Ted Kennedy, says Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, calmed her nerves when she was asked to speak -- as a freshman Democrat -- at the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. Later that year, the veteran lawmaker offered advice on getting her signature swimming pool legislation through Congress.
"I was deeply saddened this morning when I learned of the death of Senator Edward Kennedy," she said today. "Americans have lost a giant in public service, someone who was never too big to reach out and lift someone else up."
And outgoing Sen. Mel Martinez, who worked closely with Kennedy on immigration reform, said he was "deeply saddened" by his death.
"Ted was an icon of passionate public service and gave selflessly to our nation," Martinez said. "I came to know him well through our work on immigration reform where he was a tough negotiator, and someone who knew how to reach bipartisan agreement for the good of an issue. He will be remembered as the Lion of the Senate for his voice, his style, his work, and his allegiance to always do what he thought was best for our country. Kitty and I offer our condolences and Senator Kennedy's family is in our thoughts and prayers."
What a difference losing an election makes. Former U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw of Fort Lauderdale -- who lost his seat in the backlash that cost the GOP control of Congress in 2006 -- seems honored to be considered by Gov. Charlie Crist for appointment to the U.S. Senate. He even praises the other people on the shortlist.
In contrast, long-serving U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young of St. Petersburg shows up for his interview with Crist in sneakers and an untucked shirt and tells the governor no thanks in front of a media throng. Couldn't he have saved the governor the trip?
In choosing a replacement for U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, Gov. Charlie Crist must be keenly aware of key constituencies in the Republican Party, such as gun owners. Marion Hammer (right), longtime lobbyist for the Unified Sportsmen of Florida and a former president of the NRA, says the best choice is clearly Jim Smith, the former attorney general and secretary of state and one of seven candidates in the running.
"He has the experience, he has the professionalism, he has the respect and the character to serve this state well," Hammer said. "This is a placeholder appointment and Jim Smith has worked hard in public service for this state and I think he would do a good job for 14 months." She said she made the NRA's preference clear to Crist's people.
Hammer said Crist's former chief of staff, George LeMieux, got an A-plus rating from the NRA when he ran for a state House seat 11 years ago. But she prefers Smith in part because of lis lengthy record of government service. "George LeMieux has not served, so that he would have a voting record," she said. "Someone who has never served, who doesn't know the process is going to need those 14 months to find his or her way around."
-- Steve Bousquet
The rumor mill had suggested Gov. Charlie Crist would announce his choice to fill Sen. Mel Martinez's seat as soon as tomorrow. But it looks like it may not happen so quickly.
"I now have before me one of the most important decisions as your Governor, which is to appoint a person to serve the remainder of Senator Mel Martinez’s term," Crist said in a letter to supporters. "I welcome
the counsel of each of you this coming weekend, as I reach this decision."
Lincoln Diaz-Balart -- a candidate on Gov. Charlie Crist's shortlist to succeed the retiring Mel Martinez -- said he believes he would've made a good temporary senator, but decided to stay in the House, where he has more seniority.
He said he fielded a lot of calls from folks asking him to stay in the House -- where he believes he can still work on important issues.
"He's invested 17 years in the House and it would have been a lot to give up," said Diaz-Balart's political consultant, Carlos Curbelo. "At the end of the day, though he was honored by the possibility and by being approached by the governor, he's invested a lot of time and effort into his work in the House."
Gov. Charlie Crist met with one of his possible Senate appointments, former U.S. Attorney Roberto Martinez, for about 45 minutes this afternoon at the Signature Flight building near Miami International Airport.
Crist declined to release any new names he is considering to replace U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez. He said of the former U.S. attorney, "I think the world of him, and this process will continue for a period of time.''
Asked whether his Cuban heritage was a factor in replacing the Cuban-born senator, Crist said, "Certainly it's a factor. The greater factor is the tremendous integrity Bobby Martinez possesses, the great intellect that God and his parents have given him, and the wonderful heart that he has. Those things are incredibly important to me.''
Asked about Martinez's lack of Capitol Hill experience, Crist said he is looking for "a balance of a lot of different factors that are important, experience among them. Public safety is an important issue, and it's hard to find many people who have had more experience than Bobby Martinez as it relates to public safety as a former U.S. attorney...I know he's a great Republican and he's a dear friend, and I'm sure he would have the interests and concerns of the people of Florida at heart."
Martinez said: "It was a great honor to be meeting wth Gov. Crist. We discussed a lot of issues, and I'd like to keep it in confidence for the time being. He's going to make his decision, and whatever it is I'll support it and I'm sure it will be the right one."
Lincoln Diaz-Balart said today he's "seriously considering" Gov. Charlie Crist's request to fill out an application to fill retiring Sen. Mel Martinez's term.
Crist said Friday he'll ask as many as 7 people to fill out the application. Diaz-Balart's name has sparked interest because his appointment would leave his congressional seat wide open, prompting speculation that his brother, Mario, could run for his seat and that Crist's GOP rival, Marco Rubio, would run for Mario's seat.
The Florida Democratic Party has questioned whether Lincoln would quit early to run for president of Cuba, should the Castro brothers exit the scene. Speculation has long followed Diaz-Balart that the job he really wants is the presidency of Cuba.
During last year's re-election campaign, Diaz-Balart told the Herald he finds speculation about his presidential aspirations offensive.
"That's an insult to those who today are in Fidel Castro's dungeons," he said in an interview. "Those are the heroes of Cuba. Those who have given their freedom, their blood, they are the ones who have earned the presidency."
Here's what Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart had to say about reports that he's on Gov. Charlie Crist's list for potential Senate candidates.
"Governor Crist has the best interests of the people of Florida at heart," Diaz-Balart said Friday night. "I trust his judgment."
Florida Democrats suggest this scenario: Diaz-Balart is appointed senator, opening up a congressional seat for Crist GOP primary rival, Marco Rubio, to run for Congress in a special election. That could prove a tidy solution, allowing Crist to score points with the Hispanic community and dispatch his pesky rival. It would also allow the GOP to give Rubio, its young Cuban American star, some love.
"Stranger things have happened," said Eric Jotkoff, spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party. "How else can one explain LDB being on the short list?"
Rubio, who volunteered for Diaz-Balart's 1992 campaign, says the congressman is "very talented, very qualified and he'd do a great job in the U.S. Senate." And would he run for Diaz-Balart's seat?
"I'm running for the U.S. Senate," Rubio said. "All of that is political speculation. It's been an unusual political year but the fact now is I'm running for the U.S. Senate."
Political consultant and pollster Matt Towery is convinced we haven't heard the whole story of why Sen. Mel Martinez is leaving 17 months before his term ends.
"It's like being a king. No one wants to give that up,'' he said. "I find it suspicious, weird, odd and inexplicable."
Towery also thinks Gov. Charlie Crist has underestimated his problem with the conservative base of his party. More here.