November 30, 2000
|Betty Ann Bowser reports on the Florida legislature's potential role in the presidential election.|
RAY SUAREZ: The Florida legislature steps into the presidential election contest. We start with a report from Betty Ann Bowser.
JOHNNIE BYRD: There is a proverb that says, "may you live in interesting times." These are interesting times; that's certain.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: With those words the co-chair of a select joint committee of the Florida legislature set the tone for three days of hearings. At issue, was whether a special session of the entire Florida legislature should be here in Tallahassee - its job -- to pick a second slate of electors to vote for George W. Bush in the electoral college on December 18.
JOHNNIE BYRD: Today we need to know our options. To serve Florida well today we need to know, and we must take whatever action is necessary to do our duty to protect and defend the great state of Florida in the electoral college.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Advocates of the special session believe a second slate is necessary because the plethora of courts cases may not be resolved by December 12, the date Florida law stipulates when electors must be chosen. The Republicans based their argument on Article II, Section I of the Constitution, which says: "Each state will appoint in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct a number of electors..." In addition, they cite Title 3, Section 2 of the U.S. Code, which says: "Whenever any state has held an election for the purpose of choosing electors and has failed to make a choice on the date prescribed by law, the elector may be appointed on a subsequent day in such a manner as the legislature of such state may direct." On Tuesday, the joint committee heard testimony from constitutional scholars chosen by the Republican Majority.
JOHN YOO: Should it appear that a state might not be able to choose its electors by the election process, that the state legislature may at that point intervene and choose the electors in whatever manner it sees fit. It seems to me the prudent thing to do, the cautious, I think wise thing to do would be to start the process now.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: A group of voters, mostly on the other side, testified on Wednesday.
PATRICIA EVELYN: We need to let the process work and the electors picked according to the vote majority of the people. At this point, the process hasn't finished and we don't know the real count. Lastly, I don't believe we need you to vote for us. We voted. Thank you.
PAULLETTE SIMS WIMBERLY: You want your constitutional rights to elect the electors? We want our constitutional right to have our vote counted. You can't have your rights of the Constitution if your people don't have their rights. You can't do it.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Democrats on the panel argued that when Secretary of State Katherine Harris certified the election for Bush on Sunday, she also certified the state's 25 electoral votes for the Governor as well.
TOM ROSSIN: The only scenario which calls for the Florida legislature to insert itself in the electoral process is if there is no valid election or no currently certified winner. We have both of those. So again I ask, why are we here? Are we here because the Florida legislature has filed an amicus brief with the United States Supreme Court? Why was that done? Florida's' 25 electoral votes have already been certified, so there is no vacuum for the legislature to fill.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But Republicans today held firm.
MARIO DIAZ-BALART: And if we do not fulfill that constitutional obligation given to us by our Founding Fathers that we may like or not like, what we would be doing is putting at risk the six million voters that turned out election day to vote for the President of the United States. My dear friends, my colleagues, that is something that I don't think we should... could do for the people of this state, and therefore, Madam Chairman, I would respectfully also recommend that we do ask the presiding officers of the Florida House of Representatives and of the Florida Senate to convene a special session.
SPOKESPERSON: Rep. Diaz-Balart.
MARIO DIAZ-BALART: Yes.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The vote to recommend the special session fell along party lines with an 8-5 vote in favor of the Republicans. The special session could be held as early next week. The Florida Senate is composed of 25 Republicans and 15 Democrats; the Florida House has 77 Republicans, 43 Democrats. Today, Al Gore's running mate, Senator Joe Lieberman, denounced the prospect of a special session as an end run around court actions.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN: For the Republican majority in the Florida legislature, now unfortunately encouraged by Governor Jeb Bush, to say that they are prepared to put their judgment in place of the judgment of the six million voters of Florida, as it is expressed in a process that has been ordained by the highest court of Florida, is just wrong and sets a terrible precedent. I do think this action by the Florida legislature really threatens the credibility and legitimacy of the ultimate choice of electors in Florida. It threatens to put us into a constitutional crisis, which we are not in now by any stretch of the word. And I just want to appeal to Governor Jeb Bush and the members of the Florida legislature to reconsider this action.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Florida's Governor Bush endorsed the special session yesterday. Texas Governor George W. Bush, in a brief meeting with reporters at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, was asked about the special session.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Governor Bush, in Florida, with the special session of the state legislature, are you concerned that this has the appearance of a partisan power play to short- circuit the courts?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: You know, here's my view. I've won three counts, and I think it's time to get some finality to the process. I felt like we won on election night, and then there was a recount in all Florida counties. And then there was a selected recount in additional Florida counties, and each time Dick Cheney and I ended up on top. And I'm... and the reason why we're moving forward with our discussions and our... and the transition is because when the counting finally stops, we want to be prepared to lead this nation. That's what we were elected to do. And as far as the legal hassling and wrangling and posturing in Florida, I would suggest you talk to our good team in Florida led by Jim Baker.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Reporter: Meanwhile, Gore's attorneys, in a brief filed with U.S. Supreme Court today said the Florida legislature would be on shaky constitutional grounds if it appoints a new set of electors.