Ralph Arza is the freely chosen voice of both the Florida Charter School Alliance the BridgePrep charter schools. That is his only importance to the people of Polk County. But it still makes him, probably, the most important and powerful education lobbyist in Florida.
You may have read about Arza’s heavy-handed efforts to jam through BridgePrep in Polk by harassing two female Polk School Board members about their vote, while ignoring me.
You may have also read about the racist, sexist, violence-threatening audio tape that forced him to resign from the Legislature some years ago and plead guilty to misdemeanor witness tampering. Because of that tape, Gov. Ron DeSantis kicked Arza off a campaign fundraiser last year — because DeSantis considered him too racist. Below is a helpful summary from the Miami Herald.
“Arza resigned as a state representative in 2006 after he and a cousin left threatening messages on the voice mail of a fellow lawmaker who had filed an ethics complaint alleging that Arza used racial slurs when discussing Miami-Dade’s black schools chief. Arza had previously denied calling Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Rudy Crew a “n—-er,” but admitted that he used the word in recorded voice messages left for state Rep. Gus Barreiro.
Arza blamed the incident with Barreiro on alcohol and denied that he was a racist, but pleaded guilty in 2007 to two misdemeanor counts of tampering with a witness and received 18 months probation. He is now a lobbyist.”
I have now, finally, listened to that tape. It consists of five messages. Arza himself acknowledges leaving only the first two messages. The final three, in various accounts I’ve seen, are attributed to a cousin named Paulino Barbon, Jr. But Arza and Barbon were acting as a team, together at the time they left messages. This is from a reprint of a Miami Herald story about Arza’s guilty plea and sentencing in 2007.
At least one of Barbon’s calls was made from Arza’s phone, and the men admitted they were together when the calls were made, according to court records.
I confess that I have difficulty identifying two different voices on the tape; but the audio also isn’t great. You can make your own judgments. Perhaps your ear is better than mine. But even according to the official account, the voice said to be Barbino violently threatens to punish a “snitch.” It threatens to “crack your face open,” with Arza standing right there, as part of the team.
That “snitch” was a Republican legislator, filing a complaint against Arza for his use of racial slurs to describe Miami-Dade’s first black superintendent.
“You’re a bitch. You’re nothing but a bitch. God bless you, bitch”
You, the public, really should listen to this tape — to the menace and rage and violent threats it communicates. Here is a link.
And here is a transcript put together by the Miami New Times. My own independent listen confirms the accuracy; but my Spanish is not good enough to fully discern the parts in Spanish.
This tape is extremely graphic. Appallingly so. I’m not censoring any words because I think it’s important to understand this tape and the personalities on it, viscerally.
First message (Arza acknowledged)
“Hey bitch, You’re nothing but a bitch. You’re a bitch. You’re nothing but a bitch. God bless you, bitch.”
Second message (Arza acknowledged)
“Hey bitch. You’re nothing but a bitch. You’re ain’t nothing but a bitch, brother. My nigger. Fuck.”
Third message (attributed to Arza’s cousin, Paulino Barbon, Jr.)
“Hey. You’re a pussy-assed mother fucker. You’re gonna see what’s coming to you, you little punk-assed bitch. You’re gonna see what’s coming for you, you punk-assed motherfucker. You’re gonna see what’s coming, nigger…you fuck-assed bitch. You gonna see. You’re gonna see me nigger. That’s right, bitch-assed, punk-assed motherfucking, slut-bagged bitch.”
Fourth message (attributed to Arza’s cousin, Paulino Barbon, Jr.)
“Oye, tu eres singado por culo. Me recibo en tu madre. Yo me encago en la parida de ti. Singado. Tu eres una puta que no vale un tiro. Una puta. You don’t know me fuck. Nigger, you see me nigger, Ill crack your face open, punk. boy. You don’t know nothing. You don’t see nothing, nigga. I’m gonna fuck you up, you piece of shit. You don’t know a goddamn thing, fuck bitch I’m gonna fuck you up, you fucking no good son of a bitch. You’re gonna see what it is to be a snitch bitch, fucking boy., I’m gonna fuckin set your ass straight boy. I’m gonna punch your ass plain. I’m gonna punch you like a fuckin’ piece of shit…You son of a bitch. Fuck you.”
Fifth message (attributed to Arza’s cousin, Paulino Barbon, Jr.)
“Oye, eres singado. Tu eres un culo rojo. Singado de tu madre, tu padre, tu tia, todo el mundo, Singado. Chivaton…Eres una puta que no vale un kilo en el mundo. Una puta que no ni vale pinga. Singado. You’ll see me, motherfucker. You’ll see me mother fucker. You know who this is. I’m gonna get you.”
Arza is a close ally of your Education Commissioner and of the entire “choice” movement
I try to imagine this from the point-of-view of a Polk County parent or child at BridgePrep. What if they need help? What if they need to report something? What if they’re struggling?
That’s why there is no chance — none — that I’m letting this person anywhere near Polk County kids or parents on my own accord and authority.
If Richard Corcoran and the BoE want to impose this on Polk with their power, they can do it. But our board should not help them. I certainly will not.
I intend to play this tape at our next School Board work session. I intend to play it on the night we have to vote on BridgePrep again, whenever that is. I hope to ask Richard Corcoran and the Board of Education about this tape at their meeting in Lakeland on July 17. I would love to play it for them; but I doubt they’ll even let me speak.
