Crist Won't Appoint Self to U.S. Senate; He Faces a Delicate Task in Naming a Successor to Mel Martinez

Article excerpt

Byline: BRANDON LARRABEE

TALLAHASSEE -- Over the winter and spring, as Gov. Charlie Crist was among those weighing an entrance into the race for U.S. Senate, a rumor was circulating among the politicos and media figures in state government.

Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., would make an early exit and Crist would either appoint himself to the seat or resign himself and allow Jeff Kottkamp, moving up from the lieutenant governor's spot, to tap Crist for the Senate.

Martinez would get a seat in academia, perhaps as a university president, and Kottkamp would get increased visibility for his race for attorney general -- or governor, if he liked.

It looked briefly Friday that the rumors might be true, as Martinez suddenly announced he was stepping down before his term ends.

"My priorities have always been my faith, my family and my country, and at this stage in my life, and after nearly 12 years of public service in Florida and Washington, it's time I return to Florida and my family," Martinez said.

But shortly after the announcement, Crist and his staff made it known there would be no self-appointing and no political musical chairs leading to the governor, now an official candidate for Martinez's seat, taking over early.

That left Crist with a nuanced choice to make: selecting a Republican comfortable with a 16- or 17-month assignment who will not grow attached enough to the seat to join a race that already includes Crist and former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio on the GOP side.

A choice that reflects positively on Crist wouldn't hurt.

In a statement Friday, the governor gave few indications of what qualities he would look for in a senator and essentially no timeline beyond "soon."

"We will immediately begin the process of selecting an appropriate replacement to serve the remainder of Senator Martinez's term and I look forward to making an announcement in the coming weeks," he said.

Political observers said Crist made the right move by deciding not to appoint himself or arrange an appointment. …