MIAMI (CBSMiami) – At the conclusion of a recent legislative committee meeting in Tallahassee, Republican State Senator Ileana Garcia angrily confronted State Senator Audrey Gibson, standing over Gibson as she was seated and allegedly cursing at Gibson, saying she was tired of being disrespected, according to multiple people who witnessed the incident.
“She just walked over to me and got in my face about being disrespected,” Gibson told CBS Miami. “I said what are you talking about? And I said, `You should get out of my face.’”READ MORE: Miami-Dade Bus Driver Accused Of Molesting 7-Year-Old Girl
As Gibson stood up to put distance between herself and Garcia, senate staff stepped in afraid the incident was going to escalate further. Walking away, Garcia reportedly said “this isn’t a [expletive] parking lot.”
“I didn’t hear her say it, but my staff did, it was just crazy,” said Gibson, 65, who has served in the state House and Senate for twenty years and is currently the only black woman in the Senate.
State Senator Lauren Book, a Democrat from Broward, who was sitting with Gibson, said she clearly heard Garcia’s profane outburst.
“She came over and started attacking Audrey,” said Book, the Democratic leader in the Senate. “There was nothing happening that should have led to this type of action.”
State Senator Bobby Powell, who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus, also witnessed the event.
“There was an incident last week in which after a committee, she [Garcia] did accost one of the members of the Black Caucus,” said Powell, a Democrat from Palm Beach. “[Garcia] kind of got in her face. I don’t know if there was a threat thrown out, but I did feel it may have been an intimidation tactic.”
Garcia denied she did anything and instead blamed Gibson, telling CBS Miami in a statement: “”This story has been fabricated with a political narrative and not a journalistic one.”
“In the Senate I work and treat all of my colleagues with utmost respect and expect them to do the same,” the statement continued. “Unfortunately, during a recent Rules Committee a Senator was attempting to interrupt me numerous times as I was presenting my bills. I conveyed to her at the end of the Committee meeting that I did not appreciate her disrespect. I was the one offended by the Senator’s behavior.”
There is no evidence on the video of the committee meeting that Gibson interrupted Garcia. Normally, if a Senator was being disruptive, the chair of the committee would step in and put a stop to it. State Senator Kathleen Passidomo, a Republican from Naples who is chair of the Rules Committee, did not intercede. Passidomo did not respond to CBS Miami’s request for an interview or for a comment.
In her statement, Garcia also denied cursing while addressing Gibson.
“I never used any profanity in my conversation,” Garcia wrote. “I strongly believe that our constituents deserve that we conduct ourselves in a respectful, professional and thoughtful manner, especially when we are in the Senate.”
The episode, first reported last week by Politico, took place on January 13, following the Senate Rules Committee meeting, where Garcia is the vice-chair of the committee and Gibson is a member. The meeting was largely devoid of controversy.
Toward the end of the meeting, Passidomo called on Garcia who had two routine housekeeping bills designed to keep various laws from expiring.
“Vice Chair Garcia you are recognized to explain the bill,” Passidomo said, according to a video of the meeting.
Typically, when called upon to explain a bill – especially one that is not controversial – a senator will offer a brief description. Instead, Garcia read what appeared to be the entirety of the bill.
“And that is the bill, Madame Chair,” Garcia concluded.
“Thank you for reading the bill,” Passidomo said with a smile. Many of the senators on the committee can be heard laughing, according to the video.READ MORE: Partial Roof Collapse At Miami Coin Laundry In Strip Mall, Inspectors Condemned Building
Garcia tried to make her own joke, “I was told what to do and I do what I do.”
A few moments later, Passidomo turned to Garcia and asked her to explain her next bill.
“I’ll give you the short version, so I don’t get hazed again by Senator Gibson,” Garcia said.
“It’s so much fun though,” Passidomo said with a good-natured grin.
“Yeah, it is, isn’t it?” Garcia responded. “Never a dull moment.”
It is not clear why Garcia singled out Gibson. “I didn’t say anything to her,” Gibson said. “We were all chuckling.”
When the meeting came to an end, Garcia stood up and went over to Gibson, who was sitting a few feet away. Witnesses said Garcia leaned over Gibson, who was seated and began pointing at her and Book.
“I was just sitting there having a conversation [with Book],” Gibson said. “And then she came in and was standing over me. I was taken aback by it.”
Garcia reportedly told Gibson that Gibson always has something rude to say and that she wasn’t going to put up with it any longer. Gibson stood up and told Garcia to get away from her.
Book said she was surprised by what took place. Book described Garcia’s comments to Gibson as “very pointed.” Book recalled Garcia telling Gibson: “You’re always talking [expletive]”
“I don’t know that Senator Gibson has ever said anything to her before,” Book said.
“I don’t know why she singled out Senator Gibson, because everyone chuckled,” said State Senator Randolph Bracy, a Democrat from Orlando. “Senator Gibson seemed surprised. When I asked Senator Gibson what it was about, she said she didn’t know.”
Gibson said she is still confused by Garcia’s actions and says she has never spoken to Garcia, even though Garcia has been in the Senate for more than a year. “I don’t think I’ve said five words to her in the last year,” she said.
The encounter between Garcia and Gibson was not broadcast or posted online. The video cuts out as soon as Passidomo says the meeting is adjourned. Officials for The Florida Channel, which records the meeting, told CBS Miami there is no additional video.
In addition to Passidomo, CBS Miami contacted other Republicans on the committee who were sitting near Garcia and Gibson, but they either did not respond to requests for interviews or said they left the meeting before the confrontation occurred.
The incident with Gibson comes at a time when Garcia is already facing criticism over comments she made in an interview with CBS Miami in which she argued that there is no divide in this country when it comes to race and that blacks are treated no differently than whites in this country.
“That’s why we had Obama as a President,” she told CBS Miami. “That’s the best example in the world. Obama was president not for four years but for eight.”
Gibson said the only other time she was ever confronted in such an aggressive manner was in 2017, when then-State Senator Frank Artiles went on a drunken tirade against her in a Tallahassee bar, swearing and using racist and misogynistic language. As a result of the incident, he was forced to resign.
Today, Artiles is accused of planting a so-called shadow candidate in Garcia’s 2020 senate race to draw votes away from her Democratic challenger. The shadow candidate received more than six thousand votes. Garcia won her race by 32 votes. Artiles denies the allegations and is awaiting trial.MORE NEWS: CDC Encourages Second Booster Dose For Those Who Are Eligible
Miami Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle cleared Garcia of any wrongdoing and Garcia has denied knowing anything about the scheme to get her elected.