The name Bob Martinez carries significant weight in politics, locally and statewide, given he was both mayor of Tampa and Florida Governor.
Martinez also served a stint in President George H.W. Bush's cabinet, and he named a young Jeb Bush Florida Secretary of Commerce. Then there's this: Martinez considered former President Ronald Reagan a friend, both before and after the 40th president persuaded Martinez to leave the Democratic Party and become a Republican in 1983.
But come this January, the 77-year-old Martinez will have been in private industry for 20 years since his last political position, when he was director of National Drug Control policy under Bush. Those 20 years equal the time he spent in public office.
The milestone matters to Martinez, a onetime teacher and teacher's union leader. That's because while he's proud of his public service accomplishments, he considers himself a business leader first and a politico second. Martinez is currently a senior policy adviser with Holland & Knight, a Tampa-based law firm with 17 offices worldwide. He's also co-chair of the firm's Florida Government Advocacy team, a prominent lobbying group with a strong Tallahassee presence.
Martinez recently sat down with the Business Review to talk about his political life and his post-political life.
Rough start: Population for the city of Tampa had dropped in 1960, 1970 and 1980, says Martinez, and when he was elected to replace former Mayor William Poe, the fiscal situation was dire. “The city had no money when I took office,” he says. “We really had to manage the funds.”
Bold approach: One of the first lessons Martinez learned in office was population decreases negatively impacted nearly every goal. “It's hard to recruit businesses,” he says, “when you can't show you are growing.” To boost population, the city annexed more than 1,000 acres in Hillsborough County that later became New Tampa. Even more people moved to the city when Martinez initiated a process that ultimately cut city property taxes from nearly 10% to less than 5%. “Life returned to downtown Tampa,” Martinez says. “It was an exciting period.”
Great communicator: Tampa attracted nationwide attention for its redevelopment success. President Reagan invited Martinez to the White House in spring 1983. “'In many ways,'” Martinez says the president told him, “'you and I are on the same path.'” Reagan was talking about low taxes, but he also told Martinez about his early days as a Democrat and union leader in Hollywood. Reagan encouraged Martinez to switch parties.
Tough call: In 1987 Martinez ran into some well-documented political trouble as governor. He led the Legislature to pass a sales tax on services, a hike so widely panned that within two months Martinez called a special session to repeal it. The tax was repealed, but the damage reverberated for years. “You don't get to go back and do things over again,” Martinez says. “But probably the wiser thing would have been to ask for an extension and study the issue. Maybe that would have been the prudent move.”
Grade Scott: Martinez believes Gov. Rick Scott has done well with what he has, considering the economy, and he has grown into the job. “He said he would rein in the cost of government,” says Martinez. “And he has done that.”
City slicker: Martinez enjoys the handshake and story swapping of in-person meetings. “In the morning I have to put a tie on and go do something,” he says. “The idea of working from home would never work.”
Lobby large: Martinez isn't an attorney. But he works with lawyers at Holland & Knight to help clients navigate state government. “It's a great deal of variety,” Martinez says. “It's a huge array of clients.”
Borrowed time: Martinez supports term limits for political office holders. “You shouldn't make public office an employment center,” says Martinez. “You should do your term and move on.”