- The Washington Times - Monday, January 20, 2003

No matter what else new Republican Rep. Katherine Harris does with her life, her role in the 2000 presidential election will almost certainly be in the lead paragraph of her obituary. But she doesn't seem to care.
As Florida's secretary of state, Mrs. Harris certified the results of George W. Bush's 537-vote victory over Al Gore in that state officially recognizing Mr. Bush's claim to Florida's 25 electoral votes.
Besides vilification for that, Mrs. Harris was ridiculed for supposedly wearing too much make-up, called a partisan stooge for Gov. Jeb Bush and likened to the nasty Cruella DeVil of "101 Dalmatians."
She was assigned bodyguards because of death threats, while Republicans all over the country were filling her office with flowers on daily basis.
The attention was difficult to endure for a woman who says she hates the spotlight. But two years later, at the start of a new career in Congress, Mrs. Harris says she is now "at peace with all my actions."
"I know before God that I followed the letter of the law," Mrs. Harris said in a telephone interview from her home district in Sarasota, Fla. "So when they call me Cruella DeVil, they can't point to how I didn't follow the law exactly.
"I know I did the right thing, and they may continue on with the caricature they created," she said. "But I hope that as I get to know the Congress and the media that their perception of me will change."
Considering Washington's reputation for rough-and-tumble politics, however, Mrs. Harris said she's "not banking on that."
"The falsehoods [about that election] have harmed our country. They caused people so much pain."
After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Mrs. Harris said, "even some of my detractors came to me and said they were glad that George W. Bush was president."
Now that she is in Congress, Mrs. Harris said she just needs to "hold my head down and do a good job."
Perhaps because of her political trial by fire, Mrs. Harris was selected as an assistant majority whip as a freshman.
"This is a great honor, and I'm looking forward to working with the leadership because my areas of Florida will have a place at the table," Mrs. Harris said. "People will be surprised and impressed with our freshman class. They have lots of experience and will make a great contribution to the leadership team and the agenda. I have a lot to learn from them as well."
Mrs. Harris has been selected for the Financial Services and International Relations committees. The last committee comports with her education a master's degree in international relations from Harvard and her former duties as secretary of state of Florida, where promoting international trade was a prime responsibility. Helping suit her for the first committee is her service as chairman of the Florida Senate's commerce and economic opportunity committee.
Mrs. Harris said she and the Republican majority in the House will be "working really hard on the economy" and fighting "corporate corruption." She said she supports the president's tax-cut plan, and agrees that it might be even larger by the time it leaves the House something that Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, has all but promised.
Her first significant vote, taken on the day she was sworn in, was to join the passage of a 13-week extension of federal unemployment benefits.
"It set the tone in our first week when we passed the unemployment insurance [bill], helping people in tough times," Mrs. Harris said. "That is compassionate conservatism, and will help people in need to get back on their feet until we can grow the economy."
Mrs. Harris said she supports Mr. Bush's contention that Saddam Hussein is a "clear and present danger" to the United States and the world.
"I'm very impressed with the way the president has moved forward in a measured fashion," Mrs. Harris said. "If it wasn't for President Bush, inspectors wouldn't have been let back into Iraq, and the U.N. would not have demanded that Saddam be held accountable."
If Iraq "continues to fail to comply with the U.N. resolution" demanding that he report and eliminate his weapons of mass destruction, Saddam must be shown we "mean business," she said.
Whether that necessarily means war, she said said, is not yet clear.
"There will be much more information [about Saddam] when the president makes that decision," Mrs. Harris said. "I don't think war is inevitable. The president said the use of force is the country's last option, but it might be necessary to keep the peace and protect our people, and he'll act deliberately."
While her experience in Florida has her ready for the political battles ahead, there's one aspect of serving in Washington that she will likely never warm up to the weather.
"It's cold," Mrs. Harris said. "I'm a native Floridian, and I've never been so cold."


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