A firestorm continued to swell Wednesday over racially tinged and expletive-laced remarks Sen. Frank Artiles hurled this week, as demands for the Miami Republican's ouster grew and Senate leaders appointed a special master to investigate whether he should be sanctioned.
Artiles berated Sen. Audrey Gibson, a black Democrat from Jacksonville, on Monday night at a members-only club near the Capitol, calling her "girl," a "bitch," and a "f—-ing ass——", and also used the word "niggers" when referring to Republican senators who backed Senate President Joe Negron in a leadership race. He also used a derogatory term to refer to Negron.
Negron late Wednesday afternoon appointed the Senate's general counsel, Dawn Roberts, to serve as special master to conduct an inquiry into Artiles' behavior and submit a report and possible recommendations for sanctions to the Rules Committee by Tuesday.
The Senate president ordered the investigation after Sen. Perry Thurston, who heard most of Artiles' remarks at the Governors Club and who serves as chairman of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, filed a formal complaint seeking Artiles' expulsion from the Senate.
The day began with Negron stripping Artiles of his role as chairman of the Communications, Energy and Public Utilities Committee, shortly before Artiles made a mea culpa on the Senate floor.
Artiles – who reportedly claimed he used the word "niggas" in reference to the other Republicans – did not specifically say either word during his public act of contrition, which followed news reports detailing the events Monday night.
"With regard to the word which I used toward no one in particular, but is rightfully the most inflammatory, I know my explanation is inadequate but it is sincere. I grew up in a diverse community. We share each other's customs, cultures and vernacular. I realize that my position does not allow me for the looseness of words or slang, regardless of how benign my intentions were," said Artiles, who also served in the Florida House before his election to the Senate in November.
Gibson, who kept her back turned to Artiles throughout his nearly four-minute speech, later called Artiles' apology "meaningless." She said Artiles unleashed the invectives in reaction to Gibson's questioning the Republican's amendments during committee meetings last week.
"It's just ugly, in any setting, and totally unacceptable. I doubt that he would talk to his wife that way. I don't guess that he does, or any other woman that he cares about, or any other people that he cares about," she said, adding that Artiles' explanation for his use of a word that is so heavily charged for African Americans put a "little ding" in his show of remorse.
Artiles, a tough-talking U.S. Marine veteran, insisted that he did not direct the word at anyone in particular.
"The most important thing is very simple. I was not targeting anybody with the word. It was a generality," he told reporters Wednesday.
"I don't even know how to respond to that. Maybe he's well-insulated. I don't know," Gibson said when told of Artiles' comments.
Speaking to reporters at a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Thurston said Artiles' "racist rant" was "deeply offensive to people of color" and that his actions "demand no less than removal" from the Senate.
Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, who is black, ridiculed Artiles' implication that a variation of the "n-word" is less offensive.
"To say that the ending of the word changes the connotation of it … may be asinine," Braynon said. "There's been a history of that word, whether it be `er,' `a,' `z.' Whatever it is, it's offensive. It's not something that anyone should be saying. … No one should be called that word."
While Artiles appeared remorseful while asking Gibson, Thurston, Negron and the entire Senate for forgiveness, he was defiant when asked by reporters if he intends to step down.
"If every time a senator made a mistake, or someone made a mistake, that they had to resign … we'd have half the Senate gone for whatever reason. I did not insult anybody directly. What I did was have a heated debate with a colleague, and I basically apologized for that," he said. "As a matter of fact, I'm not only not going to resign, I'm going to file for 2018, and I'm going to win my election."
Negron, R-Stuart, told reporters Wednesday "there's never any excuse" for the "gender-specific insults" Artiles directed toward Gibson, but would not say whether he should resign.
"Any further action … that may or may not occur would be between him and his constituents. Every senator is judged by his or her conduct," Negron said, before appointing the special master.
Artiles, elected in November after a bitter general election battle against former Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard, is no stranger to controversy.
For example, the conservative Republican garnered national news coverage for sponsoring a measure in 2015 that would have banned transgender people from using bathrooms that don't match the gender on their birth certificates.
Artiles accused critics of politicizing this week's comments because his district leans Democratic.
"I am in a targeted seat. It was a plus-9 Obama seat which they (Democrats) lost in a presidential year," he said. "At the end of the day, I am an aggressive senator. I go after my bills. I work very hard. I'm a professional. … Sometimes people get heated and arguments happen. It happens with other senators, not just myself."
But Braynon said he "100 percent disagrees" that the issue is about Democrats attempting to retake the district.
"If you really look at it, he is a great target at this moment. We wouldn't be asking for him to be expelled if it was about electoral politics. We'd be asking for him to stay right there, so in '18 we can run against him, put this exact article on every mailer," Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, said. "It's about him. It's about what he said. It's about how he offended his constituents."