President Bush yesterday nominated Florida Gov. Bob Martinez as the nation's drug policy director, but the choice quickly drew criticism from congressional Democrats who said the former labor organizer and restaurateur lacked stature and background to lead the anti-drug effort.

In one term as governor, Martinez, a Republican who was defeated for reelection last month by former Sen. Lawton Chiles (D), developed a reputation as a hard-line conservative who stiffened the sentences for drug crimes and nearly doubled the number of prison beds in the state.

In announcing the nomination, Bush praised the 57-year-old governor's record, noting that Martinez had "signed more than 130 death warrants" and had earned a "battlefield promotion" to head the drug war.

But Democratic congressional staffers predicted yesterday that Martinez's nomination could meet resistance from some senators who fear Bush is turning the drug job into political patronage, an impression heightened by the designation yesterday of outgoing drug policy director William J. Bennett as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which must confirm Martinez to the $107,300-a-year post, said he is "disappointed" with the choice, charging that the Florida Republican "lacks the background and record to suggest that he is well-suited for this task."

While Martinez is likely to be confirmed, one Judiciary Committee staff member said, "he's perceived up here as a loser . . . He's going to get some pretty tough questioning."

Some critics also charged that Martinez's law-and-order approach gives short-shrift to treatment and prevention, a critique also frequently leveled against Bennett. "What we don't need in the next drug czar is someone whose principal recommendations are to put people in jails or simply put them to death," said House Government Operations Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.).

Jeb Bush, the president's son, served briefly in Martinez's cabinet as well as co-chairman of his reelection campaign, and administration officials have sought to dispel speculation that the connection had anything to do with the nomination. Along with Martinez's aides, they have noted that Martinez has a longstanding interest in the drug issue and headed a National Governors' Association task force on substance abuse.

In a brief appearance before reporters, Martinez said he believes in a "holistic approach" to the drug issue that includes treatment and prevention as well as a tough criminal justice system.

But he declined to say whether he wanted to make any adjustments in current federal strategy.

"Until I have the opportunity to meet with the staff {and} meet at length with Bill Bennett, it's very difficult for me to stand here and say which way it ought to go," he said.

Even Martinez's closest allies acknowledge that he will be a marked change from Bennett, whose combative personality and penchant for controversial comments made him one of the higher profile positions in the Bush administration.

Martinez, by contrast, was known as a low-key governor and wooden speaker who was more interested in the intricacies of state policy than the public limelight.

"I would not expect the governor to do this job from a press conference lecturn every day," said John "Mac" Stipanovich, Martinez's longtime political mentor and former chief of staff in Tallahassee. "He's much more of a hands-on manager who revels in the details of public policy . . . If you're asking me if he's going to be a circus star performer, the answer is no."

Some administration officials have contended that this will work to Martinez's advantage. As drug policy director, Martinez would head a relatively small, $17 million-a-year agency with about 100 employees and limited authority.

The director essentially coordinates actions of more than 30 federal agencies involved in the anti-drug effort, and the sometimes dreary bureaucratic task held little interest for Bennett.

Bennett's "bully-pulpit stuff and rhetoric was fine, but that's not what we need right now," one federal anti-drug official said. "If Martinez is someone who will tend to the machinations of the bureaucracy, so much the better."

Martinez has an unorthodox political pedigree. A conservative who became a hero to Christian fundamentalists for his uncompromising antiabortion stance, Martinez began his political career as a moderate Democrat who backed Jimmy Carter over Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential race.

The grandson of Spanish immigrants and son of a waiter, Martinez grew up in a lower middle-class family and became a high school civics teacher in Tampa after receiving a master's degree in labor relations from the University of Illinois.

As the local teacher's union president, Martinez asked members to resign in support of a statewide teachers' strike in 1968, prompting subsequent political opponents to accuse him of leading "an illegal strike." He ran a Spanish restaurant before being elected Tampa mayor as a Democrat in 1978.

But Martinez switched parties in 1983, reportedly because his political advisers told him that would improve his chance of gaining higher office. The strategy paid off, and Republican Martinez was elected by a lopsided margin in 1986.

As governor, his tenure was marked by frequent battles with the Democratic-controlled legislature and controversy over such moves as asking a state prosecutor to investigate possible obscenity in the lyrics of songs presented by the rap group 2 Live Crew.

Martinez imposed drug testing of state employees and launched programs to suspend driver's licenses of drug offenders and stiffen penalties for selling drugs in schoolyards. Despite criticism of his record on treatment, Martinez's aides say spending for such programs during his term increased from $47 million to $118 million.

The newest state estimate, however, is that more than 3,000 drug addicts are on waiting lists of as long as two months to enter Florida treatment programs.