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Daniel Ruth

Martinez family, he's all yours

Nothing stirs the paternal yearnings of a pol, turning them into something akin to Andy of Mayberry meets Walton Mountain, more than a 36 percent approval rating.

In announcing the time had come to give up his U.S. Senate seat to devote more energy to puttering around the garden, catching up on back issues of the AARP magazine and subjecting himself to the indignities of being surrounded by hordes of dreadful, drooling children during birthday party celebrations at Chuck E. Cheese's, Mel Martinez insisted he really, really, really wanted to spend more time with his family. Really.

And true to the Kabuki dance traditions of the hustings, Florida's junior senator dutifully insisted that even though his political career had about as much of a future as Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's, why there was no question if he had decided to pursue another term — tut, tut and a harrumph for good measure — he would have prevailed.

A cynic might well wonder if Mel Martinez was sitting on a 60 percent-plus lovefest from the body politic might he still be insisting he can't wait to retire from the public arena to make funny orange peel faces for the grand tots like the retired Don Corleone in The Godfather.

So it was predictable that in announcing his desire to give up a U.S. Senate seat and return to Orlando and a life filled with the excitement of days spent watching reruns of Matlock, Martinez claimed he was influenced less by the fact his electoral prospects were more toast than the breakfast rush at Waffle House than by simply wanting to return to the loving bosom of his family.

Perhaps this reasoning might have more resonance had the one-term Republican been spending the past four years working in the rainforests of Brazil, or guarding an oil pipeline in Iraq, or counting penguins in Antarctica.

Instead Martinez served in the U.S. Senate, a body hardly known for heavy lifting. Indeed, the upper house, when it shows up to turn on the lights, generally meets from Tuesday through Thursday. There are long breaks for holidays and numerous "state work periods," otherwise known as campaign contribution collection duties.

Surely there must be a moment to spare in the midst of this grueling Kato Kaelinesque work schedule for a senator to read "Goosebumps" to his children — if the mood were to strike.

The British royal family punches the time clock with greater regularity than a sitting U.S. senator.

Martinez also kvetched over the "demanding" rigors of flying back and forth to Washington, as if the senator found himself constantly stuck at the back of the Southwest Airlines C line for boarding, relegated to a middle seat in the rear of a crowded plane next to colic-infested infants.

Uh, didn't Mel Martinez realize being a senator involves, how to put this gently, traveling back and forth from Orlando to Washington?

While Martinez apparently woke up very recently and asked himself, "Who are all these Martinezes? And maybe I should spend more time with them," the senator was happily willing to pursue his political ambitions, at the expense of family, when he accepted the job of secretary of Housing and Urban Development in President Bush's first term.

And when 2004 rolled around there is no evidence anyone put a gun to Martinez's head and said: "Listen Bub, you're going to run for the U.S. Senate whether you like it or not." This was not exactly a Florida stump version of Sophie's Choice for the candidate — family or the Senate? Decisions, decisions.

Danger abounds! It's entirely possible Mel Martinez will settle into his new domestic bliss and quickly drive his family into a catatonic stupor as he regales them with his Washington adventures as HUD secretary, or perhaps all those wild and crazy days hanging out with Karl Rove. Good times.

Then again it is altogether possible that when he is not playing Parcheesi with the rug rats, or going to cooking classes with wife Kitty, Martinez might be able to squeeze in just a few billable hours at some law firm, perhaps requiring him to board that dreaded airplane back to Washington as a silk-stocking lobbyist. Fate, it's a pip is what it is.

Perhaps we should give Martinez the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he truly wishes to give up the status, the perks, the groveling apparatchiks, the foreign junkets to be with his family. If it was so important, he could give up his seat right now to begin his new life with the kiddos.

Alas, Martinez has said he plans to serve out the remaining two years of his term. As for the family, well they'll just have to wait. But then again, they're more than used to it.

Editor's note

Today the Times welcomes to its opinion pages Daniel Ruth, who comments on Florida and Tampa Bay with particular insight and wit. His work last appeared in the Tampa Tribune, and his voice here will enliven and broaden our conversations about the region and the state. He may not always agree with the Times' editorial opinions, and that will be fine. The op-ed page offers a wide range of provocative, thoughtful commentary. Daniel adds another dimension. His weekly column will appear on Fridays.

— Tim Nickens, editor of editorials

Martinez family, he's all yours 12/11/08 [Last modified: Thursday, December 18, 2008 3:41pm]
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