The big win didn't sate Rubio's ambition. In 2004, he set up another committee of continuous existence called Floridians for Conservative Leadership in Government, and raised nearly $400,000.

Again, his financial management was questionable. The St. Petersburg Times found that $14,000 from the fund went to Rubio's mother-in-law and two of his wife's cousins for "courier work." About one-fifth of the committee's expenses were never accounted for at all. Rubio says that's because the money went toward expenses under $500, which don't have to be detailed.

He used the second fund to thrust himself onto the national stage, thanks to a campaign called 100 Innovative Ideas for Florida's Future.

Rubio wears number 46 for the South Miami High Cobras.
Rubio wears number 46 for the South Miami High Cobras.

The tour had Rubio and other Republicans traveling the state for so-called idearaiser town halls with voters. Rubio later published the ideas in a book and was hailed as a rising GOP star. (Gingrich, for example, predicted Rubio would "emerge as a national leader" and called the project "a work of genius.")

By 2005, Rubio's official election ceremony as speaker felt like a coronation. Supporters in Miami broadcast it live to Cuba on Radio Martí. And Bush presented his mystical sword of conservative power.

But Rubio's promise would soon devolve into partisan bickering, and his golden-boy image would take a pounding thanks to his choice of friends and some questionable financial moves.

Rage flashes through Marco Rubio's hazel eyes. His gavel echoes like a gunshot through the chamber. Legislators freeze. Rep. Franklin Sands, a Democrat from Weston, stops midstride on his way back to his desk.

"The clerk will stop reading until Representative Sands takes his seat," Rubio intones icily.

Through months of partisan bickering, the speaker had never cracked. But that day, his caffeinated drive melted into anger and frustration. "He just exploded," recalls Dan Gelber, then the House minority leader and now a candidate for state attorney general. "He was angry, very angry, and it was worse because he knew he'd lost his cool."

The cause of Rubio's outburst on April 18, 2008, was a procedural trick by Democrats, who forced Republicans to read every word of every bill aloud before a vote. The speaker, in turn, locked the chamber doors and ordered security guards to force every representative into his or her seat. He forbade bathroom breaks and turned off the chamber's Internet access.

There was just a month left in Rubio's last legislative session, and his anger was the culmination of two years that began with great promise but devolved — thanks in part to his mismanagement and refusal to compromise — into a tenure critics said fell short of expectations.

"I'm fond of Marco personally," Gelber says. "But throughout his term, he told the public what they wanted to hear instead of trying to actually address the complex challenges we faced as a state."

Rubio's questionable financial judgment re-emerged just two months after his September 2005 ceremony with Jeb Bush. Back then, he owned one home, a small ranch-style place in West Miami on SW 14th Street that he'd purchased in 2003 for $175,000.

In December 2005, he bought a new, larger house a few blocks away on SW 13th Street for $550,000; he took out a $495,000 mortgage.

The fishy part: A month after Rubio purchased the home, U.S. Century Bank reappraised the house at $735,000 and then offered him a new $135,000 home equity loan that the speaker gladly accepted. U.S. Century's board of directors included Sergio Pino — a megadeveloper who allied with Rubio on a key vote against slot machines — as well as GOP lobbyist Rodney Barreto and consultant Jose Cancela. Essentially, a bank controlled by supporters printed Rubio $135K out of thin air.

"It's very unusual to get a new equity line so quickly," says Michael Cannon, managing director of Integra Realty Resources in Miami. "The average person would never get a deal like that. He got it, clearly, because of his connections."

Even worse, Rubio never disclosed the line of credit. Confronted about the error, he laughed and told a Herald reporter he couldn't understand why it was a story.

Weeks later, as Rubio prepared to take over the speaker's chair, he raised hackles by budgeting $2.5 million to redecorate the office and to gift supporters with 20 new jobs. His chief of staff received $175,212; his spokesman and deputy chief of staff each got $119,484. And Ken Sorensen, an ally who had been term-limited out of the House, landed $100,000 to show new lawmakers around the capital.

Despite that largesse, Rubio began a hard turn to the right on financial issues — a shift that planted the seed for his Tea Party campaign to come.

His marquee proposal as speaker, introduced early in 2007, was to all but eliminate property taxes, the largest source of revenue for every municipal government in the state. To replace that cash, Rubio wanted to hike the sales tax.

The change would not only hurt the poorest Floridians but also bankrupt cities, many experts warned. The proposal made it to the House floor in 2007 but could never find traction in the more moderate Senate.

Later in his first session as speaker, Rubio slammed Crist for trying to pass anti-global-warming regulations. He also backed Mike Huckabee — the evangelical Republican candidate — for president (even though Huckabee had called him "Mario Rubio" at a fundraiser and spent years agitating to end the Cuban embargo).

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I found the following paragraph most interesting, especially the final sentence:  "On May 2, 2008, Rubio's last day as speaker, his voice cracked as he dedicated his time in the House to his parents. 'I've been distracted almost my entire life by this obsession to do all the things they couldn't do,' Rubio said. 'So if I look a little hyper or a little focused... I want you to know what's driving me. I want them to know that their lives mattered.'"  So, in effect, what he is saying is, "Mom, Dad, your lives are so inconsequential, that without my making a huge success of my life, your lives will really not have mattered much at all."  In psychology, this is known as a "messiah complex" - "you folks are lost without me."  The problem is, there was and is only one Messiah, and Marco Rubio ain't he.

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