|United States Senator
January 3, 2001
Serving with Marco Rubio
|Preceded by||Connie Mack|
|Chairperson of the Senate Aging Committee|
January 3, 2013 – January 3, 2015
|Preceded by||Herb Kohl|
|Succeeded by||Susan Collins|
|Treasurer of Florida|
January 3, 1995 – January 3, 2001
|Preceded by||Tom Gallagher|
|Succeeded by||Tom Gallagher|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 11th district
January 3, 1983 – January 3, 1991
|Preceded by||Dan Mica|
|Succeeded by||Jim Bacchus|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Florida's 9th district
January 3, 1979 – January 3, 1983
|Preceded by||Louis Frey|
|Succeeded by||Michael Bilirakis|
|Born||Clarence William Nelson II
September 29, 1942
Miami, Florida, U.S.
|Spouse(s)||Grace Cavert (1972–present)|
|Alma mater||Yale University (B.A.)
University of Virginia (J.D.)
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1965–1968, 1970–1971 (Reserve)
Clarence William "Bill" Nelson II (born September 29, 1942) is an American politician and member of the Democratic Party who serves as the senior United States Senator from Florida, in office since 2001. Nelson began his career in the Florida House of Representatives, where he served from 1973 to 1979. He then served in the United States House of Representatives from 1979 to 1991 and in January 1986, Nelson became the second sitting member of the United States Congress to fly in space. He flew as a Payload Specialist on the Space Shuttle Columbia.
He retired from Congress in 1990 to unsuccessfully run for Governor of Florida. He then served as Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner and Fire Marshal of Florida from 1995 to 2001. In 2000, Nelson ran for and was elected to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by retiring Republican Senator Connie Mack III. He was re-elected in 2006 with 60% of the vote and in 2012 with 55% of the vote. In the Senate, he is generally considered a social and economic liberal.
- 1 Early and personal life
- 2 Spaceflight
- 3 Early political career
- 4 United States Senate
- 5 Political positions
- 5.1 Central America Free Trade Agreement
- 5.2 Estate tax
- 5.3 Withholding funding from the CIA
- 5.4 Health care
- 5.5 Abortion rights and stem cell research
- 5.6 Space exploration
- 5.7 Don't Ask Don't Tell
- 5.8 Same-sex marriage
- 5.9 Government spending
- 5.10 Taxes
- 5.11 Foreign aid
- 5.12 Gun control
- 5.13 Short sales and credit scores of consumers
- 5.14 Flood Insurance
- 5.15 Interior
- 6 Controversies
- 7 Electoral history
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Early and personal life
Nelson was born in Miami, the only child of Nannie Merle (née Nelson) and Clarence William Nelson. His ancestry includes Scottish, Irish, English, and Danish. His father died of a heart attack when he was 14 and his mother of Lou Gehrig's disease when he was 24.
He spent his youth in Melbourne, Florida, where he attended Melbourne High School. He grew up attending Baptist and Episcopal churches but would be baptized through submersion after his personal salvation in a Baptist church. He served as President of Kiwanis-sponsored Key Club International in 1959–60. In 2005, he joined the First Presbyterian Church in Orlando.
Nelson attended the University of Florida, where he was a member of Florida Blue Key, and the Beta Theta Pi social fraternity, before transferring to Yale University. He received a law degree from the University of Virginia. In 1965, he joined the U.S. Army Reserve; he served on active duty from 1968 to 1970, attaining the rank of captain, and he remained in the Army until 1971. Nelson was admitted to the Florida bar in 1968, and began practicing law in Melbourne in 1970. In 1971, he worked as legislative assistant to Governor Reubin Askew.
In 1986, Nelson became the second sitting member of Congress (and the first member of the House) to travel into space. He went through NASA training with Senator Jake Garn of Utah. He was a Payload Specialist on Space Shuttle Columbia's STS-61-C mission from January 12 to 18, 1986. Columbia landed at Edwards AFB at 5:59 a.m. PST, on January 18. Mission elapsed time was 6 days, 2 hours, 3 minutes, 51 seconds. It was the last successful Space Shuttle flight before the Challenger accident, as the disaster occurred only 10 days after Columbia's return.
Early political career
U.S. House of Representatives
1990 gubernatorial campaign
In 1990, Nelson ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for Governor of Florida. He lost to former U.S. Senator Lawton Chiles, who went on to win the general election. During the primary campaign, Nelson tried to make an issue out of Chiles' health and age, a strategy that backfired on him in a state with a large population of retirees and senior citizens.
Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner and Fire Marshall
In 1994 Nelson announced his intention to seek the office of Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner and Fire Marshal of Florida. He won the election with 52% of the vote over State Rep. Tim Ireland's 48%. In 1998, he again defeated Ireland for his reelection to the office.
In 2000, Nelson announced that he would be running for the United States Senate seat held by retiring Republican Connie Mack III. effective January 3, 2001. Florida's "resign-to-run" law requires an incumbent office holder seeking another elective office to submit an irrevocable resignation from the office they currently hold unless that tenure would end anyway before they would assume the new position if elected. The candidate may designate the effective date of the resignation to be in the future, but it must be no later than the date that they would assume the new office. This compelled Nelson to submit his resignation as Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner and Fire Marshall early in 2000 when he began to campaign for the U.S. Senate seat. He chose January 3, 2001 as the effective date of his resignation, as that was the date new Senators would be sworn in.
United States Senate
2000 election campaign
In 2000, Nelson ran as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by retiring Republican Senator Connie Mack. He won the election, defeating U.S. Representative Bill McCollum, who ran as the Republican candidate.
2006 re-election campaign
Following the 2004 election, in which Republican George W. Bush was re-elected and the Republican party increased its majority in both the House and the Senate, Nelson was seen as vulnerable. He was a Democrat in a state that Bush had won, though by a margin of only five percentage points.
Evangelical Christian activist James Dobson declared that such Democrats, including Nelson, would be "in the 'bull's-eye'" if they supported efforts to block Bush's judicial nominees; and Nelson's refusal to support efforts in Congress to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case was seen as "a great political issue" for a Republican opponent to use in mobilizing Christian conservatives against him.
Katherine Harris, the former Florida Secretary of State and two-term U.S. representative, defeated three other candidates in the September 5 Republican primary. Harris's role in the 2000 presidential election made her a polarizing figure. Many Florida Republicans were eager to reward her for her perceived party loyalty in the Bush-Gore election; many Florida Democrats were eager to vote against her for the same reason. In May, when the party found itself unable to recruit a candidate who could defeat Harris in the primary, many Republican activists admitted that the race was already lost.
Nelson focused on safe issues, portraying himself as a bipartisan centrist problem-solver. He obtained the endorsement of all 22 of Florida's daily newspapers. Harris failed to secure the endorsement of Jeb Bush, who publicly stated that she could not win; the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which had supported her in her House campaigns, did not endorse her in this race.
As the election approached, polls showed Harris trailing Nelson by 26 to 35 points. Nelson transferred about $16.5 million in campaign funds to other Democratic candidates, and won the election with 60.4% of the vote to Harris's 38.2%.
2012 re-election campaign
Vice President Joe Biden called Nelson crucial to President Obama's chances for winning Florida in 2012. In March 2011, Biden was reported as having said that if Nelson lost in 2012, "it means President Obama and the Democratic presidential ticket won't win the key battleground state, either....'He's a truly, truly decent guy who has the absolute respect of his colleagues, and I've heard that from both sides of the aisle,' Biden said of his former Senate colleague." Congressman Connie Mack IV, the son of Nelson's direct predecessor in the Senate, won the Republican nomination. Nelson eventually defeated Mack with 55.2% of the vote to Mack's 42.2%. PolitiFact rated Nelson's attack on his 2012 election opponent's position on Social Security privatization "false."
Senator Nelson serves on the following committees in the 113th Congress.
- Committee on Armed Services
- Committee on the Budget
- Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
- Committee on Finance
- Special Committee on Aging (Chairman)
Central America Free Trade Agreement
In 2005, Nelson was one of ten Democrats who voted in favor of the Dominican Republic – Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) on its 55–45 passage in the Senate.
On several occasions, Nelson has voted to reduce or eliminate the estate tax, notably in June 2006, when he was one of four Democrats voting for a failed (57–41) cloture motion on a bill to eliminate the tax.
Withholding funding from the CIA
In 2007, Nelson was the only Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee to vote against an amendment to withhold funds for CIA use of harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects. His vote, combined with those of all Republican members of the committee, killed the measure.
In March 2010, Nelson voted for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, which passed and were signed into law by President Obama.
Abortion rights and stem cell research
Nelson is pro-choice. He voted against denying federal funding to Planned Parenthood and against another bill that would have cut funding for contraception and cancer screenings. He has received a 100% rating from NARAL. Nelson also co-sponsored the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2007.
Nelson is seen as a major supporter of the space program. In 2010 he proposed creating as many as "five business enterprise zones as magnets for commercial space ventures". He said that "the move is expected to attract thousands of jobs to Florida's 'Space Coast' area around NASA's Kennedy Space Center and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Base."
