|Marco Rubio Running for US Senate, Then Congressman David Rivera in the Background.|
So it is worth note when there is a significant addition to the record, like the New York Times' recent profile by Jeremy Peters of Florida's junior senator.
On this blog, we don't think much of Rubio and mostly attributed his rise to power in Tallahassee as a water carrier for Governor Jeb Bush, the star of the GOP show in Florida during the early 2000's. While that is exactly how Jeb views the competition with Rubio today, Peters makes the argument that is not the case for Rubio.
To these eyes, Marco Rubio is a light-weight political operator who chose David Rivera as his best friend; politically astute but with dangerously limited experience in the wider world. For example, we have excoriated Rubio for years, for his unwillingness to meet with scientists in Florida on climate change.
Jonathan Chait, for New York Magazine, recently observed along the same line: "Marco Rubio delivered a speech on Friday explaining his energy policy. Actually, “explaining” might be giving Rubio too much credit. It would be more accurate to say that Rubio stated, or uttered, his energy policy. Rubio’s speech served to communicate his complete fealty to the most mindless iteration of drill-baby-drill extractivism. And despite its extreme simplicity, Rubio’s argument for burning every carbon molecule that can be found, as quickly as possible, lacks the benefit of internal coherence. The speech is a persuasive demonstration of the irresponsibility of electing a figure as callow as Rubio to the presidency."
So how did Rubio rise in Tallahassee? For the New York Times, Jeremy Peters delivers some new insights. I had wished, however, that Peters would have shone light on Rubio's clinical victory over Charlie Crist for the US Senate in 2010 and the role of Big Sugar in delivering Rubio to American voters. Just read our archive ...
Early in the GOP presidential campaign season -- before Donald Trump had emerged -- I layed out a likely narrative; in the GOP Roller Derby, Rubio would serve Jeb!, in the end helping to whip his mentor forward through a field crowded with opponents like Scott Walker.
Peters makes the case that Rubio was not Jeb's water carrier and is unlikely to be, in this presidential cycle. On my scenario, I'm starting to waver.
The bigger surprise than Rubio's staying power is how much effort it is taking for Jeb to stay within view of the Republican nomination. Even Republican voters seem to believe that in a battle of legacies -- Bush v. Clinton -- that Bush loses.
In the middle of the battle, one never knows how history will break for one side or the other but in this case I'm beginning to feel that for Republican voters in 2016, history decided against Jeb Bush.
Marco Rubio’s Ambition, and Sharp Elbows, Fueled His Rise in Tallahassee
By JEREMY W. PETERS
NEW YORK TIMES
OCT. 21, 2015
MIAMI — In 2000, the man who appeared most likely to become the first Cuban-American speaker of the House in Florida was Gaston Cantens. A former prosecutor and basketball coach for a small Catholic university, Mr. Cantens had amassed a loyal following at home and a solid stack of pledge cards from fellow Republicans.
But one freshman would not commit.
Marco Rubio, who had just been sworn in after winning a special election, refused to sign on, a resistance that stoked his colleagues’ suspicions that he was overly ambitious.
Mr. Rubio ignored their resentments and set out to ingratiate himself with legislative leaders, dropping by their offices unbidden. Within nine months of arriving in Tallahassee, he persuaded them to name him majority whip, and, two years later, he became majority leader. A year after that, in 2003, he had secured the prize that Mr. Cantens had wanted, winning the vote to eventually become the first Cuban-American to hold the speaker’s gavel.
Mr. Rubio, now 44, a United States senator, and running for president, spent most of his career in the state capital defying those who wanted him to fall in line. And the same sharp-elbowed drive that fueled his rise there is now propelling his campaign for the White House, which is gaining momentum despite doubts from Republicans who urged him to wait.
Mr. Rubio has acknowledged that his ascent to one of the most powerful positions in Florida government was marred by what he called “a series of terrible blunders.” He sometimes failed to treat his colleagues with courtesy. There was the time, for example, that many of his fellow Republicans learned of his campaign for speaker from reading about it in The Miami Herald, because he had not bothered to tell them first.
And he appeared willing, his detractors said, to abandon the interests of his district if the end result was a political promotion for himself. His election to speaker was made possible, in part, because of a bargain he had made: In exchange for votes from northern Florida lawmakers, former legislators and aides said, he agreed not to fight a measure that increased money for school spending in less-populated, rural regions of the state and reduced it in denser, high-cost areas like Miami.
