Regina Flores fought back tears when she was named Miss Colorado last June. A year later she is just fighting back. Two days after last Christmas, Flores, 22, was stripped of her crown by the volunteer group that runs the state pageant. The organizers accused her, among other things, of skipping two scheduled appearances and of not being a team player in general. “Almost from the beginning we had an adversarial relationship with her,” says Vonnie Pederson, executive director of the group. “The problem was the lack of cooperation.”
Flores sees things differently, maintaining that the whole tempest in a tiara arose because of what she considered the organization’s need for control. She says that after the Miss America pageant in Atlantic City last August (where Flores was one of seven finalists for the Quality of Life Award, in recognition of her work to reduce school dropout rates), she was simply doing her job, which was to make public appearances around Colorado, when she was suddenly served with a letter terminating her reign. She hired a lawyer to fight back, and in May, an arbitrator in Denver concluded that the accusations were false. He ruled that Flores had been wrongfully dismissed, awarded her more than $150,000 in damages and suggested that state organizers had acted “in bad faith” in dethroning her and replacing her with last year’s first runner-up, Gina Marie Waegele.
Officials at the state organization say they will appeal the arbitrator’s decision. Although Flores is the first Hispanic to become Miss Colorado, her attorney Walter Gerash says that they have tried not to make race an issue. Pederson, herself of Hispanic heritage, says any notion of discrimination is absurd. Still, organizers are determined to bar Flores from the June 13 pageant, where Waegele is to crown Miss Colorado 1998. As for Flores, she’s standing her ground. “I was going to be myself,” she says. “I wasn’t going to be controlled.”