By Chris Ingram
After serving as mayor of Tampa for six years, Bob Martinez resigned to run for governor in 1986. The former Democrat became Florida’s first Republican governor in 16 years but lost his re-election bid four years later following the state’s controversial attempt at implementing a tax on services — a measure the Legislature passed but quickly repealed.
He later served for nearly two years as the nation’s “Drug Czar” under President George H.W. Bush. Since then, Martinez, who has always maintained residency in Tampa, has kept an active but mostly behind the scenes profile in Florida political circles.
I recently sat down with the former governor in the offices of the law firm where he works as a lobbyist to talk about his life in politics, his legacy and issues facing the Republican Party and the country.
We start out talking about the national political environment and the major issues facing our country — most notably the national debt and government spending.
“Since the federal government doesn’t have to balance the budget, they have the ability to just kick the can. Every time they kick the can, after a while voters stop listening,” he says.
Economic and budgetary issues are hard to explain, and are far removed from people’s lives — or so they think, Martinez says. Explaining them is “… complicated because there is no sound-bite answer.”
The “other side,” as Martinez refers to the Democrats, is very adept at playing politics with important issues. He points to the sequester as a prime example. Initiated by Democrats, they then turned around and pointed the finger at the Republican-controlled House of Representatives as being the villains for the forced spending cuts — which Martinez accurately points out are just cuts in the rate of growth, not really cuts in total spending, which continues to increase.
Our conversation turned to Florida and the performance of Gov. Rick Scott, and Martinez is careful with his words — as he always appears to be. In fact, he is so careful, if you didn’t know it, you would think he was a seasoned lawyer by profession. But he’s not. Before politics, Martinez owned a restaurant in Tampa that served the Spanish delicacies he had grown up on.