Marco Rubio's two years as speaker of Florida's House of Representatives were marked by passionate speeches, promises of conservative principles and a book filled with 100 ways to transform state government.
100 Innovative Ideas For Florida's Future promised a sea change — from lowering property taxes and insurance rates, to luring Hollywood productions to the state; from recalibrating Florida's schools, to building a better Web site for the state budget.
The ideas became the agenda of the Republican-led House in 2007 and 2008 and a personal report card for Rubio, now a candidate for the U.S. Senate.
In the end, Rubio gave himself A's.
"All 100 ideas were passed by the Florida House," Rubio's campaign Web site says. "Fifty-seven of these ideas ultimately became law, including measures to crack down on gangs and sexual predators, promote energy efficient buildings, appliances and vehicles, and help small businesses obtain affordable health coverage."
The St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald are launching PolitiFact Florida, accessed online at www.politifact.com/florida, with this examination of Rubio's claim. Fifty-seven fact-checks packed into one ruling.
At a recent campaign event in front of a room full of reporters, Rubio — who has met our Truth-O-Meter before — offered this introduction:
"I don't want to get PolitiFact-checked today," Rubio said.
Sorry. The Truth-O-Meter has come to Florida.
How we got started
Taking Rubio at his word on the 43 unsuccessful ideas, we began by asking Rubio's Senate campaign for evidence about the 57 he says became law. Spokesman Alex Burgos pointed us to a May 2008 Miami Herald article, which referenced a two-page report prepared by Rubio's then-legislative staff.
That report, like Rubio claims, says 57 of the 100 ideas have been "completed."
From there, we researched the validity of each claim, matching the idea from the book to a corresponding state law. Some of the ideas in Rubio's report listed specific House or Senate bills that we examined. For others, we searched the Legislature's online repository of bills from the 2007 and 2008 sessions, as well as newspaper articles and press releases from the time.
When we found an idea that matched a description in law, we crossed it off our list. When we couldn't, we consulted with the appropriate state agency, the House Majority Office and/or Rubio's U.S. Senate campaign.
In the end we created the chart that accompanies this story and shows our findings. Overall, 24 of the 57 ideas Rubio takes credit for delivering we don't question. And we found 10 other ideas that are partially law, or were law under Rubio's watch, but are no longer in effect, or have some other type of asterisk.
What Rubio got done
When the House and Senate passed property insurance legislation during a special session in January 2007, just two months after Rubio became speaker, House Republicans celebrated with a press release titled "Nine down: 100 ideas gets special start."
We agree with Rubio on eight of these nine ideas being accomplished. The legislation created a uniform, statewide building code, allowed policyholders to increase or decrease hurricane deductibles depending on the circumstances, and created a "Truth in Premium Billing" statement for policyholders. But an idea for expanding a short-term, no-interest bridge loan program didn't happen.
Rubio can claim many other successes, though.
Florida's presidential primary came earlier in 2008 as Rubio promised. Floridians seeking health care coverage now have an online database to check. Drivers can purchase multiple-year vehicle registrations. And the state created an investment money pool for businesses and infrastructure projects.
"I think that Marco Rubio drove the agenda down to the last hour that he was speaker," said state Sen. Don Gaetz, who worked with Rubio on education reforms in 2008, including four ideas that are now totally or partially law. "Literally, in the last two hours he was speaker, I was still negotiating issues with him on behalf of the Senate."
One of Rubio's ideas led to a requirement that school districts create career academies — where students can be training in high-demand/high-need vocations. Another pushed the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to later in the school year. A third increased tax credits for companies that contribute to education scholarships.
Rubio supporter and former state Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, notes that the ideas aren't all Rubio's — he collected them at meetings across the state called "Idearaisers." The meetings and then the book gave Floridians an opportunity to have their voices heard, Baxley said.
"The book framed a practical set of issues that the people had brought to us," said Baxley, who served as speaker pro tempore under Rubio. "It gave us a platform to work from that was meaningful."
Gaetz said Rubio's ideas still come up today.
