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Rubio vs. Bush

Three debates are telling. But they also are only a snapshot of Florida’s homegrown candidates. Indeed, it’s a long journey. There’s more to them to get to know.

  • Longboat Key
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It’s almost like “Groundhog Day.” Every day: the latest Republican presidential poll results; the latest dump of lies from the Hillary Clinton emails; the latest ISIS-Syria-Putin advancement. Over and over and over.

And it’s almost like the “The Truman Show” — the movie about the minute-by-minute life of Truman Burbank, whose life is filmed as a daily reality show in the idllyic town of Seahaven. Everyone in town tuned in; they couldn’t help themselves, regardless of how boring Burbank’s life may have been.

That’s September, October and soon, November 2015.

Except for a few breaks from the Groundhog-Truman routines, every time you sit with family or friends, the conversation inevitably succumbs to the magnetic pull of politics.

“Where are you on the Republicans?”

Most likely, if you’re one of those who can’t resist the daily news cycle, your inclination was to side early on with one of the candidates. But now, we bet, even though you still have your leanings, you’re beginning to agree with the Republican candidates who say it’s a long race. 

You want to see and know a lot more before you ultimately commit.

For Florida Republicans, especially those with strong loyalties to the state’s Republican Party, this wait-and-see posture probably is especially true. Let’s admit it, everyone would like to have his native-son or native-daughter become president of the United States. But in Florida, which native son? Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio?

Today, Rubio is the rage. The consensus is he was superb in the CNBC television debate, while Bush tanked. That makes for great storytelling in the national monkey-see-monkey-do media. They love the ratings storyline of winners and losers. Play up Rubio the winner and Bush the bungler.

But put that moment and their performances in the three debates in context — over their lifetimes of decision making, choices and actions in the public eye. Compare and contrast. Past, as they say, is prologue.

To be sure, how Bush and Rubio performed on stage is telling. But it’s a snapshot. There is much more to both of them.

If, for instance, you have the fortune of knowing Florida legislators who worked with Bush and Rubio in Tallahassee, they would tell you stories of two politicians who have close, conservative  philosophical beliefs but who behave far differently.

“Showman and doer.”

That’s how one former lawmaker who served in Tallahassee with Bush and Rubio summarized the difference.

Rubio, of course, is the showman. “One of the finest speakers you will ever see,” the ex-lawmaker said. And indeed, he has been living up to that on the presidential campaign trail. When Rubio addressed the Sarasota Tiger Bay Club while serving as House speaker, he mesmerized the audience, speaking extemporaneously, flawlessly, with passion and clarity of his ideas. You sensed this young man would go places.

Indeed, he has been an ambitious politician from the moment he entered the public arena in West Miami. Soon after he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2000, Rubio began campaigning among his peers for the House speakership. 

From 2001 to 2005, when he became speaker, Rubio pursued a strategy of building alliances among the many House members he would need to win the speakership. There are stories of how he traveled far and wide all over Florida to meet with lawmakers and ask for their support.

His Florida legislative peers also will tell you, from the start in Tallahassee, they could sense Rubio eyed a higher prize.

As speaker, he tried to be innovative. On the day he became speaker-designate in 2005, he gave House members a hardcover book, “100 Innovative Ideas For Florida’s Future.” It was blank inside. He asked his fellow lawmakers to fill it up with ideas to be considered and implemented when he took over the speakership in the 2006 session.

A reader of Jim Collins’ “Good to Great” book, Rubio’s term as speaker was different than most of predecessors. He was a delegater of power. But he also liked the trappings of power. He took a lot of criticism for the amount of money he spent renovating the speaker’s office.

What was Rubio’s signature accomplishment as speaker? That’s difficult to answer. His term coincided with the governorship of Charlie Crist, with whom Rubio frequently clashed. Rubio attempted one of the most innovative tax ideas in Florida history when he proposed eliminating the state’s school property tax and raising the state sales tax — a measure that won praise from economists but that’s about it.

With his speakership ended and reaching term limits after the 2008 session, Rubio, now a career politician, aimed for the next step. He took on Charlie Crist for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. Elected in 2010, here he is five years later, a freshman U.S. senator, running for president of the United States.

Now contrast that with Bush. He followed the Bush family practice of entering the private-sector business world, securing experience and a level of economic comfort, before seeking public office. To that end, Bush left Texas in 1980 and settled in Miami. He teamed up with a prominent developer, Armando Codina, and made his mark with several Miami projects. 

Bush entered state politics in 1986, when was appointed Florida’s secretary of commerce, a position he held for two years. Bush returned to the private sector in Miami for nearly eight years. And then he lost his first bid for governor against Lawton Chiles in 1994. The second time around, he beat Chiles’ lieutenant governor, Buddy MacKay.

In his eight years as governor, Bush developed a “get-it-done” reputation. You’ve heard him recite his rap sheet — billions of dollars in tax cuts; one of the fastest growing states in terms of job creation; the leader in education reform, in particular the creation of school accountability grades and giving families school-choice options. 

These were all on Bush’s agenda, that he took the lead on pushing through the Legislature. One former lawmaker told us: “He’s smarter than his brother.” Another said: “He’s an amazing multitasker.” You could be in his office talking to him, and he’d be watching a debate on the House floor, type an email, and just when you think he’s not paying attention to you,  ask you a penetrating question.”

But this same lawmaker concedes: “He’s absolutely horrible on stage. One-on-one, terrific.”

Neither Bush nor Rubio is the perfect candidate. None of them is, for that matter. At this point, it looks like we’re going to have to endure “The Truman Show” and “Groundhog Day:” Tune in for the journey to see whose character turns out to be the right stuff. 


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