Attorney General Pam Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott are saying Sen. Frank Artiles needs to step down or be fired from the Senate over a profanity-laced rant and racial slur he hurled at a black lawmaker earlier this week.
On Thursday, Bondi told Politico Florida she thought Artiles should resign from office for his use of the “n-word” and other profanities directed at Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville.
“There is simply no room for racial, hurtful language spoken to your colleagues or anyone else,” Bondi Said. “I have always liked Frank and hope he gives serious consideration to resigning so the focus can return to important legislative issues.”
Bondi was the first Florida Cabinet member to weigh in on the controversy, which has rocked Tallahassee this week.
It wasn’t long before the governor chimed in, however, saying Artiles’ comments were unacceptable.
"If I had an employee who said what he said, I would immediately fire him,” Scott told the Associated Press Thursday.
The comments came after reports swirled that Artiles had verbally attacked Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, at the Governor's Club Monday evening.
According to the Miami Herald, Artiles was heard to use the word "niggers," though he claims he really had said "niggas," which he called a harmless slang-term. The Herald also reported Artiles referred to Gibson as "this bitch" and "girl" -- and told Gibson and Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, that Negron (whom Artiles called "a pussy") had become Senate president because he got votes from "six niggers" in the Republican caucus.
Meanwhile, the Senate has opened up an investigation into Artiles’ comments after the Black Caucus filed a formal complaint over the matter.
On Wednesday, Senate Rules Committee Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, found probable cause to investigate Sen. Frank Artiles for violating the rules of legislative conduct and is appointing special counsel to investigate the matter. Senate General Counsel Dawn Roberts is scheduled to present a report and a recommendation to the committee by April 25.
Artiles is fighting back against Roberts’ representing the Senate, however, and is calling for an independent counsel to represent that chamber since Roberts has represented Artiles and other witnesses in separate matters.
Artiles publicly apologized to both Sens. Gibson and Perry Thurston on Wednesday, who was sitting at the same table as Gibson when Artiles made the remarks.
The apology came after Senate President Joe Negron issued a statement late Tuesday saying Artiles would try to make amends on the Senate floor Wednesday morning for the derogatory remarks he made about her, including use of a racial slur.
Negron also removed Artiles as Chair of the Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities, replacing him with Sen. Kelli Stargel.
Artiles' apology was expected, but sources told Sunshine State News that Senate leadership was less than pleased with the freshman senator who has previously made headlines for his hot head.
Senate Republican leader Wilton Simpson told Politico he was outraged. “What has been reported is completely and totally unacceptable and is not befitting of a member of the Florida Senate. We cannot support this hateful language. It is simply not acceptable.”
Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, in line to become the next Senate president, issued a statement expressing his disgust: "Such comments cannot be repaired by a formal apology, but I trust that it is an appropriate step to be taken by the president and the Florida Senate to handle this matter, and to ensure that this behavior is not tolerated and does not happen again."
Outcry was heard on both sides of the aisle, with Democrats also chiming in to condemn Artiles' remarks.
"The comments, attitude, and behavior toward State Senator Gibson cannot be swept aside because of a simple apology," the Democratic African American Women Caucus said in a statement released Wednesday. "The derogatory comments and condescending language used to attack Senator Gibson must be addressed. Women should not be debased and devalued to assuage fragile male egos."
The Black Caucus held a meeting Wednesday morning slamming the comments and vowing to press forward to make sure the Kendall Republican was held accountable for his words.
"Words matter," said Senate Democratic Minority Leader Oscar Braynon. "So, too, do the consequences. Senator Artiles seems to have a problem with people who don't look like him, who don't think like him, who don't act like him."
Artiles is still in office -- for now.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.