Late last year, and in early 2016, two former State Representatives, David Rivera and Ralph Arza made silent appearances in early Presidential primary/caucus states to help Marco Rubio, a true ideological political ally for both conservatives. Arza left the Florida House in disgrace after using a racial epithet to describe Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Dr. Rudy Crew, while Rivera left Congress in disgrace after being defeated for reelection in 2012. Both helped Rubio in the Presidential primaries though in the least public way imaginable. This includes showing up in the audience at debates and walking precincts like normal volunteers in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Rivera had a scandal plagued political career in the Florida House from 2002 to 2010 and in Congress from 2011 to 2013. Rubio and Rivera met on Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart’s Congressional campaign in 1992 when he defeated State Senator Javier Soto in the GOP Primary. The two young Republicans struck up an accord and friendship which has persisted since.
Rubio’s closest ally in the legislature at the time of Rivera’s election in 2002 was Rep. RalphArza (R-Hialeah). Arza was the legislature’s resident bully who enjoyed berating activists in public and attacking those volunteers who spent their own money coming from across the state to oppose the privatization of public education. Arza’s arrogance was so great that he’d attack volunteers as paid shills while he was making money on the side from the for-profit-school industry. Arza today is the Director of Governmental Affairs for the Florida Consortium of “Public” Charter Schools.
Rubio’s ally Arza was the chief water-carrier in the legislature for the private school industry and school voucher proponents. He also echoed Rubio’s talking points on “freedom” and taxes. Representing a lower-income urban district Arza’s voting record was much further to the right of his Republican colleagues (including Rivera) who represented Hialeah and Northwest Miami-Dade at the same time. He was a perfect compliment legislatively and temperamentally for an intellectual lightweight like Rubio who tried to give off a demeanor of a thoughtful legislator – Arza was a bully who could serve as an enforcer as Rubio climbed the leadership ranks.
Arza is of course best known for being found guilty of witness tampering and leaving racially insensitive messages using the N-word in reference to then Miami-Dade Schools boss Dr. Rudy Crew on the voicemail of then colleague Rep. Gus Barreiro (R-Miami Beach). Barreiro went to the media and filed an ethics complaint that led to Arza’s downfall and an embarrassing episode for incoming House Speaker Rubio. Arza was forced to resign from the House partly to preserve Rubio’s political career. This was in 2006 – just days before Marco Rubio was the assume the Speakership in the Florida House with this embarrassment hanging over his head.
Protecting Rubio from political exposure was the reason for Arza’s swift downfall. The Florida GOP as early as 2001 saw Rubio as a potential national superstar and went out of its way to protect him. They quickly threw Arza under the bus in order to save Rubio’s career. But perhaps Rubio’s personal loyalty to Arza or could it be his approval of his use of the N-word is why the two remain political allies to this day.
The same could be said for the attempts since Rivera was first embroiled in public scandal in 2011 to distance Rubio from his friend. Last year, when Rivera was fined heavily for improper use of his State House office, few in the media made the link to Rubio who at the time was a month away from launching his Presidential campaign. Beyond former Miami Herald and current Politico writer Marc Caputo and Tim Mak of The Daily Beast, few have paid attention to the exploits of Arza or Rivera as Rubio once again reemerges as a national political player.
It is nothing new for the media to ignore scandal and associations of Presidential or Senatorial candidates. But Republicans who seem to think Rubio is the best bet long-term for the party in the wake of the impending Trump disaster November 8, would likely be more nervous if these associations were played in a more aggressive manner. It’s largely acknowledged that Miami politics is dirty and the gutter locally is where most pols reside. This having been said, Rubio maintained associations with shady figures publicly until the very moment it became politically toxic and then threw them overboard. Yet when Rubio’s political future is on the line, those same figures have very quietly come to his rescue.
This gives us a clear window into how Rubio would govern and create his kitchen cabinet were he to ever be President. The Republican Party nor the United States of America can afford this risk. Some might theorize Rubio is harmless in the US Senate, but following the Trump debacle, the GOP leadership throughout the country will only be too anxious to put this current malaise behind them and anoint a new leader- and that very well could be Rubio.