Martinez tapped for RNC chief; crit­ics see Bush crony­ism

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Ralph Z. Hallow

Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, coau­thor of a bill to grant amnesty to il­le­gal aliens, has been picked by White House strate­gist Karl Rove to be gen­eral chair­man of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee, RNC of­fi­cials con­firmed on Nov. 13.

SomeRNCmem­bers­greet­edthe news as an­other ex­am­ple of White House crony­ism, rem­i­nis­cent of Pres­i­dent Bush’s at­tempt to name his per­sonal friend and gen­eral coun­sel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, a nom­i­na­tion with­drawn in re­sponse to out­rage from the party’s con­ser­va­tive sup­port­ers.

While the chair­man is elected by the165-mem­berRNC—which­next meets in Wash­ing­ton in Jan­uary — the com­mit­tee tra­di­tion­ally acts as a rub­ber­stamp­foraRepub­li­can­pres­i­dent when the party con­trols the White House.

The sur­prise Martinez ap­point­ment, leaked to se­lected TV out­lets and wire ser­vices, cut off a move by con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans to have Mary­landLt.Gov.MichaelS.Steele take over the na­tional party chair­man­ship. Cur­rent Chair­man Ken Mehlman an­nounced two weeks ago that he would step down at the Jan­uary meet­ing.

WhileMr.Martinezwill­re­mainin hisSe­nate­seat­in­be­com­ingth­ep­ub­lic spokesman for the RNC as gen­er­alchair­man,com­mit­teemem­bers said, the RNC’s cur­rent gen­eral coun­sel Mike Dun­can — a com­mit­tee mem­ber from Ken­tucky — will be named chair­man to run the dayto-day na­tional party op­er­a­tions.

Mr. Martinez “will do a first-rate job for the Repub­li­can Party,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, Ne­braska Repub­li­can, who said he has “the high­est re­gard for his abil­ity and ex­pe­ri­ence, and highly [sup­ports] his can­di­dacy.”

An RNC spokes­woman said she could­notof­fi­cial­ly­con­firmtheMartinez-Dun­canap­point­mentsandthat an of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment would be made in a cou­ple of days. Mr. Martinez served as the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sec­re­tary of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment be­fore nar­rowly win­ning a 2004 Se­nate race in Florida.

SomeRNCmem­bers,al­ready­dis­mayed by the Nov. 7 elec­tion that swept Repub­li­cans from con­trol of Congress, ex­pressed anger at the way Mr. Rove leaked his choice of Mr. Martinez im­me­di­ately af­ter a con­fer­ence call in which the Florida sen­a­tor’s name was floated for the first time.

Dur­ing the call with RNC mem­bersin­whichMr.Rove,Mr.Mehlman and White House Po­lit­i­cal Di­rec­tor SaraTay­lor­par­tic­i­pated,somemem­ber­sraisedthename­sofMr.Martinez and Mr. Dun­can as pos­si­ble suc­ces­sors to Mr. Mehlman, said an RNC mem­ber who was in­volved.

“But Rove and Mehlman never said they were go­ing to name th­ese peo­ple as chair­men, and we never voted or even gave our opin­ion,” the mem­ber said.

The­move­wasseenasasignalthat the White House in­tends to push through Congress the “com­pre­hen­sive” im­mi­gra­tion bill — which Mr. Martinez and Mr. Hagel backed in the Se­nate — that was blocked by con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans in the House.

“Clearly,Martinezis­go­ing­tolead the fight for amnesty that Bush couldn’twin­whenRepub­li­canscon­trolledtheCongress,”theRNCmem­ber said.

While­cam­paign­ing­fortheSe­nate in Mary­land, Mr. Steele was an out­spo­ken critic of the Hagel-Martinez mea­sure — which would have cre­ated a guest-worker pro­gram and al­lowed most il­le­gal aliens to be­comecit­i­zens—blam­ing“thep­ar­ti­sangames­man­shipofWash­ing­tonin­sid­ers”forthe­fail­ure­todeal­with­the prob­lem.

“Un­til­we­seeCon­gresstake­some real and im­me­di­ate steps to se­cure our borders, we can hardly ex­pect Amer­i­canstose­ri­ous­ly­con­sid­er­pro­pos­als for deal­ing with those il­le­gal im­mi­grants al­ready in our coun­try and those em­ploy­ers who fail to ad­e­quately re­port them,” Mr. Steele told the Bal­ti­more Sun in Au­gust.

Aides to the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor con­fided that Mr. Steele was “fu­ri­ous over his treat­ment by Bush op­er­a­tives,” who they said ac­cused hi­mof“not­bein­gateam­player”be­cause he had spo­ken to The Wash­ing­ton Times af­ter his name was first pro­posed for the RNC post. Steele aides said White House of­fi­cials threat­ened to with­hold from Mr.Stee­leaCabi­ne­tap­point­men­the had been promised in lieu of the RNC chair­man­ship.

Mr. Steele’s cam­paign — par­tic­u­larly his hu­mor­ous TV ads and his na­tion­ally tele­vised de­bate against Demo­cratic Rep. Ben­jamin L. Cardin on NBC’s “Meet the Press” — im­pressed many con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cans.

“MichaelS­teele­would­makea­su­perb Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit- tee chair­man,” for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich told The Wash­ing­ton­Times.“His­race­forthe Se­nate was prob­a­bly the most pos­i­tive and most lik­able of any race in 2006.”

“Steele ran one of the best Se­nate cam­paigns in the coun­try,” said North Carolina Rep. Pa­trick T. McHenry. “Steele would be great in a prom­i­nent and strat­egy-mak­ing spot in the party.”

“Ev­ery­body I know down here whogo­tachance­toseeS­teele’scam­paig­nad­sthought­they­w­ere­great— they had sub­stance, and so does he,” said Cindy Costa, a South Carolina RNC mem­ber from Charleston.

Two months af­ter tak­ing of­fice, Mr. Martinez was in­volved in an in­ci­dent that caused Repub­li­cans em­bar­rass­ment in the Terri Schi­avo case, when — as he later ex­plained — he ac­ci­den­tally handed Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Demo­crat, a memo de­scrib­ing po­lit­i­cal mo­ti­va­tions for thehigh-pro­file­con­gres­sion­al­ef­fort to save the in­ca­pac­i­tated Florida wo­man’s life.

“Thi­sisan­im­por­tant­moralis­sue, and the pro-life base will be ex­cited that the Se­nate is de­bat­ing this im­por­tant is­sue,” said the March 2005 memo, writ­ten by a Martinez aide. “This is a great po­lit­i­cal is­sue be­cause Sen­a­tor [Bill] Nelson of Florida has al­ready re­fused to be­comeaco-spon­sor,andthi­sisatough is­sue for Democrats.”

Some RNC mem­bers saw the nam­ing of Mr. Martinez as a con­tin­u­ing ten­dency of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion to ma­nip­u­late the na­tional party.

Jon Ward con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle.

The Wash­ing­ton Times

Florida Sen. Mel Martinez was one of the au­thors of the Se­nate com­pro­mise that would have al­lowed most il­le­gal aliens to re­main in the U.S.

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