Florida lawmakers OK Republican electors
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature forged ahead with plans to intervene in the presidential dispute Monday as House and Senate committees approved a slate of 25 electors for George W. Bush.
House Speaker Tom Feeney said his chamber was prepared to vote Tuesday to approve the resolution, calling it ”a radioactive hot potato.” The more cautious Senate meets Wednesday.
Senate President John McKay would not be pinned down on whether the chamber would vote Wednesday on the resolution – which names the same electors already certified by state officials and signed off on by Bush’s brother, Gov. Jeb Bush.
”If we have to act we will, and if we don’t have to act we won’t, because there are not going to be 6 million votes cast aside,” McKay said.
Democrats, outnumbered 77-43 in the House and 25-15 in the Senate, derided the special session. ”I’ve said all along this is a show,” said House Democratic leader Lois Frankel.
Republicans have contended the Legislature must intervene to preserve the state voters’ right to choose 25 electors if the controversy over disputed ballots is not settled by the courts soon.
While the committees heard expert testimony on the Legislature’s authority to approve electors, legislative leaders stayed tuned to arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The justices were considering whether Florida ballot recounts can resume, and a decision to end the recounts could doom Democrat Al Gore’s bid for the presidency.
”At this point, our preference would be to move ahead” with appointing electors, Feeney told reporters after the committee votes.
Feeney said that before he would delay a vote, ”We would want the United State Supreme Court to finally determine all controversies and contests. As long as there were any controversies or contest proceedings, we would proceed.”
The Senate’s Ethics and Elections panel approved the slate 4-3 on a straight party-line vote.
But one Democrat sided with the four Republicans as the House’s Select Committee on Electoral Certification, Accuracy and Fairness voted 5-2 for the resolution. Rep. Dwight Stansel, a Democrat whose conservative district voted heavily for Bush, defected to the majority.
”I represent a good district, very good people and I listen to them,” Stansel said. ”If you don’t listen to them, you’ll be home. Someone else will be listening to them.”
Feeney said there might be additional Democratic votes for the resolution, even though most Democrats have attacked the special session as unconstitutional and a substitution for the will of the voters.
”One by one, we’re starting to pick up Democratic members of the Florida House,” Feeney said. ”While I don’t hope that this discussion continues for another month or two, my guess is that we’d pick up even more than the two or three votes that we have now.”
Rep. Will Kendrick, a Democrat, previously said he would vote for the resolution. Minority leader Frankel insisted, ”There is no third Democrat.”
Feeney said lawmakers would like to get rid of the presidential controversy.
”This is not just a hot potato. This is a radioactive hot potato,” he said. Feeney said he was looking forward to Dec. 18, the day electors cast their ballots nationally, because then ”it will be in somebody else’s lap.”
Before the committees voted, legal experts dueled over the Legislature’s authority to approve presidential electors.
U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., a member of the House Judiciary Committee, told the state lawmakers they did possess the authority and should act unless the U.S. Supreme Court settled the election.
Otherwise, he said, if a Florida slate of electors was challenged in the House, ”I would be at a weakened position because the Florida Legislature had failed to act.”
Stephen M. Griffin, a professor at Tulane University Law School, said he was testifying against legislative intervention with the backing of four-dozen legal scholars.
He said that ”far too much has been made” of a state legislature’s constitutional power to specify the manner electors are appointed and they do not have ”absolute power.”
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