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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Rubio isolates Tampa area by foot-dragging on opening new office

Protesters gather Thursday near a building in Doral where Sen. Marco Rubio has an office, showing their opposition to the proposed Senate health care bill. Protests were mounted at the offices of Republican senators in 21 states.
Protesters gather Thursday near a building in Doral where Sen. Marco Rubio has an office, showing their opposition to the proposed Senate health care bill. Protests were mounted at the offices of Republican senators in 21 states.
Published Jul. 10, 2017

The failure of Marco Rubio to find a permanent place to do business in Tampa points up an increasing isolation of Florida's junior senator from the people he is meant to serve. Rubio has been without a Tampa office for four months now, sending his two-member local staff to libraries, coffee shops and a rotation of other public places to conduct meetings with constituents. Coupled with his refusal to hold town hall meetings, this foot-dragging by Rubio diminishes the interaction that's vital for any elected representative in Washington to understand the needs back home.

Rubio blames those he sees as abusers of the process, and indeed, activists opposed to the agenda of President Donald Trump have deliberately targeted the local offices of Congress members to help thwart it. Their regular presence outside Rubio's former office in a West Kennedy Boulevard commercial building got him kicked out once his lease expired.

But the same thing happened in his Jacksonville office and Rubio quickly found new quarters there. What's more, he manages to maintain a permanent presence despite the demonstrations — including a redoubled protest Thursday against the Senate health care bill — in Orlando, Miami, Pensacola, Tallahassee, Naples and Palm Beach Gardens.

Only in the Tampa area must we puzzle over where to go next to get the ear of our senator.

And like many in Congress, Rubio encourages constituents at his website to reach him through their local offices. But click on the Tampa link, and here's what you see: "We are currently in the process of moving and finding a new office location. If you need immediate assistance, please contact us toll free in Florida: (866) 630-7106.

Why Rubio hasn't made this more of a priority remains a mystery. His office, while saying in an email to the Tampa Bay Times that it's working with potential landlords, won't answer detailed questions about the process or about another vexing question: How this current set-up provides security and storage for constituent documents, which can contain personal or sensitive information.

The absence of answers makes it look like the demonstrations have removed any sense of urgency on Rubio's part.

He said as much when it comes to town halls, telling a Miami TV station in February, "They are designed to basically heckle and scream at me in front of cameras." He also said then, "They are not town halls anymore, and I wish they were, because I enjoy that process very much, going back to my time as speaker of the House," and finally, "It's all designed to be able to have news coverage at night that says look at all these angry people screaming at your senator."

Demonstrators still demonstrate in Tampa on a regular basis to show passing motorists their disdain for the Trump agenda, but Rubio has effectively robbed them of a relevant gathering spot. More importantly, he's putting up hurdles to access for all his constituents in the region.

To be sure, in an age of e-mail and social media, local brick-and-mortar offices are being pushed into the background as the favored means of communicating with an elected representative. But as in all human interaction, some matters require a face-to-face meeting. The many cases of seniors and veterans who believe they've wrongly been denied benefits come to mind.

As a Republican, Rubio is a member of a party often heard exhorting lawmakers to run government more like a business. What business would tolerate this kind of delay in reacquiring a tool so vital for communication with its customers?

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Maybe Rubio just needs a better real estate agent. Whatever it takes, he should move quickly to remove this insult to the people of Tampa and open a local office.

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