Jeff Cavallaro: Your father has been hailed as the American dream. After fleeing from his homeland in Cuba, he went on to become a successful lawyer, the Chairman of Orange County and the Secretary of Housing and Urban development under the Bush administration. How will he be able to draw on his experiences if elected senator?
John Martinez: His life story is pretty incredible. After coming up from nothing by himself, he was able to work himself through college and find himself a job. He even bought my grandfather, his dad, his first car for $300 when they came over here. He knows about the American dream, he has lived it, and so he can really relate to it. He understands what it is like for people to not have a whole lot, trying to pull themselves up from the boot straps and make a life for themselves, support a family, get through school, get a job and that kind of thing. So I think his life experience has really molded how he looks at everything and how he would work in the government and what his goals are.
JC:With such a close race brewing in the senate this year, how important is it for the Republican Party that your father win in November?
JM: It is very important for the Republican Party as a whole and also for President George W. Bush. I think my dad has a lot of influence on turnout, especially in Hispanic communities, because they see that there is a Cuban immigrant on the ticket and so they come out and vote, and a lot of times what happens is they vote for who is on the ticket, and that would be the president hopefully. On the whole, the senate majority could swap back over to the Democrats if we don’t win a certain number of states, and Florida is one of those states, that could go either way. So it is important for the president, it is important for keeping the Senate majority and it is also just important because he is a real leader and he will be able to make a real difference in the Senate whether it be for the majority or the minority.
JC: How important is it for students and young adults to get interested and involved in the political process?
JM: It couldn’t be more important. It is so important, because there really is a strong voice that needs to be heard for young people, and once you turn 18 you should definitely register to vote and get involved in the process, because that is going to be us someday when we’re older. We can really make a difference now and should be taken seriously.
JC: Democratic nominee Betty Castor has criticized the Bush administration and its No Child Left Behind policy, saying that it is driven by “Washington bureaucrats.” Do you agree and what would your father do to change this and better the education system here in Florida?
JM: I honestly don’t know a whole lot about the No Child Left Behind policy. First of all I know my father understands the importance of education and he understands the importance of it in Florida. Florida has made big strides as far as education goes in the last little while, and it will continue to do so under the No Child Left Behind policy, because it gives parents the opportunity to choose what kind of education their children get. In addition to that, when kids aren’t really performing and they are not learning what they are supposed to learn, they are going to stay back and relearn it. That’s how it works. You are able to advance to the next grade once you have learned for that year. And my dad definitely understands what it is like to be in a situation where you really need that education.
JC: Many people view standardized testing as unfair and biased because it measures memorization rather than ability. Your father came to the United States at the age of 15 and has said that he spoke virtually no English. How do you think a standardized test would have affected him personally while in high school or college?
JM: Well, he didn’t know any English when he came here. He had never even met an American person, but one thing he did was tell himself that he needed to learn English, and he did it. Obviously, there is an issue with the people who have just gotten here and may not speak the language very well, but of course that gives them some incentive to work hard. My dad was fluent in English right away, once he started learning it. As far as testing, I don’t know that it is necessarily biased, because if you don’t pass the test, then that means that you haven’t learned. I think standardized testing is what we need to have to make sure that people are learning what they are supposed to be learning, and until we can come up with a better solution, then I think that is what we need to be doing.
JC: With tuition rates seemingly increasing every year, what will your dad do if elected to make higher education more affordable?
JM: I can’t really say, because I don’t know anything about it. The thing is that I don’t want to speak for him because I don’t know what his stance is on that and I don’t want to put words into his mouth.
JC: Florida has been said to have one of the worst public education systems in the country, yet your father has advocated taking money away from public schools and giving it to private schools, many of which are religious, by way of school vouchers. How would he defend this position and what will it mean for public education in Florida in the long run?
JM: I think that parents need to be able to make a choice in their children’s education. If your child is in a school that is not working then you should be able to afford to go to another school. You shouldn’t have to be rich to go to another school. That is why I think vouchers are so important, because you can use them to go a private school when a public one just isn’t performing. In a perfect world, this wouldn’t be the case and all of the public schools would be operating how they are supposed to be operating, but that just isn’t a reality right now, and so I think until our public school problem is completely corrected, I think vouchers are a good idea to give parents a choice as to where their children go regardless of their income.
