in the state’s theme parks.

The measure (SB 388), sponsored by Republican Sen. Travis Hutson of Elkton, received only one ‘no’ vote from Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican.

It eases the state’s “tied house evil” law by allowing ads, which could include a beer company sponsoring a concert or festival within a park. Universal Orlando has supported the bill.

Some beer industry representatives had privately complained. However, they “fear being extorted by the theme parks.”

“We do a lot of business (with them), and we kind of see a situation where they say, ‘We do such-and-such theme night, but now we’d like you to pay for it,’ by sponsoring it,” said one. “(W)e all feel like we’ll be put over a barrel.”

The bill also repeals a state law to permit wine bottles of all sizes to be sold.

That includes the “Nebuchadnezzar,” which hold 15 liters, or the volume of 20 standard wine bottles.

Further, it would repeal another state law that requires diners to order and consume a full meal — “consisting of a salad or vegetable, entree, a beverage, and bread” — before they can take home an opened bottle of wine.

It extends the “merlot to go” legacy of the late Senate President Jim King‘s 2005 measure that first legalized carryout wine.

The bill now heads to the House. Its version (HB 423) still has not been heard by the Commerce Committee, its last panel of reference.

Perry Thurston says ‘there will be consequences’ for Frank Artiles

Democratic Sen. Perry Thurston on Wednesday said “there will be consequences” for fellow Sen. Frank Artiles after he spouted insults and used a form of a racial epithet in front of Thurston and Sen. Audrey Gibson Monday night.

“We’ve got a (Legislative Black) Caucus meeting” later today, Thurston said. “After that, I’m sure there will be some actions taken.”

Thurston had been asked whether he planned to file a complaint with Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto as allowed under the Senate Rules, or whether he knew if anyone else planned to.

Senate Rule 1.43 permits “any person (to) file a sworn complaint with the Rules Chair … alleging a violation by a Senator of the Rules regulating legislative conduct and ethics … (A) Senator determined to have violated the requirements of the Rules regulating legislative conduct and ethics may be censured, reprimanded, or expelled.”

Rule 1.35 says that “every Senator shall conduct himself or herself to justify the confidence placed in him or her by the people and, by personal example and admonition to colleagues, shall maintain the integrity and responsibility of his or her office.”

Artiles, a Cuban-American Republican, hurled insults at Thurston and Gibson at the private Governors Club on Monday night, using a variation of the “N-word,” and calling Gibson a “b—h” and a “girl.”

In a public apology on the Senate floor, Artiles explained his use of the N-word as a result of growing up in a “diverse community.”

In comments to reporters later on Wednesday, Senate President Joe Negron said he’d done all he was going to do about the incident, adding that Artiles’s political future is “now a matter between him and his constituents.”

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