An Evening of Politics with Mel Martinez
Senator Martinez entertains and informs in this wide-ranging political discussion based on historical incidents and current events, including the economy, foreign policy, healthcare reform, immigration reform, and the future of the Republican Party.
A Sense of Belonging: The Journey From Castro's Cuba to the U.S. Senate
Senator Martinez shares the story of his life, as reflected in his book A Sense of Belonging, tracing his roots in Sagua La Grande, Cuba to the US, and eventually to the US Senate.
The first Cuban-American to serve in the U.S. Senate, Mel Martinez embodies the transformative power of the American dream. Born in Cuba, Martinez came to the United States as part of “Operation Peter Pan,” a humanitarian program led by the Catholic Church that helped more than 14,000 Cuban children escape Communist Cuba. At age 15, Martinez arrived in the U.S. with only one suitcase and lived in refugee camps and generous foster families until his own family relocated to Orlando, Florida.
Determined to build a successful life in America, Martinez struggled to help his family assimilate while
pursuing his own family and career. Martinez worked his way through school, earning his undergraduate and law degrees from Florida State University. Upon graduating from Law School Martinez returned to Orlando—the community that adopted him years earlier—and went to work with a law firm that included Orlando’s legendary Mayor, Bill Frederick.
Eager to give back to the community that had provided countless opportunities for him, Martinez became involved in various youth, business and civic organizations. Martinez served on numerous Boards including: Chairman of the Orlando Housing Authority, Chairman of the Orlando Utilities Commission, Vice Chairman of Catholic Charities, among others. The first popularly elected Republican to serve as the Mayor of Orange County, Martinez quickly earned a reputation as a bold leader, a tax-cutter, and a champion of law enforcement and education.
As Mayor, Martinez cut property taxes by tens of millions of dollars, increased funding for public safety and instituted what has since become known as the “Martinez Doctrine”—which were unprecedented steps to ensure that development would not continue to put pressure on already crowded schools. Martinez made momentous strides in bringing affordable housing and urban services to Orlando, propelling his career to the national stage. President George W. Bush called Martinez to Washington to serve in his Cabinet as the nation’s 12th Housing and Urban Development Secretary.
As Secretary, Martinez took over the embattled agency and quickly became known for cutting millions by eliminating fraud, waste and abuse, and ensuring taxpayers’ money was spent responsibly. Under his leadership, HUD was recognized with multiple awards for exemplary achievements in providing
contracting opportunities to small, disadvantaged and woman-owned businesses.
After serving three years as the HUD Secretary, Martinez returned to Florida to seek the Republican
nomination for the United States Senate. He became the first Cuban-American to serve in the U.S. Senate, playing an active role in shaping policies and legislation. Martinez served on pivotal committees: the Armed Services committee, the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs committee, and the Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee. He also served as the ranking member of the Senate’s Special Committee on Aging and the Seapower Subcommittee.