Political Eye: Rubio recalls time in Las Vegas

When he was growing up in Las Vegas, few people thought Marco Rubio would become a big-time politician and prospective vice presidential candidate. More likely they saw a gridiron future for the enthusiasm he showed Pop Warner football.

Rubio, a Republican U.S. senator from Florida who is being mentioned as a possible Mitt Romney running mate, lived with his family in Las Vegas from 1979 to 1985. They moved from Miami when he was 8, as his parents sought a new life in the desert boomtown where his mother’s sisters already had settled.

"Las Vegas is not often the first place that comes to mind for people looking to raise their children in a wholesome environment. Yet in many respects it would prove to be the family-friendly community my family hoped it would be," Rubio writes in "An American Son," a memoir published last week.

Rubio’s father, Mario, struck out for Las Vegas after losing his job as an apartment manager in Hialeah and as a Miami tourist industry in decline offered few opportunities for someone with his bartending skills.

Yet it was hard for Mario to break in. "Unlike in Miami, hotels were flourishing in Vegas and jobs were abundant," Rubio writes. "But it was a heavily unionized industry that didn’t welcome outsiders for work in anything but entry-level positions."

Mario Rubio, 52, finally caught on as a bar back at the newly opened Sam’s Town. After a few months he was made a room service bartender. When Marco and younger sister Veronica were big enough to be home alone after school, his mother, Oria, worked as a maid at the Imperial Palace.

The Rubios lived at 3104 E. Lava Ave. in North Las Vegas, on a cul de sac in a working-class neighborhood, and Marco began third grade at Ronnow Elementary School.

That fall Rubio played quarterback for the Caesars Palace Gladiators in Pop Warner football; the next year he played on the defensive line for the Sooners, sponsored by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. He shared quarterback duties his third year on the Young Electric Sign Company Cavaliers. While he enjoyed Sunday services, "I would complain about having to spend the entire morning in church because televised East Coast NFL games would have already started before we got home."

It was on the cul de sac where Marco became friends with the five boys of the Thiriot family who lived across the street. The Thiriots were a close-knit Mormon family whose "safe respectable family life my parents wanted for us."

Rubio, his sister and mother were baptized into the Mormon Church, but left the faith a few years later to return to the Catholic Church.

In sixth grade, Rubio attended McCall Elementary School. He began his junior high year at St. Christopher Catholic School but rebelled at the uniforms and demanding schoolwork and persuaded his parents to pull him out and enroll him at J.D. Smith, the public school across the street.

The beginning of the end for the Rubios in Las Vegas came in April 1984, when the Culinary union went on strike. Sam’s Town, unlike many of the other hotels, refused to settle and remains nonunion to this day.

"Eventually our small savings were gone and the union checks stopped coming," Rubio writes. His father returned to work for a smaller salary and fewer benefits. "He had no choice."

After his grandfather died that August, Rubio took it hard.

"I was miserably unhappy and stopped caring about things that had been important to me," he writes. "I quit Pop Warner. What little interest I had shown in schoolwork disappeared. I failed my exams and I didn’t care."

His parents grew weary of Las Vegas for that and other reasons.

"They wanted us to go to college, but most of my cousins had gone to work at the hotels right out of high school. It was hard to convince them that college was necessary when they could make $40,000 in their first year of employment."

The next summer, "almost six years to the day since we arrived in Vegas, my mother, Veronica and I boarded a flight to Miami while my father and Uncle Manolito drove a U-Haul truck across the country with all our belongings and our two dogs…. towing our ’73 Chevy Impala behind them."

-Steve Tetreault


You could tell a lot of legislators had caught summer fever by the makeup of the Interim Finance Committee on Thursday.

Ten of the 21 legislators were replacements. The legislators assigned to the committee, which holds horrendously long meetings every two months, were absent. All had found other legislators to substitute. Most of the substitutes, with the exception of Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson, D-Reno, said little or nothing.

Still the meeting dragged on for eight hours, and many members left before the end. The committee chairwoman, Assemblywoman Debbie Smith, D-Sparks, was having trouble keeping the quorum needed to conduct votes.

Clearly frustrated, Smith said committee members need to commit to attend the meetings, no matter how long they last. She then chuckled in telling members that the August meeting will be held in Las Vegas. That drew moans from Northern Nevada legislators, who clearly didn’t relish the thought of 110-degree temperatures.

– Ed Vogel


Sometimes you cannot fault a legislator for not remembering what committee she chairs. Last week Assemblywoman Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, called to order a meeting by saying, "I don’t remember the name of this committee."

For the record, her committee is formally titled the Legislative Commission’s Subcommittee to Study the Allocation of Money Distributed From the Local Governments Tax Distribution Account (Assembly Bill 71, 2011 Legislature). No joke. One gets tired just trying to type it out.

Legislators obviously spend little time thinking up catchy names for the interim committees they create to study issues between legislative sessions.

Media members generally make up shorter names. This one becomes the Local Government Tax Distribution Committee.

But, gee, Nevada legislators, get with it, or you might find yourself, like Kirkpatrick, searching futilely for the name of your committee.

– Ed Vogel

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC. Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.

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