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Senate waits, guards against surprise

Uncertainty about what the final speeches would say, and whether they would be final, led the Senate to hold off on naming Bush electors.

By DIANE RADO and SHELBY OPPEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 14, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- If this were a chess game, there might be no checkmate.

State senators aren't certain how -- or whether -- to make their final move in the special session called last week to appoint Florida's 25 presidential electors for Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

"It's a legal quagmire," said state Sen. Don Sullivan, R-Largo, sponsor of a resolution to name the slate of Republican electors.

The uncertainty was so great Wednesday that the state Senate held off a vote on a resolution to name Bush electors. The House approved the resolution Tuesday.

Senate President John McKay said senators would reconvene in special session at 2 p.m. today, after listening closely to Gore's speech to the nation.

"With last night's ruling, it appears we may have reached the point of finality (in the presidential race)," McKay said Wednesday afternoon. "But I don't think any of us can say with complete assurance that no action is necessary."

Sullivan said he wants to be sure the fight is over before he backs off his resolution. He wants assurances that Gore will end all legal challenges -- some cases are pending -- as well as discourage challenges in Congress to a Bush electoral slate.

But even if Gore does offer those assurances, Sullivan said, the Legislature still may have to act to ensure a slate of Bush electors is sent to Congress.

The Republican-led Legislature called a special session in fear that Gore's legal challenges had tainted Florida's 25 electors, who were pledged to Bush. To be sure they didn't lose those electors, Republican lawmakers proposed a resolution to appoint their own slate of electors. Democrats have said the action is unnecessary, illegal and unconstitutional.

On Wednesday afternoon, Republican senators didn't know whether they should move forward with a resolution, saying it might complicate matters further if two slates of electors were sent to Washington. On the other hand, what if the original set of Bush electors still is considered tainted because of legal challenges?

McKay was consulting with his staff and attorneys to answer that question and others that have arisen after the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

"If necessary, we must be in a position to act. Our goal must remain to protect Florida's 6-million voters," McKay told senators when they convened Wednesday for 10 minutes.

In contrast to House Speaker Tom Feeney, McKay has been viewed as deliberative in considering the resolution, earning respect even from Democrats in his chamber who oppose it.

"He played this thing the best he possibly could," said state Sen. Les Miller, D-Tampa. "He called us in the day after the House (allowing House members to vote first on the resolution). That was a smart move on his part."

Miller, a former House member, said: "I'm kind of glad I'm not in the House this year."

State Rep. Sandra Murman, R-Tampa, believes the House had to act.

"When we were in there, the deck was laid out a certain way. As you know, the deck keeps getting reshuffled," she said. Even so, there was a change Wednesday in the mood at the Capitol, which for more than a month has been the focus of the nation. As television satellite trucks prepared to pull out of Tallahassee, fourth-graders from Buck Lake Elementary School presented lawmakers with handmade Christmas cards.

Ron Book, a lobbyist, received one from "Kristine," that read, in part: "I wished so much that you and every one else will be home for the holidays. ... They need to flip a (coin) and be done with it."

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