Florida Gov. Bob Martinez (R), who lost his bid for reelection earlier this month, has emerged as President Bush's choice to lead the federal war against drugs, administration sources said yesterday.
Martinez, a former Tampa mayor who switched parties earlier in his political career, would succeed William J. Bennett, who in turn is in line to take over the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee.
Sources said that Martinez, Florida's first Hispanic governor, was the only real contender for the job of director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. No announcement is expected before Bush returns from his eight-day trip to Europe and the Middle East.
Martinez, who turns 56 next month, was elected governor of Florida in 1986, the second Republican to win the post since Reconstruction. His term was marred by a controversy over raising taxes and his decision to call a special legislative session to enact restrictions on abortion, which failed.
Martinez was soundly defeated on Nov. 6 by former senator Lawton Chiles (D), 57 to 43 percent, despite extensive help from Bush, who campaigned in Florida on several occasions. Jeb Bush, the president's son, served as Martinez's commerce secretary in 1987-88 and was his 1990 campaign chairman.
Republicans considered the Florida race one of the three most important gubernatorial contests in the nation this year because of the governor's role in redistricting. But Martinez's mistakes, coupled with Chiles's public appeal, turned the state election into no contest.
Martinez's term ends in January.
Bennett announced his resignation Nov. 8 after 20 months in the job. He will stay on until the end of the month.
His national drug strategy targeted Miami as one of several high-intensity drug-trafficking areas in the country, making it eligible for special federal assistance. He also sought to make the District a showpiece of federal anti-drug activity, but blamed lack of cooperation by Mayor Marion Barry for his failure to show more success here.
Martinez made drug control a centerpiece of his reelection campaign, taking a tough line against drug pushers. He is more mild-mannered than the controversial Bennett, whose stints as Bush's drug policy director and as President Ronald Reagan's education secretary earned him a reputation for confrontation and outspokenness.
Martinez is a former teacher and teachers union organizer. He was elected mayor of Tampa in 1978 as a Democrat. He later switched parties and ran for governor in 1986, winning handily.
Martinez was unavailable for comment in Tallahassee yesterday. The Associated Press quoted his spokesman, Jon Peck, as saying, "At this point, everything is just speculation. . . . I don't think the governor is talking about any of his future plans."