U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is a centrist who works across partisan lines and understands the art of compromise, and that is the kind of voice that needs to be heard in Washington. The Democrat reflects the mainstream values needed for Congress to break the gridlock on reducing the federal deficit and other pressing issues. Nelson has served Florida well, and he deserves to be elected to a third term.
From fighting oil drilling to preserving the Everglades to promoting space exploration, Nelson has been an effective advocate for issues of particular importance to Floridians. At the height of the fever to expand drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, Nelson stood up to both the Obama administration and congressional Republicans to fight drilling closer to Florida's beaches. He forced concessions in a 2010 drilling bill that did not become law and helped negotiate the 2006 law that bans drilling within 234 miles of Tampa Bay's beaches until 2022. Nelson has helped steer billions in federal dollars toward restoration of the Everglades. And he has been an effective advocate for NASA as it enters a new era with the retirement of the space shuttle and the cancellation of its replacement, the Constellation program.
Nelson, 70, has had a solid career in public service, including six years in the Legislature, a dozen years in the U.S. House and six years as state insurance commissioner before being elected to the Senate in 2000. Far from a headline grabber, he tends to avoid political risk and spend time on smaller populist issues such as the dangers of Burmese pythons in the Everglades or Chinese drywall. But he has cast important votes in favor of the federal stimulus and health care reform, and his voice has been heard on some high-profile issues.
For example, during the health care debate he argued against deep cuts to Medicare Advantage, the popular but expensive coverage from private health maintenance organizations. Nelson initially went too far in protecting it but now takes partial credit for a compromise that has saved millions. He also helped push through the Restore Act this year that will send billions to Florida and other gulf states affected by the BP oil spill.
Republican Rep. Connie Mack IV of Fort Myers has run an uninspiring campaign and is not a viable alternative. Mack, 45, is the son of the former U.S. senator and counts on the family name and attack ads by third-party groups to make up for a lack of substance and significant legislative achievements. He has virtually copied his father's campaign slogan from 1988, agreed to just one debate in the entire campaign and avoided newspaper editorial boards, including this one.
Mack is a partisan conservative who opposed the federal stimulus, the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank financial regulation reforms. He has been too open to more oil drilling and too harsh in his approach to immigration. His deficit reduction plan to cut spending and then apply an overall spending cap is simplistic, unworkable and harsher than Rep. Paul Ryan's budget passed by the House. And Mack's work habits in Washington are questionable. He has missed far more votes in the House than the average member since taking office.
Floridians know better than to buy the tired Mack line that Nelson is too liberal, or the inaccurate assault on the Democrat's support for health care reform. Nelson wants a deficit reduction plan of $4 trillion over 10 years, and he is willing to look at both raising revenue and cutting spending even if some of the options on both sides will be painful. That is the kind of pragmatism that is needed to move the nation forward.
For U.S. Senate, the Tampa Bay Times recommends Bill Nelson.