"Marco's genius was in actually listening to people around the state and compiling the list of ideas," said Gaetz, who has endorsed Gov. Charlie Crist for Senate. "He branded those ideas and that's the sign of a smart politician. Even still in 2010, as we put together health care and education bills, there will often be somebody, wryly or respectful, noting that what we're doing is in the 100 ideas book."
Not on the books
Quick math — if 24 ideas are law, and 10 others are "kind of" law, that leaves 23 ideas that are something else.
In the case of five of the ideas, we find it's wrong to suggest they could be achieved in law. Rubio, for instance, wanted the state to commit to having a "Top 10" public university and to building a "model transportation system." These, and three others, are more appropriately called broad goals, but none are law. (Rubio's office, in response, points to increased university funding or the leasing of toll roads to private companies as evidence these ideas were fulfilled.)
That leaves 18 ideas that have not been enacted.
Here's an example:
Rubio says seven ideas dealing with the environment are now law thanks to a comprehensive energy bill that passed in 2008. Among them is an idea to provide incentives for alternative-fueled cars, including "discounted parking and free or reduced tolls."
But the bill has no parking or toll incentives for hybrid or other alternative-fuel cars. It does, however, offer lonely hybrid drivers the opportunity to use state High Occupancy Vehicle lanes. But:
• You need to apply for a decal that costs nearly $6 a year.
• And you only need a decal weekdays from 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m.
• And, oh, you need to have an HOV lane where you drive. The only HOV lanes in Florida are on Interstate 95 in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Two other ideas concern Internet access for sexual offenders and minors, but neither is a law the way Rubio intended. One was to deny sex offenders access to "popular Internet networking sites" and to "install tracking equipment on their computers."
What passed in 2007 was a requirement that sex offenders register their e-mail and online instant message names with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The state could then forward that information to social networking sites, which could then choose to ban or block those users. During a presentation of the bill, the Web site MySpace agreed to receive the information from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. But there is no tracking equipment, nor is there a requirement that MySpace or a Web site like Facebook delete the users FDLE finds.
The other idea would have required "social networking sites to set up verification systems to require parental notification and consent for minors to use these sites." There are no such requirements on sites like Facebook or MySpace.
In those cases, and others we found, Rubio's ideas got lost as part of compromises between the Senate and House, said Rubio's former House spokeswoman Jill Chamberlin. Rubio supporter Baxley agreed.
"I don't think that there was an expectation that every bill that would pass would reflect every idea in the book," said Chamberlin, who continues to work for House Republicans. "The legislative process is about negotiation and compromise."
Rubio campaign spokesman Burgos noted that Rubio himself described the 100 ideas book "as much a process as it is a product."
"The beauty of the 100 ideas project is that these were ideas presented by Floridians," Burgos said. "They weren't put in the book as pieces of legislation or executive orders. They were put in there as a starting point to be inserted in the legislative process."
Others are less forgiving.
"At the end of the day, sadly, everyone wants to take credit for it, especially if it's a good idea," said state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, who is supporting Crist. "I think then-Speaker Rubio, now candidate Rubio, exaggerates when he suggests he accomplished all of these things."
Rubio's claim is that 57 of the ideas in his book 100 Innovative Ideas For Florida's Future are now law. Based on our analysis, he has fallen short.
Using the most generous accounting, Rubio might be able to say that he got 34 ideas into state lawbooks (adding together those ideas that we marked "law" or "kind of" law).
Rubio's campaign had almost two weeks to review our findings and responded Friday with five pages of explanations. In two cases, their information changed our decisions. We also offered Rubio the chance to address our findings. He chose, through a spokesman, not to.
That leaves us to make a Truth-O-Meter ruling based on the information you see here, and in the corresponding chart.
Based on our findings, 24 of Rubio's 100 ideas became law. Ten others were partially enacted. That's not the kind of claim you're likely to hear in a TV ad, but it's what we found.
Rubio delivered on education and property insurance reforms, and his book and its ideas remain part of the lexicon of the Florida Legislature. But 23 of the 57 ideas he claims were enacted either aren't law or could not be law. We find his claim Half True.
Aaron Sharockman can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2273
Using the most generous accounting, Rubio might be able to say that he got 34 ideas into state lawbooks. But 23 of the ideas either aren't law or could not be law. We find his claim Half True.