- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 3, 2004

ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida’s senator-elect, Mel Martinez, said the arrival of three minorities to the U.S. Senate has the potential to change America for the better, and said partisanship in policy-making should be a thing of the past.

“I think it is a great step forward. When you have a hundred senators with no minority reputation, I don’t think that is good for America,” Mr. Martinez said.

Joined by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, who arrived in Orlando to congratulate him, Mr. Martinez said it will be up to him and Democratic Senators-elect Ken Salazar of Colorado and Barack Obama of Illinois to perform well and “represent all of our people well.” Mr. Salazar, like Mr. Martinez, is Hispanic; Mr. Obama is black.

“I look forward to speaking and working with them,” he said, and joked that he and Mr. Salazar will start a Hispanic caucus in the Senate. He added that he does not want to be just the “token” Cuban-American senator, but wants to unify Florida’s Hispanic population, both white and nonwhite, Republican and Democrat alike.

Mr. Martinez received 60 percent of the Hispanic vote, according to exit polling conducted by CNN, and 57 percent of those who voted for him also voted for President Bush. Mr. Martinez had banked on hopes that his Hispanic heritage would attract Hispanic voters to the president.

Seventy-four percent of voters who chose Mr. Martinez said moral values — issues such as same-sex “marriage,” stem-cell research and abortion — were the main factor in their decision.

“I will do all in my power for the next six years to live up to this honor,” Mr. Martinez said after speaking with his Democratic opponent, former state Education Commissioner Betty Castor, and listening to the concession speech of Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry.

In the wee hours of yesterday morning, Mrs. Castor refused to concede, saying she would wait for the absentee ballots to be counted, despite the Republican’s lead of some 70,000 votes.

It was not until 11 a.m. yesterday that Mrs. Castor announced to the press that she was conceding the race. “Even if every vote is counted, we think it would be very difficult to make up the difference,” she said.

In his victory speech, Mr. Martinez thanked Mrs. Castor for her 30 years of public service and a “spirited campaign.” He will be sworn in on Jan. 4.

Mr. Martinez discussed his role on the issues of housing and disaster relief, with Mr. Frist joking that the new arrival would be his “expert” on hurricane relief.

“We will start working with Mel to see where his interests, coupled with our committees, best serve Florida and the American people,” Mr. Frist said.

Mr. Martinez said he would like a seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which its chairman, Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, promised to him were he to win. Mr. Martinez said, however, that since fellow Floridian Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, already sits on the committee, he’s not sure he’ll take the spot.

He took that opportunity to praise Mr. Nelson and said he will meet with the senator to discuss a new agenda for Florida after taking a well-deserved vacation, beginning tomorrow.

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