- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 8, 2002

Rep.-elect Katherine Harris, the well-known Florida Republican considered a rising star within the Republican Party, was named this week to a leadership position in the House, barely a month after winning her election for a congressional seat.
"I would consider her a rising star," said Danielle Doane, director of U.S. House relations at the Heritage Foundation. "Actually, I would consider her midway through her rise because of the fact that she's been so active, even before her election."
Mrs. Harris was chosen Thursday by incoming Majority Whip Roy D. Blunt, Missouri Republican, to serve as one of several assistant majority whips, responsible for helping get out the votes to move key pieces of legislation in the House.
A handful of incoming freshman House members were appointed assistant whips.
Mrs. Harris comes to the House when many Republicans see her as a hero.
They strongly supported her conduct during the 2000 presidential election as the Florida secretary of state responsible for overseeing the state's contentious and dramatic ballot recount.
After a 36-day recount battle, Gov. George W. Bush, Texas Republican, narrowly defeated Vice President Al Gore, a Democrat, in one of the closest presidential contests in U.S. history.
"Grace under pressure," one unidentified aide to the House Republican leadership described her.
Miss Doane pointed out that Mrs. Harris used the nationwide recognition she got from the Florida presidential recount battle to help many House members with fund raising during this past election cycle. As a result, Miss Doane said, she already has a base within Congress that "makes her a great candidate for the whip's organization."
Mrs. Harris' official duty in the 2000 election was to certify the winner of the state's 25 presidential Electoral College votes. Balloting trouble and voter error were followed by multiple recounts and court battles to decide the winner, and Democrats demanded that Mrs. Harris recuse herself from the process because she was a cochairman of Mr. Bush's Florida campaign committee. She refused, citing her mandatory duty as secretary of state to uphold the office.
The situation garnered her national media attention and much criticism by angry Democrats.
"It's hard not to take her experience into account," the Republican leadership aide said. "She handled herself with tremendous courage, grace and dignity, and that speaks volumes about her character."
The aide said her appointment to the House Republican whip team, "is a tremendous feather in her cap, and we expect that she'll have a very successful career in Congress."
Thomas E. Mann, senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution, said her appointment also "underscores the deep partisan division" in Congress. "Democrats remain deeply resentful of her behavior in 2000 as Florida secretary of state," he said, "but Republicans see her as a heroine and a rising star in the party. It's pouring more fat in the fire."
Norman J. Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, agreed that "picking her right away for a leadership post is going to be viewed by Democrats as 'in your face.'" But he said she definitely has the political experience and noted that her mild-mannered demeanor will be disarming for Democrats.
"Katherine Harris is undoubtedly effective and battle-tested, and we look forward to working with her," said Jonathan Grella, spokesman for House Majority Whip Tom Delay, Texas Republican. Mr. Delay will take over as House Majority leader when Congress returns in January.
Rep. Jack Kingston, Georgia Republican and incoming vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, said Mrs. Harris has "already been tested so she's media savvy, she knows how to work the inside track and she's a great fund-raiser."
"I am truly honored to be asked by Majority Whip-elect Blunt to assist in moving important legislation forward that will help our nation, working families and our seniors," Mrs. Harris said in a prepared statement on Thursday, noting that her new position, "will give the citizens in southwest Florida a much more active role in Congress."
Mrs. Harris, who is also a former state senator, was elected to represent Florida's 13th District.
"Katherine will be an excellent addition to our whip organization, and I am pleased that she has agreed to do this very important job," Mr. Blunt said in the same statement.
The whip's office is third in the House leadership, behind the House speaker and majority leader.
Burson Taylor, spokeswoman for Mr. Blunt, said her boss appointed Mrs. Harris because "he was impressed with the campaign that she ran; he was impressed with her ability to work with others and to take on tough projects."
But Miss Taylor noted that nine or 10 other incoming freshman Republicans also were appointed assistant whips, including Reps.-elect Tom Feeney of Florida, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Jo Bonner of Alabama, Gresham Barrett of South Carolina and Tom Cole of Oklahoma.
Still, some say Mrs. Harris is the one to watch.
"I could see her positioning herself to quickly rise up the chain," Miss Doane said. "I don't see her stopping here."


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