Rubio to lead House

first_img Rubio to lead House Lawyer-legislator takes center stage in 2006 Jan Pudlow Senior Editor As soon as Marco Rubio graduated from the University of Miami School of Law in 1996, he immersed himself in Republican politics, going to work as a floor manager at the GOP convention in San Diego, California. Ever since, the Republican Party has been working well for him. Today, you’ll find 33-year-old Rubio, of Miami, in his suite of offices as House Majority Leader. Come September, he will officially be named Speaker of the House designate, becoming the first Cuban-American in that powerful position in 2006. During the hustle and bustle of the Capitol during the legislative session, Rubio recently took time for a chat with the News to share a little about his political philosophies with his fellow lawyer colleagues. You won the Republican nomination for a state House seat by just 64 votes, and since your election in January 2000 you have rocketed through the ranks of your party. You are only 33 years old. Al Cardenas, a former Republican Party of Florida chair, is quoted as saying, “I don’t remember such an incredible rise through power as Marco has accomplished.” To what do you attribute your great success at such a young age and in such a short amount of time? I was able to get elected in a special election in ’99-2000, which allowed me to come in right before term limits, so that gave me an extra year over my class. Clearly, that was beneficial. Coming in with term limits, at a moment in time when all these people who had served in government for so long had to leave at one time, created a vacuum. And having that extra year here obviously helped me distill it quickly.. . . It would have been impossible without the support of law firms where I have worked at since I have been in the legislature.. . . They have all been extraordinarily supportive, starting with Ruden McClosky, Becker & Poliakof, and now Broad & Cassel. So I’ve had supportive employers, supportive family, and great opportunities. If you maintain support and do become the next Speaker of the House, which is pretty much a sure thing as I understand it, you will become one of the country’s most prominent Hispanic leaders at a time the Republican Party wants to bring diversity to its ranks on a national scale. How significant is being the first Cuban-American speaker to you personally, as the son of Cuban exiles, and what future political aspirations do you have? My job is to do a good job. And if I do a good job, that will benefit the Hispanic community. It will bode well for the people who I represent. It will bode well for the generation whose dreams I inherited because they were not able to fulfill them during their time.. . . As far as future political aspirations, I mean it’s not a very sexy answer, but it’s the same one. You do a good job, you always have options for public service. I don’t know what I will be doing three-and-a-half years from now. Maybe I want to practice law and become one of the leading lawyers in Florida, not just one of the leading politicians. Maybe I want to pursue other political opportunities. The key is to have options, and the only way you are going to have options, again, is if you do a good job. What issues that you have championed are you most proud of? I was very involved in the redistricting effort. Redistricting gets a lot of criticism in the state of Florida. There’s a group out there now who wants to put it to an independent commission. People may not like the results of redistricting — which party is in control or what have you, although I remind everyone that the maps that Republicans took over were drawn by the Democrats. I was proud of the way redistricting worked out from a legal perspective in Florida. We were able to get to the Supreme Court. We were able to overcome all of the challenges at the federal court level, and basically we were able to do it on time.. . . I was extraordinarily proud about our ability to protect the rights of minorities under redistricting. We actually added Hispanic and African-American representation under the new maps. I am very proud to be a part of that, as well, even though it was very partisan results. One of the first bills I did of any significance when I got up here was to help pass a bill regarding HMOs and the denial of care. The bill was simple in its language, but I think has had a profound effect. And that is when an HMO denies coverage, when it renders an adverse determination that a procedure is not medically necessary, that decision has to be made by a Florida licensed doctor on staff.. . . In the past, those decisions were made by administrative people, then they were being made by doctors, but the doctor sometimes was a dermatologist in Oregon deciding cardiology issues in Florida, saying you don’t need open-heart surgery. Once we changed that to a Florida licensed doctor, you now have a doctor with a license in Florida making a decision about your care if an HMO denies you coverage. That provides a lot more accountability in terms of the denial of care. That doctor’s license is on the line, if the decision they make is clearly irresponsible. The Christian Family Coalition gave you a 100 percent approval rating for your pro-life and pro-family philosophies. Is that something you are proud of? I am, on two grounds. Again, I don’t know what the legislative role is in this, because it’s been decided at the federal level. But from a legal perspective, I think that Roe v. Wade is a constitutional stretch. I understand why it was done politically. It’s a very divisive issue. I’ve never changed