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Mel Martinez talks about his new job

Published January 19, 2007


 U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida sat down with reporters including the St. Petersburg Times’ Anita Kumar to talk about his new job as chairman of the Republican Party, about wooing back independents and about living in a right-of-center country.

Q: How critical are the next two years, considering the Republicans lost both the House and Senate?

A: I think one of the things we lost this year were the independents, and we lost a little bit of that in ’04 and then they really went away from us this time . …When they begin to vote away from you then that becomes a habit and I think it’s very, very important that we recapture the independent voters and get them back voting with us.

Q: What’s your philosophy on how to govern the party?

A: I’ve thought about the importance of winning elections and the opportunity to govern, and I really think   the best (way) for me to approach the job is to suggest that the quest to win and the desire for power  not be what drives us, but that we begin to deliver a message that conveys to the American people that we are a party that has renewed itself and that has answers to their everyday problems.  We have to come up with ways that we can offer real solutions to those problems and not just say we want to be back in power.

Q: How difficult is it to be the party chairman with so many divisions in Congress?

A: It is a challenging time, no doubt. I don’t know that the divisions are unusual  for a six-year presidential cycle, but obviously the war is a very big problem and an area where we need to look for a way in uniting Republicans behind a successful outcome. And I’m really hopeful people will rally around the president and give him a chance, give his plan a chance.”

Q: How will you juggle your Senate responsibilities with your new job?

A: My role is going to be limited. It’s going to very limited to issues relating to conveying a message for our party to the American people. It is not going to be about solving the problems that may exist with the party structure in Iowa or Nebraska or Florida or anywhere else. …When I discussed this with the president I made it very clear to him that I needed to be and intended to be a full-time senator for the state of Florida and so the job we crafted was very limited in that sense. … I would dare say there may be days at a time when I don’t have any day-to-day or any responsibilities  as RNC chair.
Q: What will your role be with regard to the presidential hopefuls?

A: My role is to try to make sure the party remains neutral. …The real important thing for us to do is make sure that the party has the resources, i.e. the money, necessary for those candidates once we identify who the nominee will be.
Q: How will you try to lure people back to the party after the huge losses in November?

A: I think what I want to try to do is speak to people in a way that conveys my understanding of what the Republican Party stands for, and that is based on my own life experience and how my life experience has shaped my views of what our party should stand for. … I think that will be my job, to try to convey that message of hope and optimism and a sense of renewal.

Q: How will you try to make the party more inclusive to Hispanics and others?

A: I will talk about the need for the party to be inclusive, to reach out to those who sometimes have not felt like our party has not left the door open to them and to also convey a message of  our party that speaks to those groups. … I talk about the party of Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan being a party that is very much a party that I think that Hispanic-Americans and African-American both can be very comfortable in. ...  I also don’t believe the country in a dramatic way philosophically shifted away from our party. ... I think it was more about a combination of facts about Iraq and the obvious number of people that didn’t live (up) to their public trust . But we’re still a right-of-center country and I think our party speaks to that right-of-center population.”

[Last modified January 19, 2007, 21:39:51]

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