JC: We have all heard your father’s opinion toward Democratic Senate nominee Betty Castor and what he sees as her poor handling of the Sami Al-Arian case while she was president of USF. If he had been the president of USF during this time, what exactly would he have done, if anything, differently?
JM: I feel pretty certain that he wouldn’t have tolerated Mr. Al-Arian being on campus. A suspected terrorist is a pretty serious thing, and the way Ms. Castor handled it, it just wasn’t enough. I think she recognized that he was a possible threat on campus, but she really didn’t do what she could have done. She did put him on paid leave, which got him off of the campus, but he was still getting paid and he was still able to come back. And I think with something like that, you really need to put your foot down and take a strong stance and not let that sort of think happen on a university campus because that is a dangerous thing.
JC: How does your father intend to help low-income and middle-class families in Florida if elected?
JM: One thing for certain is he wants to get up there in Washington and get some more money for the state of Florida. Right now, for every dollar that we pay in taxes, Florida only gets back $.85 from the federal government. There’s a lot of states that are getting a lot more money than they put in. That is one of my dad’s top priorities — to make sure that Florida gets the funding that it deserves and that it is paying for. So it is a huge priority that Floridians, especially low-income Floridians, are able to get the benefits they deserve from the federal government.
JC: A recent article in the Tampa Tribune said that there are still 593,000 uninsured children in Florida. What will your father do to not only get them covered, but also the millions of other uninsured Floridians?
JM: Shoot, I don’t know anything about that either. I honestly don’t know much about insurance so I can’t answer that.
JC: With so much of Florida relying on tourism, what will your father do to ensure a safe and sustainable environment here in Florida?
JM: That is a top priority for him as well because my dad enjoys the outdoors, especially the Florida outdoors, more than a lot of things. He is a real beach guy. He loves getting out all over Florida and so do I. So it is a top priority for him to make sure that things are cleaned up, and keep a lot of our pristine beaches that we have on the coast, and control development. When he was Orange County chairman, he had a program where developers couldn’t put up homes unless they make sure that schools were there first that could take care of them. That was one way of sustaining growth and at the same time improving the education system.
JC:Your father has publicly stated that raising the minimum wage would only perpetuate a cycle of poverty. With this in mind, what would you tell to the thousands of Floridians, many of whom are your own age, who struggle each day just to afford be able to go to school, pay rent and eat?
JM: I definitely sympathize with them. I have had a minimum-wage job before, as well. The whole thing, though, especially with people my age, is that that is just a gateway job. It is a job that will lead to another job and is just putting them through school. Once they get out of school then they are going to get a better job. They are not going to be making minimum wage with a college degree, most likely. A dollar raise on the minimum wage is really not going to be that much money and make that big a difference. It is not going to pay that extra semester of tuition. What else is going to happen is that employers are going to say that we can’t pay you the minimum wage. ‘
JC: What separates your father from his opponent Betty Castor?
JM: He is a guy that wants to cut back taxes permanently; she perhaps does not want to do that. He understands what it is like to work hard and to live the American dream, get a job and really make a living for himself on his own. Not that she wouldn’t understand that, but he really has a firm understanding of what this is like. Also, he has a distinguished record of lowering taxes and making government more efficient. He cut waste and fraud when he was at HUD. He is for getting rid of government waste, which Ms. Castor has not really shown that she is able to do. The number-one thing, though, is that he understands personally how important freedom is. For example, with her handling of the Al-Arian case or whatever it may be. He really has shown that freedom is number one and that national security is number one. There needs to be someone in there that will stand strong behind our American values and be sure that the United States is a safe place to live.
JC: In a sentence or two, why should students vote for your father?
JM: Students should vote for my father because of what he knows about bringing himself up and about making a life for himself. A lot of people are worried about getting a job once they graduate, and he wants to ensure that this a feasible thing for everyone. He really does understand what it is like to be in the shoes of someone who needs to work hard, do it on their own and bring themselves up. So I think a lot of what will push students to vote for him, is his story. It really is such an incredible story and it really does hit home with a lot of students because they can identify with the struggles that he has had to go through.