Some got new jobs and some resigned in shame, but 2017 was the year of the mass exodus among Florida lawmakers. Three of the state’s 40 senators resigned in shame while another eight House members either called it quits, got new gigs or passed away.
By the time 2018 rolls around, Florida will have a new slew of lawmakers, but before the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31, here’s a look back at the lawmakers we lost in 2017.
Miami senator Frank Artiles was the first lawmaker to go in 2017. Artiles’ resignation was the result of a foul-mouthed tirade at the Governor’s Club in Tallahassee.
Artiles verbally attacked Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, using the “n-word” and other vulgarities about his fellow lawmakers.
According to the Miami Herald, Artiles was heard to use the word “niggers,” at the exclusive Tallahassee Club, though he claimed 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 black caucus chairman 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.
Artiles resigned days later, issuing an apology to his constituents.
“To the people of my district of all of Miami-Dade, I am sorry I have let you down and ask for your forgiveness,” he said.
Artiles was replaced by Sen. Annette Taddeo.
The end of the year was a tumultuous time for the Florida Senate, and Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens was the next to leave.
In October, news broke that Clemens had been involved in an extramarital affair with Tallahassee lobbyist Devon West.
Less than 24 hours later, Clemens had admitted the affair and resigned from office.
“I have made mistakes I am ashamed of, and for the past six months I have been focused on becoming a better person,’’ Clemens said in a statement. “But it is clear to me that task is impossible to finish while in elected office. … Though they have been aware for some time now, I apologize again to my wife, my family and anyone and everyone that I have treated poorly in the past for putting you through this in such a public way.’’
A special election primary to replace Clemens will be held Jan. 30. The general special election will be held April 10.
Perhaps the steepest fall from grace came after Clearwater Sen. Jack Latvala was accused by six different women of sexual harassment and misconduct in November.
Politico Florida first reported the claims, one of which came from top Senate staffer Rachel Perrin Rogers, who alleged Latvala, the former Senate Budget Chief had made inappropriate comments and groped her on multiple occasions.
Latvala denied the claims and the Senate launched an investigation into the matter. On Dec. 21, the Senate Special Master released the results of the investigation, which were worse than the original reports.
The news was bad for Latvala, who, according to the report offered a seventh woman legislative votes in exchange for sex.
Latvala, also a Republican candidate for governor, resigned after the report’s release, but still seemed to maintain his political opponents were out to get him, not acknowledging or accepting any intentional wrongdoing.
“I have never intentionally dishonored my family, my constituents or the Florida Senate,” Latvala wrote in his resignation letter.
Referring to the national #MeToo movement, he said his foes were pouncing on an opportunity to expel him from Tallahassee.
“My political adversaries have latched onto this effort to rid our country of sexual harassment to try to rid the Florida Senate of me,” he said.
Florida House of Representatives
Miami State Rep. Daisy Baez found herself in hot water for living outside her district in 2017. Baez’s residency woes made headlines this summer after the Miami Herald found Baez had been living in a house in HD 112, a little over a mile away from HD 114, the district she was actually elected to represent last November.
Baez pleaded guilty to charges of perjury for lying about her address on a voter registration form in November, exactly a week after she resigned from the Florida House of Representatives.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle determined Baez had been inconsistent in the statements she gave under under oath regarding her residency and Fernandez Rundle ultimately decided to press charges.
Ultimately, Baez accepted a misdemeanor plea deal which said she had to quit her post as a state representative, pay a $1,000 fine and take an ethics course. She will also be banned from serving public office for one year as part of a yearlong probation term.
State Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, announced in November that she would be stepping down from the Florida House to run for Sen. Jeff Clemens’ vacant seat in 2018.
Berman is widely viewed as the favorite candidate to replace Clemens, largely outraising her Democratic opponents for the seat.
Though Berman’s resignation isn’t official until April, her departure sets off a new opportunity for a fresh face to take her place in Tallahassee.
State Rep. Neil Combee resigned from the Florida House to take a job with the Trump administration, where he now works as Florida state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency.
Combee represented parts of Polk County in the state House beginning in 2012 but parted ways with state politics in November.
Jose Felix Diaz
Jose Felix “Pepi” Diaz represented parts of Miami in the Florida House from 2010 to 2017, when he resigned from office to run for Sen. Frank Artiles’ vacant seat.
The campaign for Florida’s 40th Senate District against Democrat and former Lieutenant Gov. candidate Annette Taddeo was the race to watch in the summer, with Taddeo ultimately pulling off an impressive victory for the district, sending Diaz packing.
State Rep. Eric Eisnaugle left the Florida House in May after being appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to the Fifth District Court of Appeal.
Eisnaugle’s departure hardly surprised Tallahassee politicos since he had already filed papers to end his re-election campaign in February after losing the race for House Speaker in 2020 against Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor.
Former Plant City Mayor and State Rep. Dan Raulerson announced he would be resigning from the Florida House of Representatives in July, citing health problems and a need for back surgery as well as a desire to focus on his job as a certified public accountant.
“I need to focus on my health and my business,“ he said, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Raulerson missed many critical votes on the House floor this year as a result of his ongoing back problems, not showing up to seven of the House’s 63 floor sessions and missing 17 of 36 committee meetings where legislation is pushed through to the House floor.
He had surgery to alleviate symptoms, leading some to speculate that, in addition to his growing absences, his back issues would cause him to resign.
Raulerson later commented on a stifling environment of the Florida House, which caused some to wonder whether House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, was at least partly to blame for the mass departures. Raulerson condemned Corcoran’s “oppressive” leadership style to the Tampa Bay Times earlier this month.
Sarasota Republican Alex Miller was another lawmaker rumored to leave her job as an elected official due to pressures from House leadership.
Miller, a freshman legislator from Sarasota, announced in August she would be resigning from the Florida House, citing “business” and “family reasons” for her abrupt departure.
“As a mother with two teenage boys who is the CEO of a rapidly growing business, I have come to the conclusion that I must spend more time at home than my service in the Legislature would allow,” Miller wrote in a letter to Corcoran.
As a lawmaker, Miller served on many committees, including the Careers & Competition Subcommittee, Government Accountability Committee, Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee and the Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee.
She was seen by many as one of the House’s “rising stars,” but she quickly came under fire from House leadership for supporting its scorched earth approach to eliminating state economic agencies Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida and later switching her position to support the agencies.
Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, R-The Villages, died unexpectedly in December.
Hahnfeldt was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2016 after a lengthy career in the U.S. Navy, where he served for 32 years as a nuclear submarine commander of the Pacific Fleet’s Strategic Submarine Squadron.
Before entering Tallahassee politics, Hahnfeldt was involved in local politics and was elected to the Sumter County Commission in 2012.
The cause of death is currently unknown.