Congressman Kendrick Meek to seek Senate seat

Published: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 2:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 13, 2009 at 2:13 p.m.

MIAMI — Democratic U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, who led the effort to put class size limits in the state constitution, is running for the U.S. Senate.

Meek, 42, announced his candidacy Tuesday at his suburban Miami home after listing a resume that included his service as a Florida Highway Patrol trooper, eight years in the state Legislature and three terms in Congress.

“Public service and the commitment to making life better for the people of the state of Florida has been my mission,” Meek said.

He’s the first major candidate in the 2010 race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Mel Martinez.

Meek began public service shortly after graduating from Florida A&M University. After five years as a trooper, including two protecting then-Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay, Meek was elected to the state House at age 27. He was elected to the state Senate four years later and in 2002 won the congressional seat his mother, Carrie Meek, held for 10 years.

As a senator, he staged a sit-in protest in then-Gov. Jeb Bush’s office complex over a proposal to strip affirmative action protections from state contracting and university admissions.

He and Bush were later at odds over the class-size amendment that passed in 2002. Meek led the petition drive to get the measure on the ballot, and then traveled the state to promote it as Bush campaigned heavily against it during his re-election campaign.

The amendment requires class sizes of no more than 18 students in kindergarten through third grade, 22 in fourth through eighth grade, and 25 in high school, effective with the 2010-11 school year. The Legislature also passed a law to phase in the requirements.

Meek cited the class-size campaign and the protest as examples of taking action for everyday people.

“I don’t consider myself part of the Washington establishment,” Meek said. “People know me as a person of the people.”

Meek is in his fourth term representing parts of Miami-Dade and Broward counties. He sits on the powerful Ways & Means Committee, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. He served on the Armed Services Committee his first three terms.

He also has a close relationship with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who asked him to serve on the “30 Something Working Group” when Democrats were still in the minority. The group seeks creative ways to deliver House policy messages to younger voters. Meek’s most popular prop at the time was the “Republican Rubber Stamp” — an oversized replica ink stamp that he would bring to the House floor as he accused Republican members of blindly following their leadership.

“Every chance he has had he’s elevated the conversation and amplified the concerns of working families in Florida,” said Democratic state Sen. Tony Hill, who as a state representative joined Meek during the sit-in at Bush’s office. “I’m deliciously excited.”

Now that Democrats are in the majority, Meek still has the rubber stamp in his office as a reminder not to make the mistake of blindly following leadership.

“I’ve been in Congress for six years and I’ve been a part of the change,” Meek said. “I was a part of moving the Congress into a new direction.”

If he succeeds, Meek would be the first black candidate elected to statewide office in Florida.

“I told him it was time for Florida to realize that they have one of its citizens here who could go as far as Barack Obama did,” said Carrie Meek, the grandchild of a slave and a sharecropper’s daughter who became one of the first black Floridians elected to Congress since Reconstruction.

Meek’s announcement will likely be quickly followed by other candidates. Democrats considering a run include state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd and state Sen. Dan Gelber. Gelber is likely to announce plans to run late next week.

Republicans considering a run include Attorney General Bill McCollum, who unsuccessfully ran for Senate in 2000 and 2004; former House speakers Allan Bense and Marco Rubio; and U.S. Reps. Connie Mack and Vern Buchanan.

“Congressman Meek’s announcement confirms what Republicans have been saying, and Democrats have been trying to avoid, which is that Democrats will have to deal with a very competitive primary in Florida next year,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brian Walsh said in an e-mail. “This will be a competitive Senate race regardless but as more Democrats begin to enter this race that will not help their party’s efforts in the long run.”

Martinez announced in December that he wouldn’t seek a second six-year term. Bush had considered running for the seat, but said last week he decided against it.

AP Political Reporter Brendan Farrington reported from Tallahassee

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