One has to wonder what was going through Sen. Mel Martinez's mind when President Bush's helicopter took off from Washington this past Tuesday. Before Bush chose Martinez to be his first HUD secretary, he was a little-known Florida fixture who had run an unsuccessful lieutenant governor campaign with some wingnut from the Family Research Council that placed fifth in the '94 Republican primary. He ran the Orlando Housing Authority for a while, and in 2000 became the co-chairman of Bush's campaign in Florida and became a leading fundraiser. His career and legacy will be largely tied to Bush's. Unfortunate, since Dubya left office with a final approval rating of 22 percent.
Despite dreams of running for governor in 2006, Mel was persuaded to run for the Florida Senate seat in 2004, and squeaked out a narrow win thanks to some gay-baiting and terrorist fear-mongering tactics. In 2006, his appointment to be general chairman of the RNC angered conservatives, and he resigned within a year. Now, after announcing he won't be seeking re-election in 2010, he's a lame duck senator who's neither popular in his home state nor with his party. Will he be able to salvage his legacy and be remembered as anything other than a Bush pawn gone wrong?
Back in 2005, Martinez was one of the first Republicans to publically support closing Guantánamo Bay.
This put him at odds with the White House and its rabid supporters, but
today, as President Obama signed the order to close down the camp to
much praise, Martinez must feel vindicated.
As the Obama administration seems poised to take radical new directions
in U.S. relations with Cuba, it's likely Mel Martinez would be a
leading voice, should he choose to be, if action is taken in the next
two years. The question is, with nothing left to lose, will he become a
hardliner hero and be a thorn in Obama's side with every move he makes
on Cuba? Or, considering that Democrats are firmly in control of D.C.,
will he be more open to working with the administration? I doubt he'll
fall in line right behind Obama, but by trying to find common ground
and keeping the administration in check, he could help shape new
Cuban policy and be a dissenting but constructive voice in the
conversation. Back when he was elected senator, he said his highest goal
was to promote his idea of a free Cuba. His vision of a free Cuba won't match up with Obama's, but he could go a long way to bringing the two closer together.
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That would add a bit more to his legacy than just that guy who sent out
that "new darling of the homosexual agenda" flyer, made a fool of
himself during the Schivo saga, and had that unsuccesful stint at the