January 4, 2005


Martinez goes into Senate an instant star: Mel Martinez, the U.S. Senate's first Cuban-American member, will be officially sworn in to his new office at noon today, instantly becoming a GOP star. (LESLEY CLARK, 1/04/05, Miami Herald)

Mel Martinez takes the oath of office today in Washington, D.C., his ascension to the U.S. Senate a source of fierce pride for Miami's Cuban-American community.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, herself the first Cuban-American woman elected to Congress, will risk a late arrival to her own swearing-in to attend the Martinez ceremony at noon. And at least two busloads of Miamians who hail from Martinez's Cuban homeland were leaving Monday for the trip to Washington to see the one-time Cuban refugee sworn in as one of Florida's two U.S. senators -- the first ever Cuban American to serve in the Senate.

''Mel is the poster child for the Cuban exile success story,'' said Ros-Lehtinen, a Miami Republican who campaigned for Martinez. ``He epitomizes the great drive of the Cuban political community. He carries nostalgia for his native homeland, yet at same time he feels a great deal of gratitude to our adopted homeland that we'll never be able to repay. Mel's story says a lot about what great opportunities this country has for all of us who are political refugees.''

The Republican Martinez, a former member of President Bush's Cabinet, takes his seat as an instant national star in a party eager to court a burgeoning Hispanic population. Though Martinez ranks 98th in seniority -- other newly elected senators outrank him with congressional experience -- he's landed plum committee spots, thanks to his ties to the First Family and to Senate leaders who backed his bid. They spent more money in Florida than in any other state in a successful effort to widen Republican control of the Senate.

Senate assignments for the one-time head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development include the influential Foreign Relations Committee as well as seats on those that oversee banking, housing, energy and natural resources.

''Mel's going to be a leader in the Senate from Day One,'' said Sen. George Allen of Virginia, the outgoing chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who said he ''cajoled and recruited'' Martinez to run. ``This is history.''

If Jeb Bush isn't the nominee, Mr. Martinez will be at the top of every vp list.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 4, 2005 8:47 AM

Mr. Martinez can't be a VP nominee -- the Constitution requires that the president and vice president be natural born citizens.

Posted by: Mike Morley at January 4, 2005 9:22 AM

Not by then it won't.

Posted by: oj at January 4, 2005 9:26 AM

Don't be so sure that an amendment making the top US jobs open to the foriegn born would be ratified. Hope is such a slender reed to lean upon.

Posted by: jim burke at January 4, 2005 10:08 AM

The Constitution won't be amended until and unless a naturalized citizen comes along for whom lots people across the country are willing to take to the streets. Martinez isn't that guy; even Arnie isn't that guy.

Posted by: curt at January 4, 2005 10:17 AM

Mr. burke:


Which party will buck something popular with Latinos?

Posted by: oj at January 4, 2005 10:18 AM


Follow the demographics, not the personalities.

Posted by: oj at January 4, 2005 10:21 AM

Jim - Probably. But an amendment with a significant US Citizenship/lived in the US requirement (i.e. 25 years) might pass. So someone who comes here by the time they are 21, becomes a US citizen and stays here for 25 years could run for president when they get to late 40s.

Posted by: AWW at January 4, 2005 10:24 AM


A naturalized Mexican with both talent and charisma could in theory cause it to happen. Martinez is the wrong demographic.

Posted by: curt at January 4, 2005 10:32 AM


Like all politics, it's not about him it's about you.

Posted by: oj at January 4, 2005 10:36 AM


I disagree. It is about finding true believers willing to manage and fund the effort, and finding a lot of people willing to agitate their Congresscritters and their state legislators for a sustained period of time. People are more likely to make these sacrifices for a real live person rather than an abstract principle.

I voted for Mel Martinez two months ago, but I doubt even the Florida legislature would vote to amend the constitution for Mel. It certainly wouldn't vote to do it because it seems like a good idea in the abstract; heck, it wouldn't even come to a vote on that basis.

Posted by: curt at January 4, 2005 11:06 AM

It's not a good idea in the abstract, only in the concrete of currying favor with a powerful demographic.

Posted by: oj at January 4, 2005 11:14 AM