FIGHTIN' WORDS

I'm with AUDREY

How the Duval Delegation dropped the ball

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Mercifully, the Florida Legislature is approaching Sine Die. Assuming there is no special session because budget or something else couldn’t be completed, that will be it for this year.

For many reading this, not to mention national audiences that caught on to the story, the big narrative this year won’t be Lake Okeechobee or “Whiskey and Wheaties” or ride share legislation.

Rather, the big story will be something that didn’t happen inside session at all—but instead in the restricted-access Governor’s Club, where Sen. Frank Artiles went on a rant worthy of Sen. Tony Montana against two African-American senators: one of whom, Audrey Gibson from Jacksonville, got up, walked out, and then became famous beyond this region.

The details of the rant? The Miami Herald had the most NC-17 version.

“Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles dropped the N-word to a pair of African-American colleagues in private conversation Monday night—after calling one of them a ‘fucking asshole,’ a ‘bitch’ and a ‘girl,’ the two senators said,” the Herald report read.

Artiles’ issue?

An apparent belief that Senate President Joe Negron “had been risen to his powerful GOP leadership role because ‘six n-----s’ in the Republican caucus had elected him.”

(Eventually, the counternarrative emerged: Artiles was using a variation on the ethnic slur, and his claim was that it wasn’t racial, it’s just how people talk in Hialeah).

Gibson told the Herald that an apology would be meaningless.

“I can’t remember a time in my life when anybody called me either one of those things … It’s just the most disrespect I’ve ever encountered.”

Despite Gibson saying an apology would be meaningless, Artiles apologized—first via statement, then on the Senate floor—in an exercise of futility, because Gibson had no intention of looking him in the eye and letting him walk back his statements. By the end of the week, Artiles resigned. Artiles’ comments required resignation: that was something that pretty much anyone covering the story saw instantly.

The delay compelled Artiles’ fellow Republicans, including Rob Bradley of Orange Park, to question the apology itself by Thursday, a development which hinted at the potential success of an expulsion vote.

“I thought parts of his apology today were not good enough … I did not appreciate him trying to justify the use of a word who should never be uttered whether you are a senator or not. And so I’m disappointed by that part of it today,” Bradley said.

Throughout the process, there was a dichotomy in response: Democrats dropped statements condemning Artiles, and Republicans sat on their hands.

Among the Republicans who sat on their hands were those who should know Gibson best: the Duval County Delegation. If any Republican among that group condemned Artiles in a public statement, I missed it.

One could say that illustrates an interesting disconnect in the regional delegation: we can talk about local priorities and loyalties, but asking people to buck the party line in their service clearly is asking too much.

Undoubtedly, some reading this ascribe less generous motivations to the public silence of Gibson’s local colleagues on L’Affaire Artiles.

The same folks who rush to co-sponsor any legislation that makes them seem two-fisted and Texas-tough (gun bills, anti-terror bills, and all those other measures that look good on re-election mail pieces) punted when given a chance to demonstrate that human decency and defense of a local friend and colleague matter.

I don’t get it. Frank Artiles is nothing and no one to us up here. He showed his ass. Everyone in the process knows Audrey Gibson as one of the most principled politicians we’ve got right now. Why not at least a statement of support? It comes off as chickenshit.

And the delegation’s inability to do the right thing on the Gibson matter points, yet again, to its downsizing as a statewide force that matters.

Aaron Bean, despite his desire to be state CFO, is wounded by the story around CELPHIE, a mental-health self-screening program marketed by the wife of his campaign manager, which ended up getting state funding via the Florida State University budget.

In D.C., there are issues also. One congressman’s spending recess week visiting the Mexican border, and the one from out west has harried staffers blow up at the press when they report anything negative about him.

People have talked about Audrey Gibson running for Congress against Al Lawson, and until this week it’s seemed more remote than Alvin Brown or someone else out of office.

But after last week, with her own delegation not having her back when she needed them, it would be interesting for Gibson to use this moment as a catalyst to run for Congress, taking up the “Jacksonville First” legacy of a friend and political ally whose sacrifice is happening, in slow-motion, downtown at the federal courthouse.

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