WASHINGTON—Republicans delight in skewering Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, the GOP-turned-independent candidate for the U.S. Senate, as a political opportunist.
But what about his Republican opponent, Marco Rubio? Before becoming a climate change denier and darling of the Tea Party movement, the up-and-coming state legislator was intent on blazing a Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger–like green trail in the Sunshine State. That’s why the environmentally informed say Rubio is the candidate who changed his stripes to be elected to Florida’s open Senate seat.
“It’s purely politics,” California environmental adviser Terry Tamminen told InsideClimate News. “Rubio recognizes that if he wants to run as a Republican in a statewide race, he has to tack to the right. He is doing exactly what he feels he has to do and, frankly, probably holding his nose about it.”
Of course, some observers will say Rubio’s strategic flip-flop is a masterstroke, because every public poll since August indicates he’s the front-runner. And many have consistently shown Rubio with a double-digit lead over both Crist and the Democratic challenger, four-term U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek.
However, at least one just-released poll indicates Crist could be gaining significant ground on Rubio on the cusp of Election Day. (More on those numbers later.)
“Crist has always been uncomfortable when having to pander to the far right of his party,” Jerry Karnas, an energy consultant in Florida, said in an interview. “It’s somewhat refreshing that Charlie can be Charlie now that he’s an independent.”
Crist, Rubio Once on Environmental Rolls
Before they became Senate candidates, both attorneys-cum-politicians had a pivotal year of firsts in 2007, when it appears that Crist and Rubio were trying to out-duel one another environmentally.
After being elected governor in 2006, Crist organized climate summits in 2007 and 2008. And Rubio, speaker of the Florida House from 2006 to 2008, championed comprehensive climate legislation that rivaled California’s landmark Assembly Bill 32, the law aimed at curbing greenouse gas emissions that oil companies are asking voters to repeal Nov. 2 via Proposition 23.
“Now, Rubio has done a 180-degree turn,” Karnas said. “He doesn’t talk about solar [or] cellulosic ethanol, and he’s denying the science of climate change. And he’s open to drilling. As speaker, he never would have gone along with offshore drilling.”
“The story on the street is that Crist is the finger-in-the-wind guy who will do and say anything to get elected and Rubio is rock solid and unwavering,” Karnas continued. “But Rubio was positioning himself to be a reinvented Arnold Schwarzenegger. Now he’s doing the two-step, willing to do anything to get elected.”
Tamminen is the former head of the California Environmental Protection Agency and Schwarzenegger’s former cabinet secretary. He collaborated with the Republican governor to craft cutting-edge environmental policies, including AB 32.
As an environmental consultant in 2007, Tamminen met separately with both Crist and Rubio to discuss Florida’s environmental agenda.
Crist was especially responsive to a series of color-coded maps indicating which states nationwide were taking initiatives to limit tailpipe emissions and set energy efficiency standards and renewable electricity standards.
“Map after map of these policies showed a lot of action everywhere but in the Southeast,” Tamminen said. “Crist told me these [maps] were really transformative. He realized that the right, lower quarter of the country couldn’t be blank. This wasn’t just about Florida taking an initiative but about leading the entire Southeastern part of the country.”
Rubio also was receptive to tackling global warming, grasping all the arguments about energy independence and national security, Tamminen said. He added that Rubio was intrigued with California’s “Hydrogen Highway” and the idea of turning citrus waste into biofuels.
“He might have had a slightly different flavor, but I wouldn’t have differentiated him from other progressive Republicans,” he said, adding that in addition to Crist and Schwarzenegger, governors such as Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and Jodi Rell of Connecticut are also on that list. “They’re the Teddy Roosevelt Republicans who know that whether you have a 'D' or an 'R' in front of your name, everyone’s kids get asthma if the air is bad.”
To set his legislative outline as House speaker, Rubio earned praise for organizing “Idearaisers.” These brainstorming sessions encouraged Floridians to offer input to transform state government. The best ideas—which included promoting energy efficient buildings, appliances and vehicles—were compiled into a book called 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida’s Future.
Crist labeled global warming “one of the most important issues that we will face this century” during his first address to the Florida Legislature in 2007, according to the St. Petersburg Times.