Column: Tampa and Florida politics and a dog named Mascotte

Mascotte was the family dog of Gov. Bob Martinez and his wife, Mary Jane Marino. [State Archives of Florida]

The passing of George H.W. Bush has unleashed a flood of nostalgia about his presidency and a lost sense of honor and dignity. The Bush presidency, 1989-1993, overlapped Gov. Bob Martinez’s term in Tallahassee, 1987-1991.

George and Barbara Bush seem at first glance very different from Bob and Mary Jane Martinez. The Bush and Pierce families were New England patricians, Episcopalian and educated at elite schools. Bob Martinez and Mary Jane Marino grew up in West Tampa and Ybor City, grandchildren of Spanish and Sicilian immigrants. They attended the University of Tampa and the University of South Florida. He taught social studies in Tampa while Mary Jane became a librarian at King High School.

The Reagan revolution brought the two families together. In 1980, Ronald Reagan selected George H.W. Bush as his running mate, and the team triumphed. In Tampa, Bob Martinez was elected mayor in a non-partisan election.

In the spring of 1983, Mayor Martinez received a fateful phone call. President Reagan invited him to the White House. “I paid my own way!” Martinez interjected during an interview. Arriving at the White House, he was escorted to the Oval Office. Vice President Bush was also there. The president had been well briefed. “Bobby,” the leader of the Free World began, “You’re a lot like me. We were union leaders. I was once a Democrat. You were head of a teachers’ union. We would sure love for you to become a Republican.”

In July 1983, Tampa’s First Family strolled into the Hillsborough County voter’s registration office and formally switched parties.

In 1986, Bob Martinez ran for governor, but the odds seemed stacked against a Republican who was a Hispanic Catholic from Democratic-leaning Tampa. He joked that in the Panhandle he was…

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.