At age 75, Bill Nelson is attempting to do what only three others have done in Florida’s 173 years of statehood – get elected to a 4th term in the United States Senate. The last person to accomplish that was Spessard Holland, a one-term governor who was appointed to the Senate in 1946 and served until 1971. One year after Holland’s retirement, Bill Nelson was elected to the Florida House of Representatives. With the exception of a 5 year gap following his loss in the 1990 governor’s race, Nelson has served in public office ever since. Six years in the state house, 12 years in Congress, six years as State Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner and then the U.S. Senate since 2001.
When Nelson’s term ends in January 2019, that will be 42 out of the last 47 years in elected office – putting him up there with Congressman/Senator Claude Kirk (43 years) and Congressman Bill Young (42 years) as Florida’s longest serving elected officials.
Nelson’s longevity in office is an issue raised by Governor Rick Scott, who is running to replace Nelson. Florida’s constitutionally-mandated term limits restrict candidates running for Governor, the state Cabinet or the legislature to 8 years in office. There is no such restriction for federal office. Scott has called for the passage of federal terms limits and indicated he would only serve two-terms if elected to the Senate.
Scott’s campaign has run multiple commercials hitting Nelson as a career politician. The latest compares Nelson to a 1978 Pinto car, the year Nelson first went to Washington.
4 Decades of Salaries
Do the math and what taxpayers have paid Nelson for a career in politics quickly adds up – more than $4 million in salary.
Currently Nelson makes $174,000 a year as a Senator, plus another $50,000 a year from the state retirement system. That’s $224,000 a year, more than 4 and half times the median household income in Florida.
Nelson hasn’t always made $174k as a Senator. During his career in federal office, he’s voted to increase his salary 12 separate times. Since 2001 when he was elected to the Senate, that’s a nearly $30,000 raise – about $1,600 a year. In contrast, after a successful business career Rick Scott hasn’t taken a salary as governor during his nearly 8 years in office.
“As usual, Bill Nelson is hoping that Floridians will only pay attention to what he has to say, and not what he has actually done – which is vote time and time again in favor of raising his own salary so he can collect more than $4 million from hardworking taxpayers,” said Lauren Schenone, the Scott Campaign Press Secretary.
From now until November, voters will have the opportunity to examine Nelson’s record to see if the investment (his salary) is worth the return. However, in a state, where the population has tripled since Nelson was first elected to office, a fair question may be – how long is too long for this career politician?