Marco Rubio: A Creation of Term Limits

As the man who drove Charlie Crist out of the Republican Party, former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio is a rising star. He may very well be elected to the U.S. Senate in November. He could even be a future vice president or president. But, if Florida were like the 35 states that don't have legislative term limits, you'd never have heard of Marco Rubio.
by | May 26, 2010

Clearly, I'm getting old. It used to be that I could come pretty close to remembering pretty much everything I've written. That isn't to say I could recite all the blog posts I'd written off the top of my head. But, if I came across an old one, the substance would at least be familiar.

The other day I happened across a post from 2007 that I definitely remembered writing, but on which I had forgotten the substance. It was a post about the conflict between Florida's beloved Republican governor (a certain Charlie Crist) and its upstart Republican House Speaker (a certain Marco Rubio). Crist and Rubio were fighting over property taxes, gambling and climate policy. Here's a part I have no recollection of writing:

It's tempting to attribute Rubio's confrontational style to term limits. After 2008, his two years as speaker will be up. In other words, he has to make a name for himself quickly, if he wants to have a political future.

That line has got me thinking about the centrality of term limits to Rubio's story. I wasn't sure at the time that Rubio's disagreements with Crist were really prompted by term limits. If anything, I'm more skeptical now. After all, Rubio kept disagreeing with Crist after he left the legislature. He's simply more conservative than Crist, which is why today he's the presumptive Republican nominee for U.S. Senate and Crist isn't even a Republican anymore.

But, here's something I feel as though I can say with a fair amount of confidence: Rubio would not have been speaker of the house in 2007 if it weren't for term limits. He might not have been a state legislator at all.

In Florida, House members only can serve 8 years before they have to leave office. Without that rule, it's possible that the South Florida delegation would have been filled with politically untouchable 25-year veterans. A young politician like Rubio, who was elected to the legislature before he turned 30, might not have had a chance.

Rubio is a talented politician (he already held a local elected office before he won his legislative seat), so maybe he finds a way into the legislature even without term limits. But speaker? In most states, speakers of the house hang on to their jobs as long as their party remains in power. Rubio would have been a backbencher, who might have had to wait a couple of decades for a shot at being his party's leader. In Florida, speakers of the house cycle out every two years. Rubio was picked as speaker when he was 35.

Politics, of course, is both a game of skill and a game of chance. Today, Rubio stands a pretty good chance of being elected to the Senate (though the race is somewhat in flux). He's talked about as a rising Republican star, even as a possible vice presidential or presidential candidate in the not-too-distant future. And, if Florida were like the 35 states that don't have legislative term limits, you'd never have heard of him.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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