Issue 314 – Marco Rubio, Part 2

The Paregien Journal – Issue 314 – Nov. 30, 2015

Stan Paregien Sr., Editor

Official Portrait

Marco Rubio, U.S. Senator from Florida

We left off in Issue 307, Part 1 of this series with Marco Rubio, his parents and siblings and some extended family members, living in Las Vegas, Nevada. Their situation had shifted from acceptable to absolutely unacceptable. His maternal grandfather’s bladder cancer finally claimed his life. His father was having trouble making a living wage, thanks both to a prolonged strike by his union (The Culinary Workers Union) against the casino where he worked and the fact most of those workers caved into the financial pressure. And Marco was making mostly F’s on his report cards because he was more interested in pretty girls than he was in studying. So six years after arriving in Sin City, they packed a U-Haul truck and moved back to Miami, Florida.

So his parents bought a house for their family in West Miami. Rubio started 9th grade at the same junior high school where his brother had gone ten years before. He was taken back by the fact that the mostly Cuban culture he had known before moving to Las Vegas had been replaced by a mostly Hispanic culture which he did not really understand. Worse, he was teased by the Hispanics for speaking Spanish with an “American” accent. They even called him by a racial slur, a “gringo.”

He managed to graduate and to begin his studies in the fall at South Miami High School. Black students accounted for some 25 percent of the students enrolled there, and Rubio fit in better with them than he did with the Hispanics.

In 1987 he and the rest of the family were stunned when his brother-in-law Orlando, the husband of his sister Barbara, was arrested, convicted of dealing drugs, and sent to prison.

In 1988, Marco felt the need to get more serious about his grades and enrolled in summer school. He was beginning to think that, maybe, he might want to go to college after all.

In the fall of his senior year, Rubio became a starter on South Miami High’s varsity football team at the free safety position. That only lasted about four games before a more talented player earned that slot. However, he was becoming even more popular with the girls. Not surprisingly, he finished his senior year with a 2.1 grade point average.

College in Kansas

Still, he wanted to do three things with his life: (1) he wanted to go to college; (2) he wanted to play football while attending college; and (3) he wanted to get out of Miami to accomplish the first two goals. So he accepted an offer from tiny Tarkio College (500 students), located 118 miles northwest of Kansas City, Missouri. They would let him play football, plus they would take care of his room and board and even his tuition.

The Tarkio College football team did not have a winning season, despite having Marco as a 140-pound defensive back, but the experience was a positive one for him. The mental side of college life was another story. As a freshman, he did not know how to properly take notes in class and got no credit for just being in class as scheduled. Nor did he have a clue how to study for a college-level exam, most of which required essay answers not a guessed-at-check on a multiple choice test.

Rubio survived the first semester, went home to Miami for Christmas, and returned to Tarkio College for the second semester. He became aware that the tiny United Presbyterian college was in serious financial straits. He wanted to stay and play football again, but afraid the whole program would be dropped and afraid if he stayed he couldn’t transfer his credits elsewhere.

Then things got really serious. While doing spring conditioning, a neck injury from last fall began to reoccur. It got so painful the conditioning coach would not let him back into the gym without a note from the team physician. That physician told him that while more tests were needed, he believed Marco had nerve damage and if he were hurt, again, it might result in permanent damage.

Gainesville, Florida

So the next fall he had moved down to Gainesville, Florida and enrolled in Santa Fe Community College. He wanted to improve his grades enough to get into the University of Florida and, eventually, their Law School. It was quite a dream for a guy who had never spent a whole lot of time cracking the books.

Somehow he found an inner strength that led him to spend most of his spare time studying rather than wild haired partying. The result at the end of the fall semester was a report card of which both he and his parents could be proud.

However, he had spent more money than anticipated and he was in danger of having to dropout for a semester or more to earn more money. He prayed long and hard for some kind of direction, and then one day he received a check in the mail that would cover his expenses for the next semester. It was, in fact, grant money that he had applied for and had completely forgotten about it. So he attacked his classes the second semester just as he had the first and with the same positive result.

Then things started falling into line. He was admitted to the University of Florida in the fall of 1991, and he had decided to major in political science. And in between, he applied for and got an internship to work that summer for his local congresswoman. It provided an excellent introduction to the fundaments of politics on a local level. And he started dating a beautiful 17-year-old girl in Miami named Jeanette Dousdebes.

