August 11, 2009

Crist seeks Martinez replacement with "integrity"

Gov. Charlie Crist ultimately wants Mel Martinez's U.S. Senate seat, but for now he has to appoint what amounts to a placeholder for the seat, thanks to Martinez's announcement last week that he'll step down early.

This morning, speaking to reporters, Crist said he has not yet made any decision about whom to appoint. But he vowed to take great care and deliberation. Names are already emerging, with the consensus being he'll appoint a known, trusted person who has no desire to hold the seat for more than the duration of Martinez's final term.

"It's an important decision, and I want to make sure it's transparent," said Crist, who faces former House Speaker Marco Rubio in the Republican primary for the seat and is expected to face off against Democrat Kendrick Meek in the 2010 general election.

"I want to make sure the people interviewed are people of integrity and character," Crist said, adding that he is "not sure" if he will do all the interviews himself.

August 10, 2009

La Opinion's opinion on Mel's departure: Bad for the GOP

Los Angeles's La Opinion casts Mel Martinez's decision to leave office as an illustration of the Republican party's problems with Hispanics.

"It is sad that there is no space in the Republican camp for a moderate conservative Latino perspective,' the Spanish language paper opined. "The Martinez case illustrates the unsucessful effort to attract the Latino vote, another example that shows that Lincoln's party has been hijacked by a vocal, intolerant and extremist base."

August 07, 2009

Crist's first choice to replace Martinez: Connie Mack

Former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack confirms that Gov. Charlie Crist approached him a while ago and asked him to consider filling out the remainder of Mel Martinez's term, and that he said he wasn't interested. (On July 28, when asked about Mack, Crist said it was "putting the cart before the horse.")

"I spent 18 years in Washington and concluded at the end of that 18 years that it was time to come home," Mack said by phone Friday. "It was time for someone else to fill that position." Mack said "it has been more than a few days" since Crist offered him the position, and that he made it clear that he had no interest.

Mack added his voice to those touting former Attorney General and Secretary of State Jim Smith as the state's caretaker senator. "I have a great regard for Jim Smith," Mack said. "He has a depth of experience and knowledge, both from a legislative perspective and from a Florida perspective."

Mack, 69, a Republican from Cape Coral, added that "I'm extremely disappointed" that Martinez is resigning with 17 months left in his term. "It would have been helpful to have had his voice and his experience on the issues that we're dealing with," Mack said. 

-- Steve Bousquet

Mel Martinez hailed for immigration work

 Here's what America's Voice, a pro-immigration reform group says about the departing Mel Martinez:

"Senator Mel Martinez has been a strong supporter of common–sense, practical and fair solutions to fixing our broken immigration system. He played a pivotal role in moving comprehensive immigration reform forward during the 2006 and 2007 debates in the Senate. His story is the story of America: Martinez came to this nation as an immigrant from Cuba. This nation opened its doors to him and he made the most of it. His immigrant experience helped shape his compassionate approach to immigration reform.

"The Senator has been a voice of reason within his party, recently saying on NBC’s Meet the Press that ‘the very divisive rhetoric of the immigration debate set a very bad tone for our brand as Republicans...there were voices within our party, frankly, which if they continue with that kind of rhetoric, anti-Hispanic rhetoric, that so much of it was heard, we're going to be relegated to minority status.’

“His voice and his perspective will be missed. We hope whoever replaces him will have the same reasoned approach to immigration reform.

“We expect that whoever Governor Charlie Christ (R-FL) appoints to see out the term will be someone who understands the complexities of our broken immigration system and is willing to stand up for his constituents in a way that is good for their communities, their families and their country.”

Martinez's resignation letter

This is the letter Mel Martinez is sending out today to friends and supporters. The official word is at 3 p.m. at the airport in Orlando.

"Because you’re a friend, I wanted you to know first about the decision I will announce today to step down from public office. Twelve years ago I offered myself as a candidate for public office in Florida out of a deep sense of appreciation for what America and the people of Florida did for me as a young immigrant to this country.

"In 1997, Kitty and I decided it was time to give back and we entered the public arena, first as Mayor of Orange County, then as a Member of the President’s cabinet and now as a United States Senator. Through those experiences I have gained the greatest respect for the people of Florida and have enjoyed serving their interests. When I began my term as Senator, I promised I wouldn’t simply warm a seat; I promised to take on the difficult issues and work to make a difference.

"Keeping that promise has meant pressing for help and assistance for families struggling to keep their homes, their jobs, and their confidence that our country is safe. And on that note, I am especially grateful to the men and women of our military and their families whom I have had the distinct honor of representing in Washington and I thank them for their service to our country.

"As a US Senator, I have also had a platform to speak against the oppression of the Cuban regime and my hope for a better future for the people of Cuba. I will continue that lifelong passion in the next phase of my life. I will always be grateful to the people of Florida for bestowing on me the singular honor of representing them in the United States Senate. 

"My priorities have always been my faith, my family and my country and at this stage in my life, and after nearly twelve years of public service in Florida and Washington, it’s time I return to Florida and my family.

