- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 11, 2001

It was 1968, and James L. Martin was running a tough campaign to elect Florida's Ed Gurney to Congress.
Needing some extra help, Mr. Martin hired the 22-year-old son of a Texas congressman who had little experience but plenty of energy. The young hand, fresh from Yale University and soon headed for National Guard duty, eagerly signed on to assist with escorting reporters around the state in a twin-engine plane called "the Green Hornet."
More than three decades later, the pair would reunite on the campaign trail.
This time, however, the one-time aide was running for president of the United States, and Mr. Martin, now president of a national senior citizens advocacy group, was stumping on his behalf.
"Thirty years ago, did you ever think we'd be doing this?" asked George W. Bush, pausing briefly in November to reminisce at a campaign stop in West Palm Beach, Fla., where Mr. Martin had joined actress Bo Derek and singer Wayne Newton to speak at a rally for the Texas governor.
"No," Mr. Martin responded. "Did you?"
"Me, neither," said Mr. Bush as he hurried off to his plane, less than 48 hours before the 2000 election.
Seven months later, at a Rose Garden ceremony, it was clear that winning the presidency had not diminished Mr. Bush's fondness for Mr. Martin, who gave him his first job in politics. Their friendship turned heads when Mr. Bush bypassed powerful legislators and made a beeline to shake hands with an old friend and thank him for a recent birthday card.
"How you doing, Buddha?" said the president, using a decades-old nickname to greet the now-svelte Mr. Martin, who back in that day weighed 250 pounds.
"He speaks to me every time he sees me," said Mr. Martin, who said Mr. Bush retains the qualities of his youth. "With Dubya, what you see is what you get."
Flattered by the president's acknowledgment, Mr. Martin used their most recent meeting to ask Mr. Bush to pose for a picture with "the shadow," a ribbon cutout given to him by his grandson, whose class project was to shadow someone's career and life. The president was happy to oblige.
Gray-haired and gallant, Mr. Martin, 65, shares not only the president's easygoing attitude and Southern accent, but also his get-it-done management style. Despite 10 grandchildren, Mr. Martin is far from a sedentary retiree content to park himself on a sofa.
An avid softball pitcher and high-scoring basketball player who also swims for fitness, he now leads the 500,000-member 60-Plus Association, with headquarters in Arlington. There, he advocates for senior issues, including Social Security privatization, Medicare reform and the estate tax, which he has famously dubbed the "death tax."
"Dying," says Mr. Martin, "should not be a taxable event."
A Ted Turner look-alike who has turned heads and opened doors in Atlanta and fooled rookie reporters on Capitol Hill, Mr. Martin writes regular opinion pieces in major newspapers and has appeared on CNN and other national news programs.
Mr. Martin's group, founded in 1993, has been described as a conservative alternative to AARP and other senior lobbies. The group tracks votes in Congress and gives awards to lawmakers with "senior-friendly" records of less government, free enterprise and low taxes.
Former Indiana Rep. Roger Zion, 80, 60-Plus' honorary chairman, has known Mr. Martin since his days in Congress and said his dogged work as a journalist and his access to the media have helped keep senior issues before the public eye.
"Jim's an ex-Marine, and I think ex-Marines are inclined to be persistent and forceful, and that contributes considerably to his success," Mr. Zion said. "There has been a tremendous need to counteract the myth that conservatives are opposed to Social Security and Medicare.
"We strongly believe that the government ought to get its nose out of our business and its hands out of our pocket," he said.
Born in Hazard, Ky., Mr. Martin grew up in Hollywood, Fla., where he and his brother were raised by a single mom whose youth was framed by the struggles of the Depression. It is for her and his stepfather, who will turn 102 soon, that Mr. Martin works his hardest.
"She says to me, 'We know that Social Security is there for us, but you've got to fix it for my grandchildren.'"
"The truth is that seniors know that it is there for them," said Mr. Martin. Mr. Bush's proposal for a partial privatization of Social Security is "not a risky scheme, but the risk is in doing nothing."
"The head-in-the-sand approach is wrong," he said.
Mr. Martin served in the Marines for five years before returning from duty in 1962 to attend the University of Florida in Gainesville. There he earned a degree in journalism, wrote for the college newspaper the Alligator and won national honors for his sportswriting.
He came to Washington in 1962 as a Sims News Bureau congressional reporter. Two years later, he left reporting for politics, becoming chief of staff for Mr. Gurney, a conservative representative who later became a senator. Mr. Gurney died in 1996.
Over the years, Mr. Martin raised seven children, working in private industry as a fund-raiser before starting 60-Plus at age 57, one of three groups he has founded.
While his lobbying work at 60-Plus keeps him extra busy, Mr. Martin maintains balance in his life through sports, where he retains his competitive edge.
"I think he's a model for baby boomers who are getting close to retirement that it doesn't matter what your age is, you can still be active and productive," said Pete Jeffries, communications director for House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert. "On the court, he plays a lot younger than his age . He has a pretty good three-point shot."
On Sept. 11, Mr. Martin will show his skills at the third annual Lobbyists vs. Congress charity basketball game at George Washington University's Smith Center. The game raises money for local children's charities, and he hopes his buddy, the commander in chief, will at least come to watch.
There's also an honorary basketball jersey with the president's name and No. 43 on it waiting to be claimed, Mr. Martin hints.
The president, he adds, has got game.
"He's a darned good basketball player. He really is," said Mr. Martin, explaining that Mr. Bush played in his prep-school days at Andover and in flight school.
"Somebody asked me the other day, 'Who's gonna check him? Who's going to guard him?'" Mr. Martin chuckles.
"I guess the Buddha will decide who's gonna guard him. He'll play on our team."

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