Interviewer: Lots of people are nervous about the midterm elections. Americans are so polarized now that governing is impossible. We hear this thing all the time. Francis Suarez doesn’t buy it. Suarez is the Republican Mayor of Miami. He’s popular in the city and increasingly prominent beyond it. He’s the president of the US Conference of Mayors.
Not long ago, the columnist, George Will mentioned him as a potential presidential candidate. Nikki Haley was said to be considering him as a possible running mate, but Suarez is a proudly dissident Republican. He loves tech companies, and he thinks his party can lead the fight to tackle climate change. Is he actually a Republican at all?
Francis Suarez: What’s the word?
Interviewer: Mr. Mayor?
Francis: What’s happening?
Interviewer: Last week I caught up with him from his office in Miami. Your father, Xavier Suarez, was elected mayor of Miami a few weeks after your eighth birthday, if I have that right?
Francis: That’s right.
Interviewer: Did he talk city politics at the dinner table?
Francis: Yes. City politics was a constant conversation at dinner table, the breakfast table, the basketball court, everywhere we went, you get to see that the person behind the scenes and all the nitty gritty little decisions that people don’t often see. I remember cable was licensed through the city and I remember one time coming home and we had all the channels mysteriously. We had HBO, Showtime.
Interviewer: That’s the dream, man.
Francis: I went to my dad. I was like, “Oh my God, this is amazing. Dad, look, we have HBO, we have Showtime.” My dad’s face just changed instantly. He was furious. The reason why was because he knew he didn’t pay for that, the premium package of cable. Obviously, the cable company was probably trying to ingratiate themselves with the mayor. He called right away and he’s like, “Look, this is not what I paid for. I paid for basic cable and that’s what I want and that’s what I’m going to get.”
Interviewer: The only person in history ever to do that probably.
Francis: Probably, but it was a great lesson for me, that leadership, and integrity and honesty is what you do when people aren’t watching. It wasn’t necessarily to teach me a life lesson. It certainly wasn’t to make some sort of a political statement or anything, he just did it. It was just things like that that stick with you. When you yourself get into public service and understand that you’re going to be confronted with complicated situations where it’s important for you to make do the right thing.
Interviewer: You had this other moment when you were 20 when your dad runs again for mayor, he wins, and then he’s removed from office due to some substantiated allegations of voter fraud. Now, your father was not found responsible for the fraud, but what did you learn from that whole incident?
Francis: Seeing my dad go through the ultimate highs of victory and success and also the lows of going through that horrible process that he went through, where the election that he won was invalidated. They basically threw out 4,500 votes because some people had voted inappropriately in the absentee ballot part of the race. Then just seeing his name trashed through the process, and it was hard to watch as a son to be honest with you.
It definitely did not leave me with a good taste in my mouth about the idea of putting myself and subjecting myself to that process to be honest. The question then is, why did I get into it? How did it happen? I think subconsciously at a deep level, his example and his life the way he lived it, there’s no doubt it influenced me tremendously.
Interviewer: Did you always think of yourself as a Republican?
Francis: I was and have been since I was 18, although some people would argue that I’m not. I get criticized for that sometimes like not passing a purity test of some sort. I do think of myself as a very independent person, just generally thinking wise. I recall a saying that the mayor of Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, former mayor, Bill Peduto, he told me one day, “Mr. Mayor in America, there are three parties. There’s Republicans.” I said, “Yes.” He goes, “There’s Democrats.” I said, “Yes.” He goes, “There’s mayors.”
Mayors take a different approach. Our approach is to solve the problem and we don’t have the luxury of blaming other people or arguing about it or making it partisan.
Interviewer: You mentioned that sometimes people criticize you as not a real Republican, whatever that means. Do they have a point? How loyal are you to the party? How much do you care about being a Republican?
Francis: Look, I think the entire system can be considered at times a bit of a fiction, in terms of the fact that they’re trying to pigeonhole you as one thing or another as a way to define you, because when you label somebody, it’s easy to depersonalize them, it’s easy to criticize them. It’s easy also to attack them. I believe in values that I think people would argue are conservative. Low taxes, keeping people safe, creating prosperity, high paying jobs.
Those are, I think, fundamentally Republican values. I agree in a strong national defense and the fact that America should have a proper role that it’s the most democratizing and liberalizing force in the world. That’s coming from being the son of an immigrant.
