Who convinced Sen. Bill Nelson he can ride his NASA experience to re-election? You want to vote for this three-term Democrat, do what you've got to do -- but, please, don't vote for him because you think he's some kind of hero for NASA and the Space Coast.
Somebody in his camp apparently thinks Floridians have very short memories.
Nelson released his first digital ad of the 2018 campaign on Tuesday, with glimpses of a dashing younger man floating in a space capsule, as he giddily focused on his trip aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia in January 1986.
"In Florida, we don't just reach for the stars, we travel to them. I know. I flew on the Space Shuttle," Nelson says as the old clips roll. "And when I looked back at our planet, I didn't see political divisions, I saw how we're all in this together."
Pandering for votes, using a connection that frankly should bring him shame, not admiration.
In case Nelson's advisors are right, and you do have a short memory, or weren't around at the time, let's look at a few facts. Nothing I haven't said before, but in light of the ad, it needs to come out again.
Nelson was the one senator in a position to save 7,000-plus NASA jobs for the Space Coast when President Barack Obama's administration decreased the some $18 billion funding for space-flight vessels by splitting the money between a more Mars-centric program and an increased budget for climate research projects.
In the words of U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Rockledge at the time, "... This amounts to a slow death of our nation's human spaceflight program, a retreat from America's decades of leadership in space, ending the economic advantages that our space program has brought to the U.S. and ceding space to the Russians, Chinese and others."
President Obama's plan easily won the approval of Congress because the president promised to spread the space budget's largesse around, giving work to contractors in other states besides Florida.
Did that ring our senator's bell? Where was he while all this was going on? Where was Bill Nelson, who grew up in Melbourne, was selected as one of only two members of Congress ever to orbit the Earth, whose party label gave him frequent access to Barack Obama?
You would think, once given the honor to fly as an American astronaut, he could have saved NASA as a true government entity for the Space Coast. Or tried. You would have thought he could rise to the occasion.
It killed me that he never got in Obama's face. Never took the risk.
I remember when he spoke to a group in Brevard County -- instead of defending the Space Coast, he made excuses for the president.
“The president made a mistake," Nelson said. "He made a mistake because he did not stand up and lay out his budget for the Space Program and outline what his goal is, which is Mars, and how we should go about getting there for the Space Program. The president should have used the word 'restructure' not 'cancel' with regard to Constellation.”
The thousands of jobs that evaporated because we were no longer looking to set up science labs on the Moon, we were going to Mars ... and Nelson knew by the time we got there, most of the jobs that send up the rockets would have gone to other states. As Obama said in 2009, Florida can't have it all, "everybody wants a piece of the action."
Who cares what other states want when Florida is the world leader?
It took the Sunshine State more than five decades to build its network of know-how. You're looking for aeronautical and space development? The Space Coast has the finest skilled labor in the world. It has bought-and-paid-for infrastructure, hundreds of supporting businesses and industries, and it has communities that understand how to ride out the rough weather that military rigidity and political whim sometimes whip up around them.
Nobody, no region in America or in the world, does space better. And Bill Nelson knows that.
Now, in a better economy, NASA is rebuilding, if only slowly, thanks to international business and private-venture space projects. But none of it is thanks to Sen. Bill Nelson.
There was a time when I thought Sen. Nelson was going to come through. In 2010 he and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas supported Sen. John Rockefeller's bill to pump more money into the Space Program and keep the International Space Station open until 2020. But that was it. That was his whole offense. He was shooting a cap pistol when he needed an Uzi.
And in the end, Obama never wavered from his decision to end NASA's moon program, turn over space transportation to commercial companies, jump-start technologies needed for future human exploration of Mars and redirect some of the former space funding to climate change.
The bottom line for me is, when an elected official knows the fight is right, when the stakes are as high as they were on Florida's Space Coast in 2010 and 2011, and when Bill Nelson had more power than anyone else to fight and win, he owed his constituents everything he's got. Nothing less.
Bill Nelson's first digital ad of the 2018 Senate campaign is a disgrace.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith
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