- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 22, 2000

Congressional reaction to last night's Florida Supreme Court decision, which allows Democratic counties more time to hand-count ballots, broke predictably along party lines.

But the language of the decision, and the court's attack on Secretary of State Katherine Harris, was particularly surprising.

"I'm absolutely stunned," said Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican. "I can't believe the Florida Supreme Court has apparently ignored the laws of the state and decided it's going to run elections that appeal to it."

He said the decision, together with rhetoric of other Democrats, undermines the administrative authority of Mrs. Harris.

Democrats benefited from the administrative authority of U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, he noted, when she decided against the recommendation of the FBI director not to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Vice President Al Gore for fund-raising improprieties.

"For them to attack the administrative judgment of the elected secretary of state of Florida … is absolutely unconscionable," Mr. Bond said. The Republican-majority Congress "will work with whatever we are dealt, but I'm going to fight this as far as I can."

There were cautions from others that the issue was not settled by the court's ruling, that the struggle will continue.

Curtis Gans, president of the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, a nonpartisan group, said that despite the court's reversal of the lower court ruling, there were signs that Mr. Gore was not getting the votes he expected from the hand count.

"I don't think it's over," Mr. Gans said. "The fact is that the count is not going Gore's way, and we don't know whether the dimpled ballots will add substantially to his total. Those ballots are not necessarily Gore ballots, they are uncounted ballots.

"I've got to say I've viewed this entire situation with unrelieved gloom. The losing side will feel that the election is stolen, whoever wins, and we will have a season of incredible partisan bickering," he said.

"I cannot conceive of having anything but a season of bitterness after this, with one small exception if the Gore count fell short. At that point, the Gore camp would have gotten a recount and therefore it might be possible for a graceful exit."

Mr. Bond urged Republican George W. Bush to pursue an appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, and, by implication, ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court. "Al Gore started this; George Bush ought to finish it."

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, called the ruling "a positive development."

"We obviously think this is good news," said Daschle spokesman Ranit Schmelzer. "Vice President Gore has said all along he wants to see that all Floridians have their votes counted, and the Florida Supreme Court has just said they agree with that. Vice President Gore also said all along he would welcome a recount in all the counties of Florida. That was an option open to Governor Bush, but he didn't choose to pursue it."

Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Republican conference, sharply criticized the court.

"With hopes of victory slipping away, the Florida Supreme Court has allowed Vice President Gore one last chance to change the results of past recounts. This is a candidate who will not win or lose honorably, but has employed the cutthroat tactics that eight years under President Clinton has taught him."

Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat, portrayed the ruling as something that did not give Democrats all they wanted. The court, he said, stopped short of setting standards for counting ballots.

"Nor did they do what many of us, including myself, would have hoped, and that is that they would have said all the counties should have a manual hand count so all Floridians would be treated equally."

Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, said the ruling frustrated partisans on both sides of the aisle "because they sought clarity but what they got was more confusion. This is not the last decision. There are many steps and many more challenges before the final decision will be made."

Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Colorado Republican, said the ruling from six Democratic justices and one independent held no surprises for him.

"There is absolutely no surprise that the Democrats who dominate the Florida Supreme Court would rule in favor of the Democrats," Mr. Campbell said. "This only reinforces how desperate the Democrats are to steal this election."

• John Godfrey and Donald Lambro contributed to this article.

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