TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A state senator from South Florida has been removed from a committee that he chairs after using a racial slur among his colleagues.
State Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, was removed as chair of the Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities, Senate President Joe Negron confirmed Wednesday.
Artiles used a variation of the "n-word" during a conversation with Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, and Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, at the Governors Club in Tallahassee, not far from the state Capitol.
Gibson and Thurston, who are black, said Artiles also used obscene and belittling language directed at them in the Monday night conversation.
"I was absolutely taken aback," Gibson said.
Artiles apologized on the Senate floor Wednesday morning.
"I extend a heartfelt apology to my colleagues and to all of those I have offended," Artiles said.
Artiles, a former state House member, was elected to the Senate in November over former Democratic state Sen. Dwight Bullard, who is black.
Gibson and Thurston were in attendance when Artiles apologized.
"With regard to the word, which I used toward no one in particular, but that is rightfully the most inflammatory, I know my explanation is inadequate, but it's sincere," Artiles said.
Gibson said she believes Artiles' apology added insult to injury.
"When you apologize, you apologize fully and you leave it there," Gibson said. "You don't apologize and then try to make excuses."
Hours after the public apology, Thurston filed a formal complaint on behalf of the legislative black caucus seeking to oust Artiles.
Thurston wrote that Artiles' "egregious comments" were a violation of Senate rules and justifies his expulsion. The letter was addressed to Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, who serves as chair of the Senate Rules Committee.
In a memorandum to all senators, Negron said he has directed Dawn Roberts, general counsel of the Florida Senate, to conduct an investigation and present a report and recommendation to the Rules Committee by Tuesday.
Calls for Artiles to resign are mounting statewide, but the senator said he intends to continue to serve his constituents.
"If every time a senator made a mistake or someone made a mistake that they were going to resign, we'd have half the Senate gone for whatever reason," Artiles said.