Following a meeting at the Florida Capitol Building, state Rep. Michelle Salzman, a Republican, was accused of harassing and threatening members of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly of Florida because of a video that exposes why she will not support a constitutional carry bill.
On Jan. 18, Santiago Avila, Jr. and 10 members of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly of Florida (RNHAFL) met with Salzman in a conference room at the Florida Capitol building in Tallahassee. Santiago told Salzman there were two bills they wanted to address; a pro-life bill (Senate Bill 146) called the Fetal and Infant Mortality Reduction Act, and a constitutional carry bill HB 103 Carrying of Firearms Without Licenses (pdf).
HB 103 removes a requirement that a license to carry concealed firearm is required in order to carry such firearm, limits areas in which concealed carrying of a firearm is prohibited, revises criminal penalties, and revises other provisions relating to carrying of concealed weapons or firearms by nonresidents.
Salzman quickly assures them she is backing the pro-life bill. But things take a turn when Avila addresses the constitutional carry bill. A video of the exchange was recorded with a cell phone by one of the RNHAFL members.
“The constitutional one for us is extremely important,” RNHAFL Chairman Avila told Salzman.
“It’s extremely important to me, too, but it’s not the right time,” Salzman said flatly, adding “you have the leadership in place that were the ones that voted in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas bill.”
The Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Act is a gun control bill passed by Florida Republicans in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2018, where former student Nikolas Cruz shot and killed 17 people. On Feb. 16, new rules to update this legislation received unanimous approval from a Florida Senate subcommittee. The bill, SB 802, was introduced by Republican Florida state Sen. Joe Gruters. Similar legislation, HB 1421—co-sponsored by Republican state Reps. Alex Rizo and Chip LaMarca— is moving through the House.
“Was it a bad bill?” Salzman asked rhetorically before answering the question herself. “Yeah. I mean, I think it was. They voted for it, so they stand behind it and that’s what they’re doing. They’re standing behind their bill. So, they’re not going to hear a bill that omits the bill that they stood behind. It has nothing to do with what’s good or bad. It has to do with making a decision as a leader and following through with it, and so, I’m not gonna do anything to poke that bear. That’s a professional courtesy and many other things.”
Salzman then attempted to assuage the group’s disappointment with promises for the future.
“I foresee in the next couple of years some really good stuff, ‘cause I’m telling you right now we all frikin’ want it!” Salzman assured. “Like, we want it so bad! They say, ‘how pro-Second Amendment are you?’ and I’m like, ‘just put a Bradley in front of my yard, my front yard, and just load it up.’ Like, I have no issue—as a matter of fact, the Second Amendment is my favorite, favorite thing.”
Unsatisfied, Avila told her he didn’t want to be confrontational and he attempted to address her comments. But Salzman cut him off.
“You’re not being confrontational and you’re supporting the bill and I think that’s great,” Salzman placated. “If I were on the outside, I would be pushing that bill hard, too. But look at who your bill sponsor is,” she scoffed and laughed. “I’m not putting my name on nothing Sabatini has, because I want to pass legislation.”
Florida state Rep. Anthony Sabatini has also seen the video.
“She’s a very reckless person,” Sabatini told The Epoch Times. “She’s a very fake person. She’s a fraud. If you listen to that interview, she actually says two completely different things and blames them both for why she can’t take action. One is the truth, saying she can’t support constitutional carry because she will get in trouble with other members who are pro-gun control. She’s too much of a coward to support the Second Amendment. Then later, she sees they [the 11 RNHAFL members) aren’t really happy with that reason, so she says, ‘oh we’ll do it next year.’ Then she pivots and says the bill’s sponsor is evil. They’ll [pro-gun control legislators] do whatever they can to hide behind excuses of why they’re not defending the Constitution. It’s painfully obvious. They do it every single time. If it wasn’t this reason, it would be another. They lack the courage that’s necessary to stand up for our rights. We lack that in a lot of Republican officials and she’s an especially good example of it.”
Lately, Sabatini has faced criticism from fellow Republican lawmakers for missing what they feel are too many session meetings, earning him the nickname, “Absentini.”
“If there’s no bill or an important vote, and it’s just some bureaucratic thing going on and on for four hours, I’m usually not going to go,” Sabatini said, insisting he always votes when it comes to relevant legislation. “If the bill is a strawberry shortcake/official dessert bill, that’s not an actual important bill, Then I’m not going to go.”
Avila didn’t even know about the video until Salzman began sending “threatening text messages.”
“She got into this rant about leadership not wanting it to be done and we can’t piss the leadership off and it was a political courtesy to leadership,” Avila recalled in an exclusive interview with The Epoch Times. “If she went against that she wouldn’t be able to bring any money back to the district and right now isn’t a good time for constitutional carry. Emily recorded the video. I found out about it when Salzman began sending threatening text messages.”
In another exclusive interview with The Epoch Times, Emily Nunez of the RNHAFL identified herself as the one who recorded the video with the hope Salzman will now leave the rest of her group alone.
“I was there with the organization” Nunez said. “We were there for our annual Lobby Days event, and we scheduled meetings ahead of time with any legislators that would meet with us, and we were specifically lobbying for constitutional carry and the abortion ban bill.”
Nunez said she became aware of the threats being levied against Avila and other members of the group the day after the video was posted online.
“Someone from the capitol called and was very irate with our state chairman, Santiago Avila, Jr. and she has since been sending him threatening text messages, wanting to know who recorded the video,” Nunez explained. “My name was never released as being the one who recorded the video. But now that she’s actually making threats, she won’t stop, and she’s saying she wants to press charges against the one who did it. So, I am just going to go ahead and identify myself so she will leave our organization alone.”
