Clarence William "Bill" Nelson (born September 29, 1942) is the senior U.S. Senator from Florida. A member of the Democratic Party, he is a former U.S. Representative and former Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner of Florida. He is a leader in air and space policy, and in 1986, he became the second sitting member of the United States Congress to fly in space. Born in Miami, Nelson attended the University of Florida before transferring to Yale University. He went on to receive his 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 left the following year. 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 1972, Nelson was elected to the Florida House of Representatives. He won re-election in 1974 and 1976. Nelson was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1978. He served in the U.S. House from 1979 to 1991. In January 1986, he flew as a Payload Specialist on the Space Shuttle Columbia. After a failed gubernatorial race in 1990, he successfully ran for the office of Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner of Florida in 1994 and served for six years. In 2000, Nelson ran as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by retiring Republican Senator Connie Mack. In the Senate he is generally considered a social moderate and economic liberal. He was re-elected in 2006 with 60 percent of the vote.
Nelson was born in Miami, the only child of Nannie Merle Nelson and Clarence Nelson. He spent his formative years in Melbourne, Florida, where he attended Melbourne High School. In his youth, he served as an international president of Key Club International. He attended the University of Florida for several years, then transferred to Yale University, where he received his Bachelor of Arts in 1965.
In 1968, he received his law degree from the University of Virginia.In college, Nelson was enrolled in ROTC. In 1965, he joined the U.S. Army Reserve; he served on active duty from 1968 to 1970, attaining the rank of captain. 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 1972, Nelson was elected to the Florida House of Representatives. He won re-election in 1974 and 1976. 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 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.
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 1994 Nelson announced his intention to seek the office of Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner 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 resigned his post as Commissioner following his election to the U.S. Senate.
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. 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; Bill Nelson's vote was cast despite opposition by special interests like the sugar lobby. In 2007, Nelson was the lone 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. On December 18, 2010, Nelson voted in favor of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act of 2010. 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. 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%.
In 1972, Nelson married Grace Cavert. The couple has two adult children: Bill Nelson, Jr., and Nan Ellen Nelson. The biography on Nelson's Senate website does not list his religion. He was baptized as a Baptist, and grew up attending Baptist and Episcopal churches. In 2005, he joined the First Presbyterian Church in Orlando.
August 3rd, 2011