Virtually every politician is an opportunist, but Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio has to be at the head of the crowd. In his apparent desperation to win his party's 2016 presidential nomination, he has become an unparalleled political chameleon. For the uninitiated, that means he has been willing to say practically anything or do anything to gain traction for his career advancement.
Rubio's first order of business has been to woo the tea party because of its substantial influence in determining the outcome of the 2016 GOP presidential primary. To appeal to that faction of the party, with its distaste for big government and federal regulation, Senator Rubio has turned environmental flip-flopping into an art form.
After verbally supporting a carbon emission reduction proposal to combat global warming while a leader in the Florida State Legislature, the 43-year-old Rubio now voices doubts about the validity of human-induced climate change. As long as he adheres to that essentially "do nothing" position ("Our government can't control the weather"), he is in effect betraying his constituents residing in Florida's coastal communities. Many of these communities are frantically preparing to defend against climate change-induced sea level rise that has already begun to make its presence felt.
It is a safe bet that Rubio will undoubtedly dial back his attitude toward climate change if he were ever to win the nomination, although probably not enough to satisfy the national environmental movement.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. For the moment, to further ingratiate himself with the global warming denial, anti-Washington tea party folks, Senator Rubio has further letdown his coastal constituents. He chose to vote against a bill to create a National Endowment to coordinate and improve protection of the oceans, coastal areas, and Great Lakes. It made no difference that the proposal would not have required an expanded federal bureaucracy or additional funding.
For years, Rubio has repeatedly said that solar, wind, and other renewable sources should be an important part of our nation's energy mix. But all the while he has been in public office, sunny Florida has been one of the few states to prohibit governmental incentives to grease the skids for consumers wishing to install solar energy systems. Moreover, as a state legislator, he objected when then Florida Governor Charlie Crist signed an executive order demanding the utilities in the state generate at least 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. After all, mandated renewable energy distribution was part of President Obama's "green agenda," an anathema to the conservative Republican base who loomed large in Rubio's future plans.
In keeping with his ideological bent, Rubio thus complained that renewable usage should be determined by free market competition, not government regulation. To drive home that point, he subsequently voted in the Senate against federal subsidies for solar, while pushing for expanded production and use of carbon-polluting fossil fuels.
According to Rubio, "leadership demands shaping public opinion, not chasing it."
The aspirational presidential nominee would do well to take his own advice to heart.