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Rubio's '100 Ideas'

Marco Rubio
Rubio with his ‘100 Ideas’
In 2007, Marion County teenagers Ashley Truelove and Latisha White submitted a crime-fighting idea to House Speaker Marco Rubio’s “100 Ideas” initiative. Why not, they suggested, have the state begin collecting DNA samples from felons and sexual offenders to build a database for future investigations?

To their surprise, their suggestion ended up as Idea 40 in Rubio’s book, “100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future,” the culmination of his year of idea-gathering and the legislative blueprint for his two-year term as House Speaker. This past April, the Legislature passed the “DNA Testing” bill unanimously, and Gov. Charlie Crist signed it into law.

“We really didn’t think our idea would be a big deal. We didn’t think it would be recognized really as it was,” says White. “This book, this idea that came up, is so big because so many people now have a chance to speak.”

The duo’s idea fared better than Idea 43, which advocated providing whistleblower protection to prostitutes who inform on their pimps. That idea never even made it into bill form. Idea 37, meanwhile, got lots of attention, calling for moving the state’s presidential primary to an earlier date to “ensure” Florida’s national influence in choosing a presidential candidate.

Ten ideas aimed at lowering the cost of homeowners insurance sailed through the Legislature during a special session in January 2007 — though it’s debatable whether they ended up doing much good. Likewise, eight proposals related to energy efficiency and sustainability found their way into an energy bill this year.

Other ideas, including several of Rubio’s personal favorites, ended up on the cutting-room floor. Rubio says he was disappointed by the failure of Idea 65, which would have limited the number of passengers that teen drivers can transport in a vehicle. “If you go out and talk to parents across the state, there’s no one more nervous than the parents of a 16-year-old driver. They’re just panicked.”

Ashley Truelove & Latisha White
Ashley Truelove (left) and Latisha White came up with Idea 40.

The Legislature’s property tax debate, however, dealt Rubio his biggest disappointment. As outlined in Idea 96, Rubio favored either eliminating property taxes or capping property taxes at 1.35% of a property’s highest taxable value and raising the state sales tax — a move that his colleagues were not prepared to make. Instead, after one regular session and two special sessions of dealing with the contentious issue, they chose to let citizens vote on doubling the homestead exemption, an idea the voters approved.

All told, the Legislature acted on 57 of the “100 Innovative Ideas,” but Rubio says that numbers aren’t necessarily the best indicator of his initiative’s success. “It’s how those ideas shaped the debate that really matters. If you look at all the major issues that have been discussed over the last two years, the big issues that the Legislature has had to tackle — other than the budget — almost every single one of them finds its origins in 100 Ideas.”

He also says 100 Ideas created an important “new dynamic” and that years from now people will appreciate the last two years when “the Legislature seemed focused on relevant issues of day-to-day life — not food fights between industries.”

Maybe. It’s difficult for an initiative like Rubio’s to change the dynamics of a legislative body long term because politics tends to be a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business,” says Aubrey Jewett, associate professor of political science at the University of Central Florida. He cites the 1994 Contract With America, a 10-point agenda that served as the centerpiece of Republicans’ strategy to win back their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. The 10 legislative items they promised — which among other things included a balanced-budget amendment, welfare reform and a capital-gains tax cuts — had been poll-tested and were positively received by the majority of Americans. But after the House passed nine of the 10 items, the effort lost steam. Voters asked, “Now, what?” says Jewett.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), chief architect of the Contract With America, says politicians can’t stop after they’ve accomplished one set of goals. “The public really wants to see a continuous renewal of new solutions, new approaches,” he says.

He calls Rubio’s effort a “model initiative” because it moved politics up from just money and interest groups to ideas and solutions and because anybody in Florida could participate. Gingrich is pushing other states to jump on the “100 Ideas” bandwagon: “I think it’s something that every state Legislature ought to be doing.”

In fact, several other states already adopted their own “100 Ideas” initiative: Former Oklahoma House Speaker Lance Cargill (R) launched a “100 Ideas” campaign in 2007, as did Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R). Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio and Georgia have developed similar programs.

What now?

Whatever its effect on the Legislature, Rubio’s citizen-centered approach hasn’t provided much of a boost to his political career. The 36-year-old Republican “just hasn’t gotten much juice out of it because of the terrible economy and the bad budget and fighting between the House and Senate over priorities,” says Jewett.

Nearing the end of his two-year tenure as House Speaker, Rubio is still mulling his next move. Because of term limits, he can’t run for re-election. He recently decided against running for Miami-Dade mayor but told Florida Trend he plans to “seriously look at” the possibility of returning to the House in 2010 or running for the state Senate. Higher political positions — such as governor or U.S. senator — appear more remote. As GOP strategist Adam Goodman notes, it’s a “very difficult thing to translate moving from the top seat in the Legislature to anything of increased value.”

Rubio says he plans to travel the country, talking to other states about his 100 Ideas initiative. He also plans to continue the exercise in Florida through a foundation called 100ideas.org. This summer, he is planning a statewide idea raiser on developmental disabilities and autism issues. He says a new bill that requires insurance companies to cover kids with autism doesn’t do enough to address other developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome and spina bifida. “I think this is an ongoing process. I think there’s 100 more ideas out there to be generated.”