Martinez resigns; Crist says he won't appoint himself

08/07/09 Mitch E. Perry
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Mel Martinez stunned the Florida political world today by announcing that he is stepping down immediately as a U.S. Senator.

Governor Charlie Crist has the power to name the successor. Speculation immediately began that he would name himself, but shortly after Martinez’s announcement, Crist said he would not appoint himself to the job.

Martinez said he was stepping down to return to his state and family.

Arizona Senator Jon Kyle, the number 2 in Senate Republican leadership, said he was shocked to hear of Martinez departure.

Susan McManus is a professor of Political Science at the University of South Florida. She said that for the time being, Martinez should be taken at his word that there‘s not another reason why he’s stepping down.

Martinez was elected in 2004, defeating Democrat Betty Castor. Previously, he served as the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the first term of George W. Bush.

He also served as general chairman of the Republican National Committee for 10 months, but resigned abruptly when many in the party considered him insufficiently tough on the issue of illegal immigration.

Martinez announced last December that he would not run for a 2nd term. Almost immediately, critics said that the fix was in and that Martinez would step down before the end of his term, with Governor Crist taking over. Both denied it at the time.

McManus says that Martinez's greatest asset to the Republican Party was probably being strong enough to win the seat in ’04.

Among the names being bandied about to replace Martinez include former Senator Connie Mack, Former Secretary of State JimSmith, and former Governor and Tampa Mayor Bob Martinez.

Chris Ingram is a Republican Party strategist. Not a fan of Governor Crist, he dismissed Crist’s announcement today about a replacement for Martinez, and said he still believes he will appoint himself for the job.

So-called 'Rock Ribbed Republicans' in Florida have also expressed ambivalence to Mel Martinez's tenure. GOP strategist Chris Ingram says in many ways, he’s been a letdown for state Republicans, saying he believes the Orlando resident ‘checked out’ a long time ago.

Martinez is the second Republican senator in the last several weeks to announce resignation plans, joining Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas. Hutchison has said she would probably be resigning in October or November, paving the way for a May 2010 special election in Texas.

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