Ever since Frank Artiles was forced to resign his Florida Senate seat last year, leaders of the state’s upper chamber have been looking over their shoulders, worried that their former colleague was out for revenge.
Jeff Clemens, the incoming Senate Democratic leader, admitted in October to an affair with a lobbyist and then resigned. Jack Latvala, a powerful Republican with gubernatorial aspirations, stepped down in January following multiple accusations of sexual harassment.
Then last week, as lawmakers opened this year’s legislative session, Oscar Braynon and Anitere Flores, both senior members of the Senate, admitted to having a bipartisan affair after someone posted a hidden camera in the hallway of the condo building where they each have apartments and created an anonymous website dedicated to their infidelity.
Now, in the aftermath, Artiles is looking around at a different political landscape and wondering whether his political career isn’t dead after all.
In an interview with the Miami Herald, the Miami Republican, who resigned last year after an alcohol-fueled tirade in a Tallahassee bar, dismissed speculation that he had hired private investigators after his ouster in order to tail his enemies in the Florida Senate and expose their dirt. He also said he believes the district that elected him never stopped supporting him, and that he’s been emboldened to try and return to office after watching scandal after scandal trump his own political implosion.
“I want to finish what I started and clear my name,” he said.
Compared to everybody under investigation or [written about in] articles, I look like a Boy Scout.
Artiles lost his seat in April after the Miami Herald reported that, in a rant to black lawmakers Audrey Gibson and Perry Thurston at a bar near the state Capitol, he called Gibson a “bitch” and referred to some Republicans as “niggas.” Artiles, who initially tried to fight to survive, was later forced to apologize on the Senate floor. He resigned under pressure after Thurston filed a formal complaint seeking his removal from office, and after he learned that the Miami Herald was writing about how his political committee paid two models as consultants.
Artiles says he remains contrite about what he said to Gibson and Thurston, but he also contends that he was “assassinated by the media.”
“I was asked to leave because of vulgarity. No matter what those words were, it was vulgarity, profanity in a private setting — while other people are sleeping with state employees, other people are sexually harassing and touching inappropriately and trading votes,” he told the Herald. “Compared to everybody under investigation or [written about in] articles, I look like a Boy Scout.”
Told of his comments, Gibson laughed.
“That’s an insult to Boy Scouts,” Democratic state Sen. Annette Taddeo said. “There were a lot of people offended by what he did.”
There were a lot of people offended by what he did.
Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Kendall
Gibson, D-Jacksonville, had “no comment on how Frank Artiles feels about Frank Artiles.” Thurston, D-Lauderhill, said that voters will be the ultimate judges of whether Artiles should be forgiven.
“Everybody has an opportunity to run as long as the rules allow him to,” he said.
Since his resignation, Artiles, a Marine Corps veteran who is married with two children, has been mostly quiet. He says he’s been busy working as a public adjustor following Hurricane Irma. And while he says he’s been courted by other Republicans to dabble in political consulting, he’s “been trying to stay away from that as much as possible.”
Still, his name has been the subject of rumors and speculation ever since he left.
I’m tired of the innuendo and the press making me out to be the boogeyman.
When private investigators leaked lawmakers’ scandalous secrets to Politico Florida, whose reporting led to Clemens’ resignation and the beginning of the end for Latvala, some speculated that it was Artiles’ payback. During the Republican primary to claim the seat he resigned, rumors popped up that he was involved behind the scenes.
Braynon has publicly posited that Artiles was behind the leaks after he found a hidden camera in a hallway of the Tennyson, a condo where the Senate Democratic Caucus leader and a number of other lawmakers and lobbyists live during the legislative session. He called Artiles this month to clear the air.
“I had nothing to do with any — ANY — of the resignations in Tallahassee,” Artiles said. “Quite frankly, I’m tired of the innuendo and the press making me out to be the boogeyman.”
After nearly a year on the sidelines, Artiles is also tired of sitting still. He’s itching to get back into the District 40 Senate seat he won in November 2016 by 10 points.
The demographics of the seat, which represents Kendall, favor Democrats. But after looking over the data from the low-turnout special election to replace him, won by Taddeo by 3.75 points, Artiles says he’s confident he can reclaim his old position if he tries, noting that a half-dozen bills he filed last year were carried by colleagues after he resigned and ended up passing.
First, though, he says he wants to give Taddeo a chance to prove herself.
“I’ve not finalized the decision on whether or not I’m going to run,” said Artiles. “That decision is going to come after this session when we see what she’s done.”
Miami Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report.