October 30, 2014

Icon

Icon: Bob Martinez

Florida governor, 1987-91; U.S. drug czar, 1991-93, age 74

Art Levy | 7/1/2009
» In 1974, I bought my uncle’s restaurant, the Café Sevilla, in Tampa. That’s when you prove your work ethic. The restaurant probably taught me more about discipline than anything else.

» I fished with my father religiously until I went off to graduate school. We’d leave at five in the morning to be sure we got to the spot on the bay we wanted by sunrise. One day, it was so cold that we didn’t want to put our hands in the bait bucket because the water was just so freezing. There were lots of little white caps pounding against the boat. There was a mackerel that must have been near the surface and the wave action caught it and it landed inside the boat. That was the only fish we caught that day.

Bob Martinez
Bob Martinez? [Photo: Michael Heape]
» I’ve always been sort of a joiner and active in organizations of one kind or another. I always felt that it was important to get involved with things other than what you do for a living.

» Teaching is very demanding. If you want to do it right, you have to be fresh all the time — and by fresh I mean you have to be innovative. You can only capture a student’s imagination if you’re creative and energetic. Otherwise, they’ll spot it and they’ll lay back.

» By nature, I’ve been a risk-taker, like mortgaging my house to buy the restaurant. When I went off to the University of Illinois to get my master’s degree, my daughter was 3 and my son was 6 months old. I sold the house for the equity and took money out of my retirement. I showed up in the dead of winter in Urbana-Champaign with no housing. I just kind of rolled the dice. Had I not done that, I don’t think the rest would have happened.

» You have to listen to the people when you’re out there campaigning, but the other side of the equation is you have to have a vision. You have to have some idea how the community will benefit from you being in office.

» I love Spanish soups. I grew up with them. My grandmother made a lot of Spanish soups: Garbanzo bean soup, collard greens soup, black bean soup. These are soups that taste better the longer they sit in the refrigerator.

» Local government is retail — water, sewer, police, fire, street maintenance. You’re dealing with the end user directly, which is the citizen. When you’re at the state level, you’re transferring money. You’re regulating. It’s like a wholesale business. You’re dealing with an intermediary.

» When I was mayor, I divided the city in quadrants and every weekend, either a Saturday or Sunday, I’d get my basset hound and we’d get in the car and drive and see how the city was functioning in that quadrant. I could see if things were mowed or not mowed, if the streets looked dirty or clean. And every Monday morning, I would make my observations to senior staff.

» I named my basset Tampa Mascotte, after the ship, the Mascotte, that’s pictured in the city seal. That dog was with me all through my public life — mayor, governor, drug czar. He died just when he was about to be 16, about four years ago, and it hurt. It really did.

» The shuttle Challenger disaster happened when I was campaigning for governor. I happened to be coming out of Broward County, having been endorsed by a number of local office holders, and I was heading to Brevard County for a fund raiser. I was on Interstate 95 and my driver and I were listening to the radio when all of sudden the music is interrupted with this bulletin. We looked up and saw the plume. We saw that plume the entire drive to Brevard County.

» In government, the most difficult thing you deal with — and sometimes it makes you and sometimes it breaks you — is the unscheduled event, whether it’s a terrible hurricane, civil unrest or whatever.

» The service tax was my unscheduled event. It had technically been passed before I got there and it hadn’t even come up in the campaign or debates. What was the old World War II movie? Run Silent. Run Deep. That’s how that issue was.

» We implemented about a third of the taxes that had been voted on and left the other two-thirds tax exempt, but that one-third became the only issue to be talked about. It sucked up all the oxygen. So we repealed it and substituted it with another penny sales tax. We didn’t lose the revenue. We went from 5 to 6 pennies, which brought in the same amount as the service tax. In hindsight, which is always perfect, probably we should have asked for an extension to become more familiar with the issue and gone around the state talking about it to see what the public thought about it.

» There had been a couple of articles and editorials mentioning me as a possible vice presidential running mate under George H.W. Bush, but that whole service tax thing took a lot of political capital. Whatever might have been kind of went south with that.

» When I was drug czar, we worked real hard to stop first-time use. That’s your best hope for success. It’s a heart-breaking issue. It’s an issue that will never end. You go to these drug centers, it’s just one terrible story after another. We were just trying to contain it.

» I’m not one of those who believe you can force things to happen. You just have to have the guts and the will and the strength to go through a window when it’s open. Sometimes, you can’t go through it, but when I saw my break, I usually took a shot at it.

» When I left public life, I knew I would never return to it, even more than I knew I wouldn’t return to running a restaurant or to the classroom. When I’m done with something, I just go on to something else. It’s always tomorrow with me.

Tags: Politics & Law, Florida Icon, Government/Politics & Law

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