Miami lawmaker apologizes on Senate floor for using racial slur

Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles stood on the Florida Senate floor Wednesday morning and told his colleagues he was sorry for insulting them in private using curse words and a racial slur.

“I extend a heartfelt apology to my colleagues and to all those I have offended,” Artiles began.

He offered a direct apology to Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat he had called a “bitch.”

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

Gibson did not look at him even once.

Artiles acknowledged that his comments, made in private Monday night and revealed Tuesday, reflected poorly on him. He also apologized to Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat who witnessed Artiles’ exchange with Gibson and tried to get Artiles to reconsider his crass language before the conversation got out of hand.

Artiles’ refusal to apologize to Gibson in person prompted Senate leaders to get involved. They forced Artiles to say sorry in person late Tuesday. By then, his remarks to Gibson and Thurston — including deriding Republican Senate President Joe Negron as a “pussy” and lamenting that “niggas” in the GOP caucus elected him — had been made public. Both Gibson and Thurston are black.

Wednesday morning, Negron stripped Artiles of his chairmanship of the Senate Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee.

“I owe you an apology,” Artiles told Negron on the floor, asking forgiveness for his “crass and juvenile comments.”

As for using the n-word, Artiles didn’t repeat it — but argued the slur was aimed at “no one in particular.” His excuse for using it is “inadequate,” he conceded.

“I grew up in a diverse community,” he said, referring to his hometown of Hialeah. “We share each other’s customs.”

“I realize that my position does not allow me for the looseness of words or slang, regardless of how benign my intentions were,” he added.

Artiles’ apology — a point of personal privilege, in procedural parlance — lasted about three minutes and 45 seconds. Before session began, he spoke to several fellow Republicans, getting a handshake from Hialeah Sen. René García and a hug from Vero Beach Sen. Debbie Mayfield. Meanwhile, Rules Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto of Fort Myers, also a Republican, put her arm around Gibson.

Shortly before Artiles’ scheduled apology, Senate Democrats gathered for a caucus meeting in which Minority Leader Oscar Braynon of Miami Gardens urged lawmakers to “let this play out.” Gibson said she never intended to talk publicly about Artiles’ remarks, but his tirade was witnessed by enough people that the story hit the press.

“There is a firestorm, and it’s an unfortunate circumstance,” she said. “But words have consequences in no matter what setting you’re in.”

The legislative black caucus — whose members belong to the Senate and House of Representatives — plans to hold an emergency meeting at noon. The caucus is expected to call for Artiles’ resignation, as the Florida Democratic Party and Florida Strong, a liberal advocacy group, did Tuesday night.

Braynon, who is also black, told reporters Artiles should face “some sort of consequence” — which could range from a formal admonishment to removal from the Senate.

“Just saying sorry may not suffice to the people he’s offended,” Braynon said.