Florida Secretary of State Mike Ertel submitted his resignation on Thursday after photos surfaced of him dressed in blackface as a victim of Hurricane Katrina at a Halloween party. The Tallahassee Democrat unearthed the photos, and within hours, Ertel had stepped down.
Just two months after Katrina devastated Louisiana and Florida, and eight months after he was appointed Seminole County, Florida, supervisor of elections, Michael Ertel dressed up in a Halloween costume featuring a turban, large earrings, fake breasts, and a shirt that says “Katrina victim” written across it. Ertel appears in blackface in the images.
The Tallahassee Democrat contacted Ertel, who confirmed that it was him in the images at the 2005 party. He declined to comment any further.
“There’s nothing I can say,” Ertel said in response to the revelation.
Hours after the story broke and after giving a presentation on election litigation, Florida governor Ron DeSantis’ office said that Ertel had resigned.
“The governor accepted Secretary Ertel’s resignation,” a statement from DeSantis’s office said.
“I am submitting my resignation as Florida secretary of state effective immediately,” Ertel wrote. “It has been an honor to serve you and the voters of Florida.”
Later at an unrelated news conference about hurricane relief, DeSantis spoke about Ertel’s resignation.
“It’s unfortunate. He’s done a lot of good work,” he said
But DeSantis said that he accepted the resignation because “I don’t want to get mired in side controversies.”
DeSantis had appointed Ertel on December 28 as Secretary of State to replace Ken Detzner. Detzner was the former governor’s appointee since 2012.
The Tallahassee Democrat calls the photos a “sole blemish on a seemingly spotless public career” and that Ertel had worked to make voting more accessible to the general public. He has received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award for registering voters, and had fought against Scott’s attempt to purge voter rolls. He has also won awards for his attempts to restore voter confidence in the election system and used his office to help register high school students to vote.
Most recently, Ertel was involved in a conversation around how to implement 2018’s Amendment 4, which restores voting rights to felons within the state.
Prior to his appointment in the voting office in 2005, he spent eight years in the U.S. Army in Macedonia and Bosnia, and provided public relations service during the 1992 riots in Los Angeles.
DeSantis will need to appoint a new Secretary of State to oversee the execution of Amendment 4.