Florida Secretary of State Mike Ertel resigned suddenly on Thursday after the Tallahassee Democrat uncovered pictures of him wearing blackface at a 2005 Halloween party.
Mike Ertel dresses as blackfaced “Katrina Victim”
Things not to do as elected official: Dress up as black female victim of Hurricane Katrina (in ‘05). That was Fl Secretary of State Mike Ertel, who lasted 3 wk on job. pic.twitter.com/p2CAPEVx7x
— Mary Shanklin (@maryshanklin) January 25, 2019
Two months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, Mike Ertel put on blackface, false breasts, and a purple t-shirt bearing the words “Katrina Victim” across his chest to attend a Halloween party.
At the time, Ertel was serving as supervisor of elections for Seminole County. He had been appointed by Governor Jeb Bush in February 2005.
A copy of the photos were obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat. When the newspaper called him for comment he said, “There’s nothing I can say.”
Before the Democrat had time to run the story, Ertel had already submitted his resignation to Governor Ron DeSantis.
“I am submitting my resignation as Florida secretary of state effective immediately,” he wrote in a letter to DeSantis. “It has been an honor to serve you and the voters of Florida.”
Unlike most states, the Secretary of State’s office in Florida is appointed by the governor. DeSantis had appointed Ertel on January 8th, just sixteen days before his resignation.
Florida reacts to Ertel’s sudden resignation
Before the emergence of the photo, Ertel appeared to be implementing a widely well-received agenda as Secretary of State. Despite some Republican Secretaries of State taking a hard-line on voter registration, Ertel was following a more tolerant approach.
“I want to send a very clear message to you, and all Floridians, if you receive a voter registration application today, do as you have always done: accept it,” he wrote in an email to county election officials on his first day in office.
The resignation comes at an important moment for the Secretary of State’s office, as the state debates the implementation of Amendment 4. Passed at the November midterm election, the amendment is meant to restore voting rights to ex-felons.
After accepting Ertel’s resignation, Governor DeSantis spoke at a press conference.
“It’s unfortunate. He’s done a lot of good work,” DeSantis said, explaining he accepted Ertel’s resignation because, “I don’t want to get mired in side controversies.”
Lee Constantine, a Seminole County official who had previously worked with Ertel, was surprised to learn the news. “That’s not the Mike I know,” he said. “Clearly it was inappropriate and it was a mistake, but that’s not the Mike I know.”
Rather than use the resignation to score political points, one Democrat praised Ertel’s response. Florida Democratic Representative Anna Eskimani tweeted, “Mike’s quick resignation is a reflection of the man he is today. It was the right decision to make, and I wish him well.”
Some conservative leaders were upset that an action more than a decade old could come be held against Ertel.
Florida Familiy Council chairman John Stemberger tweeted,”We have reached yet another societal low when we are so blasted ‘sensitive’ we disqualify one of the most capable & qualified leaders for a job who is a person of extraordinary integrity & fairness all because of face makeup at a Halloween party some 14 yrs ago.”
It is not only Florida Republicans who have paid the price for racial insensitivity, however. Florida DNC representative John Parker was forced to resign his position in April 2018 after being overheard using the term “colored people” at a Jacksonville restaurant.