It’s time for the fourth (!) edition of our 50-state tour of the worst politicians in America. Today, we’re in (drum roll please) Florida.
A reminder: Every two weeks, we’re going to highlight a different state, so that by the end, you’ll have a full panorama of the trash pile that is American democracy from coast to coast. You can click here to find our full, growing archive of entries. If you have ideas for bad politicians we should be focusing on, you can send us names by filling out our Google form—and you can submit the form as many times as you want, so don’t worry about narrowing down your list.
Our latest edition is about Florida, which—need we say anything more? Even Florida’s status as the birthplace of Hamilton Nolan is not enough to save its reputation. It’s Florida! You know the deal.
A note: going through a list of every single corrupt, demagogic weirdo in Florida politics would take us a million years, so all the people featured here are also representatives of a much larger pool of filth. Let’s get to it!
Former State Sen. Frank Artiles (R)
Artiles is technically a former politician, but his history and recent activities more than earned him a spot on this list. He’s the kind of guy who has a history of racial slurs, and not in an ignorant white guy dropping slurs online at 19 who later runs for office kind of way. No, Artiles dropped the n-word to one of his Black colleagues’ faces, claiming that then-Senate President Joe Negron was only in power because “six n— in the Republican caucus,” voted for him. There aren’t six Black people in the Florida State Republican caucus, so it’s unclear what Artiles was going for there — he later claimed he used the soft “a” version of the word and thought he was using a slang term. Again, to a Black colleague’s face.
Artiles resigned in disgrace over the episode (he also called a female colleague a “bitch” in the same tirade) and flew under the radar until just this year when he cropped back up again, this time for allegedly paying one of his old friends $45,000 to run as a sham candidate in a contested State Senate election, in a blatant attempt to siphon votes away from the incumbent Democrat (his old buddy had the same last name as the incumbent). The Republican challenger went on to win that race by 32 votes. Artiles surrendered himself to police in March and now faces charges of making campaign contributions over the limits and false swearing in connection to an election. He’s currently out on bond.
State Sen. Danny Burgess (R)
Burgess is only a freshman state senator, but he’s already proving himself to be a senior-level dipshit. Let’s take a look at some of his most recent hits: For one, Burgess wrote a bill designed to push back against social media companies for censorship of conservative opinions in the wake of Donald Trump’s deplatforming. Weirdly though, for a guy who’s very into “free speech,” he also sponsored a bill targeted at peaceful protesters! The “anti-riot” legislation, which Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed into law, aims to criminalize nonexistent violence at protests, prevents bail for those who are arrested during a riot, and protects law enforcement and Confederate monuments, among other atrocities. Unsurprisingly, it was deeply controversial and heavily debated, but managed to persevere despite Burgess himself admitting it could be misused in practice. To top it all off, Burgess is pro-vaccine—wait for it—but stridently insists on protecting the liberties of anti-vaxxers. Truly, he contains (deeply despicable, contradictory, and self-serving) multitudes.
Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz
When the Florida Democratic Party once again shit the bed last year, this time as a $15 minimum wage amendment passed by 20 points, they got together and decided: We simply are not conservative enough.
To carry out that task, the Democrats elected as their party chair Manny Diaz, a lawyer for Eilan Gonzalez’s Miami family who last won elected office in 2005, his second term as the independent mayor of Miami. Diaz was a vocal supporter of Mike Bloomberg in the Democratic primary, and then Bloomberg returned the favor by backing Diaz’s bid for state party chair.
Diaz is, of course, a hardline anti-communist who parroted all of the right-wing comparisons of Bernie Sanders with Latin American leftists. (Pretty rude to the socialists in those countries, who actually won.) And in a statement after he won election as chair, Diaz said he wants to lead a Florida Democratic Party that “assures that America remains the shining beacon of hope of democracy for the entire world.” Yuck! No thanks!
State Rep. Blaise Ingoglia (R)
In keeping with Florida’s storied history of election fuckery, Rep. Ingoglia led the charge in the state legislature to impose sweeping restrictions on the election process after 2020 (despite, you know, Republicans steadily winning Florida). The Spring Hill Republican’s bill, signed by Trump crony Gov. Ron DeSantis, cribs much of what we’ve seen in Georgia’s new voting laws: stricter limits on voting absentee; requiring excessive identification; making drop boxes inaccessible; banning people waiting in line and roasting in the sun from getting water. It’s all part and parcel of the larger Republican election strategy post-Trump of making sure fewer people can vote, all in the name of supposed “election integrity,” despite none of these guys ever being able to produce any evidence of so-called “election fraud.” Ingoglia in fact had a perfectly bitchy response when pushed on this fact: ““I don’t know, but I’m sure it was going on,” he told reporters. “Just the fact that they weren’t caught doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not happening.” Sure, dude.
Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez (R)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis rightfully gets a lot of attention for being terrible, but don’t sleep on his deputy, Jeanette Nuñez! She ticks all the boxes. Shameless turn from Trump critic to Trump fanatic? Check (she once called him a “con man,” but by October of last year was so on the bandwagon that, when Trump made that infamous car trip from the hospital where he was being treated for COVID, Nuñez said she would happily have gotten in the car with him). Crazy on voting? Check (in one interview, she portrayed the state’s recent voter suppression legislation as…a bill to help seniors). Fanatical anti-communism? Oh, you better believe you can check that box for a daughter of Cuban exiles. All of this got her a speaking gig at the 2020 Republican National COnvention, where—you guessed it—she went on a rant about socialism. Nuñez is only 48, so, uh, good luck with all of that, Florida.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle (D)
You know you’ve fucked up when your own party demands — multiple times! — that you step down, and not run for reelection. Folks, meet Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle — a prosecutor who’s loose with the block button, and stingy with bringing charges against cops, something she’s never done in nearly three decades of public service. Speaking of not charging law enforcement officials, Fernandez Rundle is probably most infamous for declining to prosecute a group of prison officers who locked a mentally ill inmate inside a scalding shower, where he eventually died. She was, however, more than eager to charge a 15-year-old with the murder of a prominent New York City rabbi based on a police sketch that looked more like a muppet than a human being. That case was dropped after a year, and Fernandez Rundle was sued by the teen’s family, who allege that the prosecutor’s office had been tipped off about the identity of the actual murderers, but ignored the evidence entirely. Great work all around! By the way, Fernandez Rundle refused to heed the calls for her to bow out of office, and won an eighth term last August.
State Rep. Anthony Sabatini (R)
This Florida state representative has it all. He loves our dearly departed last president and so, naturally, he also hates the science around COVID-19. (As recently as Tuesday, he called Dr. Anthony Fauci a “Swamp garbage [caps his]” who “should be in prison.” He also doesn’t believe in masks but has no follow-through, and is anti-COVID vaxx). Most recently, Sabatini has come under scrutiny for a $7,500 payment he received from former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Greenberg is at the center of a sprawling sex trafficking investigation that’s also ensnared fellow Florida shithead U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz. (Gaetz has not been charged and denies any involvement.) As the Orlando Sentinel reported, Greenberg awarded Sabatini a $3,000-a-month “legal counsel” contract in September 2019, but officials later said they were “not sure” what exactly he worked on. Interesting!
But don’t think Sabatini has only recently become a bad guy. Before he was elected to state office, he offered up his county as a potential final resting place for all the nation’s removed Confederate statues. Back in 2019, in the midst of dealing with a scandal over a photo of himself in blackface, a photo then surfaced of him in brownface. You simply can’t make it up, folks! We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention his love for being an absolute demon on Twitter: He tweeted “KYLE RITTENHOUSE FOR CONGRESS” after the 17-year-old shot and killed two people protesting police shooting Jacob Blake in Kenosha, WI. Sabatini’s take on the Derek Chauvin guilty verdict? “Mob justice.” Complete and utterly trash human.
Hendry County Sheriff Steve Whidden (R)
Often our gauge of the “worst politicians” is relative, but here’s one guy who has been verified as one of the worst elected officials — sheriffs, specifically — in Florida, by the Fort Meyers News-Press. This year, Steve Whidden began his fourth term as sheriff of Hendry County, a small community of just over 42,000 people. This was despite the News-Press crunching the numbers and finding Whidden’s office to be among the worst sheriff’s offices in the state for his hiring practices. Whidden, the paper found, has a sterling record of hiring people who previously resigned or were fired from other police departments for allegations against them, as well as people with personal histories of misconduct.
Here are just a few highlights of the News-Press report: Over 12 years, Whidden hired at least 51 deputies with histories of personal and professional misconduct, including racism, lying, fraud, paying an informant for sex, and more. Among them, 24 had previously been fired or resigned and later had the accusations against them proven true. Another 27 hires had histories of personal criminal offenses, including DUIs, falsifying records, making false statements and more. Whidden refused to respond to the allegations without getting his response printed by the paper in full, calling the report “fake news” on Facebook. (Not that it matters much in the context of policing, but Whidden changed his political affiliation from Democrat to Republican in 2018.) According to the paper, these hirings have resulted in failed prosecution in at least a dozen cases, along with false arrest claims and impending lawsuits.
None of that seemed to sway voters — Whidden won his re-election with 58.9% of the vote. And his moral compass keeps coming through. Earlier this month, an elementary school principal went viral after being recorded paddling a 6-year-old. The mother of the child was present for the punishment and secretly recorded it, but was afraid to intervene or contact law enforcement because she’s undocumented. Though corporal punishment is illegal in Hendry County, Whidden told a local TV station that he didn’t see a crime being committed in the video. Way to serve and protect.
Image credits, in order: Frank Artiles/LinkedIn; DannyBurgessFL/Facebook; CBS Miami/YouTube; MyFloridaHouse.gov; LtGovNunez/Facebook; MiamiSAO.com; VoteSabatini/Facebook; Florida Sheriffs/YouTube. All images remixed by Samantha Grasso.