I also believe that the American dream should be available to everybody and that one of the things that we should fight for as a country is to make the dream available to more people but there are some people that demonize the American dream a bit. If you’re successful, you should feel guilty about it. I don’t necessarily agree with them.
Interviewer: You’re a young, optimistic Cuban American from Miami with time spent in city government. There was someone like that in the 2016 Republican primary. His name was Marco Rubio and he got absolutely flattened by Donald Trump. Do you think the Donald Trump era is over?
Francis: I think it remains to be seen. He certainly tapped into something in 2016. I think in 2020 the margin for victory and if you look at the state by state margin, it was actually very small.
Interviewer: It was basically a tie both times.
Francis: I think that means that this is the people struggling with these two choices. The question is, is there a better choice? Is there a better path? What is that path I’ve often said that the 2024 election will be defined by four questions. Is it a boomer or is it a next generation candidate? Is it someone that has an inspirational aspirational message, or is it a culture war starter? Someone who’s divisive and wants to continue this divisive rhetoric that we’re hearing.
Is it someone that understands the inflection between the industrial economy and the ever increasing digital economy and has a track record of building prosperity around that phenomenon? Question number four is it someone that can connect with the minority communities of this country which are becoming larger and larger? Hispanics being one of them. They’re one of the largest, not the largest minority group in the country. Is it someone that can connect with those people and inspire them?
Interviewer: Do you have predictions for the midterms? What can we learn from what happens in the midterms?
Francis: I think the conventional wisdom is that Republicans will take back the house. What’s interesting about a divided government scenario is that it will make the president and the country, and both sides really have to come together to get anything done. It’s going to have to be common sense bipartisan legislation that gets passed.
Interviewer: One of the interesting things about where you are is you’re there in Miami, in Florida, in the same state as perhaps the two most prominent Republicans in America, Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis, neither of whom, as I understand you voted for in the most recent elections. What’s your relationship like with them?
Francis: I had really one interaction with the former president. I ran into him at a wedding. I was happy to meet him. The person says, “Mr. President, this is the mayor of Miami.” He goes, “You’re the only politician in America that’s harder than I am.” I found that funny and I found that to be magnanimous on his part. For stylistically very different from the governor.
The governor’s very, very serious and just has a totally demeanor. Pretty much the only time that I’ve had any conversation with him was during the pandemic at the beginning. He called me when I got COVID. We had a couple of conversations around policy at that time. Then we went our separate ways and we haven’t really reconnected since then.
Interviewer: Wait a second. You’re the mayor of Miami. You’ve had issues, you’ve had hurricanes headed your way, and you’re telling me that you’re not in contact with the governor of your state?
Francis: Look, I can’t control what he does. His got to do things and lead the way he feels is best.
Francis: We did collaborate on a $50 million of resiliency projects that were important for our city and were approved by the legislature. We did a press conference together on that issue. I think it’s important because as you know, adaptation and resiliency is a massive issue in Miami, particularly given these major storm events.
Unfortunately, in the last two years, we’ve seen mother nature take it to the next level. We really, really need to collectively look at this problem comprehensively, all the way from the local government’s estate to the national government with the infrastructure bill to see how we get out of this.
Interviewer: I was going to say, were you excited about the climate change measures in Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act?
Francis: First of all, I don’t think they’re going to reduce inflation.
Interviewer: That’s just the name of it. I’m not describing it, I’m just telling you.
Francis: No. I think naming something is interesting and important at times because bills get named and then renamed. If you’re going to name something the climate bill, name it the climate bill. There’s a lot of good reason to invest in energy production. There’s a lot of good reason to invest in resiliency things like that.
Interviewer: You supported that bill?
Francis: No, I’m not saying I supported the bill. I think part of the problem with the federal government is that they have good ideas that cost a lot of money but they don’t often know how to pay for them.
Interviewer: What would a Republican climate change agenda look like?
Francis: I think you’ve got to recognize one thing. The first thing is all the studies show that for every dollar that you spent prophylactically, you save $7 to $8 post a storm. The question is, what are we going to get from the infrastructure bill? I’d love to be able to see a percentage of the infrastructure bill come in and leverage the state and local dollars that we’ve already spent.
Interviewer: One of the biggest changes in the Republican Party in the years since you first became mayor is the issue of immigration. You had Republicans, especially in the 2000s talking about maybe some sort of immigration grand bargain with Democrats. Now, things have changed. How do you feel about that and what do you think Republicans can or should or will do more generally on immigration?
