(CNSNews.com) - The Elian Gonzalez controversy continues to follow former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, whose appearance before the Florida legislature Thursday was met with a walkout by several Cuban-American state lawmakers.
Reno is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor and hopes to oppose incumbent Republican Jeb Bush next fall.
The lawmakers walked off the state House floor to protest last year's federal raid, directed by Reno, in which armed agents removed Elian from the home of his Miami relatives.
The little boy had been rescued off the Florida coast on Thanksgiving Day, 1999 following a shipwreck. Elian's mother and several other people, escaping Cuba, had drowned before they could reach the U.S., but the little boy had clung to an inner tube. A long custody battle ensued with Reno's Justice Department siding with Elian's father who eventually took his son back to Cuba.
Elian celebrated his 8th birthday Thursday.
One of the legislators who walked out was Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican state representative from Miami.
"[Reno] has the right to go watch the (legislative) proceedings but I also have the right not to receive her. She was the attorney general under the most corrupt administration in the United States," said Diaz-Balart in an interview with CNSNews.com.
"She was the spearhead of the entire U.S. government that was doing everything in its power to satisfy Castro's requests that denied a little boy and his dying mother's wishes to live in freedom," said Diaz-Balart.
Reno defended her action, "I know they feel very strongly, but I made a decision based on what was right for a little boy and his daddy. And I stand by it."
As for her visit to Tallahassee, which occurred on the last day of a special session dedicated to solving the state's $1.3 billion budget shortfall, Reno insisted, "anyone who says I shouldn't come to the capital of my state doesn't understand the principles of democracy."
State Rep. Annie Betancourt, of Miami, the sole Cuban-American Democrat in the Florida House wasn't informed of the protest. Despite the fact that she disagreed with Reno's action to remove Elian from his Miami home, she said she wouldn't have walked out on the former attorney general.
No matter whom the Florida Democrats nominate for governor next year, Diaz-Balart thinks the Elian Gonzalez case will not be forgotten, because of "the fact that Janet Reno and the Clinton government, at Castro's request, sent the kid back without giving the child the opportunity that every child has in this country... going to a family court to determine what was in the best interests of that child," he said.
Elian's case was fought in federal courts in Florida and Georgia and went all the way to the United States Supreme Court in Washington, which ruled in favor of Reno and sending the child back to Cuba with his father.
"There are lots of kids who have custody issues. There are lots of kids whose parents are divided and lots of kids, unfortunately, who lose a parent, but the whole force of the United States government does not fall on its face to support those kids. The only reason it happened here was because Castro gave an ultimatum to Clinton and his knees buckled," Diaz-Balart said.
Florida House Democratic Leader Lois Frankel is challenging Reno for the nomination.