On Monday afternoon, Mitt Romney and Sen. Marco Rubio made a campaign appearance at a Miami juice shop, giving brief speeches and filming an ad. Of interest: The shop’s owner was a convicted cocaine smuggler. Francisco Alvarado at the Miami New Times got the scoop Monday morning:
The Republican presidential candidate is holding an afternoon rally at Palacio de los Jugos (7085 Coral Way), which is owned by Reinaldo Bermudez, who served three years in federal prison after pleading guilty in 1999 to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.
Bermudez, AKA "El Guajiro," was a member of 12-person ring that was busted in 1997 for attempting to smuggle more than a ton of yeyo disguised as fish and soap into three South Florida ports. According to Bermudez's indictment, some of his co-conspirators had nicknames straight out of a Hollywood movie, like "Ali Baba," "Skeletor," "Buckwheat," and "Stump."
The plot twist about this appearance is that this wasn’t an embarrassing vetting mistake. The Romney campaign knew about Bermudez’s background and did it anyway:
Reached by telephone, Bermudez tells Banana Republican that the Secret Service vetted everything about him when the Romney campaign asked to use his fruit and vegetable stand, one of several he owns in Miami-Dade.
"They absolutely knew about my record," Bermudez says. "The Secret Service checked everything. [The conviction] was not a problem. Everybody deserves a second chance."
As a convicted felon, Bermudez will not be able to vote, and that’s not likely to change even if Romney wins:
In January, during a Republican presidential debate, then-candidate Rick Santorum pushed Romney to make the following statement about ex-convicts who have served their time. "I don't think people who have committed violent crimes should be allowed to vote," Romney said.
The Associated Press picked up the story but didn’t really do much with it. The Romney campaign did not respond to calls for comment, a big disappointment. This campaign stop was genuinely interesting. Yeah, there’s absolutely zero chance that Romney would have had anything interesting to say about the drug war (and we’re talking about cocaine, when it’s still a struggle to get politicians who have actually smoked marijuana to stop arresting people for it). Reuters got pictures from the event, but oddly, didn’t report Romney’s comments. Romney’s blog has a video from a speech earlier in the day elsewhere in Florida, but not Miami. It would not surprise me if it were fundamentally the same speech.
For the first time in this campaign, though, I actually wanted to know the thinking behind Romney and his team, and now nobody wants to talk about it. Does personal enterprise trump the eternal evil eye of judgment some conservatives toss at any (non-white-collar) ex-cons they encounter? Does he at least believe in drug sentencing reform? Am I overthinking it, and there was just a communication breakdown? And what does it mean that this incident that might have ended up as a scandal (not that it should have been, mind you) was barely a blip during the media vetting of veepstakes winner Rep. Paul Ryan?