Friday, May 7, 2010

The Rubio File

Human Event Interviews Rubio

HE:  When we spoke a year ago, we discussed Cuba.  When would you approve of lifting the economic embargo against Cuba?

Rubio:  When Cuba joins the rest of the civilized world in how it treats its people.  That is freeing political prisoners, it means free and fair elections  They can choose any form of government they like, but they have to have freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of expression.  The fundamental rights that we believe are endowed to every human being by our Creator.  That’s the kind of country that I’m interested in us having a relationship with.  And the embargo serves as leverage for us to be able to accomplish that.  You have, as we speak right now, a number of dissidents and hunger strikes in Cuba.  And their brave wives are marching every Sunday.  And they’re being beaten, taunted, hassled and harassed.  These are women.  They’re called the women in white.  They’re providing an extraordinary example of just how repressive this regime is and how it’s on the wrong side of history.

HE:  So I take it you mean the recognition of the end of the embargo has to come with the end of the Castro brothers?

Rubio:  Not only the end of the Castro brothers, but also political reform in the return of political freedom to the people of Cuba.  The embargo gives us leverage to negotiate that.  Cuba trades with every other country in the world.  The fact of the matter is that the U.S. embargo is not the reason their economy is failing.  Their economy is failing because they’ve embraced a combination of socialism and incompetence, which may be an oxymoron because they’re both the same thing.  The point being that I would love for the United States to have a close economic relationship with a free Cuba.  I think we’re going to see that very soon, God willing.

HE:  Now assuming that free and fair elections were held in this new environment that you described, would you support resuming diplomatic relations before the settlement of Cuban properties.

Rubio:  Before the settlement of Cuban properties in terms of their previous owners?  I think that’s something for the Cuban people to determine through their new political system that’s in place.  They have the right to that determination and to choose any form of government they please.  What I’m interested in is having the United States having strong diplomatic and economic ties to a free and fair Cuba. A lot of times past, the issue of property rights there was going to have to be confronted like it was confronted in Eastern Europe.  But I wouldn’t impose an external mandate.  I think the links between Cuban exiles and their families in Cuba are close enough that they will be able to establish some sort of an orderly process for property rights to be respected, either returned to their rightful owners or paid for their loss.

HE:  That leads to another question about the Obama Administration’s reverting back to the Clinton-era policy of travel and remittances by Cuban Americans to their families living on the island.  Does this help the cause of freedom?

Rubio:  It’s hard to tell people they can’t visit their dying grandmother or dying mom.  And I get that and it’s sad.  By the way, the Bush-era policies allowed people to travel once every three years.  Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening.  What’s happening now is that the Castro government is using travel and exile travel as a way to fund its repressive regime.  I also think it threatens the immigration status of Cubans.  Cubans come to the United States on the basis of the Cuban Adjustment Act, which says that Cubans are exiles.  Cubans are here because they have no political freedoms.  But it’s hard to argue you’re in exile when a year and a month after you arrive, you’re returning repeatedly to the country you’re exiled from.  How do you argue that you’re an exile when exile is supposed to be people that can’t return for political purposes?  And after 13 months in the country, you’re traveling back?  It threatens the exile status of the Cuban community.  And it also provides a source of hard currency for the Castro regime.  They use the dollars from remittances and from travel to fund their repressive operation.  I think it was wrong to lift those travel restrictions.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Why Are Florida Cubans Lukewarm On Rubio?

By David Gauvey Herbert

Marco Rubio was born in Miami to Cuban-born parents, became the first Cuban-American speaker of the Florida House, and he takes a hard line on U.S. policy towards Havana. Rubio leads Gov. Charlie Crist by approximately 28 percentage points in the race for the GOP Senate nomination, and in a matchup with Rep. Kendrick Meek, the presumptive Democratic nominee, he wins by 5 points.

So with Marco Rubio poised to become the nation's third Cuban-American senator, why haven't the rainmakers in Florida's Cuban-American donor community rallied to his side?

His challenges begin with the US-Cuba Democracy PAC. The Florida-based lobbying group is prolific, contributing more than $760,000 to congressional candidates in 2008. In this cycle, it had donated $225,000 to 111 House and Senate candidates across the political spectrum as of Feb. 21, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Rubio is not one of them.

