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Life After Congress: Mel Martinez

Since playing a key role in an immigration overhaul effort that failed in 2007, former Sen. Mel Martinez said the biggest change in the debate since then is a shift in rhetoric.

“Commentators on the right seem to be changed,” the Florida Republican told CQ Roll Call. “You just get the sense that some people are taking a much lower tone of voice on the issue.”

Some of those same personalities who pretty well skewered him back then are now giving space for much more flexibility on immigration, he said.

Post-skewering, life after Congress has been good for Martinez, who bid farewell to his colleagues in 2009, the year before his term expired. Back then, he said it was time to return to Florida and to his family after 12 years of public service.

“I had a daughter going through a divorce, a cousin with a brain tumor and a mother who only had a few more years to live. I had a boy finishing high school,” he said. After resigning, he went to work for the law firm DLA Piper.

With all that going on, he didn’t want to have to spend another year away, worrying about legislation and re-election, he said.

Nowadays, the Cuban immigrant draws on his experience as the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under George W. Bush to produce policy recommendations as the co-chairman of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Housing Commission.

The organization provides a think-tank-like atmosphere, which, he says, is much more conducive to getting things done than the current state of affairs in Congress.

“The BPC provides an environment where you can actually come together without the: ‘I’m up for re-election this cycle,’” he said. “No one is getting lobbied as the process is going on, and the media’s not asking a lot of questions.”

The absence of re-election prospects helps keep conversations productive in a way that’s not true in Congress, he said. “I think it’s the usual suspects that get talked about: The way in which folks are elected to the House invites that concentration of people of one idea or the other.”

Martinez also works for JP Morgan, where he is chairman of the Southeast & Latin America regions and chairman of the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, the philanthropic wing of the financial institution.

“I’m loving life. I have grandkids I love being with, I have time on the weekends, I don’t have to go speak somewhere necessarily,” he said. “Life is good.”

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