Martinez addresses St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce

08/14/07 Seán Kinane
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Sen. Mel Martinez spoke this morning in St. Petersburg to the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce at the Poynter Institute.

Martinez discussed issues of interest to the business community and other Floridians. He said he could not imagine that the state of Florida would not renew the Personal Injury Protection requirement for drivers.

Martinez also addressed the country’s health care crisis and said that his solution would involve the private sector more than the government.

“Maybe as much as 20 percent in Orange County, I think, for the state of Florida overall, it’s close to 20 percent, that do not have health insurance, that do not have health insurance. That’s unacceptable.

"We really as Floridians, as Americans, all need to find a way for all Americans to have access to health insurance. So, my proposal is that we use the tax code. That we eliminate the disparity between the treatment that the tax code gives for buying a group health plan or buying it individually, and that we allow people to individually purchase insurance. And for those who cannot otherwise afford it that we provide a tax credit system that is going to allow them to purchase health insurance.”

Martinez was an advocate of the immigration reform package supported by President Bush that failed in Congress. He thinks it should continue to be an important political issue.

“I don’t think there’s any question but that this will be one of the pivotal issues … in the discourse that goes on during a presidential year, that immigration needs to be addressed and it’s going to have to be addressed.”

Martinez boasted about the $3.3-billion recently allocated to fortify the border with México and said the U.S. needs a national identification card system using biometric information.

“I believe we need a biometric I.D. card -- a Social Security card that would be biometric and that would be tamper-proof. ... That would enhance the ability for employers to then know if someone working for them is legal or illegal.”

An audience member asked about ending the American embargo of his home country Cuba. Martinez said he knows the embargo does not work and that it might be worth lifting in the future, but this is the wrong time.

“My hope is, that at this very critical moment, when we’re hoping for a transition and not a succession, when we’re seeing oppression and repression in Cuba heightened because of the instability in the transfer of power from one Castro to another. This would be the wrong time to do that. I believe it would be important for us to have that chit as an opportunity for us to offer a more enlightened leadership that would believe in treating the Cuban people better than the current government does.”

Martinez said that he expects a positive report in September about progress in Iraq from Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, the senior American commander in Iraq. It would mean a continuation of the U.S. military presence in the country. He also seemed to imply some dissatisfaction by the U.S. government in Iraq’s Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

“Maliki, I’ve heard, may not last; has not been the effective leader that he should have been, that we would hope he had been.”

Martinez thinks the Iraqi government should be more decentralized and that tribal leaders need to be more involved in decision-making. Another solution would involve bringing all of Iraq’s regional neighbors together.

“Henry Kissinger made a suggestion the other day to a group of us that I really, really think is important and I may even try to make it part of the legislative debate in the fall: A Standing Regional Conference like we had in Kosovo. … They would have a Secretariat and it would be set up in Cairo and Turkey would be part of this conversation, maybe in some other city. But wherever it may be, each of these countries would send a permanent delegate there and there would be an ongoing conference.”

Martinez said that Kissinger’s idea would be a continuation of the summit held in Sharm el-Sheikh Egypt three months ago.

“He believes, and I think rightfully, that war is only an interruption of diplomacy. And diplomacy needs to overtake. So he believes that these people could put enough of a cover on the situation that it would allow the Iraqis to then maybe settle their differences. Because unquestionably, the moderate Sunni states in the region are more concerned about Iran and Al-Qaeda than they are about any other outcome in Iraq. And so the Shia-Sunni problem transcends Iraq and we have to make sure that we don’t allow that to spill into what could be a regional conflict.”

WMNF asked Sen. Martinez about a bill he filed this month that could allow the people of Puerto Rico to decide whether they want to continue their current relationship with the United States or choose from other options including statehood or complete independence.

“You know, the Puerto Rican people for a long time have been very anxious about having an opportunity to express themselves about their status. Their status is very nebulous it’s very undefined. And so I have tried to be a vehicle for the Puerto Rican people who do not have a senator to provide some leadership on this issue.

"It does not require that we accept the outcome of any referendum, but it does provide the Puerto Rican people with a menu of choices of the things that they might prefer as their future for their status which has been in limbo, really, since 1898.”

Martinez listed the options that would be available if such a referendum were held.

“They may decide independence, they may decide a partnership with some sovereignty, or they may decide statehood, or complete independence. And all of those options will be available to them. I think it’s really important that they be able to speak their minds on their status.

"What happens next depends on the outcome of the election, I imagine. They’re essentially in a status that if the American people fully understood it, no American would think it was a fair way for a people to live, really, which is in this kind of limbo relationship status.”

Martinez said he has partnered with Sen. Ken Salazar, a Democrat from Colorado, on this bill but that its results would not be binding on the United States. But Martinez still supports a referendum because many Puerto Ricans are unhappy with the current ambiguous political status that the island has with respect to the United States.

“Well, it’s ‘free association,’ it’s called, and it has some benefits, certainly, to the Puerto Rican people, it provides the Puerto Ricans with citizenship in the United States. But it doesn’t really allow them to fully be fish or fowl, and I guess many Puerto Ricans feel very deeply that this is something that ought to be addressed.”

Martinez will seek a public hearing on the bill early next year.

St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce

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