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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 Perry Thurston has withdrawn his complaint against Artiles, and as such “no further action on the part of the part of the Rules Committee is warranted in connection with this matter.”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.

 

Joe Negron: Frank Artiles ‘made the right decision’

Senate President Joe Negron said former Sen. Frank Artiles made the “right decision” to resign.

The Miami-area Republican resigned his seat Friday rather than face a hearing that could have resulted in his explusion from the Senate.

“Senator Artiles made the right decision,” ,” said Negron in a statement. “As Senator Artiles has noted, he holds himself responsible and accountable for his actions and comments.”

Artiles 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. Thurston and Gibson are black.

“Despite the events of the last week, Senator Artiles has a long and proud record of public service. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for serving our country in the United State Marine Corps, where he fought for our freedom in the Global War on Terror,” continued Negron. “Additionally, his years of service in the Florida House and Senate demonstrate a commitment to helping others that will not end with his departure from the Senate. My Senate colleagues and I wish Senator Artiles and his family well.”

While Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday, critics said it wasn’t enough. Thurston, the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, subsequently filed a Senate rules complaint against Artiles seeking his explusion.

Negron said Thurston informed him he would be withdrawing his complaint; and Negron has “directed the special master to close her investigation.”

“No further action will be taken by the Senate in regard to this matter,” said Negron.

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.

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

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.

Senate sets tight timeline on Frank Artiles investigation

Senate Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto has appointed the chamber’s top lawyer to investigate a complaint by next Tuesday seeking to remove Sen. Frank Artiles from office.

Senate President Joe Negron announced the move Wednesday in a memo to senators.

Benacquisto “found that the complaint states facts supporting a finding of probable cause,” meaning it’s more likely than not that Artiles violated a Senate rule governing its members’ conduct.

Negron appointed Senate General Counsel Dawn Roberts to be a special master, a quasi-judicial officer who hears cases and makes recommendations.

Roberts, a lawyer since 1993, served as a legislative staff director before her appointment as chief attorney to the Senate last year. She also was interim Secretary of State in 2010-11, appointed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist when Kurt Browning suddenly quit.

Her “report and recommendation to the Committee on Rules (is due) by the close of business on Tuesday, April 25, 2017,” Negron said. 

“All parties involved in this incident are entitled to a fair, impartial and unbiased examination of the facts and a recommendation consistent with the current rules and historical precedent of this body,” he added.

“I encourage all Senators to be respectful of this important process and to refrain from participating in any activities that would jeopardize the impartiality of the ongoing investigation.”

Sen. Perry Thurston on Wednesday filed the complaint to remove Artiles.

The Cuban-American Republican from Miami-Dade County made national news after he 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 at a private club in Tallahassee. Thurston and Gibson are black.

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

Janet Cruz latest Democrat to call for Frank Artiles resignation

Florida Democratic Minority House Leader Janet Cruz is calling for Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles to step down, following the outrage over published remarks of his racist comments to black Democratic lawmakers.

“Frank Artiles’ comments Monday night transcend politics and get to the idea of who we are as people,” said the Tampa Representative in a statement issued late Wednesday afternoon. Her response was the latest in a series of calls by Democrats for Artiles to resign.

The Florida Legislative Black Caucuswhich includes seven senators and 21 state representatives, issued a letter Wednesday calling for the Senate Rules Committee to begin the process of ousting Artiles from the Senate.

Fort Myers Republican Lizbeth Benaquisto, the Rules chair, agreed there was “probable cause” Artiles violated Senate rules  that say a senator must “maintain the integrity and responsibility of his or her office.”

Artiles apologized on the floor of the Senate Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after the Miami Herald reported on racist comments he made to Democratic Sens. Audrey Gibson from Jacksonville and Perry Thurston from Fort Lauderdale.

Artiles also made a sexist remark to Gibson, the Herald wrote.

“My comments to you were the most regretful of all because they injured you personally,” Artiles said to Gibson. “No one deserves to be spoken to like that.”

Senate President Joe Negron stripped Artiles of his chairmanship of the Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee, while Florida Gov. Rick Scott called the comments, “disgusting,” but would not respond to questions about whether he thinks Artiles should step down.

Cruz had no such qualms.

“Do we believe in equality and treating each other well?” the Minority Leader asked in her statement. “Or do we believe that loose slurs and misogynistic attacks should be a part of our rhetoric? These disgusting remarks do nothing to bring us closer together as people and should not be tolerated by a civil society. Senator Artiles should take into account the best interests of his constituents and resign immediately.”

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.

Andrew Gillum: Frank Artiles needs to go

Andrew Gillum is refusing to forgive Miami Republican Frank Artiles, who apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday for using the N-word toward two black lawmakers.

The Tallahassee mayor, an African-American who is running for governor next year, says Artiles needs to resign from the Florida Senate.

“We have struggled with days when these words were too common,” Gillum said. “They are the ugliest words in our language and they tear at the fabric of our society. They have no place in 2017, just as Senator Artiles has no place in the Florida Senate.”

Artiles appeared before the entire Senate Wednesday morning to apologize — less than 24 hours after the Miami Herald reported he had gone up to Sens. Audrey Gibson from Jacksonville and Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale  Monday night, adding that Senate President Joe Negron of Stuart came to his leadership role because “six n****rs” in the Republican caucus elected him.

Artiles also called Gibson a “b***h” and a “girl.”

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

“With regard to the word which I used to no one in particular,” Artiles said he grew up in a “diverse community.”

In his race for governor, Gillum is attempting to become the first black official to be elected to a statewide position in Florida. He said Artiles’ apology did not register at all with him.

“His statement this morning fell well short of what Floridians expect: his resignation,” said Gillum. “He must step aside immediately.”

Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, who is also black, also says Artiles apology on the Senate floor was insufficient.

“Simply dismissing these charges Senator Artiles has admitted to as a passing lapse, or his temper getting the better of him, or a product of his childhood town, doesn’t cut it,” Braynon said. “At some point, it’s time to take a stand, to say that words are not enough. At some point, the Senate must be compelled to act.”

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.”

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.

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