Mel Martinez farewell: 'Grateful to the people of Florida'; 'regret' over immigration reform
Retiring U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez has begun his farewell speech, recounting with great pride the arc of his public service while expressing disappointment over failed immigration reform and pledging to devote himself "to seeing a day when the people of Cuba can live in freedom."
"The unique opportunity to serve in the United States Senate is the culmination of an unlikely journey, a journey that has taken me from the country of my birth to the halls of the most cherished institution of our democracy," the Orlando Republican said in prepared remarks. (click here for the speech)
Martinez, 62, announced last month that he was vacating his seat a year early, citing a desire to be with family in Florida. His speech was delivered to a mostly empty Senate chamber, but several colleagues spoke warmly of his devotion to family and the Hispanic community.
"He is truly an example of the American success story," said Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said an immigration reform bill would pass one day and it would be a tribute to Martinez and the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.
Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson said he tried for three months to talk Martinez out of retiring.
"I didn't want him to resign because it's been good for Florida the way the two of us have worked together professionally." Nelson said it is important that incoming Sen. George LeMieux forge the same relationship.
LeMieux, to be sworn in tomorrow afternoon, looked on from the public gallery.
Afterward, Martinez appeared relaxed and reflective. "It's the kind of thing you don't do lightly. It's not easy to do. But it feels good. I'm happy with where I am."