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Nancy Smith

'Been-Around' Bill Nelson: Senator Lost in Space

March 15, 2018 - 6:00am
Bill Nelson
Bill Nelson

Bill Nelson, the senator whose name fewer than 50 percent of Floridians know but who's been in or hanging around elected office since Richard Nixon was president, tells us he can still be fresh and new.

Anybody believe him?

A poll last fall concluded more than half of Florida’s voters -- 49 percent -- don’t know enough about the man who has been their U.S. senator for 17 years to form an opinion about the job he’s doing.

“I saw this number and I was flabbergasted,” said Michael Binder, faculty director of the Public Opinion Research Lab at the University of North Florida, which released the poll in October 2017.

Fresh and new? Even the left-leaning Miami New Times has lost patience with their man, calling him "the scarecrow-made-from-used-mulch that is Bill Nelson." That was after Nelson, 75, voted to reauthorize the federal government's massive, unconstitutional power to let the National Security Agency spy on Americans without a warrant. (He may just have been following Debbie Wasserman Schultz's lead, because the Weston Democrat voted the same way in the House.)

I Beg to Differ

Said the New Times, "Nelson -- Florida's most powerful Democrat -- voted to extend Section 702 of the federal Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for six years," meaning "Donald Trump and the pool of starved piranhas that work in his Cabinet will continue to have access to the most powerful government spying apparatus in human history." The bill passed 65-34, and the media reported Trump was gleefully rubbing his hands.

Ask yourself, do you know where you were in 1972? How much water flowed under the bridge in your life since 1972, when Nixon was still proclaiming his innocence in Watergate? Bill Nelson was feeding at the public trough then, he's feeding at it now and he fed at it most of the years in between.

Nelson, a lawyer who never practiced any law that I could find, served in Vietnam, then was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 1972. He served three terms there; then served in the U.S. House in 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1988 and remained in the House until 1991. Only reason he didn't stay on is because he decided to run for governor. U.S. Sen. Lawton Chiles beat him, so he had to wait to for 1994 to find another election. 

He ran and won as state treasurer, insurance commissioner and fire marshal -- then a Cabinet post -- in 1994 and 1998. In 2000 he ran and won a U.S. Senate seat, won it again in 2006 and again in 2012. 

But in all that time ... all that time ... the only thing he's remembered for? The only thing? Not for any "Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal" (BHAG). Not for a single piece of legislation you've ever heard of. No. Bill Nelson, who grew up in Melbourne, was selected as one of only two members of Congress ever to orbit the Earth, was a payload specialist on space shuttle Columbia's STS-61-C mission from Jan. 12-18, 1986.

Astronaut Bill Nelson
Astronaut Bill Nelson

You would think, given that honor, 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.

Yet, when Nelson had a chance to keep NASA in Florida and the Kennedy Space Center in President Obama's face, he wouldn't risk it. Anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 Florida jobs 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."

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. All that time in public office. All the opportunity to rise at the same rate Florida has risen. Nearly 50 years of opportunity and what do we have? Accomplishment invisible.

How does he have anything fresh and new to show us? He demonstrated his logic Wednesday.

Apparently either he forgot he is running for reelection or he doesn’t remember he’s not running to be the senator from New York. In an odd move during a committee hearing Wednesday morning, Nelson "advocated for massive tax increases in order to pay for infrastructure."

If this plan of raising taxes sounds familiar, it’s because liberal Sen. Chuck Schumer proposed the same plan last week. So, Nelson’s great idea for hardworking Floridians is to repeal the wildly successful tax cuts that have already led to economic growth, new jobs and massive investments in workers.

The man doesn't change: “Bill Nelson’s reelection strategy seems to be voting against bigger paychecks, bonuses and more jobs, and instead supporting higher taxes for Florida families,” said Katie Martin, communications director for the National Republican Senate Committee. 

“Polling has shown that a majority of voters can’t name a single Bill Nelson accomplishment in the Senate," but Martin feels dead certain, "His idea of raising taxes and taking away bonuses and higher pay will stick come this November.”


Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith



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