Martinez wants to tone down ‘harsh­ness’ of GOP anti-il­le­gals rhetoric

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Stephen Di­nan and Ralph Z. Hallow

Sen. Mel Martinez, Pres­i­dent Bush’s choice to be­come chair­man of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee, said his goal will be to undo the elec­tion dam­age done by the border-en­force­ment-first mes­sage of most Repub­li­cans — which he called “harsh­ness only.”

Mr. Martinez’s nom­i­na­tion — which must be ap­proved by the RNC at its Jan­uary meet­ing — is Mr. Bush’s first ma­jor po­lit­i­cal step since the Nov. 7 elec­tions, and it is al­ready cre­at­ing di­vi­sion among rank-and-file Repub­li­cans, who say it puts the party on the wrong side of the im­mi­gra­tion is­sue.

“I would say it’s an­other Harriet Miersmo­ment,”saidRandyPullen, an RNC com­mit­tee mem­ber from Ari­zona, re­fer­ring to the doomed pick for the Supreme Court.

Mr. Bush an­nounced the nom­i­na­tion in the Oval Of­fice, say­ing Mr. Martinez would keep his Florida Se­nate seat and serve as hon­orary chair­man, or the pub­lic face of the party. Mr. Bush also nom­i­nated Mike Dun­can, the RNC’s gen­eral coun­sel, as chair­man re­spon­si­ble for day-to-day op­er­a­tions, and asked Jo Ann David­son to re­main co-chair­man.

Chair­man Ken Mehlman is not seek­ing to re­main in of­fice.

Speak­ing to re­porters af­ter the Oval Of­fice an­nounce­ment, Mr. Martinez said he was “not go­ing to do a post-mortem on the elec­tion here to­day.” Mo­ments later, though, he did a post-mortem on im­mi­gra­tion, say­ing he saw a clear mes­sage on that is­sue.

“I think we have to un­der­stand that the elec­tion did speak to one is­sue, and that was that — it’s not about bash­ing peo­ple, it’s about pre­sent­ing a hope­ful face,” said Mr. Martinez, who won his seat in 2004.

He was one of the au­thors of the Se­nate com­pro­mise that would have al­lowed most il­le­gal aliens to re­main in the United States and pay small fines in re­turn for a path to cit­i­zen­ship.

“Border se­cu­rity only, en­force­ment only, harsh­ness only is not the mes­sage that I be­lieve Amer­ica wantsto­con­vey,”Mr.Martinez­said.

His pro­posal passed the Se­nate, though a ma­jor­ity of Repub­li­cans voted against it. The House, how­ever, passed an en­force­ment-first strat­egy. Even the RNC voted unan­i­mously in Au­gust to adopt a res­o­lu­tion call­ing for border and in­te­rior en­force­ment, and Mr. Pullen said Mr. Martinez as chair­man would run con­trary to that mes­sage.

SomeRNCmem­ber­shad­pleaded for Mr. Bush to nom­i­nate Mary­land Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, a prom­i­nent black Repub­li­can who in his los­ing Se­nate cam­paign this year ar­gued against amnesty for il­le­gal aliens.

Re­ject­ing Mr. Steele raised hack­les among some RNC mem­bers, who tra­di­tion­ally rub­ber-stamp a sit­ting pres­i­dent’s choice for chair­man. Mem­bers won­dered whether the­choice­ofMr.Martinezwasasig­nal of Mr. Bush’s de­sire to fo­cus more­on­bur­nish­inghis­pres­i­den­tial legacy, rather than on re­build­ing a win­ning party for 2008.

“Idon’tknowwhetherthi­sisHar­riet Miers and crony­ism all over again, since I don’t know that much aboutMartinezand­his­re­la­tion­ship with Bush and Rove,” said Texas RNC mem­ber Bill Crocker, re­fer­ring to the White House ad­viser.

“But I wish they wouldn’t try to con­trolth­isthing,the­waythisWhite House mi­cro­man­ages ev­ery­thing. We’d be bet­ter off with an in­de­pen­dent voice to sup­port the pres­i­dent and work for the good of the party.”

Dr.Bud­dyWither­spoon,anRNC mem­ber from Columbia, S.C., said a black con­ser­va­tive such as Mr. Steele would have been an “ex­cel­lent choice.” But Dr. Wither­spoon, who is white, wor­ried just how much Mr. Steele, Mr. Martinez or any­one whom “Karl Rove chooses” will be able to speak for the fu­ture of the Repub­li­can Party.

As Mr. Bush pushes the RNC in his­di­rec­tionon­im­mi­gra­tion,House Repub­li­cans move the other way, with Rep. Mike Pence of In­di­ana, a con­tender for the House mi­nor­ity leader’s post, say­ing he will op­pose Mr. Bush’s bill.

“Whatis­comin­ga­tus­now­is­go­ing to­bea­mas­siveamnesty­billthatwill likely be pro­pounded not only by DemocratsintheHouse­andSe­nate, but­franklyal­sobytheWhiteHouse,” he said in an in­ter­view with ra­dio host Laura In­gra­ham.

CharlesHurt­con­tribut­ed­tothis ar­ti­cle.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.