Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Melquiades Rafael "Mel" Martinez (born October 23, 1946) is a Republican Cuban-born American politician and U.S. Senator from Florida. Martinez served as the 12th Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President George W. Bush.
Martinez resigned his cabinet post on December 12, 2003 to run for an open U.S. Senate seat in Florida being vacated by retiring Democratic Senator Bob Graham. Martinez secured the Republican nomination and defeated the Democratic nominee, Betty Castor. His election made him the first Cuban-American to serve in the U.S. Senate. Furthermore, he and Ken Salazar are the first Hispanic U.S. Senators since 1977.
Martinez was born in Sagua La Grande, Cuba. He came to the United States in 1962 as part of a Roman Catholic humanitarian effort called Operation Peter Pan, which brought into the U.S. more than 14,000 children. Catholic charitable groups provided Martinez a temporary home at two youth facilities. At the time Martinez was alone and spoke virtually no English. He subsequently lived with two foster families, and in 1966 was reunited with his family in Orlando.
Martinez graduated from the College of Law at Florida State University in 1973. During his 25 years of law practice in Orlando, he was involved in various civic organizations. He served as Vice President of the Board of Catholic Charities of the Orlando Diocese.
Before becoming Secretary of HUD, Martinez was the elected Chairman of Orange County, Florida, and served on the Governor's Growth Management Study Commission. He previously served as President of the Orlando Utilities Commission , on the board of directors of a community bank, and as Chairman of the Orlando Housing Authority.
Serving as co-chairman of George W. Bush's 2000 presidential election campaign in Florida, Martinez was a leading fundraiser. He was one of the 25 electors from Florida, which voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 election.
Martinez and his wife have three children and a granddaughter. He is the brother of Rafael E. Martinez.
Martinez was the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate seat of retiring Democrat Bob Graham. Much of Martinez's support came from Washington: he was endorsed early by many prominent Republican groups, and publicly supported by key national Republican figures such as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. His Cuban background and his popularity in the battleground Orlando region both contributed to his appeal to the statewide GOP in Florida.
However, Martinez's nomination was far from certain through the primary election, and he was seriously challenged by former Congressman Bill McCollum. McCollum criticized Martinez's background as a plaintiff's attorney, and many Republicans initially feared that Martinez's nomination would destroy the GOP's ability to criticize Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards' background. Martinez was also said to be soft on tort reform, a major Republican issue in the 2004 race.
Following a McCollum surge in the final weeks leading up to the primary, Martinez fought back in the last week of the race, sending a mass mailing that called McCollum "the new darling of homosexual extremists," pointing out that McCollum had sponsored hate crimes legislation while a member of the House of Representatives. Former Florida senator Connie Mack appeared with McCollum at a press conference and blasted Martinez for his anti-gay attacks. However, the rhetoric caused Martinez's support to rise dramatically in socially conservative areas of Florida, most notably in the Florida Panhandle, which had previously been firmly in the McCollum camp.
In the Republican primary on August 31, Martinez won a decisive victory over McCollum (42 to 33 percent with 74% of precincts reporting). Shortly afterward, he was scheduled to speak alongside President Bush at the 2004 Republican National Convention on September 2. After a general election campaign Martinez eventually defeated his Democratic opponent, Betty Castor, in a very close election.The Internet magazine Salon reported that Martinez would have rather run for governor in 2006 but the GOP convinced him to run 2 years earlier. In the end, Bush ran several points ahead of Martinez in the state, suggesting that many Republicans were put off by Martinez's style of campaigning.
Role in the "Terri Schiavo talking points memo"
On April 6, 2005, Martinez accepted the resignation of his legal counsel, Brian Darling, who was responsible for writing and circulating a talking points memo that outlined a strategy for the Republicans to use the Terri Schiavo case as "a great political issue" that would appeal to the party's base (core supporters) and could be used against Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat from Florida who is up for reelection in 2006, because he had refused to co-sponsor the bill. 
Martinez immediately denied all knowledge of Darling's involvement in the situation, noting that he himself had inadvertently passed a copy of the memo to Democratic Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, believing that it was nothing more than an outline of the Republican proposal. Martinez asserted that the memo "was intended to be a working draft," stating that Darling "doesn't really know how I got it."
The Schiavo memo is the third recent incident in which Martinez accepted broad responsiblity while laying blame upon a staffer for the underlying deed. During the Republican primary, a staffer was blamed for a passage in a campaign flyer painting his opponent Bill McCollum as a servant of the "radical homosexual lobby". Shortly thereafter another staffer was blamed for labelling federal agents involved in the Elian Gonzalez affair as "armed thugs." (St Pete Times: New gaffe, old Martinez defense)
- Abortion: Opposed to abortion generally.
- Economy: Supports free trade generally; supports tax cuts; advocates lowering regulation of employers and reducing liability insurance burdens.
- Education: Supports No Child Left Behind Act; advocates more standardized testing; supports school voucher programs.
- Foreign policy: Supports the Bush Doctrine; supports Israeli self-determination; supports tightening travel and trade embargo on Cuba; opposes foreign aid to countries that oppose U.S. policies.
- Health care: Supports private Medicare and Social Security accounts for new workers; advocates more thorough investigations of Medicare fraud.
- Homeland security: Opposes base closures in Florida; advocates maintaining "the strongest military in the world."
- Religion: Supports free exercise of religion; opposes "removing all public displays of religious devotion" from society.
- Same-sex marriage: Supports constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
- Second Amendment: Supports the right to bear arms.
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