Francis: You referenced the early 2000s, I would even go back earlier than that, in the ‘80s, Republicans and President Reagan were also much more moderate on immigration. We’ve got to look at this issue, immigration, and talk about it coherently and I don’t think we are. I think everything is about the border, border, border, border. On both sides, by the way, in my opinion, are to blame for this.
I think we’ve got to take a look at this issue from a legal immigration perspective because we’re a country of laws and we all believe in the rule of law and what’s in our best interest from a national security perspective and from an economic perspective. If you ever see like Miami, that’s 1.4% unemployment we need employees. I can tell you that right now.
Interviewer: Recently, you have the governor of your state using state money to relocate some asylum seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. For years, America had an open-door policy for refugees from Cuba.
Francis: We did.
Interviewer: Should we be offering that same kind of welcome to refugees from Venezuela today?
Francis: Look, I do feel that we should treat Venezuelans the way we treat Cubans. Frankly, they should get at the very minimum right now, temporary protective status, at the very minimum. By the way, it shouldn’t be partisan, it should be something that’s bipartisan, and both parties should agree to it.
Interviewer: When I hear you talk about immigration, your perspective sounds like a perspective that I think a lot of voters would find refreshing. I also suspect that many of those voters are Democrats and that for a lot of Democrats would love to see a Republican party that was more like the Republican party you’re describing. What makes you think that that’s what Republican voters want?
Francis: I think leadership is, do you have the time to articulate a message, a vision and a plan to get people to a place where people will follow. Even if maybe they’re not so sure, maybe they’re not comfortable with it but I trust this guy, he makes a lot of sense, what he’s saying. He’s talking different. There’s a different conversation. In my opinion, we’re not even having this conversation. I think that’s what’s frustrating both sides.
Interviewer: In April, you unveiled Miami’s answer to New York’s famous charging bull, the Bitcoin bull. Since then, Bitcoin has lost about half its value. You think it’s going to come back?
Francis: [laughs] I thought you were going to ask me if I jinxed it.
Interviewer: [laughs] I’m not blaming you, but I do want a prediction.
Francis: I appreciate that. No, listen, I do think Bitcoin has an opportunity to create a lot of good social change, democratizing wealth for a lot of people. I think that also is crypto in nature when you think about fractionalized ownership and debt and equity, which I think will happen in our lifetime. The fundamental mathematics behind it, the inflationary component of it, what it can be used for, and how other policies are flailing in the face of an independent store value currency system.
The big issue right now, what’s holding it up a lot is regulation. I think this winter, this crypto winter, people are building now. That’s what happens, when times are tough it’s time to build and then when times get good, you can grow.
Interviewer: That’s one thing I’ve realized. Miami has such a big reputation, and it’s an influential city in its way, but it’s relatively small. It’s less than half a million people roughly the size of Colorado Springs or Tulsa, Oklahoma. Your job is actually technically a part-time job. When I hear you talking about Miami, I hear you talking about it as if maybe the hope is the idea is that this is just the beginning of your story.
Francis: Yes. Look, I’m running a billion-and-a-half-dollar company in the city, with 4,500 employees and four labor unions. It’s hard. It’s challenging, but it’s also fun and invigorating. You got to do something that challenges you, and that gets you going and where you think you can make an impact.
I think if I can do something that moves me, that helps me help other people’s lives at a more grander scale, who knows? I think there’s definitely things that interest me and I can tell you there’s things that don’t interest me. I’m pretty definitive about those things.
Interviewer: Your father devoted his whole life to Miami politics. If you spent the rest of your life in Miami politics, would that be enough for you?
Francis: You’re trying to get me in trouble, aren’t you? I either progress and do something that I feel is impactful at a greater scale or I don’t have a problem with going off into the sunset and being a private sector person, a professional, a parent and a politician, I guess is the other P. I don’t have a problem losing one of those piece and focusing on the other piece.
Interviewer: Who’s a better rapper Trick Daddy or Trina?
Francis: Trina for sure. I gave her the key to the city. [laughs]
Interviewer: A nation of hip-hop fans thanks you for that, Mr. Mayor.
Francis: You got it.
Interviewer: That’s Francis Suarez, Mayor of the City of Miami. For the record, the mayor mentioned an unemployment figure of 1.4% and that’s a little outdated now but the point stands unemployment in Miami is very low.
[00:16:53] [END OF AUDIO]
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