Martinez As Faust: Devil Is In The Details

It’s been a rule of thumb since the Nixon administration. If you’re a politician, you don’t want to be associated with anything that includes the “gate” affix.

Now we have “Memo-gate.” It’s a label currently adhering to the embattled Mel Martinez like a senatorial “kick me” sign. The notorious memo is the one written – seemingly unbeknownst to Martinez — by his legal counsel that somehow wound up in Martinez’s pocket before he mistakenly passed it along — for whatever ostensible reason — to Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin. It was about how political hay could be made of the Terri Schiavo case at the expense of Democrats – especially Florida Sen. Bill Nelson.

In answer to reporters’ questions after a recent USF appearance, Martinez responded with the guilt-lite, passive-voiced “mistakes were made.” But he certainly “regrets” it; and is, to be sure, “moving on.” The gated memo was some kind of an oversight-challenged staff screw-up, says the rookie senator, but he takes “full responsibility” for it. Moreover, he’s “learning from it.”

Alas, we’ve heard these refrains before – after the “armed thugs” reference to law officers in the Elian Gonzalez case that turned up in a 2004 campaign press release and last year’s political ad that linked primary opponent Bill McCollum with the “radical homosexual agenda.”

Many who knew Martinez back in his days as Orange County chairman remember him as a nice enough person who often looked out for the little guy. They may concede he delegated too much, but he wasn’t someone who, for whatever reasons, you would expect to be associated with cheap-shot campaign expedience.

And that includes, lest we forget, his senatorial campaign’s distorting of Betty Castor’s record at the University of South Florida. In the context of post-9/11 revisionism, Martinez characterized her as soft-on-terrorism, because the former USF president was stuck with the uncharged, unindicted tenured powder keg, Sami Al-Arian.

Probably the most illuminating insight into the Martinez M.O. was provided by a prominent political consultant, who was hopeful of doing work for Martinez during his senate campaign. He was told in no uncertain terms that the White House would be handling this one, thank you.

The White House wanted its former secretary of housing and urban development, a conservative Cuban with a Hollywood immigrant story, to make the run and would pull the appropriate strings. King-maker Karl Rove anointed Martinez as the one to put the seat being vacated by Bob Graham back into the GOP column. There would be no lack of right-wing ideologues, including the Heritage Foundation, to help with staffing needs.

While Rove had pulled a fast one, Martinez had pulled a Faust one. He sold his soul for political opportunity. The devil would be in the details – including an even tighter squeeze on those remaining in his native Cuba.

Call it Pander-gate.

And don’t expect much to change during the president’s second term – except that Martinez will get some public relations’ help to put a better spin on doing his puppet master’s bidding. It will no longer be so amateurish. And maybe he can champion an issue that will actually benefit this state.

After that, there’s re-election. He now knows what works.

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