- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2000

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Florida lawmakers yesterday voted to convene a special session of the state Legislature in order to be poised to restore Florida's 25 electors to George W. Bush in the event that Al Gore succeeds in overturning the election.
Voting 8-5 along party lines, the committee recommended that both houses of the Republican-dominated Legislature convene Monday or Tuesday to prepare to assert their constitutional prerogative the direct appointment of electors.
"The Constitution of the United States and federal statutes delegate the power to choose electors directly to the state Legislature," said Republican Rep. Gaston Cantens.
But Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel called the move "an unprecedented partisan power grab" by Republicans who have "turned the Florida Legislature into an arm of the George Bush campaign."
The move prompted both Mr. Bush and Mr. Gore to file briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday. Although the court made no decision on whether to wade into that aspect of the presidential standoff, it planned to hear oral arguments this morning on another aspect.
Beginning at 10 a.m., the nation's highest court will question lawyers from both sides about whether the Florida Supreme Court overstepped its bounds when it extended the deadline for hand recounts of ballots in selected Democratic counties.
Bush lawyers contend the state court violated the separation-of-powers doctrine by extending the deadline, which the Legislature established and the executive branch tried to enforce.
The U.S. Supreme Court will also weigh whether the Florida Supreme Court violated a federal law that prohibits the changing of election rules after the ballots have been cast.
About 462,000 of those ballots took center stage in Florida yesterday as they were loaded into a Ryder rental truck in Palm Beach County and driven north to the Leon County Courthouse in Tallahassee.
TV crews in helicopters and on the ground covered every inch of the otherwise mundane journey with a breathless excitement not seen since O.J. Simpson led police on a low-speed chase in his white Bronco.
The carnival atmosphere in Tallahassee extended well beyond the courthouse. The streets around the state Capitol were clogged with honking cars, trucks, vintage vehicles and even a Batmobile, all emblazoned with Bush-Cheney signs.
The blue-and-white placards were even fitted over a dog that rode in the bed of his master's pickup truck.
The Bush backers were clearly heartened by the Legislature's willingness to assert itself in the post-election fight, now in its 24th day. But the Gore team sought to pre-emptively delegitimize the Legislature by emphasizing that any bill it passes would probably have to be signed by Mr. Bush's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Mr. Gore's running mate, Connecticut Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, read a statement to reporters yesterday that mentioned Jeb Bush by name no fewer than four times. He warned that the younger Mr. Bush, aided by Republican lawmakers, was poised to hand the keys to the White House to his older brother.
"They are prepared to put their judgment in place of the judgment of the 6 million voters of Florida, as it is expressed in a process that has been ordained by the highest court of Florida," Mr. Lieberman said.
Democrats warned that any move by the Florida Legislature to reappoint the state's electors would create a public relations problem for the Bushes. Republicans countered that a potential image problem is far better than the alternative ceding the White House to Mr. Gore.
Besides, Republican lawmakers fear that if they are not poised to act, they risk disenfranchising all 6 million Florida voters nearly half of whom cast ballots for Mr. Gore. They insisted they are merely taking prudent defensive moves to prevent a scenario in which the 42 lawsuits currently raging over the election prevent Florida's electors from being in place Dec. 12, the deadline set by federal law.
As the Legislature inched closer toward action, Democrats attempted to portray Republicans as plotting a reckless, unilateral offensive against the status quo.
But Republicans pointed out that the state's 25 electors have already been awarded to Mr. Bush and the Legislature is merely preparing to reappoint them in the event they are dislodged by a court decision.
The Gore team hopes such a decision is the ultimate outcome of its lawsuit contesting the certified results of the election, which give Mr. Bush a 537-vote lead. Trial is set for Saturday before Leon County Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls.
But the Bush team hopes this and other lawsuits at the county and state levels in Florida are rendered moot by today's case before the U.S. Supreme Court. Such an outcome would also preclude action by the state Legislature.
"I think maybe none of this will be necessary," Jeb Bush said yesterday.
Still, the governor has said he is willing to sign a bill that would essentially make his brother president. Republican lawmakers said they were willing to pass such a bill because they consider the Florida Supreme Court's extension of the certification deadline illegal.
"In the minds of Republicans, at least, there has been a deviation from the law," Republican Sen. Jim Horne said yesterday just before he and his colleagues on the special committee voted to recommend convening the full Legislature.
His words prompted an expression of incredulity on the face of Sen. Rod Smith, a Democrat who just minutes before had called the move toward a special session a "partisan exercise to give George W. Bush the keys to the White House."
Democratic lawmakers have no power to stop the session from being called by House Speaker Tom Feeney and Senate President John McKay, both Republicans. Republican lawmakers outnumber Democrats 77 to 43 in the state House and 25 to 15 in the Senate.
It would take a bill at least four days to get through the required committee hearings and floor vote. Republicans were expected to announce today a date for commencing the session, although demoralized Democrats said they already know what to expect.
"It will start Tuesday," lamented Rep. Kenneth Gottlieb, a Democrat who proposed a failed last-minute motion to take no action in the ongoing struggle over the presidency. "And it is not about constitutionality; it's about partisanship. We are now on a slippery slope toward disenfranchising Florida voters."
Sen. Tom Rossin, the Democratic Caucus leader considered a centrist, added: "This is a pure partisan political play to have a backup plan if Vice President Gore happens to come out with more votes in Florida than Governor [George W.] Bush, to ensure that Governor Bush would still have the state electoral votes. That's all it is."
He was countered during an after-vote spin session by Sen. John Laurent, who made the motion for the special session, who replayed Republican legislators' mantra: "This is not a question of state law, this is a question of federal constitutionality."
Special sessions here are not unprecedented. Lawmakers gather four months a year, leaving the door open to such meetings at least once or twice a year.
If the special session is called, Rep. Johnnie Byrd, who was co-chairman of the committee, said that it could last five to six days.
He declined to predict if lawmakers would meet through the weekend, but they would have to in order to meet a deadline.
The session is required by state law to convene at least one week before the Dec. 12 deadline for selecting electors. Those electors then meet Dec. 18 to cast their votes.
What is now required is a proclamation from Mr. Feeney and Mr. McKay calling the session. In that document, the issues to be considered during the session must be spelled out, which could be significant.
Democrats have feared that the session could be used to combat judicial actions in the myriad lawsuits now active in Florida courts.

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