TALLAHASSEE -- Controversy raged in the Florida Capitol for a second day Thursday over Sen. Frank Artiles’ racist and sexist tirade, distracting and slowing down the Legislature just two weeks before the end of the annual lawmaking session and building pressure on the Miami Republican to resign — or risk the potential career-ending condemnation of the Senate.
The Senate abruptly canceled formal meetings Thursday afternoon as leaders scrambled to find a quick resolution to Artiles’ political future. As a Senate lawyer began taking sworn statements about Artiles’ Monday-night verbal assault on two black colleagues at a bar near the Capitol, the senator hired a defense attorney who argued Artiles’ use of the n-word and other insults are constitutionally protected free speech.
Meanwhile, the two black lawmakers Artiles targeted in his alcohol-laced rant got national attention as they demanded that he resign or be removed from office.
“They’re not trying to protect him,” Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, said of Senate leaders. “But Frank is the type you have to drag out kicking and screaming. He’s not the type to surrender.”
Thurston was with Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, at the Governors Club Lounge on Monday night when Artiles, unhappy that Gibson opposed one of his bills, let loose with a barrage of racially tinged profanity. He referred to Gibson as a “bitch” and a “girl,” and dropped the phrase “fucking asshole.” Artiles denied none of the language when he apologized Wednesday on the Senate floor.
If Artiles hoped his apology would end the controversy, it had the opposite effect. Protesters picketed his Miami office and crowded his Tallahassee office, where security ensured they were not disruptive. Artiles was nowhere to be found.
Photo credit: José A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald