Florida State Rep. Mike Hill (R-Pensacola) has been no stranger to controversy in his time in the Florida Legislature, filing a bill to protect Confederate monuments, running viciously negative campaigns against his primary opponents, and generating a seemingly endless series of headline-garnering social media posts and public statements — calling Islam “a cult” and “a cancer,” attacking U.S. Rep. Justin Amash‘s (R-MI) Palestinian heritage, suggesting his primary opponent Rebekah Bydlak was unfit to serve because she had not been a mother, among other troublesome comments.
Now, Hill’s latest scandalous words have drawn bipartisan criticism saying that he is the one who is unfit to serve.
At a recent meeting of a Pensacola area group called “Women for Responsible Legislation,” Hill was taking questions from the attendees when someone brought up a Bible verse condemning homosexuality and saying that gays should be put to death. Hill laughed at the suggestion that he file a bill allowing this to happen. The Pensacola News Journal obtained an audio recording of the exchange:
A citizen comments: “In 1 Corinthians, it says that a man who has an affair with another man will be put to death.”
“It says that in the Old Testament, too.”
Another attendee asks, “Can you introduce legislation?”
Chuckles are audible. The state representative joins the laughter. “I wonder how that would go over?” Hill says.
The News Journal’s Andy Marlette called his local legislator “an unfit legislator and an unfit Christian,” and he was not alone in that view.
Rep. James Grant (R-Tampa), a stalwart conservative who made a name for himself during the recent legislative session by helping carry a number of bills that were priorities for House Republican leadership, emphatically condemned Hill, calling his words “theocratically fascist, unconscionable, and indefensible.”
Nothing about this “exchange of jokes” is conservative let alone Christian.
As a Christian who unapologetically believes in religious liberties, this exchange is nothing short of theocratically fascist, unconscionable, and indefensible.https://t.co/LI2fKZzvsl
— James Grant (@JamesGrantFL) May 31, 2019
Reached for comment, Grant added:
There are unfortunately members in every group who fail to understand what the group is advocating for. Those members do far more harm than good.
The theology of Christianity is anything but hateful and the ideology of conservatism is the opposite of bigotry. Exchanges like these not only demean the dignity of each and every life, they are blasphemous.
I’m getting way too much credit for what should be a very obvious and natural reaction to such a disgusting exchange.
Rep. Carlos B. Smith (D-Orlando), called on Hill to apologize or resign, posting a series of tweets noting the times they had worked together in the legislature and openly asking Hill if he really thought Smith should be put to death. When he was elected in 2016, Smith became Florida’s first openly gay Latino legislator.
I’m shocked & disgusted to discover a colleague who I’ve worked closely with would joke about punishing me by death for being gay. As a survivor of anti-gay hate violence, I know the consequences of homophobia are real. @MikeHillfl should apologize to LGBTQ Floridians or RESIGN. https://t.co/BqMoxLc6Vo
— Rep. Carlos G Smith (@CarlosGSmith) May 31, 2019
"@MikeHillfl isn't some random colleague I have no relationship with. He’s someone I’ve worked alongside. To make light of a constituent suggesting that a gay person should be stoned to death.. it’s shocking, it’s insulting, it’s hurtful. Is this what he's thinking bout ME?” -CGS https://t.co/XxcI4EysdU
— Rep. Carlos G Smith (@CarlosGSmith) May 31, 2019
To add insult to injury, I joined forces with @MikeHillfl last year to protect greyhound racing dogs. Apparently, he thinks DOGS deserve protection, but not LGBTQ people. Those are his priorities. How insulting…. https://t.co/zw0ISCwWCB
— Rep. Carlos G Smith (@CarlosGSmith) May 31, 2019
Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson (R), joined Hill’s critics, calling the comments “absolutely unacceptable.”
And Pensacola Mayor @GroverRobinson, a Republican, calls comments “absolutely unacceptable” & inconsistent w city’s values: “I’m embarrassed that this happened here. We welcome everyone in Pensacola, and we want all members of our community to feel safe and supported.” #FLaPOl
— Dara Kam (@TheDaraKam) May 31, 2019
Reached by telephone Friday afternoon, Smith said Hill’s comments were “shocking” and “outrageous,” “but it also hurts,” reiterating that he had worked with Hill for so long, and the comments made him question what people really believe in private.
The controversy also underscores the need for LGBT protections under state and federal law, added Smith. “The people like Mike Hill, like his constituent [who brought up the topic of killing gays]…those types of people are employers, they are landlords, they are business owners, and they put those discriminatory views into practice all the time.”
I mentioned an anti-discrimination law passed in Utah in 2015 — a state whose population and government are both heavily Republican, and majority Mormon. The law, which won in a landslide (23 to 5 in the Utah Senate, 65 to 10 in the House), was dubbed the “Utah Compromise” and won the endorsement of the Mormon church, which was viewed as critical to its passage:
The bill, which has been called the “Utah compromise,” aims to protect people in the LGBT community from employment and housing decisions based on their gender identity or sexual orientation, while still shielding religious institutions that stand against homosexuality. It does not deal with the more controversial question, however, about whether a business can deny services because of religious convictions, such as a wedding photographer who objects to shooting a same-sex wedding.
Still, the move has been seen by some as a model in compromise as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints endorsed the legislation last week. The partnership helped accelerate the bill’s passage through Utah’s legislature.
Smith commented favorably on the Utah law, and noted that the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, which he was a co-sponsor, included religious exemptions. One example he cited was that a church should not have to hire a minister that did not follow the church’s teachings, but that a janitor’s sexual orientation would have no bearing on how he performed his job duties.
The Florida Competitive Workforce Act had bipartisan support, with Rep. Jackie Toledo (R-Tampa) and Jennifer Webb (D-St. Petersburg) sponsoring the bill in the House, along with 72 other co-sponsors. Fifteen of them, including Toledo, were Republicans. The bill did not pass during this year’s session, but Smith said it will be introduced next session and he is hopeful and optimistic it can win support.
With Gov. Ron DeSantis and most of the Florida Cabinet returning from a trip to Israel, and this news breaking on a Friday, it has been challenging to get comments, but Hill is not finding any allies among those who have been reachable for comment.
Joe Gruters, himself a member of the legislature representing a Sarasota district in the Senate and the Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, condemned Hill’s comments. “I am horrified by what I just heard,” said Gruters. “Hate of any kind cannot be tolerated, [and] Mike Hill should immediately apologize.”
Add this writer’s name to the list of those calling for Hill to resign. This is beyond a mere disagreement on a legislative issue. His comments revealed a lack of respect for the innate humanity that we all possess, regardless of whom we love. There is no place in our government for someone who believes a Floridian is not worthy of life because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or any other individual characteristic. Mike Hill is unfit to represent the great state of Florida and our people in the Florida House and should resign immediately.
UPDATE: Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva (R) issued a joint statement with Chairman Chris Sprowls, demanding Hill apologize:
We unequivocally condemn both the question asked of Representative Hill and Representative Hill’s laughter and refusal to push back and remind his audience that this is America and we don’t stone people to death we disagree with. Such callous indifference to an outrageous question is unacceptable, runs contrary to our founding principles, and in no way reflects the beliefs of the Florida House. Representative Hill would do well to remember that the only story in the New Testament involving stoning involved Jesus putting a stop to it and saying, ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ I believe he owes his colleagues an apology and he owes the Republican caucus a better example of political courage.
Joint statement by myself and Chairman Chris Sprowls on statements by Rep. Mike Hill pic.twitter.com/VdSdAV43fg
— Jose Oliva (@RepJoseOliva) May 31, 2019
UPDATE 8:30 pm ET: Hill has responded, posting tweets addressing both Smith and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried (D), who had also issued a statement condemning his comments.
Hill bizarrely accused Smith of peddling in “fake news,” and claimed he never said he wanted to kill anyone but was being attacked over his pro-life stance.
Fake news, Carlos! And you know it. I never said I wanted to kill anyone! Instead, I am being attacked because I have made a strong stand to protect the preborn in the womb. https://t.co/h1B60VndnE
— Mike Hill (@MikeHillfl) May 31, 2019
HIll’s response neglects to recognize the fact that he is on an audio recording that includes the constituent’s comments, his laughter and comments in response, and his repeated failure to reject the constituent’s premise that the biblical verse advocating for the execution of gay people was correct. As Marlette wrote:
When a member of his decrepit little congregation floated the idea of executing gay men, Hill could have said, “No sir.”
Hill could have said, “Stop right there.”
Hill could have said “That’s wrong.”
Hill could have said, “This is not what Jesus would do.”
But Hill did none of those things. Instead, Hill laughed. Instead, Hill concocted a malicious Biblical misrepresentation to muse about murder. Instead, Hill betrayed the teachings of Christ.
Hill is not denying that the voice on the recording is his, or that the News Journal is somehow incorrectly transcribing his words. He could have rejected the idea that gays should be killed and he never did, and still hasn’t bothered to do so today.
His response to Fried was also wildly inadequate, exhorting Fried to “focus on doing your job better instead of every word that proceeds out of my mouth.” I’m not aware of Fried making many, if any at all, comments about Hill, and considering the comments, it was to be expected a statewide elected official might be asked about them.
— Mike Hill (@MikeHillfl) June 1, 2019
Smith responded a few minutes ago to Hill, rejecting his ridiculous “fake news” claim, and calling on him to resign.
"FAKE NEWS!" That's Rep. @MikeHillfl's official response to being caught on tape laughing about and discussing legislation to execute gay people. You know what? LGBTQ Floridians don't need a forced apology. JUST RESIGN!!!! 👇👇👇 https://t.co/yLaqkfZ8sB
— Rep. Carlos G Smith (@CarlosGSmith) June 1, 2019
It is looking increasingly unlikely that an apology will be forthcoming from Hill, but it is also looking increasingly like even the most eloquently-worded apology would be insufficient to rehabilitate him.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.
This article is the opinion of the author and should not be attributed to any other person or organization.