Instead, the PAC has thrown in its lot with Meek, already having given him $7,500 -- more than any other Senate candidate and as much as it gave Reps. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Albio Sires, D-N.J., the top House recipients.

Mauricio Claver-Carone, the director for US-Cuba Democracy PAC's Washington operations, stressed that the committee has nothing against Rubio. At a December panel discussion hosted by the committee, Rubio, Crist and Meek all toed the same anti-Castro line, he noted. So then why Meek?

"He's the only one who's been in Congress and has a long track record of being an outspoken advocate for human rights and a strong Cuba policy," Claver-Carone said. "Charlie and Marco are great, and they would be great members of Congress, but they haven't had that yet. They've talked about it and they've advocated, but never from a legislative perspective."

Claver-Carone added that the PAC follows an "incumbency rule" in its giving and considers Meek an incumbent of sorts since he is currently in the House. But the PAC gave $7,000 to former Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., in his 2004 campaign to become the first Cuban-American senator, even though Martinez had never served in Congress.

The 25 Cuban-Americans who make up US-Cuba Democracy PAC's board, which includes some of the biggest rainmakers in South Florida, haven't rallied behind Rubio either. As of the end of the fourth quarter 2009, its board members had donated $31,200 to Crist, $14,950 to Meek, and $73,800 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, but just $8,150 to Rubio.

The donation numbers for the first quarter of 2010 are not yet available, and several members of the board did not return phone calls about their donations.

Rubio, despite his dominance in the polls, trails both Crist and Meek in cash on hand. Rubio had around $2 million in his coffers at the end of 2009, while Meek had $3.37 million and Crist had $7.56 million.

Does Rubio have a Cuban-American problem? No recent polls have broken down Cuban-American support for Rubio and Crist. But a Public Policy Polling survey released March 10 shows Crist faring better than Rubio with Hispanics in a general election matchup. Crist wins Hispanic voters -- Cuban-Americans account for close to half of Florida's Hispanic vote -- by a 43-22 margin over Meek in a potential matchup. Rubio, meanwhile, trails Meek by a 48-35 gap among Hispanics. Both Republicans would defeat Meek, according to the poll, but Crist enjoys a wider margin of victory, thanks in part to this differential.

Crist has a history of electoral success with this group: He won 70 percent of Cuban-American voters in his 2006 race for the governor's mansion.

Alex Burgos, a spokesman for Rubio's campaign, said he is confident his candidate has Cuban-American support.

"Marco is a product of this community," he said. "He is the proud son of Cuban exiles."

Still, while Rubio would love to carry the Cuban vote, Little Havana isn't his base. His most strident supporters have largely been white conservatives -- including Tea Partiers nationally. They are the ones who shook the rafters at his CPAC speech last month and continue to pour money into his coffers with one-day online fundraising drives, or "money bombs." Moderate Floridians still favor Crist, but among self-described conservative voters, Rubio trounces the governor by a 69-12 margin in the PPP poll.

Rubio, meanwhile, has taken stances at odds with the Latino community. He is against any immigration reform bill that provides a path to citizenship for the nation's 12 million illegal aliens; a spokesman said Rubio believes the 1986 amnesty was "a mistake." He also opposes counting undocumented immigrants in the Census for the purposes of federal aid and congressional reapportionment.

That stance drew a stern rebuke from Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. The organization honored Rubio in 2007 when he became the first Cuban-American leader of the Florida House, but "that was a very different Marco Rubio," Vargas told the Miami Herald last week.

"I know that in visiting Florida there has been some significant disappointment in the positions he's taken," Vargas told

Cuban-Americans who want Washington to take a hard line with Havana need allies in Congress more than ever. One of Congress' most outspoken advocates for the Cuban embargo, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., announced last month that he will not run for re-election. Former Sen. Martinez, another strong anti-Castro voice, resigned in September before the end of his term.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, has tried to offer Havana an olive branch by loosening travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans. The US-Cuba Democracy PAC and other hardliners want Havana to release political prisoners and legalize opposition political parties before Washington offers any carrots.

It's worth noting that Crist has had problems in South Florida, too. Diaz-Balart and his brother, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R), who are two of Congress' most anti-Castro members, pulled their endorsement of Crist in December. At the time, Lincoln Diaz-Balart remarked cryptically, "We take our endorsements seriously, but the governor knows why we withdrew and he left us with no alternative."


