House considers punishing member for slur

Published October 26, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - Florida House leaders are looking into disciplining - and possibly expelling - a South Florida Republican who left a racial slur on the cell phone of another lawmaker.

Last week, Rep. Gus Barreiro, R-Miami Beach, filed a complaint with House Rules Committee alleging that earlier this year, Ralph Arza of Hialeah had used a racial slur to describe the superintendent of the Miami-Dade County School District.

Over the weekend, Barreiro received a message from Arza, repeating the same slur and yelling at Barreiro for filing the complaint. Arza has since apologized and said he had been drinking alcohol when he left the message. Arza has refused to resign.

He did not return calls for comment Wednesday.

His refusal led incoming House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-Miami, to declare Arza ineligible for leadership positions during Rubio's term as speaker, according to a letter Rubio wrote House members Wednesday.

Now House leadership is looking into what to do next, including whether they can kick Arza out.

Outgoing Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, sent a letter to Rules Committee Chairman Dudley Goodlette asking him to review the matter and give a recommendation by Monday.

"Specifically I ask you to advise if discipline is warranted and whether expulsion or censure of public reprimand may be the more suitable punishment."

"Rep. Arza needs to understand that what he did is despicable," Bense said while campaigning with Charlie Crist in Panama City. "He's embarrassed the Florida House of Representatives, and I'm mad." Asked whether Arza should resign, Bense said: "I would if I were him."

"I thought we were past this thing," Bense added. "For that word to be used at any time is inexcusable and despicable."

Meanwhile, the House Democratic caucus issued a statement Wednesday calling for leaders to fire Arza and resolving "not to take the floor with Rep. Arza present except to vote for his expulsion or accept his resignation."