September 17, 2009

LeMieux flexes some muscle: Seeks to block energy bill

A week into his tenure, new Florida Sen. George LeMieux is flexing some legislative muscle. He's told Republican Leader Mitch McConnell he'll block the Senate's energy bill until Florida's concerns are addressed.

A provision in the bill would open Florida shores to oil and gas exploration, but wouldn't compensate the state for it. In the letter, LeMieux says he wants to be consulted "before any efforts or agreements are reached to advance legislation dealing with drilling in the Gulf of Mexico."

A staffer said LeMieux believes that "if energy exploration is going to occur in Florida waters, Florida ought to have a say in how that's done and receive its fair share of revenue."  He noted LeMieux could support something that was "far enough, clean enough, safe enough and included revenue" -- words nearly identical to those of the man who appointed LeMieux to the seat, Gov. Charlie Crist.

It's a departure from retired Sen. Mel Martinez's opposition to offshore exploration in Florida waters, but it reflects Crist's position. The guv, who is running for the Senate seat, last summer began backing away from his opposition to oil drilling. He suggested in July he could accept something that was "far enough, clean enough and safe enough to protect Florida's beautiful beaches."

Wonder what it portends for LeMieux's relationship with Sen. Bill Nelson, who frequently said he and Martinez were "joined at the hip" in their opposition to oil drilling?

September 12, 2009

Potential Senate candidate Ferre sounds off on LeMieux

Former Miami Mayor Maurice E. Ferré, who is said to be interested in getting into the Democratic primary for retired Sen. Mel Martinez's seat, is bashing Gov. Charlie Crist's pick for interim senator.

"Now is when Florida needs an effective advocate in Washington to ensure that Florida gets back a greater share of what we send to the Capitol," he wrote in the Herald. "We also need to get a more equitable share of federal stimulus funds.

"In short, we need someone who can 'deliver the bacon,' the way former Congressmen Bill Lehman, Paul Rogers and Claude Pepper did effectively for the Sunshine State. Instead, Crist appointed lobbyist George LeMieux.

"Passing over men and women experienced in the corridors of power, and those who have relationships with key decision makers in the Congress, the governor has appointed a political operative with no federal or legislative experience."

September 11, 2009

Conan O'Brien: New Florida senator has Mel Martinez deported

From last night's Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, a biting immigration joke: "Sen. Mel Martinez, the only Hispanic Republican in the Senate, officially stepped down. ... The Republican senator who replaced Martinez thanked him, and then had him deported."

Ouch! New Sen. George LeMieux isn't yet saying whether he'll embrace Martinez's call for a path to legalization for illegal immigrants.

September 09, 2009

George LeMieux makes a Capitol debut

Accompanied by outgoing Sen. Mel Martinez, incoming Sen. George LeMieux made his way to a Senate Republican luncheon, stopping to offer praise to Martinez -- and deflect a number of political questions. Though Martinez today warned his fellow Republicans in Tallahassee against embracing plans to open Florida's coast to oil drilling, LeMieux sidestepped the issue.

"I think we'll leave that to the Florida Legislature," he said. "I got a lot to tackle up here in Washington."

LeMieux said he and his wife plan to watch President Barack Obama's speech on health care reform tonight from the House gallery. But he's uncommitted as to what should be done.

"It's not even my first day yet so I'm going to listen and learn," he said. "I want to listen to everyone who has an idea about this. We obviously need to have more affordable health care, we also need to have more access to health care, we just have to do it the right way."

Nelson: I didn't want Mel to leave

Bill Nelson says he tried to talk Mel Martinez out of leaving the Senate early, saying the two were a good team.

"I tried for the better part of three months to talk him out of this day," Nelson said on the Senate floor. "I didn't want him to resign because it's been good for Florida, the way the two of us have worked together professionally...It is with a great deal of regret that this day has come.

He said it's important that when the state's two senators are from different parties they demonstrate they can work together -- "to send a message" that it's possible to transcend political differences and get work done. 

Mel Martinez bids the Senate goodbye: "Fixing our nation's broken immigration system remains a national imperative"

Mel Martinez is giving his final remarks on the Senate floor this morning, closing out what he says was a "fulfilling chapter of my own American dream." Martinez, the first Cuban-American senator who is leaving with 16 months left in his term, urged passage of immigration reform and thanked a number of senators for helping him serve in "the most cherished institution of our democracy."

His prepared remarks below:

Continue reading "Mel Martinez bids the Senate goodbye: "Fixing our nation's broken immigration system remains a national imperative"" »

September 05, 2009

Martinez aide lobbied Pentagon for GOP donor Sargeant

Sen. Mel Martinez's office repeatedly intervened in a 2007 legal dispute between the Defense Department and a company owned by a top Republican fundraiser who is now at the center of a campaign-finance investigation, according to records obtained by The Miami Herald.

In a series of phone calls and e-mails, a Martinez aide urged Pentagon contract officers to seek a "fair resolution'' to $14 million in contract claims sought by the International Oil Trading Co., a fuel-supply company co-owned by Harry Sargeant III of Boca Raton.

At one point, Pentagon officials told the senator's office it was "not appropriate'' to discuss any settlements while the company's lawsuit was pending in court, records show.

As Martinez's staffer was lobbying the Pentagon, Sargeant and his wife donated $50,000 to the Republican National Committee  then headed by Martinez. At the time, Sargeant was the finance chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

Martinez, who will step down from his Senate seat next week, did not respond to several interview requests made through his press secretary. In the past, he has said the RNC donations were unrelated to Sargeant's contract dispute.

Full story here.

August 28, 2009

Martinez congratulates his successor

U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez isn't gushing over his successor, but maybe that's out of deference to the other people on the shortlist: "I congratulate George LeMieux for being appointed by the governor to fill the remainder of my term. George is bright, capable, and an accomplished administrator. My staff and I stand ready to ensure a smooth transition."

Crist's trail of broken-hearted almost-senators

"It's not me,'' said former U.S. Rep. Clay Shaw of Fort Lauderdale, one of the leading contenders on Gov. Charlie Crist's shortlist for a U.S. Senate appointment. "I just got a voice mail from the governor saying he was going in a different direction...Well it was interesting to think about."

For Shaw -- who was next in line to serve as chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee when he lost his seat in 2006 -- the chance to return to Capitol Hill with a promotion would have allowed him to cap off  his political career with a flourish.

State Rep. Jennifer Carroll of Jacksonville, the first black Republican elected to the Florida Legislation, would have made history if she had been picked to replace retiring Sen Mel Martinez. She was also passed over by Crist in 2006 for lieutenant governor.

"Life goes on,'' she said. "It's been unnerving because I've been getting so many calls and e-mails...but meanwhile you're just sitting there. It was an honor to be considered and what was humbling was the outpouring of support from around the state."