Why can’t our political races be like this one?
August 15, 2006
From Miami Herald
Bad blood in GOP race spurs game of chicken
BY BREANNE GILPATRICK
The debate dates are falling through, the gloves are coming off — and the chicken suits are coming out in Florida’s toughest Senate race.
On Monday, Sen. Alex Villalobos and challenger Frank Bolaños couldn’t agree to debate at Miami-Dade’s Republican Executive Committee this week — prompting the Bolaños camp to buy a $180 chicken suit that they plan to have a supporter wear to mock Villalobos at public functions.
The failed debate negotiations came as Gov. Jeb Bush endorsed Bolaños. At issue for Bush, who once spoke highly of Villalobos: class size and publicly funded vouchers for private-school students, two Bush legacy issues that Villalobos helped scuttle in the Legislature, earning him the support of the teachers’ union.
CHICKEN SUIT THREAT
Villalobos said he wants to debate Bolaños at community events in the West Dade district. But Bolaños supporters, who already had a bad experience at a Kendall event packed with Villalobos supporters, say they want a forum with just Republicans, said Bolaños spokesman Michael Caputo, who bought the chicken suit after failing to reach a deal with Villalobos strategist David Custin.
Each side blamed the other for the impasse. Said Mary Ellen Miller, the Republican Executive Committee’s county chairwoman, “It was a lot of misunderstanding. We just couldn’t get beyond it.”
Even without a full debate, shorter joint appearances have led to sometimes bitter exchanges as the Sept. 5 primary draws closer.
At a meeting Monday with The Miami Herald’s editorial board, the two clashed over Villalobos’ votes on class size and school vouchers. They also have argued about which candidate is ”the real Republican.” Villalobos’ votes led to the loss of his state Senate leadership position.
”I think the very difficult situation he’s in is not because of class size,” Bolaños said Monday. “It was because of his raw aspiration for power.”
Bolaños then said the class-size law “should not be repealed…. I will support the implementation of the class size.”
Villalobos, who called Bolaños ”very hypocritical,” said he voted on class size in the Senate the way he did because his district supports the class limits.
”You know what being a good Republican is?” Villalobos said. “It’s having principles.”
Miami Herald staff writer Marc Caputo contributed to this report.