anyone’s mind on it. And I can’t imagine anyone changing my mind on how I feel about abortion. But I think it is legally flawed. I don’t think there is an existing constitutional protection. Now, if someone wants to amend the constitution to create one, I think that is valid. If they want to do that, I disagree, but I think that is valid. If they statutorily want to create that, that is fine, as well. I don’t believe the privacy clause of the constitution, however, could be expanded to include abortion. So I have problems with it constitutionally. And I have personal views about abortion. What I focus most of my energy on abortion, however, is I have met people who are pro-choice and I have met people who are pro-life. I have never met anyone who is pro-abortion. I think most people agree we have too many abortions.. . pro-life and pro-choice agree. I try to focus my time and energy on that issue, to preventing abortions. Not by harassing people, not by intimidating people, not by stigmatizing people, but by allowing women to understand the options they have and by addressing it at a very elementary level, at very young age, what causes pregnancy and the consequences of it. To many of us that seems like a very simple thing, but to young kids, 14, 15 years of age, clearly it is not. I also am not a big believer that because you have a child at 15 or 16 your life is irretrievably ruined for the rest of your life. I think clearly that presents a whole another set of challenges, and it’s less than ideal, but there are examples of children of 15- and 16-year-old mothers who have done very well in life, given the right nurturing environment and support for that mother. You served as a key lieutenant under Speaker Johnnie Byrd, who selected you to serve as House majority leader. What is the most important lesson you learned from Byrd? One of the things I really admired about Speaker Byrd, at the end of the day, was, I don’t want to say disregard, but certainly his appreciation of the role of the media and the press in this process, for what it is. We don’t work for the media. We don’t work for the press. What the St. Pete Times — and I’m not picking on the St. Pete Times — or the Miami Herald or the Tallahassee Democrat or the Tampa Tribune or the Orlando Sentinel or any other newspaper in the state wants in their editorial pages or what their writers may skew in an article is not more important than what my constituents think. I believe in a free press. There is no free press in Cuba, for example. So clearly I believe in it, and I am protective of their right to be a part of the process. But I don’t think my job is to come up here and do things that get me good newspaper articles or good editorials. I think my job is to come up here and use my judgment to do things that I think benefit the people of Florida, specifically the people who live in my district in Florida. I think Johnnie really helped highlight that for me.. . . I’ve never seen anyone handle negative press and press effects better than he did, in terms of not letting it faze him. So I wish I had the thickness of his skin, because I don’t. But I’m working on it. Expound on what you think of as your role as a lawyer-legislator. It’s difficult.. . . There is a significant drop-off in the number of lawyers in the legislature over the last 25 years. Part of it is the economics of the business of law. What you sell as a lawyer is your time, and the one thing this process steals from you is your time. I think firms like Broad & Cassel should be commended for the contribution they have made in allowing lawyers like me, who traditionally would not fit into a business model of most traditional firms, that support us while we venture into the legislature. That is first and foremost.. . . The legislature really is the creation of law and being a lawyer is the application of law. So there is clearly an advantage to being a lawyer and understanding statutes and their application. Not an insurmountable one. There are nonlawyers here who are expert legislative craftsmen. But it clearly is an advantage.. . . It’s the understanding of how statutes apply to each other, their relation to the constitution, the importance of words in a statute — how a “shall” is different from a “may” — and how that has a trickle-down effect for an entire section you are writing. Clearly, I have an appreciation for the separation of powers function. The role of the judiciary is important. So is the role of the executive, but there should be delineations. One of the constant pressures we have here — and I would imagine in Washington, as well — is that the branches will try to intrude upon other’s terrorities. And when they do, it’s important no matter what branch you are a part of, to try to push the lines back to where they belong. Because the system is really well designed by some really brilliant people. You just anticipated my next question on your philosophy about the independence of the judiciary and the legislature’s role in dealing with the courts. Anything else you would like to say about that? I believe in the judiciary and its ability to function independent of political coercion. I am a jealous guardian of that. I am an equally jealous guardian of the legislative branch’s role, and I don’t believe it’s the role of judges to create law. I don’t believe it’s the role of judges to subvert legislative will. I don’t believe it’s the role of judges to look down on the legislature and say, “Oh, the legislature decided this, but what do they know? They have only been elected by 133,000 people. What do they know about what’s right for the people of