Avila said he initially apologized to Salzman for the video. But then Salzman’s legislative assistant called him.
“She was very rude and somewhat disrespectful, demanding certain things,” Avila said. “So, I asked her to send me an email requesting what she wanted, and she sent me an email saying, ‘I want a list of everyone that came to that meeting and the name of the person who recorded the video.’ I said, I can’t just give something like that up without going to my board because we have bylaws in our organization. That happened on the 12. On the 14th, I get a voicemail from Salzman telling me Capitol Police is on their way to her office and she’s filing a report, she has the state attorney on speed dial and that I won’t be back to the capitol.”
“This is disgusting,” Avila insisted. “She’s literally using her office not only to silence an organization but to bully us and I finally sent her an email telling her we’re not having this anymore. I feel like I’m having to deal with children with some stupid back and forth. She got caught doing something. She can’t just say something behind doors and then say something else to the public. You have to be consistent with what you’re saying. She hasn’t replied to me yet. But I’m sure she will. She has no right to tell me or anyone in our organization if we’re allowed back to the capitol or not. I mean, that’s not the tactics Republicans are supposed to be using. We’re supposed to be about freedom of speech, which is ingrained in the First Amendment. It’s in the United States Constitution and the Florida Constitution. SO, I don’t know if she just doesn’t understand how our Constitution works or she’s just being ignorant about it. She’s not being very nice, and we have other representatives that maybe we don’t agree with 100 percent. But none of them have ever used their office to do what this lady is doing to us right now. I feel like we’re getting blacklisted from being able to go and speak on behalf or against certain bills in the House.”
Yvette Benarroch, state vice-chair of RNHAFL, also didn’t know Nunez was recording. However, while she understands that Salzman would be upset having her words exposed, Benarroch doesn’t believe it gives her the right to “harass” and “threaten” Avila.
“I don’t agree with that,” Benarroch told The Epoch Times. “I think public servants to be more humble. That’s unfortunate. It’s very sad to me and it breaks my heart to see elected officials acting that way. She was openly discussing these things with us. If you don’t want something to be public, then don’t say it. Public officials need to be more transparent and stand their ground and not say one thing behind closed doors and something else when they walk out of the room.”
According to her website, “Michelle supports constitutional carry statutes and salute the states that have passed them.” She built her entire campaign on Second Amendment and constitutional carry rhetoric and earned the endorsement of gun rights advocates like Concealed Patriot and Ammoland.
But the truth about Salzman’s reasons for turning her back on constitutional carry legislation, as exposed in the video, has raised the ire of Luis Valdes, the Florida State Director for Gun Owners of America (GOA).
“It is with a heavy heart that I say this,” Valdes wrote on the GOA website on Feb. 16. “The Republican In Name Only (RINO) establishment has attacked an ally of Gun Owners of America in our State Capitol. The Republican National Hispanic Assembly (RNHA) of Florida is being dragged through the muck by Florida Republican 1st District State Representative Michelle Salzman.”
“This is actually an ongoing issue with the entire Republican establishment in Florida,” Valdes told The Epoch Times. “This isn’t just an issue with her. But right now, she is one of the more visible symptoms of what’s going on.”
Valdes, a 15-year veteran of the police force who just recently “hung up the badge” to work with GOA full time, said he has noticed a pattern among Florida lawmakers over the past decade.
“The pattern is, you have lawmakers campaigning on being pro-gun, and when push comes to shove, solid pro-gun legislation always dies in committee, usually under Republican control,” Valdes said.
According to Valdes, it took only sixteen days after the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Act was introduced for it to hit the desk of then Gov. Rick Scott. “It went through all the committees in the House. It went through all the committees in the Senate. It went through all the floor votes for both chambers and it was passed and went to the governor’s desk. Mind you, year after year, bills like open carry, constitutional carry, and campus carry don’t even pass a single committee under Republican control, and that tells you something. In Salzman’s case, you have anti-gun leadership, and Salzman, being a freshman lawmaker, will not bite the hand that feeds her. She will side with her political masters versus her constituency and the area she represents is very conservative and very pro-gun. So, for her to go against that and to side with the leadership is telling you what the issue is. The way she’s going after the RNHA is appalling and it reeks of political corruption. It reeks of why my family fled communist Cuba. The idea of harassing and trying to denounce and blacklist an individual or a political organization because they recorded a public meeting is disastrous.”
Florida law prohibits secret video recordings for voyeuristic reasons in places where one should expect privacy, such as a bathroom. However, those laws do not apply to videos taken for newsgathering purposes, such as the video that surfaced of then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney at a closed-door fundraising event in 2012 where he can be heard saying people who supported Barack Obama supporters “believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.”
As for Salzman’s threats to take legal action against the RNAH and its members for the video, Valdes noted how “the meeting took place in a communal conference room,” with the doors “wide open, while a public official discussed public matters with the public in a public space.
“Her threats to have Capitol Police go after them is heartbreaking,” Valdes said. “I would expect this from Cuba, Venezuela, Nazi Germany, North Korea, or the Soviet Union. I wouldn’t expect to hear this coming from Florida, a state that holds itself up as being one of the freest in the union.”
The Epoch Times reached out to Salzman for a statement.
“I am in committees,” Salzman replied by email, “your timeline is too constrained for me to respond in a meaningful manner but I can attach for you a public records requested copy of the text I sent to Avila (the threat he is insinuating).”
“As you can see, he is trying to rally up support over something that was a simple voicemail request to hand over the name of the persons in attendance of the meeting as requested by law enforcement,” Salzman wrote further. “I have not threatened anyone with anything. I was TRYING to keep him out of the conversation with the Capitol Police because I honestly thought he [w]as a decent guy. Obviously, I was wrong. Have a great day.”