- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 7, 2000

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Republican leaders of Florida's Legislature announced yesterday that they will convene a special session tomorrow in order to be poised to restore the state's 25 electors to George W. Bush in the event Al Gore overturns the election.
"I believe that the electors should be based upon the vote totals that were available on November 14," which had Mr. Bush winning, Senate President John McKay said, "and equally important, on the laws that were in place as of the date of the election on November 7. I believe that these votes are the least tainted of all" by constant recounts and legal wrangling.
Mr. McKay and House Speaker Tom Feeney emphasized in a news conference yesterday that the court fracas could remain unsettled by the Dec. 12 deadline for choosing electors, which would run the risk of Florida having no electoral votes. In that event, they said, the Legislature would act to ensure the state's 6 million voters are represented in the Electoral College.
"What we will do may impact the course of our country, and that is why I've approached the Legislature's role in this matter in a cautious and thoughtful manner," Mr. McKay said. "My primary objective is simple: to ensure that the voters of Florida are not disenfranchised."
Florida Democrats immediately denounced the move as a partisan power grab orchestrated by Mr. Bush and his brother Jeb Bush, governor of Florida. Gore officials seized on the development as fresh fodder in their struggle to delegitimize the increasingly likely Bush presidency.
But Florida Republicans insisted they are merely following the U.S. Constitution, which mandates that electors for a state be appointed "in such a manner as the legislature thereof may direct."
"We're going to do our constitutional responsibility. I don't care if it's Gore or Nader or Bush," Mr. McKay said. "We are not trying to pre-empt, prejudice or predict the election outcome."
He said the move is a "safety net" to avoid the possibility that the legal wrangling will prevent Florida from having any electoral votes which could give Mr. Gore the White House on the basis of having the majority of electoral votes from the rest of the country.
The two Republicans emphasized that the action they are contemplating might end up being unnecessary.
"Earlier this afternoon, Speaker Feeney and I signed a proclamation calling for a special session to ensure that Florida's voters are not disenfranchised from the 2000 presidential election," Mr. McKay said. "The action taken today is done so with considerable reluctance on my part, due to the potential far-reaching effects of any actions.
Jeb Bush officially has reported his brother's victory to federal officials, based on the certification of the result by the state Elections Canvassing Commission that showed his brother won the state by 537 votes. The names of the electors are included in that report, which has been filed with the National Archivist.
If the courts invalidate that slate because of Mr. Gore's pending legal actions, the Legislature could use the session to override with a Bush slate.
Mr. McKay explained that the Legislature would not actually vote until Wednesday, and only then if the situation were still not clear Tuesday.
Until yesterday, it had been widely believed that the Legislature would have to act by Tuesday, the deadline set by federal law for the selection of electors. But yesterday, Republicans explained that Tuesday is merely the deadline for prompting the Legislature into action.
"My perspective, from talking to all our experts, is [Dec. 12th] is the event that triggers our ability to act," Mr. McKay said. "The 12th is not the date by which we have to act. That is, in fact, the 18th."
He added: "If the election disputes are resolved by December 12, there may be a possibility that the Legislature will not have to act. We're convening on December 8, so that we will be in a position to act if necessary.
"We will not meet on either the Jewish or the Christian Sabbath," he added. "The current slate of electors that is in front of us, though, may be tainted because of the Supreme Court actions and other local county voting procedures."
Mr. McKay was referring to the Florida Supreme Court, which was scheduled to hear oral arguments this morning on whether to accept an appeal by Mr. Gore, whose lawsuit contesting the outcome of the election was crushed Monday by Leon County Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls, a Democrat.
Mr. Gore had demanded a recount of the 14,000 ballots he considered most promising in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.
Even if the Florida Supreme Court declines to accept the case or takes it and rules against Mr. Gore the vice president has endorsed Democratic lawsuits in Seminole and Martin counties that seek to reverse the Bush victory by throwing out 25,000 ballots.
Those trials began yesterday in the courtrooms of two other Democratic judges in Leon County Circuit Court.
Florida House Minority Leader Lois Frankel said: "If, in fact, Al Gore gets some traction in the courts, if he's able to get his recount, and he wins as a result of that recount or something happens in the Seminole County case or the Martin County case, and where Al Gore would eventually be declared the winner, I believe that this Republican Legislature has decided that they would not accept an election where Al Gore was certified the winner by the courts."
Mrs. Frankel warned that the Legislature is contemplating a mistake of historic proportions.
"This will set a dangerous precedent for this country," she said. "What if any state Legislature that was dissatisfied with the results of an election would call their members together to go around the will of their voters?
She added: "I believe that would create a very chaotic situation in our electoral process."
But Republicans cited the Founding Fathers as having explicitly vested state legislatures with the responsibility of selecting electors. During the early decades of U.S. history, legislatures directly appointed electors without even holding popular votes.
"Without the intervention of the State Legislature, the President of the United States cannot be elected at all," wrote James Madison, author of the U.S. Constitution, in Federalist 45. "They must in all cases have a great share of his appointment and will, perhaps, in most cases, of themselves determine it."
In Federalist 68, Alexander Hamilton said the selection of electors is left to state legislatures in order "to afford as little opportunity as possible to tumult and disorder."
That passage was invoked yesterday by Mr. Feeney.
"I am concerned that the potential exists where there is already what Hamilton referred to as tumult and disorder, that that may continue, and that now the Legislature may be involved," he said. "I'm concerned that the wonderful institution of the Florida House and the Legislature in general suffer a short-term black eye."
But he added: "When I took my oath to uphold the United States Constitution, I did so without qualification. I didn't say I would do my duty if it was fun or convenient or popular… . So, yes, there are risks, but those risks pale in comparison to the oath that I took."
Mrs. Frankel insisted "it's a long-time black eye. Because I'll tell you, I don't think the history books will treat us kindly."
Democrats do not plan to boycott the special session. Rather, they will show up in force to argue against the Republicans.
"We will, with every ounce that we have and every breath that we have, with strong and reasoned voices, try to convince our colleagues that it's wrong," Mrs. Frankel said. "You will see most Democrats, if not all, voting against this resolution.
"But, quite frankly, they have the votes if they want to push it forward," she added. "I mean, there's no way that we can stop the votes."
The only option for Democrats is to redouble their efforts at delegitimizing the notion of a Bush presidency.
"I'm just sorry to see my Republican friends take this extraordinary action that is unnecessary, unfair and unjust," Mrs. Frankel said. "Six million Floridians went to the polls to vote, and this action is a blatant attempt to go around the will of those voters.
"Sadly, I have to say that I believe this is orchestrated," she added. "And the only thing missing from the proclamation today was the postmark from Austin, Texas."
Added state Sen. Ron Klein: "I think the people of Florida will express utter contempt for the Legislature if they move forward and try to overturn the possibility of an Al Gore victory.
"The courts are not choosing the president, they are interpreting the laws. This all only moves into play if Al Gore is found to be president."
Steve Miller contributed to this report in Tallahassee.

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