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Hard-charging Diaz de la Portilla finally debates in Miami Senate race


For 12 minutes Sunday, voters in Miami-Dade's state Senate District 40 finally got to see all three Republican candidates face off, for the first time, just nine days before the special July 25 primary election.

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and attorney Lorenzo Palomares had participated in forums during the campaign. But former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla waited until Sunday to make his debut. And he picked the biggest stage to do so: WPLG-ABC 10's "This Week in South Florida," which hosted the only televised candidate forum in the race.

Diaz de la Portilla made the most of his air time, landing a couple of zingers directed at younger lawmakers -- read: Diaz.

"Tallahassee and the Florida Senate needs some maturity," said Diaz de la Portilla, who has decried what he calls the "House-ification" of the Senate. "We've seen a lot of petulant children: The Florida House members have messed things up."

Even when put on the defensive, Diaz de la Portilla attacked. When co-anchor Michael Putney mentioned political action committees engaging in negative campaigning, Diaz de la Portilla noted his own campaign account funds his ads -- a jab at Diaz, who's been backed by outside groups.

"I put my name on it," Diaz de la Portilla said. "I don't hide behind special-interest groups. I do it like men do it."

Asked about his 2012 misdemeanor arrest in Boston, which the Miami Herald reported earlier this month, Diaz de la Portilla called the incident "a mistake that happened five years ago, totally irrelevant to this campaign."

"I've proven my temperament and my judgment over all those years serving the public," he said. "There are much more important issues in this campaign that we have to deal with."

Diaz, his chief opponent, agreed.

"He raised taxes," Diaz said. "People care more about that than personal issues."

"That's an outright lie," Diaz de la Portilla shot back. "I never voted to raise taxes."

Palomares, who could barely get a word in, cut in.

"Nobody has attacked me!" he said.

Diaz was the lone candidate on stage to defend his vote this lawmaking session for House Bill 7069, controversial legislation signed by Gov. Rick Scott that among other things directed more public dollars to privately managed charter schools.

"It was a bill that came in at the last point," Diaz said. "The only alternative was to vote against it, but there were good things."

Palomares questioned the constitutionality of assisting for-profit charter schools and said he would've voted against. 

"It was terrible," Diaz de la Portilla declared. "It was a 276-page bill dropped on the desk of all legislators two days before session ended. They promised us transparency. They promised us open government. They promised to tell us the truth. What they did is, they did it in the shadows."

Diaz got one jab in: He accused Diaz de la Portilla of allowing Tallahassee to end the "district cost differential" aid to public schools that benefited Miami-Dade. Diaz de la Portilla denied his involvement, though he was a close lieutenant of former Senate President Jim King, whose political legacy was in part eliminating the DCD.

An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated in the headline that the Senate race is for a House seat.