Florida? I know better, and so therefore I will interpret their law as broad as possible, or as narrow as possible, to accomplish what I think is right.” I think that is wrong. I think that is a perversion of the constitution. Likewise, so too is a political process that tries to interfere in the judiciary’s role of reviewing the constitution. So it’s a hard balancing act, but it’s an important one. I am equally jealous of both branch’s rights, and I will be quick to criticize the legislature, of which I have more direct input, but also the judiciary when I believe they have crossed the line, as they often do. Can you shed any light on what will be your top priorities when you become speaker? I think my important job as speaker is to put the right people in the right positions. It’s not, I believe, to create policy and impose them on the members that I am going to lead. It is mostly to put the right members in the right positions so that collectively we can go out and create an agenda that will better the people of Florida. I have general broad principles that I would like to be part of our principles. One of the things I would like to see happen is that our children. . . have a better life than their parents did. And that is a universal desire of every parent I’ve ever met; they’ve all wanted their children to inherit a better life than their own, no matter how much money you’ve made or how successful you’ve been. So I think we should pursue policies and laws and programs that will help further that goal.. . . But my biggest job as speaker is to understand the strengths and weaknesses of our members and put them in the right positions to succeed, put the right people in the right positions and empower them to go out and find the broad policy goals. My aspiration for the institution is that the legislature once again become a truly vibrant policy-making institution. I think over the last four or five years we’ve lost some of that. We’ve become too reactive as a body. We just react to crises. We basically convene for 60 days and we tell the people of the state: “Come to us with your problems, and we will try to solve them in the ways you suggest.” I want us to become more proactive. I want us to reach back the other way and go out and look for problems and solve them before they become bigger problems. I want us to be bold in our thinking. When you are bold and innovative, you understand you will meet with resistance. In fact, I struggle to find very many bold and great ideas in the history of man that have been popular at their time. There have been those that had support, but to have been universally popular? There are very few great causes that were universally popular at the time they were proposed. That’s what we should aspire to: great causes that may meet with significant resistance from the media and interest groups and others when proposed, but that 30 years from now people will look back and say, “I’m glad they did that.” What else should the 76,000 members of The Florida Bar know about the next Speaker of the House Marco Rubio? Is there anything else you’d like to tell Florida’s lawyers? I think I pay my dues on time. I’ve got some CLE hours I’ve got to get in, when I get a break here. I think Bar members, more than most, have an appreciation for the political process and what it entails and what it involves. For some of them that don’t follow day-in and day-out, I would say that more than most, the Bar members should be the most resistant to this idea, the simple notion that everything that happens up here is crazy and corrupt and just a bunch a crazy people who meet 60 days out of the year. From the general public, I think there is a cynicism of the political process. I think that is OK. That has always been a healthy part of the American tradition to be cynical about politicians and the political process. But you can’t allow that cynicism to take away from the importance of this process. You know, the land where my parents were born, there is no political process. There is one guy who runs the whole country, and if disagree with him, you end up spending a lot of time in jail, and you suffer greatly and so does your family. America is very different. Writing letters to the editor, that’s great. Protesting and picketing, that’s all great and good. We have the best system ever devised by man for political participation by individuals. It’s the democratic process. It is not perfect, clearly not perfect. But it’s the best process ever created. A single individual in this country can make a difference on an issue, if they work on it long enough, and if they know how to work it, and they know who to work it with. Bar members should appreciate that more than most. So while cynicism of the political process, to a certain extent, is healthy, it can also become unhealthy. Never should they believe the process doesn’t matter. It matters a lot to what happens to the everyday life of people. And more than whether it matters or not, it could matter, it can matter. There are things we can accomplish in this process that can truly change for the better—or for the worse—the lives of real people forever, including their children, including their families, including their practices, including their clients, including themselves. So they need to find a way to keep in touch with and participate with the process. That doesn’t mean coming up here every day or logging on every time, but they should appreciate how important the process is and be interested in it. Rubio to lead House April 1, 2005 Senior Editor Regular Newslast_img

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