Romance

That next year their long distance romance survived long absences largely by letters, as Marco had no money for long, expensive phone calls. And in the spring of his senior year, he decided he didn’t want to spent any more big periods of time away from his sweetheart Jeanette. He applied to and was accepted to the School of Law at the University of Miami. He worked during the summers in various political offices as an intern. And he graduated from law school with honors in the spring of 1996 and passed the Florida bar exam later in the year.

Rubio’s first real job was as an associate attorney with the Tew Cardenas law firm in Miami, at a salary of $57,000 per year. “It was more than my father had ever made, and more than enough, I thought, to cover my student loan payments and help pay our household bills. I could afford to get married soon, too” (page 87). He was just 25 years old.

So on Valentine’s Day in 1997 Marco took Jeanette on a one-day trip to New York City and to the top of the Empire State Building. The temperature was in the upper 30’s, make worse by a gusty wind as they stood on the observation deck. He proposed and she accepted on the spot.

Then it was Jeannette’s turn to pursue her dream of making the cheerleading squad for the Miami Dolphins professional football team and Marco’s favorite. She competed against scores of other pretty girls, but she was one of the lucky ones. It was a grueling schedule for her, with only a token income, but it was an unforgettable experience. And it came with two free tickets to each home game, thus allowing her husband to get in for free.

A Politician Is Born

Marco Rubio had a dramatic “lightbulb” moment when he realized that while he really liked working as an attorney what he passionately loved was politics. But he tried to combine the two, start by working part-time for the West Miami Code Enforcement Board. That position gave him great satisfaction in being of service to the people of his city, and it increased his appetite for politics.

Soon he announced he was running for a seat on the city commission of West Miami. He spent most of his time knocking on doors and visiting with voters, and speaking to any group that would invite him to do so. Even his father, 71 now, often walked the streets with him and especially liked visiting with the Cuban residents.

“Who was I really to them? Someone who bore a physical resemblance to a son or grandson? No. I represented their children and grandchildren’s generation. My success, and the success of any Cuban American of my generation, was their answer. Our lives, accomplishments and contributions were a lasting tribute to theirs. Even as a boy, I had grasped that my family’s emotional investment in my happiness and success was as great as their investment of time, work and self-denial. Now I recognized that an entire generation of Cuban exiles had the same emotional investments in my success.

“On the streets of the small city of West Miami, in the early months of 1998, I discovered who I was. I was an heir to two generations of unfulfilled dreams. I was the end of their story” (Rubio, An American Son, page 97).

West Miami City Commissioner

Later in 1998,  he was elected and sworn in as a city commissioner. And he related this incident at his election victory party: “At one point in the part, I noticed my mother sitting in a chair with her head down, weeping. My mother is an emotional person. It isn’t hard to make her cry. But my first political victory moved my parents more deeply than anything I had accomplished before. They had never pushed me toward one profession or another. They had never encouraged me to be an attorney or a politician. They wanted me to dream my own dreams, and live them, as they had never been allowed to do” (Rubio, An American Son, page 97).

Even later in 1998, Rubio received a job offer he could not refuse. Another law firm, one which was big in the areas of zoning law and land use, hired him to work out of their Miami office with a $13,000 increase in salary, raising his income to $70,000 annually.

1998--10--17   Marco Rubio's marriage to Jeanette Dousdebes - from AN AMERICAN SON

Then on October 17, 1998–after dating for seven years–, Marco Rubio and Jeanette Dousdebes were married in Coral Gables at Church of the Little Flower (Catholic Church). They honeymooned for one week in France. They moved into a modest house that Jeanette’s mother had purchased for them, with the firm understanding they would pay her back as they were able to do so.

Representative in the Florida House

Next, Marco Rubio set his sights on working for his new law firm for at least ten years before making a bid for a political office. However, a politically savvy and well-connected friend named Carlos Lacasa convinced him that, due to several unique circumstances, he should run for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives.

While he was considering a run, the landscape shifted beneath his feet and forced him to throw his hat into the ring much earlier than he had anticipated. “I discussed it with Jeanette and the firm’s partners. With their blessing, I decided to run. The timing wasn’t ideal, but how often is anything perfectly timed in life? It wasn’t our plan. It was life” (Rubio, An American Son, page 105).

He fought a hard campaign in a special election and in the end won by a landslide . . . of 64 more votes than the other guy.  In eight weeks he was on the road to Tallahassee as a Florida State Representative. Four weeks after that he and Jeanette had their first child. Marco was 28 years old and a certified politician. Then came the news from his law firm that they were going to deduct his State Representative salary from his base salary, since he was spending nine weeks each year in legislative sessions in Tallahassee.

