Artiles misleads in alleging Bullard voted ‘to release violent criminals, sexual delinquents’

Florida Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, is the subject of a misleading Spanish-language TV ad being aired by his opponent, current state Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami.
Florida Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Cutler Bay, is the subject of a misleading Spanish-language TV ad being aired by his opponent, current state Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami. AP

Through a new Spanish-language TV ad and other campaign materials, state Senate candidate and Miami Republican state Rep. Frank Artiles is falsely telling central Miami-Dade County voters his opponent “voted to release violent criminals and sexual delinquents in our community.”

Artiles’ TV ad claims Cutler Bay Democratic state Sen. Dwight Bullard “was the only senator who voted against keeping our communities safe — the only one,” and that Artiles would be the one who would protect the communities of Senate District 40. He echoed the attack in an image he posted on Twitter, too, in which Artiles claimed he “led the way to keep sexual predators off the streets” while Bullard “voted in favor of releasing violent criminals.”

But Artiles’ assertions manipulate facts.

The vote in question references an unsuccessful 2011 bill that dealt with whether registered sex offenders and registered predators should be held without bond until their initial appearance before a judge, if they’re arrested on a subsequent crime.

After Bullard initially opposed the bill because he wanted changes made, Artiles and Bullard ultimately supported the same proposal — a narrowed version of the original.

There’s no evidence Artiles “led the way” on the measure as he claims; he was neither a sponsor nor a co-sponsor of the bill and, unlike Bullard, he did not sit on any of the three committees that vetted it.

When asked for evidence of Artiles’ leadership on the legislation and for comment about the discrepancy between legislative records and Artiles’ claims, his campaign spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said only: “We stand by the content, facts and message of the ad.”

Bascom did not respond to repeated requests for a copy of the ad, something campaigns are normally not hesitant to provide. However, a Herald reporter was able to capture the 30-second spot on cellphone video during a recent airing on Miami TV:

Bullard said he wasn’t aware of the ad until he heard about it from a Herald/Times reporter Thursday evening.

“It’s disgusting,” Bullard said after hearing what the ad said. “This new ad is just representative of what Frank Artiles has always been about, which is gutter-level politics and, more importantly, an inability to defend his own record.”

“I’m not hiding from who I am and what I voted for,” Bullard added. “Whether in a phone booth in the middle of Kendall or a Cuban restaurant in the middle of Westchester, I have no problem standing toe to toe with Frank Artiles on why I should be — and continue to be — a state senator versus his record of hate and hate-mongering.”

Bullard was still a state representative in 2011 — not yet a senator, as Artiles’ ad stated — when the Florida House considered the bill in question, HB 265.

Florida House records show Bullard did initially vote against the measure when it first came up for a vote in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee. But that wasn’t because he opposed the concept; he said it was too broad, according to video of that hearing available in online archives from the Florida Channel. Bullard recounted the same position again Thursday.

After the measure was considered and changed through two more committee hearings, Bullard joined a unanimous vote of the Florida House — which included Artiles — in approving a trimmed-down version of the bill. (It later died in the Senate.)

The version Bullard initially opposed would have applied the proposed law to all criminal defendants who are registered sex offenders or registered predators regardless of what they were arrested for. The final version he and the rest of the Florida House supported included language that made it apply only to those arrested for a felony, not those arrested for misdemeanor offenses.

In that initial committee hearing when Bullard cast his “no” vote, he explained: “I really, really want to vote for this bill, but currently the language basically throws the baby out with the bathwater. … Reluctantly, I’m going to have to vote against this bill today in the hopes that it gets fixed at the next stop.”

He said the applicable offenses should be narrowed and that registered sex offenders shouldn’t be held without bond for more minor offenses, like a DUI or a traffic infraction. At least one other committee member, then-Democratic Rep. Perry Thurston Jr., voiced a similar position.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Gayle Harrell, said in that hearing she was “amenable” to Bullard’s proposed changes, and those ultimately made it into the bill. Bullard’s “no” vote in committee was the only opposing vote the bill got when it was vetted in the House.

The Bullard-Artiles race for central Miami-Dade County’s District 40 seat has been viciously competitive, as Bullard fights for his political future and Artiles jockeys to unseat him.

Artiles is outspending Bullard at least 5 to 1 to court the heavily Hispanic, Democratic-leaning district, and he has had help in that effort from the Florida Senate Republicans’ campaign committee. The committee aired another extreme attack ad against Bullard that used footage from the 9/11 terrorist attacks in accusing Bullard of meeting with a “terrorist” during a trip to Palestinian areas of Israel earlier this year. Bullard has repeatedly disputed the allegation.

Herald politics writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark