WPLG-ABC 10's Michael Putney had the three Republican contenders for U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart's seat on This Week in South Florida Sunday morning -- and Marili Cancio and Paul Crespo wasted no time to pounce on GOP front runner David Rivera.
After the three candidates predictably said they would have opposed the federal stimulus package ("Good stimulus is ... LeBron James coming to Florida," Cancio quipped), Crespo attacked Rivera, the state budget chief in the Florida House, for proposing reining in spending. "He increased spending Florida, and the way he did it was partly by taking Obama stimulus money and partly by raising fees on Florida motorists," Crespo said.
Countered Rivera: "Not only did we balance the budget, we cut taxes. I led the fight to cut property taxes. Never again in the state of Florida will we have retroactive property taxes."
Later, when the debate turned to Cuba and the trio opposed lifting existing trade and travel sanctions with the island, Cancio -- who has released a web video criticizing Rivera for his friendship with a Cuba trade backer -- said she found Rivera's position "amusing." "He has proudly accepted an endorsement from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that is in favor of lifting the embargo," she said.
"The reason the Chamber of Commerce endorsed me is because I cut taxes and create jobs," Rivera replied. "They know exactly my position on Cuba."
Then Putney brought up Rivera's position as chairman of the Miami-Dade Republican Party. Crespo and Cancio said the called for Rivera's resignation of the post this week at a party meeting where Crespo was escorted out by police for going over his allotted speaking time.
Rivera brushed off suggestions that his position as chair is a conflict of interest, saying state Sen. John Thrasher of St. Augustine heads the state GOP and former U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida chaired the Republican National Committee.
"Mel Martinez was not running against other Republicans while he was chairman of the Republican Party," retorted Crespo. "After I asked David Rivera to resign ... the police were summoned and sent to me to harass me and intimidate me and take me out of the room while David Rivera was speaking."
Rivera denied sending anyone to take Crespo out of the room.
"The Republican Executive Committee is about 100 people here in Miami-Dade County. There are hundreds of thousands of voters in this district that are worried about losing their jobs," he said. "I think the voters of this district are much more concerned about what's going on for the hundreds of thousands and what's going on with the country than 100 people in an executive committee."