Let’s examine Frank Artiles’ explanation for the scandal that led to his resignation from the state Senate on Friday. After a few drinks at the members-only Governor’s Club in Tallahassee, he had been transported back to his youthful days on the mean streets of Hialeah.
Sure enough, out slipped some racist slurs and sexist insults. Same way we native West Virginians, after a few pints of moonshine, disparage one another as “hillbillies” or “gators.” Can’t hardly help ourselves.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
“I grew up in a diverse community. We share each other’s customs, cultures and vernacular,” Artiles explained to his unconvinced fellow senators. Artiles had demonstrated this extraordinary cultural versatility Monday night by calling a fellow senator, Audrey Gibson, a black woman of a certain age, a “girl” and a “b---h.”
Sen. Gibson, who is from Jacksonville, failed to grasp that Artiles was only channeling Luther Campbell. Nor, apparently, did anyone else.
The once powerful Miami-Dade senator had descended even deeper into the political abyss when he characterized some fellow Republicans with whom he had policy disagreements as “n---as.” He seemed to assume that using this bit of racial vernacular was OK because he was talking to two black senators (Gibson and Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale), just a street-savvy dude talking straight to a bro and sister about some funky white guys.
Because “n---a” is practically a term of endearment in a “diverse community” like his hometown of Hialeah. Never mind that Hialeah is less diverse than Trump’s Cabinet, blacks making up less than 3 percent of the population.
If I had hit somebody, they’d be in the hospital.
Sen. Frank Artiles
The outrage, first with his original remarks, then with his bone-headed defense, was too much, even for a bully boy. After five days of bipartisan uproar, the formerly defiant Artiles slouched home, a disgraced former senator. Yet I can almost buy Artiles’ explanation. (OK. OK. A few pints of high-grade moonshine would make his excuses go down easier.) After all, he has worked hard to cultivate his gangsta image. In 2015, after several witnesses accused him of pounding on a 21-year-old college student at yet another Tallahassee bar, he denied the charge with a special bit of bravado: “If I had hit somebody, they’d be in the hospital.”
So maybe he wasn’t a bigot, but flat out politically stupid. Need proof? During his Monday night drunken rant, Artiles characterized the very president of the Florida Senate, Joe Negron, the one guy who might have extracted him from this mess, as a “p---y.”
There had been plenty more evidence that Artiles (who represented the suburbs of southwest Miami-Dade County) had left his street smarts back in Hialeah.
Just last month we were all marveling at the gall of the senator after it was reported that he had been flown up to the Daytona 500 on the plane of a Florida Power & Light lobbyist, where he was wined and dined and lavished with campaign contributions and even photographed trackside in a fancy jacket from NextEra, the parent company of FPL. (Our brillant senator claimed he wasn’t privy to the secret connection between NextEra and FPL.) A few days later, he was pushing a bill that would allow FPL to string 88 miles of high-voltage electrical transmission lines from towers 80 feet to 150 feet high through Miami-Dade cities and across the county’s fragile wetlands, without regard to county and municipal development rules. And to hell with his constituents.
This is the same bully boy who filed a bill in 2015 designed to invalidate a Miami-Dade County ordinance protecting transgender residents from discrimination. Artiles’ bill, among other sins, would have prohibited anyone from using public restrooms that didn’t conform with their “biological sex.”
That bill failed. Thank goodness. A similar bill became law in North Carolina last year, leading to protests, boycotts by bigtime sports operations including the NBA and the NCAA, rebukes from corporate interests, a downturn in tourism and hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue.
Back in 2014, our thug legislator joined a local cabal of lawmakers in killing a referendum that would have determined whether to enact a surtax to supplement the shrinking budget of Miami Dade College. Artiles and his buddies, in an act of petty spite, decided that the voters shouldn’t have the opportunity to show their support for MDC.
But Artiles never much cared about the tender feelings of folks back home. In 2015, most South Floridians were appalled when the state Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission staged a statewide hunt for black bears. Our boy Artiles? He plunked down $100 for a bear hunting permit.
No big surprise. He had been recorded the year before bragging to another politician about how much he loves hunting. “I kill everything,” Artiles said. Including, he said, “hajis.”
That’s a pejorative term, racist slang that American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan sometimes employ to disparage Muslims. But maybe it meant something more enlightening back on the mean streets of Hialeah.