New secretary of state is an old hand
By JULIE HAUSERMAN, Times Staff Writer
TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Jeb Bush moved quickly to replace outgoing Secretary of State Katherine Harris Friday, appointing former Secretary of State Jim Smith to the job. Smith, 62, is a Tallahassee lawyer and lobbyist with a long record of public service, first as a Democrat and then as a Republican.
He spent eight years as attorney general and co-led the Florida Election Reform Task Force, formed after Florida's chaotic 2000 presidential election. Smith pushed election reform measures through the Legislature.
Smith serves until Jan. 7, when the elected post changes to an appointed position.
"The governor called me this morning. He was campaigning. He said, 'I need to call on you one more time to serve your state,' " said Smith, who was vacationing Friday at his home in Colorado.
"We're packing up the car and our dog and cat and heading east." He starts Monday.
Smith said he will not seek a permanent appointment to the job in January. "I'm happy to do this, but I don't want to be secretary of state in the long haul," he said.
Smith's appointment caps another tumultuous period for Florida's election machinery.
Before Harris resigned to run for a seat being vacated by U.S. Rep Dan Miller, R-Bradenton, her department faced a series of problems. First, the state told candidates the wrong qualifying fee, forcing candidates to send in an extra $43.20 in two days. Then, a plane carrying candidate qualifying checks crashed. Harris pleaded with Bush to extend the deadline, which he did.
During most of it, Harris was out of the office, and neither the Department of State nor her congressional campaign office would say where she was. Finally, Harris hastily called a news conference Thursday to announce she was resigning -- retroactive to July 15.
She said she erred when she qualified for Congress by failing to submit a letter of resignation required for all state officeholders seeking federal office. She said she didn't think the law applied to her because her job is being abolished as an elected office.
Harris said Friday her mistake "provides a perfect example of why I cannot continue to be fully engaged as secretary of state while running for Congress."
Democratic lawyers are considering a lawsuit to disqualify her. Republican lawyers, meanwhile, are mulling a suit against Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a Democrat, for the way he qualified to run for the state Senate.
Harris attacked Butterworth in a prepared statement issued Friday, accusing him of doing what she did -- failing to resign in time.
She wrote that Butterworth "appears to believe there are plenty of gray areas in the law that I am applying to myself."
State law says Butterworth should have resigned 10 days before the qualifying deadline, but he waited until the day before because he says the law doesn't apply to him because potential opponents already knew he was leaving office because of term limits, giving them time to qualify.
That didn't wash with Harris. "When I discovered my mistake, I could have hidden behind the same niceties as Attorney General Butterworth," Harris wrote. "To me at least, a significant test of leadership is having the character to apply the same rules to yourself that you apply to everyone else."
Butterworth could not be reached for comment.
Smith stayed out of the fray, focusing instead on the pressing matters of his new assignment.
A longtime Democrat who switched to the GOP in 1987 after a bruising defeat in the 1986 gubernatorial primary, Smith began his political career in the Department of State in the late 1960s under Republican Gov. Claude Kirk.
In 1978, Smith was elected attorney general, serving two four-year terms. After switching parties he was chief of staff to Republican Gov. Bob Martinez.
When Secretary of State George Firestone resigned, Martinez appointed Smith to replace him. He mounted an unsuccessful bid for Florida agriculture commissioner in 1994.
In 1995, Smith went into private practice in Tallahassee. He lobbies with his son-in-law, Brian Ballard. They have a hefty list of business clients, including AT&T and Florida Power & Light Co.
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From the Times state desk
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