The Terri Schiavo Case
Gov. Bush's order puts Schiavo back on fluids
By ADAM C. SMITH, Times Political Editor
Faced with alienating their conservative base, Republicans push through legislation that will reverberate throughout 2004 races.
Published October 22, 2003
TALLAHASSEE - Juggling two chirping cell phones, Randall Terry stood outside the Capitol on Tuesday morning and gave his umpteenth radio interview about Terri Schiavo.
"I don't care whether you're at work, you're in your car or wherever, you need to make the phone call," the well-known antiabortion activist told an Orlando radio station. "We need to burn up the lines of the Senate.
"We're looking at a woman being starved to death. For the Senate under Jim King's leadership to put this vote off to the end of the day is unconscionable. What in God's name is he doing? He's the Senate president. He's a Republican."
State senators, deluged with calls and e-mails from across the country, moved up their vote. Well before dark, Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law a one-page bill giving him the authority to order that a feeding tube be reinserted into the brain-damaged woman.
Transforming an idea into law often takes months. This time it took less than 24 hours.
It was an impressive show of force by the conservative wing of the Republican Party and holds repercussions for the 2004 elections. The ripples flow through Florida's U.S. Senate race - where two rivals for the GOP nomination were in the middle of the Schiavo debate - and the battle for the state in the race for president.
Ken Connor, a one-time candidate for governor and former president of the conservative Family Research Council, said Republicans risk being cast by the liberal media as zealots willing to trample on the rule of law. But he said a risk at least as great is excessive caution that could have alienated strongly conservative and religious voters, a key part of the Republican base.
"The crass political calculus by many in the political class is, "Well, they have nowhere else to go,"' said Connor, former president of Florida Right to Life. "What they fail to take into account is that they may well stay home."
White House political adviser Karl Rove has publicly lamented that some 4-million religious conservatives did not vote in the 2000 presidential election, when George Bush lost the popular vote. With some strategists predicting that luring swing voters will be less important next year than turning out hard-core supporters, Republicans are strengthening their efforts to keep conservative Republicans happy.
"I guarantee that the upper echelon of the Republican Party nationally and the president's advisers are scared spitless over this backfiring in some way," said Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, a group that earned fame by blockading abortion clinics.
"It backfires either by the president's brother being portrayed as an extremist violating a court order, or people saying that the governor didn't do his duty and a woman starved to death. You can't afford to alienate your base and stand by while an innocent person is starved to death."
With a renewed court fight over Schiavo's fate, the controversy still threatens to antagonize a key group of Republican voters.
Republicans standing vigil outside the Pinellas Park hospice where Schiavo was until Tuesday night said earlier this week that they hold Jeb Bush responsible for whatever eventually happens to Schiavo.
"This is why he was elected governor. The buck stops with him. Sorry Jeb, but this is part of your job," Pat Wermuth of Tampa said before the governor and the Legislature acted Tuesday.
Bush did not shy away from the controversy, but by Monday he was in danger of overplaying his hand. His legal pleadings had been rejected earlier in both state and federal court. Yet last week he met with Schiavo's parents and promised them he would keep looking for ways to intervene. Meanwhile, other Republicans, such as state Attorney General Charlie Crist, remained quiet or declined to get involved.
After Schiavo's feeding tube was removed, the rhetoric became more pointed.
"Gov. Bush: A promise is a promise," read several picket signs outside Schiavo's Pinellas Park hospice, where people standing vigil in recent days ripped up their Republican voter registration cards.
"Jeb Bush "fails' Terri," blared the recent headline in WorldNetDaily, a popular conservative Internet news site.
Bush on Tuesday dismissed talk of political considerations over Schiavo. He acknowledged that many people who have contacted his office are frustrated he wouldn't do more, including sending in law enforcement.
"I've been urged to act and haven't had the legal authority to do so in my mind, based on the law as we know it," he said. "This gives a very limited window of opportunity."
With reporters peppering him with questions about Schiavo, the governor sounded frustrated that his effort to bring a major biomedical research center to Florida was being overshadowed.
Even Monday, as Bush and leaders of the Scripps Research Institute spoke to lawmakers, Senate President Jim King of Jacksonville and House Speaker Johnnie Byrd of Plant City traded notes about potential legislation.
Byrd, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate, promoted the Schiavo bill and was poised to talk about it on a national cable talk show Monday night. A rival for the Senate GOP nomination, Sen. Dan Webster of Winter Garden, led the effort to pass the bill in the Senate. Even some senators who voted for the bill grumbled about the pressure put on them by the House after Byrd trumpeted his plans.
"A lot of people felt pretty rotten about having to vote for a piece of legislation or be blamed by the politically expedient on the other end of the hall for killing Terri Schiavo," said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, referring to the state House. "That's the way it was pretty well put to us."
- Adam C. Smith can be reached at 727 893-8241 or email@example.com
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The Terri Schiavo CaseGov. Bush's order puts Schiavo back on fluids