We thought Pensacola politics are rough
August 8, 2006
This race has school voucher PACs, Bush political machine, WalMart, Amway, trial attorneys, lawsuits, teachers union…
From Miami Herald
Wal-mart, Amway step into state race
A group that supports school vouchers will be involved in a Florida Senate race.
BY MARC CAPUTO
Miami Sen. Alex Villalobos’ vote against the governor’s voucher program has drawn the interest and money of a national school-choice group bankrolled by the families that founded Wal-mart and Amway.
The group, All Children Matter, supports candidates nationwide who favor using public voucher money to send poor children to private schools.
It also opposes voucher opponents, like Villalobos, who was instrumental in killing a plan this spring to save the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program. The plan, the legacy of Gov. Jeb Bush, was ruled unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court.
Villalobos’ opponent, former School Board member Frank Bolaños, supports vouchers.
All Children Matter is just one of a number of groups and committees weighing in on the race, which is one of the hottest and toughest legislative campaigns in the state.
Bolaños supporters include powerhouses like the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Bush fundraisers.
The United Teachers of Dade, trial lawyers and a Miami health-insurance company, BMI Financial, have helped fund a sizable pro-Villalobos effort. One Villalobos backer even sued Bolaños concerning the way he filed to run for office, but the suit is about to be dropped.
The head of All Children Matter in Florida, Tampa venture capitalist John Kirtley, said the committee would ”be involved” in the race, but he declined to say in what way.
On July 19, it received $50,000 from its national namesake, which last month raised $2.6 million — $2 million from the family of Sam Walton, who founded Wal-mart, and $10,000 from Betsy DeVos, whose family built the marketing company Amway and owns the Orlando Magic. The families have long been active in the school-choice movement.
Kirtley said Villalobos told school-choice parents that he planned to vote for the constitutional amendment asking voters save the Opportunity Scholarship Program, only to break his word.
”We were floored,” Kirtley said. “He portrayed it as a vote of conscience, but it wasn’t.”
Villalobos said he told the parents that he would have voted for the amendment, but it was full of provisions that would have expanded vouchers so far that public schools would have been “ruined.”
”There are a lot of greedy people who want to make money off of children and the best way to do it is to take tax money from public schools and put it in private schools without any accountability. That’s what this is about,” Villalobos said Monday.
After the vote killing the measure, state Senate President Tom Lee stripped Villalobos of his title as Senate majority leader and, according to numerous lawmakers, Bush supporters began looking for a candidate to run against Villalobos in the Sept. 5 election.
Months before, Villalobos lost his grip on the senate presidency in 2008, in part because he voted against a Bush-backed plan to scale back the state’s class-size law.
Soon after the legislative session ended, Bolaños filed to run. Like Villalobos, he had run afoul of his colleagues, who refused to reappoint Bolaños to a leadership post partly due to his support of the class-cap scale back.
With Villalobos claiming Bolaños’ supports ”overcrowded classrooms,” Bolaños campaign and supporters tout the fact that he supported a plan to guarantee more money be spent in the classroom.
A group called Tell the Public the Facts, which raised $178,000 last month from shadow groups and the United Teachers of Dade, savaged Bolaños in mailers for his campaign’s ties to Sergio Pino, a Bush fundraiser now under federal investigation.
Hitting back was the Citizens for Conservative Values, which hasn’t yet disclosed its money sources for its mailers painting Villalobos as soft on crime.
With $67,000 in contributions last month, Bolaños outraised Villalobos, who took in $55,000. Bolaños has $200,000 in the bank and Villalobos $137,000.