August 12, 2009

Crist seeking counsel on '7 or so' for Martinez replacement

Gov. Charlie Crist said Wednesday morning that he is reaching out to people he trusts for advice on how best to fill Sen. Mel Martinez' seat, now that Martinez is stepping down early.

Crist made the statements when asked about Roberto Martinez, former U.S. Attorney and current Board of Education member, as a potential pick. Here's the exchange:

Crist: "I have reached out to several people that I have a great deal of respect for, to get their advice and counsel on some names. and there's probably about seven or so names... and we will have more for you later."

Times/Herald: "What about Rep. (Anitere) Flores, whose name has begun circulating as yet another potential replacement?

Crist: "She called me this morning."

Times/Herald: "Is she on the list?"

Crist: "There is no formal list."

Times/Herald: "You said there's seven names."

Crist: "I said there may be."

August 11, 2009

No campaign, but Mel Martinez still spending donations

U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez announced eight months ago that he would not seek reelection but has continued to spend campaign donations on consultants, staff, air fares, meals, cellphones and purchases at the Senate gift shop.

Federal Election Commission records show Martinez has spent $147,642 since his Dec. 2 announcement. He also returned $419,051 to his contributors, with $456,200 remaining in the account as of June 30.

Federal law gives officeholders wide latitude to spend campaign donations on anything related to their election or in connection with their official duties.

"My general advice is, 'contributors beware,' '' said Paul Ryan, an election law expert at the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington-based watchdog group. "The door is close to wide open for what federal officeholders can do with the money in their coffers.''

Keep reading here.

Another Martinez in the mix for Senate

Large_attorney_11 Add former U.S. Attorney Bob Martinez to the shortlist of names under consideration by Gov. Charlie Crist to serve the rest of Sen. Mel Martinez's term.

Martinez is a longtime friend of Crist and headed his transition team when he was elected in 2006. He's a partner in the Coral Gables law firm of Colson Hicks Eidson and serves on the Florida Board of Education and Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission.

 Martinez is a Republican but gets good reviews from Democrats like state Sen. Dan Gelber, who worked for Martinez in the early 1990s.

"Bob has got extraordinary character and intelligence and is as current on the issues as anyone I know,'' Gelber said. "He's a good Republican, but more importantly, he's a good American."

A Cuban-American with a whiff of bi-partisanship and a background in law enforcement sounds like a safe and appealing choice for Crist. Sources closed to the governor say Martinez and Crist's former chief of staff, George LeMieux, are at the top of his list.

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.