Posted on Wed, Dec. 30, 2009
Crist off his game

Charlie Crist is off his game. Way off his game, which was spectacular when it was good. He had the easy rhythm of public life down perfectly. Deferential to the Legislature (even when it didn't deserve it), easily accessible to the media (on a first-name basis with most) and wildly popular with most Floridians, Democrats as well as Republicans. Nowadays, Democrats have pretty much abandoned him, and hard-core GOP conservatives are flocking to Marco Rubio. Charlie's not only lost his mo, he's lost his mojo.
That was sadly obvious at the annual luncheon of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, which brought together nearly 400 of the biggest movers and shakers in the Cuban-American community last week to hear all the Senate candidates. It's a tribute to PAC's clout that all four agreed to appear in the same room at the same time. They wouldn't debate or take questions, but it was still the most important moment yet in this young Senate campaign. A very good moment for one of the candidates (Marco Rubio), pretty good to fair for two others (Maurice Ferre and Kendrick Meek) and an awful one for Crist.

Each candidate spoke for five to seven minutes, giving everyone a chance to compare and contrast. And what a contrast it was.

Democrat Ferre read a well-crafted, thoughtful speech linking progress on human and civil rights in Cuba to any future U.S. diplomatic overtures.

Fellow Democrat Meek pointed out that he has consistently voted against relaxing travel and trade with Cuba, followed the advice of his three Cuban-American congressional colleagues and has the president's ear.

Eloquent paean to free Cuba

Rubio delivered an eloquent and unscripted paean to a free Cuba that had intellectual heft and emotional power, particularly his disdain for Americans willing to put on moral blinders in order to sell Cuba food and agricultural products .

That left Charlie, who got up and said sincerely -- his favored leitmotif -- that he loves freedom and hopes Cuba will one day be free and a ``shining city on a hill'' like the United States is to the world. Then he told the story of his grandfather, Adam Christodoulou, who came to this country from Greece at the age of 8, shined shoes, saved his money and became an American success story.

It's a lovely story, although telling it over and over in political settings seems to both cheapen its value and aggrandize the teller. It certainly resonated with a roomful of Cuban immigrants, but I suspect the group at the Biltmore most wanted to hear the governor speak substantively about Cuba policy issues -- trade, travel, the embargo, freeing political prisoners and dealing with the Castros and their successors. From Crist, however, nary a word, only his hope that Cuba will one day be free. Inexplicably, the governor didn't refer to a set of talking points on Cuba that had been carefully prepared for him. ``He decided to ad lib for some reason,'' says one of the people who prepared the talking points for Crist. ``I don't know why.''

Key endorsement lost

More bad news for Crist was delivered the next day: Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, arguably the two most popular Cuban-American politicians in South Florida, had withdrawn their endorsement. ``He knows the reason why,'' was all that Lincoln would say publicly.

One reason, I'm told, involves Crist ignoring Lincoln's recommendation for the appointment of a Gadsden County prosecutor to a local judgeship. Seems that prosecutor had mentored the congressman's son, Daniel, a law student at Florida State.

But there's more to it than pique over a rejected judicial appointment. The Diaz-Balart brothers have a close relationship with Kendrick Meek, who has followed their lead and that of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen on Cuba. The brothers were evidently feeling that by endorsing Crist they'd betrayed Meek, who sat on the sidelines instead of endorsing their Democratic opponents last year. So, the Diaz-Balarts met privately with Meek and his mother, former Congresswoman Carrie Meek, before the PAC luncheon and said they'll be sitting on the sidelines during the 2010 Senate race.

They'd told Crist a few weeks earlier, but it took a call from Lincoln's top aide last week to get the Crist campaign to remove the Diaz-Balarts' names as endorsers from the governor's campaign website.

Crist can still win the GOP Senate nomination without Cuban-American votes, but it will be very hard. Harder yet if he doesn't win over, or win back, hard-core conservatives and mainstream Republicans who are gravitating toward Rubio. The latest poll shows them tied -- tied! -- at 43 percent in a race that was Crist's to lose. Unless he straightens up, toughens up and smartens up, he will.

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