“He saw his path to be speaker and it came at the expense of his constituents, literally,” said Christian Ulvert, a Democratic strategist who worked as a legislative aide at the time.
The image of Mr. Rubio as a young man in a hurry has persisted: He ran for United States Senate in 2010, taking on the sitting governor, Charlie Crist, and came from a double-digit deficit to defeat him. The presidential contest pits him against the former Florida governor who was once his supporter, Jeb Bush.
And at a time when Republican presidential politics are being dominated by candidates who are outsiders to the political system, Mr. Rubio, with his ability to navigate intraparty politics and win over powerful benefactors, has proved himself to be a master of the inside game.
When Timing Is Everything
Two factors helped determine early on that Mr. Rubio would have a fruitful career in the State Legislature if he wanted one. The first was timing. Instead of being elected along with a whole class of freshman lawmakers, Mr. Rubio won a special election in January 2000 after a seat unexpectedly opened up near his neighborhood. (He did not even live in the district when he decided to run.)
Once in office, he had almost a year before the next general election, giving him a jump-start on the next class — ever the football fanatic, he likened it to being “redshirted” on a college team — along with precious extra time to cultivate relationships.
His election also dovetailed with the effects of a 1992 amendment to the state Constitution that limited legislators to eight years in office. Scores of more senior lawmakers were swept from office, leaving plenty of room for Mr. Rubio to make an impression with leaders.
Mr. Rubio, then one of the state's youngest lawmakers, during a legislative session in Tallahassee in 2004. Credit Phil Coale/Associated Press
One of the first relationships he built was with Johnnie Byrd, a Bible-quoting Baptist who would become the speaker in 2002. Before Mr. Rubio even knew how to find his own office, it seemed, he knew where to find Mr. Byrd.
“From the day I first met him in the Legislature, he kept coming up to my office, unlike the other 50 legislators, and he would say, ‘Give me a job. Give me a job,’” recalled Mr. Byrd, who eventually named Mr. Rubio his majority leader because he said he wanted to expand the young lawmaker’s influence. “And we kept giving him jobs because he kept performing.”
The majority leader’s job was well suited for a generalist like Mr. Rubio, who did not have a deep background on policy, Mr. Byrd said. “But whatever job he had,” Mr. Byrd added, “if he’d been the chairman of underground streams, he would have excelled.”
His inexhaustibility, fueled by Red Bull and Mountain Dew, is remembered admiringly, even by people who have soured on him politically. “I liked his thirst for knowledge. I liked his self confidence. I thought he had a great upside for growth,” said Al Cardenas, a prominent Republican in Florida who reflected on how he had hired Mr. Rubio to work at his law firm when he was just out of law school.
But Mr. Cardenas, who is supporting Mr. Bush for president, and tried to dissuade Mr. Rubio from running for Senate in 2010, said that sometimes the senator’s ambition gets ahead of him.
“He’s always been a fairly impatient young man,” Mr. Cardenas said.
A Vote-Trading Deal
The way Florida lawmakers elect their speaker is unusual and, many say, heavily vulnerable to back-room deal-making because it occurs so far in advance. (House members vote to select a speaker, and the person chosen does not start until two years later.)
Given the snarl of geographic and ethnic politics that can drive decision-making in Florida politics, if Mr. Rubio was going to be speaker from 2006 to 2008, the speaker who succeeded him would have to be from somewhere other than South Florida. And there was no way Republicans would have selected two Cuban-Americans as speaker so close together, which had the effect of squeezing out Mr. Cantens.
J.C. Planas, a Miami lawyer who was a Republican legislator in the early 2000s, said in an interview that Mr. Rubio and his top lieutenant and onetime housemate in Tallahassee, David Rivera, arranged for a vote-trading deal that would deliver support for Mr. Rubio from northern Florida lawmakers in exchange for a promise that the Miami-Dade lawmakers would help elect Ray Sansom, who represented a district in the state’s panhandle, as the speaker to follow him. (Mr. Rivera, who went on to become a congressman, has been under investigation for campaign finance irregularities.)
Mr. Planas said he and other Miami Republicans felt railroaded. “We were like, this is crazy, we’re not participating,” he said.
But their resistance was futile. “We realize that we’re battling Marco,” Mr. Planas added, “and it’s fruitless.”
The deal had an embarrassing outcome: Mr. Sansom would become speaker, but only for a few months because he was indicted on corruption-related charges. Prosecutors eventually dropped their case, but the ordeal lingers as an example of the loose ethics that often taint politics in Tallahassee.
