Senator Mel Martinez Will Resign This Month
U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez will announce today in Orlando that he’s leaving the Senate this month, sources confirmed Friday.
Former Attorney General Jim Smith was expected to be named a temporary replacement by Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running to replace Martinez in the 2010 election.
“He’ll be a caretaker,” former House Speaker John Thrasher who was familiar with negotiations on the change, said of Smith. “But he's got a great record of public service in this state."
Smith didn’t immediately return calls from The News Service and officials in Crist’s office also didn’t return several calls seeking comment. Crist was traveling in Tampa on Friday.
The governor told television reporters in Tampa that he woudn't name himself to replace Martinez but declined to comment further.
Martinez a Republican from Orlando, had already announced his retirement. In addition to Crist, former House Speaker Marco Rubio is in the GOP primary seeking the seat. U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, a Democrat, is also seeking the seat.
Rumors have swirled for months that Martinez would step down early. Officials from Martinez’ office didn’t even answer the phone after media began reporting he would resign on Friday, but he quickly scheduled at 3 p.m. Orlando news conference.
In a resignation letter being circulated among media outlets Friday morning, Martinez didn’t actually say why he was leaving office more than 16 months early.
“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,” Martinez said in the letter. “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.
“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.”
Assuming a replacement is quickly named, Martinez’ last major act in the Senate was to buck his party leadership and vote for the confirmation of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
In a floor speech Thursday, Martinez sounded a bit tired of Washington politics and lamented how partisanship has poisoned the judicial process.
Florida's other senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, confirmed Martinez' decision with a statement.
"Mel has been a good Senate colleague of mine, as well as a personal friend,” Nelson said. “He also has been a dedicated public servant for Florida. I look forward to our continued friendship - and to having the same bipartisan working relationship with his successor."
Martinez’ political resume includes stints as secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and chairman of the Republican National Committee. He was also the first Cuban-American to serve in the U.S. Senate.
Born in Cuba, Martinez came to Florida in the airlift known as Operation Pedro Pan and grew up in Orlando. His political career took off when he was chairman of Orange County – essentially the mayor of the county that includes Orlando.
Martinez, Florida's junior senator, had been targeted by Democrats for the 2010 election cycle after polls showed the first-term senator vulnerable. A Quinnipiac University poll released Nov. 18 showed only 36 percent of respondents said he should be re-elected while 38 percent said he shouldn't. He announced he would not run for re-election shortly thereafter.
"The inescapable truth for me is that the call to public service is strong, but the call to home, family and lifelong friends is even stronger," Martinez told supporters and reporters at an Orlando press conference in December announcing his decision not to run.
Smith, now a Tallahassee lawyer and lobbyist has served as secretary of state, attorney general, and chief of staff to Gov. Bob Martinez, as well as in a variety of assistant secretary positions. He is a shareholder in the lobbying firm of Smith and Ballard and is currently the chair of the Florida State University Board of Trustees.
Rubio lauded Martinez' tenure in the Senate and urged the governor "to take great care" in selecting an interim replacement.
"Florida deserves an interim senator who will go to Washington and serve as a true check on President Obama's push for more wasteful government spending, government-run health care and cap-and-trade," Rubio said. "The last thing Florida needs is a U.S. senator that will stand with President Obama instead of challenging the wrong direction he is leading our country and offering constructive conservative solutions moving forward."