Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla’s vote against prison privatization and the rumor that won’t die

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So what you are about to read is what makes this website a blog and not traditional journalism.  What you are about to read would never make it past a first-year J-school student, much less a world-weary editor.

But that doesn’t mean what you are about to read isn’t true.  It just means it’s a story that is hard to prove because it reaches deep into the corridors of power and no one wants their name next to a quote.

And don’t be surprised if this story is retracted before you are done reading it.

Here goes…

With thousands of jobs and millions of dollars at stake over the outcome of the vote on whether to privatize several Florida prisons, every state senator’s decision would be scrutinized.

For example, Republican opponents of the bill were not 100% sure their coalition would stick together in the face of intense pressure from leadership.  Even if the coalition did hold together, the vote would still be close.  Sen. Paula Dockery was predicting a final vote of twenty to twenty – a tie which would have been good enough to block the bill.  Still, the issue was in doubt as debate began in the Senate chamber.

But once Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (DLP) rose to speak in surprising opposition to the bill, opponents of the bill were able to breathe a sigh of relief.  They knew then that, at worse, the vote would end in a tie, if not defeat (as it was 19 for, 21 against).

DLP, a former Miami-Dade County commissioner, said he voted against the bill in part because counties have had bad experiences with private vendors taking over jails.

“I believe this massive privatization scheme is a big gamble,” he said. “I believe it’s a bigger gamble than casinos.”

The reasons for DLP’s opposition to the bill did seem straightforward, if one only listened to the speech.  But since the conclusion of the vote, a rumor has swirled around the capital that is deliciously interesting, yet makes little sense in the face of DLP’s eventual vote.

The rumor goes that DLP asked, hinted, urged (or whatever non-libelous word you want to use) that if GEO Group, one of the nation’s largest private-prison corporations and is headquartered in South Florida, wanted his support than the company would have to part ways with longtime lobbyist Dave Ericks.

Whether or not you believe DLP asked, hinted or urged GEO Group to do this, the fact remains that Dave Ericks withdrew as a lobbyist for GEO Group on February 7.

Oh, and by the way, Dave Erick’s girlfriend is the wonderful Claudia Davant, the ex-wife of Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who is Miguel’s brother.

Here’s where I draw the line and just say I am not going into anyone’s personal relationship.  That has nothing to do with what I am writing about, which is…

Why did Dave Ericks and GEO Group part ways a week before a vote critical to the company?

If GEO Group did part ways with Ericks to placate DLP, why did the Senator still vote against the company if he had committed to it that he would vote with GEO?

In other words, was Miguel Diaz de la Portilla clever enough to have his brother’s ex-wife’s boyfriend fired, while still voting the way he had always intended?

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.