FREDDOSO: You became speaker of the Florida House at age 35, and the top-ranked Hispanic in state government. What would you point to as your biggest accomplishments as speaker?
RUBIO: We had a number — some of them defensive in nature. For example, we stopped the devastating environmental policies that Charlie Crist advocated. On the positive side, we had 52 of the ideas in our “Hundred Ideas” project become law. One of them was curriculum reform — basically bringing Florida’s curriculum into the 21st century. . . . Property taxes would have been largely ignored had we not pushed the envelope on that. And we didn’t succeed in getting our plan passed because we couldn’t get Charlie Crist or the Senate to go along with it, but I think we pushed the debate, and the Republican party was, for the first time in a long time, identified with tax reform as a driving issue for us.
There are a number of issues that people don’t necessarily identify as conservative issues per se. For example, we started the Council on the Status of Black Men and Boys, and we followed up the next year by implementing a lot of their community-based recommendations in law. We created a Children’s Zone in Liberty City, modeled after the Harlem Children’s Zone, which recognizes that kids who are born with five strikes against them are going to struggle no matter how much you spend on schools. . . .
I’m proud about all those things. We tried to do more, we couldn’t get the cooperation of some of the other players. . . .
You’d be succeeding Mel Martinez. How would you rate his performance as senator?
RUBIO: I would just say that Mel is a friend, someone I admire and respect. . . . There’s nothing about Mel that I’m disappointed in today. I think he’s done the best he can under the circumstances. On immigration, he voted for a package I probably would not have voted for, because I believe that we’ve got to secure the borders in our existing system first before we can even begin to have a conversation about the other elements of immigration. . . . But I have nothing but good things to say about Mel.
FREDDOSO: Why did you support Mike Huckabee in 2008?
RUBIO: Two things I like about Mike Huckabee: One was his support of the Fair Tax, which I thought was bold and innovative. Second, I thought that of all the candidates, he did the best job of connecting how the people’s social and moral well-being cannot be separated from their economic well-being. . . .
FREDDOSO: How is President Obama doing?
RUBIO: Most of the American people want him to succeed. He’s the pilot of the airplane. I may not like the pilot; I may not like what the pilot stands for; but I don’t want the pilot to get sick in mid-flight, because the fate of our country is in his hands. Americans don’t want him to be a failure because then our country fails. . . . But I think Barack Obama is of the belief, as are many of our fellow Americans, that government creates jobs, and that the president and the Senate and the Congress are the most important people in our country. I think the most important people in our country are people whose names we don’t even know — small businessmen who create new jobs every day, who get up early and work long hours every day and create jobs. Those are the folks we should be empowering, they’re the ones who are going to lead us out of this recession.
So there’s a fundamental ideological difference between him and me. . . .
FREDDOSO: What do you make of President Obama’s move on Cuba?
RUBIO: Lifting the travel ban will do nothing to bring freedom and democracy to the people of Cuba.
FREDDOSO: Do you think it’s counterproductive?
RUBIO: I believe it is. I’m not going to criticize anyone who wants to go visit a family member or a relative they haven’t seen in years. Even the exile community understands that. But unfortunately, unrestricted travel to Cuba provides the Castro regime funds for its repressive apparatus, and I think that’s a problem. . . . This notion that unrestricted travel is going to bring freedom there is absurd. . . .