TALLAHASSEE – Michael Ertel, the newly appointed secretary of state of Gov. Ron DeSantis, has resigned after photos emerged of him posing as a Hurricane Katrina victim in blackface at a private Halloween party 14 years ago.
The photos obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat were shown to the governor's office on Thursday morning. Hours later it issued a statement.
"The governor accepted Secretary Ertel's resignation," the governor's office said.
The photo was taken in 2005, eight months after Ertel was appointed Seminole County supervisor of elections and two months after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans.
After the Democrat texted the photos to him last week, Ertel, 49, identified himself as the white man in blackface and red lipstick, wearing earrings and a New Orleans Saints bandanna, and falsies under a purple T-shirt that had "Katrina Victim" written on it.
Over the phone and in person, Ertel would not comment on the record about the circumstances surrounding the photo.
"There's nothing I can say," Ertel said.
The Democrat shared the photos Thursday with the governor's office, which had not previously seen them.
DeSantis named Ertel on Dec. 28 to replace Ken Detzner, who served as former Gov. Rick Scott’s secretary of state since 2012.
The Secretary of State's Office is immersed in a debate about how to implement Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to some 1.4 million ex-felons. Desantis, who was against the amendment before the election, advised waiting to register them until the Legislature passed enacting legislation. Some counties, however, have begun the process.
Ertel said he sent an email to county elections supervisors to accept all applications from ex-felons.
The photos are the sole blemish on a seemingly spotless public career, highlighted by a record of increasing voter registration and making the elections office more accessible to the public.
Ertel began serving as supervisor of elections for Seminole County on Feb. 5, 2005, when Gov. Jeb Bush named him to replace Dennis Joyner, who stepped down for health reasons.
He ran against Democratic Party activist Marian Williams in 2006, beating her by 59 percentage points. He was subsequently re-elected without opposition. That same year he participated in monitoring the New Orleans mayoral election.
Ertel has a long record of expanding voting rights and registering people to vote. The city of Longwood gave him a Martin Luther King Jr. award for registering voters. In 2012, Ertel spoke out against Scott’s purge of so-called noncitizens from the voter rolls, saying many of those who were purged were actually eligible voters.
Ertel also has won international awards for his plans to restore voter confidence and trust in the elections system.
Before his time in public office, Ertel worked in public relations, and was the first professional public affairs spokesman for Seminole County. After the 2004 hurricanes hit Florida, Ertel provided post-disaster media relations for Visit Florida.
Before that he spent eight years in the U.S. Army, providing public relations during the 1992 L.A. riots, and in Macedonia and Bosnia.
Follow Jeff Schweers on Twitter: @jeffschweers.
This article originally appeared on Tallahassee Democrat: Florida Secretary of State Michael Ertel resigns after Halloween blackface photos emerge