In March 2010 Nelson complained that Obama had made a mistake in canceling NASA's Constellation program. On July 7, 2011, it was reported that Nelson said Congress "starved" the space program of funding for several years, but suggested that the situation was turning around and called on the Obama Administration to push for NASA funding.
Don't Ask Don't Tell
On December 18, 2010, Nelson voted in favor of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010, which established a legal process for ending the policy that prevented gay and lesbian people from serving openly in the United States Armed Forces.
On April 4, 2013, Nelson's announced he no longer opposes same-sex marriage. He wrote, "The civil rights and responsibilities for one must pertain to all. Thus, to discriminate against one class and not another is wrong for me. Simply put, if The Lord made homosexuals as well as heterosexuals, why should I discriminate against their civil marriage? I shouldn't, and I won't."
Bill Nelson voted for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, often referred to as economic stimulus, proposed by President Obama. In August 2011, Nelson voted for a bill to increase the debt ceiling by $400 billion. Nelson said that while the bill was not perfect, "this kind of gridlock doesn't do anything." Nelson voted against Paul Ryan's budget.
Nelson voted against a Republican plan to extend the Bush tax cuts to all taxpayers. Instead, Nelson supported extending the tax cuts for those with incomes below $250,000. Nelson voted for the Buffett Rule in April 2012. Speaking of his support for the Buffett Rule, Nelson said he voted to raise the minimum tax rate on incomes over $1 million per year to 30% in order to reduce the budget deficit and to make the tax code more fair. Nelson said, "In short, tax fairness for deficit reduction just makes common sense."
Bill Nelson voted against Senate Bill 3576, which called for a prohibition of US aid to the governments of Egypt and Libya "contingent upon the release to US authorities the aggressors who attacked our embassy and consulate in Egypt and Libya." The bill also would have limited aid to Pakistan until the release of Dr. Shakil Afridi, the doctor who helped the CIA trace Osama bin Laden and is currently imprisoned by the Pakistani government.
Bill Nelson is an advocate for new gun control laws including an Assault Weapons Ban and imposing a ban on magazines over ten rounds.
Short sales and credit scores of consumers
In May 2013 the Senator requested the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau investigate why consumers who go through a real estate short sale have their credit score lowered to the same degree as those who go through Foreclosure. The Senator suggested a penalty if the problem is not rectified within ninety days.
Nelson voted in favor of the Biggert–Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, which required the National Flood Insurance Program to raise insurance rates for some properties at high risk of flooding. In 2014, following an outcry by Florida property owners facing steep flood insurance rate hikes, Nelson supported legislation to provide retroactive refunds for people who have had large flood insurance rate increases due to the sale or purchase of a home, cap average annual premium increases at 15 to 18 percent and allow subsidies for insurance rates that are based on current flood maps.
On June 27, 2013, Nelson co-sponsored the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2013 (S. 1254; 113th Congress), a bill that would reauthorize and modify the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998 and would authorize the appropriation of $20.5 million annually through 2018 for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to mitigate the harmful effects of algal blooms and hypoxia.
Environmental activists praised him for his work on legislation to restore the Gulf Coast after the BP oil spill.
On February 17, 2009, David D. Kirkpatrick wrote that Nelson was one of three lawmakers who "were returning campaign contributions from donors listed as employees of the PMA Group, a Washington lobbying firm whose founder is under investigation for purportedly funneling money through bogus donors".
During his 2006 Senate campaign, according to the Open Congress website, Nelson "was accused of taking $80,000 in illegal campaign contributions from Riscorp, Inc... The Riscorp scandal involved dozens of Florida state legislators and was among the largest scandals in recent Florida history."
Council on American-Islamic Relations
In November 2011, Ahmed Bedier, an activist linked to CAIR and the Muslim Brotherhood, donated money to Nelson and co-hosted a fundraiser for him. Nelson's representatives later claimed that he "did not know about Bedier's relationship with CAIR" and that Bedier had exaggerated his closeness to the senator. In November 2011 Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald wrote that the scandal over Bedier threatened the Jewish vote for Nelson, given that Bedier had called Israel a "terrorist state." Caputo noted that while "Nelson has gone to great lengths to fashion himself as pro-Israel", that was not enough for some conservative groups.