“The news stung. I had counted on the extra money to help with the expense of the new baby. This, too, had not been in our plans. But, as I was beginning to learn, you make plans, and then life unmakes them” (Rubio, An American Son, page 109.

Because Rubio was elected, first, in a special session election held some time before the regular one, he arrived at the state capital with nine months of seniority . . . and, therefore, that much more experience . . . over all the true freshmen representatives.

The Firstborn: Amanda

In early April of 2000, Marco and Jeanette Rubio became the proud parents of their first child, a baby girl they named Amanda. Marco wrote of that moment: “As every parent discovers, the birth of your child, especially your first child, is an experience unlike any other. Nothing really prepares you for the flood of emotions it summons, or the abrupt change in your priorities. It is the moment your heart admits a love that surpasses all others, and ego submits to a stronger attachment. You suddenly form a new consciousness, as if your life is turned inside out. It transformed me” (Rubio, An American Son, page 112).

Majority Whip

In Florida, the legislature meets after each statewide election for an organizational session. And that is when the new majority leader, Republican Mike Fasano, appointed the fledgling politician Marco Rubio to become the new majority whip. It placed him in an important, influential position after only nine months on the job. And he worked at networking with other legislators as well. He held that job for the next two years.

Still, all was not well. His employers at the law firm crippled his budgeting plans by their decision to subtract his legislative salary of about $21,000 from his $72,000 salary at the law firm. And some of the partners were upset at his spending so much time away from the office on political matters, so much so that Rubio half-way expected to be fired. So he tried to reduce his expenses. He sold his car and moved his family in with his mother-in-law for the time being. It was a stressful and depressing time for all of them.

“My grandfather and father had once been my age, and had ambitions no less dear to them than mine were to me. They both had known success for a brief time, and both had seen it taken away, never to be recovered. They endured and made the best of their circumstances, and gave their children a better start in life than they had ever had. But they had to settle for less of a life than they had wanted, hoping their children would never face the same disappointment.

“Now I imagined telling my children someday that I had once been the majority whip of the Florida House but had lost my job and had to leave politics to make a living. I had a family to provide for and their future to plan for. Maybe, like my family before me, I would lose my dreams, too, and hope my children would live theirs” (Rubio, An American Son, page 119).

New Job, More Money

He signed up with an executive search firm for them to help him find another job. A few weeks later, they called and he interviewed with a law firm In Broward County. That law firm, Becker and Poliakoff, was looking for a zoning and land use attorney to work in their new office in Miami. A few days after the interview, the firm called and offered him a salary of $93,000 – the exact total of what he had originally hoped to have with his legislative salary of $21,000 added to his current law salary of $72,000. Now he would have enough money, about $114,000 per year from his two jobs, to breath, again.

Two years later, on June 18, 2002, Jeanette gave birth to their second child. They named her Daniella. And soon after that, Rubio was appointed to his “dream job” of serving as majority leader of the Florida House. He saw it as a great way to finally use his considerable communication skills and his personal network of friends to articulate the Republican point of view on significant issues.

Speaker of the Florida House

There were other political mountains to conquer, of course. Rubio had barely settled into his two-year role as majority leader when he began planning a long-shot run to become speaker of the Florida House. He set up a political committee and bank account for his anticipated campaign expenses. He admitted, later, that he overestimated his own ability to manage that account when he was preoccupied with legislative affairs, traveling statewide on behalf of other Republicans, and speaking as often as he could to advance his reputation and to spread the Republican message.

“I often used my or Jeanette’s personal credit cards to pay for many of the campaign’s expenditures. When I received my statement, I would spend hours trying to figure out which were political, and which were personal.

“I asked Jeanette to serve as the committee’s treasurer, putting her in an impossibly difficult situation. She didn’t accompany me on most of my trips or attend many of the events I attended in South Florida. She had to job my memory to determine which credit card purchases were campaign expenditures, sometimes weeks after I had made them. It was an imperfect accounting system, to say the least.

“Years later, my lack of bookkeeping skills would come back to haunt me. The press and Governor Crist raised the matter during my U.S. Senate campaign, implying I had pocketed money from my finance committee and used it to pay for personal items. It wasn’t true, but I had helped create the misunderstanding my opponents exploited” (Rubio, An American Son, page 127).

