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Clarence William "Bill" Nelson (born September 29, 1942) is the senior U.S. Senator from Floridamarker. Nelson is a member of the Democratic Party. Nelson became the second sitting member of the United States Congress to fly in space (after Jake Garn) when he flew aboard the as a Payload Specialist during NASAmarker mission STS-61-C (January 12–18, 1986). Bill Nelson lives in the Baldwin Park neighborhood of Orlandomarker (as does former Republican Senator Mel Martinez) and Washington. The Orlando Sentinel named him among the top 25 most powerful people in Central Florida. Nelson is also a member of The Family.

Early life

Nelson was born in Miamimarker to Nannie Merle and C. W. Nelson. He spent his formative years in Melbourne, Floridamarker, where he attended public school. In his youth, he served as the world's International President of Key Club. He attended the University of Floridamarker for three years, where he was a member of Beta Theta Pi, and then transferred to Yale Universitymarker, where he received his Bachelor of Arts in 1965. During his time at Yalemarker, Nelson was tapped for membership in the University's secret society, Book and Snake. He served in the U.S. Army Reserves from 1965 to 1971. During this time, Nelson studied at the University of Virginiamarker, where he received his law degree in 1968.

Nelson married Grace Cavert in 1972; they have two children: Bill Nelson, Jr. and Nan Ellen Nelson.

Early career

Nelson worked as a fire marshal and later as a lawyer before beginning his political career in the Florida House of Representatives. Nelson served in the state house from 1972 to 1979.

U.S. House of Representatives

Nelson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978. He served in the U.S. House from 1979 to 1991.

In 1986, Nelson became the second sitting member of Congress (and the first from the House) to travel into space. He went through NASA training, along with Senator Jake Garn of Utah. He was a Payload Specialist on 's STS-61-C mission from January 12–18. Ten days after his return, on January 28, 1986, the exploded shortly after lift-off.


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 and Insurance Commissioner

In June 1994 Nelson announced his intention to seek the office of Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner of Florida. Nelson defeated State Rep. Tim Ireland in November 1994 by a 52% to 48% margin. Nelson would go on to defeat Ireland again for his reelection to the office in 1998.

In 2000, Nelson resigned his post as Commissioner following his election to the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Senate


In 2000, the Democrat Nelson won the election for U.S. Senator from Florida, defeating the U.S. Representative Bill McCollum, the Republican Party candidate. The election was to replace the retiring Republican Senator Connie Mack.

Political actions and positions

Nelson has been a vocal opponent of oil drilling off Florida's coast and supports allowing the government to negotiate for lower drug prices from pharmaceutical companies in the Medicare prescription drug program. He was among the few Democrats to vote in favor of CAFTA. He has also voted in favor of tighter bankruptcy restrictions and abolishing the estate tax. Nelson has received a 75-percent rating from the National Abortion Rights Action League. He has voted against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act as it had no exception for the life or health of the mother. He has also voted against a bill providing for criminal penalties for anyone harming an unborn child during the commission of a crime. In general, Nelson has high ratings from other left-of-center political action groups.

Nelson has also introduced legislation banning paperless electronic voting machines.

In 2007, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted on a measure to de-fund torture by the CIA except in "dire emergencies." Nelson was the lone Democrat to vote against the measure, but all Republicans voted against it as well, thus defeating it.

Senator Nelson is also a member of the Congressional Cuba Democracy Caucus

2006 re-election campaign

Nelson's job approval ratings were 49 percent during the 2006 campaign, three percentage points higher than fellow Florida senator Mel Martinez, a Republican in a nominally red state.

Republican Rep. Katherine Harris won the Republican primary, and faced Nelson in the November general election. In an interview with Sean Hannity on March 15, 2006, Harris claimed that Nelson was a member of the ideological far-left and had taken bribes. She did not state from whom, nor did she give any other specifics as to these allegations, nor has anyone else mentioned these charges. It is probable that this was merely propoganda to try to discredit Nelson. Nelson is generally regarded as a moderate in Florida.

James Dobson promised to launch a battle "from sea to shining sea" against Nelson's reelection if he participated in a filibuster of Bush's pro-government court nominees. Dobson has been joined by other activists, such as Randall Terry, because of Nelson's opposition to the nomination of Samuel Alito and his refusal to join what were largely Republican failed efforts to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case. The Schiavo incident prompted Brian Darling, a strategist in Mel Martinez's staff, to write the Schiavo memo that articulated a plan to use the Schiavo controversy as a campaign tool against Nelson in 2006. Darling resigned when it was traced to him, and Martinez apologized publicly to Nelson.

Nelson was reelected as Senator on November 7, 2006 with 60 percent of the vote. His victory is the largest margin by a Democratic candidate in the state in many years.

Committee assignments

Trip to Damascus

On December 13, 2006, Nelson went to Damascus and met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This came following his appointment to the Senate Intelligence Committee. "He (Assad) stated that we in fact, have an interest, common interest, to stabilize Iraq. I think it is a crack in the door, and it is for discussions to continue," he said in a conference call from Amman, Jordan after meeting Assad in Damascus. The White House said that members of congress should not be going to Syriamarker. "I think it is a real stretch to think that the Syrians don't know where we stand or what we think. We have made it clear and we will continue to make it clear," White Housemarker spokesman Tony Snow said.In the days following Nelson's meeting with Assad, Senator Arlen Specter flew to Syria and met with Assad. Specter wrote an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer that emphasized the importance of such visits and reaffirmed Nelson's position that it was part of his constitutional duty.

Florida primary controversy

In 2007, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature passed a measure that changed Florida's primary date to January 29, several weeks earlier than the previous date. The measure passed the Florida House of Representatives by a vote of 118-0, and passed the State Senate by a vote of 37-2. This change was in violation of the Democratic National Committee's rules regarding state primary dates, which caused the DNC Chairman Howard Dean to threaten to strip the state of its delegates to the Democratic National Convention if they did not schedule the primary for a date that fell within the guidelines of the DNC. Senator Nelson played an active role in attempting to restore the activity of the delegates, going so far as to threaten a lawsuit against the DNC if an appropriate settlement was not reached. On May 31, 2008 the DNC bylaws committee decided to seat all of the Florida delegates with each being apportioned one-half vote.

Electoral history


  3. Roll call vote on S. 2, the Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2003
  4. Roll call vote on H.R. 1997, the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004
  5. Project Vote Smart
  7. Senate Panel Questions C.I.A. Detentions
  8. SurveyUSA - 100 US Senator Approval Ratings 02/06 Sort By State
  9. James Dobson threatens six senators - (United Press International)
  10. Senator’s office produced Schiavo memo
  12. [1]
  13. Strategic Vision Political
  14. Why Congress Can and Must Assert Itself in Foreign Policy
  15. CS/HB 537 - Elections
  17. DNC’s Statement on the Florida and Michigan Delegations

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