- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2001

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris said she is "seriously interested" in running for Congress next year and is strongly leaning toward filling a GOP seat that will be vacant in her hometown of Sarasota.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Washington Times, Mrs. Harris also revealed that she initially expressed reservations about lending her name to George W. Bush's presidential campaign last year, but she acquiesced after being assured it would not constitute a conflict of interest.
She lambasted the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, which is controlled by liberal Democrats, for presenting a report to Congress last week that tried to exploit the lingering bitterness of Florida's recount wars.
"I understand the political ramifications," Mrs. Harris said. "I understand it's about setting things up for the next election and trying to keep people upset and angry. But this was not an attempt to disenfranchise anyone. That's so patently untrue. There is simply not one fact in the report that justifies that assumption.
"It's just disinformation to fan the fires of division instead of working for a solution," she said. "And that's what's so desperately sad about this whole situation."
Reflecting on the 36-day standoff that catapulted her onto the national stage, where she was vilified by Democrats and savaged by the press, Mrs. Harris said she now enjoys the serenity of a clear conscience. "I don't have any regrets, and I don't have any apologies," she said. "There's simply nothing I could have done differently had [Vice President] Al Gore been leading. I can sleep very well at night and live with myself."
The state's chief elections officer acknowledged her role in the postelection drama helped paved the road to a likely congressional campaign. She has begun discussions with outgoing Rep. Dan Miller, whose predominantly Republican 13th District includes Sarasota.
"I am seriously considering the congressional seat, because of the issues that I care about," Mrs. Harris said. "And it will give me a chance to go home. I love Sarasota. My husband is there and I still go home weekends, so it will be great to get back."
Florida law requires Cabinet members to maintain a home in Tallahassee, the state capital, but Mrs. Harris hopes to vacate that home by the end of next year, when her elected term as secretary of state expires. The job then becomes an appointed position, and Mrs. Harris has long maintained she is interested only in elective office.
Although Mrs. Harris is considered the favorite to succeed Mr. Miller, who term-limited himself to 10 years in Congress, the 44-year-old Republican insisted she is taking nothing for granted.
"Everyone says that it's mine to lose," she said. "But I don't ever think anything is anyone's."
Although Mr. Miller has not yet endorsed Mrs. Harris, who is not expected to formally announce her candidacy until the fall, he has been impressed with her performance as secretary of state, said his press secretary, Melissa Figge. The spokeswoman said Mr. Miller and Mrs. Harris are scheduling a meeting to further discuss the ramifications of a transfer of power.
"Congressman Miller and his wife are dear friends of ours," Mrs. Harris said. "It's really a courtesy; I want to honor him.
"We've had a chance to discuss what the realm of responsibilities will be, but it's really important to me that my husband gets to sit down with the congressman. I'm especially interested on family impact. That's a real important bedrock to get started from.
"We have a 19-year-old daughter, and we want to give this careful consideration," she added. "We don't want to do it just because it seems like something natural."
Mr. Miller is not the only member of Congress who is pleased that Mrs. Harris is leaning toward a House campaign. She has been traveling the country to raise money for other Republicans, "who also have been encouraging me to run," she said.
Although Florida Democrats went out of their way to laud Mrs. Harris' integrity and bipartisanship in the first days of the election standoff, some turned on her after Mr. Gore personally instructed his aides to portray her as a Bush partisan. Gore loyalists accused her of trying to steal the election because she served as honorary co-chairman of Mr. Bush's Florida campaign.
But Mrs. Harris told The Times she was not very active in the Bush campaign and was reluctant to even lend her name to the effort. She said her concerns were pooh-poohed by Bush officials.
"I mean, I thought: 'Gee, I'm chief elections officer,'" she said. "And you know what the response was? They said, 'We're just going to use your name on letterhead. You're going to be one of eight — what's the big deal? Every single Cabinet member has done this forever.'"
Mrs. Harris acquiesced but insisted her role in the Bush campaign was much smaller than the role played by a former secretary of state who managed the Florida campaign of Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, when he ran for president in 1996. She said she also was less active than Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, who chaired Mr. Gore's Florida campaign last year.
"Sandy Mortham, my predecessor, ran Phil Gramm's campaign out of her office," she said. "Butterworth was running Gore's campaign out of his office — with his staff."
Mrs. Harris said Mr. Butterworth received "a total pass" from the press, even though he overstepped his authority by personally lobbying county canvassing boards to conduct hand recounts. By contrast, she said, she was lambasted for merely adhering to Florida laws that spelled out her deadlines for certifying the election.

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