In December 2006, Bill Nelson made a trip to Syria to visit President Bashar Assad in Damascus. At the time, the Bush Administration had a no contact policy with Syrian officials because "of its support of Hezbollah and Hamas, which the U.S. deems terrorist organizations". The White House press secretary commented on the trip saying, "We don't think that members of Congress ought to be going there". The State Department also disapproved of the trip, but provided logistical support to Nelson.
|Florida State House of Representatives election 1972|
|Florida 9th District U.S. House of Representatives election 1978|
|Republican||Edward J. Gurney||56,074||38.5|
|Florida 9th District U.S. House of Representatives election 1980|
|Democratic||Bill Nelson (Incumbent)||139,468||70.4|
|Florida 11th District U.S. House of Representatives election 1982|
|Democratic||Bill Nelson (Incumbent)||101,746||70.6|
|Florida 11th District U.S. House of Representatives election 1984|
|Democratic||Bill Nelson (Incumbent)||145,764||60.5|
|Florida 11th District U.S. House of Representatives election 1986|
|Democratic||Bill Nelson (Incumbent)||149,109||72.7|
|Florida 11th District U.S. House of Representatives election 1988|
|Democratic||Bill Nelson (Incumbent)||168,390||60.8|
|Florida Governor, Democratic primary election 1990|
|Florida State Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner and Fire Marshal election 1994|
|Florida State Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner and Fire Marshal election 1998|
|Democratic||Bill Nelson (Incumbent)||2,195,283||56.5||+4.8|
|Florida U.S. Senate election 2000|
|Florida U.S. Senate election 2006|
|Democratic||Bill Nelson (Incumbent)||2,890,548||60.3||+9.8|
|Florida U.S. Senate election 2012|
|Democratic||Bill Nelson (Incumbent)||4,523,451||55.23||-5.07|
|Republican||Connie Mack IV||3,458,267||42.23||+4.13|
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- "Senator Bill Nelson". Florida 4-H Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2009-12-15.
- "Bill Nelson". Florida 4-H Hall of Fame. Retrieved April 1, 2012.
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- "Despite Similarities, Senate Hopefuls Have Big Differences". Sun-Sentinel. October 29, 2000. Retrieved July 16, 2014.
- "Biography". U.S. Senator Bill Nelson – Florida (official U.S. Senate website). Retrieved 2009-12-16.
- Kiwanis Magazine, December, 2012, p. 14
- Stratton, Jim. "Nelson doesn't act like Christian, Harris says". Orlando Sentinel. 2006-10-06. Retrieved 2010-03-28.
- "Greeks in the 113th Congress". North-American Interfraternity Conference. Retrieved 2 September 2013.
- "Bill Nelson (D-Fla.)". WhoRunsGov.com. Retrieved 2009-12-15.
- Henry Pierson Curtis and April Hunt (November 9, 2006). "Senator's Son Arrested after Orlando Fracas". Orlando Sentinel.
- "Florida's senior senator praises Martinez, stays quiet about possible candidates in 2010". U.S. Senator Bill Nelson – Florida (official U.S. Senate website). Retrieved 2009-12-16.
- "Bill Nelson". Washington Post:U.S. Congress Votes Database. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
- "Resign-to-Run Law § 99.012, Fla. Stat.". State.fl.us. August 22, 2000. Retrieved October 15, 2013.
- "For Democrats in red states, 2006 daunting". Washington Times. 2004-11-29. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
- Kirkpatrick, David D. "Evangelical Leader Threatens to Use His Political Muscle Against Some Democrats". New York Times. 2005-01-01. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
- Allen, Mike, and Manuel Roig-Franzia. "Congress Steps In on Schiavo Case". Washington Post. 2005-03-20. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
- Gibson, William E."Senate Race Centers on Images". Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. 2006-10-20. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
- Kumar, Anita. "GOP can't elude Harris vs. Nelson".St. Petersburg Times. 2006-05-11. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
- Clark, Lesley. "Nelson goes 22–0". Naked Politics (Miami Herald blog). 2006-10-30. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
- Kormanik, Beth. "Harris, Nelson tout testimonials". Florida Times-Union. 2006-10-31. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
- Copeland, Libby. "Campaign Gone South". Washington Post. 2006-10-31. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
- Gibson, William E. "Nelson Rolls To Second Term". Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. 2006-11-08. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
- Miller, Lorraine C. "Statistics of the Congressional Election of November 7, 2006". U.S. House of Representatives website. 2007-09-21. Retrieved 2009-12-22.
- "Biden: If Bill Nelson loses Senate race, Obama won't win Florida in 2012". The Hill. Retrieved 2014-11-08.
- "2012 U.S. Senate Election Results". washingtonpost.com. The Washington Post. Retrieved 24 December 2012.