You see, Arza is a close ally of Corcoran with free access to him, at least according to Arza. And the two men have personally discussed Polk County’s vote concerning BridgePrep, if one believes what Arza told our School Board attorney when trying to get the board to change its vote. See below.
I’ve asked DoE repeatedly on Twitter and elsewhere for an account of the conversation referenced in that email. I haven’t gotten one.
By the way, Arza has also told me personally that he’s close to Marco Rubio and Miami-Dade Supt. Alberto Carvalho. I have no way of knowing if that’s true; but those guys ought to consider that he’s comfortable throwing around their names to an unimportant stranger in Polk County.
Ralph Arza’s behavior is an ongoing feature, not a bug, of the Florida Model
I’m actually kind of a softie when it comes to holding a horrible moment against someone for an extended period of time. I would not want my worst moment to define me. And I don’t think anyone else deserves to have their worst moment define them — if they genuinely atone and seek to change their behavior.
But that’s not Ralph Arza.
I formally met Arza at the Florida School Board Association meeting last November (2018). We talked mostly about education politics. I had forgotten that he had reached out with an offer to help me with my campaign in 2016. Back then I didn’t know who he was; and I had ignored him.
Prior to the BridgePrep vote, we had couple cordial, unremarkable discussions. He lobbied; I listened. And then I made my own decision. That was it. At some point, I think at the FSBA meeting, Arza himself told me about the tape — dismissively. And I just wasn’t that interested. But I should have known better than to take him at his word about its severity.
It wasn’t until he started going after my fellow board members Lisa Miller and Sarah Fortney because they joined me in voting against BridgePrep that I felt the need to revisit Arza closely, as well as the tape.
In doing so, I have come to understand that Ralph Arza has always been at the heart of the Florida Model, with all its corruption, human brutality, teacher hatred, and grifting. Here’s how the Miami Herald’s Naked Politics blog described Arza in 2007, after he pleaded guilty to witness tampering and resigned in disgrace from the Legislature.
Miami Herald reporter Matthew I. Pinzur reports that the Miami Republican and his wife, Eris, bought a half-million home in Lake Worth in August. Arza says he wants to expand the education consulting business that he quietly launched in 2004…
…almost immediately after his election in 2000, Arza became a chief legislative ally of then-Gov. Jeb Bush, especially on the controversial overhaul of public eduation that was a cornerstone of Bush’s administration. But Arza’s back-slapping public charm and affinity for the spotlight was eventually overshadowed by an off-screen intensity and legendarily short fuse.
Dude did not miss a beat. The Florida Model dusted him off, helped him buy a $500,000 house, and sicced him on the rest of us. More or less instantly.
So what you hear on that Arza tape isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.
It’s how the Florida Model’s leaders have always operated. It’s what they’re about. Power and intimidation and divisiveness. If it wasn’t, why on earth would the “choice movement” pay Arza to go after board members like Lisa Miller and Sarah Fortney doing their duty. Florida’s “choice” leaders have never distanced themselves from the misogynistic and racist ferocity on that tape. Indeed, all evidence suggests that ferocity is exactly what they want. (They just don’t want it on tape.) It’s why they keep paying him. Know them by their choices and expenditures.
Take a mulligan, governor. You made a big mistake empowering Arza and Corcoran. But you can fix it; and people will cheer.
Arza is helpful in what he reveals about the moral bankruptcy of his allies, the people who freely choose him as their champion. He provides brutal commentary on the basic decency of Florida’s corrupt corporate “choice” movement.
That movement has freely and enthusiastically chosen and paid Arza to speak and intimidate on its behalf. It’s happened right here in Polk County. Nothing and no one so embodies the Florida Model of education, and its leaders, as Ralph Arza. He is their moral values, incarnate.
Let’s be clear, everyone who pays or associates with Ralph Arza, at all, in the education and “choice movement” world knows all about that tape and history. That includes Corcoran and Sen. Manny Diaz and Sen.Kelli Stargel and the Florida Charter School Alliance, whose president, Lynn Norman-Teck, keeps Ralph Arza as the official voice of the FCSA. It includes Step Up for Students and Doug Tuthill and all Florida Model hangers-on who blather on and on, meaninglessly, about moral obligations to children.
Gov. Ron DeSantis at least learned about that tape in time to drop Arza like a hot rock during the campaign. But then DeSantis turned around and empowered him by putting Richard Corcoran and his handful of grifters in charge of DoE. That was a dumb move on the substance, and politically. Richard Corcoran’s own farce of a governor campaign showed he has no popular constituency.
From a purely political point-of-view, turning education over to Corcoran and Ralph Arza created an unnecessary risk for DeSantis, with no gain. It’s probably why the governor is now talking about raising salaries for teachers, rather than imposing silly, tax-disadvantaged bonuses that Corcoran’s education establishment has been imposing.
Ultimately, Ralph Arza matters only because of Florida’s corrupt and vicious state-level governance of Florida public schools finds him useful. Maybe the governor didn’t fully understand this. He’s not known as a policy expert. He’s known as a TV personality. Now that he knows, I’d encourage the governor to take a mulligan and start over in education with new, less immoral leadership.
But for now, Ralph Arza only matters because Gov. DeSantis allows him to. And he’s a member in good standing of the Florida “choice” club because the Florida “choice” club is happy to have him.