"So today I am announcing my decision to step down from public office, effective on a successor taking office to fill out the remainder of my term. I have enjoyed my time in the Senate and have the utmost respect for my colleagues and the institution. I especially thank Republican Leader Mitch McConnell for his guidance and insight."

Mel Martinez to resign

Mel Martinez has repeatedly decried as a Tallassee rumor mill the speculation that he's going to step down before his term ends in 2010, but word is flying fast this morning from several quarters that he's going to announce an early departure today.

"It's a deeply personal decision that he will expand on later today. He decided it's time to move to 
another stage of his life," said one source familiar with the situation.

In an extraordinary turn of events, Gov. Charlie Crist, the leading Republican to replace Martinez in the U.S. Senate, will have the power to appoint someone to fill the remainder of Martinez's term. Sources say Crist is unlikely to appoint himself -- but is expected to make an announcement before the end of the August recess when the Senate returns to Washington. Some names already surfacing: former Sen. Connie Mack, former Gov. Bob Martinez, and former Secretary of State Jim Smith.

Democrats may see opportunity in an early exit: they're likely to suggest parallels with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who was widely assailed for resigning early. And they may use Martinez's retirement to suggest tension between Hispanics and the GOP. The first Cuban-American senator, Martinez was among only 9 Republican senators who voted for Sonia Sotomayor, and his support of immigration reform drew criticism from the Republican base. His election as chair of the Republican National Committee drew protests and he left the post after a short stint.

August 06, 2009

Martinez and Nelson team up to vote YES on Sotomayor

Both Florida senators have just voted to back President Barack Obama's choice for Supreme Court justice.

Martinez is one of nine Republicans to vote for Sonia Sotomayor. Nelson took to the floor this afternoon, saying he believes the first Hispanic to serve on the court "will be a fair, impartial and an outstanding Supreme Court justice."

New Sen. Al Franken made it official: the vote, 68 to 31 in favor of confirmation.

August 05, 2009

Mel Martinez takes to Senate floor to back Sotomayor

The Florida Republican, who will be only among a half-dozen Republicans backing Sonia Sotomayor, says, "it's not about whether we agree with her opinions or not, it's whether she reached them on a basis of law and evidence" and that even her "worst critics" can't cite a case where she did not.

"They can talk about her speeches but they can not talk about a single case where that type of view has found itself into her opinions,'' he said, referring to critics of her "wise Latina" remarks.

"She will be a terrific role model for many many young people in this country," he added, noting he might have chosen someone different, but that "elections have their consequences. That is what happens in elections."

The first Cuban-American senator, Martinez says his vote is based "soley and wholly" on her qualifications. The two Republicans looking to replace him in the Senate have said they'd vote against her.

Democrats suggest the GOP lack of support for the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice could hurt the party, but Martinez opened his remarks to note that Democrats in 2003 blocked the nomination of Miguel Estrada, who dropped his bid to become a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia after partisan wrangling over President George W. Bush's judicial picks

July 24, 2009

Martinez and Nelson to feds: Florida's not just fun and games

Mel Martinez and Bill Nelson are firing off letters and filing legislation to protest what the Wall Street Journal reported is a federal blacklisting of tourist destinations -- for being too much fun.

The newspaper reported that Orlando and a number of other U.S. fun spots are apparently on a list of no-go zones for government meetings and conferences. The guidelines by the federal agencies apparently encourage employees to hold meetings and conferences only in cities that are “non-resort locations.”

Martinez has written a letter of protest to President Barack Obama, asking him to "direct agencies participating in such practices to end them immediately. Any directive or guidance on federal travel policy should be based on the value to the taxpayer, not arbitrary perceptions about a specific destination."

Nelson is taking it a step further, filing legislation to make it illegal for federal government agencies to design travel policies that blacklist U.S. cities based on their locale or reputation for fun. He plans to offer his legislation as an amendment to the budget of any agency with a travel policy that steers business away from cities. 

July 22, 2009

Gun bill splits Nelson, Martinez

Florida's two senators were on opposite sides of a just-failed proposal to allow gun owners with concealed weapons permits in their home states to carry concealed weapons in other states.

Democrat Bill Nelson voted against the measure; Republican Mel Martinez voted for it. The provision failed by a vote of 58 to 39. (It needed 60 to pass). Martinez was one of the co-sponsors of the original legislation.

Prime sponsor Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, called the provision "consistent with the constitutional right that citizens have to keep and bear firearms." But it came under fire from more than 400 mayors, law enforcement officials and families of the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings that killed 32 people.

The Violence Policy Center hailed the vote, while noting that Florida already has a low standard for securing a concealed weapons permit..

“Concealed carry permit holders have already killed police officers, murdered innocent citizens, and committed mass shootings,' said Kirsten Rand. "The Thune amendment would have nullified laws in states such as New York and California that have tough standards for the issuance of concealed handgun permits. Those states would have been forced to allow the carrying of concealed handguns within their borders by people with permits issued by states with the lowest standards, such as Idaho and Florida."