- "Bill Nelson said Connie Mack wants to take Social Security money, give it to seniors, and them invest it in the stock market". Tampa Bay Times Politifact. 20 August 2012. Retrieved 13 August 2014.
- "Interest Group Ratings: Senator Bill Nelson, Sr. (FL)". Project Vote Smart. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
- Nichols, John. "Democrats for CAFTA". The Beat (blog at the Nation). 2005-07-05. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
- "Bill Nelson – Votes Against Party". Washington Post:U.S. Congress Votes Database. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
- Andrews, Edmund L. "G.O.P. Fails in Attempt to Repeal Estate Tax". New York Times. 2006-06-09. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
- Shane, Scott. "Senate Panel Questions C.I.A. Detentions". New York Times. 2007-06-01. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
- JENNA BUZZACCO-FOERSTER (20 August 2012). "Analysis: Comparing the votes of Bill Nelson and Connie Mack on key issues". Naples Daily News.
- "Bill Nelson leads Connie Mack, others by at least 11 points". Public Policy Polling. Retrieved February 10, 2012.
- Kremer, Ken. "Obama Made Mistake Cancelling NASAs Constellation". Universe Today. Retrieved February 10, 2012.
- Parkinson, Tom. "U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson Says Congress 'Starved' NASA of Funding". WMFE. Retrieved February 10, 2012.
- "Motion to Concur in the House Amendment to the Senate Amendment to H.R. 2965". U.S. Senate. December 18, 2010. Retrieved April 1, 2012.
- "Senate Vote 281 – Repeals 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'". The New York Times. December 18, 2010. Retrieved April 1, 2012.
- "Florida Senator Bill Nelson no longer opposes gay marriage". CFN13. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
- "Nelson prefers campaign trail to convention". The St. Augustine Record. 6 September 2012.
- "Senate blocks 'Buffett rule'". Omaha.com. 2012-04-17. Retrieved 2013-11-20.
- "Rubio, Nelson Do Not Vote To End Foreign Aid To Libya, Pakistan, Egypt", September 22, 2012. http://government.brevardtimes.com/2012/09/rubio-nelson-vote-for-foreign-aid-to.html.
- Vaughn, George (2013-01-23). "Response from U.S. Senator (FL) Bill Nelson RE: Gun Control". Tea Party Nation. Retrieved 2013-11-20.
- Harney, Kenneth R. (2013-05-17). "Short sales routinely show up in credit reports as foreclosures". latimes.com. Retrieved 2013-11-20.
- "Biggert–Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act". FloodSmart.gov. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
- "Premiums rising for national flood program, though Florida pales in payouts".
- Gordon, Greg (14 January 2014). "Public outcry prompts delay in federal flood insurance rate hikes". Miami Herald. Retrieved 1 April 2014.[dead link]
- Simpson, Andrew (4 March 2014). "House Passes Flood Insurance Bill; Key Senators Sign On". Insurance Journal. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
- "CBO – S. 1254". Congressional Budget Office. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
- Marcos, Cristina (9 June 2014). "This week: Lawmakers to debate appropriations, VA, student loans". The Hill. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
- Irwin, Janelle (16 July 2012). "Environmental activists praise U.S. Senator Bill Nelson for RESTORE Act". WMNF.
- Kirkpatrick, David (2009-02-18). "3 Lawmakers Will Return Money Tied to Lobbyist". The New York Times. Retrieved February 10, 2012.
- "Bill Nelson". Open Congress. Retrieved February 10, 2012.
- "Top CAIR Fundraiser Aids Florida Incumbent". IPT. Retrieved February 10, 2012.
- Caputo, Marc. "Senator Bill Nelson in Islamic-donor whodunit". The Miami Herald. Retrieved February 10, 2012.
- "Bill Nelson, U.S. Senator from Florida: News Article: Nelson plans to visit Syria on Middle East trip". Billnelson.senate.gov. 2006-12-08. Retrieved 2013-11-20.
- Flaherty, Anne Plummer (2006-12-13). "Fla. Senator Defies Bush, Visits Syria". The Washington Post.
- "Bill Nelson, U.S. Senator from Florida: News Article: Nelson says Syria willing to talk". Billnelson.senate.gov. 2006-12-13. Retrieved 2013-11-20.
- Lawrence, D.G., "Democrats keep control of state legislature" Orlando Sentinel. 1972-11-08.
- Biography at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Profile at Project Vote Smart
- Financial information (federal office) at the Federal Election Commission
- Legislation sponsored at The Library of Congress
- Bill Nelson official NASA astronaut biography
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