Marco forged ahead, getting enough pledges in line to assure his appointment, hiring a director of his political operations, created an advisory committee and hired a highly respected team of accounting professionals to track his donations and his expenses. All of this in preparation for November, 2006, when he officially would be named the next Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.

A Closer Walk with Christ

Meanwhile, life continued. His wife, Jeanette, and their children started worshipping at the First Baptist Church (later, renamed Christ Fellowship) of Perrine. Marco at first continued worshipping at his Catholic congregation, while attending Christ Fellowship with his wife and kids on Sunday nights. Even his parents began attending church there.

However, by 2005 Rubio was led by this new religious awakening to reexamine his own Catholic faith. He read the complete catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as books by popular Catholic churchmen. And eventually he and his family began attending Mass each Sunday morning at St. Louis Catholic Church and attending Christian Fellowship on Sunday nights. Rubio explained: “I have come home to Rome, but with a real appreciation for the work being done by my brothers and sisters in Christ, who live their faith in other traditions” (Rubio, An American Son, page 135).

One of the main functions of the House Speaker designate is to get out and beat the bushes for money. Lots of it. He is expected to meet with major donors and convince them to open wide their checkbooks to the Republican candidates and causes. It was an important job and it was a significant step toward making his name known throughout Florida, not just in south Florida.

New Job and Higher Salary

By late 2004 he had been courted by and hired by the Broad & Cassel Law Firm to be their counsel. And, oh yes, they gave him $300,000 per year to do that work in their home office in Miami. It was three times what he had been making and, after asking his present employer whether he could match it (he couldn’t), Rubio made the move. And he bought a new home with a pool. He was 33 years old and doing quite well, thank you.

Then in May of 2005, Marco and Jeanette had another child. This time the baby was a boy and they named him Anthony Luis Rubio.

In the fall of 2005, Rubio officially was named the incoming Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, effecting with the 2006 session. He said of that moment: “the day was and always will be a special memory for me. It was obviously a milestone in my public career. My parents were there. They saw their son enjoy the success and distinction they had dreamed for me and sacrificed everything for so I would have the opportunity to attain it. My children were there, as I hope to be with them someday to witness their successes.

“My speech was broadcast to Cuba on Radio Martí. I don’t know how many people in the country of my ancestors actually heard it, but if only one person had, I would have been very pleased. For I am the child of immigrants, an American with a history that began somewhere else and with a special place in his heart for the land of lost dreams his parents had left so their children wouldn’t lose theirs” (Rubio, An American Son, page 144).

Speaker of the House of Representatives

2006--11--20   Marco Rubio and Gov Bush at Marco's swearing in as Speaker

Sure enough, on November 20, 2006, Marco Rubio was sworn in as Speaker of the House. The thus became the very first Cuban American to hold that job. Jeb Bush, the outgoing two-term Governor of Florida, was there to congratulate him and to present him with a ceremonial sword. Neither of them expected to be battling each other and 14 other Republicans in 2015 to become the party’s candidate for president in the general election of 2016.

Rubio’s leadership committee of twelve political friends and advisors had been working closely with him for three years to formulate ideas for reforming the House rules, for reinvigorating their Republican base and for stimulating the sagging Florida economy.

His first step, a decisive one, was to give up the Speaker’s traditional power-tool of choosing exactly which committees would oversee what legislation. He did so in favor of mandating that power to the committee chairmen (his chosen leadership committee). Each chairman could select a particular committee to deal with a particular issue. Not only that, under Rubio’s new rules, each committee had both the responsibility (and opportunity) of deciding policy and then finding a way to fund it within their own budget appropriation. It was a dramatic shift of power.

Then, with the election of Charlie Crist as Governor, Rubio had to deal with decidedly different governor in office. And the battle was engaged. Crist pushed through a revision of the homeowner’s insurance laws, with conservatives like Rubio only able to tweak it some. Then Rubio announced a bold plan to lower property taxes and to fund that by raising sales taxes, a long-range benefit to home owners. Crist pulled a successful “end around” move by countering with a proposal to lower property taxes by doubling the existing homestead exemption. In the end, some of Rubio’s legislation was adopted but not the landmark move he had proposed.

Fourth Child

In the midst of a challenging year as Speaker of the House, another small miracle took place. Marco and Jeanette Rubio had a fourth child. They named the baby boy Dominick Rubio.