Mr. Planas had spoken out against the deal, and for his disloyalty, he said, Mr. Rubio and his allies recruited opponents to run against him in a Republican primary (including one who was Mr. Planas’s second cousin). His office was banished to a tower where members of lower seniority are usually assigned, he said.
But all along, he said, Mr. Rubio seemed to maintain a distance from the deal-making. “He knew where the steaks came from,” Mr. Planas said. “He had no problem eating the steak. He just didn’t want to be there for the slaughter.”
Dan Gelber, who was the Democratic minority leader when Mr. Rubio was speaker, was also struck by Mr. Rubio’s ability to keep a safe remove from the grimier side of politics.
“Politics is a contact sport, and Marco is a very advanced political athlete,” Mr. Gelber said. “But he had a team that knew how to block and tackle.”
Mr. Rubio does not dwell on the arm-twisting and deal-making that helped secure his victory. In his autobiography, the chapter called “Running for Speaker” is only three-and-a-half pages, and in it, he attributes his success in the race to his tirelessness and ability to out-hustle other candidates.
But the school-financing episode raises questions about that narrative.
While Mr. Rubio was campaigning, a debate was simmering in the Legislature about changing the formula that historically gave more state funds to school districts in places like Miami, because of the high cost of living. Lawmakers from particular parts of the state like the north — where fewer people live and costs are lower — had always viewed it as unfair. In 2004, they finally prevailed in changing it.
That put Mr. Rubio, then the majority leader, in a difficult spot back home. But he argued that the Miami delegation members had reduced the size of the cut their schools would take, and that it was hard to defend high spending on a district that was so “wasteful and inefficient.”
Other lawmakers and aides who watched it unfold viewed it as part of a deal. Mr. Rubio would not try to reverse the change once he became speaker if northern Florida Republicans agreed to support him.
“Miami-Dade is not getting the full funding it would have had it not been for that change,’’ said Mr. Ulvert, the Democratic strategist.
Mr. Rubio, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has said there was no quid pro quo in his efforts to win votes for the speakership. Adam Hasner, a former Republican legislator who became part of Mr. Rubio’s leadership team, defended Mr. Rubio’s handling of the issue, saying that it demonstrated his transition from representing one district to an entire state and that no deal was brokered.
“He really reached out beyond the South Florida delegation,” he said.
As for the vote-trading in the speaker’s race, Mr. Hasner dismissed the episode, saying it was a product of lingering rivalries. “To try to make this a bone of contention 10 years later in the middle of a presidential election is unbecoming and childishly bitter,” he said.
Showing a Softer Side
Through the experience of seeking the speaker’s chair, Mr. Rubio developed some softer skills, learning how to soothe the hurt feelings of his rivals. He would listen to them, and often win them over.
Marty Bowen, a Republican from the central part of the state who was one of a dozen candidates running against him for speaker in 2002, recounted how Mr. Rubio reached out after his victory. She was at a conference in Fort Lauderdale when he called her on her cellphone. He was in Miami. She was not sure she had the stomach to face him yet.
“He said, ‘Well, I’m going to come see you,’” she said. “At this point, it’s like you work so hard. It’s a gut punch.”
Mr. Rubio arrived at her hotel sometime after midnight. Then they talked until almost 3:30 in the morning. By the end of it, she felt relieved. “It was such a class act,” she said.
Don Brown, a Republican legislator who had been helping the man who was Mr. Rubio’s biggest rival for speaker in Florida, Dennis A. Ross (now a congressman), recalled a similar encounter.
“I was expecting, of course, to be an outcast,” said Mr. Brown, who is supporting Mr. Bush in the presidential campaign.
Instead, Mr. Rubio invited him to become a member of his leadership team. “He said, ‘I came here today to begin the process of earning your respect,’” Mr. Brown remembered, “which I found quite astonishing.”
Still, Mr. Rubio did not lose his edge, or his dauntlessness in dealing with his political elders.
On the day that he was sworn in as speaker, in November 2006, the 35-year-old spoke bluntly about the dismay many voters felt about their elected officials and the state’s divisive political culture.
“Our modern political culture offers too little leadership and too much negativity,” he said. “Instead of solving problems, too many of our leaders are focusing on assigning blame.”
Sitting in the front row, looking on, was the man who had defined leadership in the state for nearly eight years: the departing governor, Mr. Bush.