Florida legislators approve 25 electors for Bush

By LARRY MARGASAK

Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Republican-run Florida House today approved 25 electors pledged to George W. Bush, acting even as the U.S. Supreme Court deliberated the fates of the GOP presidential candidate and Democratic rival Al Gore.

The vote was 79-41 as Republicans easily muscled their resolution through the House and set the stage for a historic Senate session on Wednesday. Two Democrats voted with Republicans.

While the Senate is Republican by a 25-15 margin its president, John McKay, would not be pinned down on when the chamber would vote.

House Speaker Tom Feeney said immediately after the vote on the contentious issue, “I would hope that the United States Supreme Court may render moot what we did today.”

“I hope the Senate does not render moot what we did today.”

The House acted, approving a resolution expressing the desire of lawmakers, as the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices pondered a resumption of the ballot recounts that Gore believes will give him enough votes to overtake Bush in Florida, and thus win the presidency. The measure does not require the signature of Gov. Jeb Bush, the candidate’s younger brother.

“The 2000 election is spiraling out of control and we must stop it now,” said Republican Rep. Paula Dockery, urging colleagues to affirm the Bush electors previously certified by the state.

During five hours of debate, the House earlier defeated a Democratic resolution calling on the Legislature to stay out of the disputed presidential election by the same 79-41 margin.

Republicans cited the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Papers, Florida law, court decisions and even a Johnny Carson character to justify their authority to act. In the end, though, it was their 77-43 majority that left Democrats unable to prevent the House from acting.

Florida’s 25 electoral votes would give either Gore or Bush the presidency.

Democrats countered with stories of family members and historical figures who fought for the right to vote and would want their ballots to determine the state’s electors.

“My grandparents came to this country crammed into tight ship quarters from Czarist Russia because they believed this was the country where their votes would be counted,” said Rep. Eleanor Sobel.

The Legislature meets in a modern office building and members normally wander in and out of the chamber. This time they remained in their seats and listened. The galleries, however, were only about half full for the historic debate.

While Democrats accused Legislature of illegally substituting its will for that of the voters, Republicans complained that Bush was the victor on Nov. 7 and that it is wrong to use different standard to discern a voter’s intent when recounting ballots by hand.

“Maybe we need Johnny Carson’s ‘Carnac’ to hold the ballot up to his head and discern the intent of the voter,” said Republican Rep. Nancy Argenziano. She referred to the character who would hold an envelope to his head and predict the answers to questions inside.

“The bottom line is the rules keep changing,” she said.

At times the debate moved from the Constitution to politics.

Rep. Ken Gottlieb, a Democrat, said “The only thing missing is a smoke-filled room. The special session is about accomplishing one goal and one goal only – to ensure that George W. Bush is the next president of the United States. This is brass knuckles partisan politics at its very worst.”

But Republican Rep. Carlos Lacasa asserted, “Partisan politics is democracy in action. Rather than hiding from my partisanship, I will use it like a beacon to guide me in this vote.”

Republican Rep. Johnnie Byrd said there was a “yearning for finality” in the country and to do nothing would be to shirk responsibility.

“I want to be a member of the do-something party,” he said.

Rep. Lois Frankel, the House Democratic leader, said, “For us to go forward with this message today … will set a dangerous precedent which could lead to other states doing the same.”

Rep. Dan Gelber, a freshman Democrat, added that passage of the measure would “disenfranchise every single voter who went to the polls on Nov. 7.”

“Think about the problems that will happen if just merely the presence of litigation allows the Legislature to hijack an election,” Gelber said.

One of the two Democratic defectors, Rep. Will Kendrick, said he voted with the Republicans to “do the right thing for the people we represent.”

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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