Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Tribute to Senator Mel Martinez

Posted on September 9, 2009

Mr. President, I often think how the best stories in the Senate are not the political stories. We can all recount them -- Senator Inouye's bravery in World War II, leading to a Congressional Medal of Honor; the former majority leader, Bill Frist, performing open heart surgery on General Petraeus when he was accidentally shot in Fort Campbell; Ben Nighthorse Campbell on the Olympic judo team; Jim Bunning in the Hall of Fame; Jim Inhofe circling the world in an airplane the way Wiley Post did; Ted Stevens flying the first cargo plane into Beijing in 1944 at the end of World War II; and then after the elections of 2004, we had Ken Salazar from Colorado, 15th-generation American, whose family came to this country so early; we had Barack Obama with his incredible story; and then we had Mel Martinez in the same year. Despite the emotion of all those stories, the story of Mel Martinez stands out to me. As the Senator from Illinois said, imagine growing up in Cuba -- a good life. Not a rich life, but a good life -- so well recounted in this book, "A Sense Of Belonging," that Senator Martinez wrote. Suddenly the Castro regime comes, it is 1958, and one day your parents put you on an airplane and send you to Miami, not knowing whether they will ever see you again. Then foster homes, then bringing your parents over, going to Florida State, meeting Kitty, becoming the first Hispanic lawyer, I guess, in Orange County, and then the mayor and then a Cabinet member, then Senator, then Republican National Committee chairman -- what a terrific story, so well told in this book. One thing about our country that is unique is we believe anything is possible. The rest of the world looks at us and thinks that we Americans are very naive, but constantly we prove that anything is possible, over and over again -- often with the election of a President from unusual circumstances, as we just had. But the story of Mel Martinez, his escape from Cuba's communism, his coming from that, speaking no English, to what he has already accomplished, and now moving on to yet another career, this one in private life, is an inspiration for our country. He has enriched this body. He says in his book: “My journey has taught me that it is not an empty cliche that this country is a land where dreams can and do come true.” His life shows that. We have enjoyed his friendship. We appreciate his example for the country, and we wish him and Kitty well for the next chapter in their lives.