Mel Martinez leaves legacy of a quitter

My daughter was practicing her violin last week and getting frustrated.

Her bow was wobbling off the A string, occasionally scratching the high-pitched E. And "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" was a bit flat.

She sounded exactly like what she is — a 9-year-old who's just learning. And to her dad, it sounded perfect.

But Cameron knew better. And she didn't like it. Not one bit.

Finally, she dropped her bow and burst into tears. "Daddy, I want to quit!"

I empathized and embraced her, the way daddies always do with teary-eyed little girls. But I also told her that she was going to finish her lessons through the fall.

"Why?" she asked.

"Because," I said, "kids who quit when they are little can grow up to be quitters when they are adults. And people don't respect quitters."

Which brings us to Mel Martinez.

I like Mel and have admired some of his stances and positions. But his decision to abandon his U.S. Senate seat before his term is up will help cement his legacy — as a quitter.

He didn't complete his first term as Orange County mayor. He didn't serve throughout George W. Bush's tenure as housing secretary. And he resigned from leading the Republican National Committee after less than a year.

He had differing reasons each time. And I think many people accepted — and even encouraged — those moves when they thought Martinez was making them so that he could better fulfill his vision of public service.

But not this time.

Voters entrusted Martinez with a sacred duty when they elected him.

The term was for six years. There was never any question about that.

And abandoning a solemn oath to serve — for any reason other than personal emergencies, which Martinez has said are not at play — simply does not live up to that oath.

Especially when the result means Florida voters will soon have a senator they had nothing to do with selecting.

I know Martinez was frustrated with Washington's strident rhetoric and all-talk, little-action atmosphere. Many of us respect him for that — and share those frustrations.

But voters also are frustrated with politicians who don't keep their word.

And now, after making history as the first Cuban-American elected to the U.S. Senate, someone else will get to make history as the first Cuban-American to actually fulfillan entire term.

The replacement•Choosy Charlie. Charlie Crist will make one of the most significant decisions of his gubernatorial career in selecting Martinez's replacement. Whether he selects the person to best represent Floridians — or the person who will most help his own political aspirations — will not only reveal a lot about Crist as governor, but also whether Crist is fit to join the Senate himself.

•Touting Toni. For my money, former Senate President and Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings would be a great pick. She's smart, well-versed in public policy and a quick study. Plus, Jennings accomplished something most legislators do not — she left Tallahassee just as respected as when she got there.

•Another good GOP choice: Former U.S. Sen. Connie Mack, who could hit the ground running. Mack, though, has seemed uninterested. (And, by the way, also expressed disappointment in Martinez's decision to quit.)

•Wary of Webster. The Christian right is already touting former state Sen. Dan Webster as its chosen one. I used to tout Webster as a strong candidate for federal office myself. Not anymore. Webster's stock dropped recently when he chaired a (supposed) reform task force for the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority — and proved to be little more than an errand boy for Mayor Rich Crotty and business-as-usual shenanigans. Webster all but ignored everything, from the questionable toll increases and financial practices to the grand jury's reports on the agency's "culture of corruption." Washington needs reform, too — but not Webster's variety.

•Crist picks Crist? When news of this first broke, I put the odds of Crist selecting himself — or resigning so that lieutenant governor-turned-Gov. Jeff Kottkamp (gulp) could appoint him — at about 50 percent. Then Crist gave us his solemn word that he would do no such thing. So I adjusted the odds down ... to about 49 percent. But then I read the following line from our sister paper, the ( Fort Lauderdale) Sun Sentinel: "Eight governors have appointed themselves to the U.S. Senate in the last 76 years — and all but one subsequently lost their election bids." Now I think I believe Charlie.

Scott Maxwell, who's proud to say Cameron is sticking with violin and even played a "Twinkle" duet with her out-of-practice father, can be reached at or 407-420-6141.

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