Sen. Martinez must take responsibility

In the midst of the emotionally laden controversy surrounding Terri Schiavo, a memo made the rounds in Congress. It detailed how to gain political grounds on the coattails of Schiavo’s tragedy. Democrats were understandably outraged, and a fair number of Republican senators also took offense at the exploitation of the situation.

A staffer of Florida Sen. Mel Martinez has acknowledged writing the memo and tendered his resignation. Sen. Martinez himself is not taking responsibility for the memo. As he has repeatedly done in the past, he blamed his staff.

For the senator to be a functioning member of Congress, Martinez must take responsibility for his actions. Brushing it off on staff members becomes a flimsy excuse at best when it is done repeatedly.

When he was campaigning for Bob Graham’s vacant Senate seat in the fall of 2004, the Martinez campaign ran a television commercial that called the police officers who had taken custody of Elian Gonzales “thugs.” The commercial was aimed squarely at the Cuban community in Florida, but once law officials took offense, Martinez blamed it on campaign staffers.

During a television debate with former USF President Betty Castor, who was the Democratic candidate for the same Senate seat, NBC’s Tim Russert questioned campaign tactics of Martinez’s that exploited Castor’s involvement in reinstating USF professor Sami Al-Arian.

The claims were largely based on an article that had been published in The Oracle while Castor was still president of USF.

Once we checked our archives for the article, it became evident quite quickly that the commercials aired by the Martinez campaign had quoted the article grossly out of context and neglected to include key points, such as the federal government had cleared Al-Arian of all suspicions of funding terrorism.

In the instance of Al-Arian — a man still awaiting the fair trial guaranteed to him by the Bill of Rights — nobody was held responsible.

According to the official election results, Martinez won his Senate seat by 83,345 votes. Millions of ballots remained uncounted because Sen. Martinez declared himself the victor. The Castor campaign was surprised and likely outraged, but folded nonetheless.

Sen. Martinez’s track record has shown that he is not averse to pulling political tricks. Even worse, once the tricks are uncovered, responsibility is blamed on members of his staff.

Or perhaps it’s just that the senator should be more careful about whom he hires to represent him — and, by extension, the state of Florida.