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  1. Florida Politics

Romano: Marco Rubio was ambitious from the very beginning

Sen. Rubio waves to supporters after announcing his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. [Joe Raedle | Getty Images]
Sen. Rubio waves to supporters after announcing his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. [Joe Raedle | Getty Images]
Published Apr. 14, 2015

The freshman representative had been on the job for barely a month.

He had come to Tallahassee in a special election, so he had little time to prepare for the legislative session, and could rely on none of the all-for-one camaraderie of a typical incoming class of lawmakers.

Maybe that explains why, as he stood to address the House tourism committee in early March of 2000, the 28-year-old Republican made the mistake of announcing his proposed bill was his "maiden voyage'' in legislative politics.

He had barely begun his explanation of HB 1457 when he was cut off by then-Rep. Frank Farkas, R-St. Petersburg, himself a relative newcomer in the House.

"This is a very good bill,'' Farkas said, according to a Miami Herald story in 2000, "so let me cut in before he screws it up.''

Consider it Marco Rubio's rite of passage in Florida politics.

It wasn't personal. It wasn't nasty. And it most certainly wasn't to be taken seriously. It was simply part of tradition to give the new guy a hard time.

"It was one of those feel-good bills you start off with because you know it's going to have support,'' Farkas said on Monday. "But Marco might have gotten three words out of his mouth before we started cutting him off.''

On Monday, Rubio had the floor to himself, so to speak.

The now-U.S. senator announced his candidacy for president in Miami, a move that seemed worlds away for a young lawyer who barely survived the primary in his first run for state office in 1999.

Back then, Rubio was a real estate lawyer, the acting legal counsel for the Miami-Dade GOP, and a brand-new West Miami city commissioner.

When a Medicare fraud scandal chased a state senator from office, state Rep. Carlos Valdes vacated his seat to run for the Senate. That led to a special election in the House that drew four Republican candidates in the primary, including Rubio.

Even then, the movers and shakers seemed to sense the potential in Rubio. His name recognition was low — he drew 7 percent in a poll a month before the primary — but Rubio amassed more campaign contributions than his three challengers combined.

He placed second in the primary, losing by 48 votes to radio host Angel Zayon, which forced a runoff. Twenty-eight days later, Rubio beat Zayon by 64 votes. A month after that, he crushed the Democratic challenger and never looked back.

"He was a special guy, and we all knew it,'' Farkas said. "He had a great personality, and he understood the legislative process very early on.''

Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano was the House majority leader at the time and went to Miami-Dade to knock on doors and campaign alongside of Rubio for that first election.

"Marco had a way about him that allowed him to woo people and bring them to his side,'' Fasano said.

A year later, Fasano had Rubio working for him as House whip and the race already was on for bigger and better offices.

"I could seldom find Marco when he was whip because he was already working to make sure he would become the speaker down the road,'' Fasano said. "When I resigned as majority leader, one of the first phone calls I got was from Marco. I thought he was calling to say things would work out for me, but he was asking me to put in a good word for him as the next majority leader.''

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