After 12 years in public life, Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., the first Cuban-American to serve in the U.S. Senate, has announced his immediate retirement: "It is time to return to Florida and my family."
Martinez cited personal reasons for the decision, which comes after the 62-year-old lawmaker, who fled Fidel Castro's Cuba at age 15, announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election when his term expired in 2010. Elected to the Senate in 2004, Martinez previously served as secretary of Housing and Urban Development under former President George W. Bush and as chairman of the Republican National Committee.
Echoing a letter to friends and supporters obtained by the Associated Press, he told reporters today: "My priorities have always been my faith, my family, and my country, and at this stage in my life, and after nearly 12 years of public service in Florida and Washington, it's time I return to Florida and my family."
His prepared statement, read at a press conference in Orlando, came on a Friday afternoon strangely reminiscent of the surprise resignation speech given by Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin on the afternoon before the Fourth of July. After citing his devotion to the people of Florida and continuing commitment to causes that have energized him in public life, Martinez said it was nonetheless time to quit. He vowed "to continue to be an active and constructive voice on issues of importance" and an "active part of a resurging Republican Party."
Martinez took a handful of questions after his statement, acknowledging that he'd made the decision of his own free will and that there was "no impending reason" for the sudden resignation, "just my desire to move on."
The Martinez resignation will likely be subject to speculation much as Palin's sudden announcement a month ago not to serve out her term as governor was. And it leaves the GOP more hobbled than ever to pull together a slate of office holders who could be presidential contenders in 2012, particularly those with conservative bona fides. In addition to Palin's and Martinez's failure to complete their elected terms of office, presidential hopeful Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina remains under a cloud of scandal over his confessed adulterous relationship, along with Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., former chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee and a member of Promise Keepers.
Just as Martinez held his press conference, photographers outside the governor's mansion in South Carolina snapped photos of Sanford's wife, Jenny, and a friend exiting the home carrying boxes. South Carolina's first lady moved out of the official governor's residence with her four sons Friday, a little more than a month after her husband admitted to a yearlong affair with an Argentine woman he called his "soul mate."
Martinez, unlike Sanford and Ensign, has not been implicated in scandal. But his decision to quit the Senate prompted Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Eric Schultz to note, "Republicans seem to have a problem fulfilling their oaths of office."