Martinez queried sharply, but senators expect his confirmation as 'drug czar'


WASHINGTON -- Former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez, in line to become the new coordinator of the nation's drug policy, faced stiff questioning from senators yesterday about his credentials for the job and his drug-fighting record.

In the opening day of confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrats asked Mr. Martinez whether President Bush provided him the job as a "political payoff."

"I'm not sure you are the right man for the job. The burden of proof is on you," said Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum, D-Ohio.

Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., said in his opening statement, "I want to make sure this is not a political payoff."

Mr. Martinez, 56, a Republican governor who lost a re-election bid in November, said he sought the "drug czar" post because of his long commitment to combating drugs.

"To me, this is more than a job. It is a mission," Mr. Martinez said. "Had I not been offered this position, quite frankly, I probably would have been out of public life."

Republicans and Democrats on the Judiciary Committee generally appeared satisfied with Mr. Martinez' responses and predicted he would win Senate confirmation in March to become director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

A second day of testimony from law enforcement officials and drug treatment providers was scheduled for today.

"Everyone who wants treatment ought to have it," Mr. Martinez said during the hearing.

But Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said Florida's drug strategy under Mr. Martinez was "characterized by the same imbalance that mars the national drug plan."

Mr. Kennedy displayed charts he said showed that the governor pursued an expensive and ineffective program to double the capacity of the state's prisons, while supporting minimal spending increases for treatment and prevention. "At the end of his four-year administration, Florida ranked first in the nation in incarceration, but 21st in the nation in per capita funding for substance abuse treatment, and 32nd in per capita funding for prevention," Mr. Kennedy said.

Mr. Martinez questioned Mr. Kennedy's figures and said drug expenditures failed to reflect total spending on prevention and abuse because they did not include new prenatal care programs and expansion of Medicare during his term.

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