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Senator Alex Villalobos Loses Support for Senate President

February 9, 2006

According to a late-breaking article on the Miami Herald website, Senator Alex Villalobos (R-Miami) appears to have lost his support to become Senate president in 2008.

Miami senator appears to have lost top job

By Marc Caputo for the Miami Herald

TALLAHASSEE - At least seven Republican state senators withdrew their support from Miami's Alex Villalobos bid to become Florida's first Cuban-American Senate president.

The senators, all solid conservatives, say they have different reasons for swinging their support to Sen. Jeff Atwater, a North Palm Beach Republican, and for backing away from the moderate Villalobos, who has made a few high-profile votes against the party line established by Gov. Jeb Bush.

Whether this means Villalobos is officially knocked out of the future leadership post -- which would begin 2008 -- is unclear. Villalobos supporters say he still has enough votes from his fellow Republicans, who control the 40-member chamber with 26 votes.

Villalobos said he's not giving up, but acknowledged he was caught late in an active, well-organized conspiracy engineered by Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a fellow Miami Cuban-American Republican.
''When I first ran for this office I was behind. Then I had the votes. Now some people are saying I'm behind. This is far from over,'' Villalobos said.

Diaz de la Portilla didn't comment this morning. Atwater, who met with Villalobos this morning, couldn't be reached either.

Meantime, Senate Democrats -- who could conceivably team up with moderate Republicans to keep Villalobos -- are staying out of the fight. One South Florida Democrat said the party is eagerly watching Republicans tear each other in an effort to remove a Cuban American from one of the state's top lawmaking posts.

The Miami Herald reported in today's editions that the coup attempt had failed Wednesday night. However, two of the senators who said they were in Villalobos' camp Wednesday night switched this morning. A third, Sen. J.D. Alexander, who refused to comment Wednesday, was among those who backed away from Villalobos.

''I'm not going to comment on internal caucus positions,'' said Alexander, who has had a history of switching votes for legislative leadership races.

Some otherwise loquacious senators have also fallen silent. Chief among them: Sen. Ken Pruitt, a Port St. Lucie Republican. He wouldn't say whom he supports now.

Pruitt is scheduled to be Senate president after this spring's lawmaking session. But some Villalobos supporters say that, if Pruitt double-crosses the Miami Republican, some longtime senators who are leaving by 2008 -- and therefore have no say in the Atawter-Villalobos race -- might pressure Pruitt to back off or face a tough road through the 60-day lawmaking session.

Villalobos wouldn't comment about that, but noted: ``You don't become Senate president until the day of the vote when you're installed. As you can see, anything can happen.''