Tuesday, April 23, 2024

GOP's Lone Hispanic Senator, Florida's Sen. Mel Martinez Resigns

Last week, the lone Republican Hispanic U.S. senator made a shocking announcement, further isolating the GOP party from Hispanics. Florida Senator Mel Martinez, a native Cuban and former chairman of the Republican National Committee, announced on Friday that he will resign early from his Senate seat to pursue a career in the private sector. He will serve until a successor has been named.

Martinez’s departure came a day after he was one of only nine Republicans to vote in favor of Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic to be nominated to the Supreme Court. His exit will also leave the Senate with just one Hispanic legislator, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

After previously insisting that he wouldn’t resign before his term ends in 2011, he cited personal reasons and said it was time to return home to Florida and his family.

“This is a free country. I did this on my own free will. There’s no reason—this is just my desire to move on and get on with the rest of my life,” Martinez explained.

Governor Charlie Crist (R-Fla.), who is the front-runner for the Republican nomination to replace Martinez, has to appoint a candidate to fill the seat until the term expires in 2011. Crist currently is facing a conservative primary challenger Cuban-American Marco Rubio, a former speaker of the state House. It is rumored the governor will nominate either former Florida Secretary of State Jim Smith, former Gov. Bob Martinez, or state party Chairman Jim Greer, as the interim successor to Martinez.

The Senator first stepped onto the national scene as Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in the second Bush administration and became a high-profile figure in the Latino community. Martinez came to the U.S. as a teenager as part of Operation Pedro Pan from Cuba and long has been an esteemed and inspirational figure and representative of the American dream for many conservative Hispanics.

The Florida Republican was elected to the Senate in 2004 and worked for immigration reform that never came to pass.

Two years later, he was tapped to chair the Republican National Committee with the mission of spreading the party’s message to minorities, especially Latinos. The party’s base’s intolerance of Martinez’s position on immigration reform caused him to step down from this position in October 2007 to focus more on his legislative responsibilities.

The resignation announcement from Martinez is the second from a Republican senator in the last several weeks. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) said she would be resigning in October or November presumably to challenge current Texas Governor Rick Perry for the Republican nomination. Her exit would spur a May 2010 special election in the state.

Ironically, 2008 Republican presidential nominee and current Arizona Senator, John McCain, recently called on the Republican Party to focus on reaching out to Hispanic voters. He believes that without increased effort, the party will be left behind.


Huffington Post