“We realize that Rodriguez Aguilera is an unusual candidate.”
So conceded a Miami Herald editorial endorsing a candidate who once claimed that majestic, blond extraterrestrial beings kidnapped her when she was 7.
Years before Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera announced her bid to replace one of the most influential Cuban Americans in Congress, she appeared on Spanish-language television programs and talked about her alien experience. She saw three beings — two women and a man — she said. They were tall and full-figured. They spoke to her telepathically. They took her on board the spaceship, and inside, she saw round seats.
But editorial page editor Nancy Ancrum said she does not believe that Rodriguez Aguilera’s beliefs or past experiences have influenced her ability to become an effective public servant. Rodriguez Aguilera, who is running in the Republican primary for a South Florida congressional district, has the heftiest résumé of all the candidates in that race the editorial board interviewed, Ancrum said.
“Here’s why we chose her: She’s not crazy,” Ancrum told The Washington Post, adding later: “We chose not to see her as a two-dimensional figure. And we chose not to make that an overriding concern. We’re more thoughtful than that.”
The endorsement does add another layer of weirdness to a state already known for its penchant for oddballs. Take, for example, Melissa Howard, a state House hopeful who is now infamous for touting a fake college diploma and has since dropped out of the race.
In its editorial published Sunday, nine days before the primary election, the board said it agreed with Rodriguez Aguilera that her past comments about extraterrestrial beings are a “non-issue.” She is a “strong candidate” with “plausible conservative ideas” who has a solid background as a former city official and a business executive, the board wrote.
“The daughter of a Cuban political prisoner, Rodriguez Aguilera became an activist, volunteering with the Cuban American National Foundation,” the board wrote.
Rodriguez Aguilera said she’s happy with the Herald’s endorsement. She said the board asked her about her previous comments about extraterrestrial beings. Her response was that they are not important, and the board agreed, she said.
“What people care about is a candidate that can bring jobs … and that’s what I have proven that I have been able to do for the past 40 years, and that will continue throughout my life,” Rodriguez Aguilera, who’s running on a promise to help South Florida’s working class, told The Post.
Rodriguez Aguilera is running to replace Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R), the first Hispanic woman and Cuban American elected to Congress. Ros-Lehtinen, who represents much of Miami and Miami Beach, announced in April 2017 that she will retire, giving Democrats a chance to flip a South Florida congressional district that Hillary Clinton carried in the 2016 presidential election.
According to the Herald, Rodriguez Aguilera is one of three best-known candidates in the crowded Republican primary, though she’s not viewed as the front-runner. The other two, Spanish-language television star Maria Elvira Salazar and former Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, declined to participate in the Herald’s interview process
Ancrum said Barreiro’s campaign told the board that he is not seeking an endorsement, and Salazar’s schedule is booked until Aug. 28, which is Election Day. That left the board with a choice between Rodriguez Aguilera and four other lesser-known candidates.
“We have to look at each candidate in the context of who else is running in the race,” Ancrum said, adding that the board did not believe the other four candidates were quite ready for a seat in Congress.
Rodriguez Aguilera, however, has raised only about $80,000, compared with Salazar’s $682,000 and Barreiro’s $576,000, according to federal campaign reports.
She first entered politics as a council member from Doral, Fla., from 2012 to 2014. The city’s mayor nominated her to replace the vice mayor in 2013. She sponsored a human-trafficking ordinance in 2014 after two massage parlors were shut down for prostitution. She said she helped boost Doral’s economic and population growth during her time as the city’s economic development coordinator, a position she held for four years. She also previously worked as a social worker for Miami-Dade County and later as an ombudsman at the county manager’s office, according to her campaign website.
Rodriguez Aguilera announced her candidacy for Florida’s 27th Congressional District in August 2017. A few months later, the Miami Herald unearthed old television interviews in which she talked about extraterrestrials.
In one video that was uploaded to YouTube long before the Herald highlighted it, Rodriguez Aguilera talked about boarding the aliens' spaceship.
“God is a universal energy, not a person,” the aliens told her, according to Rodriguez Aguilera. “It’s in everything. God talks to people, and they understand it in different ways, but there’s only one religion.”
In another interview, she said that the beings, with their arms wide open, reminded her of Jesus Christ, and that she saw them again during her teenage years. She said the aliens also talked about Isis, an Egyptian goddess. (It’s also an acronym for the Islamic State militant group, which did not exist at the time of Rodriguez Aguilera’s interviews).
She made several other claims: Africa is the center of energy. There are 30,000 nonhuman skulls in a subterranean cave on the island of Malta in the Mediterranean. Coral Castle, a limestone structure in South Florida, is an ancient pyramid.
Rodriguez Aguilera told The Post earlier that she merely described experiences she had and that they have “nothing to do” with who she is and with her work in public service. She also accused the Herald of negatively portraying her interviews, calling an article published in October an “attack piece.”
Now, the Herald’s editorial board, which is separate from the paper’s news section, is placing its support behind Rodriguez Aguilera, whose “boots-on-the-ground ideas and experience” set her apart from the two front-runners, the board said.
Rodriguez Aguilera has outlined what she calls a “working-class agenda,” and has proposed reforming the Fair Credit Act to change the credit score system, making student loan payments more affordable, and creating hardship rental insurance to reduce homelessness.
“I think she would serve this district well . . . I don’t think we went off the rails here,” Ancrum said. “People just have to look at it in context.”