Roberto Martinez might follow Mel Martinez in Senate
Gov. Charlie Crist spoke to former U.S. Attorney Roberto Martinez about the Senate seat being vacated by Mel Martinez.
BY BETH REINHARD
Gov. Charlie Crist flew to Miami Tuesday afternoon to vet former U.S. Attorney Roberto Martinez for a U.S. Senate appointment, less than 24 hours after U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart took himself off the short list.
Crist and Martinez, a close confidant who helped oversee the governor’s transition into office, talked for about 45 minutes at the Signature Flight building near Miami International Airport.
Late Tuesday, Crist announced he would interview Jacksonville state Rep. Jennifer Carroll and University of North Florida President John Delaney on Wednesday, both in Jacksonville.
The rapid-fire news of Diaz-Balart’s withdrawal and Crist’s trips to Miami and Jacksonville reflected Florida’s mercurial political climate since U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez announced his early retirement. Names of potential contenders surface and are batted down in a matter of hours. And it’s all happening at the same time Crist is running for the job himself, ensuring that candidates are viewed in terms of the political boosts or pitfalls they might bring to the governor’s Senate campaign.
Martinez is a well-respected attorney born in Cuba, potentially raising Crist’s profile in the Hispanic community. But he’s a law-and-order Republican whose avoidance of partisan politics does little to shore up Crist’s conservative credentials. Martinez has given dozens of campaign contributions to Republicans but also a handful to Democratic Senate candidates.
As a member of the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, Martinez backed a proposal asking voters to replace some property taxes with sales taxes. When former House Speaker Marco Rubio supported the same thing in 2007, Crist called it a tax increase.
“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,” Crist said after their meeting.
Democratic state Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, who served as Martinez’s deputy when Martinez was U.S. attorney, described him this way: “He’s a conservative, but he’s not an ideologue. He stays fanatically abreast of the issues and is a student of foreign policy with an appetite for domestic issues.”
Crist said of Martinez’s Cuban heritage: “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.”
Diaz-Balart took himself out of the running late Monday, just hours after he said he was “seriously considering” the Senate post.
Appointing the Cuban-born conservative would have opened up a congressional seat that might have enticed Rubio, Crist’s hard-charging Senate rival, to switch races.
But after more than two decades in public office, Diaz-Balart decided he wasn’t ready to wrap up his political career in 2010.
“I have decided to remain in the U.S. House of Representatives fighting for the causes which I deeply believe in,” Diaz-Balart said.
The governor said Friday he was asking Martinez, Diaz-Balart and former Secretary of State Jim Smith to submit written questionnaires for gubernatorial appointments. Tuesday he asked Carroll and Delaney to submit them as well.
Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer said Tuesday that longtime U.S. Rep. C.W. Bill Young and Crist’s former chief of staff, George LeMieux, are in the mix.
Miami Herald staff writer Lesley Clark, Herald/Times staff writer Marc Caputo and St. Petersburg Times staff writer Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.