“A few weeks later, the subject of my home equity loan [used to make a few improvements to the house and to buy furniture for it – SP] became a matter of press scrutiny. I hadn’t included it in my financial disclosure. That was my oversight, and I deserved to be taken to task for it. But the press also insinuated the loan itself was improper. Of course, it wasn’t. And once we showed we paid a standard interest rate and that the home had been properly appraised, the issue went away. I was offended by the insinuation, and thrown off stride for a while. But I’ve come to accept that a thick hide is a prerequisite for the job” (Rubio, An American Son, page 156).

When the dust settled on his Speakership in 2008, Rubio said he was pleased with the fact that he and his colleagues had led the crusade that balanced the budget the last two years without raising taxes. Not only that, but they successful cut state expenditures. And then it was over.

Just Hanging Around

Marco Rubio found himself foot loose and fancy free, with nothing more than his full-time job as an attorney on his agenda. That and being able to spent a lot more time with his wife, his children, extended family and friends.

Still, it was just not in his nature to coast along enjoying the view. So he taught a political science course at Florida International University, and also researched public policy issues. And when his work as a zoning and land use attorney slowed down, due to the significant recession in Florida’s real estate market, his law firm encouraged him to seek clients who wanted help getting a positive relationship going with local civic leaders and with business leaders. Along the way he also acted as an on-air TV political commentator for Spanish language Univision during the presidential campaigns in the fall of 2008.

At times he daydreamed about somehow getting back into the heat of politics. That feeling dramatically increased and the election of the leftist Barak Obama as president of the United States. However, he could see no opening in any Floridian political office that would be the place of service and influence that he wanted. So he relax and enjoy the slower pace.

Incumbent Senator Won’t Run

Then lightning struck. The junior U.S. Senator from Florida, Mel Martinez, had decided not to run for reelection in 2010. The underground political buzz was that Jeb Bush, the popular two-term ex-Governor of Florida, might run for that seat. Rubio decided before he himself went out on a limb to show his own interest, he would just drive to Bush’s house and talk with him. And he went back home that night scratching that opening off of his bucket list.

About that time, Marco’s father saw a doctor and was found to have a cancerous lesion on a lung. An operation was scheduled for early January of 2009. It went well and he began the road to recovery.

One morning Rubio got a call from his friend Jeb Bush. And he fully expected that Jeb was making a courtesy call to say he was running for that U.S. Senate seat and wanted his help. Marco was shocked, then, when Jeb said he was not running and pointed asked whether he would consider running. He told Bush that he would certainly give it his serious consideration.  

Then lightning struck again.

Governor Crist Seeks the Senate Seat

On Feb. 4, 2010, an earthquake shook Florida. No, not a sure ’nuff earthquake of the terrain, but a political earthquake that shook both parties. Most insiders felt Charlie Crist, the popular Governor, would easily win reelection in 2010 and have a solid base from which to launch a run for the presidency. Instead, he had decided to run for the U.S. Senate seat that Rubio wanted.

Marco ramped up his own efforts in speaking to as many groups and big-time donors as he could, trying desperately to find a positive response to the hint that he might run even if Crist did. His employers back at his law firm were upset at the time he was already spending on the political trail away from his work with them.

Sensing it was time to fish or to cut bait, as the saying goes, he felt out his current clients to see whether they would follow him if he opened up his own law firm. Most said they would. If he went through with resigning, he would cut himself off from a guaranteed salary and benefits for a very long shot at the U.S. Senate, or as Plan B, a none-too certain run for the governorship of Florida.

As sometimes happens in most families, it took a rather point jab in the ribs from his wife to get Marco off of his soap box. He had been complaining to all who would listen that Obama was leading the nation far to the left and away from our cherished values. And he argued that Crist was doing the same in Florida, right under the noses of the Tea Party folks and that someone should stand up and speak for the core values of our nation. Janette heard him make those points one night at a “rubber chicken dinner,” and on the way home she said: “They why don’t you do it?” And a few weeks later as he sweated to make a decision she said: “Put your trust in God, not other men.”

Ouch.

Marco Rubio had to admit that he had been timid about going full bore for the U.S. Senate job and doing it without a Plan B, plus he was hoping to keep his options open for a while longer.

The time came, though, when he granted an interview to a reporter with Univision on May 4, 2010. He revealed that, indeed, he was running for the U.S. Senate seat.

His life was about to get a whole lot more complicated.

******************************

Marco Rubio, Part 3 . . . . will follow, probably after January 1, 2016.

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