Word just came down the wire that Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida, who had already announced that he wouldn't run for re-election, is stepping down early. My first reaction to this news was, WTF? It makes no sense. None at all. The senator offered the usual explanation for such out-of-left-field moves in politics: "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," he wrote.
But, come on now, who believes that crap anymore? No one actually steps down because of "faith" or to "spend more time with family" or "the fishing is good this time of year" or "I've got this '69 Camaro Rally Sport fastback on cinder blocks in my garage, and I'd really like to get around to restoring it." Or whatever the lame, half-hearted excuse. None of them make any sense, and what's worse, in this day and age, when the electorate is more informed than ever, these excuses insult our intelligence.
So, what's the point here? Well, when I ask "cui bono?" I come up with a pretty good explanation. With Martinez retiring, it will be up to Gov. Charlie Crist, who is running for Martinez's Senate seat, to name a replacement. This puts Crist in an impossible position. If he puts in some drooling, mindless supporter who will serve out the term and then leave the seat open for Crist himself in 2010, he looks like a conniving, Machiavellian politician. If he puts in a competent politician, said politico will want the seat for himself in 2010. And of course, if he nominates himself, he comes off looking like a jackass. There's no good option.
And that, of course, is great news for Marco Rubio, the former House Speaker of the Florida state legislature who is running for Martinez's seat as well, competing against Crist in the Republican primary by running to his right. Rubio has already picked up the endorsements of far-right politicians like Jim DeMint and Mike Huckabee, but with Martinez's early retirement, he may just have picked up his most important endorsement yet.
Update: One thing I certainly should have mentioned in this piece -- Martinez said a couple months ago that he supported Crist.