Mel Martinez steps down from U.S. Senate

09/09/09 Mitch E. Perry
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Florida’s junior U.S. Mel Martinez gave his farewell address to his colleagues on the floor of the U.S. Senate this morning.

Martinez announced a month ago that he would be stepping down from his seat, nearly a year and a half before his first term was to end. He never gave a clear reason why, other than wanting to spend more time with his family in Florida.

As the only immigrant current serving in the Senate, Martinez was a key Republican involved with negotiations to get comprehensive immigration reform legislation passed back in 2006 and 2007.

In his speech, he spoke about the failure to get immigration reform passed, and quoted former President Ronald Reagan.

And Martinez mentioned the late Ted Kennedy, who he worked closely with on those failed negotiations on immigration. Kennedy was to be honored on Wednesday by the Senate following his death last month.

Martinez’s 15-minute speech was followed by comments from many of his colleagues. His partner in the Senate representing Florida, Democrat Bill Nelson, has always emphasized his friendship with Martinez, who formerly served as Mayor of Orange County and then Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the first term of President Bush.

Most significantly, Nelson and Martinez teamed together to block an energy bill unless it barred further exploration off the Florida coast. In September 2008, they accepted a bipartisan plan to allow drilling at 125 miles, rather than 50 miles, off the state's coastline.

Late last month, Governor Charlie Crist named his former aide George LeMieux to succeed Martinez in the Senate, a move that has proven to be controversial as both Democrats and some Republicans have criticized the selection of LeMieux, who has never held elective office.

George LeMieux officially will be sworn in as Senator tomorrow.

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