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Times recommends Kendrick Meek for Democrats for U.S. Senate

Kendrick Meek for Democrats

Florida Democrats do not have a stellar candidate for an open seat in the U.S. Senate. U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami has served an unremarkable four terms in Congress, and his campaign has been slow to build momentum. Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene has a superficial grasp of the issues, no record of public service and only recently returned to Florida. Based on his clear voting record and his well documented commitment to the state, the Times recommends Meek.

This is not a race that will be decided on the issues, because Meek and Greene generally agree on public policy. They pledge to protect Social Security and Medicare, but they are unwilling to embrace changes such as raising the retirement age or cutting benefits to extend the financial viability of the entitlement programs. They oppose expanding offshore oil drilling and promise to encourage development of renewable energy. They support a broad approach to immigration reform that includes better securing the borders and finding a pathway to citizenship for 12 million illegal immigrants who are here already. They oppose an Arizona-style immigration law, solidly support Israel and pledge to create more jobs.

A household name in Miami-Dade, Meek has a long record of public service. After five years as a Florida Highway Patrol trooper, he spent eight years working for Wackenhut Corp. and serving in the state Legislature. Meek is better known for his activism than his legislative accomplishments. As a state senator in 2000, he staged a 25-hour sit-in inside Gov. Jeb Bush's office to protest the governor's plans to eliminate race as a factor in university admissions and state contracts. The sit-in forced Bush to slow down the initiatives and seek more public input before they were approved. In 2002, Meek led a successful citizens initiative for the class size amendment to the state Constitution. The Times opposed the class size amendment as too rigid and too expensive, but Meek still defends it and opposes an amendment on November's ballot to ease class size requirements.

Meek, 43, virtually inherited the South Florida congressional seat in 2002 that had been held by his mother, Carrie Meek, and he has never faced serious opposition. He is on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, largely a reward for his fundraising for other Democrats, and he consistently votes with his party's leadership. He voted for the economic stimulus package, health care reform, cap and trade legislation and financial regulatory reform. Meek also has a strong record on environmental issues, and he has supported efforts ranging from strengthening ethics rules to requiring greater transparency for budget earmarks to creating a mortgage fraud task force.

In eight years, Meek has not advanced as rapidly in the House as expected. Other contemporaries in the Florida delegation have risen faster. He has been the prime sponsor of several dozen bills, but no major ones have passed. Yet Meek was a reliable voice for change when Democrats were in the House minority. He has contributed to major legislation, such as adding language to a recent housing bill to help local law enforcement crack down on predatory lending. Meek and Sen. Bill Nelson have worked together to prod the Obama administration to impose the deep water drilling moratorium in the gulf following the BP oil spill and to ban imports of pythons that threaten the Everglades.

Meek's ethics also have been questioned. He sought budget earmarks for a developer who hired his mother as a $90,000 consultant and provided her with a Cadillac Escalade. The Liberty City project was never built, and the developer was charged with fraud. Meek now says he knew of his mother's consulting job but not the specifics. His explanations are not reassuring.

Even less reassuring is Greene's commitment to Florida. While he spent time as a youngster in Palm Beach County, he spent decades away from the state until moving back to Palm Beach in 2008. Greene, 55, makes a credible argument that he recognized the economic collapse before many members of Congress. He made hundreds of millions on sophisticated investments known as credit default swaps, betting on the housing market collapse and defaults of subprime mortgages. But he has been less than candid about his vast financial holdings, stalling on filing the required disclosure forms and refusing to voluntarily release his tax returns as Meek and other candidates have done.

Greene also is not above shading the facts. His campaign ad accusing Meek of holding "subprime mortgage seminars" is inaccurate. His yacht seriously damaged a coral reef five years ago, according to eyewitness reports, scientific evidence and a potential $1.87 million fine from Belize. His campaign says it never happened. A first-time Florida candidate asking voters to make an enormous leap of faith should be more accountable and transparent.

Maurice Ferre, 75, was mayor of Miami in the 1970s and early 1980s. He speaks knowledgeably about transportation and other issues, and he has the sweep of Florida history. But his campaign has failed to gain traction.

Meek has a clear, reliable record in Congress. Democrats should stick with the politician they know rather than bet blindly on a wealthy investor who bought his way into the race and has no public record. In the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, the Times recommends Kendrick Meek.

Times recommends Kendrick Meek for Democrats for U.S. Senate 07/31/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 30, 2010 5:30pm]
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